Much of the Buccaneers draft ballyhoo focused on potential upgrades to the defensive line and secondary. Despite adding new starters over the past two years the offensive line is still in need of talent. That need could make Michigan State’s Jack Conklin a Bucs target with their second-round pick.
Beginning his college career as a walk-on, Conklin started forty games, mostly at left tackle, in three seasons at Michigan State. At 6’6" and 308 pounds, he brings ideal size and length as an NFL tackle. Given Michigan State’s level of competition, it should be apparent that Conklin is as ready for the NFL as any other tackle in the draft. He took on some of the best pass-rushers in the class, including Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Oregon’s DeForest Buckner.
There are those who would say Buckner owned Conklin when they faced off last year. While Buckner did give Conklin fits with some of his more violent pass rushes, the junior tackle held his own against the potential first-overall pick.
The reason Conklin survived his encounter with Buckner was his outstanding base strength. Outmuscling or bull rushing Conklin is simply a futile enterprise unless your have elite power and strength like Buckner. Conklin’s core strength and driving power makes him a brick wall and difficult to out-leverage if he has his feet underneath him.
The not-actually-a-secret to Conklin’s effectiveness is his hip bend. Though he’s 6’6", he plays so low that his center of gravity becomes an asset rather than a liability. Because he’s so centrally strong, defensive linemen can’t stand him up before he runs through them. It takes a DeForest Buckner to challenge his power.
For his strength alone, Conklin has a high ceiling as a guard or right tackle. Though he isn’t a great athlete, he pulls well and with efficiency. Once he makes the block, watch out. This guy plays, and pardon the cliché, through the whistle.
Conklin’s footwork is just adequate. He doesn’t have to kick out much, but he has enough length to accommodate most of his quickness deficiencies.
Conklin also suffers the same plight as most of his contemporaries: he primarily played in a spread offense. It’s no secret the NFL-readiness of offensive linemen diminished since the rise of the spread in college football.
Tackles like Conklin have less experience and development in creating and protecting the pocket than their forebears. His film betrays some inconsistent technique and bad habits NFL pass-rushers will exploit.
As seen here, Conklin sometimes has a tendency to lunge, leaving him wide open to counter moves. This doesn’t happen too often but there are a few technique problems that need correcting, including his tendency to catch pass-rushers rather than land a solid punch.
This shouldn’t concern teams too much as Conklin does have a nasty punch when he uses it. It’s more a matter of drilling consistency.
At this point, Conklin looks nice, but not great, not starter material. What makes Conklin worth a top-50 pick are his instincts. His decent average athletic profile doesn’t compare to how smart he is on the field. He has an ironclad grasp of protection schemes and game flow. He recognizes blitzes even if the rest of the offense doesn’t.
This play ends in a sack, but it’s not on Conklin. Actually it’s on the running back because Conklin was the only one who could have picked up the blitzing linebacker, leaving the tailback to at least chip the interior rusher. He doesn’t recognize the protection shift and Conner Cook takes the sack. And, hey, there's that nasty punch.
Conklin makes a handful of plays every game demonstrating how he operates on different level intellectually.
It’s no accident that Conklin throws his block right into Joey Bosa. With one deft move, Conklin neutralizes two players even if it is on the backside of the play. The instincts and awareness Conklin exhibits are nearly impossible to teach. They’re what make Conklin potentially a very special player in the NFL.
The Bucs don’t appear to have a long-term plan at right tackle. Demar Dotson and Gosder Cherilus are on the last year of their contracts, and both are on the wrong side of 30. Conklin’s strength and athleticism makes him a traditional fit for right tackle. Putting him next to Ali Marpet would make the right side a gigantic chasm for Doug Martin stroll through.
While Conklin’s invite to the draft (per Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett) in Chicago indicates he's likely to go in the first round, he might drop a bit. If he does, the Bucs need to consider completing the revamp of their offensive line.