NFL Draft

Top 10 interior offensive linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft:

After breaking down the top offensive tackles and edge rushers last week, we are now moving on to the interior, once again starting with the offensive side of the ball. As always, I threw guards and centers together, since many of them have the flexibility to play both and those positions demand very similar skill-sets, while I explain in the hand what I think the individual prospects project best as.

Once again, I solely evaluate the players I see on tape here, regardless of any medical conditions or off-field concerns. My number two for example might be ready for training camp, since he suffered a rather severe injury in December only. Of course versatility is a big plus, but I’m basically putting together a general big board here, which doesn’t consider specific team needs.

This class to me is actually one that isn’t talked about enough. While we may only see a couple taken in the first round, I think day two will be loaded with talented players from this group and I have identified a few potential starters, who could go on the third day of the draft as well.

Here’s my list:

1. Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma

6’5”, 310 pounds; RS JR

A top three center recruit back in 2017, Humphrey redshirted his first year in Norman, before taking over as the starter for all but two games in the middle of the front five that won the Joe Moore award for the nation’s top offensive line and was named a Freshman All-American personally. These last two seasons, he has been arguably one of the top two centers in the country and was named the Big 12’s Offensive Lineman of the Year respectively, to go with being first-team all-conference of course.

First of all, like plenty of other offensive linemen, Humphrey is a former wrestling standout. What’s more rare is the fact, that he is a left-handed center. You see him gain leverage in the run game by getting underneath the pads of defenders and he has vice grip to control them. Humphrey is a perfect fit for a wide zone based offense. He executes beautiful scoop-blocks on A-gap defenders, where it’s not about finesse, to open his hips and make up ground laterally with jaw-dropping agility, but rather hitting them in the chest and then twisting them away from the play, whilst hie brings his base around. When blockers try to back-door him, he punches with that inside hand and then can really pivot off that playside foot, to ride defenders further upfield and seal them on the backside. And when his gap is free and he can’t attach to the next down-linemen, he can also torque linebackers away from the flow. Humphrey’s ability to just find a way to put his body between an opponent and the ball-carrier is phenomenal. And when defenders do try to slant really hard into a gap or linebackers shoots downhill at full speed, he will use their momentum against them and push them way off track, to create big cutback lanes, as the defenses has to flow hard with the play. Humphrey also has a great understanding for angles, which you see when sealing defensive tackles to enable his guards to pull and not go for the kill-shot on simple down-blocks away from the point of attack, where he might miss otherwise. And while he may not drive guys off the ball necessarily on gap-schemes and in short-yardage situations, he won’t give up ground and stays inside the frame of his man, to allow the ball-carrier to find space. He was also used pulling around the edge on sweep plays and take the first guy coming down, where you see him almost shoot targets around in space.

That wrestling background is so apparent in pass-protection for Humphrey, with the way he keeps his balance, wins leverage and just doesn’t give up ground. You constantly see him shut down interior rushers from the start, by getting into their chest and staying there until the ball comes out. You saw that pretty much throughout Senior Bowl, where he latched on those paws and ended reps right there. He even shut down Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike on their first meeting in one-on-ones. Humphrey’s eyes immediately identify the target, he is really quick at gaining ground laterally to square up rushers or get himself in position on slide-protections and while he might not have crazy quick feet, they are plenty good to mirror and then his strength allows him to grab without being called for holding. Humphrey plants those trunks into the turf and stymies secondary rushers on games up front or blitzing linebackers. And he is highly alert for rushers sliding into either A-gap late when uncovered, while being ready to stun them, as they try coming his way. He was also used quite a bit as a personal protector pulling out to the edge on rollout protections or on some play-action concepts. This guy has been one of the key leaders for this OU program and you constantly see him call out signals and point out things. On just under 1300 career pass-blocking snaps, Humphrey has never been responsible for a single sack and just two total hits on the QB.

With all that being said, Humphrey gets caught leaning into some blocks in the run game and he shows a little hesitancy with his climbs up to linebackers, rather than aiming at spots. He got banged around quite a by Baylor’s Bravvion Roy in Big 12 Championship game at the end of the 2019 season, allowing five pressures to him on the day. I could see him have problems against NFL nose-tackles, where he can’t quite grab and torque their bodies like he did in the Big 12 for the most part. He looked a tad bit slow this past season, not getting out in front as aggressively on screen passes and stuff like that, with a lot more jogging and pacing himself overall. Plus, he lacks some length with arms just under 32 inches long and as impressive as the numbers may be for him, with a lot of three-man rushes, where he wasn’t left one-on-one with great athletes all the time, he wasn’t challenged quite as much as some other guys in more “defensive” conferences.

