NFL Draft

Pavelle: The State Of The Steelers’ Offensive Line

NOTE: This is an edited, updated, and expanded version of a January 3 article I wrote for the old site.

CURRENT OFFENSIVE LINE ROSTER (9 Players):

  • C-1 Maurkice Pouncey. Age 30, FA 2022. Everyone talks about Pouncey retiring but they forget how young he really is. Centers often play into their mid-30’s. Pouncey could easily play 4-5 more years if he still has the passion.
  • C-2 B.J. Finney. Age 28, Unrestricted Free Agent. A lifelong Steelers fan, Finney has been a rock as the C/G multitool backup. His status is going to be one of the key levers of Pittsburgh’s draft strategy moving forward. More discussion below.
  • C-3 J.C. Hassenauer. Rookie, Unrestricted Free Agent. The Falcons brought him in as a promising C/G backup, who the Steelers poached when Pouncey got hurt. He was considered a prize UDFA but not much more than that, and at this point we just don’t know any more.
  • OG-1a David DeCastro (Age 29, FA 2022). ‘Nuff said.
  • OG-1b Ramon Foster (Age 33, FA 2021). Ramon Foster will have a cap hit of $5.75 Million if he is on the team in 2020. It would cost the Steelers a $1.575 Million dead money cap hit if he is released. More discussion below.
    • [OG-3 Matt Feiler]
    • [OG-4 B.J. Finney]
  • OT-1a Alejandro Villanueva (Age 31, FA 2021). A solid pass blocker who is only okay in the run game. There’s only so much money a team can spend on any unit, even the OL, and the bottom line is that AV is a mid-level Left Tackle who gets paid appropriately.
  • OT-1b Matt Feiler (Age 27, Restricted Free Agent). A solid, mid-level Right Tackle who would probably be even better at Guard. More discussion below.
  • OT-3a and 3b Chuks Okorafor (Age 22, 6’6”, 320(?) lbs., FA 2022) and OT-3b Zach Banner (Age 26, 6’9”, 330?) lbs., Restricted Free Agent). Both young men are viewed as competent backups who might be able to start but haven’t been able to beat out Villanueva or Feiler. More discussion below.

CURRENT PRACTICE SQUAD/FUTURES PLAYERS

  • T/G Derwin Gray. Futures Contract. At 6’4”, 320 lbs. with looong 34⅜” arms, last year’s 7th Round pick was considered a boom-or-bust project with the physical talents to mature into a Top 20 starter at either Tackle or Guard, but held back by so many technique issues that busting out seemed more likely. Surviving the preseason cuts suggested good things. A full year on the practice squad could only have helped. But has the NFL coaching, drills, and training really sunk in?
  • OT-6 Christian DiLauro. Futures Contract. 6’5”, 300 lbs. A 2018 UDFA who has bounced around various practice squads, he profiled in that draft as a mobile, quick-footed, boom-or-bust prospect from a smaller program who desperately needed 20-30 pounds of good, lower body muscle but had genuine potential if he could build it. Has he? And if so, how much of the potential has he realized?

NOTABLE CAP ISSUES

  • Ramon Foster is aging and may be a cap casualty.
  • BJ. Finney would be a starter on many teams in the league and is very likely to leave if someone offers him those snaps and the associated money. If he leaves they will need a replacement.
  • Matt Feiler and Zach Banner are both RFA’s, which means they will almost certainly be back next year but will hit the market simultaneously with Villanueva if no long term deal gets signed. Feiler, in particular, may be a target for extension talks.

Pittsburgh’s 2019 offensive struggles caused a lot of fans to point accusing fingers at the Offensive line, put those in a position to know (like Coach Tomlin, Tunch Ilkin, and Craig Wolfley) have repeatedly said they didn’t deserve it. Looking a little deeper explains why. The 2019 Steelers line faced a perfect storm of adversity so profound it is hard to believe they played as well as they did.

