Nick Zakelj was one of the first players to officially accept their invitations to the Senior Bowl, among the first wave of prospects to take invites to the game. Zakelj became a starter as a freshman, starting seven games at right tackle and the last game at left tackle. Since then, he hasn’t missed a game, starting 37 times since 2018. He served as a team captain in 2021 and has been First-Team All-Patriot every year since 2019.
The issue with the Fordham scheme is that they oftentimes asked their linemen to work downhill because of the extensive use of the RPO. There aren’t a lot of real pass-set reps that we’ve seen from Zakelj. As a result, you have to wonder if he’s going to be better suited at right tackle, where he can work more as a run blocker. He projects best in a man-scheme that will allow him to develop to play at the right tackle spot.
OT – #75 Fordham
Year: Redshirt Senior
High School: Brecksville-Broadview Heights (Broadview Heights, OH)
HS Rating: N/A
Phil Steele: N/A
Nick Zakelj Scouting Report
Not particularly quick or fast. Wasn’t really asked to pull or move out anywhere special. Excellent lateral quickness. Reacts to the moves that the defender will throw at him with ease. Uses a nasty stiff-arm very well. Strong upper body. Locked defenders in his block at the FCS level. Strong lower body. Drives well which shows strong thighs and legs. Very solid anchor and bend. Doesn’t display a great understanding of how to recover.
Hand placement looks really good. The issue with the Fordham scheme was that they didn’t ask the line to play pass protection much. Most of the assignments were designed to open lanes for the RPO. When he did drop into his anchor, he looked very strong. However, those reps are few and far between. Doesn’t get as low when dropping into a pass set, still very much upright. Susceptible to the quick rip.
The run-heavy scheme allowed Zakelj to push downhill a lot. Gets moving downhill very, very quickly. Works really well into the second level. He has a strong, downhill push comes from a good lower body drive. Gets down low and moves the defender as needed. Played in a heavy zone RPO scheme, but when they went with called runs, it appears that they played a lot of man-blocking. Picked up his assignments well and showed an understanding of where to go and why.
What we want to see from Nick Zakelj in Mobile
- The biggest issue with linemen from smaller schools who have the NFL size like Nick Zakelj does is whether he can get low enough to win on the line. He’s shown that he has good strength, but to be great he needs to consistently get low. There were times against other FCS competition that Zakelj struggled to handle power moves while in his pass set, which means that his center of gravity isn’t as low as it should be. Can he get low enough? The 1v1’s will be very telling on this in Mobile.
- When Zakelj played against FBS competition, specifically Nebraska this year, he played very well against the higher competition. We just want to see that continue as he plays against a higher competition level. Zakelj was most of the time the best player on the field. We want to see what he looks like when he’s not.
- Zakelj can do himself a favor in Mobile by showing NFL clubs that he can play left tackle in the NFL. Right now, we’re projecting that he will struggle with it, making a switch to right tackle part of our projection. If he can hold up at left tackle against some of the better pass rushers at this event, his stock will peak.
Pre-Senior Bowl Projection
Nick Zakelj’s projection really hinges on his Senior Bowl performance. Zakelj is one of the few players coming in here who can really make or break his stock. With a good week in Mobile, we project that his ceiling is in the fifth/seventh-round selection range. His size is good, he has strength and can develop into an average starter at the position over the next two to three years.
However, what we expect is that he will struggle with his center of gravity in Mobile and not be able to hold up as a left tackle. He’ll be projected as a switch over to right tackle, which means that there will be a steeper learning curve to adjust to in the NFL. As a result, we project Zakelj as a priority free agent after the draft.