Shine on You Versatile Lineman: A Review of OL Isaiah Wynn
Let’s say a distant relative left Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis painting to you in his/her will. Maybe you’re not a big Elvis fan but nobody turns down artwork worth over $80 million.
After signing all the legal paperwork, what would be your next move?
Drive to Big Lots and purchase a do-it-yourself frame and two vintage wall sconces to light the painting.
Immediately install a military-grade surveillance system, replace your broken fence with a brick wall topped with razor wire and train two 150-pound Cane Corso mastiffs to roam your yard to ward off any sign of trouble.
The wall sconces might show your sophistication and your readiness to bring a lady to your home to show off the new painting, but they are a poor purchase to protect such an investment.
It’s the same with a franchise quarterback. Should the San Francisco 49ers invest in a running back or wide receiver with the first-round selection or choose a rookie who can keep Jimmy Garoppolo off the injury report for the next ten years?
The answer here is clear, Gentle Reader. First you protect the investment, then you add the fancy accoutrements.
Among the top choices to protect the square-jawed Garoppolo is senior offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn out of the University of Georgia. He stands 6’2, weighs 305-pounds, was named a second-team AP All-American last season, and can play left guard or tackle. In 2017, he played all 15 games at left tackle, while in 2016, he played 12 of 13 games at left guard.
I had time to watch three of Wynn’s games: the 2018 National Championship game, the 2018 Rose Bowl and a 2016 game against Kentucky where he started at left guard, but was moved to left tackle with 11:24 remaining in the 4th quarter.
A long time ago, I had a coach tell us that only perfect practice makes perfect. Isaiah Wynn must have heard our coach, because if someone writes a book about how to play left tackle, Wynn should be the model.
Wynn plays each play with the correct alignment of his feet, knees, hips and shoulders. His arms never go wider than his hips and his elbows are in the right position to punch the defensive lineman. Each play, his upper body is parallel to the line of scrimmage, which ensures he’s square at the point of attack no matter if he’s run blocking or backing up in a kick slide to pass block.
A great tackle keeps his upper body squared with the line of scrimmage in a pass block to keep his field of vision wide, allowing him to pick up a delayed blitz from a defensive back, or a stunt in the C-gap. All of this is Isaiah Wynn.
Despite these attributes, and Wynn mauling University of Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand all evening, Georgia rarely ran Wynn’s direction. Pro Football Focus gave Wynn an 86.2 overall grade for the game, as he did not allow a single pressure on 37 pass blocking attempts. During Wynn’s career, he allowed 26 quarterback pressures on 1,104 pass blocking attempts, and had 11 games this past season where he didn’t allow one.
Wynn’s opening play during the Rose Bowl is an excellent example of his nearly flawless technique. Georgia called a run play, and Wynn took two steps: left, right, and he was in position to remove the defender from the area. He has no wasted movement from his arms or legs.
Unlike the National Championship game, Georgia relied on Wynn during the Rose Bowl for big runs. He was facing a sub-par opponent in Oklahoma defensive lineman Amani Bledsoe, and Georgia took full advantage of the mismatch. Additionally, Wynn and the guard made a flawless switch to pick up and halt a delayed stunt from Oklahoma.
Wynn had two issues in the Rose Bowl. First, he was beat on a speed rush from Oklahoma’s defensive end, which might be the only flaw in his game. I noted a few times where he struggled a bit against a fast blitz.
Second, and probably more important, it looked like fatigue impacted his play later in the game. I noticed him off balance more, and it looked like he was dragging during some plays.
In previous scouting reports, a few readers asked if certain offensive linemen could play other positions. Guards and centers are often interchangeable, but tackles and guard are not. The footwork, reads and technique are different, making Wynn a rare find.
I’m sure it’s happened on many occasions, but during a 2016 game against the University of Kentucky, Wynn started the game at left guard, and then finished the game at left tackle. His guard play was good: he showed vertical movement to blow up inside linebackers, he pulled well when the play didn’t call for a looping pull, and displayed an excellent example of a lineman working from the inside to the outside to pass block.
The 49ers have suffered enough injuries to offensive linemen to have a need for a utility player like Wynn. I’m unsure if Wynn could make the switch to the right side of the line, but having someone who could start at left guard and then step in for tackle Joe Staley would be an ideal situation.
As with the other linemen I’ve scouted, I don’t know if Wynn is worth the ninth pick overall, but he’s worth drafting. The more I watch tape, the more I want general manager John Lynch to leverage the ninth pick to fall back 10 to 12 spots and pick up someone like Wynn, along with Frank Ragnow or Billy Price. If Lynch is going to invest in Garoppolo, he’s going to need to invest in some serious protection.