Draft Daily: Jack Conklin, the ‘Road Grader’

Is the Michigan State offensive tackle in play at No. 8?

Jack Conklin. (USA Today Sports)

Jack Conklin. (USA Today Sports)

Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. We’ve already covered Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Vernon Hargreaves, Paxton Lynch, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Ronnie Stanley, DeForest Buckner, Laquon Treadwell, Myles Jack and Dak Prescott. If you have a player you think should be covered, shoot us an email ([email protected]).

THE BACK STORY

Jack Conklin was desperate. The senior at Plainwell (Michigan) High School had zero FBS offers, but he knew one thing: Illinois’ then-head coach Ron Zook liked water skiing. In an effort to catch Zook’s attention, Conklin included a video of himself slaloming back and forth through the water when he sent his highlight tape to the Fighting Illini.

It didn’t work.

“I came from a small school,” Conklin said at the NFL Combine. “We didn’t know how to go about the recruiting process.”

With no FBS offers in hand, the offensive lineman decided to walk on to Michigan State. But by January of his freshman year, Conklin was awarded a scholarship, and the next year, he started 13 games, including 10 at left tackle. In 2014, Conklin became a second-team All-Big Ten selection, and last season, he was named a first-team All-American by Sporting News and USA Today.

Now, ESPN’s Scouts Inc. ranks him as the No. 8 overall prospect in this month’s draft.

“It’s crazy just to see how far I’ve come. It’s hard to think about to go from being four years ago to have no idea if I was going to be on a Division I team going into the fall. It’s hard to take in how far I’ve come as a person and a player,” Conklin said in Indianapolis. “I think about it all the time. It’s the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that’s the thing that drives me every day to see how far I’ve come and how close I was to not having this chance.”

Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley is widely seen as the second-best offensive tackle in the draft and a top-10 prospect who may be available at No. 8, but the Conklin-over-Stanley bandwagon seems to be gaining some followers. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein is on board, as he projected Conklin to Philadelphia in his latest mock draft.

After years of neglect, it’s almost a certainty that the Eagles will draft an offensive lineman — potentially with their first pick. Who that guy is, however, is anything but certain.

THE MEASURABLES

Despite his relatively small size, Conklin measures out pretty well. Among offensive linemen at the NFL Combine, Conklin finished fourth in the 40-yard dash and seventh in the 20-yard shuttle.

Conklin told the media that “quite a few teams” talked to him about playing right tackle — at least to start his NFL career — before being asked what it takes to stay on the left side at the next level.

“I think it just comes with athleticism. I think a lot of teams will see that on Friday with the running,” Conklin said. “A lot of teams don’t know. I think after they watch my times and see how I perform on Friday, they’ll be surprised. Hopefully that helps them think this guy can play left tackle, too.”

THE NO-22

You’ve probably heard the term “road grader” many times before, but you may not know exactly what it means. It refers to an offensive lineman’s ability to drive a defender off the ball on a run play, creating a good running lane for the ball-carrier.

Conklin provides a few good examples.

ESPN’s Scouts Inc. wrote about why Conklin is such an effective run blocker:

He drives his legs and has an above average power base once in position. Flashes the ability to extend his arms and put defenders on roller skates. … Almost always sustains long enough to create a seam. … Above average range climbing to the second level and pulling. Flashes ability to erase linebackers at the second level. Scheme-versatile player with skill set to effectively man and zone block.

The power Conklin shows in the run game is also apparent in the pass game from time to time.

However, pass blocking is the biggest knock on Conklin’s game.

Here’s Oregon’s DeForest Buckner using a nice swim move to quickly beat Conklin.

And this is Penn State’s Anthony Zettel using a spin move to make Conklin fall.

NFL.com’s evaluation of Conklin touched on some of his weaknesses in pass protection:

Not a deluxe athlete and might have issues with NFL edge speed. Has a habit of “opening the gate” too quickly in his pass sets rather than maintaining a more squared pad level for longer. Able to stuff single rush moves, but average athleticism will be tested by counters. Always looks to win on the physical front and can be a little slow to work his feet into proper position after initial contact. Hands can get a little wide and grabby once he’s in space.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Between Conklin’s run blocking ability and effort level/competitiveness, he’s a lot of fun to watch. Although I think Stanley is the better prospect, Conklin seems to fit better with what Doug Pederson says he wants in his offensive linemen.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with Pederson at the owners meetings:

You want guys who have that nasty, dirty grit to them, that no matter what happens during the course of a game or a season, they’re going to take control, they’re going to take charge. Guys that are versatile, guys that can play multiple spots. But to me, you want those dirty guys, those nasty guys. I’m not saying they’re cheap shot guys, but there’s a demeanor about ’em, that they’re aggressive when they step on the field.

I don’t think the Eagles should take Conklin at No. 8 overall, but it wouldn’t shock me if they like him more than Stanley because of his grit and work ethic.