Last draft season in this very space, I wrote a column for Rotoworld attempting to lay out the various types of offensive linemen that play football in the NFL in order to give football fans a more complete idea of what it is that they should be looking for when it comes to evaluating offensive line talent in the NFL draft.
Categories of Offensive Linemen
The Blue Chips: Identifying the “blue chipper” isn’t hard as these prospects generally have good to great size with NFL-caliber strength and athleticism. Being in position to draft blue chip talent isn't easy since they tend to go quickly.
Grimy Grinders: This group of offensive linemen may have shorter arms than you might like, average movement skills or struggle to handle the stronger players lined up across from them, but they use technique, work ethic and sheer will to win more battles than you think they should.
The Power Players: This group of offensive linemen may not test well at the combine in terms of quickness drills or 40-yard dash times, but they have brute strength and consistently move defenders off the ball. These players are targets of teams who favor attitude up front and who are looking to dominate, but they sometimes have issues in pass protection or with getting second level blocks.
Elite Feet: These linemen have quick feet are able to beat defenders to spots which means they can open up running lanes through angles that other offensive linemen can’t get to. Looking to run zone scheme, to throw screens in space or to cut of that edge rusher trying to get around the corner on a pass rush? Elite feet certainly helps. Unfortunately, there are often times when players who have great feet lack core strength.
Worker Bees: These worker bees are usually strong in the locker room and generally have good football intelligence to make up for other areas physical areas where they may lack. The "sure and steady" types are mostly coachable and play through pain. While they lack the physical tools to go within the first couple of rounds of the draft, this category of linemen is the most plentiful around the NFL and they are often the glue that holds some offenses together.
2014 Blue Chips
Greg Robinson, LT, Auburn - Robinson has long arms, quick feet a massive frame and is as dominant a run blocker as I have seen come out of college thanks to his ridiculous leverage. He is raw in pass protection, but his flaws in technique are coachable and are not physical. He’s the best lineman (and maybe player) in this draft.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M - Matthews doesn’t have blue chip size, but we he has is blue chip movement skills and technique that is rare to find heading into a draft. Matthews is a plug and play tackle who has been coached up by his father (Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews) and I can’t find major flaws in his game. While Matthews is polished,, his ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Robinson’s, but he’s a very safe pick.
2014 Grimy Grinders
Zack Martin, T/G, Notre Dame - Martin has arms that are under 33”, relatively small hands, only pushed out 23 bench press reps at the combine and lacks plus NFL size. Oh, did I mention he gets guys blocked? He’s rock-solid as a run blocker and in pass protection, is a great leader and is very technically sound.
Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State - He’s undersized for the position but uses his power to compensate. The draft media seems to be sleeping on Linsley somewhat, but I doubt NFL teams are. His movement is good enough and despite his short 32” arms, he is willing to battle at the point of attack and wins more times than he loses thanks to his strength. Linsley is said to be “a little arrogant, but in the way you like.”
Joel Bitonio, T/G, Nevada - His arm length is okay and he’s a good athlete so I hesitate to put him here, but this is where he belongs more than any other prospect in this draft. Bitonio lacks power but he is an absolute bulldog who never lets up. He can play tackle or guard and loves to get after defenders on the second level. If he lacks a good angle, he keeps working to improve the angle. The son of Mike Bitonio who is one of the toughest MMA fighters I saw back in the early days of the sport, Joel has his dad’s never quit attitude. I haven’t spoken with a scout or offensive line coach who doesn’t love this guy’s football character.
2014 Power Players
Brandon Thomas, T/G, Clemson - Despite his recent ACL tear, I would be surprised if Thomas makes it into the 4th round. Thomas has long arms and rare, jarring power in his initial punch. If Thomas can convert his movement skills into even more lower body power, then he will dominate at guard.
Cameron Fleming, T, Stanford - He’s a little bit stiff and will fall on some team’s draft boards, but teams who like length and power will covet Fleming. Fleming has a very strong base and works hard to move defenders off of their spot in the running game.
2014 Elite Feet
Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan - One look at Lewan in-game and you can see the movement skills of a tight end. He’s not overly bulky in his lower body which leads some to wonder about his anchor as a pass rusher. However, Lewan can play in space as a pass protector, on outside zone plays as a downfield blocker on screen passes. His combine tests were fantastic, but he does need to take better angles on his backside blocks. Whoever drafts Lewan can open up the playbook in terms of what they ask of him in space.
Trai Turner, G, LSU - He doesn’t have the best body in this draft, but man can Turner get up to the second level with quickness and when he gets there, guys get blocked. He’s not the strongest player in the draft, but he’s more of a grinder with good feet. That’s a winning combination. He makes blocks on the move like a seasoned zone blocker, but I don’t think he’s tied to that scheme. He is one of my favorite guards in this draft.
Matt Patchan, T, Boston College - Nobody in this draft comes off the ball quicker as an offensive lineman than Patchan. What he lacks in functional strength (and that is a problem for him), he makes up for with his first strike quickness as he is able to get into defenders first in the running game. He’s a lock to go to a zone scheme team and it wouldn’t shock me if that team considered him at guard as well if they could add about 10 more pounds to his frame.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T, McGill (Canada) - Has he played against anyone up to this point? Not really, but he did a very good job at the East/West Shrine practices and his athletic numbers at his pro day were as good as Taylor Lewan’s. Looking for a tackle with tremendous feet (and strength) who will continue to get better with coaching? Then take a shot on Duvernay-Tardif as there are some blocks that he will be able to get to that most tackles can’t.
2014 Worker Bees
James Hurst, T/G, North Carolina - Average movement skill but tends to get guys blocked. I like him in the middle rounds.
Michael Schofield, T, Michigan - He lacks power which will be a concern but battled back from some subpar days at the Senior Bowl practices and is a good fit in zone scheme. Will go between 4th and 6th round.
Anthony Steen, G, Alabama - Arms like a T-rex, but he’s got good functional strength, moves well enough and is technically sound in pass protection... It’s not the size of your arms but how you use them. Is that the saying? Likely 4th round or later.
Justin Britt, T/G, Missouri - Very average with all of his combine test scores and lacks power you would expect for a man his size, but he moves well and is a fighter. He will be an NFL starter. Should go around the 5th round.
John Urschel, G, Penn State - He’s a little bit short, isn’t very explosive and has average straight line speed, but he’s highly competitive on every snap, good strength, intelligent and takes good angles. Late round pick.
Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State - Here is another short-armed guy, but he has strength to compensate for that when guys get into his chest. Plays with better short-area quickness than his test scores would lead you to believe. Late round pick.