Now that the 2012 NFL draft is in the can, it's time to take the Shutdown 50 scouting format forward and take a closer look at some of the surprising and fascinating selections from this year's draft -- the guys we missed in the original 50, but who could be impact players now or down the road. Our next entry: Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, selected 27th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Overview: While Stanford's David DeCastro received most of the pre-draft platitudes for his position, Zeitler equally impressed many tapeheads, and there are those (like our buddy Greg Cosell) who actually likes Zeitler's game film just a little bit better. For those teams in the market for a pure mauler to impact their inside run game, Zeitler flashes more pure nastiness than any other guard in this draft class -- and like DeCastro, he did so in an offense that transitions easily to the NFL.
Per NFLDraftScout.com, Zeitler had 142 knockdown blocks and 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns in 2011 alone, and he was a primary force in an offense that averaged 44.62 points, 467 total yards, and 237 rushing yards per game last season. He was to Russell Wilson what DeCastro was to Andrew Luck -- the ultimate bad-ass chaperone -- but do Zeitler's characteristics sell as well to the National Football League?
Strengths: Zeitler's most obvious and positive characteristic is the leverage with which he plays. He is a leverage expert who sets a wide base, explodes off the snap with low angles, and really pushes defenders back on a regular basis. Understands and executes zone assignments very well in Wisconsin's system because he's as fundamentally sound as most college linemen you'll ever see. Absolute mauler as a run-blocker -- Zeitler locks on to his target and pushes his man back with impressive consistency, and he's not just picking on linebackers when he does that.
Good enough from a technique perspective to physically beat men who outweigh him. Devastating red zone blocker who will take on more than one defender at a time -- considers it his obligation to hit as many people as possible with authority when a touchdown is within reach. Keeps his head on a swivel and will box out defenders away from him when defending the pocket. For all his ability to fire low off the snap, will occasionally get on top of a defender and just bury him. Great hands -- will grab inside the pads and use his upper-body strength to his advantage.
Weaknesses: For all his root (and brute) strength, Zeitler isn't always form-correct on zone slides -- he'll get a bit lost in the scrum when asked to block across the line and pick up a defender three gaps away. Seems like more of a short-area blocker in that regard, at least laterally. Great on initial hits, but will occasionally let lager guys slip back inside on delayed run plays. Pulls across gaps pretty functionally, but can be more a grizzly bear than a dancing bear when he needs to be light on his feet. Footwork on pulls and dropback in pass pro can be a bit choppy; not as smooth in space as some teams might like.
Conclusion: I really like Zeitler's tape, but I could understand why certain teams might hesitate on him a bit as a first-round prospect, and why he didn't get the same praise DeCastro did through the pre-draft process. He is as old-school as old-school gets -- a star on an offensive line that receives a lot of well-deserved praise for the teaching and implementation of fundamentals. Zeitler is a great fit for the Bengals because Cincinnati is a bad-weather AFC North team that understands its own need to play with toughness in the run game.
That said, if you're the line coach on an NFL team in need of athletic guards who get off the ball quickly and block in space with consistency, you might either take Zeitler as a project prospect, or look elsewhere. He's not as scheme-transcendent as DeCastro, but that's hardly a ding. What Zeitler is fits perfectly for what the Bengals want to do, and he should be their rock at right guard from his first day in an NFL stadium.
NFL Comparison: Kris Dielman, San Diego Chargers (retired)