First things first. I flat out G.U.A.R.A.N.T.E.E. that the interior offensive line (“IOL”) group will NOT look the same after free agency.
- The current group has actual holes where we cannot see a viable starter;
- The Steelers abhor the idea of going into the draft with a “need” to pick a starter;
- Kevin Colbert and has said that Guard and Center are both weak positions in this year’s draft class;
- The team has salary cap room available;
- The team has not spent many available interviews on IOL prospects; and thus
- The team is going to add to this group significantly once free agency opens up. At least one move will be made well before the draft, and quite possibly two.
Thus I urge you to read what follows in the spirit of understanding those moves once they happen and/or trying to predict them if that’s your game. Please do not get in a tizzy, nor fill the Comments section with panic and despair about how the team is headed the 2022 season with the same sort of weakness we saw in 2021. It ain’t gonna happen, so spare us the hysterics.
Happy and content with the status quo? Me? Not exactly.
THE CURRENT ROSTER
The Steelers require three starters on the interior offensive line (LG, C, and RG), and typically carry a total of five. The backup Center (currently J.C. Hassenauer) will ideally be able to move outside to Guard, but he’s usually undersized for the job (like JCH). The backup Guard (nonexistent) will ideally be a promising young buck who hopes to challenge one of the starters. It’s also common to have a backup Tackle who can move inside to play Guard, and can hopefully challenge the backup Guard for that role. Position flexibility really matters at these spots, as you can see.
Indeed, one of the Steelers’ problems on the OL lies in a lack of that flexibility. It starts with the fact that none of the three top Tackles (Dan Moore Jr., Zach Banner, and Chuks Okorafor) has the ability to move inside. But it isn’t just the Tackles. Pittsburgh’s Centers (Green and Hassenauer) are both too small to succeed as Guards, and none of the Guards have the ability to move inside. In other words the 2021 group was neither strong nor flexible, which explains why it will not, Not, NOT look like this when draft day rolls around… but we’ve gone over that already. Here are the current names.
- C Kendrick Green. 6’1⅞”, 305 lbs. with shorter 32¼” arms and big 10⅛” hands. Failed in his rookie year, but hope springs eternal and it may be justified. Discussed in more detail below. I will say here that I do not believe he can move to Guard full time. His size limits him to the Center position as a starter, though he may have the native stuff to be a decent emergency Guard who can offer spot starts.
- LG Kevin Dotson. 6’4″, 310 lbs. (now listed at 321 lbs., which may well be true) with 33″ arms and 10½” hands. Underperformed in an injury ridden 2022 season, after a very promising rookie run in 2021. The biggest issue in 2022 was an ankle injury he just couldn’t get over. Should be a quality part of the unit unless it turns out to be a long term problem, but the position could be upgraded by a star even if Dotson returns healthy. No position versatility to speak of.
- RG Trai Turner. 6’2⅝”, 315 lbs. with 34″ arms and 9½” hands. Turns 29 in June. A 2014 Round 3 pick by the Panthers who played at a pro bowl level until he was traded to the Chargers in 2020. That was a tough year due to a nagging groin injury. The Chargers released him after the season, the Steelers picked him up to replace David DeCastro, and he failed at what was probably an impossible task. His veteran presence helped, and he stayed healthy, but his play grades out as average to slightly below. No position versatility. Currently an unrestricted free agent.
- C2 J.C. Hassenauer. 6’2″, 295 lbs. with 33″ arms and 10½” hands. A likeable, try-hard, backup Center who was one of the Falcons 2018 UDFA’s. He played in the AAF in 2019, after which he was signed by the Steelers to the practice squad. From there he went to Baltimore in 2020, and then back to the ‘burgh in 2021. Acceptable backup depth who provided some decent emergency starts at the end of the year. Vastly undersized to play Guard, but those long arms at least let him try.
- C/G3 B.J. Finney. 6’3¾”, 318 lbs. with short 32” arms and 10” hands. A 2015 Steelers UDFA who made good, becoming a solid backup at both Center and Guard from 2017-2019. Seattle signed him away on a big deal in 2020, then traded him to Cincinnati where the wheels fell off in the Covid year. Pittsburgh quickly signed him back for 2021, but the wheels were still off. He could not beat out the underperforming rookie (Kendrick Green), and then hurt his back in Week 13. Status unknown, except that he’s a free agent.
IOL Depth From Tackles:
- T/G Joe Haeg. 6’6″, 304 lbs. with 33¾” arms and 9⅝” hands. A 2016 Round 5 pick by the Colts who’s become an all-around sound backup at both Tackle and Guard. Earned a 2020 Super Bowl ring in Tampa Bay before joining the Steelers in 2021 on a two-year deal. Set to earn $2.6 Million in 2022.
- T/G John Leglue. 6’6¼”, 310 lbs. with 34⅛” arms and 10” hands. A 2019 UDFA for the Broncos who joined the Steelers practice squad in 2020, and has bounced on and off. Played some decent emergency snaps at Guard in 2021 despite being nominally a Tackle.
IOL Futures and Practice Squad Depth:
- DEPTH OL Malcolm Pridgeon. 6’6″ with extremely long 35⅞” arms and big 10⅛” hands. A 2019 UDFA who’s bounced around despite the nice measurements and good experience at Ohio State. Struggling to rise to the level of journeyman.
- DEPTH OL Nathan Gilliam. 6’4¾”, 310 lbs. A 2020 UDFA who signed with the Chargers and lasted on their practice squad for a year before getting cut. The Steelers signed him to the practice squad in 2021 when Malcolm Pridgeon got Covid, and then liked him enough to sign him to a futures contract after the season. He’s built like a Center but plays only Guard. Stout but undersized. Faces a fight to make the practice squad, let alone the team.
- CTR: A Year 2 starter who failed in his rookie year but has reasonable hopes to improve;
- LG: A Year 3 starter who showed major flashes as a rookie but was meh in an injury-ridden Year 2;
- RG: Empty, except for an unrestricted free agent who’d fit best as veteran depth;
- CTR Depth: A try-hard, undersized player working to be a journeyman; and
- G Depth: The Guard-capable OT4 and OT5.
Ick. The only real positive is my realization that Pittsburgh has not been ignoring the O-Line situation despite what happened last year. Two years ago they obtained someone who should hopefully be a quality starting Guard. Last year they obtained a quality starting Tackle. That’s a rebuild that is well underway, with young players who should improve. And last year they may have also obtained a Center who could improve… Or did they?
DIGGING DEEPER INTO KENDRICK GREEN
The one who needs more attention is, of course, Center Kendrick Green. I have mixed feelings about this player.
First, I want to say that Steeler Nation as a whole has been surprisingly fair. Yes, he’s received some vocal scorn that goes too far, particularly from the group of fans who don’t accept that young players actually improve with time. But OTOH, I have not heard bad things about the young man as a human being even from those extremists, nor any real objections about his football character. Even his worst critics acknowledge that Kendrick Green plays with real passion, and seems to have the sort of focus and internal grit needed to achieve the best version of himself on the football field. Those are real assets, and I want to tip my hat to the fan base for acknowledging the good parts even as we’ve howled about the issues.
All of which gets me to the basic point. How long will it take before we see that “best version,” and will be good enough to start in the NFL? The one thing we know for sure is that the rookie version simply was not.
At some point we will get a deep, careful study of Green’s rookie year to point out what the issues really were and how solvable they might be. Some people, for example, have focused on his lack of ideal size. The team website lists Kendrick Green at 6’4″, 315 lbs., but that is far bigger than his Combine measurements of 6’1⅞”, 305 lbs. with 32¼” arms and big 10⅛” hands. I’m willing to accept the new weight, but not the idea that he’s suddenly grown extra inches. [Laughs] Limited height and length often equates to problems against the sort of mammoth NT’s who people that AFC North defenses, an issue that can be ameliorated but never completely solved. It was the main thing people criticized in Pouncey’s game. And, sure enough, Green has had similar problems. So lack of length is probably a factor.
But his issues went deeper than that. Many respected fans have complained about a lack of balance. “He ends up on the ground way too often!” These were issues on his film at Illinois too, where he was known to get overaggressive, to lunge, and to then end up on the turf when opponents used that against him. The pros, needless to say, take advantage of flaws like that much more often and effectively. On the other hand, too much aggression is a good problem to have, and one that’s easy to solve. So… How many of his 2021 issues came from bad technique (lunging), and how many from natural flaws? Again, we need that study. But my hunch is that overaggression is only a small part of the problem because he would have learned better quickly enough. Nothing teaches a young player to fix his flaws like getting schooled for those mistakes on national TV! So I think there’s got to be more to it.
The best “deep” explanation I’ve come across provides some real comfort. I first heard it last week, while listening to the Steelers Nation Radio pre-Combine coverage. Max Starks, who knows more about O-Line play than all of us put together, emphatically told the panel that almost all of Kendrick Green’s major issues came from snapping the ball too slowly. He simply hadn’t done it enough in college to make the action into an unconscious, blink of the eye reflex, and that had trickle down consequences that poisoned the rest of his game. Opponents figured it out and started to either attack his right (snapping) arm, or to bluff at that arm. The slow snap put him a half beat behind, which in turn forced him to angle his body toward that side to cover the weakness. Doing that created predictable holes on the other side too. A double whammy that made him less decisive, and easier to distract from the new mental demands of making all the line calls.
I like this explanation because it explains so many things, and also because it is exactly the sort of issue an offseason of dedicated work can fix. Particularly if you have Maurkice Pouncey to help.
All of which leaves the bottom line. We now have some pretty good reasons to believe that Kendrick Green will be a better player in 2022 than he was in 2021. He won’t be as new to the position. He won’t be a rookie. He will have a better grasp of both the mental and physical requirements for playing the pivot position in the NFL. He will have addressed the snap speed issue that poisoned his rookie play. And, given his character assets, he will have put in the requisite work. OTOH, we have no way to be sure that all of those factors will be enough to make Kendrick Green a functioning NFL Center, let alone a player who can live up to the incredibly lofty standard set by Mansfield-to-Webster-to-Dawson-to-Hartings-to-Pouncey.
