Sunday, March 30, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Jeff Otah

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida, Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt, Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver from Oklahoma, Phillip Merling, a defensive end from Clemson and Ryan Clady, an offensive tackle from Boise St.]

The final lineman that the Vikings may end up drafting is widely considered to have the most upside of any of the offensive tackles available, due largely to the fact that he's played himself into the first round despite first donning a football uniform his senior year of high school. Jeff Otah only played two years at Pittsburgh after spending a year at a prep school, but the amount of praise that scouts and his coaches have heaped on him is impressive, and he's talented enough to back it up, provided he is able to learn the position, and the game.

At 6'6", 340 pounds, Otah's certainly big enough to play the position. He has all of the physical attributes you look for in a left tackle, including long arms and solid legs. Not surprisingly (considering Pitt's not much of a football factory), he stepped right into the starting left tackle position when he arrived at Pittsburgh and he's improved in his two years, even going so far as to earn the most improved player award his junior year.

His improvement was apparent in the aggressiveness he began to show last year. He didn't need to think as much because he was more comfortable, and thus was able to let his natural abilities come through. Make no mistake about it--Otah is a project. He isn't consistent yet. But when he's clicking, he's very good. He has the punch, the drive blocking ability and holds his ground against even the fiercest bull rush. His footwork can use some work, but he's able to beat most defensive ends to the edge, using his size to wall them off. He's able to win the hand battles when he's using the proper technique, but as you'd expect from someone who doesn't have it ingrained yet, he doesn't always use it.

Aside from his inexperience, Otah has a few other question marks as well. He is a soft 340 and needs to get in much better shape. That extra weight might have something to do with his tendency to not get low enough in his stance and his sub par quickness. He doesn't get off the ball especially quickly, and he can get in trouble when he's left alone on an island, which is not something you want in a left tackle. He shut down Chris Long, the defensive end from Virginia, but he also got abused in the game against Michigan St. Finally, there are questions about his work ethic, which is the last thing you want to hear about a project player. He'll do the work, but the coaches have to be on him consistently.

Otah is, quite simply, a project. He flashes amazing talent, but there's no question that he's inexperienced. He might be able to step in and start at right tackle, but he is, at best, a long term solution to the McKinnie problem. That's why I don't think that Otah would be a very good fit for the Vikings. This team needs to win in the next few years if it's going to, and Otah probably won't be ready to be a major contributor by then, if he develops at all.

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