The countdown to the NFL Draft is well underway. In the next few months we will be taking a closer look at some potential draft picks the Jets could be looking at when May rolls around. Today, Mike Nolan takes a look at offensive lineman, Zack Martin.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Zack Martin
From: Indianapolis, IN
School: Notre Dame
Weight: 308 pounds
Arm Length: 32 7/8″
Hand Size: 9 1/2″
Bench Press: 29 Reps
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.59 Sec
Accolades: Pinstripe Bowl MVP, 1st Team All-Independent, ND Lineman of the Year (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), Walter Camp 2nd Team All-American (2012), Lombardi and Outland Trophy Watch List
There aren’t too many lineman that get to experience the type of career that Zack Martin had at Notre Dame. Martin has started at tackle for the Irish since 2010 and has been a mainstay on the College Football Awards watch lists year in and year out. He has received nothing but praise. Brian Kelly even went on record saying that Martin is the best offensive lineman he has ever coached. Despite all of this high praise, Martin has gone a little more under the radar than other top guys like Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. This reason is most likely due to his lack of ideal size. However, there is much more to Martin than his measurables. Perhaps the most telling tape on Zack Martin was his performance in the 2012 National Championship game against Alabama. He was one of the lone bright spots for the Irish in that game as he was dominant at the Left Tackle position and continued to fight and play hard as Notre Dame was getting destroyed.
Despite his (lack of) size, Martin has done everything right leading up to the draft so far. After putting together a ton of great tape, he had a dominant Senior Bowl and a good enough combine to at least strengthen his position as a first round projection.
When I started watching tape on Martin, I was extremely impressed with his consistency. Physically he is not as impressive as some of the other top talents in the draft. He is in the middle of the pack in nearly all of his combine numbers and he does not have great length, yet he has been nothing if not dominant in college. I would call him quietly dominant. You almost completely over look him when you watch Notre Dame on TV because nothing exciting happens on the left edge and you forget he is there. He erases big defensive plays on the left side of the line and very rarely gets beat in either run blocking or pass blocking.
If he is physically average, what is it that makes him a dominant football player? The first thing that separates him is the mental aspect of his game. He has excellent vision at left tackle and is very adept at picking up blitzers and pass twists. I have not seen a college lineman better than Martin in this aspect of the game. You can see him on tape calling out blitzers before they even show. To me, this means he has an excellent understanding of defense, namely in player tendencies and coverage recognition. (The savviest linemen can often tell when a blitz is coming to their side based on defensive back alignments.) Once he recognizes pressure, he shows a great understanding of pass protections and always makes the right calls. He is also a great leader as he was a two time captain at Notre Dame.
Beyond the mental aspect of the game, Martin has good, but not great footwork. This is particularly true in pass protection and zone/reach blocking. Martin is very good at getting his hips around on defenders and sealing them off. This is more of a finesse style of play, but it can be very useful in zone schemes particularly when teams want to run the stretch play. He also proved very good at getting up to linebackers in zone blocking. In addition he was very good combo blocking with his guards at Notre Dame. Hopefully this is a chemistry he can develop at the next level. Below is a great example of his ability to combo block:
I looked at Nevada’s Joel Bitonio recently and described a guy who doesn’t use his punch properly which makes him play shorter than he really is. Zack Martin is the exact opposite. He actually has shorter arms than Bitonio, yet he uses his punch very successfully in pass protection. This is his main strength. It’t not necessarily a powerful punch, but it is always well-timed and placed perfectly on the defenders chest plate. His ability to mirror is also above average.
Martin does not have the ideal size or length to play left tackle in the NFL. A lot of pundits and scouts are saying he might be best suited to make a switch to guard. This doesn’t mean he can’t play the position, it just means that some scouts think he is better suited inside.
Perhaps, the most surprising thing I found when I started watching tape was that Martin doesn’t really kickslide in pass protection. This is why I find him to be such an enigma. While he can be dominant at times in pass protection, he doesn’t utilize a prototypical kickslide. Instead, he takes steps. It didn’t hurt him in college, but there could be an issue at the next level. Taking steps instead of a slide, means more of his weight is leaving the ground. A slide allows the lineman to remain balanced as they anticipate first contact. When guys leave their feet, they are risking getting pushed back on first contact. The other issue is that he often drops his outside post foot under his body. If you think of this foot as a kickstand, if it is too far underneath, it leaves the player exposed to getting bull rushed. Somehow, he made it work which essentially goes against everything I have been taught about offensive line play.
Although Martin very rarely gets beat, he has shown some struggles on hard inside moves. While rare, it seems to be a weak spot for him as it happens about one time a game. He also seems to have a little bit more difficulty with bulkier pass rushers. While he still played well, he had a little tougher time against Michigan State’s bigger edge players as opposed to other teams who had quicker, lighter athletes on the edge. He appeared to overextend against them to, perhaps, put more strength behind his punch.
How does he fit with the Jets?
On this site, we have continuously highlighted that the Jets value versatility more so than most NFL teams. You’d be hard pressed to find a lineman more versatile in this draft than Zack Martin. Because of his athleticism and football intelligence, Martin could line up at any spot on the line. As of right now, the Jets are not solidified at any spot on the line except center. We all watched Brian Winters last year. Willie Colon is unsigned. Austin Howard is unsigned. And D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s struggled have been well documented. Martin could be an insurance policy for the Jets to have a guy that could plug in to any one of those four spots if needed.
Schematically, Martin would fit right into the Jets offense. His strength in run blocking is in the zone and stretch zone which is a staple of the Mornhinweg offense. He also performed very well on zone read plays that Notre Dame ran when Everett Golson was in the backfield, just like the Jets want to run with Geno Smith. He may need to become more adept at gap scheme blocking and pulling, which he rarely did at Notre Dame. In addition, the Jets pass game is pretty similar to Notre Dame. Martin, however, did appear to be primarlily in man pass protection schemes. The Jets will use a variation of Man Schemes and Slide Schemes.
It is highly unlikely that the Jets draft an offensive lineman as high as the first round. However, they could be more worried about the state of the offensive line than they are letting on and with a deep draft at Wide Receiver, it wouldn’t shock me. If this is something they consider, than Zack Martin could be there at #18. Martin fits the mold of a type of player that is probably higher on front office draft boards than on media draft boards (a la Sheldon Richardson). If thats the case, than Martin could go as high as #12 or #13 to the Giants or Rams. If he makes it to #18 then the Jets have a decision to make. They could pull the trigger on him if they are high on him. Or they could trade down with a team like Arizona who may want to jump in front of Miami. Either way, Zack Martin could play a big role in what the Jets decide to do in the first round.
Martin is a highly decorated lineman who is first and foremost, an excellent “football player”. He can immediately be plugged in at 4 of the 5 spots on the line and be a solid starter. He’s a guy that many say can’t play tackle because of his measurables. This is a mistake. If there is a reason he shouldn’t play left tackle it would be his pass protection footwork, not his size. He reminds me of Justin Pugh, who was drafted by the Giants last year in the first round. Pugh started at right tackle for the Giants last year and was arguably their best lineman by season’s end. Martin is in the same boat as he’s done nothing but dominate at left tackle at a very high profile school playing against high profile players nearly every week. I think Martin can play tackle at the next leve and be very successful at it. I’m sure Trent Murphy would agree.
Follow Mike Nolan on Twitter: @CoachNolan64