Are you the sort who want to live in your hopes, and who refuses to punt on a top-100 pick after just one year? Good for you, and I agree. Are you on the other side? Please reconsider. But regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, let’s agree that the team could really use some insurance; and it would be nice to have more insurance than J.C. Hassenauer can provide on his own.
Free agency is going to be innnnteresting, no?
Same as we started out. This roster will not, Not, NOT look the same on draft day as it does today. The current unit has at least two active holes at Right Guard and Backup Guard, and may have two more at Center and Backup Center. I 100% G.U.A.R.A.N.T.E.E. that the Steelers will make a significant move or two in free agency to shore this up. Those moves will reduce the need from a dire emergency down to something the team could live with. Will it take IOL off the worry list completely? That depends on how you view the likely development of Kevin Dotson and Kenyon Green. In the end we will have to wait and see.
THE INCOMING DRAFT CLASS OF 2022
Kevin Colbert has called the Guard/Center group one of the weaker areas of the class, and my reading to date confirms that. The Round 1 options include the following prospects. [NOTE: Meetings are marked as “formal,” “informal,” or “Unknown” according to the entries on Steeler Depot’s Combine Interview Master List]:
- Evan Neal and Ickey Ekwonu Two Guard-capable super-athletes who are likely to go in the Top 5 in their capacity as Tackles;
- Center Tyler Linderbaum (unknown meeting), a badly undersized Round 1 Center with fantastic mobility and guts who probably won’t fit the Steelers scheme;
- Guard Kenyon Green (unknown meeting), who had Round 1 tape but did not look good at the Combine; and
- G/C Zion Johnson, the player I pin my personal hopes on, who had five (!) meetings with the team at the Senior Bowl.
That makes all of one Round 1 prospect the front offense has paid serious attention to. At least so far. Rounds 2 and 3 offer a pretty good selection of slow-footed Tackles who should be good at Guard. This includes the likes of:
- G Darian Kinnard (no meeting);
- G Sean Rhyan (no meeting);
- G Luke Goedeke (no meeting);
- G/C Dylan Parham (no meeting);
- G/T Jamaree Salyer (informal meeting);
- G/C Ed Ingram (informal meeting);
- G/C Lecitus Smith (unknown meeting);
- G Tyler Smith (unknown meeting);
- C/G Luke Fortner (no meeting); and
- G Cole Strange (no meeting).
Not a single formal meeting in the group. One senses a pattern here…
THE INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE BIG BOARD
Here are the prospects as I’ve collected them so far. See my prior article for the players who are primarily Tackles (shown in italicized orange). The gray entries indicate players who are considered to be Centers at heart with some Guard flexibility.
NOTE: Please drop a comment with your notes on these grades. I have struggled with many of them, including whether Johnson and Green should be moved up to 1:15, whether Linderbaum should be dropped into Round 2 for his lack of fit, and how to treat all those Round 2-3 prospects that the team has either ignored or nodded to in passing. Remember: this is supposed to be a community board, not mine alone, so your input really matters. Also remember that grades never, ever get pushed up because of present need, and can wait to be pushed down later once we see how free agency has altered the landscape. For now let’s just assume that the RG spot is filled with [yawn] and proceed from there; no longer an urgent need, but certainly a spot that could be improved.
|1:01||T/G Ikem “Icky” Ekwonu, NC State. (Junior). 6’4”, 310 lbs. with 34” arms and 10¼” hands.|
|1:01||T/G Evan Neal, Alabama. (Junior). 6’7½”, 337 lbs. with 34” arms and 10⅛” hands.|
|1:20||G Kenyon Green, Texas A&M. (Junior). 6’3⅞”, 323 lbs. with 34⅛” arms and big 10⅜” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] How likely is Green to be the pick? As poster CP72 pointed out: Team Captain: check. Power five school: check. Young (21): check. Position of need: check. Smart (all academic): check. Interview: check. And more than good enough when it comes to the film. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported scouting report describes Green as a versatile Guard who might manage snaps at Tackle in a pinch, but projects far batter on the inside, where he’s clearly one of the year’s best prospects. All the assets are there. Green is big, strong, nasty, surprisingly quick, and just as good a pass protector as he is in the people-moving run game. His anchor is particularly good; no one blows this kid off the ball. There just aren’t that many holes, and the ones he has can be fixed easily enough (technical issues like maintaining his balance rather than leaning into his punch, and not lunging at targets in space). Came in at #17 overall in Daniel Jeremiah’s first big board. This goes to a scouting profile from the well respected Brandon Thorn, which ends in a Round 2 grade based his possession of “key foundational traits… but he needs to clean up some bad habits and polish up his footwork and hands.” Had a poor day at the Combine in both the testing and the drills.|
|1:20||G/T/C Zion Johnson, Boston Coll. (RS Senior). 6’2¾”, 314 lbs. with 33⅞” arms and big 10⅞” hands. [Five (!) mtgs. at Senior Bowl] A JUCO transfer and lifelong Steelers fan who became a multiyear starter at a really good program that’s more similar to the pros than most. Johnson is a sneaky good athlete with a nasty attitude, and feet good enough to survive as a college Tackle despite his lack of height and length. The kind of player who seems to “get it”. B+ power on the absurd scale of “NFL Guard”. Stock has gone steadily up as people dig deeper in. This goes to a top notch, clip-supported January scouting report from a Raiders POV, which expresses a little concern about his anchor, but many more doubts about his ability to stay outside at Tackle. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a top-2nd grade based on his projection as a powerful, run blocking Guard with enough pass-blocking issues to make him no more than an emergency backup at Tackle. Johnson gets a bump on this board because successfully worked out at Center during the Senior Bowl, which adds to the upside in a big way. This early February scouting profile from a Giants POV sees a versatile player with few weaknesses except (maybe) a limited jolt in his punch. Looked fantastic at the Combine in tests and drills alike. Monster DT Travis Jones told our own Jonathan Heitritter that Zion Johnson was just about the only O-Lineman at the Senior Bowl he simply could not move in a straight-up, mano-a-mano power battle.|
|1:25||C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa. (RS Junior). 6’2⅛”, 296 lbs. with T-rex 31⅛” arms and big 10” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] I can remember Maurkice Pouncey in college. Tyler Linderbaum reminds me of that prospect with maybe even more mobility, but without an important 15-20 lbs. of muscle, and several key inches of length. Linderbaum plays with tremendous leverage and quickness that compensate for those limitations, but Tom Mead’s gif-supported scouting report confirms that they are real and can’t be wished away. An outside zone attack would suit him best, but he’s talented and skilled enough to survive in other systems too. Survive, yes… But will he thrive in Pittsburgh’s gap/power scheme, against the rough and tumble AFC North? This January scouting report from the well respected Brandon Thorn agrees with Tom’s take: “a dynamic run-blocker inside a zone-heavy scheme with the ability to be devastating at the second level. His size and anchoring concerns can lead to issues against high-end power-rushers in the NFL…” This goes to a gif-supported scouting report in the “rave review” category, with the author expressing zero doubt about Linderbaum’s ability to dominate men of any size.|
|2:24||G/T Darian Kinnard, Kentucky. 6’4¾”, 324 lbs. with long 35” arms and huge 11¼” hands. Team captain who will turn 23 in late December. Reportedly played at 345 lbs. In college, and close to 360 lbs. in high school. An enormous man who carries his weight naturally and with ease, Kinnard played Tackle throughout college but projects better as Guard for the pros. Three year starter in the SEC, but not so polished that you worry about his ability to improve once a pro coach starts working on the details. This good looking scouting profile from the respected Brandon Thorn ends with a comparison to Cody Ford, after noting that Kinnard shows real flashes of “jarring power and quickness” that are held back by “pad level and hand placement [that] are extremely up and down, leaving him high, off-balance and struggling to control blocks consistently.” Kyle Crabbs’ TDN scouting profile is quite similar but a little more positive, ending in a Round 2 grade. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile also uses Cody Ford as a comp, calling Kinnard “an all-day mauler [who] rel[es] heavily upon a nasty demeanor and physical advantages to overwhelm opponents,” with “hand usage, footwork and overall technique” flaws that must be solved before he can earn snaps at the next level. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 3 grade for a Guard who could slide outside in an emergency. Jonathan worries in particular about the heavy feet and balance issues. This scouting profile goes up to a fringe-1st grade, and this Ravens-oriented article could even see Kinnard going at 1:14. A prospect who clearly offers a lot of upside. Here is a thoughtful, clip-supported January scouting report from a Raiders POV, which breaks the mold by suggesting that Kinnard might do better if he continues at RT despite the doubts about his foot speed. The PFN scouting profile could also see him as a Tackle if he can clean up the sloppy hand work. This good-looking, Giants-oriented scouting profile sees a Round 2 guard with “potential tackle upside.”|
