The 2016 recipient of the Kent Hull trophy for the best offensive lineman in the state, Mississippi State right tackle Justin Senior is likely the best Canadian offensive line prospect since Kansas City Chiefs’ guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the top prospect in the 2014 CFL draft class.
A three-year starter at right tackle in the ever-competitive South Eastern Conference (SEC), the Montreal, Que. native is a true Canadian tackle prospect. He wasn’t necessarily overly eye-popping as a blocker in college to the average viewer, but Senior was a consistently competent player against tremendous competition. No matter how pretty, Senior could be counted on to consistently do his job on every play. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second best offensive tackle in the SEC in 2016.
With a tree-top build at 6’5″ and 310-lbs, Senior has the ideal build for a tackle prospect. He seems to have big hands and decent arm-length (although he seems to know how to compensate for shorter arms if my estimate is wrong and that is the case). Senior is projected to run around a 5.10-second 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day.
Senior has quick, nimble feet that allow him to consistently arrive at the junction point on time in pass-protection. He has the poise and skill to keep his shoulders square in his kick-steps, relying on the quickness of his feet and resisting the temptation to “open the door” and prematurely turn his shoulders towards the defensive end on outside rushes. Against a well-known speed-rusher with great burst off the line in Auburn’s Carl Lawson – an EDGE prospect projected to go in the first two rounds in the 2017 NFL draft – Senior had no trouble mirroring the defender around the corner and using his feet to maintain good position.
Senior also had no problem using quick-sets in the Auburn game, a technique often used to counter powerful bull-rushers who aren’t as good with their hands. Despite Lawson, a quick rush-end with decent hands, not falling under that category, Senior was successful using quick-sets thanks to his technique. It’s on his quick-sets where Senior’s decent nimbleness is advantageous, as he is able to keep his feet moving and up-to-speed with pass-rushers around the corner even after shooting his punch. His nimbleness occasionally shows up when defending inside-moves on a quick-set, too.
Senior’s hands are a tale of two stories. He struggles with hand speed and keeping his hands high like a boxer, but also has tremendously strong hands and good hand placement. Coupled with a strong torso that allows him to extend his arms once engaged, Senior’s strong hands play a pivotal role in his pass-protection and his run-blocking. His hands aren’t easily swatted once engaged, and if he keeps them high – even if on the shoulder pads, which is technically too high – Senior possesses the upper-body strength to turn defenders and create seams. Senior’s initial punch will occasionally shock the defender, but it’s the strength of his hands that’s quite impressive.
More often that not, Senior’s aiming point with his hands is nicely placed inside the defender’s shoulders and just outside the numbers. When he mistakenly places his hands too far outside the torso, it’s often a product of his lack of hand speed, as the defender was able to get his hands on first. Senior has the upper-body strength to also use a one-arm technique when he knows its unlikely that he’ll be able to get both of his hands inside, or when the defender has a longer reach than him, understanding that one arm reaches farther than two. In the below GIF, Senior sends a shocking blow – not always, but his initial punch can be powerful sometimes – with his outside hand to the defenders outside shoulder, which gives him some leverage, and gets good hand placement albeit on a quick-throw play. The second GIF is simply one of many examples of the redshirt senior’s great initial hand placement.
Despite his hand speed being an issue – too often did interior defensive lineman get their hands engaged on Senior first on run plays – Senior shows some ability to re-set his hands when his initial placement is too wide. This a great reactionary skill for an offensive lineman to have in his toolbox to revert to when desperately trying to prevent a sack after being beaten initially, as we see below.
As a run-blocker, he occasionally takes a wide step when he should take a power step (and vice-versa), but displays strong, flexible hips and, as mentioned above, good strength in his torso to turn defenders and create seams for his running back or quarterback. As a tackle in a zone scheme, rather than driving defenders back, Senior is often asked to simply shield block the defensive end from getting inside. On reach blocks, meanwhile, his aforementioned physical traits are flaunted, and his footwork seems refined. Senior’s first step when down-blocking, however, needs coaching.
Senior is going to make his money off his agility and technique, but that’s not to say he isn’t a functionally strong player. Although his lack of elite raw strength sometimes got him in trouble, Senior’s technical strength is nothing to second guess. When his posture is good – flat back, knees bent, slight forward lean, head and hands up – he’ll have no problem setting the anchor against bull-rushes. But if his first step in his pass-set is too wide and the defender counters with an inside move, the functional strength isn’t always there to stonewall the rush. The same can be said when his footwork isn’t good on down-blocks.
Pass block technique
Senior plays every down with ideal pad level, keeping his knees bent throughout the block. He keeps his back flat and his head up. As previously mentioned, he doesn’t “open the door” too early, remaining square in his pass-set until the last second. His punch timing will occasionally get him in trouble against defenders with quick hands, but it’s not a huge red flag. He needs to work on keeping his hands up in his pass-sets to be able to send a short, quick punch at any time.
Run block technique
Senior must work on bringing his hips/feet back under him to create power when blocking to move defenders more as a run-blocker. The 22-year-old often struggled with blocking in the second level, but it wasn’t because of a lack of change of direction skills. Senior must simply work on breaking down in the open field, and that’s coachable. His footwork, as mentioned, needs polishing, but I imagine that’ll get cleaned up fairly quickly when he receives NFL coaching.
Although we don’t always know the exact protection call, Senior often seems slow to react to twists and blitzes.
Senior’s first stop will be in the NFL. He’ll play in the East-West Shrine Game in January, and a good showing there could result in him being a day three pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. (And if not, he’ll have loads of undrafted free agent contracts sent his way immediately following the conclusion of the draft). He’s a fairly polished offensive tackle that, by CFL standards, checks almost every box in terms of his physical traits. His vision and ability to recognize stunts and twists is concerning, but as for his other flaws – hand speed in particular – either the one yard neutral zone in the Canadian game should nullify them, or they’re coachable. He’s not a nasty player by any stretch of the imagination, but Senior plays with a short memory and has a proven reputation in arguably college football’s best conference. He’s the best player in the CFL draft class but may not here his name called until the middle rounds – I wouldn’t expect Senior to be drafted as early as UNLV OT Brett Boyko was in 2015 (early second round).
Grade: 4.7 (out of possible 6.5)
Projected round: 4-5