The NFL Draft cycle is a 12-month merry-go-round. It has ups and downs, it’s always underwhelming by the end, and things wind up back to where they started... most of the time.
This time next month, if you’re into year-round coverage of the draft, you’ll find plenty of 2019 mock drafts being posted as the 2018 draft class is just putting their pads on in rookie OTAs. As ridiculous as it is, there is a market for it. But that’s the beginning of the merry-go-round.
When Mike McGlinchey and Connor Williams were first thrusted into the infamous carousel last May, they were amongst the hottest names to watch for in 2017.
Former teammate and well known mutant Quenton Nelson has deservedly received a substantial amount of acclaim for the resume he put together for the NFL, and McGlinchey was right there with him every step of the way.
McGlinchey has been a towering figure since he reached South Bend in the fall of 2013. A four-star recruit out of the 329 year-old William Penn Charter School just outside of north Philadelphia, McGlinchey’s 6-feet-8 frame caught the eyes of the revered current Chicago Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who put him behind future first-round pick Zack Martin to watch and learn, for he would eventually take over his spot at left tackle.
But it didn’t happen when Martin left for the league. Another future first-round pick, Ronnie Stanley, would hold down the blind side through 2015; while McGlinchey would spend his redshirt freshman season as a reserve and didn’t notch a start until the final game of the 2014 season. When 2015 came, the right tackle spot was opened for McGlinchey.
That year, 1,200 miles southwest in Austin, Texas, an 18 year old tight end-turned offensive tackle best known for getting called out by teammate and future 49er Solomon Thomas in practice and winning the rep arrived in the mecca of college football.
A redshirt wasn’t in the cards for Williams, as Texas isn’t a regular Joe Moore award contender for best offensive line in the nation like the Notre Dame is. Williams stepped in immediately at left tackle put the nation on notice.
In 2016 as a true sophomore at 19 years old, Williams played at a level that earned the title of consensus first-team All-American. There were just four sophomores in Texas history to even be an All-American, the last one being Earl Thomas.
While Williams was making his case to be a future top 10 pick, McGlinchey finally made the transition to left tackle next to his pal Nelson, and the two wreaked havoc on the ground. By the end of 2016, the carousel was just beginning, and McGlinchey and Williams were in for a ride. This series has exclusively started with looking at athleticism first, but let’s look at what level these two were playing at as underclassmen prior to last season.
This October matchup against USC back in 2015 had all of McGlinchey’s (playing right tackle) strengths and perceived weaknesses on display. He plays with textbook bend in his hips and his knees, and he’s a mauler in the run game.
Even at 6-8, he sinks and rolls his hips into every down block and generates consistent movement. The sack McGlinchey is credited for allowing will be the center of McGlinchey’s “weakness” that we’ll address later.
In his All-American 2016 campaign, Williams looked the part of a dominating power-blocking left tackle. He’s got heavy hands to neutralize power rushers and plenty of lower body explosion to drive defenders into the dirt.
According to the the official Texas 2016 roster page, Williams played at 288 pounds, but that number likely fluctuated around 290. At that number, Williams’s frame seemed to be at a comfortable point where he could maintain a necessary amount of relative speed and quickness, while also being powerful enough to drop an anchor.
In the offseason between 2016 and 2017, Williams put on about 20 pounds and was listed at 315 pounds per the official roster page in hopes to show scouts and teams he can be just as effective at the weight of an average NFL tackle. He still showed signs of dominance, but the added weight was definitely holding him back at times and effected his overall consistency.
The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment, so when a prospects most recent tape isn’t up to snuff in comparison to his previous tape, that’s going to impact a lot of evaluations.
Williams put together a decent 2017 season but didn’t quite look like the talent a year prior with the added weight, and he missed seven games due to nagging knee issues. Williams went from a consensus top-10 pick to a likely day 2 pick by the time he declared for the 2018 draft late last November.
McGlinchey didn’t bulk up to 330 pounds for his second season at left tackle, but he was handed a gauntlet of NFL talent to deal with all season. Kyle Crabbs, founder of NDT Scouting, was the first evaluator to truly point this out and his piece on McGlinchey was a driving force behind this one.
With the plethora of NFL-caliber pass rushers lining up across from him every single week, McGlinchey was bested from time to time. And as a pre-season darling and a serious candidate to go early in the first round, the carousel was making a target out of McGlinchey through the form of groupthink, which was exactly what was happening with Williams.
Because when he completely shut down the weak-side edge rushers that the Georgia defense had to offer for 58 minutes...
This is the play that most people have pointed to from that game.
When he played perhaps his most complete game of the year against an NC State defensive line that has multiple draftable talent...
There’s just another example from another game that can counter whatever point you may make about McGlinchey.
And then you get to the most shared concern about McGlinchey: his trouble with speed around the edge:
Specifically with McGlinchey, it was more common to see him execute quick sets rather than vertical sets in pass protection, a vertical set being the standard vertical kickslide. Notre Dame had McGlinchey aligned in a straight line with the center performing quick sets in pass protection like he was a guard, without an inline tight end next to him.
This put him at a disadvantage against edges who would use speed to run the arc around him. When he was in a traditional stance a yard and a half behind the center’s midsection, he could mirror speed fine.
The main detail that caught my eye was just how similar of a player he was compared to his 2015 tape, two years into the future. McGlinchey has been a consistent positive contributor for Notre Dame and has received top of the line guidance from former O-line coach Hiestand.
All the praise Nelson receives for his technical prowess, dedication to the weight room, and the other fluff that NFL personnel eats up, McGlinchey deserves it just as much. He’s just not the brute Nelson was born as. But he looks the part of a plug and play tackle. And finally, as the merry-go-round is coming around to stop, things are getting back to where they started.
McGlinchey’s stock has finally settled in the first-round, as recent noise around the league pegs him as the safest tackle in the draft, and that’s a statement that I think is correct. The buzz that came out of South Bend surrounding McGlinchey was he was much more comfortable at right tackle when he started there in 2015.
If the Bengals were to take McGlinchey, that’s where he’d go. Personally, he looked just as consistent at left tackle, so this isn’t anything like a Cedric Ogbuehi situation where he just wasn’t good on either side.
As for Williams, he’s not going to be a top-10 pick like the mock drafts of 11 months of ago had him as. If he had played a full season and had arms 1 inch longer, he’d be picked in the first round as a tackle because some team in the bottom of the round would roll the dice on the 2016 tape.
But the missed time and the question marks about his recent tape makes his stock way more unclear. One thing that did clear up was his athleticism:
After returning to just around his playing weight of 2016, Williams tested like an above average athlete at the position, and has the relative explosion and speed of a pro bowl tackle. Are his arms short for a tackle?
Yes. But they’re short for a guard too. Had Williams stayed at 290-295 pounds his Junior season, I’ve little doubt he would’ve built upon 2016 a lot better and the conversation about him staying outside would at the very least exist. Now he’s likely to be thrusted inside, where being flexible (not a strength of Williams) is more important than being explosive.
At the end of the carousel, some like McGlinchey get off with their horse at the top of the pole at the same stand-still spot where he got on. Some like Williams end up at the bottom of the pole on the opposite side of the exit.
The Bengals have shown a great amount of interest in McGlinchey and is by all accounts a clear target for them at the 21st overall pick. If he lasts that long and ends up being the pick, the Bengals should be expecting a quality long-term starter and nothing more, which is far better than what they’ve had of late.
Williams on the other hand, will most likely wait after hearing McGlinchey’s name being called. In 10 years, under the right coach with his weight kept around 300 pounds, Williams can end up being the greater reward that was worth the risk.