|2:24||G/T Sean Rhyan, UCLA. (Junior). 6’4¾”, 321 lbs. with short 32⅜” arms but very big 11⅛” hands. A good college Tackle whose odds of success will rise by a lot if he focuses on moving inside, at least to start his career. Fundamentally sound, with good balance and technique that compensate for moderate length. Another fine value pick if the OL does not get addressed in Round 1. A multisport athlete (track & field, baseball, rugby) and freshman starter. This good looking NFL Draft Buzz scouting profile describes a dominant run blocking Tackle with questionable length who might make it on the outside, but could dominate at Guard. This scouting profile from the respected Brandon Thorn sees almost no chance for success at Tackle, and ends with a Day 3 grade based on sub-average movement skills and “persistent lunging and getting beat clean across his face on kick-out blocks.” The strength, explosiveness, and ferocity would fit better at Guard. By contrast, this February scouting profile sees “silky smooth feet, and excellent, effortless quickness.” Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile falls in between, suggesting that he would make a good Guard while listing a variety of issues that he will have to overcome if he wants to continue at Tackle.|
|2:24||G/T Jamaree Salyer, Georgia. (Senior). 6’2⅝”, 320 lbs. with 34” arms and 9½” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A natural Guard with the balance and technique to survive at Tackle in a pinch. Georgia trains its linemen well, had an exceptional 2021 line in particular, and Salyer was probably the best player on that line despite his lack of nimble athleticism. The ‘hearts and smarts’ factor plays in here too, since he’s supposed to be an extremely smart player who’s even taken snaps at Center. Lord knows, the Steelers could certainly use some versatility along the line. Had a tremendous game playing Tackle against Michigan’s fearsome pass rush duo in the CFB semi-final Orange Bowl, and then followed it up with equal success against Alabama in the finals. Brandon Thorn’s February scouting profile offers an excellent summary: “He managed to play surprisingly well at tackle over the last two seasons despite having a guard’s body and foot quickness… by using his girth  on rushers to force them to maneuver around or go through his big body and long arms.” Lance Zierlein’s NFL scouting profile sees a “lack of functional bend” that will cause range and leverage problems no matter the position, and may limit him to “doing battle against power-based defenders.” This Giants-oriented scouting profile sees a future starting guard in a power-run system. This relatively thorough PFN scouting profile agrees completely with that evaluation.|
|3:01||G Luke Goedeke, Cent. Mich. (Senior). 6’4¼”, 318 lbs. with 33⅛” arms and 9⅝” hands. A former TE who converted into a good, small-college Tackle. Lost 2020 to a knee injury, but played in 2021. The injury record offsets in a way, against the chance that recent tape may be hiding some extra talent. He will most likely move further inside at the next level. Many good scouts have a lot of confidence in his ability to succeed at that. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends with a grade equivalent to the early 3rd or so, describing Goedeke as a “surly, rancorous run blocker with a talent for rooting opponents off the spot [using] above-average technique.” The well respected Brandon Thorn ends with a similar grade, though he sees Goedeke succeeding as an undersized Tackle despite “Shorter arms [that] make it difficult for him to stay attached to high-end speed rushers who get to his edge.” This nice scouting profile from NFL Draft Buzz makes for a trio of identical grades, concluding that Goedeke “has all the skills to quickly develop into a quality starter at either guard or right tackle.”|
|3:01||G/C Dylan Parham, Memphis. (RS Senior). 6’2”, 313 lbs. with 33½” arms and 10¼” hands. A college Guard on the small side from an NFL perspective, who plays with fundamentally sound technique due to his four years of starting experience. The football IQ and body type suggest a move to Center, where he never had a single snap until the Senior Bowl. OTOH, he earned glowing reports about his athleticism at the Senior Bowl, was described as one of those “football players to his core who just gets it,” he did look okay snapping the ball, and he came in almost 20 lbs. heavier than expected. This grade is based on his being able to succeed as a Guard while understudying for the Center position. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile quotes an AFC scout for a perfect summary: “He’s small but has a really proportional, big-boned frame so I’m not that worried about how he’s going to match up against guys in the league. He’s smart and knows how to play.” Brandon Thorn’s scouting profile ends in a solid Round 3 grade, noting that Parham has “excellent mobility… good athletic ability,” and agrees that he should consider “a possible move inside at center, where his sawed-off frame may be best utilized long-term.”|
