Saturday, March 03, 2012

2012 Draft Prospects: Offensive Line

So here's what I think so far of the 2012 O-line draft prospects. Remember that this is not a complete list by any means and it's really just my initial thoughts based on what I've seen so far. There's nearly two months till the draft itself so there's time for things to change. In no particular order then;

- Matt Kalil, Tackle, USC: This is a name that everyone will recognise because it's a name that the majority of people expect to be called in the first hour of the 2012 draft. Now when watching offensive tackles I like to put myself in the position of the teams Head Coach and imagine that it's my quarterback out there being protected. On that note... Kalil scares the s**t out of me. I have no idea where the top 5 ranking has come from. I've seen some good games from Kalil in the past, but reviewing 2011 there is a lot there to be worried about.

Run blocking he's pretty much fine, that's not a problem. But Kalil is expected to be a left tackle, a key pass protector, and at this point he begins to struggle. People point to his statistics but in all such cases I point to the tape. And what I see is a quarterback who gets the ball out of his hands quickly, because if he didn't he'd get killed on a routine basis. Against NFL quality pass rushers I think Kalil is going to struggle badly.

He really suffers against technique rushers and just about survives with speed rushers. When faced with stunts and twists or creative blitzes, he just has no awareness and seems to only make the block when people run into him. I think being at USC has done wonders for his draft stock, but the NFL I think is going to cause him serious, serious problems. Good luck Vikings fans, you're in for a long season if the draft goes down like many think it will.

- Riley Reiff, Tackle, Iowa: God this is shaping up to be a bad year for Offensive Tackles. I have much the same issues with Reiff as Kalil. His run blocking is generally very good, but his pass protection is somewhat suspect. In college teams tend to be throwing a lot of wide receiver screens and quicker passes these days, which means that a lot of these tackles are being shielded by their quarterbacks quick release.

Reiff was sometimes solid, sometimes all over the place. Like Kalil he would often survive the first contact with the defender, only to crumble at the second bite. That's just not acceptable at the NFL level. Against stronger, faster, more determined and competitive athletes who have much better technique, that's the kind of play that will get your quarterback killed in a hurry. I'm not buying either Reiff or Kalil right now.

- Jonathan Martin, Tackle, Stanford: Now we're talking! Behind every great man is a great woman, apparently. And behind every great quarterback is a great left tackle, almost guaranteed. The connection then between Andrew Luck and Jonathan Martin should be obvious. If not, then suffice to say that Luck owes Martin a drink, or maybe even a few, or maybe even a new car, if Luck gets drafted number one overall.

The reason for that is because Martin has done an excellent job keeping Luck upright. The problem with highly rated quarterbacks is that they often get too much credit for what is fundamentally a team performance in a highly team orientated game. Martin is not considered a top 5 pick like Luck or Matt Kalil, yet in my estimation he's much better than Kalil.

He's more athletic with his footwork, tougher, has better technique and is seems more accustomed and comfortable with the kind of pass rush that he's going to see in the NFL, e.g. dealing with a relentless assault from physically gifted athletes. Martin may not get the credit that Luck does, but hopefully he'll get himself a decent pick and contract, because I think he deserves it and is going to make some team very happy with their selection.

- Mike Adams, Tackle, Ohio State: In order to understand Mike Adams as a prospect we have to consider how the NFL studies young offensive tackles. The reason for this is because Adams isn't the most technical of tackles, with occasionally suspect footwork and use of the hands. But what Adams does have, and have in abundance I might add, is athletic ability.

The general consensus among NFL scouts and personnel staff has always been that you can take a young, athletically gifted individual and then mold them into pretty much whatever you want. They bring their size, speed, strength, balance, agility etc, and then you teach them the key skills and techniques they need to succeed.

Such players also have a huge plus side, especially given their age and inexperience at the NFL level, in that a physically gifted athlete can mask technique deficiencies with his athletic skills. A quick footed player can recover from errors much easier using speed to stay with an opponent or break away from one. A strong man can use raw power to overcome sub-standard blocking technique.

Finally, an athletic individual gives the coaches more options in terms of what they can ask their player to do. Whether it's pulling on a trap or power run play, getting out onto a linebacker on a zone run, getting out in front of a running back on a screen, or just taking on a tough one on one block, athletic players give their coaches choices as to how to deal with various problems.

On that note (perhaps a slightly too long winded one) we come to Mike Adams. He is a talent, that is beyond doubt. He suffers sometimes from keeping his hands too close together when punching and driving, and will occasionally over extended himself to make a block, but Adams definitely puts the "athlete" into "student athlete".

He has quick feet, he's pretty strong and he comes out of his stance like a bullet. He seems pretty football smart and aware of things like when to pass off a block against defensive stunts and twists. When run blocking he shows a great ability to get up to the second level quickly when needed, or keep holes open against defensive linemen. Pass blocking is where his technique sometimes comes up short, but again his physical attributes mean he often recovers with ease.

I really like Adams and this is coming from someone who is a whore for technique. It's just that in recent years I've come to see the merits of the point of view regarding athletically gifted players and I think Adams is one of those. Whoever snags Adams has basically got a ready to go tackle who just needs to be guided and developed. I'd be happy to use a top 10 on him I think.

- Zebrie Sanders, Tackle, Florida State: Mmmm... not impressed. At all really. If you just want someone to cut block 60 times per game then fine, but Sanders seemed to spend a lot of time not blocking anyone or floundering around like a beached fish when he did try and block. Against some smaller rushers he had some success and maybe I'm being a bit too hard on him, but in my opinion he's never getting to amount to much and would just be a wasted pick.

- Bobby Massie, Tackle, Ole Miss: Difficult to judge is Mr. Massie. On the one hand he did his job on a fairly regular and consistent basis, e.g. keep the pass rusher he was responsible for away from the Quarterback. But I couldn't shake the feeling watching him that he'd struggle against NFL caliber athletes. Any time that Massie faced a pass rusher with a move or two then it was lights out and Massie was beaten. Gets pushed around a little too easily as well.

- Mitchell Schwartz, Tackle, California: I thought Schwartz was pretty good. He kept himself low and well balanced for the most part and seemed to have a tremendous punch on him, which is something that's not obvious from his relatively low bench press at the combine. On the field though, he seems to have few problems standing people up with some nasty looking shots.

He may not be the quickest footed guy either, but he always seems to be in the right spot, even when handling rushers coming from very wide spots. He's faced and overcome some tough opponents this year and frankly I don't think he's getting the credit he deserves. Projected to go no earlier than the 5th and may even go undrafted, I think Schwartz has potential as a good right tackle, especially at the right price.

- Nate Potter, Tackle, Boise State: Potter is a hard man to judge based on the kind of teams that Boise has played. This is one of the reasons that guys from the SEC tend to dominate the draft, especially in the early stages, because coaches and scouts are more confident that the talent level in that conference approximates the kind of talent that players will face in the NFL.

The problem with Potter is simple. He's very inconsistent. That's a problem when we're talking about someone charged with protecting the quarterback from harm. His run blocking is not too bad, but pass blocking seems to be a struggle at times. I just think that if I was a personnel guy, I couldn't trust him enough to be anything more than a pure backup.

- Levy Adcock, Tackle, Oklahoma State: Whoever taught him that god awful awkward stance he used in 2010 and spent most of 2011 recovering from should be ashamed. In general Adcock is really not worth much. He struggles against any form of prolonged pass rush, his run blocking is only adequate and his awareness - especially when facing multiple edge rushers - is horrendous. Wasted pick in my opinion.

- Senio Kelemete, Tackle, Washington: Throw away pick if you ask me, which you kind of are by reading this. Kelemete is like a lot of college tackles that come into the NFL. It's not that he's bad, he's ok, but ok doesn't cut it at this level. Ok is going to give up two or more sacks per game and that's going to get you replaced very quickly. I'd rather carry on with another ok tackle and use the pick for someone that can make a difference.

- Mike Webster, Center, Ohio State: I actually quite like Webster. He's good against the run, getting great angles against the D-linemen and working his hips into the hole to keep the running lanes clear. He routinely takes on defensive tackles and wins, while demonstrating good technique. His pass drop is quite deep and rapid, which means he's pretty handy at picking up stunts and twists, but in the NFL he'll probably have to slow that down a little so as not to run himself back into the quarterback. Making that change could give him problems, but overall I think he's a good prospect that doesn't get that much attention.

- David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford: Impressive. Like a lot of offensive linemen from Stanford, DeCastro's running technique is very good. He takes good angles and sets his hips very well, with a solid blocking stance and pretty good strength. Sometimes he struggles a little twists and stunts but it's not a deal breaker. Can't really go wrong with DeCastro.

- Cordy Glenn, Tackle/Guard, Georgia: Slow and clumsy. That's basically Glenn in a nutshell. How about we add flag magnet to that list as well? Wouldn't even use my worst enemies pick on him, it just wouldn't be fair.

- Kevin Zeitler, Guard, Wisconsin: Good and bad from Zeitler. He's pretty strong in general and excels as a pulling guard on run plays. In pass protection Zeitler has been solid. But.... he does have a tendency to get overmatched against larger defensive tackles. I wonder how well he'd cope with someone like an Ndamukong Suh, Casey Hampton or Haloti Ngata at the next level?

- Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin: Not bad, but not sure if I'd rate him the number one overall center as many have. Konz is pretty steady in run blocking, but sometimes has a tendency to overrun defenders when moving up to the second level. I'm not sure whether he just mentally has difficulty picking out his assignment or whether it's an agility thing. Pass protection is mostly sound, with pretty good leverage achieved on most plays. Perhaps outside of round one then Konz is worth a look.

- Ben Jones, Center, Georgia: Hit and miss. Sometimes his pass blocking can be really good when he gets his hips low and his hands under the defenders pads. The problem is that at times it seems like he needs the defender to run into him in order for him to pick the guy up. Against twists, stunts and blitzes he really can struggle to find his man and get his hands on him. Probably not NFL caliber.

- Philip Blake, Center, Baylor: Blake is an interesting prospect but a little difficult to judge. His play has been an excellent but the problem is that there are a number of mitigating factors that simply cannot be ignored. The first is that defenses often played Baylor with relatively wide splits in their defensive line and rarely with a man over the center. Thus Blake spent much of his career effectively down blocking.

The second problem is that Baylor played a very wide spread offense and most teams seemed not all that keen to blitz them, especially not up the middle. The product of that is that Blake really doesn't have a lot of experience handling complicated defensive attacks on the O-line, something he'll most definitely see at the next level.

Technique wise he's fine, but there are a lot of ifs and buts to be filled in. I think this situation lends itself to one where Blake would be drafted in the later rounds and used as developmental prospect, possibly at Guard as he has pretty good mobility. But honestly I think he's a bit of a gamble to draft. Undrafted, wouldn't have a problem with him at all.

- Grant Garner, Center, Oklahoma State: Like Blake, Garner is difficult to assess given the offense that he comes from. Generally speaking Garner shows some good technique but has difficulty man handling the bigger defenders, and though his hands are quite active and he seems to move his feet well, he'd need a lot of work in the gym to make it in the NFL, providing he could handle the step up in technique in the first place.

Next up will be everyones favourite, the Quarterbacks.

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