Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh wasn't heavily recruited out of high school and redshirted his freshman year. With a year of development under his belt, however, he quickly earned the starting left tackle job and never let go. In 2010, Pugh started all 13 games and was an All-Big East second-team selection; the following year, he started all 12 contests, garnering All-Big East first-team honors. In 2012, as a redshirt junior, Pugh missed the first four games of the year while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. He started the team's remaining nine games and once again earned all-conference laurels.
As this brief history suggests, Pugh is a seasoned and decorated player at the O-lines most demanding position. He succeeded as a collegian thanks to superior movement skills, solid technique, good flexibility, and firm hand placement. These positive traits are in evidence on tape; thanks to the excellent work being done at Draft Breakdown, we have video of Pugh in action against rust-belt rival Pitt in both 2011 and 2012. Want more? Here's a highlight reel showcasing his game.
Although every collegiate snap he took was at left tackle, his short (31 1/2 inch) arms will almost certainly relegate him to interior duty at the NFL level. As a tackle, he has the mobility and body control to protect the edge, but due to arm length and suspect core strength, defenders are able to get into his frame, keeping him off balance and pushing him back towards the quarterback. As a guard, however, many of these problems would be alleviated, largely because his opponents won't be as likely to change direction and convert speed to power as well explosively as their outside rushing mates.Thus a move inside is more likely to allow Pugh to play to his strengths and less likely to expose the weaknesses in his game.
What do our scouts think of Pugh? Do they feel he'll need to move inside in the Pros? Let's take a look behind the curtain...
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 3rd-rated OG; 28th overall
Pass Protection: Gets into sets quickly. Light on his feet and shows good patience and balance in his sets. Flashes a strong punch and can quickly reset hands. Once able to latch on, he can lock out with arms and shuffle and mirror to keep defenders neutralized. Also shows an adequate anchor and can sink hips to recover when initially rocked back by speed-to-power moves. Usually when he gets into trouble it is when he over sets or lunges, which is all correctable at the next level. Has the feet and awareness to play LOT in NFL but short arms are a significant concern. Best fit in NFL is likely inside at OG.
Run Blocking: Can continue to add bulk and improve strength but effective in this area. Possesses a good but not elite inline power base and can get adequate movement and steer defenders when engaged to open up running lanes. Bends naturally at the knees and shows good balance to stay engaged with blocks. Does a very good job of keeping feet moving while engaged. Pad level will rise up on occasion which can hinder his leverage. Displays above-average lateral agility to reach defenders from the backside or seal the edge as a front side run blocker. Appears to be an above-average athlete in space. Displays good body control and does a nice job of adjusting on the move to throw on defenders in the open field.
Awareness: Overall instincts are solid. Displays good awareness in pass pro. Shows good patients in his pass sets and does a nice job of passing off and picking up rushers working against defensive line stunts. Also show ability to identify and react to pressures coming from the second and third level of defense. He is an assignment-sound run blocker that does a nice job of identifying targets at the second level.
Toughness: Plays with an edge and not afraid to mix it up. Also flashes a mean streak and will finish when given the opportunity.
Intangibles: A responsible and mature individual that handles his business both on and off the field. An above-average student and was a regular on the schools' Honor Roll. Completed his degree requirements in finance. Coaches praise his work ethic and ability to quickly pick up the offense and blocking schemes.
National Football Post (Russ Lande): 5th-rated OT; 37th overall
Strengths: Surprisingly smooth and fluid for an OT, Pugh can bend knees and sink hips to pass block with great base/leverage. His quick feet combined with his ability to block with base makes it easy for him to slide out to pass block speed rushers and to re-direct to adjust to quick COD pass rush moves. When he stays in his shuffle he can ride pass rusher completely around pocket. Possessing good playing strength, once he locks up on pass rusher he can keep man tied up and eliminates man from the play. Quick off the ball and highly competitive, Pugh does a good job of pinning inside shaded DL inside on down/side run blocks. Consistently fast getting through the LOS to the second level, Pugh can be an outstanding blocker out in space when he stays over feet and keeps knees bent. Pugh showed his athleticism off when he was able to drive DL down the LOS and then could peel off block and adjust to block backside LB to open up inside hole for RB. He has the size, playing strength and athleticism to start at any offensive line position.
