Sunday, 21 February 2010

POTD: Bryan Bulaga, T, Iowa

By Kip Earlywine

Height: 6'6"
Weight: 312
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

Sound Bites:

"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."

-Todd McShay

My Thoughts:

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.


Kyle Rota said...

Thanks for the write-up, Kip. I've been waiting for this one, as Bulaga is a guy I am interested in at #14, given our critical need at OT. I'm not a fan of Okung, and like you Campbell's injuries scare me.

I'm hoping someone in our community can share some insight about what a Thyroid condition could mean (regarding Bulaga's NFL future). Obviously we've seen Bobby Engram miss time with it, but he came back strong and I don't think it has really hurt him (hard to tell, given his age and usually limited role to begin with). Is this going to be a permanent detriment, or something teams won't have to worry about anymore?

B Sowell said...

He seems like a much better guard than tackle to me because he struggles against elite pass rushers and his lateral movement seems deficient. He seemed to hold quite a bit against both Derrick Morgan and Brandon Graham. I think he could be another Steve Hutchinson as a guard, though.

Kip Earlywine said...

Actually, I was very impressed with Bulaga's lateral movement the few times he showcased it here. Anything on a highlight video could be a fluke or cherry picked, but athleticism tends to be one of the things that usually stays consistent.

Kip Earlywine said...

If the draft were tomorrow, I have a pretty big hunch he'd go #13 to SF. Tackle is one of the top priorities for them and their options won't be nearly as good 32 picks later. Not only that, but they are looking for a right tackle and run zone. Bulaga is a perfect fit for them.

B Sowell said...

Kyle, the seriousness of a thyroid condition depends on what is wrong with the gland.

Someone with a hypoactive gland (their gland doesn't produce enough) has to take hormones and monitor their hormone levels. It's an irritation, but not a serious problem so long as you aren't allergic to the medication. If you are, you're pretty much SOL.

A hyperactive gland (their gland produces too much) is a bigger problem and people have to take slightly more dangerous medication to block the production of hormones. Depending on how he responds to the medications, Bulaga would probably have a higher risk of infections. There is also surgery available, but I'm not familiar with it.

Jon said...

Dr. B Sowell, dropping Science like Galileo dropped the orange!

I'd love to have Bulaga on the team, but like Kip said at the end might be better value at RT or G. In the NFL the top priority of a LT is to shut down the opposing teams best edge rusher, if that's where Bulaga's flaw is I say move him inside or to RT. I'd rather have a LT who's lights out in pass protection and mediocre in the running game as he wont get the QB killed.

B Sowell said...

I guess I should have said "lateral quickness" rather than "lateral movement." He seems to do a good job of moving to position himself to block, but he also seems to lack the quickness to move with an edge rusher. But I've never played offensive line at any level, and am probably completely wrong.

Kip, why do you think Bulaga was so completely dominated by Brandon Graham? Was it just a bad day for Bulaga or does he have a real weakness when faced with quick edge rushers?

CLanterman said...

Kip, SF has the 13 and the 17th pick, so if they were to pick up a CJ Spiller at #13, the could pick Campbell, Bulaga, Brown, or Trent Williams with #17 still.

c-hawker said...

Whatever happened to the talk of SF going to the 4-3 front, or was that just rumor?

Kip Earlywine said...

As far as vs. Graham, Without doing a real scouting report, I can't really say. If I had to guess, my hunch is that Bulaga has a "bend but don't break" pass pro style, as evidenced by how he gives up a lot of ground (while under total control) against the bull rush some times. Against the edge, he's willing to be beaten, but he wants to force the DE outside so the QB can step up. When he faced Graham, that style backfired. Graham is so explosive around the edge that if you give him an inch, he'll take a yard. After halftime adjustments, Bulaga faired far better against Graham.

Kip Earlywine said...

True, I forgot about them having that second pick. There should still be a decent tackle prospect left at #17.

Rob Staton said...

Short arms are a bit of an issue for Bulaga. Should be interesting to see how he measures in Indianapolis.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't that the first game that he was back from illness that he faced Michigan?

So isn't it normal that he will struggle?

Rob Staton said...

It was his first game back. It's difficult to tell how it affected him, you'd imagine it would but at the same time - you don't want to be making excuses for a difficult display against one of the better opponents he'll face in college football.

Anonymous said...

True true Rob.

I read a scouting report about him last year saying that he was a great pass protector and that he needed to work on his strength for the run game. Interesting how things change in a year...

Anonymous said...

He looked flat out dominant in the run game. He dominated the DE from Northwestern and held his own against arguably the best Defensive End in College football.

He seems like your good ol' Alex Gibbs lineman.

Anonymous said...

Great work Kip. I've been wanting Bulaga for a while now, due to the fact that he'll end up a great player on the right even if he's not prototypical on the left.---Nano

Yeshhh said...

Bulaga also looks like he has that nastiness in him that some other prospects lack, although I'm not sure if that's a key strength that's worth looking at when determining upside. Anyhow he definitely is making me think twice of my proclamation to trade #14