Zach's Draft Corner: Offensive Line
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
It might seem like the 2018 NFL Draft was just yesterday, but in just two short months, college football will once again be underway and fans will be clamoring to find their studs and sleepers of the 2019 draft class. For the next few months, I’m going to give you my names to note for the upcoming season at every position, along with a mini scouting report and where I’d like to see the prospects improve this season if they want to hear their name called early come April. Given in no particular order, these will be the prospects that, at least at the beginning of the season, will be generating the most buzz. Consider this a primer for the upcoming season of Saturdays, and a potential guide for your television if you aren’t sure which game to watch. Previously, I finished previewing the defenses with the safety class. This week, I am moving back to the offensive side of the ball by looking at the hog mollies on the offensive line.
As a warning, this preview will not have quite as much meat as some of my other previews. I am generally confident scouting most positions, but offensive line is not one of them. This is especially the case when I am merely doing previews and only doing very quick film studies on lots of different players. As such, I am relying heavily on the legwork done by others in selecting the prospects to watch, and offensive line evaluation throughout the season will likely be more surface-level stuff (e.g., the Wisconsin offensive line created only 300 yards rushing for the Badgers instead of the usual 450). What can I say, I’m not perfect. That being said, here are names to watch this season in the trenches.
University of Wisconsin –
Tackles David Edwards (Junior, 6’7”/319), Jon Dietzen (Junior, 6’6”/326),
Cole Van Lanen (Redshirt Sophomore, 6’5”/311), and Patrick Kasl (Redshirt Sophomore, 6’5”/315).
Guards Beau Benzchawel (Senior, 6’5”/317) and Michael Deiter (Senior, 6’6”/321).
Center Tyler Biadasz (Redshirt Sophomore, 6’3”/322)
Yes. All of them. Backups included. Wisconsin has amassed a crazy amount of talent on their offensive line. If you really enjoy hard-nosed football resulting from dominant offensive line play, just watch every Wisconsin game that you possibly can. Wisconsin is shuffling the line around to create a hole at left tackle, with David Edwards moving to right tackle and Michael Deiter kicking inside to his more natural left guard position. Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl each performed well in spot duty last season when Edwards and Deiter were injured, while Jon Dietzen started at left guard for the Badgers in 2016 and 2017. Whoever wins the competition will likely see a rise in their draft stock for the 2019 draft. Whoever loses is almost certain to either transfer schools or stick around Wisconsin for at least another year, as they all have eligibility left after 2018.
What is most impressive about Wisconsin’s offensive line is that, regardless of who plays, each lineman consistently dominates his own one-on-one assignments, but they also show the chemistry to perform more advanced shifts and pulls not typically seen in college. In 2017, Wisconsin averaged 223.2 yards rushing per game. I would not be surprised if Wisconsin averages well above 250 yards rushing per game while also making quarterback Alex Hornibrook look way better than he actually is (sidenote: Alex Hornibrook is one of the more overrated quarterback prospects being talked about this preseason because he had a strong bowl game playing behind this all-time great offensive line and a freshman phenom at running back, so don’t believe the hype). Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule is joke-worthy this year (Western Kentucky, New Mexico, and Brigham Young University), but will certainly be tested by Iowa’s depth and speed along their defensive line when they open Big Ten play. The ultimate test may be against Rashan Gary and the Wolverines on October 13.
University of Alabama – Tackles Jonah Williams (Junior, 6’5”/301) and Matt Womack (Junior, 6’6”/326); Guards Ross Pierschbacher (Senior, 6’3”/304) and Lester Cotton (Senior, 6’3”/324)
As I have written these previews, it’s starting to become obvious why Alabama has been in the playoffs every year since their inception: they just have so much talent at every position. The offensive line is no exception. Jonah Williams is seen by many as the top overall offensive lineman, while the versatile Ross Pierschbacher (recruited from Iowa as a tackle but has since moved around the entire line before settling on left guard and center) is generally seen as the top interior offensive lineman. Womack and Cotton are strong prospects in their own right. While Wisconsin may have overwhelming strength, Alabama’s common trait amongst their linemen is their precision and technique. For offensive line junkies, Alabama will be just as fun to watch as Wisconsin, though in a different way. Alabama doesn’t face too many stacked defensive lines at the beginning of the season, but square off against Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and against Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa in back-to-back weeks in November.
University of Washington – Tackles Trey Adams (Senior, 6’7”/327) and Kaleb McGary (Senior, 6’6”/318)
I had to do a double take when I saw that the Huskies had two highly ranked tackles, but Washington’s twin towers fit the bill. Perhaps the most intimidating tandem coming off the bus, Adams measures in at 6’7” and 327 pounds, while McGary measures in at 6’6” and 318 pounds. Both Adams and McGary are bulldozers in human form, demolishing defenders in the run game and playing an aggressive, attacking style while pass blocking. Each may have trouble with speed rushers that can turn around the edge. I’m really looking forward to watching how these two handle the SEC speed they’ll see when they square off against Auburn in the season opener. That may be the most important game of all for their 2019 draft stock.