  • They lost the franchise QB. Yikes.
  • That meant they had to deal with slow decisions (MR, yikes # 2) , lack of arm (DH, yikes # 3), and a huge number of blown protection calls (both young men, yikes # 4).
  • The flaws at QB also resulted in loaded boxes and all sorts of exotic, high risk defenses designed to overwhelm the offensive line in exchange for the bet that our QB could not make the defense pay (yikes # 5).
  • The high priced free agent veteran at WR2 spent the whole year hurt (Moncrief, yikes # 6), the very young WR1 did the same (Juju, yikes # 7), and both Washington and Johnson were clearly developing through their youth (yikes # 8 and yikes # 9).
  • The other veteran WR was Switzer, who spent the year on IR (yikes # 10).
  • All that results in constant 8-man boxes and run blitzes. Absent a smart and able QB, you can only beat that defense by asking the OL to achieve a tie so that your running back can make a special play and go to the house. Oops! The RB1 was also broken and doesn’t have breakaway speed in any event (Conner, yikes # 11 and # 12), and the RB2 was a rookie without breakaway speed (Snell, yikes # 13). And, of course, the defense knew what you had to try. Yikes # 14.
  • Foster finally got to be a weak link rather than a weaker one. Yikes # 15. Rosie Nix spent his year on IR (yikes # 16). The TE1 spent half the year hurt (McDonald, yikes # 16). The TE2, Vannett, had to be traded for, was new to the offense, was primarily a blocker anyway, and struggled enough for all those reasons to earn yikes # 17. Your TE3 was a 370-pound Tackle (Banner, yikes # 18).
  • Then there’s the coaching issues. Mike Munchak departed to be with his grandkids (yikes x 19). He may have left behind an able heir in Coach Sarrett, but aside from everything else, Munch had been the run game coordinator. The much beloved WR coach Darryl Drake died, leaving that room in chaos and depression (yikes # 20). The offensive coordinator had to juggle all of that despite being in only his second year (yikes # 21). The running backs coach departed (yikes # 22).
  • And just to be extra clear, all of those factors increase the effects of the others. Yikes # 23.

What in the world did we expect?

But for all of that I think most of us agree that the offensive line could use an early infusion of talent.

First things first. Ramon Foster may have been only okay as a starter, but he’s been an absolutely fantastic and invaluable Steeler. If you have not read that linked article, do. Every true fan of the team should join in wholehearted thanks when he gets the gold watch. But as this really good writer points out (he is a state championship level high school coach who loves O-line play), that time has probably come. Foster, a 6’5”, 330 lb. converted college Tackle, built his career on adequate physical assets held together by tremendous savvy and solid technique. The assets have aged; he got paid last year; and the salary cap crunch is too acute to pay for locker room leadership alone.

So… Assume that Ragu is a cap casualty. What happens next? Finney could play Guard but teams hate to expose their backup Center. Most likely, Matt Feiler would move inside (where he probably belongs), leaving Chuks and Banner to compete for the Right Tackle snaps.

Both young men have shown signs that they could manage just fine. Okorafor looked sensational in 2018 as a rookie. He just got beat out by Feiler’s even more startling maturation. As for Banner, his issue had always been nothing but weight control, and he lost 80 pounds during the last offseason. That is not a typo! The improvement in his play could be seen instantly in 2019, and another offseason to work on his skills as much as he did on his body could lead to almost any height. And there is also some good boom-or-bust depth behind those two. Derwin Gray and Chris DiLauro both have the physical ability to cut in line too if they’ve managed to make The Leap, including a chance that Gray might do so by excelling enough at Guard to push Feiler back outside.

All in all, the offensive line looks to be as good or better in 2020 than it was in 2019, even without accounting for the perfect storm clearing away. But the pipeline needs to be filled! At what position? Anything but Center. A steal at Tackle would be fantastic, since “good” can always be improved. A steal at Guard would be just as fantastic.

“Anything but Center? Isn’t Pouncey getting on in years? And what if B.J. Finney leaves too?”

First, Pouncey is hardly “getting on in years.” He’s 30 years old, which is right in the prime of a Center’s career. I won’t claim that he’s the next coming of Mike Webster or Dermontti Dawson, but he’s the next best thing. Those two can each make an argument for being the GOAT. Pouncey is a fringe HOF’er who might just make it. Be reasonable Steeler Nation!

As for Finney… Well, that one bothers me to be entirely frank. Teams protect their backup Centers precisely because weakness at that position is extremely hard to cover, and Pouncey has a history of missing games. Can Hassenauer do the job? We simply don’t know. But if Finney leaves the team will, at the very least, need to bring in someone who can compete for the backup position. But that is a Day 3 or UDFA priority. The ideal would be a prospect who could compete for snaps as a starting Guard, with the late round Center as the emergency backup, since starting Guards get exposed to injuries of their own.

“But shouldn’t Guards get some kind of bonus? Okorafor and Banner are both pure Tackles who lack the build for success at Guard. Derwin Gray is unproven, and DiLauro is another Tackle-or-Nothing guy.”

That’s a great point! Would you believe I hadn’t thought of it until this article was almost done? My answer is that superior Tackles are really, really hard to find. Guards are much more common, and the pure power types often fall well into the depths of Day 3 and/or to UDFA status. But I will start to discount the pure OT’s who don’t offer a really rare level of talent.

Well then! Has your brain started to hurt? Mine has. But at least one thing has now become clear. The Steelers have a “want” on the Offensive Line but not a “need.” They can afford to go BPA, will benefit most from going BPA, and won’t face disaster if the best players turn out to be in some other position group. So let’s define a few terms, and then have a look at what the OL draft options are going to be.

Pittsburgh plays a mixed blocking scheme that employs inside zone and power concepts, with a lesser smattering of outside zone. In recent years, Ramon Foster wasn’t strong enough to dig opponents out, quick enough to make the difficult reach block, nor light footed enough to be a successful puller in space. He survived because he excelled at anchoring against anyone, and holding his position no matter what so a RB with good vision could reliably run into the hole behind him. All the movement jobs fell to DeCastro and Pouncey.

  • “Power Guards” specialize in digging out opposing DT’s and move them against their will from point “a” to point “b”. They need to be used like younger and stronger versions of the Big Ragu.
  • “Pulling Guards” are their counterparts. They succeed by getting out into space and creating lanes that did not exist before, and go to teams that tend to rely more heavily on outside zone concepts. I’ve kept them out of this article, but names on the full Big Board who’d fit this description include G/T Saahdiq Charles from LSU, and Jack Driscoll from Auburn.
  • G/T’s are the college Tackles who will need to move inside for the NFL, but offer assets in all areas and can move outside to Tackle for a game or few if some emergency arises.
  • T/G’s are the players who seem to fit best at Tackle but may have the ability to move inside if that experiment fails. They are typically the Size XXL Right Tackle prototypes who are too tall to have the natural leverage one looks for in a pure Guard, but have the physical oomph to be a phone box people mover if they can learn enough technique to stay low. Note that most successful NFL Tackles would be T/G’s because they have that technique. They’re played outside because edge protectors are more rare.
  • Pure OT’s are the really long, movement-oriented Tackles like Villanueava and Okorafor. They tend to be to tall to play with the leverage required for a Guard, and are built more like oversized TE’s.
  • C/G are prospects who played Center in college but have the size and technique to play Guard as well. There are no pure Centers on these lists because they have been discounted due to lack of need.

Interior Offensive Line Options for Round 2:

