There might be debate as to who the top player at some positions in the 2021 NFL Draft might be, but there’s no argument at the top of the offensive tackle depth chart.
Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell entered the 2020 season as the top tackle in the upcoming draft class, and despite opting out of the season and not putting any play on tape for a year, he remains so. While other offensive tackles have raised their draft stock none has really threatened Sewell’s position as the top tackle on the draft board.
But is he really as good as the hype would have us believe? There are some who say that Sewell is the best tackle prospect since Tyron Smith. While that might be a bit unfair to Sewell, could he really live up to expectations?
Prospect: Penei Sewell
Games Watched: vs. California (2019), vs. Colorado (2019), vs. USC (2019)
Games Played: 21 (14 in 2019)
Red Flags: Ankle (2018)
Best: Size, athleticism, play strength, competitive toughness, run blocking, pass protection
Worst: Hand usage, outside zone blocking
Projection: A starting offensive tackle in a man-gap or inside zone blocking scheme.
(Note: Sewell is LT number 58)
Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell has an uncommon blend of size, strength, and athleticism to play the position at the NFL level. Sewell aligned at the left tackle position on the Oregon offensive line. He executed both the man and zone blocking schemes used by the Ducks’ offense.
Sewell is a flexible left tackle prospect with the ability to settle into his stance before the snap and fire out of his stance with good leverage after the snap. He is a natural knee bender, keeping good hip and pad level throughout the rep. He is also a fluid and easy mover, both in pass protection and as a run blocker. Sewell has a balanced kick-slide which allows him to get depth and width in his pass sets while keeping his hips parallel to the line of scrimmage and maintaining balance for taking on pass rushers.
Sewell’s leverage allows him to unlock his natural play strength, easily absorbing power rushes, as well as controlling defenders once his block is established. Likewise, his mobility allows him to hit landmarks quickly and easily, cutting off speed rushers off the edge. Sewell also processes pass rushes quickly, easily picking up and passing off stunts and twists to avoid giving up free rushing lanes.
He is an easy mover in space, quickly working to the second level or getting out in front of screen plays. Sewell is athletic enough that he can accurately block linebackers and defensive backs while on the move.
Sewell is a powerful run blocker who can drive defenders off the ball on power running plays, or disrupt gap discipline in zone plays. Sewell consistently fires off the ball with good leverage as a run blocker, uncoiling his hips to drive defenders back, out of his gap, and to the ground when he can.
There are few flaws in Sewell’s game, though teams would want to continue to work with him to polish his hand technique. Sewell can occasionally allow his hands to go wide during his punch, landing his hands outside defenders’ framework. While he is certainly strong enough to control college defenders without perfect leverage, he will want to refine his hand usage to keep improving at the NFL level. Likewise, NFL officials could use wide strikes as evidence of holding.
Sewell’s only real weakness is on the back side of outside zone runs. While he is athletically capable of staying in sync with his linemates, he can be prone to getting out over his toes and lunging. Even poor blocks can send defenders reeling, but he might be better served being on the play-side or in an offense which primarily uses man-gap or inside zone schemes.
Overall Grade: 9.5 - This prospect has the physical and mental traits to be an immediate starter Pro Bowl player at his position early in his career.
Penei Sewell projects as a starting offensive tackle, and would be best on a team which uses a power running scheme.
Sewell will almost certainly start at left tackle in the NFL and should remain there for some time. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t be able to play right tackle, but his collegiate experience is on the left side and that’s where his learning curve would be shortest at the NFL level.
Sewell might lack ideal length at 6-foot-4 ⅞ inches, with 33 ¼ inch arms, and that could bring him close to some teams’ minimum thresholds for the position. However, his movement skills — particularly for a player who weighs 331 pounds — and play strength make any length concerns a non-issue. Sewell should be a plug-and-play blocker for almost any offensive line in the NFL and could well become a “franchise” left tackle.