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Can Alabama OT Jedrick Wills successfully transition to the left side? His former coach thinks so

Jedrick Wills should hear his name called relatively early on Thursday night, as the Alabama offensive tackle is expected to be a top-20 pick in the upcoming draft.

Wills protected quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside, as he was the right tackle and Tagovailoa throws the ball as a left-hander. And at 6-foot-4, 312 pounds, Wills is generally seen as a “can’t-miss” prospect. From The Athletic’s Bob Sturm:

“Wills has great technique and is a mauler as well. Usually we have to choose between one or the other, but Wills has great awareness and is able to see what is coming at him, then has the tools to deal with pretty much everything with expert smoothness. He shows off great feet but is also able to deliver real power moving forward. He also seems to employ great hands to slap away any real threats that are present. I don’t mean to get carried away but the positives appear to be pretty much all of it. He is a very solid player who avoids mistakes, but also delivers highlight moments that show his ceiling is substantial. I would say his pass blocking is elite.”

That sounds more like a prospect who won’t get past pick No. 5.

However, one of the few knocks against Wills is that he has almost no experience playing left tackle, including high school.

And that could make a substantial difference in his draft standing.

If a team is already set at right tackle but needs a left tackle – like the Los Angeles Chargers, who own the sixth pick, or the Cleveland Browns, who own pick No. 10 – would they be willing to take Wills and assume he can make a smooth and successful transition to the left side? Or would a team in that scenario simply go with a player who mostly started at left tackle in college, like Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton?

From a dollars-and-cents standpoint, the difference can be fairly significant.

Alabama’s Jonah Williams was the first left tackle drafted last season after he was picked No. 11 by Cincinnati. He signed a four-year, $17.6 million contract. The first right tackle drafted was Washington’s Kaleb McGary, who went to Atlanta with pick No. 31. He signed a four-year, $10.2 million contract.

To be fair, Wills is seen as a better prospect than both McGary and Williams. But it could cause him to drop a few spots if teams have concerns.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said teams shouldn’t be worried about Wills’ potential transition to the left side.

“I think he’s got all the physical tools and physical abilities to do that,” Saban said in the spring updates interview, posted on Facebook. “I think it’s a comfort level for every player. Some people feel more comfortable in a right-handed stance, especially if that’s how they played for many, many years, which Jedrick played right tackle in high school, too.“

However, as Saban said, no one can say with any certainty how the transition will go.

“… But I just know he’s capable, he’s smart enough and I think it will just be him getting enough repetitions that he develops a comfort zone (at left tackle).”

 

Jake Rigdon (jake@sydwriting.com) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak and the On The Clock, which is the only NFL draft simulator that allows you to customize and use your own big board while giving you control over trades.



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