Why are we writing so much about the Bucs undrafted free agents here at Pewter Report?
Well, outside of simply wanting to keep you informed on all things Bucs, the reality is that Tampa Bay does not have a very deep roster, which enhances the chance that more undrafted free agents than normal could make the final 55. In the case of their offensive line, that fact stands out like a sore thumb, which could open up the door for versatile Boise State offensive lineman John Molchon to earn a roster spot.
Outside of the expected starting five, the Bucs have little in the way of proven depth up front. Free agent signee Joe Haeg figures to be the top reserve, but after that no roster spot is assured. Veteran tackle Josh Wells did not play well in his 203 snaps last season, but that’s still 203 more offensive snaps than fellow tackle Brad Seaton has played in his career.
Other than Haeg, Aaron Stinnie is the only other interior offensive line option that has played an offensive snap in the NFL over the past two seasons, and he only has 16 of them. That leaves a lot of room for undrafted free agents like Molchon and even Texas’ Zach Shackelford to light up the preseason and put themselves in the competition for a roster spot.
A three-year starter at Boise State who started at least one game at every offensive line position outside of center, Molchon most often aligned at left guard for the Broncos, earning first team all-conference honors for his play during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The biggest concern with Molchon is his lack of length. There simply aren’t many NFL offensive linemen with arms just over 31 inches, which puts him in the 2nd percentile for his position group, per Mock Draftable. That’ll likely rule Molchon out of tackle duties in the NFL, but could push him to center, the one offensive line position he didn’t play in college.
Molchon’s strengths and weaknesses are pretty clearly defined on tape, and it did not take long to get a strong grasp on who he is as a player. In the run game, he just straight up is not going to be an asset. Not explosive enough out of his stance, not powerful or leverage enough to move guys and consistently gives up his chest and gets thrown off of blocks.
I followed my rule to watch guys against quality competition first and foremost, and Molchon got his butt kicked against Florida State’s defensive line in the run game. It was a tough scene.
Even against Florida State defensive linemen not named Marvin Wilson, Molchon was consistently controlled at the line of scrimmage, driven into the backfield or tossed aside as the defender worked in pursuit of the play. Not one time in the game did I see Molchon solo block and displace a defender at the line of scrimmage.
I’m a firm believer that there is a level of physicality needed to play offensive line in the NFL, and it’s unclear from his tape if Molchon has that. The effort is there, but even given his lack of great physical tools, he’s just not violent enough to win 1v1 against guys coming for his lunch money. And in the NFL, every defensive lineman is coming for your lunch money.
What’s the saving grace for Molchon’s game? To a degree, pass protection. It’s more important than run blocking, and he shows some real promise in this area. Molchon has enough quickness to mirror defenders working to his edge, and if he can land his hands first, you finally see some tenacity come out in his game as he works to stay on blocks.
Molchon has some really good jump sets in his college tape, a good maneuver for him given his lack of length and ability to win when he can land his strike early. His ability to stay mostly under control and not get sloppy with his posture and technique allow him to present a stronger anchor than you’d expect watching him in the run game.
Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, an incredibly powerful human being, tries to push-pull Molchon here, but the right guard locks it up and refuses to get tossed aside.
While Molchon does a good job of staying under control in pass protection, it doesn’t take much leaning with his lack of length to make recovery an impossibility. Wilson hit him with the double swipe here, didn’t really land it, but still got Molchon leaning enough to work through his edge for the strip-sack.
Last thing on Molchon. I think he’s really sharp from the neck up, which will give him a chance to convert to center and impress the Bucs coaching staff with his ability to ID blitzes. He was excellent at Boise State identifying stunts and twists up front, and most of the time his technique was sound in picking them up too.
I’ll be pretty surprised if Molchon comes in and takes anyone’s starting job, but his pass protection technique, athleticism, smarts and versatility are good enough to vie for a roster spot. Still, offensive linemen who get that beat up in the college run game scare me. The NFL is above all else a physical league of supremely confident defensive linemen. Molchon is going to have to elevate his intensity in the trenches, or the preseason could be a rough ride that exposes his game as a bit too finesse to survive at this level.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft