Other Positions: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Linemen
It all starts up front; without a competent offensive line there’s no running game, no time to throw... in short, no offensive success. Just ask Peyton Manning how much fun it was trying to throw with defensive linemen hanging off of him, or Adrian Peterson how much extra work it requires just to get back to the line of scrimmage behind a porous offensive line.
This year’s class lacks a Joe Thomas or Jake Long; in fact, maybe one big fella will go off the board in the first 10 picks. But that doesn’t mean the class is devoid of help. Expect quality teams to pick up quality o-line help later in the first round and the majority of teams to take at least one offensive lineman before Day Two has come to a close.
THE UPPER ECHELON
There’s no real consensus as to which offensive tackle tops this year’s class, but Anthony Castonzo is likely the most pro-ready. He started out on the right side, blocking for Matt Ryan as a freshman at Boston College, then started the next three seasons on the left. At the Senior Bowl he also played inside, demonstrating his versatility. He’s slated to play tackle in the pros and has the athleticism to play the left side, the strength to play the right, and the smarts to play either—or both.
While Castonzo is NFL-ready now, it’s generally believed that Tyron Smith has the biggest upside. A two-year starter on the right side at USC, Smith has the athleticism to develop into a franchise left tackle; however, he’s going to be a bit of a project. He played at less than 300 pounds in college, but he has the frame to add weight and was up to 307 by the Combine. If any tackle goes in the top 10 this year, it’s likely to be the 20-year-old Smith and his vast potential.
Joe Thomas’ replacement at Wisconsin, Gabe Carimi has stated he believes he’s the best tackle in the draft. Though he’s no Thomas, Carimi is no slouch either; he has excellent size (6-7, 314), tons of experience (started 49 games in four years with the Badgers), and high marks in the “intangibles” category as well. Carimi may be best suited to play on the right side, which could hurt his draft stock, but at minimum he’s capable of playing the left side; just don’t expect Thomas redux.
Among this year’s elite tackles, Nate Solder usually winds up at the tail end of the discussion; however, if he grows into his 6-8 frame while keeping his quickness (he began his career at Colorado as a tight end) he could turn out to be the best of the bunch. Solder’s height may be viewed as a detriment, as he plays somewhat upright and was taken advantage of by smaller defensive ends at the Senior Bowl. However, the same attitude that earned him the Buffalo’s Special Teams Scout award during his redshirt freshman season should serve him well as he bulks up and takes on the pro game.
If not for the success of his twin brother Maurkice with the Steelers last year, Mike Pouncey would probably be a solid second-round candidate. However, after seeing what Maurkice has done, Mike’s stock has received a boost to the point where he’s likely the first interior lineman off the board. He’s a better fit at guard than center, where he had some struggles at Florida last season, but he’s big enough and strong enough to start immediately in the NFL—maybe next to his brother in Pittsburgh?
Perhaps the most intriguing story in this year’s draft is that of Danny Watkins, who didn’t start playing football until 2007 when he enrolled in the fire-fighting academy at Butte Junior College. That earned him a scholarship to Baylor, where he started 25 games and developed into a solid left tackle. He projects to the guard position in the pros, though there are concerns whether he has the football acumen to quickly handle the switch. He’ll need to, though, as at 26 he’s significantly older than most rookies. Watkins showed well at the Senior Bowl and might just have played himself into the first round with a team looking for an immediate interior fix.
BE VERY AFRAID
What’s not to like about a four-year starter in the SEC? DeMarcus Love fared well at Arkansas, playing both inside and out and switching sides in the Razorbacks’ weakside/strongside scheme. However, at the Senior Bowl Love looked completely overmatched at tackle. That would suggest a move inside, but despite his 6-4, 318-pound frame he may not be strong enough to be a productive interior player in the NFL. Love is a two-time captain which would suggest he possesses the intangibles to stick in the NFL, but his shaky Senior Bowl showing is definitely cause for concern.
TAKE A CHANCE ON...
Last year Rodger Saffold was the find of the draft, a second-round pick of the Rams who took over protecting Sam Bradford’s blind side. While former Indiana teammate James Brewer isn’t quite the player Saffold is, he has the size (6-6, 323) and footwork to develop into a franchise left tackle just like Saffold did. Brewer is raw, with just a year of high school football to his credit and only a year on the left side at Indiana. But size and quickness are things you can’t coach, and though it may not happen as quickly as it did with Saffold Brewer could be the Hoosiers’ next franchise tackle contribution to the NFL. Speaking of teammates, scouts studying Gabe Carimi’s Wisconsin film were impressed by the guard playing next to him. John Moffitt is projected by most outlets to go off the board in Round 4, but he could step immediately into the interior of an NFL line. While he played left guard last season, Moffitt has plenty of center experience and could move to that position in the NFL. He’s not the most athletic lineman in the draft, but that shortcoming is hidden playing inside and Moffitt’s track record of success should earn him a shot at playing time right away.
WHO NEEDS ONE?
Who needs one? Who doesn’t! While the Cowboys are the only team picking in the top 10 likely to take an offensive lineman, expect the Bills, Bengals, Cardinals, and Redskins to all visit the position at some point during the first three rounds. Linemen, specifically tackles, should start flying off the board in the middle of the round with the Vikings, Lions, and Patriots all eyeing the elite talent. The Giants are likely targeting some interior help, and at the back end of the first round the Colts, Eagles, Falcons, Bears, Packers, and Steelers could all be looking at filling needs along their offensive line. Before Day 2 has concluded, the Ravens, Chiefs, Dolphins, Rams, Raiders, Seahawks, Saints, Jets, and Buccaneers are also extremely likely to pick a big fella. That’s two-thirds of the league looking for o-line help, if you’re counting.