2013 Preseason All-American Projections: Offensive Tackles

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft.

First-Team Offensive Tackles:

Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

Matthews passed on the opportunity to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to return for his senior year. He’s spent two years being a dominant right tackle, but is moving to left tackle for 2013 to protect the blind side of Johnny Manziel. The past three seasons the Aggies had excellent blocking for Manziel and Ryan Tannehill on the left side with Luke Joeckel, so Matthews has big shoes to fill.

Huge expectations are nothing new to Matthews. He’s the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, one of the best blockers in NFL history. Jake Matthews came to Texas A&M with a lot of fanfare and justified it from the start. He broke into the starting lineup at right tackle as a freshman during 2010 and the Aggies’ sacks per game went down dramatically.

In 2011, Matthews was solid as a protector for Tannehill and was dominant in the ground game. While Joeckel may have been better in pass protection, Matthews was the superior run-blocker. Matthews was phenomenal in 2012. The junior dominated in pass protection and in run blocking. Manziel had a lot of time to make plays with his arm or legs thanks to great blocking up front.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews is naturally strong and can bully defensive linemen. He is a good athlete who is technically sound as a pass-protector. Matthews would have already been the starter at left tackle for almost any other program. I think he’ll excel at left tackle and be a First-Team All-American in 2013.

Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Like Matthews, it was very surprising that Lewan decided to return for his senior season as many felt he was a sure-fire top-10 pick. 2012 was Lewan’s third straight season as the starter at left tackle, and he got better as the season progressed. Lewan was solid as a pass-protector and very effective as a run-blocker. Against weak Big 10 competition, in the majority of games Lewan was dominant. The junior had so-so performances against Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State, but improved throughout the year.

Michigan’s appearance in the Outback Bowl put Lewan up against the toughest opponent in college football, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. Lewan held his own. He had his share of wins, but was also beaten for a tackle for a loss. Lewan was called for a holding and needed some double-team help, too. However, he wasn’t beaten for a sack and Clowney didn’t make him look bad. Against an elite superstar pass-rusher like Clowney, that was a solid performance.

The 6-foot-8, 302-pound Lewan has great length to block on the edge. He needs to work on his knee bend and technique for the NFL, and if he has issues with that he could end up moving to right tackle. However, Lewan looks like he could be one of the top tackles in the nation this year. He has name recognition and respect from his previous seasons which could help him to be a First-Team All-American selection over some younger tackles.

Second-Team Offensive Tackles:

Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Kouandjio gave the Crimson Tide the luxury of moving Barrett Jones out of left tackle to center for his senior year despite Jones winning the Outland Trophy for his 2011 campaign. The Alabama coaching staff felt that Kouandjio was an elite left tackle and believed he was a future first-round pick. Moving Jones to center put the team’s best five linemen on the field together while opening up the spot for Kouandjio to start.

Kouandjio didn’t disappoint and had an excellent 2012 season. The sophomore developed into a superb run-blocker and a rock-solid pass-protector by the end of the season. He had some early mistakes, but improved steadily. Alabama averaged 224.6 yards per game on the ground and 439.1 yards of total offense. Kouandjio finished the season in impressive fashion with excellent outings against Georgia and Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide won its second straight National Championship and quarterback A.J. McCarron had a clean blind side thanks to the work of Kouandjio and left guard Chance Warmack.

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio probably has the best athletic skill set of any tackle on this list. He is extremely quick and agile to take on speed-rushers while having the power to be effective in the ground game. Kouandjio doesn’t have the name recognition of Matthews or Lewan, but that will change quickly as Kouandjio will get the attention that went to Warmack, Jones and D.J. Fluker last year. It is definitely possible that Kouandjio beats out Matthews or Lewan as a First-Team All-American selection.

James Hurst, North Carolina

A lot of elite recruits ended up going to North Carolina during the Butch Davis era. Some of those great athletes remain despite Davis being gone for two years. Players like Jonathan Cooper, Giovani Bernard, Quinton Coples, Zach Brown, Bruce Carter and Sylvester Williams have been early-round picks and Hurst could continue that trend. The 6-foot-7, 310-pounder has speed and agility to go along with excellent size.

Hurst had a strong 2012 campaign protecting the blind side of Bryn Renner. Cooper formed an excellent left side of the line with Hurst, and Cooper has said that Hurst helped him to a lot of his collegiate success. Hurst is said to be extremely intelligent. He always knows what to do and where to be and directs his teammates accordingly. The junior was a strong run blocker for Bernard last year.

Hurst has the opportunity to make a statement game that could electrify his draft stock in the season opener. North Carolina faces off against South Carolina and Hurst will match up against phenom defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. If Hurst plays well against- or even shuts down – Clowney, the success could help make the case for him to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and a First-Team All-American. Matthews, Lewan and Kouandjio don’t draw Clowney on their regular season schedules, so Hurst has the chance to beat the best and stand out over the other tackles.

Third-Team Offensive Tackles:

Antonio Richardson, Tennessee

Tennessee had a situation similar last year to Alabama’s moving of Barrett Jones over in favor of Cyrus Kouandjio. The Volunteers had senior Dallas Thomas, who was a quality tackle prospect as a junior, but moved him inside to guard due to the talent of Antonio Richardson. The sophomore was excellent protecting Tyler Bray’s blind side. Tennessee did a great job in pass protection with Richardson leading the way, allowing only eight sacks in 2012. He was a Second-Team All-SEC selection.

Richardson also held his own going against Clowney. Richardson (6-6, 332) has size to go with some athleticism. Tennessee had a rough season, which is why I think Richardson didn’t get the attention he deserved.

The junior has a challenging 2013 schedule with good pass-rushers throughout. He rematches with Clowney midway through the year. If Richardson has a dominant junior season, he could be a First-Team All-American selection.

Andrus Peat, Stanford

This was a tough call between Peat and Florida left tackle D.J. Humphries. Both were star recruits who flashed some serious talent as freshmen in 2012. I’m going with Peat for a few reasons.

One, I got a better look at Peat because he played around 20 snaps per game, while Humphries didn’t receive as much playing time behind Xavier Nixon. The second reason that Peat is my pick is because Stanford has been phenomenal at developing offensive linemen. Starting with Jim Harbaugh and continuing under David Shaw, the Cardinal has featured a hard-nosed offensive line that has dominated the line of scrimmage.

Peat may have the best physical skill set of all the linemen Stanford has had in recent years. That is saying something considering David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin were first- and second-round picks respectively in the 2012 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Peat has great size to along with athletic ability.

The talent of Peat has prompted Stanford to move David Yankey to guard for his senior season despite the fact that Yankey was a First-Team All-American pick at left tackle last year, a situation similar to Alabama or Tennessee in 2012. With great coaching, a good guard next to Peat and other talent on offense, I think Peat is going to have a breakout 2013 season in the Pac-12.

Honorable Mentions: Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin, Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving, Tennessee offensive tackle JuWaun James, Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, Ohio State offensive tackle Andrew Norwell, Florida offensive tackle Chaz Green and Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses.

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