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NFL Draft: Charlie Heck Prospect Profile

The big left tackle should intrigue teams with his size and traits

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Belk College Kickoff - South Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

More than a month ago now, UNC football alumni Charlie Heck and Jason Strowbridge went to the NFL Combine, where they showed out pretty well. Their next month should have been filled with NFL-team funded flights to NFL stadiums to do interviews, workouts, and other such stuff. Obviously, the COVID-19 crisis has made this impossible, and both the pair’s interview circuit opportunity and their Pro Day have been cancelled. The NFL Draft will still occur, however, which means that we still need draft profiles of draftable prospects. First up in our UNC series is Charlie Heck.

Overview:

Heck, a 6’8’’, 315-pound behemoth, was a three-year starter at offensive tackle for UNC, playing some of his career on the right before moving full-time to left tackle last year. It’s worth noting that though he played right tackle until his junior year and moved to the left his senior year, Heck was a blindside protector most of his career, as most of his 2017 and 2018 seasons were spent protecting the left-handed Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt. He wasn’t extremely highly recruited out of high school; his body didn’t fill out until late in his career and he came to UNC as a converted tight end. His dad is Kansas City offensive line coach Andy Heck and his brother is former UNC tackle Jon Heck, so he came to the position with more knowledge than most converted prospects, but he still had a lot to learn. He became a starter his redshirt sophomore year and never looked back, missing just one game through three years of playing. He gave up just one sack his junior year and was even better as a senior, giving up just a third of a sack (per UNC’s stats department, don’t ask me what a third of a sack is), allowing just 24 pressures across the two years. He was named to the 2019 All-ACC Second Team as an offensive tackle as a senior.

Heck tested pretty well at the combine, with particularly good scores in his 40-yard dash and broad jump. Here’s his Mockdraftable spider chart:

The Good

Heck grew up playing a lot of soccer, particularly at the goalie position, when he was younger, as profiled by Trevor Sikkema here. This shows up obviously in his tape, where he’s a lot lighter on his feet than anybody his height has any right to be - he’s got quicker feet than most tackles, period. Because of that, some of the problems you see with most taller tackles - inability to mirror and overcommitment to a side, namely - aren’t issues with Heck. His pass set is quick and explosive, and he’s always ready to take on a counter move - he’s not a reactor.

He had to let go because Sam Howell broke the pocket, but focus on how he handles the inside-to-outside move before that
Hash on Youtube

(In all clips, unless otherwise specified, Heck is at left tackle, #67)

Pass blocking is Heck’s bread and butter. As evidenced by his numbers, he is almost always in control of a pass rush, using his arms to keep rushers locked into him, keeping a strong base to not get walked back, and consistently widening rushers’ arcs. He is proactive with his punch and blocks with his whole body, not just his arms or upper body - he particularly has good hips, never getting locked into a stance and rolling through contact for maximum drive. For a player who’s relatively new to the position, he has a lot of very well-coached traits, though we’ll see later that he’s not a completely finished product. Still, this is probably thanks at least in part to his family background with the position: He’s had high-level resources teaching him to play the right way. He’s particularly good at not letting speed rushers get past his outside shoulder, which you don’t really expect from big tackles like him: usually, they handle power well and struggle with speed, while Heck is very good against speed and only decent against power.

Lets the rusher’s speed widen the rush to the point of uselessness. Great rep

Heck has some good traits as a run blocker as well, though he’s not quite as consistent at it as he is as a pass protector. He gets to the second level pretty fluidly and has good enough accuracy and athleticism to affect plays once he’s there. He doesn’t always make a clean block on the move, but he does help out, whether his assignment is to get to the second level immediately or to make a combo block. He is also a functional puller, though UNC’s offense didn’t ask him to do it a ton last year. Despite his size, he’d make a pretty decent tackle for a zone blocking team, thanks to his mobility and lateral agility. In man-blocking schemes or designs, he gets hands on his man and drives, though he’s not always as successful at it as he is doing everything else (more on this later). I was worried about Will Sweet last year because he run blocked like a pass blocker, and that is not the case with Heck: he actively participates in driving piles forward or creating running lanes. But it is his mobility as a run blocker that will make him most attractive to NFL coaches.

