Every year, the NFL is prompted the task of analyzing and evaluating a draft class of prospects making the transition from the college game to the pros. Not every draft class is the same, however, as some wind up being deeper than others at certain positions, thus creating position scarcity for some potential needs for NFL teams while also providing value in the draft due to a plethora of talent at others. During this series, we will examine several different positions in the draft and look at the overall depth of the position and whether it is top heavy, deep in the middle rounds, or lacks high-end talent altogether.
Interior Offensive Line
Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert acknowledged that interior offensive line was a position of weakness in this year’s draft class in his recent press conference, making the need to address the interior for Pittsburgh this offseason an interesting task to tackle. The position group appears to have a few quality names at the top of the class headlined by Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum was the draft crush for many Steelers fans early in the process, having the athleticism and strength to be a force in the run game.
However, some have soured in the draft community due to his likely lack of ideal size and length, giving some Steelers fans eerie memories of current center Kendrick Green being an undersized center that struggled mightily this past season. However, Linderbaum is far more seasoned as a technician than Green and has the play strength to represent himself well against powerful defensive tackles. He may not be everyone’s flavor for teams looking for a 6’4, 315lb+ man in the middle, but given his pedigree and how I expect him to test at the Combine (having worked with him in the Strength and Conditioning Department) look for “Lindy” to make some teams fall in love with him and cement his status as a Top 20 lock.
Right up there at the top of the draft class for big boys in the middle of the trenches include Texas A&M OG Kenyon Green and Boston College IOL Zion Johnson. Both Johnson and Green profile to be Day One starting guards at the next level but offer positional versatility which Green playing every position for the Aggies expect for center while Johnson started games at LG and LT while getting some exposure to center at this year’s Senior Bowl where he represented himself well.
When looking at the two, Green profiles more as the upside play that dominates his opponents with strength and power and likely carries a higher ceiling but needs more technical refinement. Johnson, on the other hand, is probably closer to his ceiling as a player, but is extremely steady and technically sound, being ready to step in immediately to and boost trench play upfront. It will come down to what flavor teams are looking for, but both players expect to be quality pros at the next level.
Other names that are being touted as tackle prospects that could be kicked inside at the next level include NC State’s OL Ikem Ekwonu, Kentucky OL Darrian Kinnard, and Tulsa OL Tyler Smith. Kinnard has been profiled as both a guard and tackle by several members in the draft community along with Smith who has logged 24 starts at LT but lacks the technical refinement to excel on the outside at this time against NFL-caliber pass rushers and would be at his best playing inside a phone booth. The same could be said for Ekwonu who has been touted as potentially the best OT in this class by some but has his own notable flaws I point out in his pre-draft profile and could move inside.
While this class may not be considered “stellar” by many draftniks, there are some quality names to be found after the big names in the first-round conversation. Georgia’s OL Justin Shaffer and Jamaree Sayler profile to be solid guards at the next level with Salyer especially showing positional versatility, having started at LT for the Bulldogs during their championship run. LSU OG Ed Ingram stood out to our whole group down in mobile and impressed me with his play when completing his pre-draft profile as a guy that can probably come in and start his rookie season. Virginia Tech G Lecitus Smith and Oklahoma G Marquis Hayes also had decent showings in Mobile and will likely slot in the middle rounds as potential starters.
As far as centers are concerned, Memphis IOL Dylan Parham was another name that showcased his positional versatility, playing mainly guard in college but took reps at center down in Mobile and represented himself well there, likely boosting his stock as a guy that can play all three interior positions. UT Chattanooga C Cole Strange started off the week struggling but rebounded in a big way as an aggressive zone scheme fit at center that does good work while on the move.
Boston College C Alec Lindstrom and Virginia Tech C Brock Hoffman weren’t invited to Mobile but headlined the center position out at the Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas. Lindstrom is considered undersized as well for the position but plays with a mean streak and is a good athlete to boot. His former teammate Zion Johnson praised his work ethic when I interviewed him, stating he will make whatever team that drafts him appear to be geniuses based on the player he can be at the next level. Nebraska C Cam Jurgens is another undersized, but highly athletic center prospect that would fit zone-based teams at the next level and Kentucky C Luke Fortner has been touted as a likely starter by our own Tom Mead.
Another name to be aware of in the middle-to-later rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft includes Tennessee OL Cade Mays who has played nearly every position on the offensive line during his time in Knoxville as well as in Athens when he began his career with the Bulldogs. Arizona State G Dohnovan West is another guard prospect that is gaining steam in draft circles as a potential mid-round value and North Dakota State OL Cordell Volson personally impressed the likes of Josh Carney and the other members of the Steelers Depot crew during Shrine Bowl practices with his position versatility and steady ply when kicking inside to guard.
In summary, the 2022 interior offensive line class appears to have three-to-five guys solidified at the top, depending on possible position changes with some offensive tackles potentially kicking inside. While there may not be highly graded starters littered throughout the middle-to-later rounds at this position, there are still several other guys in that range will have the opportunity to make an impact early if drafted to the right situation and likely become starters early on in their NFL careers given the opportunity and continued development. Given the nature of the few top-tier options, Pittsburgh will have to decide whether to invest premium draft capital in one of the top names early or take a shot on a later guy they have conviction about becoming a solid starter.
Pittsburgh decided to pass on the likes of Landon Dickerson, Creed Humphrey, and Josh Myers for skill position guys in last year’s draft, eventually feeling the pressure to select Kendrick Green who they convinced themselves they could make their starting center but had that experiment backfire in a big way this past season. Should Pittsburgh have learned from their previous mistake, selecting one of the top names at #20 overall should they not be sold on a QB there could realistically be the move to make up for last season, plugging in a known commodity to bolster the offensive line rather than betting on a mid-round gamble to pay off.
What are your thoughts on the interior offensive line position in this draft class? Do you think that it is deep in the middle rounds with several guys that come in and contribute, or that it is top heavy at that the team needs to select one of the top names on the board? Should Pittsburgh look to take one in the middle rounds, wait until Day Three, target one of the top guys, or sign an outside free agent and punt on the position entirely? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!