The Seahawks didn’t invest an early pick on an offensive tackle this year, increasing the likelihood that they’ll need to in 2021. Duane Brown turns 35 in August and even if he plays on beyond this season — the future at left tackle warrants some consideration.
In recent years Seattle has preferred the veteran option. The top offensive tackles always go early and the ones available later on often require significant development. It’s possible, as we saw with the 49ers and Joe Staley/Trent Williams, that the Seahawks will eventually replace Brown with another veteran. That might be the best move, especially with Russell Wilson very much in the peak of his career. Whether it’s via trade or free agency — there’s a fairly good chance the Seahawks won’t leave Wilson’s blindside to an unproven younger player.
The other option of course is to draft and develop. That would require Brown to play for at least two more seasons realistically. It also means trying to identify a tackle likely to be available (assuming the Seahawks aren’t suddenly picking in the top-10).
One player to keep an eye on is Memphis’ Obinna Eze.
He’s switching to left tackle this year and it’ll be really interesting to see how he adjusts. His physical skill set is far more suited to the left side than the right, where he’s played previously. Eze is listed at 6-8 and 303lbs. He’s not a powerful drive blocker though — he’s very much an athlete.
Eze is a former four star recruit and was quite the get for Memphis when he opted to stay in Tennessee. The likes of Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn all showed interest. When he trained at a LSU camp in High School — he looked like a tight end playing tackle. He was tall, long and athletic but handled his three-star opponent with ease.
He only moved to the United States from Nigeria in 2015. After just a year of football on the junior varsity squad at Davidson Academy in Nashville, he received a scholarship offer from Lane Kiffin (who was the Alabama offensive coordinator at the time).
His story is very similar to Prince Tega Wanogho’s. He moved to America to play basketball but had the frame and athleticism suited to playing O-line.
Eze hasn’t seen his family in more than four years. It’s a sacrifice he’s had to make.
At 16 years old, he attended an open basketball camp in Nigeria, a year after picking up the sport. He impressed so much that he was invited to a closed camp for 50 players. From there, he made a team that traveled to the United States to play an AAU circuit. American interest in him blew up from that tour, with high schools in Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee offering scholarships.
Eze’s mother has a master’s degree in English, and the opportunity to get an education in the U.S. was something Eze’s family felt he shouldn’t pass up. He opted for Davidson Academy in Nashville and was paired with Maurice and Jennifer Fitzgerald as his guardians. He left Nigeria, uncertain of his future, unsure of when he’d see his family again. It’s too expensive for them to visit him or for him to go back right now.
“Certain sacrifices are necessary,” Eze says. “I’m glad they understand it, even though it’s hard for them and me too. We chose a path.”
The first thing that stands out on tape is his really light feet. In terms of pure agility and mobility — there aren’t many college tackles who can move like this. He drops with ease, there’s no labouring in his movement and his feet are so smooth he wouldn’t wake a baby with his kick-slide.
When he’s asked to defend a speed rush he drops with suddenness to wall off a route to the quarterback. He surprises defensive ends with his ability to mirror and often they’re forced too wide and deep — making it really hard to work back to the quarterback. He’s not troubled or fazed by speed in the slightest and that’s a good start for any prospective left tackle.
That alone makes him a really intriguing prospect with high potential. However, like most college offensive tackles, there are so many things to work on too.
For starters his frame is unrefined and a little sloppy. Duane Brown looks like a Terminator. Eze is going to need time working with a nutritionist and with a proper pro set-up in order to bulk up, get stronger and look like a NFL lineman. It shows in his play. He just can’t drop the anchor at the moment and defend from his core base. On the move he’s fine. When he needs to latch-on and drive defenders off the LOS, you don’t see it.
He’s much more comfortable dropping into space and operating with a one or two-armed shove. He’s playing to his strengths and that’s fine. What you want to see at the next level though is the ability to wall-off against speed and play inside/out but also an ability to connect with proper hand-placement, control a defender and drive him backwards. Eze does an excellent job in college keeping his frame clean but you’re playing a whole different level of opponent in the NFL. He’s going to need to win with power and battle. That means he needs to be stronger and bigger. With his frame — there’s definitely room to add another 10-15lbs. He needs to because against Penn State he was beaten by a one-armed bull rush by a lighter pass rusher.
This is the difference between a top-five pick in Andrew Thomas and more of a project. Thomas had an ideal NFL frame already and combined quick feet and balance with the ability to control.
There are also needed technical improvements. His kick slide, while impressive in terms of athleticism, is choppy and sometimes he gets ahead of himself in the drop and loses balance. He gets into awkward positions sometimes and the blocking angle means he has to contort his body. This is a sign of relying too much on the drop and not enough on being willing to get your hands on a pass rusher and control. He plays a lot of ‘defense’ as a blocker and when he’s bigger and stronger he’ll be able to go after his opponent instead.
He does a reasonable job extending his arms to keep his frame clean but again — he needs to latch-on rather than relying on his feet and shoving opponents off balance.
Shifting over to left tackle should help because his athleticism and ability to win vs speed is more suited to the blind side. If there’s a full college season in 2020 — he’s a player who could make enough of an impression to move up boards quickly. Coaches will salivate at the potential but he’s a player who, in all likelihood, will need time and maybe a redshirt season to develop his body and work on technique. The end result could be a top-level pass blocker. With the league constantly looking for those types — he has a chance to be an early pick.
Mike Norvell coached Eze at Memphis prior to taking the Florida State job. His view on his potential?
“Obinna is going to be successful no matter what he does… He can play this game for a long time. Whenever the last day of football comes, he’ll continue to have success, because of the drive he has in every aspect of his life.”
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