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NFL Draft 2015: Todd McShay Mocks T.J. Clemmings to New Orleans

Todd McShay has released his first way too early mock draft, and he has the Saints taking Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings 21st overall (we won the mock South, hooray!). I took a look at a few of Clemmings's games and gave my thoughts.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There's nothing quite like the baseless speculation around the NFL Draft, is there?  We're months away and the order isn't even locked in yet, and yet here we are talking about professionals' evaluations.  ESPN analyst Todd McShay released the first round of his first mock draft, and I'm inclined to take it as fact because it has the Saints winning the NFC South (as evidenced by the fact that he has the Saints picking 21st).

McShay has the Saints taking Tackle T.J. Clemmings out of Pittsburgh, a fairly bold pick given Payloo's track record of not taking offensive linemen in early rounds.  In fact, the Saints haven't spent a first round pick on a lineman since Jammal Brown back in 2005 which, incidentally, was the year before Sean Payton came to town.  It may be time to buck that trend, of course, but there are obviously no guarantees that the Saints will do so.  If there's one thing that Saints' fans have learned from Payton, it's that he does things his way, no exceptions.  Clemmings is a 6 foot 6, 315 lb. tackle that is quickly rising up draft boards.  He recently accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and is getting some talk as the best offensive tackle that this year's draft has to offer.

For anyone interested, at the bottom of this article are two games that showcase Clemmings.  They're both ACC matchups, and both videos highlight Clemmings before the play.  Source is Draft Breakdowns, a terrific site to look at prospects.

This was one of the more impressive plays that I saw from Clemmings in the videos given.  Duke runs a twist on the right and left side of their defensive line from tackle to end.  Clemmings is at the top of the screen (right tackle).  He is able to engage the end on the initial rush, before forcing the end seamlessly into his right guard's block.  The right guard, likewise, passes the tackle off onto Clemmings, who engages him effortlessly.  Pittsburgh's entire offensive line does a brilliant job of picking up the stunt, and they give their quarterback the time that he needs to make a solid throw on third down.

In the running game, Clemmings proves to be an effective power tackle.  Pitt runs a man blocking scheme with a power run offense.  On this play, he engages the defensive end alongside his tight end.  Once he is confident that his tight end has a firm handle on the block, he breaks off and goes into the next level of the defense, hoping to spring his halfback for a big gain.  Obviously there were simply too many bodies on the outside, but as a lineman it's important to be able to flow through the defense in a power run scheme.  In the zone blocking scheme that the Saints employ, this becomes even more important, as oftentimes offensive linemen are assigned to block linebackers without even engaging the lineman in front of them.
This play is a perfect showcase of his ability to do just that.  Clemmings breaks directly through the offensive line and engages a linebacker 4 yards downfield, before pushing him for another 3.  He eventually forces the linebacker onto the ground, and his halfback is able to pick up a good gain and a first down.  The ability to knife through a defense is a highly underappreciated aspect of offensive line play, and if Clemmings can consistently make plays like this in the running game he could be very effective in the NFL.
Clemmings, however, isn't perfect.  No prospect is.  Now, I must confess that I'm not 100% just what happened on this play, but there are pretty much two options.  One of them would be a knock against Clemmings mentally, the other physically.  Mentally, he may have thought that the ball was going to be handed off and therefore thought he was on the flow away end of the play.  If this had been the case, his engagement on the outside wouldn't be instrumental to the play's success.  Physically, he may have simply gotten beat, which happens from time to time.  But he's very nonchalant about getting back into the play, which leads me to believe he simply didn't know the playcall and didn't expect his quarterback to come to his side of the formation with the ball.  I cannot overstate, however, that this is simply speculation on my part.  Lucky for Clemmings, the damage on the play is mitigated by a nice move in the backfield by his quarterback, and the result is simply a lost down rather than a lost down and 7 yards.

All in all, Clemmings is a fairly solid NFL prospect.  He's quick, he's physical and he rarely looks lost, with the exception of the one lowlight posted above.  The Saints may do something different and try to take an offensive lineman in the first round, but why a right tackle?  Zach Strief and Terron Armstead have been serviceable this season, the Saints' real problem has been an aging interior line.  Also worth noting is that this is Clemmings's first year as an offensive lineman.  He spent the rest of his time as a defensive end.  In that vein, Clemmings may be interesting to look at as a project player that they can shape to take over on the line.  A project tackle may not be the sexiest first round pick, but if there is one thing that the Cowboys have recently proven, it's that building a team starts in the trenches.  For a team that has the holes that they Saints have, a pick like Clemmings may be the safest option that they have.

What do you think of McShay's first round mock for the Saints?  Vote in the poll below and sound off in the comments.