With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Colorado tackle Nate Solder. The first tackle from his school to earn All-American honors since 1979, Solder played in 48 games for the Buffaloes, graded out at 90 percent or above from his coaches in 11 of 12 senior starts, and won the Big-12 Offensive Lineman of the Year award, voted by the conference coaches. Solder then went on to put up a strong showing at the Senior Bowl - he was one of three tackles on the North team (you'll read about the other two soon) who got a lot of name-checks from draft analysts during practice week and in the game.
Pros: A linebacker and tight end in high school, Solder gained 30 pounds in preparation for his position switch, but didn't lose any of his agility. Absolutely physically dominant player in his ability to outrun, outmuscle, and engulf defenders at the line. Quick and mobile enough to look great when chipping at the line and heading up to linebacker depth - Solder has the skill and technique to make clean blocks up the ladder. Has a really good counter to inside moves off the snap; this may be why he looks so much stronger with a tight end inline. Most of his pass protection issues seem to be to the outside. Agile enough on tackle pulls and down blocks, though he doesn't have a lot of power when crashing down inside. Could probably put 10-15 more pounds on his 6-foot-8, 315-pound frame without losing a lot of quickness.
Cons: Solder doesn't have a finished set of moves in pass protection, and I could see him giving up a lot of NFL sacks in the back half of his dropback outside because he tends to lunge and lurch instead of providing a smooth series of steps. Will slide off defenders too often when trying to establish power inside. With his extreme height, he's going to have issues with defenders getting under his pads and pushing him back. Occasionally comes up late in his stance, leading to disaster when he can't catch up to speed-rushing ends. Kick step looks surprisingly blocky for such an athlete. Seems to have snap-readiness issues out of a three-point stance; his initial pop is a lot quicker when he's standing up.
Conclusion: It's difficult to write about Solder without sounding too negative when I actually think he could be a very good NFL player in the right system and given the time to develop. He's one of three players I see in this draft class - Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker are the others - who are athletic marvels in one way or another, but will be system-dependent to a large degree and will need a lot of coaching before they're ready to do anything of substance in the pros.
In Solder's case, the team that understands his weaknesses and works to accentuate his strengths could be rewarded with an outstanding zone tackle. And with NFL teams running more shotgun than ever before, and more left tackles lining up in two-point stances at the start of their NFL careers, Solder does have a chance to succeed. It's just that the expectations could be too high right off the bat because of his raw athletic ability. What's not in doubt, from all accounts, is that he has the determination and work ethic to make it happen. The scouting combine will be a major deal for him, especially the agility drills and the bench press.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida