Evaluating The Steelers’ 2016 Draft Picks: OT Jerald Hawkins

via Scout.com

Jerald Hawkins is the last of the players the Steelers picked who I didn’t profile prior to the draft. I did profile an offensive tackle, Vadal Alexander, and noted at the time that the Big Eater positions have a hard time making the cut in a BLA draft. Alexander did, but ironically his LSU teammate wasn’t on my radar.

Oddly, Alexander graded out higher on the NFL’s draft profile than Hawkins (5.59 vs. 5.5). But for whatever reason nobody but me, apparently, liked the looks of Alexander, because he came very close to going undrafted. (The Raiders picked him up in the 7th round with pick 234.) This makes me really curious, so let’s compare their scouting reports. First, in deference to his much more highly drafted status and, more importantly, his status as a Steeler, here are selected bits of Hawkins’ profile:

Strengths:Long­-limbed tackle with experience on both sides. Slides feet and hips into play-­side positioning after making squared contact on reach blocks and the backside. Flashes power in his paws snatching a portion of defender’s frame and maintaining his grip. Plays with good weight distribution and balanced pass sets. Has foot quickness and change of direction for redirect move back inside without much hesitation and brace up his edge. Speedy snap off and search mechanism against twists. Generally well-timed climbs on combo blocks. Uses upward blow with decent hip snap into initial contact in run game. Held his own in snaps against A’Shawn Robinson from Alabama.

Weaknesses: Possesses unusually linear build with thin waist for an offensive lineman. Power in base blocks hindered by his narrow drive base. Doesn’’t always bring his feet through contact. Overall power and play strength need to improve. Wins early portion of the rep but often gives way to opponents’ strength over second half of the snap. Not a natural knee­-bender and misses more than he hits on second level. Doesn’t gain enough lateral ground to consistently get to cross­-face blocks and backside cut­off on linebackers. Hands too wide in pass pro set­up leading to slower, wider punch at times. Willing to waist-­bend when pass rusher gets to the edge.

Bottom Line:Hawkins is a tough evaluation because the length and footwork in pass protection are promising, but issues with bend and body control may be difficult to correct. Hawkins has talent, but his ceiling might be tied directly to whether a team allows him to sit while an offensive line coach works to correct the technical flaws that limit his effectiveness. Hawkins best spot may be right tackle.

They projected him as a fourth-round pick. Todd McShay of ESPN pegged him as a Day 2 prospect, going even as high as the second round.
Now Alexander:
Strengths: Mammoth frame will give him a size advantage over just about everyone he lines up against. Is at his best as a downhill blocker. Natural power that just needs to be harnessed and unlocked. Can cave in defenders with his down­blocks and has power in his hands to jolt linebackers when he can square them up. Has enough leg drive to generate movement as a base blocker when his pad level is right. Has the frame and natural power to anchor up against bull­ rushers as a guard. Massive frame includes long arms that can control a defender when he gets his hands on defender first. Has length and upper body strength to help him recover against inside moves to the A-gap.
Weaknesses: Very slow, plodding feet. Has issues redirecting himself to handle sudden change of direction by the defender and his lack of lateral quickness forces him into a phone booth on the next level. Struggles to get good angles on second level blocks. Below average balance and overall body control. Lower body stiffness and limited bend is a concern. Doesn’t bring feet under him after contact so he struggles to secure blocks. On combo blocks, has a low connection rate when climbing up to linebackers. Too passive out of stance, failing to fire into defender and take control of the rep. Only a guard prospect — not athletic enough to play tackle. Bad habit of using wide, corralling hands in pass pro rather than using his length and hands as instruments of force. Continued tape study shows too many mental mistakes in both run and pass.
Their projection? Third round. Pro Football Focus, on the other hand, projected him as going in the 7th round. One up to PFF.
But now let’s look at the guy we got. Hawkins declared after his junior season (although he had been at LSU four years at that point.) Here’s what he posted on his Instagram account: 
“After much thought and prayer with my family, I have decided to bypass my final year of eligibility and pursue a career in the NFL. These years at LSU have been nothing short of amazing but I feel I am ready for the next stage in my athletic career. I first want to say thank you to my coaches ,and teammates for their support and friendship. To all the fans who made this such an amazing place to play, I want to encourage you to continue to fill the stands because this team has an amazing future and you guys and your support means everything.

“This team and this school means everything to me. I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish together this year, including a great win in the Bowl. I’m honored to be able to call myself a LSU TIGER for the rest of my life. This is not a goodbye but a thank you for the moments and memories that will be with me for a lifetime!”

In the past few drafts there seems to be a common thread—the Steelers seem to be greatly interested in drafting guys who are first and foremost athletes. Hawkins definitely fits this mold—in high school he not only played football but basketball and baseball. He also went in for track and field throughout his high school career. In 2011 he was the state champion (Louisiana) at the shot put. The football analyst for New Orlean’s station WWL said this about Hawkins:

“He’s the best athlete LSU had up front, most LSU players will tell you. He’s a guy who has some movement skills. He’s awfully fast and quick for a big man.”

One thing Hawkins has been is durable. The single game he missed last season was the only game he missed at LSU. But it came at a cost, as he told the New Orleans Advocate:

“Played all year with banged-up foot and ankle,” Hawkins said. “During the games, I’d re-twist it. Just tape it back up and try to get back out there and handle my business.”

He felt he was fully healthy for the first time several weeks into his combine training at a facility in Arizona. He also told Missi Mathews of Steelers.com that he felt he was mature enough to declare. What does his position coach think? Mike Munchak discussed him after the draft:

[He] can play both sides, left tackle, right tackle. It makes our group better when you can bring in a good athlete and a good player who has the ability to compete right away…Especially as the draft goes on, it’s hard to find players you believe have the versatility to play both spots…We feel this guy can come in, learn from the guys we have, push the guys we have, and now it’s just a matter of how quickly we feel he can contribute.

Munchak obviously likes this guy, which is good news.

I couldn’t find a lot of personal information about him, except that his father, with whom he was clearly very close, died of a heart attack in 2012. His father predicted many years ago that he would be drafted into the NFL, so I’m sure that for Hawkins this exciting time is  bittersweet, as his father isn’t here to share it.

I’ll end with the following, from a short Mike Prisuta article on Steelers.comPrisuta asked what it was like working with Mike Munchak:

“It’s more than what I expected,” Hawkins said. “I was expecting a great time just to learn from one of the greats and it’s been exactly that and more. He’s teaching me a lot in just these two days.

“It’s been perfect.”

Hawkins has already learned a significant lesson about what an NFL rookie camp demands.

“Keep focused, make sure you get in the playbook and just learn just keep up with the tempo,” he said.

“Everything goes fast, from tempo to play-calling. You gotta get on the road. You gotta have your mind ready.

“It’s a fast tempo, a lot of learning terminology but honestly, I’m loving it.”

That explained the ear-to-ear grin Hawkins was sporting.

“I feel like a big kid out there,” he said.

 

 

 

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