Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine each position, rank the top players at each spot and try to identify some top sleepers, sliders and lesser-known gems.
Reconsider the 2013 NFL draft for a moment. It featured offensive tackles with three of the first four picks, which never had happened before, and two guards in the top 10 picks. Overall, it was hailed as an offensive line bounty of a draft, as nine ended up picked in the first round.
Perhaps. But as many of those players struggled as rookies (and what looked, in retrospect, as a blah group at a lot of other positions, too), and the more we look at the talent for the 2014 draft, the more we wonder ... is this year's crop of offensive linemen even better?
This much we think we know: There is not a guard in the 2014 pool that grades out as highly as '13 top-10ers Jonathan Cooper or Chance Warmack. Notre Dame's Zack Martin (who also can play tackle) leads the group, with Nevada's feisty and athletic Joel Bitonio and Mississippi State's mauling Gabe Jackson a level below that. And call the center group a wash — it wasn't stunning in 2013, and it's a bit shallow this year, too, led by USC's Marcus Martin and Colorado State's Weston Richburg.
But this year's tackles might be better. Auburn's fantastic road-grading run blocker, Greg Robinson, is the best OL prospect we've seen in a few years. In watching Jake Matthews, it's clear he's more consistently dominant than Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 pick last season. And Michigan's Taylor Lewan seems more nasty, assertive and developed than Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick last year.
And beyond them at tackle, there is good depth, too. Guard and center, less so. But still, overall, it might be a better crop slightly.
Here are our top 10 offensive linemen for the 2014 NFL draft (not what order they will be drafted but how we think they ultimately will perform in the NFL, with their primary position listed first):
|1.||Greg Robinson (OT-OG)||Auburn||6-5||332||Ran blistering 40 (4.92), insane broad jump (9'5"), 32 bench reps||Almost comical to watch him maul defenders in run game; upside as pass blocker|
|2.||Jake Matthews (OT-OG)||Texas A&M||6-5||308||Started 33 games at right tackle, then 13 at left tackle in 2013||One of the safest, most technically sound pass blockers available in recent years|
|3.||Taylor Lewan (OT)||Michigan||6-7||309||Combine-best broad jump (9'9"), 40 (4.87) among OL||Nasty edge but doesn't always play that way; but four-year starter with great feet|
|4.||Zack Martin (OT-OG)||Notre Dame||6-4||308||Four-year starter's 52 games most in school history||College left tackle might be best as athletic, zone-blocking right tackle or guard|
|5.||Xavier Su'a-Filo (OG)||UCLA||6-4||307||Started 19 games at left tackle, 21 at left guard||Versatile, competitive, driven blocker with athletic gifts, but he's best by far at guard|
|6.||Joel Bitonio (OG-OT-C)||Nevada||6-4||302||Started 38 games at tackle past three seasons||Off-the-charts athleticism, character, work ethic for still-developing player|
|7.||Cyrus Kouandjio (OT)||Alabama||6-6||322||26 starts at left tackle; slowest 40 (5.63) at combine||21-year-old with vines for arms and tools to develop, but lots of bad habits to break|
|8.||Gabe Jackson||Mississippi State||6-3||336||Did not allow a sack the past two seasons||Massive inside plugger with limited quickness, good power, terrific intangibles|
|9.||Ja'Wuan James||Tennessee||6-6||311||Set school record for most starts (49, all at right tackle)||Overshadowed on a talented line, James has size, skill, toughness to surprise|
|10.||Morgan Moses (OT)||Virginia||6-6||314||Started 19 games at right tackle, then 24 at left||Long-armed right tackle has great punch but lacks quick movement skills|
LSU OG Trai Turner
He's raw as all get out, but Turner put on an athletic display at the combine that turned him from foolish underclassman declaring to possible pet project for a patient team. If you're expecting Turner to step into a lineup Day 1, you'll probably come away disappointed. His technique is a bit crude, and he's too often off balance. But flip on the tape of Turner and you can see a mauling, engaging mover who is capable of becoming a rock one day. And he's a mere 21 years old, so there's a lot to like in the middle rounds.
He has been beaten up by others who cited his poor bowl game, bad combine performance and some medical reports that have caused some teams to shy away. But there's no doubt that some team loves his raw potential and might even seen him as a future left tackle anchor. We do not. Kouandjio reminds us a little bit of former Carolina Panthers OT Jeff Otah, who had some eye-opening stretches even as a pro but never could stay healthy and was more physically imposing than he was productive on the field.
SMALL SCHOOL WONDER
McGill University (Can.) OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
We profiled the intriguing Duvernay-Tardif earlier this offseason, and he has taken on a bit of a folklore like existence in scouting circles. Of course, we'll never know if he can hold his own against top-tier competition, having played at an academic school in a conference that Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp told us was tantamount to "American junior college level." But on sheer athletic ability alone, Duvernay-Tardif might be worth the gamble in the middle rounds. He has been blowing up workouts this offseason, and several NFL teams have visited with him.
Miami OT Seantrel Henderson
After a disappointing college career, the former No. 1 high-school recruit in the class of 2010 turned in a blah Senior Bowl (and admitted to teams there that his bowl game suspension was for failed drug tests), a nondescript combine effort and then cut short his pro day workout, to the dismay of the scouts in attendance. All teams now can do is look at this 6-7, 331-pound underachiever and ask themselves: Can we squeeze anything out of him? In high school, he was viewed as a once-a-decade prospect, but there's a good chance he slides very far in the draft, and it wouldn't be completely stunning if he isn't taken at all.
There are likely two true centers — not counting players such as Matthews or Bitonio, who probably could make the transition there — who are worth taking on the first two days of the draft: Martin and Richburg. Some teams like Arkansas' country-strong Travis Swanson, but Richburg might be the more well-liked prospect, and he could vault into the middle portions of Round 2 for the right team seeking a smart, dependable and competitive pivot for a zone-blocking team.
Boise State OT Charles Leno
He might be best as an edge player, but being able to play both tackle spots — and perhaps having enough athleticism to be tried inside — should help him make a roster as a rookie and even the game-day active 46 perhaps. Leno has enough length (34-inch arms) to make up for his adequate height (not quite 6-4) and more pop than you'd expect from a 303-pounder. He's an interesting project.
PLAYER WHO WILL GO UNDRAFTED BUT SHOULDN’T
Tennessee State OG Kadeem Edwards
We've only been able to watch one of Edwards' games this past season (Tennessee Tech), but he jumped out enough in that contest as well as at the Senior Bowl that we think he has a chance on the next level. With 35-inch arms and surprising athleticism in short areas, there's plenty to work with. Because there's a drop off among the OL talent in the later stages of the draft class, there's a chance Edwards could hear his name called late.
Matthews to the Browns
The Browns need a quarterback, sure, but they also badly need more really good players, and Matthews is as safe as they come in this draft. He can play any of the five offensive line spots, and the Browns have holes currently at two of them. He'd be a Day 1, plug-and-play starter and instantly upgrade an offense that needs all the help it can get — the quarterbacks will be there down lower in Round 1.
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