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Will Holden, Vanderbilt’s most underrated blocker, now gets to protect Carson Palmer

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The Commodore offensive tackle is now a Cardinal after being selected by Arizona

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will Holden came to Vanderbilt as a three-star recruit will more offers from Sun Belt schools than Power 5 teams. He left as an All-SEC left tackle.

That growth wasn’t lost on pro scouts. On Saturday, the Arizona Cardinals made him the 157th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Holden committed to the Commodores back in 2011 as a mid-tier recruit in James Franklin’s first full class. He took the long way to the starting lineup, redshirting as a freshman and filling out his 6’7 frame while earning snaps with the scout team. His first active year was spent as a fill-in on the line and on special teams before ascending to the starting line up in 2014. He’s put in work at both right and left tackle, protecting a revolving line of quarterbacks while providing a rare semblance of consistency for the Vandy offense.

He rewarded his coaches’ faith in him by developing into a mean, powerful blocker. Through the course of his NCAA career, he racked up more than 100 pancake blocks.

Holden is capable in pass protection, but stood out as a run blocker throughout his development in Nashville. His ability to find creases, drive defenders backward, and open holes for his tailbacks helped Ralph Webb run for a Vanderbilt-record 3,347 yards in just three seasons. Despite his height, he’s able to get low, anchor himself confidently, and create space. He’s also strong when it comes to getting upfield and clearing linebackers out of the way.

His fundamentals allow him to engage pass rushers at the line and keep them in his sights, though an often ineffective Vandy offense led to a frustratingly high sacks-to-big-play ratio the past two seasons.

But that’s not the kind of high-profile assignment that makes a left tackle so valuable.

Holden’s pass block numbers aren’t great — he allowed 11 pressures and seven sacks last fall. He’s not an elite athlete for the position, which means faster defensive ends and linebackers can turn the corner on him with a speed rush and collapse the pocket from the outside. While he’s a disciplined tackle who rarely commits penalties, it’s clear he’ll need to continue growing to be an NFL left tackle.

And that’s OK! Holden has been on a steady path of improvement throughout college and his career remains on an upward trajectory. The fear is whether he’s maxed out his room for improvement based on his physical limitations. That’s what kept him from being a day one selection, but he’s more than worthy of a mid-round pick as a player who can both contribute right away while working toward a greater role.

Holden brings great size and underrated athleticism to the tackle position, but he’s also a mid-tier prospect in a draft that’s weak on blockers. Vanderbilt fans have seen what he’s capable of, but also the holes that persist in his game. He’s still got room to grow, despite a long, strong college career. He’s going to have to if he wants to be a starting left tackle in the NFL.