Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo each measured in at 6-foot-7. Colorado’s Nate Solder stands a whopping 6-foot-8 1/4. Standing among these oak trees, hulking men like Villanova’s Ben Ijalana (6-foot-3 5/8) looked almost shrimpy. Carimi and the other tall tackles appeared more ready for the frontcourt than the NFL front lines.
It’s unusual to see this many 6-foot-7-plus tackles at the top of the draft class. No offensive tackle taller than 6-foot-6 has been selected in the first round of the draft since the Dolphins selected Jake Long in 2008. There are some successful tall tackles in the NFL, including Long and 6-foot-8 Phil Loadholt of the Vikings, but top prospects usually fit a mold, and that mold has a doorway clearance of about six-and-a-half feet.
One look at Carimi, Castonzo, and Solder tells you that they are gifted athletes, and there’s plenty to like on their game film, too: these are big men who can move. But careful film study also shows why there’s a downside to being so far above the ground.
Watching tape of the top tackle prospects made me wonder: how tall is too tall?
Low man wins
When California beat Colorado last September, the Golden Bears often isolated 5-foot-11, 215-pound linebacker Jarred Price against Solder. Price had a speed advantage on Solder, but there was more to it. On one Price strip-sack, Solder established contact with the linebacker several yards away from quarterback Tyler Hansen and should have flattened him. But Price kept his forearms below Solder’s and delivered a blow to Solder’s midsection and out-leveraged the blocker. As a result, Price steered Solder out of his way, despite a 100+ pound disadvantage.
One scout I spoke to in Indianapolis said that diminishing returns kick in once an offensive lineman reaches the dimensions of an NBA power forward. “They have to keep working to bend at the knees, to not pop up at the snap,” he said. “They can’t ever let up on their technique.” Popping up is another of Solder’s problems. Against Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith (6-foot-5), he could be seen standing straight up at the snap, allowing Smith to deliver blows to his torso and get inside him for hurries. A tall blocker standing straight-legged is little more than a rag doll for an elite pass rusher.
Several of this year’s tall tackles are not just long, but lean. Castonzo has a classic lineman’s build, with a lot of mass in his thighs and butt, but Carimi and Solder have relatively narrow trunks. Their “high cut” bodies create even more leverage issues. Carimi, in particular, gets too narrow when run blocking: defenders can turn him sideways and slide around him. Carimi is so strong and athletic that teams will be willing to work with him to perfect his technique, but his size may never convert to NFL strength.
The trigonometry of pass rushing
So Solder got beat by a 5-foot-11 linebacker. He won’t face any of those in the pros, right?
Even when heads-up on a defensive end, the tall tackle faces a unique problem. Robert Mathis of the Colts is just 6-foot-2, but he plays even shorter in the pass rush. On NFL Network, Mike Mayock spent Combine week praising the angles at which defenders like Mathis torque their bodies when turning to attack the quarterback. Mathis can twist upfield with his body at a 47 degree angle to the ground. Do a little trigonometry (74 inches time the sine of a 47 degree angle) and you get 54.1 inches: Mathis is essentially 4-foot-6 with his body at such a tight angle. Try getting low on that!
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
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