However, I still love what Humphrey brings heading to the next level. For a team that runs a lot of outside zone and needs somebody who can preserve the integrity and depth of the pocket, I think he could be a major addition. He might not create a ton of movement or fit that well in a gap-heavy scheme, but this is young man, who has been pretty much a dominant player ever since he stepped onto the field for the Sooners, plus then he went to Mobile and basically lost one total rep against a very talented class of defensive linemen. So I really don’t get how he went from potential mid-first round pick to almost an afterthought it feels like.

2. Landon Dickerson, Alabama

6’6”, 325 pounds; RS SR

An Under Armour All-American coming out of high school, Dickerson began his career at Florida State, where he became the first true freshman to start on the O-line for the Seminoles since 1982. He once again was a starter in year two, before suffering a knee injury four games in and then transferring to this SEC powerhouse at the end of the season as a graduate transfer. Dickerson started all 13 games his first year with the Crimson Tide, first at right guard and then the final nine at center (which he had never played before), earning second-team All-SEC honors. This past season, he started every game at the pivot of the National Championship team, until he tore his ACL in the SEC title game – but not before being honored with the Rimington Trophy for the best center in the country and being named a unanimous All-American.

Body-wise, this is a center with offensive tackle measurements (81-inch wingspan) but defensive tackle thickness. Dickerson displays excellent snap-to-step quickness and routinely is an instant ahead of the defense. In the run game, what really stands out is his understanding for what his assignments are, whether it’s establishing inside position with the play-side foot away from the point of attack, to simply not allow penetration, or at times blocking down on three-techniques in combination with his guards pulling, where he takes a flat angle to basically just seal them. However, Dickerson has good mobility himself to execute skip- and wrap-around pulls on power runs- On wide zone runs, he consistently reaches A-gap defenders, where he keeps pulling his backside foot across and bringing his hips all the way around, or just keeps riding those blocks, when he can’t quite cross their face. Yet, he also stays under good control climbing up to the second level with paced steps and weight in the center of his frame, plus he shows good peripheral vision for the back-side linebacker trying to shoot the gap, giving him a bump and keep working up to his man. At the same time, he has the power to blow guys off the ball in short-yardage situations, especially on quarterback sneaks,  and knock them off balance from the side. On duo, he and his guards create plenty of vertical movement, which allowed Najee Harris to stay patient behind their blocks. And this guys keeps pushing opponent through the echo of the whistle, as a pancake specialist. In the screen game, he is looking to embarrass smaller defenders in the open field.

In the pass game, Dickerson provides a good combination of being able to mirror and anchor. You see him land his hands inside the chest of nose-tackles or one-techniques consistently, where he keeps his elbows and the grip on the defender tight, and his length helps him guide quicker rushers trying to get around him on wide angles. When he’s not matched up with anybody, he keeps his head on a swivel and when possible both hands on either guard, while actively looking for work and he delivers some massive shots from the side. Dickerson really controls those A-gaps for the Crimson Tide in protection and you rarely saw any pressure up those these last couple of years, for an offense that scored over 47 points in each of them. On slide protections, you see the Alabama center quickly gain ground laterally, to square up the A-gap rusher and you also see him get in front of defensive tackles on play-action, when Bama pulled their guards, in a way that forces the linebackers to step up. Plus, he does a brilliant of identifying and communicating any games up front, while working in concert with his guards. Over these last two seasons as a starter for the Crimson Tide, Dickerson surrendered just one sack and 11 total pressures on 805 pass-blocking snaps.

Dickerson’s height makes pad-level a bit of an issue at times, as he doesn’t get underneath defensive linemen and especially later on during plays, he’s not really in a power position anymore. He doesn’t necessarily uproot D-tackles on down/angle-blocks. Elite power-rushers could give him some trouble because of that and he would certainly benefit from not being left on an island in protection too much. You see him get shook at little bit at times by linebackers, who jab one way and then go through the opposite gap, when those two are matched up one-on-one. Dickerson had the benefit of playing between All-American guard Deonte Brown and another top five interior offensive line recruit. And of course he tore his ACL in SEC title game on December 19th, So he could potentially redshirt a year or at least get onto the field late.

