NFL scouts have a difficult job. They spend countless hours studying film, conducting interviews and doing research on hundreds of draft prospects. Even then, after all of their legwork, some of the most respected scouts miss on their evaluations fairly often. Sometimes, finding future NFL talent is little more than a guessing game.
However, once in a blue moon, a prospect with essentially no “bust potential” enters the fold. These surefire prospects are a scout’s dream, as such players are a quick and easy evaluation and projection. Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell is one of these surefire prospects, and for much of the offseason, it had been assumed that he was a lock to be a top-five draft pick at worst. But apparently, some don’t even view him as the top offensive tackle in the 2021 class.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller tweeted that a number of NFL scouts (not himself) have questions about Sewell’s game and don’t necessarily have him as the best offensive tackle in the class at this time. Miller listed other prospects, including Stanford’s Walker Little, Texas’s Samuel Cosmi and North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz as candidates to be drafted ahead of Sewell according to these anonymous scouts.
The fact that scouts are even entertaining the idea of another offensive tackle being taken ahead of Sewell is absurd. Sewell is the best offensive tackle in college football by a landslide, and he’s in his own league as a draft prospect. Any scout that has him ranked behind another offensive tackle needs to re-watch the tape, because Sewell’s speaks for itself.
What the Scouts Are Saying
According to Miller, the scouts who are questioning Sewell have concerns about his play strength and lack of length. Those are two data points that scouts often reference when identifying elite offensive tackles, and admittedly, they have a reason to do so.
With edge rushers in the NFL taking many different forms, the best offensive tackles are strong enough to anchor pass rushers that attempt to bull rush them, and they’re long enough to keep lanky pass rushers away from their chest. In terms of prototypical physical attributes, Stanford’s Walker Little checks about all of the boxes.
By all accounts, Little has plenty of length to go with his 6’7”, 320-lb. frame, which allows him to stymie athletic pass rushers with ease. And though he’s not a mauler, most scouting reports indicate that he has enough strength and power to hold his own against bull rushers and clear space in the run game. Cosmi and Radunz also appear to have the edge over Sewell in arm length, although both come with some concerns of their own regarding play strength.
As for Sewell, these anonymous scouts aren’t entirely off base in their criticism of his game. His lack of length is apparent, at least in comparison to these other top tackle prospects, and his anchor strength has been listed as a (very minor) concern by others.
But that’s the only thread of validity in the ludicrous hot take that Sewell isn’t the undisputed top tackle in the draft class. Sewell’s minute flaws absolutely pale in comparison to the multitude of things that he does better than anyone else in college football (like actually blocking opposing defenders), and those flaws should in no way open the door for far less accomplished prospects to take his place as offensive tackle No. 1 on draft boards.
Sewell Is Far and Away the Best Offensive Tackle Prospect
The primary job of an offensive tackle is to block the player in front of him. Since he set foot on the field as a 17-year-old freshman, no one in college football has done that better than Sewell.
As a freshman, Sewell set a new record as the highest-graded freshman offensive tackle since Pro Football Focus began grading college games. How did he follow that up? He set a new record as the highest-graded offensive tackle ever in his sophomore season, earning the top offensive grade in the country, regardless of position.
Sewell graded as easily the best run blocker in the country in 2019, with a 95.7 run-blocking grade. His alleged lack of play strength didn’t seem to matter a bit, as there was no player who even came close to his ability to consistently move bodies in the run game and clear lanes for tailback CJ Verdell, who averaged more than six yards per carry. In fact, Sewell not only led all players in run-blocking grade, but he also led the country in PFF’s “big-time block” metric, which are the highest-graded blocks that a player can earn.
Sewell might not be the strongest tackle in the game, but winning in the run game isn’t primarily about strength. Especially with today’s zone-heavy rushing attacks, good run blockers need to be athletic so that they can quickly get in front of defenders and to the second level. Then, they have to rely on technique and proper positioning to gain leverage and clear the defender out of the lane. The mauling, road-grading tackles of yesteryear don’t have the movement skills to survive in today’s game.
Luckily, Sewell is a rare athlete at 330 lbs., and his movement skills for his size are unrivaled. This allows him to make punishing blocks as if he was a far stronger player, as he gets up to full speed quickly, and his momentum creates plenty of force at the point of impact.
As far as pass protection goes, Sewell’s lack of length hasn’t been an issue in the slightest. He graded as an elite pass protector in 2019, despite having to face some of the toughest pass rushers in the country (Wisconsin, Auburn and Utah each had ferocious pass rushes in 2019). Just like in the run game, his superior athleticism and agility allow him to get in front of event he quickest pass rushers. Athleticism on the edge is just as, if not more important than length, and Sewell has clearly shown that he has no problem hanging with dynamic pass rushers, even if he lacks a 6’7” frame.
Penei Sewell is the best offensive tackle in the country and the competition isn’t close. The proof is in the pudding, as no player has come close to actually blocking the opposing defender better than Sewell has over the past couple of seasons. Although traits like length and play strength are important, they shouldn’t be prioritized over consistent, dominant, top-level production, and that’s exactly what Sewell has shown throughout his entire career.
So, here’s a note to every NFL scout who’s second guessing Oregon’s star left tackle. Pass on Sewell at your own risk.
Morgantown, West VirginiaTop Photo by Kevin Cline
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