Another year, another batch of highly-touted offensive linemen from the University of Alabama.
This year the biggest name entering the NFL off the Alabama offensive line is Alex Leatherwood, who manned the left tackle position the previous two years. But in a change from previous years, there is some question as to what position Leatherwood will play at the NFL level. There are those advocating that he stay at offensive tackle, arguing that if he could play the position at Alabama, he can play the position in the NFL. Meanwhile there are others who believe Leatherwood would benefit from a move inside to guard, a position he played as a sophomore in 2018.
As it so happens, the New York Giants could find themselves in need of a young interior lineman to further solidify their offensive line. Could the Giants look to Leatherwood to help answer some of those questions?
Prospect: Alex Leatherwood
Games Watched: vs. Missouri (2020), vs. Georgia (2020), vs. Auburn (2020), vs. Ohio State (2020)
Games Played: 48 (13 in 2020)
Best: Length, play strength, short-area quickness, competitive toughness
Worst: Range, kick-slide
Projection: A starting guard with scheme versatility.
Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood has the frame, size, competitive toughness, play strength and short-area quickness to play on the offensive line at the NFL level.
Leatherwood typically lined up at left tackle as a junior and senior after first getting onto the field as Alabama’s starting right guard as a sophomore in 2018. He has good size and length for the NFL, with good thickness in his upper and lower body and long (34 ⅜-inch) arms. Leatherwood has adequate lower-body flexibility, able to get settled into a good 3-point stance and maintain good knee and hip bend throughout the rep. He has good reactions and is seldom late off the snap, quickly getting into his pass set or run blocks. He also shows a ready punch, and usually works to fit his hands on the defender’s chest plate.
Leatherwood does a good job of using his length to his advantage and is capable of running most speed rushers around the pocket in pass protection. He has a very good anchor against power rushers, playing with good leverage and a wide base to absorb bullrushes without giving significant ground.
He is a solid run blocker with plenty of play strength to move EDGE defenders and most defensive tackles off the ball. Leatherwood has heavy hands and is capable of delivering a jolt before moving to drive defenders backward. He is also a capable puller, with enough quickness and foot speed to stay ahead of the play and not create traffic in the backfield.
Leatherwood struggles with his kick-slide on the edge, particularly when asked to create a wide pocket. His footwork quickly becomes a choppy shuffle, which can disrupt the timing of his strikes. That shuffle can also lead to rising hips and pads, as well as the occasional lunge or his hands landing outside defenders’ frameworks. Leatherwood also struggles to maintain his accuracy when blocking on the move in space. In addition to landing only glancing blows on defenders, he can miss them entirely.
Overall Grade: 7.8 - This prospect has the traits to start in the NFL, but a position change could be in order.
Alex Leatherwood projects best as a starting guard at the NFL level, though a team can’t be blamed if they want to give him an opportunity at offensive tackle.
Leatherwood already has experience at guard, not to mention the requisite play strength and competitive toughness. While there might be questions about his athleticism or movement skills as an offensive tackle, Leatherwood would be an above-average athlete for the guard position and well-suited to blocking schemes which require frequent pulling. Leatherwood is at his best as a run blocker on man/gap and inside zone plays, but should be able to block outside zone plays as an interior lineman at the NFL level.
Moving Leatherwood inside would shrink the area for which he is responsible, which should take some of his footwork issues out of the equation. That should help him focus on timing his punch and making sure his hands are always at the ready.
Of course, there’s always uncertainty any time you ask a player to change positions. That uncertainty could impact his draft stock, but there is a pretty strong track record of college tackles moving inside to guard. It might be a bit much to predict that Leatherwood would be as good a guard as Zack Martin, Justin Pugh, or Joel Bitonio, but he could see a similar benefit to a similar move.