I just shared a clip for Dickerson on my social media channels yesterday, where I said “this guy is O-line porn”. He’s just such a scrappy, worker bee-type of player, that I really fell in love with him during his tenure at Alabama. While his height I believe is more challenging than helpful in some regards, he is the most technically sound and probably the most scheme-proof center prospect in this draft, plus I could easily see him move to either guard spot as well. If not for that ACL injury, I believe he would go late in the first round somewhere.

3. Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC

6’4”, 300 pounds; RS JR

Just outside the top 100 overall recruits, Vera-Tucker saw plenty of action as a backup his freshman year at right guard. In 2019, he switched to the left side and excelled all year, earning First-Team All-Pac-12 honors. Last season, after initially opting out, he jumped in at left tackle due to necessity and in those six games the Trojans played, he once again impressed so much that he was named first-team all-conference and received the Morris Trophy for the top linemen period in the Pac-12, despite not having played out on the edges since high school.

Vera-Tucker presents a wide frame and is naturally strong. When he is tagged with angle blocks, he can create plenty of movement horizontally or vertically. He delivers a good bump at initial contact on combo-blocks, to set up his teammates, like literally turning the bodies of defender by 90 degrees, and then covers up linebackers at that second level. When he gets into the frame of down-linemen, they stay chest-to-chest pretty much until the ball-carrier has cleared them. You see him instantly push defensive tackles back a yard when those hands first land and he consistently creates that initial vertical movement on more downhill run plays. Vera-Tucker was used a lot on wrap-around and power pulls from that left guard spot, to clear the way. In the zone run game, he uses almost a skip-pull technique to scoop up linemen from the backside and he has the glue-like grip to be able to continue riding them as the play progresses, to where they can’t work across. There just aren’t a lot of snaps, where he slips off defenders and fails to sustain blocks, which is very appealing for zone and duo run schemes.

At the same time, AVT also offers a really strong base to swallow bull-rushes. He rarely allows defenders to suppress the integrity of the pocket, if he establishes that initial contact. And that’s why he uses a lot of quick-sets, where his arms get to near full extension and I’m waiting for him to get caught for lunging, but his base seems to always stay solid. The versatile USC lineman gas very good balance and re-anchor ability to get back into solid position, if one of his feet doesn’t grab turf, plus he does a nice job re-placing those hands when they get too high or wide, pulling those elbows in tight, to counter any power maneuvers. Vera-Tucker keeps scanning potential rushers into the gaps to either of side of his, when not matched up with anybody in pass-pro. When he takes on loopers or guys working his way on stunts, he can stun them with his punch. AVT allowed just seven total pressures on 590 pass-blocking snaps in 2019 at his more natural spot. He completely neutralized Daviyon Nixon and those other Iowa linemen in their bowl game at the end of the year. Out at tackle this past season, his steps were a little choppy on those kick-slides, but he got out of his stance with urgency and once he got hands on those guys off the edge, their rush slowed down severely. So he could most likely survive at left tackle over extended stretches, which boosts his draft value.

With that being said, Vera-Tucker’s hand-placement and pressure points need some work in the run game, to control blocks, and he should use better flexion in his arms, to actually grab without refs seeing it. He has a few bad whiffs on tape in protection, when D-linemen can beat those quick-sets with sudden hands, to win cleanly, especially being vulnerable to some stutter moves. At tackle, he tended to give up too much ground and when the quarterback had to hold onto the ball, at some point AVT and his man were in the way of being able to open up that direction or even having to release off his back-foot. Often times he should have just pushed that guy past the pocket. His weight is shifted too far to that outside foot and he loses a lot of base strength when rushers stab to the inside. He got beat up quite a bit by Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux in the Pac-12 title game last season.

While he did give four sacks this past season (and as many additional pressures), it came at a different position, that he kind of re-learned on the fly, without much of a training camp to speak of – for the Pac-12 in particular. In 2019, he allowed just one sack and no extra hits on the quarterback on twice as many pass-blocking snaps. In my opinion, he is getting a little overhyped as this clear-cut IOL1 on most people’s boards, but he is worth a first-round pick for me as well. He might not the best linemen at any singular spot in my opinion, but he can play all five positions at a pretty high level I believe.

