This week I’m going to talk about the big guys in the middle, starting with the offensive side. This list includes guards and centers, which to me have much more talent and depth than the tackle class. It was rather easy for me rank them one to ten, but I don’t see that much of a drop-off at some point. I like the talent at the top, but I think there are some sleepers that not a lot of scouts give love to, because they aren’t quite the athletes they are looking for.
1. Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
While starting at left tackle almost all of his collegiate career, Lamp didn’t allow a single sack his last two seasons. He gets a very tight grip on defenders, not allowing any second moves, and he has the ability to unlock his hips and redirect rushers in combination with active hands. He doesn’t overcommit to either side staying square and low-hipped as well as being able to re-anchor and get under the defenders’ pads. The Western Kentucky standout was praised by elite SEC competition, most significantly the members of the Alabama defensive front. He has pretty short arms and maybe can’t add much more weight to his frame, but he makes up for it with aggressive punches. He had an excellent start to Senior Bowl week before banging up his ankle, but showed me enough to leave me doubtless he can make a flawless transition to the inside and could become the next great college tackle who moves to guard at the pro level like Zack Martin or Kelechi Osemele. He backed up the athleticism on tape with some of the best numbers at the combine and great open field moving skills. He could easily end up as the first O-lineman off the board and I’d have no problem with that.
2. Dan Feeney, Indiana:
Boy, this is a tenacious run-blocker, who buries defenders under his chest when he was the chance to and keeps his legs moving until the echo of the whistle. Feeney swallows up linebackers on the second level, has exceptional initial quickness out of his stance and simply great feet. He helps in protection when uncovered chipping rushers and knocking them off balance. He’s also great at slipping his blocks and going downfield on screen-plays, always looks for someone to hit in the open field. The 2016 first-team All-American frustrates the opposition and makes them want to quit, not allowing any sacks as a senior. My only real concerns with him are that he doesn’t show enough bend in his knees and the fact he missed all of 2013 with a foot injury. He is often knocked for only playing in a zone-scheme, but I think he has all the tools to fit in any offensive scheme. He is an incredibly smart, tough and aggressive blocker, who can anchor a team’s run game and I have yet to really see anybody take advantage of his pad level.
3. Pat Elflein, Ohio State:
Let me tell you – this dude is a grinder. He shows good balance and body control even when torqued around due to his enormous thighs. His wrestling background shows up in his play and he always seems to be ready for a fight, as he loves to get chippy after the play. Elflein has the mobility to pull and reach playside linebackers on zone-plays or kick out the end-man on the line of scrimmage. He is very active in pass pro when uncovered. His excellent awareness and anticipation skills jump out on tape. He can get overpowered off the snap if the rusher gets into his chest and drives him back, because he doesn’t always have his hands ready to shoot, but that is coachable. A problem I have when I watch him is the fact he sometimes gets beat clean instantly with quick swim-moves because of his forward lean and having his feet stuck in the turf. The bottom line with the Ohio State captain is – you get a smart leader with a winner mentality and who will never quit. To me he’s clearly the best center in this draft class.
4. Dion Dawkins, Temple:
Even though Dawkins started more than two seasons at tackle, I think he will be have better inside at the pro level. He has wide chest, is well-coached and Temple tough. He displays natural lateral movement skills with coordinated feet, great balance and excellent pad-level. He gets an outstanding initial jump off the ball and has violent hands to jack up defenders. He had his share of problems day one in Mobile when asked to line up at guard, but was one of the top players at the position by the end of the week and could have a Pro Bowl future inside. I think Dawkins sometimes relies too heavily on his size to wall off defenders and lets his arms get too wide leading to grabbing jerseys and he was charged legally for an altercation in a Philadelphia night club, but he is one of my favorite players in the draft. He has everything you could ask for athletically and won’t rely on those physical tools.
5. Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh:
The Pitt guard has broad shoulders and a bubble butt, plus the length of a tackle. He’s a hard-nosed run blocker and does a nice job constantly replacing his hands. He shows active pass sets, being ready to shoot his hands into the defender’s frame, as well as a great anchor against power-rushers. Johnson really impressed me versus Clemson’s talented inside D-linemen and was a big reason for their upset win over the eventual national champions. He had his problems judging angles on linebackers often being too aggressive and didn’t lock up targets enough, making him vulnerable to second secondary moves, but overall he’s been a very consistent and durable three-year starter. He could definitely add some extra weight to his frame, which he could easily carry, and he will only get better with NFL coaching to not let his rusher go once he’s engaged with him. I don’t really see any holes in his game and I have a good feeling he will start for a lot of years in the league.
6. Ethan Pocic, LSU:
Pocic is pretty tall for a center at 6’6’’ and NFL teams are not quite sure where they would play him, but he is an intriguing prospect. He engages with his defender early, doesn’t let him go and shows outstanding technique reaching defenders and turning their bodies. He always keeps his eyes up and scans the defense. He might not be a real mauler in the run game, but has a ton of upside in a space-based scheme. The first-team All-SEC selection is fluid at passing on defenders and getting in front of guys on the next level. When I watched his tape I saw him get pushed into the backfield too often instead of driving defenders off the ball, but he became more aggressive in 2016. He still has to work hard on his pad-level, he tries to get in front of his rusher too late and has to recover early against quick interior guys when he anticipates the bull-rush. He was praised for his intelligence by his coaches and he offers roster flexibility because he can probably play all along the offensive line.
