Offensive linemen keep getting bigger, faster and stronger and last April’s draft was no exception. Of the 51 offensive linemen at the 2010 NFL Combine, none weighed less than 300 pounds and none measured under 6-foot-2.
For years, everyone heard or read about how important it is to have an outstanding offensive line. To be successful and to have that, you need above average tackles. In the 2008 draft, seven tackles were selected in the first round. All seven started at some time during the 2008 season. Dolphins OT Jake Long (First overall pick) was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2008 season, his first in the NFL.
Former Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Bruce Matthews is tied with Merlin Olsen for the most consecutive Pro Bowl selections (14). Matthews played in 296 games — the most in NFL history for a non-specialist.
In this column I will rank my top five offensive tackles and then my top five interior offensive line men.
Here are my top five Junior and Senior offensive tackle prospects.
5. Derek Sherrod, Mississippi state, 6,6″, 305 lbs. Senior.
Derek Sharrod caught my eye during a game that was on 1.00 am u.k time last season and I could not sleep afterwards out of excitement from watching him play. He was that good. He was an All-American candidate headed into this season and was a heavily recruited high school lineman who broke into Mississippi State’s rotation at the line of scrimmage as a true freshman. Sharrod has played in 34 of a possible 37 games for the Bulldogs. He might be the best pass-blocking left tackle in the SEC in my opinion and that is saying something, as the conference is loaded with talented senior offensive linemen. I rated Sherrod as the 4th best senior prospect in the SEC conference, regardless of position entering the year. He could be the first Bulldog drafted in the first round since 1994. He has long arms and good upper body strength to jolt the defender. Sherrod plays on the balls of his feet and has good lateral agility and balance to mirror pass-rushers, including linebackers coming on the blitz. He plays with leverage and has the impressive core strength to handle the bull-rush. As a run-blocker, Sherrod relies more on positioning and athleticism than pure strength. While he can knock the defender back with his initial surge, Sherrod doesn’t currently possess the elite power to drive his opponent downfield. I’d like to see him play with a little more nastiness, as well. Too often Sherrod seemed content with pushing his opponent initially, but not dominating as consistently as his size, power and technique advantage would make seem possible. Sherrod’s athleticism, however, does make him a quality zone-blocking candidate. He is often asked to pull in this scheme, showing good agility and straight-line speed in getting to the second level.
4. Gabe Carimi. Wisconsin, 6,7″ 320 lbs, Senior.
Gabe Carimi isn’t one of the more well known offensive line prospects, but (like Bulaga and Calloway of Iowa) he comes from a program that consistently churns out a lot of very good linemen to the NFL. Carimi took over for former first round pick Joe Thomas at Wisconsin, starting at left tackle as a redshirt freshman. Carimi isn’t quite the athlete Thomas was, but he is a solid pass blocker. He is however a very dominating run blocker from the left tackle spot. He has quick feet for a huge man, and uses his long arms to lock onto defenders and force them out of plays while pass blocking. He loves to get to the second level in the run game and continue blocking downfield. Carimi started all 13 games for the Badgers as a freshman, but missed three games last year with minor injuries. Carimi would fit best on a team that relies heavily on the run, as that is the strength of his game. Depending upon what team drafts him, he could be moved to right tackle (where he would be an absolute force, and it would take pressure off of him as a rookie). He does however, have all the tools to succeed at left tackle in the future. Carimi was likely to be a second round pick if he had declared this year. I thought it was wise that Carimi decided to return to Wisconsin for his senior season, and now because of this should be one of the top tackles available in 2011.
3. Anthony Costanzo, Boston College, 6,7″, 300 lbs. Senior.
As a long time supporter of the NFL from Wales in the u.k I have corresponded with many analysts from the states and one of my favourite people in the industry is Gil Brandt and he raves about Costanzo. Gil has him as his top offensive line prospect, so that is a huge compliment and to be honest I don’t think there is much between these top three tackles. Costanzo has played and started since his true freshman year in 2007. He played right tackle in 2007 and left tackle the past two years, totaling 41 starts in that time. He was All-ACC in 2009, and is also a very smart (he’s a biochemistry major) athlete with quick feet and long arms. He should be a top-10 pick in the 2011 draft in my opinion.
2. Matt Raynolds. BYU. 6,6″, 322 lbs, Junior.
BYU has not had a player selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 2000, when linebacker Rob Morris was picked No. 28 overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Matt Raynolds will be the next If he enters early. I think he has the chance to be the first tackle taken in the 2011 draft. He has prototype size for an NFL Tackle. Very mature young man, he went on his Mormon mission to Germany from 2005-2007. Matt has strong football bloodlines as his father Lance was an offensive lineman at BYU and the NFL, brothers Lance and Dallas also started for the Cougars offensive line, and even younger brother Houston is an offensive lineman at BYU. He has a punch in his pass protection that is a definite strength, he derailed many opponents with it last year, including Oklahoma DE Auston English multiple times. His thick base is also a strength against power rushers. Only the second sophomore to make Mountain West Conference first team all conference in the short history of the MWC. Playing in the Mountain West Conference doesn’t allow Matt to face high level opponents every week, so comparing him to other top tackles is difficult at this time. I have noticed a few cons as I do with every player I look at. With Matt I think his back pedal in the pass pro is sometimes very sloppy against quicker opponents. His run blocking can look like a lean sometimes as he just uses his size to overwhelm opponents. This will not happen in the NFL but with work he can overcome this with his talent and great work ethic.
