One of the oddest rises during the draft process has been Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker’s. Fluker is massive and has the measurables that scouts covet. He’s 6’5″, 339 pounds and has 36 3/4″ long arms. There’s not many people on this planet with that kind of size and length, so in a way, his rise to nearly the top of the draft makes some sense. But then when you watch him play, it doesn’t make too much sense at all.
There are concerns about Fluker’s ability to play tackle in the NFL. He’s big and strong, yes, but he’s also not very quick, and he’s better moving forward than in reverse. The issue with that is to pass block, he has to go in reverse. He’s slow getting off the line of scrimmage at times, and he doesn’t have the foot quickness to handle speed rushers on a consistent basis. He’s bailed himself (and his quarterback) out of problems before by using his length to reroute rushers wide of the pocket, but one must consider if he can continue to do that in the pros.
There’s a chance Fluker can. We’ve seen it done before by big, slow pass blockers (e.g. Phil Loadholt), but we’ve also seen it not work. Some guys don’t belong on the edge of the line, where the wolves are chasing their prey at speeds unable to be processed. There are theoretical plays that can be mentally drawn up that test Fluker’s talent.
Imagine he’s playing right tackle for the San Diego Chargers and there’s a tight end lined up next to him helping him in pass protection. Say it’s Week 10 and they’re facing the Denver Broncos, who have Von Miller lined up outside of the tight end’s right shoulder. At the snap, the tight end releases into a route and Miller bursts past the line of scrimmage while Fluker is still in his stance. There’s no help for the blocker, as the running back has released into a route too and the tight end is long gone. Fluker finally gets out of his stance and Miller dips his shoulder and sacks the quarterback.
That’s the concern, and although it’s a theoretical one, it’s one that is possible in the NFL because teams are looking to leave their tackles on an island more to free up more weapons downfield. Against Georgia, Fluker ran into a similar scenario as the above, but he had some help in the end.
The Crimson Tide have one tight end and one running back that create “11″ personnel against Georgia’s 3-4 defense. The tight end and running back are both to the right side of the line, with the tight end in-line and the back roughly three yards behind Fluker’s staggered right foot.
When the play begins, Fluker gets out of his stance quick enough, but he faces a problem when the pass rusher is rushing wide from a nine technique alignment. He can’t get out that wide quick enough, and instead of dropping straight back to meet the rusher at a point, he instead attempts to get out to the rusher. That results in Fluker falling behind the rusher, and as a consequence, having to turn his hips and run after him.
Fortunately, he ends up receiving help from the running back, who stayed in to block.
Another situation that arose over the course of Fluker’s final season in Tuscaloosa was dealing with linebackers in blitz situations. It’s something he’s going to have to do at the next level as defenses try to figure out how to attack spread offenses, but can he handle it?
Consider this play against Mississippi State. It’s first-and-10 and the Crimson Tide offensive line is faced with a 3-4 front. The defense is going to be bringing pressure by sending the strong-side inside linebacker, who is lined up on Fluker’s side, on a blitz. Fluker’s on the right side again, and to his near left is a defensive lineman.
At the snap, the lineman stunts across the formation and away from Fluker, who slides to his left as part of the offensive line’s full-slide protection call. Once he slides, he’s one-on-one with the inside linebacker. As the linebacker blitzes, Fluker keeps sliding and ends up sliding too far to the left, leaving a gaping hole to his right.
Predictably, the linebacker takes advantage of that gap and rushes through it. That exposes Fluker’s lack of foot quickness, which is shown when he struggles to keep up with the linebacker. The result is a sack.
Could this situation have been avoided? Possibly. It’s uncertain what the running back’s job in pass protection was — typically, full-slide means the RB gets the opposite direction of the slide, but there’s a tight end here — and Fluker didn’t have to slide over as much as he did. In the future, there’s questions as to how his lack of foot quickness will affect him on the edge, though.
Fluker’s length and strength are great for rerouting pass-rushers or flat-out engulfing them when taking them head-on, but he’ll have to deal with quicker rushers that have an explosive first step and can dip their shoulder like Von Miller can. Will he be able to hold up then? It’s debatable, which is why I could see him making a move to guard. At guard, his strengths are maximized while his weaknesses are minimized, and isn’t that what developing quality players is all about?