Here he drives his man forward and out of the play, creating a designed cutback lane
Watch how he stays square while getting to the second level and makes solid contact with the linebacker

And finally, Heck’s a smart player. He cut blocks well despite his height because he knows when and where to deploy them. He rarely gets called for holding penalties, even with quarterbacks who frequently break the pocket, knowing exactly when to let go of his man so it doesn’t look like he’s holding. He doesn’t false start much, either: he was called for just two penalties all of the 2019 season. He has his head on a swivel and looks for work if he’s neutralized his man or the play is going away from him; you don’t see him standing around too often. Again, even though he hasn’t been playing the position his whole life, he’s been around it a lot from an early age, and that shows in some of these details even if it’s not all the way there in his game. He was able to adjust seamlessly to having a new offensive scheme and a new offensive line coach in his last year as a college player, and picked up RPO and Air Raid concepts in a snap after spending 4 years in a spread program.

The Not-Good

There’s no way around it - being a lineman at Heck’s size is going to work against you without serious work to correct it, and it’s clear from watching him that he doesn’t quite have all that work finished yet. He has some sink to his stance, but his leverage is still pretty high by default and he doesn’t quite get grounded enough to erase that inherent disadvantage. This makes him liable to swims and rips on rushes that he’s neutralized pretty well in the initial phase of the play; edge rushers can get under him (especially to the inside) if he doesn’t make a conscious effort to stay low.

As good a mover as he is for his size, he also has had some trouble (though not as much as you might expect) with edge rushers crossing his face to the inside; he struggles a little bit with quickly transferring his weight back to the inside after committing to widening an opposing rush. Here’s an example:

The left guard was called for holding on the play thanks to Heck’s mistake

His leverage also hurts him against bull rushes and similar power rushes, where he can be driven back if he isn’t anchored completely. He’s still developing technique in that aspect of his game, so sometimes you’ll see what he could be when he really sits down and handles a rusher, but he isn’t all the way there yet, and that’s when you see stuff like this, where Kingsley Enagbare absolutely destroys him with a push-pull rush because Heck isn’t anchored:

As a side note, I think this might have been the play when we all knew Sam Howell was special.

And finally, Heck has a bit of an issue finishing blocks. There are more than a few instances of him thinking he’s won the play and allowing his man to disengage when he’s still in range of the action. Sometimes, that man will make the tackle on what ends up as a positive play but could have been a lot better had Heck finished him off instead of letting him go. Heck isn’t a lazy player by any means, and he does play through the whistle - he just finds his next job too soon sometimes rather than making sure the first block is over. It should be a pretty easy fix, because he does have the ability to just knock guys down, and he’s got plenty of grit. I’m not sure what the disconnect is with this particular issue - I think it might be related to how good he is at avoiding holding calls because he knows how to let go before he’s restraining a defender going the other way - but I think it’s a note he’d very easily take. Still, you hate to see stuff like this:

He washes his defender away from the play - but disengages when his defender fights back playside, and lets him finish the play (that was already pretty much busted, to be fair)

Final Thoughts

Heck’s an intriguing prospect, from an NFL standpoint. His size and explosion are obviously things you can’t teach, as are his leadership qualities and toughness - he anchored an otherwise very young offensive line group his senior year, including playing through a broken dominant hand - and if he learns to harness those things to the fullest, he could be a force even at the NFL level. But they come with potentially debilitating weaknesses, and that’s why you don’t see a ton of 6’8’’ offensive tackles make it to the NFL at all. It’s a dice roll you have to make: do you think, “well, he hadn’t played the position until he got to college and picked up a lot of good technique in just five years, so he’ll be easy to coach most of the weaknesses out of,” or do you think, “he’s already 23 and a half years old and is still a developmental prospect - does he have room to grow?” Based on the flashes he’s already shown, to me, he’s ready to be coached into somebody who can regularly hold up against NFL edge rushers and eventually be a quality NFL starter. But it’s going to take time and significant investment for that to happen. Right now, given his experience playing both sides and his movement abilities, he’s a backup swing tackle. That, to me, is worth an early Day 3 pick - mid-4th to early 5th rounds.