C/G Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin. (RS Junior). 6’3”, 321 lbs. Name a better factory for linemen than Wisconsin. [Crickets]. Name the leader of the Wisconsin OL. You got it. A marvelous technician who’s only flaw is the lack of shining athletic brilliance in any one area. He could start at Guard as well as he could at Center, which makes him particularly valuable because he could help the team as a starter while being the understudy for Pouncey’s eventual retirement. Here is a good January scouting profile that emphasizes the key point: he grades out as very good to exceptional in basically all the categories, but never achieves ‘What did I just see?!’ in any of them.
C/G Cesar Ruiz, Michigan. (Junior). 6’4”, 319 lbs. A surefire NFL starter who faces longer odds against stardom. Smart and extremely mobile, he would be a fine successor to our current Center if you keep the expectations to “starter” rather than “HOF votes to be counted.” Don’t get me wrong. Ruiz has a legitimate shot at stardom. It just isn’t his destiny in the way it was for Pouncey. Ruiz has the ability to be a solid pulling guard while he understudies for Pouncey, and should be ahead of the curve on football IQ. His college coach (the other Harbaugh) may act the jagoff outside the locker room, but no one can deny his knowledge of the game of football and his ability to teach it.
C/G Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU. (RS Junior). 6’3¼”, 312 lbs. with big 10½” hands and arms like vines (34⅝”). He’s got all the raw physical talent you want, and won numerous honors for his character and leadership at LSU, with “permanent team captain” being just the start. Showed better than expected technique at the Senior Bowl; so much so that The Draft Network’s Jonah Tuls wrote: “He’s cemented himself as the top center prospect in this class with a strong season and performance this week.” In the actual game, he and teammate Damien Lewis stood at as rocks on an offensive line that otherwise got destroyed. Flashes good quickness but only good range to find the second level. Has a very good sense of using angles to create a running lane, and a tremendous anchor against power rushers on the inside. Tom Mead’s gif-supported scouting report from late January questions “a passiveness to his style”, but that is belied by his teammates’ level of respect. They would not view a ‘soft’ player so highly. His ability to be a solid pulling Guard supports his grade here, since he needn’t be a true benchwarmer while he understudies at Center. Has enough fixable technique issues to project as the sort of prospect who often disappoints in his rookie season and then make a major Sophomore leap.
G Netane Muti, Fresno State. (RS Junior). 6’3”, 307 lbs. Everyone’s favorite sleeper, Muti is as talented a pulling Guard as any prospect in any year, with enough strength and ferocity to play in a power-oriented system too. He also features quick hands to match the feet, and possesses a good understanding of leverage. We’re talking serious ceiling here! Especially once he gets a few years of NFL experience under his belt. Netane Muti with solid, all-pro technique could even be a worthy partner to David DeCastro. The issues come down to a long series of season ending health problems. He lost his 2016 freshman season to an injured Achilles, his 2018 season to a ruptured Achilles on the other leg, and then most of his 2019 season to a Lisfranc (serious foot) injury. Ye gods! Muti could accordingly go anywhere from the late 1st if the team doctors issue a gold plated bill of health, to UDFA if they waive the red flags in warning. We outsiders have no way to guess which one will be true. O-Line pedants may ask for another downgrade on the theory that Pittsburgh needs a power Guard to pair with DeCastro more than a second pulling Guard, but [yawn]. Good is good, actual humans are not bound to such strict categories, and the team would be able to adjust. This goes to a top notch January scouting profile with one good gif.

The first three are Centers with the ability to compete as starting Guards while they understudy for Pouncey. Can they beat out Feiler for that starting Guard position? If so, they will simultaneously firm up the future at Center and raise the possibility of sloughing off Pouncey’s extremely large salary. Muti is a Round 1 Guard in performance and potential, but a walking commercial for the medical red flag industry.

Offensive Tackle Options for Round 2.

 

