It’s exceptionally difficult to find NFL-caliber starting left tackles. The New England Patriots snagged Matt Light in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft and rode him for 11 highly successful seasons.
The Patriots have selected in the top 20, where many of the best offensive tackles are found, just four times since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000. They picked Nate Solder with the 17th overall pick in Light’s final season.
The Patriots owe most of their success to having Tom Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick at head coach. It’s helped to have two starting-caliber left tackles during their 16-year run while other teams are constantly searching for that player who is long, strong and athletic enough to protect a blindside while contributing as a run blocker.
It’s likely that the Patriots were willing to double up on offensive tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft because it’s so hard to find that type of player. Solder will be 30 years old next season, and it’s at least worth beginning to groom his successor, so why not take two cracks at it?
The Patriots traded up to select Antonio Garcia in the third round and Conor McDermott in the sixth. Both players are tall and athletic enough to play left tackle in the NFL. Garcia lacks ideal arm length and girth, but the Patriots likely are hoping he can use his rookie season to build up his weight and strength. But what about McDermott?
After his junior season, the UCLA product was highly touted enough that ESPN’s Todd McShay had the Patriots select him in his first 2017 NFL mock draft. McDermott showed a lot of promise in his junior season. He was just three years removed from being a scrawny 230-pound high school tight end and already was doing stuff like this:
McDermott is at left tackle and seamlessly shuffles his feet to swap defenders and pick up the lineman running a stunt.
(Hover over video to play.)
McDermott didn’t quite advance as expected in his senior year, however, and he got annihilated in his first game of the season against eventual first overall pick Myles Garrett in UCLA’s game against Texas A&M.
He only gave up one sack in the game — one of two all season — but he frequently allowed Garrett into the backfield.
His issue on this play was that he turned out of his stance too quickly. His rear end should be facing the quarterback the majority of the time. Once he turned himself too far sideways, it was easy for Garrett to simply push him aside.
He actually came out of his stance fine on this play — the sack. He simply gets overpowered.
Strength was an issue for McDermott throughout his college career, and it’s something that could be fixed in the NFL with pro weight training. He was overpowered too easily by bull rushers less talented than Garrett who could catch him off balance as he came out of his stance.
Here was a solid pass block by McDermott during the Senior Bowl. He came out of his stance, didn’t rush and shuffled his feet with his butt facing the quarterback the entire time. He wasn’t going to allow Haason Reddick anywhere near the quarterback.
But here against his new teammate, Patriots third-round pick Derek Rivers, he didn’t kick out quickly enough, had to rush to the edge and had his rear end pointing back toward the line of scrimmage while trying to block. Rivers cleaned up with a fairly easy sack.
The other sack he allowed in the Senior Bowl was much of the same to Illinois’ Carroll Phillips.
McDermott had varying degrees of success as a run blocker. Overall, he didn’t maintain contact with his defender long enough. Many times he would just shove the defensive lineman and then try to get upfield.
Here, in the Senior Bowl, he shows off his athleticism on a pull to the outside.
And that athleticism is what makes him so appealing. A 6-foot-8 offensive tackle with 34 3/4-inch arms who runs a 5.18-second 40-yard dash, 7.52-second three-cone drill and 4.58-second short shuttle doesn’t just grow on trees. With some coaching and technique work, McDermott has the makeup of a left tackle. But he’s a project, and that’s the only kind of tackle you’re ever going to find in the sixth round.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images