During the ramp up to the 2013 NFL Draft, our draft team has been doing a series of positional rankings that will highlight the top 10 players in this year’s draft, by position. Today, we continue with a look at our top 10 offensive linemen prospects. Be sure to check our previous installments of our top 10 defensive tackle prospects, top 10 outside linebacker prospects, top 10 inside linebacker prospects, top 10 quarterback prospects and top 10 defensive end prospects.
1) Chance Warmack, Alabama, 6’2″ 318 lbs – In a draft dominated by upside and potential, Warmack is ready to start and be a force at guard immediately. He is the most well-rounded offensive lineman in this draft. He has shown the ability to be a road grater in Alabama’s zone heavy running game. He is also really good in pass protection with underrated footwork and an excellent anchor to stone power moves. He did not perform that well at the combine as he posted a slow 40 time, but don’t let the numbers fool you. When you turn on the tape he is athletic and strong and can completely dominate a game in between the tackles. He projects to be a perennial All-Pro for whatever team drafts him.
2) Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina, 6’2″ 312 lbs – The funny thing is that Jonathan Cooper is not very far behind, making this the best guard tandem to enter the NFL draft in some time, perhaps ever. In fact, some teams actually prefer him to Warmack because of his undeniable athleticism. In fact, Cooper may one of the most athletic interior offensive linemen ever to enter the NFL. Cooper possesses incredibly quick feet. He is an outstanding puller and has excellent footwork in pass protection to mirror defenders. Like Warmack, he will immediately be one of the best offensive guards in the NFL and has the ability to play center should a team need him to do so.
3) Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, 6’6″ 306 lbs – In this draft, the tackles are being a little overstated. I don’t see the dominant tackles of the past like Anthony Munoz or Jonathan Ogden, but there is depth at the top. Luke Joeckel is the top tackle in this draft because of his pass protection chops. He has the best kickslide I have seen coming out of college in a long time and is always in position to mirror the defender. He doesn’t have a great anchor though and can get bull rushed once in a while. In the run game he isn’t a mauler, but will always have good body position to give the back what he needs to make the right cut or hit the hole. Joeckel has proven himself against some of the best pass rushers in the SEC and should have a long career of similarly denying NFL pass rushers.
4) Eric Fisher, Central Michigan, 6’7″ 306 lbs – Like Warmack and Cooper at the top of the guard rankings, there is barely a drop off between Joeckel and Eric Fisher. Fisher is a little quicker than Joeckel and shows great explosion out of his stance. He also is nastier than Joeckel and shows more of a propensity to finish blocks. The one major area that Fisher needs to get better at is his balance. He has a tendency to lean on blocks a lot more in the run game and lunges sometimes in the pass game. This leads to him falling off blocks at a higher rate than Joeckel. Seen as a borderline 1st round pick heading into the Senior Bowl, Fisher has done nothing but impress scouts and improve his game since barely being recruited out of high school. This progression should continue in the NFL and allow him to become one of the league’s best tackles.
5) Lane Johnson, Oklahoma, 6’6″ 303 lbs – Johnson is an interesting prospect as he played Quarterback, Tight End, and Defensive End before finding his way to Offensive Tackle his Junior season. Despite his “freakiest combine ever” there is a lot more of a drop off at this point from Joeckel/Fisher to Lane Johnson than people are letting on. This doesn’t mean Johnson can’t develop into the caliber of players that Joeckel and Fisher are; it just means that he has a lot of work to do to catch up. Johnson is an extremely athletic big man with a perfect frame to play left tackle in the NFL. While good in pass pro, on film, Johnson looks completely uncomfortable run blocking from the left side of the line. Johnson has high potential, but he may not necessarily be ready to jump in at left tackle and be a pro bowler immediately. The team that drafts him is going to have to determine if they should immediately throw him to the wolves and start him at left tackle, or start him at right tackle until he fully develops his game. Either way he has the chance to develop into a great professional left tackle with the proper development.
6) D.J. Fluker, Alabama, 6’4″ 340 lbs – Fluker was a three year starter at right tackle for an offensive line that is perennially recognized as one of the best units in college football. Fluker has a great body to be a dominant right tackle in the NFL. Mel Kiper has said that Fluker is the best run-blocking tackle that he has graded in 35 years covering the draft. While, I don’t know if I would go that far, he can completely dominate in the run game because of his long arms and massive grip. Fluker is a little different from the other tackles in this draft in that he plays at 340 (which he actually lost 20 pounds to get to). Because of this he is more heavy footed which can lead to bad footwork. However, his footwork is not as bad as many are saying. He is a competent pass protector who can get beat from time to time against speed rushes and inside counter moves. He allowed McCarron to get hit a lot more than you would like to see in 2012. Because of this deficiency he should probably stay at right tackle in the NFL where he should be a physical presence for many years.
