Stock Watch For The Offensive Tackles At The Senior Bowl

1/27/21 Practice SeniorBowl Photo by Jeff Hanson
1/27/21 Practice SeniorBowl Photo by Jeff Hanson

The week that prospects spend down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl is a great opportunity to go out and show what they’ve got against some of the best prospects in their class. Chargers fans saw how much it meant for Justin Herbert last year. This year that group is headlined by Alabama’s Mac Jones, and Alex Leatherwood, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey, and Tennessee’s Trey Smith. Najee Harris and this year’s Heisman winner DeVonta Smith are also down at the Senior Bowl, but neither are participating as they recover from injuries. 

The players who benefit most from this week are usually the ones with something to prove. The players mentioned above can solidify their status as potential first-round picks, but generally, the players who lack experience, or who come from smaller schools are the ones who are most able to help improve their draft stock. 

I’ll be writing a few articles about some of the prospects that participated in Mobile, but the players I want to highlight and take stock of here are a few of the offensive tackles from the group: Leatherwood, North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz, Cincinnati’s James Hudson, and East Carolina’s D’Ante Smith.

Alex Leatherwood – Alabama

Let’s start with Leatherwood. He was the big-name headed into the week and was a huge get for the Senior Bowl staff. All throughout the 2020 season, there was a narrative that he might be better suited to play guard at the next level. Some analysts questioned his ability to handle the elite speed rushers at the next level, and he did start at guard for the Crimson Tide as a Sophomore in 2018. After the first day of practice, it appeared that those concerns were coming to fruition, as Leatherwood really struggled with Miami’s Quincy Roche – who is arguably the best pass rusher to partake in this year’s Senior Bowl.

However, Leatherwood was able to bounce back and prove to everyone just why he earned this year’s Outland Trophy – awarded to the nation’s best offensive lineman. Leatherwood took some of the coaching provided by the Carolina Panthers staff to heart and was able to beat Roche twice on Thursday during the one on one portion of the day, and again during the team portion of the practice. 

Leatherwood is a fighter. And he has nearly thirty SEC games of tape to show teams just how good of a tackle he is. Yes, he will probably struggle with some of the speed rushers in the NFL, but he showed this week that he is very capable of learning and adapting when given the chance. He solidified his stock as a late first/early second-round pick.

Dillon Radunz – North Dakota State

No school in the FCS has been putting players into the NFL more often than North Dakota State. This year, they have two high-profile prospects: quarterback Trey Lance, and of course Radunz. Lance has been talked about as one of the four best quarterbacks in this class for quite some time, and could even be a top 10 selection. Radunz on the other hand happens to have the misfortune of being eligible in what is arguably the deepest class of offensive tackles in draft history. 

Radunz started every game at left tackle for the Bison in 2018, and 2019. Had their season not been canceled due to Covid, he would have had three years of game tape to show teams to prove his worth. Still, he had good enough tape to be looked at as a potential second-round pick prior to the Senior Bowl. 

Radunz has all the physical tools to be a successful tackle in the NFL. He’s 6’6 and has great length at the position. The one major question mark about him was if he had the strength and frame to withstand higher levels of competition. He’s only listed at 304 pounds, and will likely need to add 10-15 pounds to his frame in order to handle the rigors of the NFL. The good news for Radunz is that he was every bit as solid as previously advertised. Similar to Leatherwood, Radunz solidified his status as a potential second-round pick this week and even showed off some versatility by taking reps at guard on Thursday.

James Hudson – Cincinnati

Now, let’s get to Hudson – who is becoming one of my favorite players in this draft class. He was recruited to the University of Michigan to play defensive tackle. But after being stuck at the bottom of the depth chart, Hudson transferred to Cincinnati to seek an opportunity to play. The Bearcats moved him to offensive tackle and it’s a move that has paid off for him. Due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, he missed all of their regular-season games in 2019 but started their bowl game at right tackle. He then started every game at left tackle for them in 2020. 

He only measured in at 6’4 but he has the ideal size and length to play offensive tackle in the NFL. What excites you about Hudson is his athleticism and his tenacious mentality. He was dominant in the one on one portions, and also excelled as a run blocker in the team portions where he could really show what kind of athlete he is. He is the perfect tackle for a team that uses a lot of outside zone run concepts.

The first thing you notice when you pop on Hudson’s tape is his vicious first strike. He wants to get his hands on you as quickly as possible and has the strength to throw pass rushers off their balance. On the rep below, he knocks Penn State’s Shaka Toney off his spot and then does an excellent job moving his feet to stay in front and finish strong.

The second thing you notice when you watch Hudson is that tenacious mentality. He was clearly out for blood this week and has been trying to bury every pass rusher he goes up against, like Ohio State’s Jonathon Cooper in the next play. While the finish is fantastic, the forward lean here is a little bit of a concern. However, we have to remember that he’s only played offensive tackle for one full season, so the technique is absolutely a work in progress. But that’s also what makes him so exciting as a prospect because he is clearly oozing with upside.

Prior to this week, Hudson was viewed as a prospect with day three stock in the draft. But with how well he has played in Mobile, that stock has skyrocketed all the up to round two after the way he has played at the Senior Bowl. 

D’Ante Smith – East Carolina

One of the biggest surprises of this week at the Senior Bowl has been East Carolina’s D’Ante Smith. He was getting some low-level day three buzz leading up to this week, but he has been exceptional down in Mobile. He played guard as a redshirt freshman in 2017 and then started every game over the next three seasons at left tackle for the Pirates. Like Hudson, he is only listed at 6’4 but makes up for it with excellent length – he had the longest arms of any offensive lineman that was measured this week. 

He did not participate in Thursday’s practice, but he took reps at both tackle spots on Tuesday and spent the day on Wednesday taking reps at guard. He was outstanding at any spot that he has played. He’s shown off great mobility and a high-level motor. He even caught the eye of NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah.

The term “developmental project” has really taken on a negative connotation around Chargers nation due to the lack of development from Trey Pipkins, but Smith is the perfect kind of developmental project that teams want to take a chance on and hope he turns into an eventual starter. He’s a very high-level athlete at the position, but he will need to be coached up at the next level. It’s just that the round in which teams would need to take him was unclear prior to this week, but he is firmly in the third round range after his performance in Mobile.