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SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 28: Washington State Cougars offensive lineman Andre Dillard (60) looks to make a block during the Alamo Bowl between the Washington State Cougars and Iowa State Cyclones on December 28, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Carolina Panthers are picking 16th overall in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The writers here at Last Word will make their case for their favorite prospect with the Panthers first-round pick. When looking at the current state of the NFL, it is a pass-happy league where quarterbacks are the most important position. However, edge rushers continue to get more athletic and talented which poses a lot of problems for quarterbacks. Protecting a quarterback is now harder to do meaning offensive tackles are valued higher than ever. Andre Dillard happens to be one of the best pass blocking offensive tackles in this draft and here is why the Panthers should select him.

Like most young offensive linemen, Dillard was overlooked coming out of high school. The former two-star recruit received only one scholarship offer from an FBS school and the Washington native committed to the Cougars. Dillard entered Washington State at 240 pounds and they asked him to redshirt in 2014. He then played in only three games the following season. In 2016, Dillard finally earned a starting spot on the depth chart and produced immediately. As a junior, Dillard went on to earn Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors. The tackle was named third-team all-American his senior year and allowed only one sack on 677 pass attempts all season, according to Pro Football Focus.

A True Technician

Following his senior year, the general projection was that Dillard would be a late second or early third round draft pick. He played in Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense and had little experience in run blocking. Many scouts across the media considered him weak and thought he was a benefactor of Leach’s offense. However, Dillard put on a show at the Senior Bowl and had an impressive week of practice. He displayed great footwork, great hand placement, the ability to anchor down and handle bull rushes and checked off nearly every box you want a left tackle to do.

Dillard excelled in the one-on-one drills handling the likes of top edge prospects Montez Sweat and Jaylon Ferguson. He went on to have a solid performance in the Senior Bowl game and that boosted his stock a considerable amount.

Most Athletic Lineman in the Draft

Dillard continued to impress scouts and teams this draft season and had a big performance at the NFL Combine. His first ‘wow’ moment was at the 40-yard dash when the offensive tackle ran an official 4.96, the fastest among offensive tackles in this year’s class.

That was only the beginning of a spectacular showing of athleticism. Now I know what you’re thinking, why does it matter if an offensive lineman is athletic or not? Well as stated earlier, edge rushers in the NFL are becoming freakishly athletic. Very few offensive tackles in the league have the athleticism to match edge rushers stride for stride. However, that will not the case with Dillard.

When performing the offensive line field drills, Dillard put his athleticism to use with the kick-slide drill. He maintained really good form and it’s clear to see how natural it is for him to wall off faster pass rushers. Take a look at how that athleticism and kick-slide translates to his game film. Here Dillard takes the edge rusher, whose using a speed rush, and runs him right past the quarterback before the edge even gets an opportunity to try and bend around the corner.

Don’t Call Him ‘Soft’

The term ‘soft’ has been thrown around a lot when describing Dillard’s style of play and that is fairly inaccurate. Sure, the tackle plays with a little more finesse to his game than others but he doesn’t have a problem snuffing out bull rushes and putting edge rushers in the turf. Check out how Dillard finishes against Stanford’s Mike Tyler back in 2017.

Now, even though the tackle is a polished pass blocker there is still room for improvement in his game. Dillard’s run blocking ability is the biggest concern of his skillset. Playing in Leach’s Air Raid offense, Dillard was not asked to run block all that much and the biggest question is can he do so in a pro-style offense. Here is where the tackle’s athleticism comes back into play. While he may not have the experience, he certainly has the speed and quickness to get the second level, set the edge or block a defender in the open field on screen plays.

Norv Turner and the Panthers offense do run a lot of gadget plays and have quarterback designed runs where Dillard’s athleticism will allow him to flourish.

Best Trait: Athleticism in his pass blocking

Worst Trait: Limited run blocking experience

NFL Comp: Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans

Fit With Carolina

With versatile wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, the Panthers ran an impressive amount of reverses in the 2018 season. By design, Turner also called plenty of running back screens for star running back Christian McCaffrey. Dillard’s athleticism at the left tackle position will allow the Panthers offense to run more gadget and screen plays in 2019 with higher success rates. Carolina is also a team that likes to run a lot of read options and designed quarterback runs and Dillard could lead block for Cam Newton on those type of plays. Drafting Dillard would also allow the Panthers to keep Taylor Moton at right tackle and slide Daryl Williams to guard to improve the interior.

Where Will He Be Drafted?

Dillard’s stock has steadily been rising throughout this draft process. The tackle is no longer being mocked outside of the first round, in fact, some mock drafts have him going in the top 10. A handful of teams are rumored to have Dillard as their no.1 offensive tackle prospect meaning he could be gone by the time the Panthers are on the clock at No.16. Teams such as the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals have big needs at the offensive tackle position and pick before the Panthers do. It may be a situation where Carolina has to trade away future draft picks to move up a few spots, but if they are serious about protecting Newton, it is a worthy investment. Dillard is my favorite prospect for the Panthers in the 2019 NFL Draft.

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View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: Carolina Panthers Draft: The Case for Andre Dillard