7. Nico Siragusa, San Diego State:
This guy’s body type is reminiscent of a brick wall, but he is explosive out of his stance. Siragusa started all 41 games since the start off his sophomore year at left guard and he punishes people in the run game, sometimes driving D-tackles five yards down the field. He has a seemingly unbreakable anchor and the strength to redirect defenders. He doesn’t consistently make initial contact with his hands and takes short and rather slow steps, which especially shows up as a puller without a lot of success on the second level. He might be limited to power-based scheme due to a lack of lateral agility, which also could hurt him in pass protection, not being able to mirror the quick interior rushers at the next level, but he has shown more of a nasty streak his senior year and helped lead the way for Donnell Pumphrey, who become the all-time leading rusher in FBS history in the Las Vegas Bowl.
8. Isaac Asiata, Utah:
Asiata is a gap-scheme mauler with a gigantic frame, but he’s surprisingly mobile for it with the ability to fire off the ball as well as unlocking his hips and running laterally. He looks to put some big hits on rushers when not having someone to block himself and really impressed me against a physical Washington defensive front. The 325-pound monster out of Utah doesn’t mind throwing his body around, but often is forced to because he gets off balance with an exaggerated forward lean. Too often he forgets his technique and about chopping those feet in protection, because he leans heavily on his upper body. Sometimes he looks confused about his responsibilities in protection, which won’t get any easier at the pro level. On the other hand he doesn’t mind working his butt off and won the award for top Pac-12 O-lineman, voted by defensive linemen.
9. Danny Isidora, Miami:
Coming out of the U, Isidora has a thick lower body to create push at the point of attack as well as stoning bull rushers at initial contact. He is very determined as a lead blocker on pull-schemes with outstanding quickness and vision on linebackers. He is patient in pass protection and shows excellent instincts to counter tackle-end twists, but too often he leans into defenders heavily late on plays and therefore fails to sustain blocks when opposing players take advantage of that. He only has starting experience at right guard and will have to prove his roster flexibility, but he’s just a solid player. He has been tough and dependable for Miami and he is a much better athlete than what people think when they see him.
10. Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia:
Orlosky was a team-captain with three years of starting experience at center. He quickly engages in protection and rarely gets out of control. He maintains excellent hand placement throughout plays, shuffles his way in front of blitzing linebackers and has no problem withstanding the impact. He may not be a very aggressive run-blocker, especially at the second, where he tends to rather stand in the way than making his presence felt. Moreover, he plays with inconsistent pad-level and lazy feet at times, certainly benefitting from WVU’s up-tempo offense. While he isn’t very long, he is a weight-room warrior and simply gets the job done. He was named first-team all-conference by the league coaches.
Just missed the cut:
Jon Toth, Kentucky:
When you can amass 48 starts at center in the SEC that says something about you. Toth’s strength lays in his lower body and non-stop leg drive. He creates instant movement off the snap. He plays with a wide base and has long arms to redirect rushers. I also like his knee-bend and sound technique in protection, which showed up when he held his own versus Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, when they were matched up one-on-one his senior year. The former Wildcat does a great job engaging with linebackers at the second level, yet he is too hesitant as an open-field blocker on screen plays, while on the other hand being too eager to release on combo-blocks at times. He might not be a great athlete and lack some lateral agility, but he is tough and has the length to move to guard or maybe even tackle.
Kyle Kalis, Michigan:
This young man is built like a fridge. Kalis is the kind of guy you want to run behind on a 3-and-a-yard or on the goalline. Even at his size he was an effective puller for Michigan. He might be more of a phonebooth-guy, but he has the upper body strength to redirect rushers and buy some extra time. At this point he doesn’t drive his legs enough to maximize his power, but right now he and Ohio State’s Pat Elflein work with an offensive line coach to become better players. I think he could be a steal in the later rounds, because he doesn’t nearly get the credit he deserves.
Jay Guillermo, Clemson:
The national champs’ starting center shows good weight distribution with excellent knee-bend. He is smart, helping his guards in pass protection, setting up straight blocks. I thought he handled Auburn’ monster-defensive tackle Montravious Adams very well, when they were matched up directly against each other. Guillermo doesn’t have ballerina-feet, but he does a great job re-placing his hands and taking his legs with him. Right now he torques his body too much and gets a handful of jersey when not presented a square target, which will lead to holding penalties at the pro-level, and he struggles with the quickest rushers off the snap, but he’s a good player.
Damien Mama, USC:
Big Mama shows excellent leg drive, a good base and can anchor against the best of them. He understands angles and consistently finds a way to reach around defenders. He clears the way as a puller and keeps going if the primary target isn’t there, always looking to put a hit on somebody else. He doesn’t mind leaving his feet to make up the last couple of inches and cut down defenders. His smarts show up in the little things he does, like pushing his rusher into the crowd in the middle. The USC heavyweight ducks his head too often and loses his man, sometimes looks heavy-legged and more dependent on his upper body to redirect rushers, but I don’t mind he put up the slowest 40 yard dash at this year’s combine with 5.86. He excels in short areas, not sprints over almost half the field.
Kyle Fuller, Baylor:
Even though he’s pretty tall for a center at almost 6‘5‘‘, Fuller knows how to re-anchor in pass sets. He uses his huge frame and upper body strength to turn bodies and then lands on top of them. At the same time I don’t think he uses it enough yet to drive through blocks off the snap as you’d like to see, as he is often being stood up. The Baylor standout uses his mass to stonewall interior rushers, but lacks the lateral movement skills to get in front of the quicker DTs or linebackers at the second level. I’m not as high on him as analysts are, but I think his length and frame will push him up some draft boards.
Right behind them:
Jessamen Dunker (Tennessee State), Jordan Morgan (Kutztown), Cameron Tom (Southern Mississippi), Chase Roullier (Wyoming)