The New Orleans Saints have a gaping hole on the offensive line with Jermon Bushrod leaving the team, but that’s just fine because the 2013 NFL draft happens to be very deep at every position along the line.
Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher lead the way in terms of elite offensive tackle prospects and are thought to both be gone within the top 10. Nipping right on their heels is Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker.
In a normal draft class, Fluker might be the best tackle available. He’s been linked to the Saints with the No. 15 overall pick by a number of media outlets, including Fansided’s very own NFLmocks.com.
The notion of the Saints selecting Fluker at No. 15 is not all that ridiculous. With Bushrod out of the picture, New Orleans needs to stabilize the line in order to protect quarterback Drew Brees. The team has failed to do so in free agency, so offensive tackle is a legitimate option in the first round despite the need for upgrades in others areas, especially on the defensive side of things.
Fluker projects as more of a right tackle in the NFL. This means the Saints would massively upgrade the right side of the line and trust Charles Brown to protect Brees’ blindside. Fluker is right in the Saints’ neighborhood, as most project him as worthy of being selected in the 20-32 range.
Evan Silva of Rotoworld and NFL Netwrok’s Mike Mayock concur:
D.J. Fluker's two unofficial 40 times: 5.35, 5.32. Mayock: "He's gonna go somewhere between 20 & 32."
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) February 23, 2013
Let’s break down the good and bad surrounding Fluker’s game.
Pros: Fluker is a rare specimen in that he combines an massive body with some of the most nimble feet you’ll see on a big man. He stands at 6’5″ and 340 pounds, yet glides around the field with amazing footwork while paving the way for his running back. Outside of impressive on-field performances, Fluker was known as one of the most critical locker room leaders for the duration of his time at Alabama.
Cons: The only issue with Fluker’s game (if you had to nitpick and find one) is that he is not a good fit to play left tackle at the NFL. His strength is run-blocking, and his game is tailored to that. He is either a right tackle of offensive guard at the pro level. It’s not a negative, but teams place an emphasis on finding left, not right tackles early in the draft.
Pro Comparison: Andre Smith, RT, Cincinnati Bengals
If you had to pick one recent Alabama graduate or offensive tackle prospect to compare Fluker to, you wouldn’t have to look far. Fluker plays a similar game as Cincinnati’s Andre Smith. Both use massive frames and solid footwork to bully their way into the second level of defenses as running backs rack up big yards behind them.
As an added bonus for Fluker when making the comparison, he has a stellar track record off the field as well, whereas Smith has always battled attitude and weight issues. Smith may have been drafted higher than where Fluker will be taken, but Fluker may end up being the better and more consistent of the two in the long run.
A left tackle is preferable if the Saints want to go offensive tackle in the first round, but Fluker is an elite prospect in his own right and a nice consolation prize if a left tackle does not make it to No. 15.