|3:12||G/C Ed Ingram, LSU. (RS Senior). 6’3⅛”, 317 lbs. with 33⅜” arms and 10” hands. Played occasional snaps at Tackle, but he’s really a Guard from the NFL perspective. He stood out to the Steelers Depot contingent at the Senior Bowl, also looking okay at Center even though he has never played that position in a game. Has all you want at medium-high levels; power in the running game, mobility to pull, football IQ, anchor, etc. Moved easily and well through all the Combine drills. Has a character red flag dating back to a 2018 charge for sexual assault, which cost him the entire 2018 season before getting dropped before trial in 2019. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report notes occasional balance and stalling-feet issues, but nothing more than one expects from a college athlete. Brandon Thorn’s top notch scouting profile (early 3rd grade) notes that Ingram had to suffer through three different offensive systems with three different OL coaches, is “an excellent puller,” “a tone-setting presence with the size, play strength and power to back it up,” “a quick processor,” and thus a really good prospect for a “downhill, power-oriented run scheme” so long as he cleans up some technical flaws like a habit of lowering his head and lunging. The TDN scouting profile ends in a Round 2 grade. The NFL.com scouting profile by Lance Zierlein is much less optimistic; almost an outright pan. Zierlein sees a better pass protector than run blocker who gets an extra downgrade for getting more inconsistent in 2021 than he’d been in 2020. This mid-February, Giants-oriented scouting profile sees Ingram as “a starting guard in the NFL [with] some scheme limitations [because he is] a limited athlete overall.”|
|3:12||G/C Lecitus Smith, Va. Tech. (RS Junior). 6’3⅛”, 321 lbs. [Mtg. at Combine] With short 32⅛” arms and 9⅝” hands. Strong, mobile, and hard to move, Smith suffers from his lack of length, but might make up for it if he can shift inside to Center; though that is pure speculation, since he’s never done it. Much better suited to an outside zone attack that will make special use of his athleticism while limiting the phone booth fights. Here is a February scouting profile from a Giants POV. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile objects most strongly to his inadequate run blocking technique and hand placement (correctable) and lack of length (not). “His lack of consistency as a run blocker is balanced by surprising technique and success in pass protection.” That is a pessimistic view. Smith has fans too. Brandon Thorn’s scouting profile ends with a Round 2 grade, calling him “an impact run-blocker in a downhill run scheme” and concluding that “Smith’s pro fit may be best at center to play in a more confined space where he can get his hands on defenders more quickly.”|
|3:12||G Tyler Smith, Tulsa. (RS Junior). 6’4⅝”, 324 lbs. with 34” arms and big 10¾” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] Turns 21 a few weeks before the draft. Absolutely dominant against smaller school competition, he has that “it” factor you look for in an aggressive interior lineman. The assets are there. But the skill to make those assets work against experienced professionals? Not so much. His handwork is very subpar, and his combination of balance and footwork has holes that better opponents will be able to use against him. Very high ceiling that will require at least one redshirt year before we can tell if he’s ever going to reach it. Earned a strong Round 2-3 grade in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile, with the comment that he is a “big, wide and nasty power merchant” who projects well as an NFL Guard. Zierlein concludes: “The holes in his game can all be filled if he accepts coaching and brings it to the field on Sundays.” Jonathan Heitritter wrote a particularly good gif-supported Depot scouting report on this prospect, outlining both the positives and the issues en route to a late-3rd to early-4th grade. Brandon Thorn’s scouting profile (Round 3 grade) says “he is as raw as sushi,” agreeing with Jonathan on that standing tall with low hands is the primary sin. Here is a good TDN article from early January, when he declared for the draft.|
|3:24||C/G Luke Fortner, Kentucky. (RS Senior). 6’3⅞”, 302 lbs. with long 33” arms and 9⅞” hands. Started at Guard for several years before playing Center in 2021, and earning team captain status. Has NFL-average size. Good on screens and in space, but only a decent athlete for the position. Strength is also okay but not good. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a fringe-3rd grade based on position fit, good hand strength, and flexibility. This older TDN scouting profile ends in a Round 6 grade based on concerns about his athletic ceiling. This Senior Bowl scouting profile by the respected Brandon Thorn agrees with Tom on the grade, ending with a Round 3 “high level backup/potential starter” grade based on good fundamentals and position flexibility, but feels that Fortner belongs in a zone based run scheme rather than a gap/power scheme.|
|3:24||G Cade Mays, Tennessee. (Senior). 6’4½”, 321 lbs. with 34¼” arms and 9⅞” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A 4-year starter with experience at all five positions along the OL, Mays is a big, nasty, aggressive power-guy with limited mobility. An improving player despite all that experience, Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with the conclusion that Mays projects well as an NFL Guard with a Round 3 grade, who has starter potential and might grow into the ability to be an emergency backup at Right Tackle. This scouting profile by the respected Brandon Thorn agrees with the Depot’s on basically every point, including the grade. So does Joe Marino’s TDN scouting profile, though it ends with a Round 5 grade based on the disappointing lack of OT ability in a former 5-star recruit.|
|3:24||T/G Thayer Munford, Ohio St. (Senior). 6’5¾”, 328 lbs. with very long 35⅛” arms and big 10⅛” hands.|
