In Part II of our "On the Rise" series, we break down some of the nation's fastest-rising offensive and defensive linemen.
OT Phil Trautwein, Florida (6-foot-6, 308 pounds)
Trautwein was one of our favorite offensive linemen coming into the 2007 college season. However, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot during his senior year and elected to red shirt and return in 2008. Last season, he anchored the Gators' offensive line, starting 12 games, and was named first-team All-SEC by the coaches and media. He finally looks 100 percent healthy and did a solid job at the Florida pro day, running his 40-yard dash in 5.36 and posting a respectable vertical jump of 27 inches.
But it isn't Trautwein's athletic ability that makes him so intriguing. It's his impressive first step out of his stance and his surprisingly smooth feet in pass protection. He does a great job redirecting in space and did a nice job of keeping explosive SEC defensive ends from reaching the edge. Trautwein not only practiced against two former first-round picks while at Florida (Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss), he consistently showcased the athletic ability to handle the best pass rushers in the SEC. He still needs to learn to play with better leverage and base strength, but he has the frame, footwork and body control to become one of the surprise left tackle prospects in the draft and to me is clearly a better tackle prospect than his more publicized teammate, Jason Watkins.
OG Brandon Walker, Oklahoma (6-3, 306)
Walker, who was by far the least recognizable name on the 2008 Oklahoma offensive line, is now starting to get his due as a legitimate NFL prospect. His linemates, OG Duke Robinson, OT Phil Loadholt and C Jon Cooper, all possess draftable grades for the 2009 draft, and Walker's partner on the right side, OT Trent Williams, is one of the nation's top tackles in the 2010 class. Perhaps understandably, Walker never received much attention from media outlets and was consistently lost in the shuffle on the Oklahoma offensive line.
However, he's an impressive guard prospect in his own right, possessing a nasty initial punch, fluid lateral mobility and good balance in pass protection. He has the athletic ability to pull and get around the edge and does a nice job staying on blocks at the second level. He also had a standout performance at the scouting combine, running the 40 in 5.09, posting a 34-inch vertical jump and adding 26 reps on the bench. He definitely has the athletic ability to make it in a zone-blocking scheme, but he also showcases the upper and lower body strength to drive defenders off the ball. Walker looks to me like a potential starter in the NFL and has definitely been creeping his way into the latter half of the draft in recent weeks.
C Rob Bruggeman, Iowa (6-4, 293)
It was running back Shonn Greene who stole the headlines last season at Iowa, but ask Greene how much of that was due to the run blocking of first-year starting center Rob Bruggeman. Bruggeman was supposed to start in 2007, but that was before tearing his ACL and MCL during spring practice. He worked his way back in 2008 and was not only named Iowa team captain, he also garnered second-team All-Big Ten honors.
He's a big, technically sound lineman who showcases a thick upper body, good first step and the base strength to drive defenders off the ball. He's a tough, blue-collar guy who plays with a mean streak and isn't afraid to do the dirty work inside. Bruggeman has decent footwork in pass protection but lacks the type of athleticism to make up for a false step. However, he ran very well at the Iowa pro day (5.05), benched 225 pounds 32 times, had a vertical of 33 inches and displayed much better athleticism than many scouts anticipated. He's one of the draft's top run-blocking centers and could be the next Iowa offensive lineman to go relatively unnoticed but find his way into a starting role in the NFL.
DE Zach Potter, Nebraska (6-7, 279)
Potter is a tall, well-built defensive end who produced 28 tackles for loss over the past two seasons and seems to have a knack for getting his hands up at the right time and knocking down passes. When we first saw Potter on tape, I loved the way he used his length and power to consistently bull-rush offensive tackles and shed blocks on the outside. It was obvious he didn't have the first step to consistently rush off the edge, but he understood his strengths and did a great job pushing the pocket and doing whatever was necessary to irritate the quarterback.
Now, after a strong showing at the combine, where he ran in the low 4.9 range and showcased good fluidity and balance during position drills, Potter is starting to generate some interest toward the mid/late portions of the draft. He has a long frame and possesses impressive base strength and power on contact. He's a tough blue-collar kid who understands how to use his hands and does a nice job shedding blocks. He has the makings of a strong base end in a 4-3 scheme who may be able to slide inside and help rush the passer on third down. However, I think he's best suited to add weight and make the move to the five-technique DE spot in a 3-4. Potter has the length, technique and motor to work his way into any scheme.
DT Vaughn Martin, Western Ontario (6-3, 331)
It isn't often that a Canadian prospect generates this type of interest among NFL scouts, but Martin has one of the most intriguing skill sets of any defensive lineman in this year's class. He has timed as low as 4.98 in the 40, benched 225 pounds 33 times and had a vertical jumped of 31 inches. Martin played mostly DT last season but also saw some time at DE and finished the year with 36 tackles, 3½ sacks and 7½ tackles for loss.
However, it's the potential growth and upside that Martin offers that has teams so intrigued. He has an impressive looking frame and looks closer to 300 pounds than 330. He carries his weight very well and displays natural flexibility and pad level for a guy his size. He's also a tough, intense player who at times looks to be hitting anything that moves inside without any real direction. But he's a smart kid who has the intelligence and work ethic to develop under NFL coaching. He possesses an awesome physical and athletic skill set and has the base strength and explosion to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4. He should hear his name called at some point toward the back end of the draft.
The National Football Post (www.nationalfootballpost.com) is a unique and premier online source of insight about all sides of football featuring professionals with experience in all facets of the NFL.
The NFP is having a contest to win a 42" inch flat screen television. Click here to play the NFP's 2009 Draft Challenge!