OT Josh Jones, Houston. (RS Senior). 6’5⅛”, 305 lbs. with 9⅝” hands and shorter than ideal arms (32⅛”). No one will ever doubt that Josh Jones has the tools to be a high quality NFL starter, including good hand usage, a mauler’s mindset, and all but elite athletic talents in general, and just enough in the way of mechanical issues to provide plenty of room for improvement. He can improve physically too, since he looks more like a basketball player than an NFL Tackle. One has to wonder what a year of specialized NFL strength training will produce! Who knows? He might even bulk up enough to succeed at Guard too. It’s just… he’s never “arrived” in a dominating way, and one worries that a four year starter should look a bit less raw. Bottom line: the ore glints with a lot of gold but the team that drafts him will have some serious digging and refining to do. This gif-supported January scouting report from Nick Farabaugh describes an exciting developmental prospect and ends with a Round 2 grade. That is right in the middle of the pack. This late December scouting profile sees him as a potential riser into the 1st based on pure athletic potential. This solid-looking January scouting profile ends in a fringe Round 2/3 grade based on bad habits like popping up when he moves; but it ends with an interesting player comp to Oakland’s Kolton Miller, who has become a very solid blindside protector. He flat out brutalized opponents during the Senior Bowl practice week, improved steadily all week, and displayed serious pop in the actual game.
OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn. (RS Senior). 6’5⅛”, 307 lbs. with 10⅛” hands and 33⅛” arms. A Round 1 athlete as a blind side protector who could develop into a shut down guy if everything goes just right, but is generally pegged for Round 2 because he requires so much work on his technique. Long, smooth, mobile, and smart, one is tempted to describe him as a higher pedigree version of Chuks Okorafor.  He never stepped on a football field until his senior year in high school because basketball was the dream. This good looking December scouting profile emphasizes his pure athletic talent, and also his overall intelligence, but knocks him for a case of severe inconsistency. Here is a Redskins-oriented scouting profile from December. This New Year’s article gives nice insight into some character and background issues. This nice, Cleveland-oriented January article on Round 2 OT’s describes Wanogho as a better pass protector than run blocker, which is fair so long as it isn’t taken as a limitation.
OT Trey Adams, Washington. (Senior). 6’8”, 314 lbs. A Round 1 talent with prototypical length, excellent strength that solves any leverage issues, and enough mobility to project as a solid NFL starter at either Tackle spot. Pure speed rushers have given him trouble sometimes, but that is true for all men this size who don’t have perfect technique. The issue is health. As discussed in this article, Adams has tenaciously fought back to overcome both a 2017 ACL tear and a 2018 disc surgery. If the team doctors say “go for it,” don’t be surprised if the Steelers do just that. Probably not a Guard simply because he is so long.
T/G Lucas Niang, TCU. (Senior). 6’7”, 328 lbs. This nice, Cleveland-oriented January article on Round 2 OT’s describes Niang as an ideal Right Tackle for the sort of zone blocking scheme that will ask him to move in space, find someone to block, and demolish the guy he finds. Walter Football cites rumors concerning work ethic but that isn’t the most reliable source. Here is a brief, Redskins-oriented scouting profile from early January.
T/G Isaiah Wilson, Georgia. (RS Sophomore). 6’7”, 340 lbs. First point: he is young. Second point: really, really young. As the two-year starting Right Tackle for a run-heavy offense, Wilson has earned a reputation as a ferocious run blocker with Round 1 athletic potential, but (for the NFL) very poor technique in pass protection. Boom or bust, but that run blocking talent might let him move inside despite the height. This NFL.com article provides good background. This January, Bears-oriented scouting profile summarizes the issues well: very good going downhill, not so much stepping back for pass pro.
OT Austin Jackson, USC. (Junior). 6’6”, 310 lbs. Yet another of this year’s heavy crop of pure Offensive Tackles who possess Round 1 athletic ability and could easily develop into pro bowl blindside protectors, but will need a redshirt year to build their strength and fix their technique before that dream has any chance of becoming reality. First and foremost, Jackson is young; as in JJSS-level, 20 years old, won’t be legal to drink as a rookie young. That is a key point because Jackson has some serious issues with his fundamental body mechanics that leave him very vulnerable to opponents with sound technique. Bradley Anae took him to school, and this entirely negative screed went up in late December after Jackson got butchered by Top 10 prospect A.J. Epenesa. A prospect who will 100% require a redshirt year, but also has as high a “boom” potential as any Tackle in the draft. This full-length, January scouting profile from Walter Football ends with a fringe-1st grade and a comparison to a young D.J. Humphries. Nick Farabaugh’s gif-supported January scouting report ends with a Round 3 grade based on huge flashes and major flaws. This brief January profile summarizes him as a pure boom-or-bust prospect known for some high character events like donating bone marrow to his ailing sister.
OT Matthew Peart, U. Conn. (RS Senior). 6’6½”, 310 lbs. with very long 35⅛” arms. Boom or bust. A physical specimen who converted from basketball (a big deal at U. Conn.) to be an OT with sweet feet and good overall athleticism. Peart has blindside protector upside and has been compared to Chuks Okorafor. Like Okorafor, he will need at least one redshirt year before he’s able to use the very impressive physical assets and does not project well as a potential Guard.

