With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#24: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
We continue this year's series with Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, a 6-foot-5, 340-pound midrise apartment building of a man who has started 35 total games on the right side for Nick Saban's power-driving offensive line. That line may have been personified more by sure-fire top 10 pick Chance Warmack at left guard, but there's no question who keeps things humming on the right edge. He was one of the pointmen when the Crimson tile unraveled Notre Dame's defense in the BCS Championship game, but Fluker was an SEC star long before that.
After an impressive collegiate career, Fluker's pre-draft process got off to a bit of a clang when he weighed in at 355 pounds at the Senior Bowl. The fourth-year junior graduate was the second non-senior to ever be invited to the Senior Bowl -- Justin Pugh of Syracuse was the other. Fluker was unable to participate in the game due to a groin injury, and he had to wait until the scouting combine in late February to get over the weight issue (he clocked in at 339 there) and show NFL teams that he was really ready for the grind.
"My passion. My passion for the game," he said in Indianapolis, when asked what he'll bring to his NFL team. "I bring energy to the table every day, every practice, weekends, on game day -- that's what I do. My strengths are run-blocking, but I'm trying to fine-tune every technique of my game."
Some fine-tuning will be necessary before Fluker can take his place as one of the league's best pure power blockers, but based on his college tape, and the opponents he regularly schooled in college, it's safe to say that he's well on his way already.
Pros: Big, powerful man with an exceptionally wide base and a wingspan (36 3/8"-inch reach) that makes him nearly impossible to get around once he sets his feet and gets his hands going. Has struggled with weight at times, but can carry 330-340 pounds with his massive frame. Monstrously powerful player who can demolish defenders for long stretches at a time. Understands leverage and drives with outstanding force. Absolutely explodes underneath his opponent's pads at times and makes said opponents look pretty silly. Surprisingly agile in his kick-step and pass set. Opens huge rushing lanes when he engages, commits and sets the edge.
Displays enough lateral agility to move impressively in zone slides and overall slide protection -- can play power zone if that's what's required. Patient blocker when assigned a space -- he'll wait for the second defender and is strong enough to provide his own combinations at times. Can wall off a defender with one hand and move to a second. Quick enough off the ball to hit the second level, though this may not be a primary attribute. Natural and emotional leader who doesn't take plays off and arrives at the stadium in a nasty mood. Smart, disciplined player who had only 11 missed assignments and allowed just four sacks in 728 snaps in the 2012 season.
Cons: Fluker's power allows him to get away with a few things that could bedevil him in the NFL for a while. He doesn't always anchor blocks, and faster edge rushers can get around him fairly easily. Has to double back on too many missed tags around the edge, and isn't always agile enough to do so. Doesn't lock on and tends to shove in space. Needs to learn to mirror with more consistency -- isn't always able to take a defender where he wants him to go. Susceptible to linemen who know how to use their hands -- NFL defenders will get around him after contact until he understands how to stop them.
Tends to lunge on longer cross-gap blocks, which causes him to miss the mark at times. Can play in a two-point and three-point stance, though he tends to be a bit slow off the ball when his hand is on the ground. Not a natural puller -- more a straight-line guy.
Conclusion: I've heard some analysts say that Fluker might be best-served by moving inside to guard at the NFL level, but most of those same people compare him to former Alabama and current Seattle Seahawks lineman James Carpenter, and I think Fluker is already more agile and quicker than Carpenter. In addition, as he gains a better handle of the techniques required of tackles at the NFL level, I think he'll make that transition very well. Fluker isn't a speed monster, and his agility is nothing to write home about, but you don't enter a premium 18-wheeler in the Indy 500.
Given the increasing importance of the right tackle position at the professional level over the last few years, Fluker's dominant but embryonic skill set, and the fact that he seems determined to improve, he seems to be a relatively safe bet as a first-tier power blocker in any offense that values his attributes highly.