4. Wyatt Davis, Ohio State

6’4”, 310 pounds; RS JR

The grandson of Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Davis, Wyatt was the number one guard recruit in the nation back in 2018. He redshirted his first year in Columbus and then had to wait his turn because of the depth on that Ohio State offensive line, before jumping in the final two games of his freshman season – the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. These last two seasons, he has been a tone-setter up-front for the Buckeyes, earning first-team all-conference accolades in each of them, to go along with being named a consensus and unanimous All-American respectively.

Davis presents a beautiful build for a guard, with a wide chest, thick thighs and little excess weight. This guy is a bully in the run game, who shouts those hips through contact and just buries defenders underneath himself on several occasions. At Ohio State, they were primarily running variations of zone, where his movement on combo-blocks opened up a lot of room for their backs, washing down the front-side routinely. He really gets into the frame of down-linemen, delivering some thump at first contact and kind of forklifting them, as his hands land low to raise their pads, and then he keeps those legs churning. A lot of times, center Josh Myers actually was almost forced to engage with the backside D-tackle, because his right guard created so much lateral movement right away, to get them in front of the next man. Davis has the strength to drive the defensive lineman with the inside hand vertically, but still aim at the linebacker, at times neutralizing both. Yet, he can also quickly come off combos. On more wide zone blocking, he can reach-block one-techniques, but if they manage to slip through so he can’t quite scoop them up, Davis gets underneath them and takes them for a ride, or he finds a way to pull down the defender and land on top of them. When you watch Trey Sermon down the stretch (especially against Northwestern), a lot of his big runs came on those massive cutbacks behind Davis on the right side, where the RB could just go North all the way after pressing a little bit.

Davis has an almost unbreakable anchor in pass-pro and can take a lot of steam off those defensive tackles with short-sets. When rushers do get that initial momentum vertically every once in a while, you see his cleats eat a lot of grass, to bend through and slow down powerful interior rushers, rarely forcing quarterback Justin Fields to drift backwards or move off the spot. Especially in 2019 – sometimes I felt like I saw guys flat-out give up against him on tape, because those clamps of his usually don’t leave the defender’s chest anymore. Even if one of his feet is caught in the air and he isn’t in the most favorable position, Davis has that body-balance to recover and get back into a solid base. He also shows really good awareness for interior twists, by the way his man slants across his face, where he “hands” them off to his center with a solid push, or on E-T crosses, when he sees his man loop outside and how quickly his eyes transition to the end crashing through the B-gap. Davis didn’t allow any sacks in 2019 and while that went to three given up this past season, he was still only responsible 11 total pressures on 280 pass-blocking snaps, whilst a lot of those came on more exotic blitzes, rather than him getting beat one-on-one.

However, Davis doesn’t show the elite lateral agility and recovery skills when his man gets to one shoulder. He tends to be flat-footed and overextend his arms when initiating contact in pass-pro, to where those quick, well-schooled interior rushers could get him some trouble, when they can get those instant wins by beating the first punch. Obviously I can’t tell for sure, because I don’t know all their rules in protection, but judging by the reactions and what I have seen in other games, Davis seemed to have several mental lapses in that regard in the Indiana game and there was a ton of pressure coming on Justin Fields coming over from that side. He is a little late to recognize blitzers coming down late in general and was involved in a larger amount of miscommunications this past season. Davis’ lacking agility also shows up when trying to work across the face of defenders lined up in the play-side gap of wide zone runs, where his feet get parallel and he allows D-tackles to show in the B-gap, rather than keeping his frame in front of them and their shoulders even with the line of scrimmage. Overall he just allows a little too much penetration on zone runs and he whiffs or loses his balance on a few second-level blocks, because he doesn’t gather himself enough.

Of course, the scheme versatility wasn’t really there at Ohio State, since they almost purely ran zone-read and split zone I felt like down the stretch, but with his power at first contact and the how he can move people in the run game, I think Davis will be fine in any run scheme, even though he will have to work on his technique on reach-blocks. He injured his knee just before halftime of the National Championship game and while both didn’t end up being serious, he had to be helped off the field already twice before that during the season already. So with his tape last season not being quite on the same level as it was in 2019, I had to drop Davis a few spots, but he is still close to a top-tier guard prospect.

