Tom Dienhart's Big Ten position rankings: Left offensive tackles
Know your team’s left tackle. Just like the quarterback, he’s a glamour boy. Really. Jake Long, Orlando Pace and Eric Fisher are left tackles who recently were picked No. 1 in the NFL draft. You won’t see a guard or center earn that honor. And probably not even a wideout or running back.
The left offensive tackle is a key cog to the production of the offense who often protects the backside of the quarterback. Without a good left OT, your school’s attack figures to be bogged down.
Here’s my ranking of the projected Big Ten left offensive tackles from 1-14. It’s a good, deep collection of talent.
1. Michigan State: Jack Conklin. The 6-6, 317-pound junior arrived in East Lansing as a walk-on. Now, he is entering his third year as a starter at left tackle, projects as one of the top tackles in the nation and a likely high first-round draft pick. Conklin was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten choice in 2014 and has only allowed 2.5 sacks in 27 career games.
2. Ohio State: Taylor Decker. The 6-8, 315-pound senior, who is entering his third season as a starter, is the lynchpin of what should be a killer Buckeye offensive line in 2015. Decker, who has started 29 games in a row, is equally adept at run blocking as he is at pass blocking. Decker helped pave the way for 28 individual 100-yard rushing games by six different Buckeyes in the last three years.
3. Nebraska: Alex Lewis. The 6-6, 290-pound senior began his career at Colorado. Since arriving in Lincoln, he has been a cornerstone. Lewis was a key part of an offensive line that powered several record-setting performances and helped NU rank in the top 20 nationally in rushing and scoring offense in 2014. The Nebraska line needs Lewis’ leadership as a unit in transition develops chemistry.
4. Wisconsin: Tyler Marz. The 6-5, 321-pound senior is one of two returning starters up front for the Badgers (center Dan Voltz also is back). Marz—who is entering his third year as a starter with 27 starts in a row–is a massive man who can move. Marz has helped anchor an offensive line that led way for two of the three best single-season rushing performances in school history at 283.8 yards per game in 2013 and a school-record 320.1 yards per game in 2014.
5. Minnesota: Josh Campion. The 6-5, 310-pound junior started 13 games at left tackle last season and has now started the first 39 games of his career. He protected for an offense that rushed for 2,801 yards and 32 touchdowns and was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention by the media and coaches in 2014.
6. Indiana: Jason Spriggs. This 6-7, 305-pound senior is savvy, starting 28 games to begin his career and 34 of 35 for his career. Spriggs, who started his first game as a true freshman in 2012, was honorable mention All-Big Ten last year. In 2014, Spriggs allowed just two sacks in 689 snaps and recorded 45 knockdowns for a team that set a program single-season record with 3,163 rushing yards.
7. Michigan: Mason Cole. How good is this guy gonna be? Last season, the 6-5, 295-poind Mason became the first true freshman in Michigan history to start a season opener on the offensive line and never left the starting lineup. He figures to top this list pretty soon.
8. Penn State: Paris Palmer. The 6-7, 290-pound Palmer—who originally committed to South Carolina–arrived from a JC and impressed. The junior arrived in time for spring drills and has big shoes to fill with Donovan Smith off early to the NFL from a line that allowed 44 sacks last year. Palmer can’t falter protecting Christian Hackenberg.
9. Rutgers: Keith Lumpkin. The 6-8, 310-pound senior is entering his third year as a starter and was part of a line that allowed just two sacks over the final four games in 2014. He has made 26 starts in a row and could be a pro for a RU line that has a lot to prove.
10. Maryland: Michael Dunn. The 6-5, 306-pound Dunn is the man for now. The junior started 10 games at left tackle last year. But he may be just keeping the seat warm as Derwin Gray recovers from shoulder surgery. The 6-5, 315-pound Gray arrived in College Park as a hyped prospect. Gray, a redshirt freshman, should be ready for camp and may win the job.
11. Purdue: David Hedelin. The 6-4, 295-pound native of Sweden plays with a defensive edge and loves to mix it up. But the senior, who began his career at a JC, needs to improve as a pass blocker and appears to be on course. He’s a brawler who is catching up on technique for a veteran Boilermaker line that could be salty.
12. Iowa: Boone Myers. The 6-5, 300-pounder arrived in Iowa City as a walk-on and was put on scholarship prior to the 2014 season. Now, the sophomore is taking over for an all-time great in Brandon Scherff. Myers is a good athlete who played tight end and defensive end in high school.
13. Illinois: Austin Schmidt. This 6-6, 295-pound junior must help cultivate a more physical run game while also protecting QB Wes Lunt, who has had injury issues.
14. Northwestern: Geoff Mogus. A 6-5, 295-pound junior, Mogus is entering his third year as a starter. He started at left guard the last two seasons but was moved to tackle in the spring—but it may not be permanent. Stay tuned. This is a NU line that has a lot to prove. And it begins at left tackle.