Interior linemen don’t win Heismans, don’t make headlines, and don’t sell tickets. That might make the 2010 NFL Draft a hard sell for many teams, because it’s conceivable that half of the first round’s 32 selections will be spent on offensive and defensive linemen. Call it the revenge of the fat kid; all those times being the last one picked in gym class will be forgotten as wideouts and quarterbacks slip into the second round while tackle after tackle after tackle go off the board.
There are extremely few fantasy leagues where offensive linemen come into play, but astute fantasy players know that plugging the right big fella in front of a quarterback or running back can lead to sneaky fantasy success. So while your league mates are tuning out an OL-heavy first round, you can see which elite blockers might be paving the way for a sleeper back this season.
The Upper Echelon
Had he come out last season, Russell Okung would have been maybe the third or fourth tackle taken; instead, he returned to Oklahoma State for his senior year and now sits atop most draft boards in another only slightly less talent-laden class. Okung has prototypical tackle size (6-5, 302) and the footwork and demeanor to play the left side; he also has the tenacity and versatility to start out on the right if need be. His run blocking needs work, but more from a technique and strength standpoint than an effort standpoint. When you consider the list of offensive tackles Okung has drawn comparisons to—D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Ryan Clady, Eugene Monroe, all of them first-round picks—you can see why Okung ranks at the top of this class.
Trent Williams (6-5, 318) is a dominating run blocker who was versatile enough to play both left and right tackle at an All-American level at Oklahoma. His pass protection technique needs some refinement, but it’s certainly more NFL-ready than the Sooner he replaced, Phil Loadholt—a second-round pick who started at right tackle for the Vikings last year. Comparisons to the Saints’ Jammal Brown suggest that Williams is as solid an option as you’ll find in this class.
Playing for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, you know Bryan Bulaga is sound fundamentally. He’s also an outstanding athlete, especially considering he’s 6-6 and 312 pounds. Bulaga lifted his stock in the Hawkeyes’ Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech, taking highly regarded defensive end Derrick Morgan completely out of the game; as a result, he opted to forego his senior season and declare for the draft. The primary concerns scouts have—technique and strength—can be addressed through coaching, the weight room, and Bulaga maturing physically. Assuming a thyroid condition that cost him three games last season checks out at the Combine, Bulaga is a lock for the first round and could sneak into the top 10.
At 6-6 and 325, Anthony Davis may be the most imposing physical specimen in this group. Even more mouth-watering to scouts is that he has the quick feet to play left tackle and the power to play on the right side. Of course, there are concerns: Davis’ technique needs plenty of work, and during his tenure at Rutgers he was suspended for a game, benched for the first quarter of another, and demoted prior to his senior season for being overweight (he arrived on campus as a 363-pound freshman). Davis seems to be a half-glass kind of guy: if you see the glass as half full you see him as a Michael Oher-type who will find motivation at the pro level; if you see the glass as half empty, Davis goes into the discard pile alongside other physically gifted athletes who couldn’t make the grade in the NFL.
If Davis is the most imposing, then Bruce Campbell might be the most athletic member of this group. Campbell’s genetic code—his dad was drafted by the New Jersey Nets—helped form a 6-7, 310-pound frame that seems ideally suited for playing left tackle. Campbell has both the quickness to handle edge rushers and the strength to overwhelm in the running game, and his expected sub-5.0 40 at the Combine will assuredly turn heads. However, after leaving Rutgers following his junior season Campbell has just 17 games of college experience under his belt. He’s a bit of a developmental project, but his physical gifts give an offensive line coach plenty to work with.
The top guard in the draft, Mike Iupati, is also the fastest riser on the board—in no small part because his long arms and 6-5, 330-pound frame give him the potential to shift outside to tackle as well. Iupati moved to the US from American Samoa at age 14, and his late start kept him off the recruiting radar. He ended up at Idaho, where he dominated, and he was one of the stars of the Senior Bowl—proving he could more than handle himself amongst bigger-school prospects. Iupati’s versatility make him attractive to any team in need of line help, though he’ll likely provide more immediate assistance as a guard.
After last year’s elite crop of centers—three went off the board in the top 50 and all were starters by season’s end—the 2010 class had nowhere to go but down. Maurkice Pouncey seized the opportunity, foregoing his final year at Florida and moving directly to the top of the draft board. At 6-5 and 318 he has the size and versatility to move outside to guard, which some teams may be tempted to do if Pouncey struggles to adjust to making direct snaps. His technique needs work, but regardless of where he plays in the NFL he’ll have fundamentals to work on so scouts aren’t overly concerned. And his quick feet, strength, and tenacity are all things you simply can’t coach.
Be Very Afraid
Selvish Capers has the size (6-5, 298) and mobility of a left tackle, but he played primarily on the right side at West Virginia—first protecting lefty Pat White’s blindside, then last year in front of right-hander Jarrett Brown. However, his technique and footwork need plenty of refinement before he can be trusted on the left side of an NFL line. Scouts also have concerns about how he’ll adapt from playing primarily upright in the Mountaineers’ spread offense to getting down in a three-point stance in the NFL. There’s a general agreement Capers has the physical tools to eventually be a quality NFL lineman, and it’s tough to question the commitment of a player who went from academic non-qualifier to earning an additional year of eligibility by graduating on time; however, don’t look for Capers to step into an NFL offense and make an immediate impact.
Take A Chance On…
Last year defensive tackle Peria Jerry used a strong Senior Bowl showing to catapult into the first round; this year, his brother is taking a similar approach in riding his own standout performance in Mobile to move into the upper rounds of the draft. Scouts have found plenty to like about John Jerry: a massive (6-5, 332) frame, outstanding strength, and surprising athleticism for his size. Jerry started out at right guard for Ole Miss but played right tackle his last two years with the Rebels, and pro teams could see him filling either role in the NFL. Better still, Jerry responded to concerns that he was too big (he played his final year at Ole Miss in the 350-360 range) by dropping 20 pounds prior to the Senior Bowl. Jerry saw time at left tackle in Mobile, and a player with his size and versatility is bound to find a home in the NFL; three years of SEC starting experience should also help speed his transition to Sunday football as well.
Who Needs One?
There isn’t a team in the league who wouldn’t want to add an elite offensive lineman; if they were stocked at a position, they’d shuffle bodies around to make room. Which teams will make the o-line a priority on draft day, however, is a different story entirely. The Lions could use more protection for Matthew Stafford, but unless they trade down they’ll likely address the other side of their line. The Redskins desperately need an influx of young talent up front, but Mike Shanahan could be focused on finding a new quarterback. Seattle has two first-round opportunities to address their aging, injury-riddled front, but is that the kind of splash Pete Carroll wants to make? The Raiders should be looking for an offensive lineman, but usually none run fast enough to capture Al Davis’ attention. The Bills, sitting in the No. 9 spot, are hoping teams in front of them address other needs because their most glaring holes are up front.
And that’s just the top quarter of the draft.
The Broncos will look to get bigger along their line as they move away from their zone blocking days, but they may not make that move until after the first round. San Francisco, like their division-mates to the north, has two first-round picks and will almost certainly use one to upgrade their front line. The Packers remain hopeful that at No. 23 the tackle position hasn’t been gutted, while the Cowboys and Colts would be more than happy to address needs along their offensive lines should enough teams ahead of them eschew the big fellas for other positions. The list of teams who would consider beefing up their o-line in the mid- to later rounds would encompass just about every team not listed above.