The Detroit Lions have plenty of glaring needs to address this offseason, the most important of which may be their offensive line. Just one of their five starters lined up for every snap this past season. That man is Rob Sims, who will no longer be under contract in 2015. Injuries most certainly took their toll in 2014, and the Lions were forced to juggle between three different starters at the right guard and right tackle positions. Adding younger, more talented players to the O-line via the NFL Draft may be the best option for general manager Martin Mayhew.
It's early, but it appears as if this year's offensive tackle and offensive guard class isn't as top-heavy as previous years. Tackles like Stanford's Andrus Peat, LSU's La'el Collins and Iowa's Brandon Scherff will likely be gone by the time the Lions are on the clock with the 23rd overall pick, but there are plenty of late-first-round options Detroit should consider. Among those options is Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings.
Clemmings is a converted defensive end who is still learning the offensive tackle position. He has two years of experience as a right tackle, but his slim frame (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) suggests to some scouts that he may be better suited as a left tackle in the NFL. I believe he can play almost anywhere on the line as long as he's able to add some more weight to his frame.
Either the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) is full of weak defenses, or T.J. Clemmings is the strongest 305-pound tackle I've ever seen.
In the play above, watch as Clemmings is able to engage with his assignment, turn him away from the play and drive him into the ground with ease. That's the type of tenacity I love to see when watching an O-lineman on tape.
It's not just the strength or tenacity, but the technical aspect that he brings to the run game.
Clemmings is great at engaging first and being able to dictate where he wants his assignment to go. This allows him to drive the defender away from the play and create a massive hole for the ball carrier. You will see plenty of plays like these when watching him on tape.
Clemmings has elite athleticism for an offensive tackle. In Pitt's offense, he was often asked to carry out second-level blocks and serve as the lead blocker on various screens.
When you have an OT who can carry out a lead block like that... good night. Can you imagine having a guy like Clemmings leading the way on a designed screen for Golden Tate? Yes, please.
Here is an example of him absolutely obliterating a Duke linebacker on a second-level block. Not only does he pancake the defender downfield, but he delivers the fatality for good measure. This is exactly what teams will love to see when assessing Clemmings. Scouts covet prospects who are willing to finish off blocks and/or play through the whistle.
Raw Pass Protector
Despite being a natural beast in the run game, Clemmings is extremely raw as a pass protector. This comes as no surprise from a guy who's spent just two years as an OT. He shows decent footwork in pass pro and mirrors his opponents well, but struggles with hand placement at times.
In this example, Clemmings sinks into his kick-slide but fails to set his feet upon initial contact. This allows the defensive end to overpower him and throw him to the ground. Not exactly what you'd like to see from your tackle, but this is why he will be a work in progress at the next level.
Though his technique clearly needs some work, he does show a good sense of awareness as a pass blocker.
Clemmings keeps his head on a swivel and is always looking for someone to block. In this particular play, he quickly recognizes a stunt developing and is able to get his hands inside the first defender and throw him into his teammate's path. Immediately after, he turns his attention to the stunting defensive tackle and stuffs him.
How He Fits
I know some of you are probably wondering why I'm focusing on an OT rather than OG. But aside from Brandon Scherff, I really don't believe there are any guards worthy of a first-round pick. In recent years, there has been a major love affair growing between NFL teams and raw, athletic tackles leading up to the draft (i.e., Lane Johnson, Greg Robinson). Johnson took a major leap after turning his -13.7 pass-blocking grade on Pro Football Focus in 2013 into a +7.6 in 2014.
Clemmings can develop and immediately compete for the starting right tackle spot. If he's unable to win the job, then I believe he's more than capable of earning the starting left guard job. Regardless of where he plays, Clemmings is a great talent with a ton of upside, and if the Lions are able to pick him up through the draft, then it's a step in the right direction for their O-line.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any suggestions of prospects you would like to be profiled in the comments below.