5. Trey Smith, Tennessee

6’5”, 330 pounds; SR

A former top 15-20 overall recruit (depending on the different sites), Smith stayed home in Tennessee and immediately was a key cog for the Vols offensive line, with an impressive true freshman campaign, where he started every game at left tackle and was named a second-team All-SEC selection. Seven games into year two, the team’s medical staff discovered blood clots in his lungs and Smith was ruled out for the rest of the season. However, he was cleared for the 2019 season and despite being highly touted in the draft community, returned for his senior campaign, earning first-team all-conference honors in both of them, lining up at left guard.

This is another guy with a highly impressive build – a very thick, block-like frame, with tackle length and guard girth. He brings a lot of power to the table and when he can uncoil those hips at a good angle, he can create significant movement on down-blocks. There’s a lot of force when those hands first land, to really knock the pads of defenders back and their balance off, so he can uproot big D-linemen out of their gaps. Smith has put in tremendous work on those combo-blocks, where often times he and his teammate end up just pushing the down-linemen into the backer behind them. When he hits D-linemen from the side, as they are stood up on zone runs, he can take them for a ride, and he blows that backside B-gap behind him wide open routinely, when crashing into the defender engaged with his center. You see that guy at the pivot kind of lock horns with nose-tackles and Smith knock those guys into the opposite A-gap, before working up to the linebacker. You see him scoop-block shade noses from the backside, with the strength to sustain charges, as they try to shoot through the A-gap, to go with the torque, to pull them to the opposite side. On gap schemes, he and his center create significant vertical movement on combo-blocks and he is highly dependable to run behind in short-yardage situations. Smith shows good urgency and control overall climbing to the second level, and he is looking for work when he gets out in front on screen passes.

In the pass game, Smith displays a firm base and athletic feet to mirror interior rushers, showing the ability to stay in front of guys on spin moves with ease. He is consistently looking to re-position his hands and lift up defenders. You see the ability to recover with little issues, after getting knocked off with long-arms and when caught a little off balance in general – that ability to re-anchor is very impressive. Smith shows great balance to keep his feet planted in the turf and he is almost like a wall to run into for guys coming down from the second level. When he isn’t tagged with anybody, he is looking to blast somebody from the side. Against three-techniques on passing downs, the Vols guard almost uses a reduced kick-slide at times, where he keeps his shoulders square and is in a very balanced position. And he does a great job selling play-action, with how aggressive he is with his steps into defenders. Smith primarily played guard during Senior Bowl practices and his strong base was apparent, but he also kicked out to tackle and naturally guided edge rushers around the arc, even though a bad tendency showed up again, which I’ll get to in a second. Overall, Smith surrendered only one sack and 17 total pressures on 754 pass-blocking snaps over these last two seasons combined.

On the flipside, Smith is too much of a waist-bender and a little heavy-footed in some situations. I’m not sure if I’d want him to reach-block defenders already lined up in the gap, because he doesn’t have that top-tier short-area agility and will have a tough time getting his hips around, if he can’t establish strong contact first. His arms also get a little wide and don’t always land inside the frame of second-level defenders on the move. In pass-pro, he goes for the knockout-block too much and ends of shifting his weight too far over toes or just miss altogether. You saw that down in Mobile, where he just got way too aggressive with jumping out of his stance on quick-sets. And he seems a little lost at times when not matched up with anybody and gets locked in on one side, to where he misses a delayed blitzer the other way or isn’t in position to help out against inside counters by the edge rusher.

While I don’t love those whiffs in protection, I think that’s more of a bad habit than something that will stick with him, because he has the strong anchor to sit down on big defensive tackles and we saw that against the two biggest guys at the Senior Bowl – USC’s Marlon Tuipulotu and FSU’s Marvin Wilson. He is a mauler in the run game and excels in a power and inside zone heavy system. Plus, he offers that versatility to kick out to tackle and actually be second on the depth chart for those two spots, while somebody else replaces him inside instead. The question with him of course is if the blood-clots could be a re-occurring issue, but if he checks out medically, I’m fine with making him a top 50 pick.

6. Josh Myers, Ohio State

6’5”, 315 pounds; RS JR

Once just outside the top 50 overall recruits in the country, Myers redshirted his first year on campus and then backed up Michael Jordan (the other one) the following season. Now he has started the last two seasons and excelled, earning second- and first-team All-Big Ten honors, spear-heading the way for 2000-yard rusher J.K. Dobbins and then being one of the key-pieces for the Buckeyes trip to the National Championship game, for an offense that scored 38+ points in all but two contests.

Myers is a tall center prospect, who is one of the most consistent interior linemen in this class. He has excelled in Ohio State’s zone-heavy run game, where he really opens his hips as he snaps the ball, to gain ground laterally. He tightly gets into the hip-pocket of his guards, often times slightly behind them, to take over the down-linemen, almost as if he was skip-pulling, but then he also displays tremendous timing and an approach to come off combo-blocks. And he has excellent mobility to climb to the second level with clean “releases”, with no wasted steps and then he hits his targets at a high rate. On more outside-oriented run schemes, he usually reaches one-techniques with no issues and does a great job of bringing his hips around to pin linebackers inside, while also showing good balance on those wrap-around pulls to lead the way. Myers actively re-places his hands constantly to sustain blocks and his length helps him stay on them just that split-second longer, while keeping those legs driving until the whistle blows. Even when he isn’t in perfect position, he keeps those hands attached to the defender and shields them, to not allow them to see or get a clear shot at the ball-carrier, to go with getting some late movement as he may slip offs, to just give that little extra shove. I also like watching him get on his horse and put hands on people in the screen game.

As a pass-protector, Myers quickly lands his hands on defenders lined up over him and is technically sound at adjusting to rushers, while his length allows him to guide them off track at the end of his reach. Because of his height, he can lose the leverage battle, but rushers rarely make first contact with their hands and even when they can move him backwards, he does a nice job of kicking those feet back and getting his hands into a power-position again, in order to re-anchor. What really stands out with Myers in the pass game however, is that he constantly helps out his guards and attaches to the rushers matched up with them, as soon as he sees color flash towards the A-gaps and at least allows those guys next to him to square of their targets, while keeping his eyes locked on the second level, in case any delayed blitzes may occur. He shows great awareness and technique when passing on twists and overall is a very active communicator in protection, who was responsible for a lot of the checks on that Ohio State offensive line. I also really like the way he makes play-action look pretty much exactly like run, especially faking zone, with the way he turns those hips.

With that being said, his height creates some issues, when it comes to losing the leverage battle routinely and because he is pretty high-hipped and doesn’t sink as naturally, it makes him a little tight in his ability to flip the hips when trying to recover in pass-pro. He plays rather tall in all areas, isn’t that explosive out of his stance and he doesn’t really strike with his hands necessarily. That’s why he can’t just drive shade-nose tackles on down blocks and doesn’t bring a lot of thump, when he meets linebackers at the second level. Plus, his center of gravity shifts over his toes a lot, which leads to balance issues and him slipping off blocks late. Ohio State almost exclusively ran different variations of inside and outside zone. And as impressive as he was in 2019, you have to mention that he played in-between two tremendous All-Big Ten guards. When you look at his numbers in pass-pro, Myers has allowed six sacks over these last two seasons (22 total games), despite just 264 pass-blocking snaps during a COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Myers is one of the most rock-solid players in this entire draft, regardless of position. He has been one of the major keys for one of the top rushing offenses these last few years and I think the sack numbers are not representative of his work in pass-pro, considering what I explained with Wyatt Davis, where it was the center taking more of the blame for free rushers as part of missed assignments I believe. His lack of being able to sink into his hips limits him to some degree and he might be looked at as a center primarily, but I see him as an impact starter from day one.

7. Aaron Banks, Notre Dame

6’5” ½, 330 pounds; SR

Widely considered the top offensive line prospect in Northern California, Banks spent his freshman season on the scout team, before playing in all 13 and starting the final six games of year two. These last two seasons, he has started all 26 games at left guard and was named a first-team All-ACC selection in 2020, when Notre Dame joined the conference for that one year.

