With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
42. Kyle Long, OL, Oregon
We continue this year's series with Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long, who might have the most interesting story of any draft prospect on this year's list. The son of Hall-of-Fame defensive end Howie Long and brother to current St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, the 6-foot-7, 313-pound Kyle (who both Howie and Chris call the best athlete in the family) started his collegiate athletic career as a fireballing pitcher for Florida State. But a DUI in Jan., 2009 gave him a night in jail, and a boot off the Seminoles' team. Long went back home, got his life in order, and enrolled at Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Ca. He put in two seasons there -- the first on the defensive line and the second on the offensive line -- and moved up to Oregon's offense and into their line with minimal preparation. Long started four games at left guard and excelled as a backup tackle without even taking part in spring football for the Ducks. Long petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility, a request that was denied. So now, he's looking to apply his raw but estimable skills to the NFL.
To that end, Long went to work with Travelle Gaines at Gaines' West Hollywood gym to prepare for the Senior Bowl. I met him there, and talked to former offensive line coach Tony Wise, who ran the lines for Jimmy Johnson at Miami and with the Dallas Cowboys, and most recently did the same for Dave Wannstedt at Pitt. Wise was in charge of forming Long's potential into something resembling a pro-ready offensive lineman, and he liked what he saw.
He's not a classic offensive lineman," Wise told me. "Sometimes, you get offensive linemen, and that's all they've done. They've never done another sport, which is a hindrance to them. That's one of the reasons he's such a good athlete -- he's done other things. He's got very good reach, and he's got heavy hands -- we talk about the ability to deliver a blow with his hands. He's got very good explosion off the line, and he's smart enough. So, I would say it's all positive."
Indeed, but NFL teams don't draft project players highly, and Long has the talent to be a higher pick. There are still some things to be worked out on his game tape, but considering his minimal experience at the BCS level, I'm wondering if Long might be one of this draft's biggest steals.
Pros: Looks like a prototype of the athletic offensive lineman -- outstanding musculature, big legs, wide butt. As a guard or tackle, shows impressive pulling speed -- gets out of his stance quickly and he's on the move. Shows good lateral agility in slide protection. Truly impressive upper-body strength, especially for a guy as tall as he is who doesn't always pop up out of his stance as low as you'd like -- will occasionally take linemen and just bury them anyway. That attribute (plus his huge wingspan) allows him to take on one blocker with one hand while he moves upfield to deal with another. Good and rapidly improving pass-blocker -- Long drops back smoothly and obstructs anybody in front of him once he's set his base.
Still developing smoothness in his kick step as a left tackle, but this aspect of his game is workable and he's got the athleticism to improve in a hurry. Far better as an edge-blocker from the left tackle position -- when Long has an assigned lane and blocker, he'll move people to the inside with authority to facilitate outside runs. Got much better with his hands as the season progressed, which really showed up at the guard position.
Intelligent player who picks things up very quickly -- proved to be adept enough to spot-start at two positions in a complex offense with minimal preparation. For those put off by his inexperience, this is an important point to remember.
Cons: As you'd expect from a relative novice at his position, Long has some spatial awareness issues. Especially when he's asked to plant a defender off a pull or move to the second level, he doesn't always get all the moving parts in line in time to make the block. Will whiff in space at times, especially when he's circling back to block from the guard position. Needs work on leverage to be truly dominant as a run-blocker -- will come up too high out of his stance. Needs to drive more and strike less.
Footwork issues cause him to struggle to set the edge at times as a guard. When on the edge as a tackle, doesn't always diagnose extra defenders coming off lag blitzes -- certain things related to reading the pass rush seem to take half a tick longer than they should. Occasionally out-runs his own blocks at times -- explosiveness is a major attribute, but needs to be coached. Blocked in an offense with an abundance of quick passes -- will need work engaging blockers for longer periods of time if he goes to a more traditional offense. Earlier DUI will show up as a red flag, but having talked with Long about that issue, I have little doubt that he'll put minds at ease. From all accounts, he's a very humble, hard-working individual.
Conclusion: Most of Long's dings seem to be related to two issues -- his inexperience on the offensive line in general, and the obvious (at least to me) fact that he looks far more comfortable as a tackle than as a guard. He has the functional strength to be an NFL guard over time, but he's got all the base attributes you'd want in a franchise left tackle, and once he has the finishing touches, what shows up on tape occasionally will be the norm: an athletic, aggressive, nasty blocker with an extreme will to succeed.
When I watched Colorado's Nate Solder on tape and at the 2011 Senior Bowl, I thought he was a three-year project, and I was amazed when the New England Patriots took him with the 17th pick in the first round. A former tight end and defensive back, Solder took his size and athleticism to the tackle position, but technique was a major issue in a lot of ways. However, Bill Belichick and Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia obviously saw the potential in Solder and how he'd fit in their system -- and they were absolutely right. Two seasons in, Solder is one of the NFL's best young left tackles in an offense that perfectly suits his strengths.
Any team with a zone-blocking system and the patience to apply the finishing work should absolutely consider Kyle Long under similar paradigms, and as early as the high second round. Work him in over time, and you could be rewarded with a franchise player at a crucial position with a bargain of a draft pick.
NFL Comparison: Nate Solder, New England Patriots
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson