I've just finished watching the tape of Thursday's game between Colorado and Oklahoma State. My main focus was watching Cowboys left tackle Russell Okung, a guy who regularly appears as a top ten in most mock drafts and was placed with the Seahawks in Rob Rang's latest 2010 prediction. I saw Okung in week one and wasn't all that impressed, so this was a chance to form a better opinion. Oklahoma State were missing their starting quarterback and had to run the ball a lot in this game, making them completely predictable and for that reason it might be easy to be too harsh on Okung. However, nothing in this game made me re-think my original diagnosis.
Let me start with what he did well. On the very few times Oklahoma State threw the ball, Okung was above average in pass protection. He has ideal size and tone (6'6", 305lbs) and certainly looks the part on the field. When Colorado rushed the passer, Okung got into position quickly and knew which guy he had to block. Once the two engaged, he flashed good upper body strength at the point of attack and seemed to dominate because of that. In the running game, he was nowhere near as good - but I did want to mention that I at least saw in this game a greater willingness to get to the second level.
Now on to the not so good stuff. Before the game, Okung was bouncing around on the sidelines screaming at his teammates. If only he showed even half that effort on the field. At times, he was a complete liability in the running game. Ok - Colorado knew that they were going to run, run and run some more with the QB situation. But Oklahoma State were flat out awful in short yardage situations and Okung has to shoulder his share of the blame.
On 4th and 1 with 4:02 left in the first quarter, the Cowboys ran left behind their star left tackle. I'm not sure if it was a communication error or a blown assignment, but on the snap Okung jogs into the second level and stands lost in the open field as three Colorado players run straight past him and hammer the running back for a loss. Okung turns round almost in shock as he stands alone, blocking nobody. He really should have picked up the linebacker who made the original tackle. If he's running to the second level, who is he actually trying to block if it isn't that linebacker? It's almost like he was expecting the guy to stand still and wait to be pushed over. As the OLB hits the runner, the MLB also runs straight past Okung to join in the action. Again, who is Okung trying to block if it isn't the two linebackers on his side considering he's moved into the second level? Even if that's a blown assignment, surely he's got to get his hands on somebody? Just jogging into the second level and watching three guys run past you isn't good enough.
This wasn't the only example of an assignment mistake or simply a lack of effort. Frequently he didn't finish blocks, he's happy to engage but doesn't drive until the whistle and I want to see that from any lineman starting their career who are heading to the NFL to be top picks. Sometimes he was pushed back when trying to run block. I saw little evidence of an ability to handle complicated blocking assignments where he'll be forced to block off and pass guys off to a guard. He seemed to concentrate on blocking his man, which suggests to me he's a much better fit for a man scheme than one that uses zone.
I know that pass protection is the crown jewels when it comes to the NFL. No doubt that Okung is good in that area and for that reason, he's going to be drafted in round one. However, as a complete package I am in no way convinced he is a top ten pick. Maybe he will be, enough people are talking about him going in that area. Left tackle is second only to quarterback when it comes to premium positions in the pro's and in a weak class, Okung might get over drafted to a team badly needing to protect an expensive QB (Detroit? Tampa Bay?).
In a team with a solid O-line already, he should fit in nicely as a senior with some experience in the college game who pass protects quite well. That's the situation Michael Oher walked into with Baltimore and that would be an ideal kind of situation for Okung too. But if I had to predict where he should go in the draft, I'd say he's only a late first round pick at best. I still prefer Charles Brown (OT, USC) if he can add an extra 15lbs of bulk before the combine as my #1 senior tackle prospect.
To read resident scout Kyle Rota's thoughts on Okung, click here.