|3:24||G Cole Strange, Chattanooga. (RS Senior). 6’4⅞”, 307 lbs. with 33” arms and 10⅛” hands. A player you’d love if there was any guarantee he could convert to Center, but no such luck. He’s played all of one game at the position in college, and struggled at Center in the Senior Bowl; though it must also be said that he showed dramatic improvement by the end of Day 3. Looks like a very solid mid-round pick anyway because he has the aggression, length, strength, and attitude to legitimately play Guard despite being undersized from an NFL perspective. Put up a fabulous Top 1% athletic profile that would have been even higher if he was 10 pounds bigger. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report loves the fire and the mobility, but worries about investing too much in someone the size of Maurkice Pouncey without the experience at Center. Tom suggests that Strange would do better on an outside Zone team, where his mobility would let him play Guard while adding 10 lbs. of good muscle, and learning the extra bits required to succeed at the pivot. This Jets-oriented scouting profile from February makes a good case for him as a pure Guard. Brandon Thorn’s pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile ends in a Round 3 grade that would have been higher if Strange had faced a higher LOC. His critiques go to an array of coachable fine points, such as: “Strange will need to refine his footwork and discipline against shifty rushers who can set up their moves with stutters and hesitations.” He got a solid fringe-2nd grade in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. Zierlein loves his ability to “gain early positioning and get into the sustain phase with proper hand usage and footwork,” and concurs that his best fit might be “as a future starting center for a zone-happy rush offense.”|
|4:01||G/C Chasen Hines, LSU. (Senior). 6’3”, 325 lbs. with long 34” arms and big 10⅛” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] Most college Centers are undersized linemen forced to play a technical game by their physical limitations. Hines came to LSU as a defensive Tackle, quickly converted to the O-Line, backed up at Center in 2019 (behind Denver’s Lloyd Cushenberry), and has now sized up to be a full fledged Guard. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sees an immediate multiposition backup with starter potential but a limited ceiling, who should get his weight down to enhance his mobility and technique at sustaining blocks.|
|4:16||G Joshua Ezeudu, N. Car. (RS Junior). 6’4¼”, 308 lbs. with 34” arms and 9½” hands. A physical specimen in search of the right O-Line coach to get everything coordinated and working together. An impressive young man who deserves recognition for his off-field accomplishments too, including top academic results and volunteer work with kids who face challenges like Ezeudu’s own stuttering problem. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sees “low-end starter potential [at Guard] with emergency tackle versatility.”|
|4:16||G Marquis Hayes, Oklahoma. (RS Senior). 6’4¾”, 318 lbs. with 33⅞” arms and 10⅞” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] He’s got good experience and phone booth power, but is not exactly a versatile player. Strictly a Guard for power/gap running attack. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report praises his core strength, length, and awareness, but sees a need to improve several fundamentals. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile worries about poor footwork, bend, and body control that “leads to inconsistencies in both run and pass blocking.” The scouting profile by Brandon Thorn is much more positive, seeing him as an impact player in the run game even if his “ceiling is likely capped as a solid starter.”|
|4:16||G Tyrese Robinson, Oklahoma. (RS Senior). 6’2⅞”, 318 lbs. with 33” arms and 10” hands. Stood out as a star in 2019 and 2020 when playing Guard. Lost some stock when moved to RT in 2021 because he played like a solid NFL Guard being asked to do just a bit more than he could against speed rushers out in open space. I.e. he has really good feet for a Guard, but not good enough to handle the job at Tackle. A road grader type with a great pass anchor and a good understanding of the OL as a unit. Might well grade higher if he played a more valuable position. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a Round 4 grade. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile is less positive based on concerns about poor agility and the ability of blockers to escape after initial contact.|
|4:16||T/G Andrew Stueber, Mich. (RS Senior). 6’6”, 327 lbs. with long 34⅛” arms and 10⅛” hands.|
|4:16||C/G Dohnovan West, Ariz. St. (Junior). 6’3¼”, 296 lbs. with 33” arms and 9½” hands. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. West is a tough and strong college Guard who’s taken occasional snaps at Center, and physically projects to that position, but will need to learn the pro game if he makes that move. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile describes him as a good, smart player, but also one who “will struggle to contain power in the A-gaps and his tendency to lean in as a pass protector is sure to be taken advantage of if he doesn’t get his posture corrected.” I hate to say it, but the 2021 draft profile of Kendrick Green is a pretty good comp. Here is an enthusiastic scouting summary from November. The Bleacher Report scouting profile from the respected Brandon Thorn concludes as follows: “Overall, West’s lack of size and mass will hinder his ability to anchor on command and hold ground against bigger, hulking body types on the interior… However, his explosiveness, quickness and natural leverage make him an asset in a zone run scheme… [for] a coaching staff that can build in some additional help for him in certain matchups.”|
|5:01||C Alex Lindstrom, Boston Coll. (RS Senior). 6’3¼”, 294 lbs. with 32⅛” arms and small 9” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A smart, tough college Center with substandard size, length, and native athletic talent when measured on the NFL scale. Good quick feet. Best suited to an outside zone attack that would play to his strengths while limiting his weaknesses. This goes to a nice, Giants-oriented scouting report from January with some video clips.|
|5:01||T/G Vederian Lowe, Illinois. (Senior). 6’4⅜”, 320 lbs. with very long 34⅞” arms and 10⅛” hands.|