Stanford University – Tackle A.T. Hall (Senior, 6’5”/297), Guard Brandon Fanaika (Senior, 6’2”/315), and Center Jesse Burkett (Senior, 6’3”/304)
If you could pair Stanford’s interior line of Fanaika and Burkett with Washington’s tackle duo, you’d have easily the most dominant offensive line west of the Mississippi River. A.T. Hall is a respectable prospect in his own right, but Fanaika and Burkett are the true studs for the Stanford Cardinal. Neither are an elite physical specimen, but they are extremely intelligent and technically sound linemen that are strong enough to not be overpowered at the next level. 49er fans should pay special attention to Fanaika, who seems ideal for a zone blocking scheme as a guard and should be available in the middle rounds of the draft. Stanford doesn’t play a team with exceptional prospects along the defensive line, so all three of these seniors are in prime position to put out good tape for scouts.
Greg Little – Ole Miss, Junior, Tackle
The 6’5”, 325-pound Greg Little is anything but small, and his certainly looks the part on tape. Little may be the most athletic tackle in this draft, and has the size and length that teams desire at the position. His technique is not great, and it’s obvious that he is getting by on his athleticism. However, I have hope for Little as a pro. He has the intelligence to process defenders, which tells me that he at least has the capacity and understanding of the game to learn the technique. Couple this with the Hugh Freeze scandal at Ole Miss and the disastrous administration/coaching he’s experienced during his time there, it’s not surprising to me that he needs reliable, stable coaching. Get him into an environment with a professional offensive line coach that will stick around more than one season, and I think he will flourish. Little will see Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi State this season, so he will be tested early and often.
Dalton Risner – Kansas State University, Senior, Tackle
The 6’5”, 300-pound Dalton Risner is your high-floor, low-ceiling type prospect that you use to fill a hole for a few seasons and will work his way around the NFL, quietly playing for over a decade. He certainly doesn’t have the athleticism or pure strength you will see in other prospects, but has enough of both to be a professional starting tackle. He can fit in many different systems, but his mobility and excellent pass blocking technique makes him a great fit in zone blocking schemes or in quick passing schemes that require their linemen to get outside and block. Risner won’t have many plays that truly wow you, but he will rarely make you cringe or groan. Though he plays against non-existent defenses in the Big 12, Risner will get to square off against Montez Sweat and Mississippi State on September 8 in non-conference play. How Risner fares in that matchup against a first-round pass rusher might cement his draft position.
Ben Powers – University of Oklahoma, Senior, Guard
The 6’4”, 314-pound Ben Powers has a physical profile (emphasis on physical, as this is not a comment on his mental capacities or abilities) that reminds me of Lennie from “Of Mice and Men.” His technique and sheer strength make him almost impossible to beat, but he plays with a sort of gentleness where he doesn’t want to hurt a soul. Powers will stop the defender in his tracks, open holes in the run game, and generally keep any defender from getting to where he want to be. However, one trait that scouts love from their interior linemen, like what was displayed by Will Hernandez and Quenton Nelson, is an absolute desire to punish whoever they meet on the field. Powers is happy to simply make the play a success. It will be something to watch as his senior year plays out, because it really could drop his stock a bit. Oklahoma doesn’t have the non-conference opponents that Kansas State does, so Powers is unlikely to be challenged very much until he gets to postseason play.
Garrett Brumfield – Louisiana State University, Senior, Guard
Brumfield is one of the smaller prospects of this class, measuring in at only 6’2” and 299 pounds. Despite the size, he still excels in run blocking, as seen by the massive holes he opened up for Derrius Guice throughout 2017 and Leonard Fournette in 2016. He’s also a generally reliable pass blocker, not allowing a single sack in 2016 and being the strength of the offensive line throughout 2017. Deciding to return for his senior season after submitting his name for evaluation, he will certainly have his work cut out for him. Miami, Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama all appear on LSU’s schedule this year, and all should have exceptional defensive lines that will test Brumfield throughout the season.
SMALL SCHOOL SLEEPER – Ului Lapuaho – Brigham Young University, Senior, Tackle
The 6’6”, 355-pound Lapuaho may be limited to playing right tackle at the next level due to his heavier weight and lack of elite mobility. However, this man is a mauler. He may turn into the best run blocking tackle of this class. He has the mentality of a punisher, and has the size and strength to simply dominate his competition. BYU gets their biggest test against Wisconsin on September 15, but his most important matchup may be against Sutton Smith and Northern Illinois on October 27. Smith will test Lapuaho’s ability to handle true speed rushers on the edge.
SMALL SCHOOL SLEEPER – Levi Brown – Marshall University, Junior, Guard/Center
Measuring in at 6’4” and 296 pounds, Brown has to work to gain strength and a little bit of weight to play inside at the professional level. However, moving from a school like Marshall and into a professional weight training and nutrition program, this should not be an issue. Able play both guard and center, Brown has shown flashes of true dominance in his time at Marshall. In 2018, Brown will have consecutive weeks where he and his Thundering Herd teammates face off against South Carolina and North Carolina State in September. These will be great tests for Brown, and strong performances could boost his draft stock and remove that sleeper tag.
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