The NFL is a passing league, and there’s no doubt that quarterbacks and wide receivers are the stars. But without the men in the trenches, few opportunities would exist for the QBs and WRs. Aidan Curran examines one of the best offensive lineman in this year’s draft, Jack Conklin.
Jack Conklin, a redshirt junior offensive tackle from Michigan State University, is one of the most consistent offensive linemen in this year’s draft. He has the look of a player who will have a long, successful career anchoring an NFL team’s offensive line at either tackle position.
Tale of the Tape:
|Height||Weight||40 Yard Dash||20 Yard Shuttle||3-Cone Drill||Broad Jump||Hands||Arms|
|6’6”||308 lbs.||5.00 sec||4.57 sec||7.63 sec.||103.0 in.||10 ⅜”||35”|
Conklin does not have the elite foot speed of prospects such as Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley, which could lead to struggles against speed rushers in the NFL. The former Spartan needs to improve on keeping a wider base in pass protection. However, Conklin uses his lower half well in the run game, generating a lot of power, which lends credence to his reputation of being a mauler in the run game.
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Conklin’s lack of elite foot speed is on display above against Oregon’s DeForest Buckner. Conklin is deliberate to get out of his stance but his drop step isn’t fast enough, allowing Buckner to gain a step on him. Conklin scrambles to stay with Buckner, and lunges in the process. If it weren’t for Connor Cook stepping up in the pocket and evading Buckner, this would have been a sack for Buckner caused by Conklin’s sloppy footwork.
Offensive tackles that stand at 6’6” tend to struggle with playing too high, losing leverage as a result, and Conklin is no different. Focusing on staying lower and bending at the knees will help him with regards to his balance, which was lacking at times, and will help him block speedy edge defenders. Conklin’s issues with bending too much at the hips can be seen in this year’s Big 10 Championship against Iowa.
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On this pass play, the tackle keeps a wide base and wins the matchup against the undersized outside linebacker with his strength, but what is concerning is how he leans forward too much in pass protection. This leads to balance issues, and against NFL pass rushers who have a more diverse array of pass rush moves, Conklin will struggle until he fixes his technique.
Conklin has a powerful punch that disrupted multiple defenders in his collegiate career. His hand placement on pass rushers was solid, and he did extremely well in run-blocking with regards to using his hands to gain leverage and push defenders back. However, he needs to work on the timing of his punch after the snap, as there were several instances where he lunged off-balance if he mistimed his punch on the defender, such as this play against Buckner:
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Conklin gets embarrassed by a swim move from Buckner that left Conklin in his wake, and on one knee. Conklin missed his punch at the snap, and Buckner’s elite burst at the snap was enough to force Conklin to lunge and fall off balance.
Conklin put up 25 bench reps at the NFL Scouting Combine and his play strength is part of the reason why many project him to be a first-round draft pick. His power is best on display in the run game, where he consistently opens up holes and does well in not giving up any ground. If he can improve his technique, his strength will become an even greater asset. When Conklin’s Spartans faced the Ducks, Conklin displayed his strength on a bull rush by DeForest Buckner in the second quarter.
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Buckner, lined up at 5 tech defensive end on this play, tries to overpower Conklin at the snap, but Conklin stonewalls Buckner with his strength, and displays good hand placement and technique.
Conklin did not display exceptional mobility with regards to getting out in space and blocking linebackers, but did display good hip flexibility in turning defenders in the run game to create holes and in pass protection.
Conklin has the reputation of being a road-grader who will bring a physical tenacity to the offensive line that he becomes a part of at the next level. After watching several games of his, it is clear that Conklin is a physical lineman, who finishes his blocks consistently and a mauler in the run game. Conklin is a high-effort player, and consistently gives full effort in all the games he played, even in late-game blowouts.
Conklin is a force in the run game. His strength puts defenders at his mercy and he is consistently excellent in initiating contact and driving back defenders. His hip flexibility allows him to pivot and turn aside defenders to open up holes for his running back. His run-blocking ability is probably the most NFL-ready aspect of his game. Conklin destroys his man on this run play against Michigan:
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Conklin pulls at the snap and picks up the strong-side linebacker and brings him to the ground easily, executing a great pancake block even after the play passed him.
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On another play, against Ohio State in 2015, Conklin has no one to block at the snap, so he reaches the second level, and clears a big hole for his running back by engaging the linebacker and turning him away from the play, displaying good hip flexibility.
I would not feel comfortable putting Conklin on the field to begin the season as a starter at either tackle position, primarily because of his raw pass protection ability. He has the tools to become a top-10 left tackle or right tackle if he can improve his technique, as he is just as tall as projected #1 overall pick Laremy Tunsil and has longer arms than the former Ole Miss left tackle. I would feel comfortable moving Conklin into the starting lineup as a right tackle once his pass protection skills develop. When his pass protection skills reaches the level of his run-blocking ability, look for Conklin to be a solid NFL starter at either tackle position for years to come.