Summary: Ryan Nassib had a rock in the form of Justin Pugh at left tackle protecting his blind side throughout his Syracuse career. While Nassib didn’t have a great supporting cast in the form of receiving weapons, he at least had a good college left tackle in Pugh protecting him.
Pugh broke into the starting lineup in 2010. He had a strong debut, as he was named a Second-Team All Big East selection. As a sophomore, Pugh improved and was a 2011 All-Big East First-Team selection for Syracuse. Pugh then missed a few games to start the 2012 campaign as he was working his way back from a shoulder injury. However, Pugh eventually put together his best season. He was rock solid in pass protection and was effective at opening holes in the ground game.
Pugh participated in the Senior Bowl after the season. Some observers felt he played well, while others were unimpressed. Pugh definitely didn’t look as good as Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. The undersized Pugh took reps at tackle and guard. He did okay taking on speed rushers but had some problems with bull rushes from heavy defensive tackles.
One big issue for Pugh as a left tackle in the NFL is he has terrible length. He has extremely short arms (31 1/2 inches) that are a few inches short of average and far from ideal. He also isn’t very strong, so he could struggle with a lot of the big defensive ends, especially larger ends in a 3-4 defense. Pugh clearly needs more strength for the NFL.
What Pugh has going for him is good technique a pass protector. He has quickness, athleticism, agility and mobility. Negating speed rushers by getting depth in his drop is one of his best strengths. The demand for left tackles is always huge in the NFL, so Pugh benefits from that, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team try Pugh on the blind side. Some teams feel that he should move inside to guard.
Pugh’s best fit could be in a zone-blocking system. That would highlight his movement skills, intelligence and technique while protecting his size and power limitations. If Pugh goes to a man blocking scheme, he will have to add some power to beat defensive linemen.
If Pugh were bigger he would be a top-20 pick. As it stands now he could go late in the first round or go early in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Sam Baker. If Pugh is able to overcome his physical limitations, he could turn into a player similar to Baker. The Falcon veteran has had some solid play during his career, while also dealing with injuries and some underwhelming stretches. Baker turned in a quality 2012 season protecting Matt Ryan. Pugh is nearly identical size Baker (6-5, 301) and both players have short arms. If Pugh is able to over come his size, strength and length weakness, he could turn into a player like Baker and be a nice value selection as a late first-round or second-round pick.
NFL Matches: Baltimore, Detroit, New York Jets, Arizona, San Diego, Miami
There are a few teams that could draft Pugh in the first or second round. The Ravens could be a good fit for Pugh with the last pick of the first round. They need a long-term left tackle to protect Joe Flacco. Pugh would make sense at pick 32.
Detroit needs a left tackle, and if they go with a defensive end in Round 1, Pugh could be a target in the second round. The Jets could consider Pugh in the second round as well to fill their void at right tackle.
The Cardinals, Chargers and Dolphins all figure to be jockeying for Lane Johnson. One team will probably get Johnson, while the other two teams could target Pugh at the top of the second round. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Arizona, San Diego or Miami trade up to the top of the second round to land Pugh.
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