By Kip Earlywine
Unofficial 40: 5.02
- Good run blocker, really good when he stays low
- Can get to linebackers FAST and blocks them well
- Does a good job staying squared with pass rushers
- Decently quick and usually handles inside moves well
- Very polished overall, looks well coached
- Plays smart
- Hard worker (I've read)
- Strong looking upper-body/arms, good hand use
- Decently quick feet & churns feet well when run blocking
- Very nice lateral step
- ZBS experienced
- Got owned by Brandon Graham, might be weak around the edge
- A touch inconsistent, sometimes has bad games
- Can be bull-rushed
- Highest upside could be at right tackle
- Not much room for growth
- Short arms?
- Missed 3 games with thyroid condition
"Bulaga still has room to improve in pass protection, but he displays the feet and balance to develop into a very good overall starting left tackle in the NFL."
A few times, I've had my initial impressions challenged when creating these POTD's. To this point, I think Bryan Bulaga represents the biggest 180 for me. All I had seen of him was his game against Michigan where he was owned for two sacks and should have given up 3 more... before halftime! Michigan was not a good team last year and at that time I was ignorant of the fact that this beating came at the hands of Brandon Graham, who is arguably the best pure pass rushing DE in the draft. Now, having watched the footage above and doing some research, I've come away highly impressed. Of all the tackles that are expected to be taken in the first 15 picks, I think Bulaga is the smartest pick for Seattle, by a mile. If you want a "big" ZBS left tackle, Bulaga is the guy.
What really changed my mind this time was noticing Bulaga's polish. There isn't a shred of awkwardness in his movement. His lateral step is quick and crisp. He squares pass rushers with ease, and like Anthony Davis, once he locks on, he wins. His arms aren't long but he uses them impressively regardless. His feet aren't super quick but they don't need to be because of good technique. Inside moves not owned by Brandon Graham rarely work on Bulaga. He usually dominates in the run game, but when he is occasionally stonewalled, Bulaga does a great job churning his feet to "win" the standoff. And when Bulaga raced to the 2nd level to engage linebackers, that was one of the few audible "wows" that escaped my lips doing this series. He's like a missile lined with Velcro.
As far as the bad things, that Bulaga was owned so badly by Graham makes me worry that he'll struggle with edge rushers, and NFL left tackles face edge rushers on a pretty regular basis. I noticed that Bulaga gives up a lot of ground on bull rushes. He doesn't get destroyed by them, but a defensive end is winning the battle if he forces a tackle into the QB less than 3 seconds after the snap. I wouldn't call the bull rush something to be exploited, but is an area he could improve at. Other than that, I really can't say many bad things about him. The thyroid condition adds some uncertainty. Remember when Engram had one of those? He missed a whole year, but then he came back and had the best year of his life.
The Big 10 is not the greatest BCS conference, but it's well known for producing NFL linemen (among them Rob Sims and Steve Hutchinson). Iowa is a well coached team that runs a variant of zone blocking scheme. Thanks to good coaching and practice, Bulaga excelled in this system despite his size, earning the Big Ten's 2009 offensive lineman of the year award.
Overall, I came away very impressed, and I now understand why Bulaga seemingly has been picking up momentum lately (McShay had him going #6 to us pretty recently). I think Bulaga will be off the board (deservingly) between picks 5-15. I think of all the tackle prospects I've seen so far, Bulaga has the best chance of coming in on day 1 and being a quality starter for a zone team. His upside is lower than Davis, Campbell, and Okung, but right now, I think he's the best combination of good player meets low risk. Even if he struggles at left tackle, he'd probably be one of the best right tackles in the league, and if moved to guard, he'd be a better version of Rob Sims. The Seahawks could use a right tackle, and even another guard, so pretty much no matter what, if drafted, Bulaga would be an asset to the Seahawks line for years to come.