1. Nate Solder. Colorado, 6,8″, 320 lbs. Senior.
Solder is a fifth-year player who started four games at tight end in 2007. He will be starting his third year at left tackle. Solder has gained over 60 pounds since coming to Colorado and he can run the 40-yard dash in under 4.9 seconds. His speed is one of the reasons I have him at one as I learned a lot from the rise of Trent Williams last year who I compare to Solder. He has the long arms and great footwork necessary to play the tackle position really well. He needs to develop more strength, which will come and I think he should play for a long time in the pros, and at a high level. I have not seen him ranked one on any other board so i’m looking forward to seeing how things go between now and the draft next April. I just love former tight ends who switch to tackle. That great footwork is a massive advantage and I think Solder has made the switch perfectly with the time he’s had now in the tackle position. I’m really high on this one.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE MEN, MY TOP FIVE.
5. John Moffitt. Wisconsin, 6,4″, 323 lbs. Senior.
My reasons for having Moffitt in at five ahead of the likes of Ziemba, Schilling, Cannon, O’Dowd, Potter and Ijalana are way to far fetched to post on here but just know I do prefer Moffitt and let’s just leave it at that. Moffitt is able to play center or guard and his 5.26 – 40 is the only reason I don’t have him ranked higher. Many analysts have Moffitt going in the 4th or 5th round at the moment but I would bet any of them he goes in the first three. If he works hard and the right team spots him for his skill set in their system I believe he could go in the first round in my opinion. He’s worth keeping an eye on. Moffitt teams with Carimi to lead the way for Clay in Wisconsin. He’s a massive reason behind Clay’s success.
4. Rodney Hudson. Florida state, 6,2″, 282 lbs, Senior.
Rodney Hudson was named the ACC Lineman of the Week, after producing a season-high grade of 94-percent in the win against BYU. He won the ACC Jacobs Award last year as the league’s best offensive lineman. Hudson matched a career high with 10 knockdown blocks in a near-perfectA four-year player who started 10 games in 2007, Hudson gave up a sack in his first game as a starter, then went 16 consecutive games without giving up a sack. He plays guard at Florida State, but I’m not sure center wouldn’t be his best position in the NFL. Hudson’s potential is limited by his small frame, but he is a very good athlete. He would fit in great to a zone blocking scheme in my opinion as a center I would prefer.
3. Mike Brewster, Ohio state, 6,5″, 295 lbs, Junior.
Michael Brewster is already a two year starter entering his junior year, and he’s shown great potential for the next level. Brewster possesses great mobility and instincts, and has turned into a leader on a young and developing line. He is a dominating drive blocker that once he locks up on you it’s all over. Brewster has super leg drive and is overpowering at the point of attack. Equally impressive is the way he blocks on the move when pulling and trapping. Brewster shows excellent quickness for a big man and is tough even when he gets to the second level. You also have to love Brewster’s motor as he plays until the whistle blows. He is always moving and attacking. I think he will be a first or early second round pick as a center.
2. Mike Pouncey. Florida. 6,5″, 315 lbs, Senior.
Like his brother I think he will be a first round pick. I don’t think his bad snaps will hurt him as I project him to be a guard in the NFL but he will perfect his snapping regardless as he needs to be versatile. Pouncey played on the offensive line in high school, but he was moved to defensive tackle during his freshman season at Florida. A versatile lineman, Pouncey switched back to offensive guard prior to his sophomore campaign and, along with twin brother Maurkice, he has been a mainstay of Florida’s offensive line ever since. Pouncey helped pave the way for a dynamic offense in 2008 en route to an undefeated season and National Championship. More of the same continued this season, even though 2009 ended in disappointment with a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Gator offense finished first in the conference in an incredible amount of categories, including total yards (5,751, or 442.4 per game), rushing yards (2,928), and rushing yards per carry (5.6). He was a Second Team All-SEC selection by the conference’s coaches in 2008 and this season he was named to the All-SEC First Team by both the coaches and the media. Pouncey stands at 6’5 and 320 pounds, perhaps ever so slightly bigger than his brother. Mike is not quite as agile as Maurkice, Mike has been clocked at 5.29 in the 40-yard dash and generally runs in the 5.3s. He does not have the pass-blocking skills necessary to be an elite tackle in the NFL, but he has the ability to be a major force in the running game at guard and I see him being a first round pick as a guard.
1. Stefen Wisniewski. Penn state, 6,3″, 298 lbs. Senior.
Stefen Wisniewski joins a talented crop of interior linemen in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is a seasoned player that possesses a lot of strength and the necessary athletic ability to succeed at the next level. Wisniewski has been starting since his freshman season at Penn State where he was the recipient of excellent coaching. He utilizes his above average strength to drive defenders backwards and open up holes for the running backs. He isn’t the fastest lineman but he has good quickness that allows him to get out in front of the back when he is required to pull. Wisniewski has rotated back and forth from guard and center during his career at Penn State. His versatility is a major positive in the eyes of NFL scouts. Wisniewski also brings a ton of leadership to the table, he was credited with helping bring along a young Penn State offensive line last season. Overall Wisniewski’s combination of quickness and strength will prevail over the concerns about his size. He has the skills to hold down a guard or center spot in the NFL for 10 plus seasons, while providing great leadership. I think he will be a top 20 pick in April.
Tredegar, Wales, U.K.