Weaknesses: Not a huge OT at 6'4 1/2, some in NFL have real concerns about his ability to play tackle at the next level due to his shorter than ideal arms (Arms measured 31 1/2 at the Senior Bowl and 32 at the Combine). For a player who does not aggressively punch in pass pro and tends to try and "get a good fit," having shorter arms is an even bigger concern because it allows aggressive pass rusher to get to his chest first. When he blocks out in space he has a bad habit of getting high and struggles to adjust to block a moving target when he does. He is viewed as somewhat of a "tweener" as his measureables are best suited to playing guard, but he is not an aggressive, powerful blocker and could have trouble against NFL DT's.
Summary: Pugh is a fourth year junior who came out early for the Draft after graduating from Syracuse. Although he does not fit the prototypical mold of an offensive tackle, when I evaluated his play on film it was clear to me that he looked big and athletic enough to be an effective left tackle in the NFL. With quick feet and the ability to pass block with good base, Pugh has consistently displayed the ability to slide out quickly to cut-off the speed/edge rusher. Although he was not dominant, his play during practice at the Senior Bowl proved to me that he can handle playing left tackle at the next level. Overall, I do not think Pugh will be drafted as highly as I have him rated, but am confident that within a season or two will develop into a quality starting left tackle in the NFL. He is a good risk to take because even if he does not pan out at tackle due to arm length, he has what it takes to be a good starting guard or center.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 6th-rated OT; 52nd overall
Positives: Three-year starter. Athletic, coordinated with good body control. Shuffles and slides. Mobile - quick to the second level. Can pull, trap and get in front of screens. Solid intangibles.
Negatives: Extremely short arms and is not built for power. Average hip snap and explosion into contact. Needs to improve base strength to anchor. Needs to improve hand punch, placement and pop. Average Senior Bowl showing.
Summary: A very efficient mover with left tackle feet, agility and balance, but is not yet the technician he will have to be in the pros to overcome his short arms. Will likely begin his career on the edge, but is destined for a move inside for a zone-blocking scheme. Struggled with inside moves during Senior Bowl one-on-ones.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 3rd-rated OG; 49th overall
Junior Entry. Three-year starter with good athletic ability. Along with DJ Fluker, Pugh is one of the first two 4th year junior graduates allowed by the NFL to play in the Senior Bowl. In practice he played both left tackle and left guard. His marginal length and short arms prohibit him from left tackle on the NFL level. A strong player who has very good lateral foot skills. A guy who will start at right tackle or will be exceptionally proficient as a zone blocking guard. Strong hands to lock on the breast plate and control the defender. Very athletic in his play. Must keep his hands inside to avoid holding calls. Smart athletic tough guys generally find a way onto an NFL roster. Should begin his career as a good backup and then start after some developmental time.
As they were for Oregon's Kyle Long, our panel appears at first glance to be split on whether Pugh is an offensive guard or tackle. A close look reveals that even the gentlemen who categorize him as an OT note that he'll have to kick inside in the Pros. That prospect doesn't appear to be detrimental to his status; they slot him tightly, between the 28th and 52nd picks (the late first to mid/ late second). I'm inclined to agree, and have him squarely in round two on my 2013 "little board."
Reviewing the Cowboys offensive line draft targets, one thing becomes abundantly clear: they are giving long looks to first- and second-day "move" prospects - the kind of players who can operate in space, pull and trap, and make contact at the second level. If the Cowboys select Pugh in the second round, it will be because they have a specific type of lineman in mind: lighter, quicker guys who can excel in a zone-blocking scheme. That's the kind of offensive system I believe Jason Garrett wants to run, but he needs the horses up front to run it. Although I would much prefer Jonathan Cooper be the prototype, Pugh is a nice second-round alternative, one whose selection would make me satisfied, if not ecstatic.
Next up: Wisconsin OC/ OG Travis Frederick