Impressive! There are six (6!) Tackles with the physical ability to put a guy like Villanueva to shame if everything clicks.

  • Josh Jones has the highest floor, and is already a better run blocker than AV, but he is also the most mature of the Tackle prospects and the one who is least likely to fall into the mid-2nd.
  • Trey Adams would be ahead of Jones if not for the abundant medical red flags.
  • Niang is a guy who’s flashed both great and awful. We need to trust in the process to tell us more about the “why”. Does anyone here have input to share?
  • Wanogho, Wilson, and Jackson all offer the classic boom-or-bust dilemma: HOF-level physical ceilings tied to total bust floors. All three will require redshirt rookie seasons. Wanogho is just that new to the game. Wilson and Jackson are just that young. Both are only 20 years old and do not have enough technique to compete (yet) with fully grown professionals on the other side of the line.

Interior Offensive Line Options for the 3:comp, 4.a and 4.b Picks:

G/T Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas. (Senior). 6’4⅜”, 302 lbs. with longer 33⅞” arms.  Played OT in college and has the mobility to do it in the pros too, but he’s small for a modern Tackle, and he lacks the play strength (currently) to succeed as a pulling Guard. No real technical negatives except a need to improve just a bit across the board and do hard work on the strength issue.
G Damien Lewis, LSU. (Senior). 6’2”, 329 lbs. with 33⅜” arms. A people mover with good, quick movement inside the phone booth and acceptable mobility when pulling. Knows how to use both power and angles in the run game. His performance during Senior Bowl week led Alex Kozora to write: “LSU’s Damien Lewis seriously might be one of the best players – not just linemen – in Mobile. Quick, technically sound, great ability to reset and repunch, with a quick first step, capable of mirroring in the pass game and reaching backside cutoff blocks in the run game. Super impressive week.” In the actual game, he and teammate Lloyd Cushenberry stood at as rocks on an offensive line that otherwise got destroyed.
G/T Robert Hunt, Louisiana. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 336 lbs. By all accounts the pure athletic talent is awesome to see.  In college he played Tackle and systematically destroyed the lower level competition with strength, power, and dominating bad intent that they could not resist. In the NFL he projects as an agile road grader after the rude shock has been overcome. This goes to a long but interesting November article from the Draft Network.
G Solomon Kindley, Georgia. (RS Junior). 6’4”, 336 lbs. A road grader who pass blocks well and plays for a traditionally run-first program. Has flashed some mobility too, but will need some NFL coaching and training-room work to hit his ideal weight and achieve that extra upside.
G Logan Stenberg, Kentucky. (RS Senior). 6’6⅛”, 317 lbs. He’s really strong and produces a lot of brutal pancakes and throwaways when he wins the initial battle. His height often becomes a disadvantage, however, and he will get out-leveraged by NFL defenders if he does not develop some better technique. His habit of popping up out of his stance accentuates that flaw. Similar body, size, assets and approach to Matt Feiler but in need of the technical skills that Feiler has learned since his college days, and maybe with a bit ahead of where Feiler started in the way of footwork.
G Ben Bredeson, Michigan. (Senior). 6’4¾”, 316 lbs. with very short 31½” arms. A multiyear starter and team captain with good power and all the toughness you want from the big guys up front, Bredeson is a good but not great athlete with a solid career at Guard in front of him and almost no chance of being a star. The Draft Network scouting profiles emphasize both of those points: a good dig-em-out prospect playing in the proverbial phone booth, but only that and nothing more. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported January scouting report agrees, describing him as a high floor, low ceiling “throwback to a different era” with no position versatility at all. This is a full retail grade based on the fact that Pittsburgh could use a player of that description. Showed up well at the Senior Bowl.
G Michael Onwenu, Michigan. (Senior). 6’3”, 362 lbs. with long 34½” arms. Sleeper alert! Owenwu was a defensive NT who moved to Guard, and he is every bit as big, wide, strong, and long as that suggests. The question marks obviously go to his mastery of OL technique versus all the parallel bits that are Trenches-In-General, and his ability to pull and/or to reach and pin linebackers on the second level. He jumped up the Board after impressing all watchers with his movement at the Shrine Bowl practices; a trend that continued and led TDN’s Benjamin Solak to call him, “clearly the best offensive lineman [at the Shrine Bowl] on either team.” Could he climb to the second level and pin the likes of Devin Bush? That’s a big ask, but he’d be a hell of an obstacle even for someone with that kind of mobility. Ask Devin. They did play on the same team.
G John Simpson, Clemson. (Senior). 6’4½”, 330 lbs. with huge 11” hands. A living stereotype for “power Guard”, he will be a load even at the NFL level so long as he plays in a phone booth. Grade drops significantly for a team that would want him to pull, and he will be vulnerable in pass protection by DT’s with genius-level quickness (as most Guards are).

