|11-22-2007, 02:50 PM||#1|
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Pro Football Weekly: Overview of Offensive Linemen
Michigan’s Long heads athletic group of tackles
By Nolan Nawrocki
Nov. 22, 2007
Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a series previewing the top NFL prospects by position for the 2008 draft.
To the welcome ears of NFL decision-makers who could never have enough good offensive linemen, this year’s OT class could be as rich as there has been in the past decade with the support of some talented underclassmen. However, the pickings are much more slim inside, and the senior class provides very little quality or depth inside.
At the top of this year’s offensive line class sits Michigan OLT Jake Long. At first glance, he looks like more of a throwback right tackle than a left tackle — he’s huge, very tough, nasty and will try to bury his man in the ground in the run game. But he has shed weight and made a concerted effort to improve his quickness the past two years, making strides in pass protection and proving more than capable of holding down the OLT spot in the pros.
He could do a better job using his arms and will need to lock out better at the next level to widen the circle pass rushers must take and harden the edge in pass protection. But it is to his advantage to get his hands on defenders because as soon as he engages, he engulfs and swallows defenders. Scouts say he could be a good left tackle and a great right tackle. As a senior, he did not allow a sack on the left side until the Ohio State game, and he will work out and test better than expected. He has shown the ability to dominate games and would have been a top-10 cinch in last year’s draft had he declared.
Nawrocki's top 10 O-linemen
Player School HT* WT SP
OLT Jake Long
OLT Jeff Otah
ORT Gosder Cherilus
OLT Sam Baker
OLT Chris Williams
OLT Oniel Cousins
C Steve Justice
OG Roy Schuening
OLT Tony Hills
OLT Carl Nicks
(Underclassmen are not included)
*For player’s height, first digit signifies feet, the second and third inches and the fourth, eighths of an inch, i.e., 6033 means 6-3 3/8.
e — estimated.
Pittsburgh OLT Jeff Otah may have as much upside as any player in the draft. Having come from Nigeria when he was seven and not playing organized football until his senior year in high school, he is still learning how to use angles and take advantage of his immensely talented skill set. He has terrific size with long arms and great foot quickness. Despite being relatively raw and only starting two years, he has shown he could handle his own, having given Virginia DE Chris Long his most challenging matchup the past two years, getting the better of him this season and not giving up a sack or allowing any penetration deep in the backfield.
He flashes the ability to jack defenders off the ground with his strong punch, but he could stand to get stronger and play more physical. Nonetheless, he still works to the whistle, stays with his man, finishes his blocks and does not let anyone get away from him. He has recovery speed and natural movement skills that cannot be taught. The question that will have to be answered with him is how hard he is willing to work and whether he wants to be great.
Boston College OLT Gosder Cherilus has regressed as a senior since moving from the right side to the left to replace Dallas Cowboys 2007 third-round pick (No. 67 overall) James Marten. He plays as if he is thinking too much, has been slow to slide and anticipate what is coming at him and does not consistently finish. He was exposed vs. Virginia Tech DE Chris Ellis and has consistently struggled to handle speed inside and outside — not because he is not capable of it — but because he just has not been able to adjust very well to new terminology at a new position in a new zone-blocking scheme. He can play physical and drive defenders off the ball in the run game — very clearly evident on junior tape on the right side — but he is the type of blocker who will need to be designated as a right tackle only and not be asked to flip sides or reprogram his feet.
USC OLT Sam Baker is a four-year starter in a big-time program. The son of Arena Football League commissioner David Baker, he has received a lot of hype early in his career. He is athletic, plays on his feet and can run the field. However, questions about his toughness need to be answered. He plays a passive, finesse game, lacks pop and power and does not play with great leverage. He has missed three of the last four games with a strained hamstring that he suffered vs. Arizona and could use more glass in his diet. Still, he will not last very long in the draft. He could fit into the first round for a predominantly zone-blocking team, but it would not be a surprise if he falls to the second or even early third.
Vanderbilt OLT Chris Williams is not as big as Otah, but scouts say he is more naturally athletic and some believe he too will fit into the first round after he finishes working out. However, he plays too lazy, too often appears to just be going through the motions and will let his man run around him and come free. He will need to be more disciplined to handle NFL pass rushers.
One of the fastest-rising offensive linemen in the draft is UTEP ORT Oniel Cousins. He struggled as a junior and was even benched at one point. He needs to get stronger, but he is playing out of position and will have the most value on the left side in the pros. He is very naturally athletic, possesses a lot of upside and could ascend into the first day of the draft after scouts get to see him up close at all-star game competition.
Texas OLT Tony Hills is billed to be a great athlete within the program, but he does not play with any explosion or have great mobility for the left side, and as a right tackle, he will always have a leverage and power deficiency. He has overcome a dropfoot condition suffered as a senior in high school, but team medical staffs will have to evaluate the injury closely, as do scouts watching him, and it could have a considerable effect on his draft value. The season-ending broken left fibula he suffered Nov. 10 also will not help his cause.
