Syracuse’s Justin Pugh started at left tackle in every college game he played over the past three seasons, earning First-Team All-Big East honors in the last two. Because of his build, most consider him an interior lineman at the next level.
Pugh is one of those “what if?” players, but we probably won’t get to uncover the answer to the question “what if Pugh stayed at offensive tackle in the NFL?” The reason is that, although he has 6-5 height, Pugh’s arms measure only 32 inches. That’s a death sentence for an offensive tackle in the NFL; arm length is strongly correlated with success because tackles need to be able to fend off tall defensive ends.
You can already see signs of Pugh’s potential struggles when you watch tape of him at Syracuse. While he generally did an admirable job in pass protection, he can be neutralized if a longer defender gets his hands into Pugh’s chest. At the next level, Pugh will face the best of the best—defensive ends and linebackers who all know how to use their length to control offensive tackles with short arms. On top of that, Pugh struggled at the Senior Bowl when he lined up outside.
The problem is that Pugh doesn’t necessarily have the skill set to thrive inside. Most teams want their guards to be maulers—capable of moving defenders at the point-of-attack. Pugh isn’t a particularly strong player, however; he played much of his career at only 290 pounds. Plus, Pugh’s arms are so short that they could even be an issue in the interior.
It’s a difficult situation because Pugh is an athletic player who has a track record of success, but it’s a gamble to believe that prosperity will continue against bigger competition. Pugh will likely play out his career at guard, but whichever team drafts him might want to at least consider giving him a look at right tackle.
NFL Comparison: Bryan Bulaga
Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga is another player who many believed would need to move to guard because of his short arms, and his are over an inch longer than Pugh’s. Bulaga and Pugh are similar players, but Pugh might never get the chance to show he can man the outside.
I think Pugh will drop into the third round because he doesn’t really have a set position at this point. Like I said, he’s not your prototypical physical guard. He’s probably best-suited at guard on a zone-blocking team because he’s a space player who is best on the move.
Fit In Dallas
If the Cowboys miss on Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper in the first round, Pugh might become an option. I don’t like him in the second round because of the aforementioned issues, but his upside is great enough that the risk might be worth it in the third. He’s the exact type of player who wouldn’t have been on the team’s radar in the past but now could very well be an option as the offense transitions to more zone-blocking concepts.
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Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.