|5:01||G Justin Shaffer, Georgia. (Senior). 6’3⅝”, 326 lbs. with 33¾” arms and 10⅜” hands. As summarized in this good pre-Senior Bowl Bleacher Report scouting profile, Shaffer is a big, powerful, bulldozing Guard who can people-move with anyone, but lacks the quickness to be more than his allotted one-fifth of an O-Line solution. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile calls him “a mauling bear at LG who plays with a nasty, salty demeanor” but has a “lack of reactive athleticism and foot quickness.”|
|5:01||C Zach Tom, Wake Forest. (RS Senior). 6’3⅞”, 304 lbs. with 33¼” arms and 10⅜” hands. Definitely a prospect to watch, because he has the length you want, and he’s only 15 lbs. or so below the standard size for a starting NFL Center. Supposed to be a very smart young man with surprising athletic talent. He played Tackle as well as Center! It would help a lot if that extra 15 pounds came in the form of functional, grown man muscle to improve his substandard power. Pick him; redshirt him; lock him in with the training staff for a year; and then crack the door open to see what emerges. Had a tremendous Combine.|
|5:16||G/T Spencer Burford, UTSA. (Senior). 6’3⅞”, 293 lbs. with long 34¼” arms and 9½” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A long, athletic, and mobile prospect with four years of starting experience at Tackle against lesser competition. Probably needs to move inside to have any realistic shot in the NFL, and could do with an extra 20 lbs. of good muscle. High ceiling and definitely worth a bet on Day 3. Maybe even earlier for teams with an outside zone attack able to use his mobility in a way that would hide his lack of sand in the pants. Would require a redshirt year in Pittsburgh, no doubt.|
|5:16||C Nick Ford, Utah. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 315 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Has started for Utah at every one of the five positions along the O-Line. A better run blocker than pass blocker, he has a real need to work on his pad level. This January scouting profile ends with a fringe-1st grade.|
|5:16||T/G Tyler Vrabel, Boston Coll. (RS Junior). 6’5”, 310 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands.|
|6:01||C Brock Hoffman, Va. Tech. (RS Senior). 6’3½”, 310 lbs. with 33⅛” arms and 10½” hands. A college Center who meets NFL standards for size and length! Amazing to see in this class. Has played some Guard too. The issue is that size is his finest trait. Everything else is just acceptable. Not bad, but not enough to get excited.|
|6:01||G Chris Paul, Tulsa. (RS Senior). 6’3⅜”, 324 lbs. with 34” arms and 9⅜” hands. Team captain, class president in H.S., etc. Will turn 24 as a rookie. Played both Tackle and Guard in college but needs to move inside for the pros because his feet are only meh. Excellent hand fighting technique and decent strength. Impressive as a young man outside the sport too. This late January scouting profile ends with a Round 6 grade. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends in a terrible grade, but the words make it sound like most of the issues go to Paul’s play at Tackle, and might be solved on the inside. He quotes an AFC scout as saying that Paul is a, “great, great person [you want] in the locker room but the football movements [are] concerning.” The Bleacher Report scouting profile by Brandon Thorn sees a career backup at Guard who is worthy of a Round 6-7 pick.|
|6:01||G Cordell Volson, N. Dak. St. (RS Senior). 6’6”, 319 lbs. with 33¾” arms and 10¼” hands. Got on our radar screen at the Shrine Bowl practices with a week long display of dominant pancakes and other physical abuse. Enjoyed a long career at Tackle for his elite but smaller program, he may even have some RT flexibility.|
|6:01||G Nick Zakelj, Fordham. (RS Senior). 6’5¾”, 316 lbs. with 32½” arms and 9⅝” hands. A dominant, run-blocking Tackle in a smaller program who will probably move inside to Guard at the next level. Has the knack of moving unwilling men to where they do not want to go, and enjoys doing it. Will need some time to adjust to the vastly higher LOC, and has numerous issues with his fundamentals that need to be cleaned up. Brandon Thorn’s scouting profile considers him draftable, but only as a Guard and only just. “Zakelj has bursts of talent that make you take notice but [he has] a lot of issues to clean up,” including some serious balance concerns and leaning issues. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sees at least a glimmer of hope in the toughness, and thinks has “a shot as a swing tackle with the potential to develop into a bigger contributor.”|
|6:16||C Xavier Newman-Johnson, Baylor. (Senior). 6’1¾”, 303 lbs. with 32⅝” arms and 9¾” hands. A Center who stood out at the Shrine Bowl for “his ability to move laterally and get onto blocks, then showing his leg strength to move some guys.” An advanced above-the-neck game provides a much higher floor than the inadequate measurements might suggest. The descriptions read a lot like those for J.C. Hassenauer.|
|6:16||C Luke Wattenberg, Washington. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 293 lbs. with long 34⅜” arms and 9¼” hands. Turns 25 as a rookie. You’ve got to like the length, which is particularly unusual for a Center. The mass is about 20 lbs. less than it should be, however, and he needs that extra weight to be solid, grown man muscle. Then we’d be cooking with gas. Moves well, etc. He’s just on the old side and severely lacking in both sand-in-the-pants, as well as dig-em-out power.|
|7:16||G/T J’Atyre Carter, Southern. (RS Senior). 6’3⅛”, 306 lbs. with 33¼” arms and 10⅛” hands. A small school Tackle who’s built like a Center but has never played the position, and will probably end up at Guard. This NFL Draft Buzz scouting profile sees a quick-footed but otherwise limited player who may struggle to get drafted.|
|7:16||T/G Myron Cunningham, Arkansas. (RS Senior). 6’5⅛”, 323 lbs. with 33⅞” arms and 10⅜” hands.|