Nebraska OLT Carl Nicks, a junior-college transfer in his first season as a full-time starter, has shown the ability to dominate with his physical prowess. He has good feet, moves well and can reach the second level effortlessly for as big as he is. However, he will have to answer questions about his work ethic, passion for the game and stamina. He also will need to refine his technique and learn not to open his hips out of the gate.
Three OLT prospects — Newberry’s Heath Benedict, Auburn’s King Dunlap and Clemson’s Barry Richardson — will have to overcome the label of pretenders. Benedict is a self-made, manufactured player who struggles vs. average competition and lacks the toughness desired in the pros. Dunlap looks the part and will excite scouts with his sheer size, but the more he is studied, the less he will be liked. He does not play to his size and was benched this season for playing too soft. He is big and square-cut, however, and may have a chance inside. At a position where teams seek warriors, Richardson quite simply plays like a chardonnay-drinker.
Virginia Tech OLT Duane Brown is a finesse developmental prospect who plays soft, struggles to redirect and shows little pop, power or strength. He could warrant interest in the middle rounds after he tests well, but he will require a lot of coaching and may struggle to ever develop.
California OLT Mike Gibson and Oregon ORT Geoff Schwartz both lack athletic ability and foot quickness and are tightly wound. Their best chance may come inside in the pros, but they may be able to stick on the right side. They flash some nastiness and may develop in time despite athletic limitations.
Wake Forest’s Steve Justice has emerged as the top center in the country. He is not for every team. His lack of girth could make it difficult for him to handle massive space-eaters. However, for a team like the Colts or Broncos, he could bring tremendous value, getting to the second level and using his quickness to zone off areas. He figures to be the first senior center drafted.
Oregon State OG Roy Schuening is big-bodied, wide-based and strong in the upper body to punch. He does a good job controlling his space inside and can maul and smother defenders. However, the further he has to go, the more he struggles. One thing that cannot be questioned is his toughness. He stepped into the starting lineup from the time he arrived and has started every game, including the Stanford and Washington games with a case of walking pneumonia, the latter of which he lined up at right tackle and held his own. He is smart, can bring some versatility and has the mental makeup of a warrior. He may never be great, but he should be a consistent NFL starter for a long time.
Rutgers OLT Pedro Sosa and ORT Jeremy Zuttah both project inside. Sosa has a language barrier that could be difficult to overcome. Zuttah struggles to hold weight, does not play stout and will be best at center.
Bowling Green C Kory Lichtensteiger is undersized, short-armed and does not power off the line, but he plays with a great base and leverage, gets very good positioning, shows some strength to lock on and enough foot quickness to scoop and wall off defenders. He plays with natural knee bend and balance and is a solid technician. He could fit into the middle rounds.
Arizona State C Mike Pollak has been a very consistent, functional college starter. He knows how to work angles, get positioning and seal off, but he does not play with much power and would be best as a zone blocker.
Buffalo C Jamey Richard is tough, smart and can pull and play in space. His technique is flawed — he staggers his feet and struggles to shuffle laterally in pass protection as a result — but it is correctable.
Georgia C Fernando Velasco is big and strong and has a terrific work ethic. He has shown a lot of promise in his first year at center and brings versatility at guard or center.
Notre Dame’s John Sullivan has been very disappointing on a bad team. He spends more time on the ground than he should, falls off blocks and does not finish.
Texas A&M’s Cody Wallace has size and strength and is functional in short areas, but he has been handled too easily this fall.
Tennessee OLT Eric Young does not have the foot quickness to survive on an island, nor does he have the strength and power needed to play effectively inside. He does move well enough — if recovered from the season-ending knee injury he suffered in late October — to be functional as a zone-blocking guard.
Appalachian State OG Kerry Brown really stands out vs. lesser competition and could develop into a solid pro if he can stay focused.
Three junior left tackles — Oklahoma’s Phil Loadholt, Boise State’s Ryan Clady and Mississippi’s Michael Oher — could strengthen the OT class considerably.
Loadholt, at 6-8, 350 pounds, comes in a similar mold as Minnesota Vikings 2002 seventh overall draft pick Bryant McKinnie. He is a junior-college transfer and has started only one season, but he’s very naturally athletic with good footwork and shows the ability to collapse defenders in the run game.
Clady looks every bit the part with a big frame and long arms. The game appears to come easy for him — he’s a natural 300-pounder who can bend and adjust — and he is loaded with upside.
Oher has everything you want in a premier left tackle — he’s big, naturally athletic, quick-footed and flashes strength and power. He has had to overcome a lot in his life, as has been detailed in Michael Lewis’ best-selling book, “The Blind Side,” soon set to become a movie. However, communication and trust issues still remain from a very rough upbringing, when he bounced from home to home, and the coach given the task of developing him will have his work cut out for him.