7) Menelik Watson, Florida State, 6’5″ 310 lbs – Menelik Watson is a prime example of the slow global expansion of the NFL. Watson, who is originally from England (Would love to hear him talk trash in a pile) and learned to play football from the Madden Video Games, is another late bloomer with a high ceiling that will intrigue many teams toward the end of the first round and beginning of the second. He transferred to Florida State his junior season and immediately stepped into a starting role at right tackle, only giving up one sack all year. He has great feet, especially in the pass game and does a great job getting to the second level. To accomplish what he did in only one season at Florida State shows that he has the mental capacity and athletic ability to continue to develop at the next level. He will most likely be a right tackle at the next level, but with proper development could slide over to the left side if needed.
8) Justin Pugh, Syracuse, 6’4″ 307 lbs – Justin Pugh was a three year starter for Syracuse, where he protected Ryan Nassib’s blind side. Although Pugh was an All-Big East tackle, he will probably be sliding inside to guard in the NFL. At 6’4” he really doesn’t have the length that you typically see in the prototypical blindside tackle. The positive spin is that he will bring an NFL offensive line versatility, where he could probably be plugged in at center, either guard spot, or even at right tackle. He isn’t elite at anything, but does everything really well. He has great footwork in pass and run game and is athletic and strong enough to block a myriad of defenders. His short arms can be a hindrance at times as he will allow the defender to get his hands into his chest plate first. A lot of teams seem to be pretty high on him despite this measurable and he should go somewhere in the late first to mid second range.
9) Travis Frederick, Wisconsin, 6’3″ 313 lbs – Frederick, who became the first true freshman lineman to start for the Badgers, is just another in a long line of great Wisconsin linemen to make it to the NFL. Of all the centers in this draft, Frederick plays with the best leverage in order to utilize his strength. He has a fantastic anchor in pass protection. He sets the pocket right at the line of scrimmage so the quarterback can step up. He can also be a mauler in the run game as he had a propensity to put defensive lineman on the ground. My only concern is that at center he generally down blocked due to Wisconsin’s power heavy running game. He will need to develop a little more foot speed if he is drafted by a zone heavy team. Look for him to come off the board late on day two or early on day three.
10) Kyle Long, Oregon, 6’6″ 313 lbs – Kyle Long has been getting a lot of hype towards the end of the draft process. There are two reasons why this hype has started to generate: 1) He is the son of NFL great Howie Long and the brother of Rams DE Chris Long. 2) He has the athleticism, strength, and body type to be a great blind side tackle in the NFL. The only problem is that Long is not currently ready to start on an NFL offensive line. After leaving Florida State following a DWI, Long joined Oregon in 2012 where he started the final four games of the season at left guard. Long looks competent on tape mainly due to the speed of Chip Kelly’s offense. A closer look shows that Long is completely lost on the field especially in the Ducks’ zone read packages. He shows glimmers, though. When he is man blocking on run plays he shows no hesitation and fires off the ball. He also has solid pass pro footwork, but doesn’t know how to drop his anchor yet and gets pushed back. Kyle Long is a bigger project pick than any other offensive lineman in this draft. While he has the potential to become a starting blindside tackle, he will need to be thrown in at guard or right tackle at first if he even starts. At this point he would be too big of a risk to be a starting left tackle. With the proper coaching he should be able to live up to his family name. A lot of people have Long going at the end of the first round based on his potential.
Five Others To Watch For:
Larry Warford, Kentucky, 6’3″ 333 lbs – Warford is a less explosive version of Chance Warmack. He can be dominant in the run game and solid in the pass game, but his lack of explosion and quickness will hurt him as defensive lineman get even quicker in the NFL. If Warford can increase foot speed and get in the right system, he could be a Pro-Bowl guard.
Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6’4″ 305 lbs – Armstead is the only offensive lineman in the draft whose combine numbers are comparable to Lane Johnson. Coming out of a small school, Armstead turned some heads as he played well at the senior bowl, particularly against Datone Jones. He should be a day 2 pick.
Brian Winters, Kent State, 6’3″ 318 lbs – Winters may be the nastiest lineman in the draft. The former tackle is not great in space and will probably be asked to move to guard. He shows solid technique and violently finishes blocks. He reminds me of Richie Incognito of the Dolphins. Look for Winters to go in the third round.
Barrett Jones, Alabama, 6’4″ 307 lbs – Jones is Mr. Versatility as he played 3 different positions in his career at Alabama. His versatility and intelligence will be his biggest draw for an NFL team. He should be able to step in at guard or center and be a solid starter. He could play tackle in emergency situations also.
Reid Fragel, Ohio State, 6’7″ 309 lbs – Fragel is a kid who is being overlooked by a lot of draft pundits. He is another high potential kid who moved to right tackle in 2012 after three years at tight end. He is still learning the position, but has great athleticism and strength to be a potential steal in this draft on day three.