Yes, this does indeed look like the sweet spot of the draft to grab a prospect who would challenge Feiler for the LG position that Foster would leave empty. The best of this group are likely to go in the late-2nd or early-3rd, but Guards tend to fall and this is a somewhat top-heavy class for the more desirable positions like Edge Rushers, Linebackers, and Corners.

Offensive Tackle Options for the 3:comp, 4.a and 4.b Picks:

T/G Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin. (RS Junior). 6’5”, 312 lbs. Played LT in college, but projects better as a solid, Day 2 RT with excellent power and the ability to move inside. His main assets seem to be country strength, solid technique as both a run and pass blocker, and a really nasty attitude toward those who get in his way. Those would make him very position flexible even if he lacks the weird combination of exceptional feet, length, and wingspan required to be an NFL-level blindside protector.
T/G Ben Bartch, St. Johns. (Senior). 6’5¾”, 308 lbs. with 33” arms. This year’s small school phenom utterly dominated his D3 opponents, but so what? How does one project that to the NFL? The obvious analogy is to Tampa Bay’s Ali Marpet, who played at D3 Hobart (a school best known for lacrosse and the production of fantastic attorneys in perpetual search of new clients, but who instead waste time writing Steeler Big Boards). Bartch is a tight 308 pounds with room to add more good weight on his frame. Boom or bust potential. Here is an admiring, gif-supported scouting report from November, along with a thorough Draft Network article/profile from the same period.
T/G Yasir Durant, Missouri. (Senior). 6’6¼”, 343 lbs. with long 34½” arms. A JUCO transfer who rose to be a multiyear starter, Durant looks like a prototypical Right Tackle who can pull just as well as he can overwhelm with size and power. Might be too tall to move inside, but that could be managed if he learns really good technique. One to watch if Pittsburgh gets to Round 4 without an OL pick. Has had issues keeping his weight down, and is another Missouri player who might have suffered from the loss of Drew Lock as his QB.
OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State. (RS Junior). 6’6”, 310 lbs. Imagine a slightly higher pedigree version of Chuks Okorafor when he came out; a solid, toolsy athlete with enough potential to earn whispers of the occasional Round 1 grade. He will probably require a redshirt year to build NFL levels in both strength and technique, but there aren’t many men on the planet with the physical ability to be a blindside protector, and he is one of them.

Don’t write these prospects off! Van Lane, Bartch, and Durant all have the ability to move inside in a pinch, and Cleveland and Peart have genuine blind-side potential. At this point in the draft it is fair to lean heavily toward a Guard over a pure Tackle, but these are the prospects who might be worth breaking that tendency.

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