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ESPN's Mel Kiper: Tackles Rank High in 2014 NFL Draft

Posted Feb 6, 2014

Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Auburn's Greg Robinson are top pro prospects at offensive tackle, according to ESPN's NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr.

Mel Kiper, Jr. said Thursday that the top three offensive tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft will receive higher grades than last year’s top three players who were drafted first, second and fourth overall.

Kiper, an NFL Draft expert with ESPN, said during his conference call that he is projecting Michigan’s Taylor Lewan to the Tennessee Titans with the 11th overall pick in May’s draft. Kiper has St. Louis drafting Auburn’s Greg Robinson with the second pick and Buffalo drafting Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews with the ninth overall pick. Click here for the draft order of the first round.

Robinson, who entered the draft before his college eligibility expired, and seniors Lewan and Matthews are scheduled to participate in this month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Kiper believes the stock for all three players will stay high in following up a historic 2013 NFL Draft that saw Eric Fisher (No. 1 by Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (No. 2 by Jaguars) and Lane Johnson (No. 4 by Philadelphia) quickly have their names called.

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. is currently projecting that Taylor Lewan will be selected by Tennessee with the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

“I will say this, the three left tackles this year, when you think about where they are, with Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan, all three will have a higher grade than the three we talked about last year that went at the top of the board,” Kiper said. “These three will have a higher grade than those three, and one was the No. 1 pick overall, so that tells you that this draft is much stronger than last year’s.”

Lewan appeared in 50 games at Michigan, making 48 starts and the final 41 in a row at left tackle.

“I think he’s a heck of a prospect,” Kiper said. “I’ve thought that all along. I mean, people who were questioning (Taylor) Lewan, I didn’t understand during the year. It wasn’t him. It was the interior of the line, so it wasn’t (right tackle Michael) Schofield and Lewan, it was the interior, the center and the guard spots that were kind of, you know, changing by week and were inexperienced players, so Taylor Lewan has outstanding feet and balance in pass protection, is technically sound, has that nasty streak you love to see in a left tackle.”

Kiper said Lewan is an “elite prospect” who currently ranks as the eighth overall player on his “big board.”

Left tackle Michael Roos and right tackle David Stewart just finished their ninth seasons with the Titans. Roos was drafted in the second round, and Stewart was chosen by Tennessee in the fourth of the 2005 NFL Draft. Both players have been durable over the years, with Roos starting 143 games and missing just one because of an emergency appendectomy in 2012. Stewart bounced back from a broken leg he suffered in 2012 but battled through injuries in 2013. He’s missed four games in each of the past two seasons, which was the same amount he missed between 2006 when he made his pro debut and 2011 combined.

Roos played all 1,074 offensive snaps for the Titans in 2013, joining rookie guard Chance Warmack (the 10th overall pick in 2013) as the only two players to participate in 100 percent of Tennessee’s offensive snaps.

Kiper said he projected Matthews, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Titans/Oilers offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, to Buffalo because of his experience in college at right and left tackle (as a senior after Joeckel left).  

Roos did the opposite as a pro, playing 15 of his 16 games as a rookie and then switching to left tackle in 2006.

Kiper said teams want more pass protection skills from the right tackle position than in years past because of teams’ propensity to throw the ball more in short-yardage situations and the quality pass rushers in the NFL.

“Now, the right tackle is critical, and you see some guys that went high (in a draft) playing right tackle early in their careers,” Kiper said. “Look at Jake Matthews, he played right tackle and then he moved to left tackle at Texas A&M. The experience he had at both, I think, will help him moving forward. Right tackle is as critical now in the whole process, not as critical as left tackle, but it’s awful close because you’re throwing the football so, so much in the NFL.”

The importance of protecting the passer to Tennessee could be heightened because Kiper expects South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney to wind up in the AFC South after being selected first by Houston or third by Jacksonville.

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