Ten years passed between Andre Smith and Jonah Williams — two University of Alabama offensive linemen to earn at least one start as a freshman and go on to a first-round selection in the NFL Draft.
There will be no 10-year wait between Williams and his successor. Jedrick Wills Jr. will make it a one-year break next week.
Wills is widely projected to be a first-round pick in the NLF Draft that begins Thursday, in some projections as high as the top 10. Draft evaluators make a compelling case for Wills to not only be a first-round draft pick, but potentially be the first offensive lineman selected in 2020.
“Jedrick Wills is safer because he’s a right tackle who I think can play left tackle,” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “He’s very athletic. You look at the movement he gets in the run game, he was a key guy for their running game. He very early gives up any pressures, he keeps that frame between defensive ends and the quarterback, he’s very skilled and innately a very smart pass blocker.
“He just has that knack. That’s why I think he could be a left tackle even though he didn’t play it.”
Wills is not alone among elite offensive linemen in the 2020 draft. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton are all consistently seen as first-round talents, often in the first half of the first round.
“I think Jedrick Wills on day one, the first day of practice, is going to be ahead of Becton, but I think Becton, the upside is what puts him over the top for me. So he’s my top guy,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
“Jedrick Wills is just a natural knee-bender who’s very explosive. He can get himself in bad positions and find ways to recover with his athleticism. He played the right tackle spot there at Alabama; you’ve got a left-handed quarterback so that makes sense, put your best guy over there. I think he’s got left tackle ability. I think he can kick over there no problem, and he’s somebody in the run game that can uproot players.”
The positional aspect of things could influence that draft position of Wills and the rest of that elite offensive line group. Jeremiah used the example of the Arizona Cardinals, picking at No. 8 overall. Jeremiah believes in their current left tackle D.J. Humphries, so if the Cardinals are to take an offensive lineman at No. 8, Wills would be a good fit to slide into the other side of its line as someone who played right tackle in college; however, the same can be said for other linemen in the draft.
In most cases, teams that draft offensive linemen in the top 10 do so to get a left tackle. If Wills is to go that high, unless in the example of the Cardinals, teams will be doing so placing faith in Wills’ ability to switch from the right side to the left.
“I think he’s got all the physical tools and physical ability to do that,” UA coach Nick Saban said.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson