2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Interior Offensive Linemen
The idea here is to list only draft-eligible prospects who have a future in the NFL as starters, but for interior offensive linemen (Guards and Centers), this is an impossible task. The players who will be taken in rounds two and three will be starters from the first day, and a lot of the players who are left off this list have a future in the NFL as starters.
Guards, and particularly Centers, are still widely believed to be a fungible position in NFL circles. While teams hate to be the team being beaten one on one on the inside, you may remember that about four years or so ago, teams started paying $7-$10 million a year on the open market for the top available guards (Steve Hutchinson, Derrick Dockery, Eric Steinbach), and none of those deals look good today. As the market has adjusted for this we’ve seen a movement back towards fungibility among the interior line.
Still, teams are beginning to address the position with more importance in the draft, though not with contract dollars. The modus operandi of teams appears to be to spend draft value on interior lineman when it is a need, and let the market decide how much they should pay on the second contract, while showing a willingness to pick up someone elses’ draft choice if another team signs one of their free agents at the position. High turnover on the interior offensive line has begun to limit the offensive production of once great passing units, but teams are apparently okay with this, so long as they can have some free salary to sign bigger, better household names who generate the big plays.
Guards and Centers do not help generate the big plays, and they might very well be fungible pieces, but their successes and failures are the lifeblood of any professional offenses.
Class Strength: (Slightly) Below Average
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=Iupati&iid=4312635″ src=”1/c/0/1/Idaho_Vandals_v_a2cf.jpg?adImageId=12450998&imageId=4312635″ width=”234″ height=”187″ /]1. Mike Iupati, G, Idaho Iupati’s stock took a hit as soon as Maurkice Pouncey left Florida to declare for the draft, and it’s remained relatively stagnant since that point, but we’re going to deviate from conventional wisdom right away, and put Iupati atop the rankings. Pouncey is a strong prospect, but he is not quite Alex Mack or Nick Mangold as a center, and with those two being the only first round centers drafted in the last six years, we might surmise that at least some of Pouncey’s value comes from his versatility. Iupati is just as versatile, if not more, and it’s because he projects well as either a left guard or a right guard. He can start from day one, but he doesn’t have to anchor the line from day one. Eventually, he will be the best guard on his team and a pro-bowler each year.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=maurkice+pouncey&iid=7446735″ src=”d/6/5/5/Maurkice_Pouncey_6bb0.JPG?adImageId=12451003&imageId=7446735″ width=”234″ height=”161″ /]2. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida So Pouncey becomes the number two guy in this draft, even though he would be the number one guy in many drafts. Due to positional scarcity, I don’t believe he would be a reach at the end of round one: Jon Asamoah has a late second round grade from me, and Pouncey a solid second. If you want a day one starter, I wouldn’t wait on the position past Pouncey. He’s scheme neutral, but I think he’s going to start his career as a guard no matter where he gets taken, and should be a starting center by his fifth year. A left guard isn’t all that valuable, so the his effect to the offense he plays on will not be felt immediately. I do not think he’s a pro bowler in the future, but should be an above average starter for at least five years between 2012 and 2016, if not beyond.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jon+asamoah&iid=2694873″ src=”b/6/2/1/Illinois_v_Minnesota_2056.jpg?adImageId=12451005&imageId=2694873″ width=”234″ height=”154″ /]3. Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois At this point in the draft, the middle of the second day, teams will be looking at the projectability of the remaining prospects to their schemes, so for your zone blocking schemes, Asamoah gets the bump to the second round because his skill set is very different from the next two or three guys on this list. He’s quick and fast for a guard, and has better than average strength, but his frame is a (small concern). At 6’4″, his ability to get under the pad level of smaller three techniques in the passing game could limit his value, although for those tough reach blocks on strong nose tackles, Asamoah’s adeptness puts him in line to be the next Pete Kendall in this league.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=john+jerry+miss&iid=4309496″ src=”3/9/d/f/LSU_v_Mississippi_9582.jpg?adImageId=12451008&imageId=4309496″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]4. John Jerry, G, Ole Miss First the answer to the obvious question: he is the brother of Falcons (and former Ole Miss) DT Peria Jerry. This draft features two waves of quality guards from the SEC, with Jerry and Alabama’s Mike Johnson being of the better quality wave. Jerry is a more traditional power guard, the hope is that within a year, he can be slotted in at a guard and perform as the anchor as an offensive line, but the more realistic projection is that he’s a sound pass protector who doesn’t happen to limit the run game that comes to his side. If he can fulfill that projection, he has eight-to-ten year ability on an NFL offensive line (or two).
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=mike+johnson+alabama&iid=1421000″ src=”4/8/8/0/PicImg_Alabama_Crimson_Tide_f313.jpg?adImageId=12451012&imageId=1421000″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]5. Mike Johnson, G, Alabama He’s not the physical player that any of the above are, but he’s durable, playing in all 54 college games, and he can fit in either a man or zone blocking scheme with equal ability. To an extent, he’s a cog in a bigger machine, because while he can match up one on one in pass protection and comes with excellent field vision, he’s neither athletic enough to consistently perform the reach block on the nose tackle (the most difficult block in the ZBS), nor is he powerful enough to consistently win his one on ones in the run game every snap (the basis of man blocking). Johnson will be best when he’s working at the LB level on ILBs, and is versatile enough to kick out and handle more athletic ends. The projection is for a key cog at G in a well-oiled offensive machine.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=zane+beadles&iid=5366736″ src=”0/3/2/a/BYU_v_Utah_4ce8.jpg?adImageId=12451016&imageId=5366736″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]6. Zane Beadles, G, Utah Projects as a left guard in the NFL, but started at LT for the Utes from 07-09 (he started his redshirt freshman year at LG). He’s above the median in terms of NFL “polish”, but that’s mostly a product of his inexperience, he’s going to need about as much work as any 4 year college starter has ever needed. Due to his advanced age (23 year old rookie), and relative preparedness for the pro game, teams that don’t have a strong OL development system should probably avoid Beadles. He’ll fit best in a zone-blocking scheme, and should be field-read in 2011, if ever. Kind of a tweener: he’s not nearly athletic enough to play NFL LT, but as a LG, he’s not really the physical brute that can be found later in the draft and just go maul people. He’s a cerebral player, and in a best case scenario, should be equivalent to Cowboys G Kyle Kosier.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=matt+tennant&iid=6553171″ src=”e/d/5/b/Boston_College_v_1287.jpg?adImageId=12451017&imageId=6553171″ width=”234″ height=”169″ /]7. Matt Tennant, C, Boston College If not for Pouncey, this would be a weak year for centers, but Tennant is a good prospect at the position no matter how you look at it. He’ll need a single year on the bench to pick up all the nuances of the NFL game, because he’s not quite good enough to go in there and dominate physically, but again, that’s not really what line play is about since that kind of player is so rare. Line play is more about sorting the protections so that the defense can’t exploit mismatches and so the quarterback can, within reason, beat the pass rush with his release. It’s for that reason that I’m so high on Tennant, he can be picked up in the fourth round, given a playbook, and one year later, the output is a center who won’t get killed on the inside while setting the proper protections. In the NFL, that’s a starter.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jd+walton&iid=7047848″ src=”a/f/6/a/Texas_v_Baylor_cc65.jpg?adImageId=12451023&imageId=7047848″ width=”234″ height=”159″ /]8. J.D. Walton, C, Baylor Walton is more physically adept than Matt Tennant, but his ability to get to the second level in a zone blocking scheme would have to be developed, and thusly, he’s really the ideal center for a man blocking scheme. In 2009, he was one of the best centers in the nation, and projects as a scheme-dependent starter in the NFL. His ability to hit bigger nose tackles on impact and win on contact is a skill that fewer than half the starting centers in the NFL have, though offenses have, on the whole begun to work around this league-wide weakness. Still if am ambitious coach is looking to fill a hole in the middle of his offensive line, Walton could go as high as the third round. If not for Pouncey, Walton and Tennant would be 1 and 1a in this (weaker) class of centers.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=jeff+byers&iid=1985683″ src=”b/5/f/3/Arizona_State_v_9e94.jpg?adImageId=12451029&imageId=1985683″ width=”234″ height=”162″ /]9. Jeff Byers, G, USC I think the cerebral Jeff Byers is going to end up a guard at the next level, though some believe he’s a center. I believe centers are generally projected in the draft from a more general accepted position of “interior linemen” (see: Pouncey), with some exceptions who won’t ever even practice at G (see: Tennant). Byers will be 24 years old in the fall, and there’s not going to be a three year plan to put him on the field. This means that, in all likelihood, his ceiling is at LG who can start at C in a pinch. Still, if he gets drafted as a zone blocker, which is what USC ran a lot of the time he was there, he could play in 2010.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=hawaii+football&iid=4896962″ src=”8/1/9/d/Allstate_Sugar_Bowl_83d4.jpg?adImageId=12451052&imageId=4896962″ width=”234″ height=”153″ /]10. John Estes, C/G, Hawaii Extremely durable college lineman who started every game he was eligible for, and should have his stock boosted by Samson Satele’s success as a rookie with the Dolphins. He’ll start out as a guard, but he’s one of about five or six players in this draft who I feel will end up as starting centers in this league down the road. He’s quicker and more agile than he is strong, and was a line-anchor in college after his freshman year. Should be game ready at LG by the middle of the 2010 season, and then by 2012, he’ll be as ready as ever to start at center in an NFL zone blocking scheme.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=marshall+newhouse&iid=3231477″ src=”9/3/e/9/4c.JPG?adImageId=12451055&imageId=3231477″ width=”234″ height=”157″ /]11. Marshall Newhouse, G, TCU Newhouse projects as a right guard — a sleeper of sorts — who, in a diversion from the way this list was progressing, could actually play right tackle in the NFL. If he gets drafted as a guard, there’s a lot that stands out about him besides his flexibility. He’s very athletic for an interior lineman, and doesn’t give that back edge in terms of lower body strength. He was the LT at TCU. Two more reasons why he could be underprojected: he’s younger than the three of the last five guys on this list, so his rookie contract should cover a lot of his best years, and that flexibility of projection. We know he will have to move off of LT, but he could go to LG, RG, or RT, which increases the number of potential suitors for his services. Still, many teams will be in the hunt in the mid rounds for that specialized type lineman to maximize the value of the rookie contract, while Newhouse is only a starter in projection.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=bruce+matthews&iid=3357041″ src=”2/e/d/d/Class_of_2007_fc2e.jpg?adImageId=12451075&imageId=3357041″ width=”234″ height=”176″ /]12. Kevin Matthews, C, Texas A&M Being the son of Bruce Matthews kind of puts him out of place on any priority-UDFA list, doesn’t it? Matthews will get drafted as a center, although probably not before the 6th round. Initially, he only projects as a backup coming out of Texas A&M as a two year starter, but his skill set and pedigree should keep him on the developmental track to the starting lineup. He’s durable, which will keep his career progressing. Needs a good camp to be able to catch on to a roster as a future staring center, but I have no reason to believe he won’t have that strong camp.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ted+larsen&iid=2325187″ src=”5/3/1/f/Florida_State_v_bf1a.jpg?adImageId=12451076&imageId=2325187″ width=”234″ height=”172″ /]13. Ted Larsen, C, NC State Came to NC State as a defensive tackle, and then made the switch to center, producing only one strong year as a senior. He’s very raw as a player, and even more so in this class, but perhaps that’s a good thing. There’s not a whole lot of long-term center projects in this class, or in the league in general. His stock is on the rise, but I still get the feeling that if someone is looking to land him late in the 5th round or in the middle of the 6th, he should be there at that point. He’s really taken to the switch to offense, earning the award for NC State’s most impressive offensive lineman both years he has played center. Not a bad half-career, huh?
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=ciron+black&iid=2712705″ src=”b/b/8/2/AllState_BCS_National_299b.jpg?adImageId=12451082&imageId=2712705″ width=”234″ height=”159″ /]14. Ciron Black, G, LSU Do scouts ever consider themselves fortunate that some players make the decision to stay in school as a senior? I mean, there was a general consensus that Black should be a first or second round tackle as an underclassmen. Now, he’s an interior lineman who could be drafted late, be cut, and washout. So, which was it? Is the consensus off now, or was it off then? Black has to answer questions about his work ethic, but it’s not him that should have to answer questions about his agility or lack thereof. At the current pace, he’s going to be a non-factor in the NFL, but we’d be remiss to just ignore the talent that could have made an effective NFL tackle just a year or two ago. As a guard, it will increase his chances of sticking, though I don’t think anyone expects him to flash pro-bowl ability at this next level.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=arkansas+football&iid=7155580″ src=”c/6/3/e/Arkansas_v_LSU_4373.jpg?adImageId=12451120&imageId=7155580″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]15. Mitch Petrus, G, Arkansas Set combine records for the number of bench reps done at 225 pounds, then injured himself in positional drills. Forget the one-year wonder, the NFL combine can produce one-day wonders. As a guard, he’s similar to Black in that he’s just not in the top wave of draft-eligible guards from the SEC. Petrus has more to offer than just five or six years as a backup, clearly, he’s going to have the feet and upper body strength to hold up in interior pass protection, and with a little work, he might become a functional run blocker. I think in the third or fourth round, his skill set is probably overvalued, but there’s a good chance he can become an NFL starter, if just as a left guard.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=eric+olsen&iid=7090328″ src=”6/4/8/e/USC_v_Notre_c743.jpg?adImageId=12451141&imageId=7090328″ width=”234″ height=”168″ /]16. Eric Olsen, C/G, Notre Dame Throughout three years as a guard for Notre Dame, Olsen was best known to fans as a weak link on the offensive line. However, as a senior, he moved inside to center, and ended up unseating the incumbent, Dan Wenger, improving his production across the board. This has caused many a source to project him as a midround center, which he is not. Despite his success, I don’t have him projected as a center at all. I think he projects as an NFL left guard. In my best estimation, Eric Olsen’s upside looks something like that of Titans’ C/G Eugene Amano. He’s a notoriously hard worker, so a late round draft pick in him, even as depth, is a pick well spent, but his projectability to the NFL is certainly questionable.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=brandon+carter&iid=2809291″ src=”f/a/a/7/1a.JPG?adImageId=12451151&imageId=2809291″ width=”234″ height=”155″ /]17. Brandon Carter, G, Texas Tech Benefited from the spread concepts employed by his head coach at Texas Tech, Mike Leach. Best understood as the guy who used all that eyeblack to paint his face, even though the practical use of eyeblack in general can be questioned. He isn’t physically imposing, and his footwork isn’t the best. However, he can credit the spread offense for his refinement of his pass blocking as a guard. Spread lineman don’t often get assistance in their one-on-one assignments, and Carter is widely regarded as the best pass blocker in a prolific passing offense, and his absence will probably mean that protection in the future for TTU is going to be more complicated. He could play right or left guard at the next level, and doesn’t project to start in 2010.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=shelley+smith&iid=8288849″ src=”b/a/d/8/2010_NFL_Combine_e6f4.jpg?adImageId=12451164&imageId=8288849″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]18. Shelley Smith, G, Colorado State Could be a lot higher if not for an ankle injury that caused him to miss three games, as durability is a crucial skill for a late round OL. Projects to be a zone-blocking left guard at the next level, and would make a nice value pick in the later rounds, say the sixth. Has the ideal skill set for a guard, functionally athletic without compromising strength. Technique, specifically his footwork, probably isn’t NFL ready, but due to a reputation as a hard worker, I pushed him over the cutoff onto the list of future NFL starters. Better than you could expect from a guard in isolation, he’s the kind of guy that Colorado State could run behind when they needed a yard or two.