We are very close to the end of this excruciatingly long wait for the NFL Draft. Here is a last minute guide to the interior offensive line prospects teams will be looking at all weekend. Check here for a guide to this year’s offensive tackle prospects.
The Top Five (Or Six)
One of the major things I need to see on tape for a lineman is good knee bend and hip flexibility and Su’a-Filo has it. He also has great athleticism which was confirmed at the combine as he posted the fast 20 yard shuttle time of the offensive linemen.
His only glaring issue that should be easy to fix is his mirroring ability in pass protection. He will sometimes stop his feet and rely on his hands to and upper body to hold a defender at bay. This needs to be corrected and I think it will. If that gets corrected, Su’a-Filo can be a pro bowler.
Turner has solid footwork and does well in all run blocking schemes. I particularly like how he uses leverage to get both vertical and horizontal push in LSU’s zone scheme. He is an excellent puller (His skip pull is a thing of beauty) and is great at getting to his man on the second level. While an athletic player, I think Turner sometimes struggles with his first step, allowing defensive lineman to get penetration before moving them down the line. Sometimes he stops his feet on contact at the second level which can lead him to miss or fall in space.
He has pretty long arms, but needs to use hand placement better, especially in pass protection. He can also afford to get some better knee bend in his pass pro demeanor. I have Turner and Su’a-Filo very close and I would not be surprised if Turner is higher on draft boards as he left LSU with two years of eligibility remaining, while Su’a-FIlo spent two years on an LDS mission. I would not be surprised to see a guy like Turner play center either.
2) Marcus Martin, USC (6’3″; 320)Martin put together some absolutely dominant tape against most of his opponents. He is quick off the ball and has the strength and low base to drive defenders vertically. He also does a good job getting to the second level, but needs to maintain his base as he can get beat when linebackers give him a juke move.
Martin is short, but has great length for a center with long arms and big hands. I am a little concerned about some of the things I saw on the Notre Dame tape, where he struggled mightily with Louis Nix III. All in all, there is still some room for improvement and his ceiling is what makes him the best prospect at center.
Richburg is a much different center than Martin. Richburg might be the quickest lineman off the ball in this entire draft and he may have gotten even quicker leading up to the Senior Bowl where he was very impressive. He has incredible athleticism and quickness as CSU used him to pull all over the place.
I have some concerns about his ability to get movement against bigger defensive tackles, but he could be extremely successful in a system that utilizes his true strengths similar to how the Eagles use smaller center Jason Kelce.
I didn’t include Bitonio in the offensive tackles breakdown because I think he is a prospect that would truly be better suited at guard. I’m not as high on Bitonio as some of the draft analysts because he doesn’t play with great bend. It is easier to fix footwork issues than bend issues. Because of his bend issues, I think Bitonio plays a lot shorter than he is and puts himself in some bad situations.
Bitonio was able to get by in college, but in the NFL I think he will have some serious issues getting acclimated. On the other hand, Bitonio has some of the best footwork out of any guard or tackle in this draft. If there is a way to fix his bend issues, Bitonio could be an excellent pro guard or tackle. If he can’t I think he can still be a solid guard.
Watching Gabe Jackson and looking at his testing numbers immediately makes me think of Larry Warford. He is a huge presence at guard and has surprisingly nimble feet for a player of his girth. The main difference is that Jackson lacks the explosiveness in the run game that made Warford so good in his first NFL season.
Jackson will often stop his feet upon contact when run blocking and sometimes he doesn’t even take his initial steps. This leads to a lot of stand stills instead of getting movement. Where Jackson really wins is in pass protection. His nimble feet help him, but it’s his hands that are so impressive. Once Jackson locks his paws into you, the fight is over and the defender isn’t going anywhere.
The Next Five
6) Dakota Dozier, Furman (6’4″; 318) – This small school prospect is very intriguing. He shows fantastic athleticism and could be a developmental project as he moves to guard in the NFL and refines his technique. He probably needs a year or two but has a very high ceiling.
7) Brandon Thomas, Clemson (6’3″; 317) – I really like this kid who will most likely move from tackle to guard. Has great knee bend and will immediately be one of the best pass blockers at guard. Uses his big hands very well and packs a powerful punch. Would be higher on this list if not for his injury history including the ACL he tore while working out for the Saints.
8) Chris Watt, Notre Dame (6’3″; 310) – Watt is a guy that will be drafted higher than people think. He has an NFL-ready skill set and is scheme versatile. Nothing spectacular but solid, hard working lineman who works well with line mates, an underrated quality.
9) David Yankey, Stanford (6’6″; 315) – Yankey is a solid player, but is probably best suited for power scheme as he struggles with footwork and agility. Is absolutely dominant in short yardage situations and has highly regarded leadership and character.
10) Travis Swanson, Arkansas (6’5″; 312) – Probably the biggest center prospect in the draft, Swanson has an unrefined but successful style of play. He does a good job of getting lateral movement in zone scheme, but needs to get stronger in order to be quality starter.
Zach Fulton, Tennessee (6’5″; 316) – I’m not a huge fan of this guard or center class as a whole and could have easily picked guys like Brandon Thomas or Chris Watt as sleepers, but since they made my top ten I took Fulton who is being projected as a late round pick.
Fulton has been completely overshadowed by his line mates Ju’Wuan James and Tiny Richardson, but he is a project player that could develop into a solid starter if drafted in the right situation.
He missed a lot of time due to injury in his career, but started all 12 games in 2013. Because of this, he is very raw and is a guy who used pure athleticism and power to move SEC defenders. If this kid can get some technique and become a student of the game, Fulton has a lot of untapped potential.
Cyril Richardson, Baylor (6’5″; 329) – In the early days of 2014 draft prognostication, Richardson was the most highly rated guard. Then we saw him at the Senior Bowl, where he was downright awful, and got a glimpse of some of his glaring weaknesses that were overlooked to that point.
Going back and looking at the tape, Richardson really struggles in pass protection, as the spread aspect of Baylor’s offense, in part, masked this glaring weakness.
He does not have good lateral quickness and struggles to mirror defenders and has next to no recovery ability once beaten. He is a decent run blocker and can even be dominant at times, but this is even an inconsistent part of his game.
People have questioned his passion for the game which raises some eyebrows and could explain why his tape doesn’t match his size and measureables. For my taste, his pass protection issues will be magnified in the NFL and I would stay away as they could be a very tall order to fix.