This young man fills out his jersey and pants very well. Banks brings a lot of thump at initial contact in the run game, to where you see the pads of big men pop straight up at times, he keeps those legs churning and working to turn bodies on the interior in the run game. He does a nice job of kind of forklifting and twisting defensive tackles, to establish proper position and then rolls his hips through, to open up a big gap on the other side. On the backside of zone runs, even if he can’t quite scoop or seal defenders, he usually doesn’t allow them to work across his face, by continuing to bringing his base around and he ends up driving the man downfield instead. He did so about ten yards deep with USC’s big nosetackle Marlon Tuipulotu, who rarely gets moved off the ball at all, in their 2019 meeting. Banks shows good urgency when directly climbing up to the second level and he is a load when he gets out in front as a puller, to where you rarely see defenders actually trying to take him head-on, but rather avoid him altogether.

As far as the pass game goes, Banks displays a very firm base in protection, to keep the depth of the pocket upright, and once he gets those hands on you, it’s really tough to get around him. You see him consistently get his hands inside the frame and underneath the pads of rushers and stand them up, forcing them to find a new approach against him – which they rarely do. Plus, with his wide frame, it’s tough to step around him or get to the opposite gap with counter moves. Even against those massive power rushers, he usually holds his ground and allows the quarterback to step up or into the throw that way. On interior twists or games with an off-ball blitzer crossing from the other side, he gets tight to the hip of his center until the looper/blitzer comes his way, to make sure his teammate can take over that initial defender. When you look at this past season in particular, Banks didn’t surrender any sacks and only ten total pressures on 461 pass-blocking snaps, and even if you look at his full three-year career, he has given up a pressure on just 2.1 percent of the snaps the Irish dropped back.

However, Banks does get caught extending over his toes at times in protection and allows rusher to get to the edge of his frame in the process, where he needs to push them past the quarterback and forced Ian Book to move off the spot because of it. He is a little late recognizing T-E twists and then doesn’t have the great lateral agility to still get himself into position, to get in front of the end looping up the A-gap. As a run blocker, those wide zone plays, where he has to get his body in front of B-gap defenders, aren’t necessarily his strength and he can be stepped around by crafty linebackers, who see him coming early enough. He needs to work on uncoiling his hips even more through contact on downhill run schemes, to unlock his full power.

I feel like there is a pretty clear top six for the interior offensive line, even if the order may look different depending on who you ask. Banks is my favorite guard prospect after that. He may be suited more for a gap-based run scheme, where he can create movement at the point of attack, rather than win with agility and blocking people on the move. There are some limitations when it comes to quickness and fluidity in his lower body, that can give him some issues with those quick interior rushers and he might not be able to consistently reach three-techniques at the next level, but Banks is still a very intriguing player and my favorite guy along that front-five for Notre Dame, where everybody is entering the draft at the same time.

8. Deonte Brown, Alabama

6’3”, 355 pounds; SR

A former four-star recruit, Brown redshirted his first year on campus and barely saw the field in his first season on the active roster. He then was elevated to the starting lineup midway through the 2018 season and has been a stalwart for the Crimson Tide at left guard since then, outside of the four games he missed as a junior. Because of that missed time, he probably didn’t get any votes from conference coaches, but he made up for it by being a first-team All-SEC selection this past season.

This guy is built like a two-door fridge, but he moves pretty darn well for it. Brown in general plays with good knee-bend and pad-level. He delivers massive blows at initial contact, and buries some nose-tackles underneath himself. He created a ton of vertical movement on combo-blocks at the point of attack, together with center Landon Dickerson, while having put a lot of big bodies on the ground when coming in on an angle. Brown is often labelled as this slow-footed tank and that may look that way in some situations, but he also has reps, where he perfectly reach-blocks one-techniques on the backside of zone run plays, which tend to be the toughest ones to execute, since the D-tackle has a clear shot at the ball-carrier in theory. Plus, he is pretty adept at cutting off A-gap defenders on the backside. On the frontside, a lot of times you see him almost rip through the defender’s inside arm and puts his body in the way, while having his eyes on a second level defender, At times it almost looks too easy with the way he can take out two guys, as he keeps riding one of the down-linemen into the lap of a linebacker. The Crimson Tide used Brown as their primary puller in the run game, either kicking out or leading up in the hole, and when this guy hits defenders on the move, they go backwards.

To describe Brown’s anchor in the pass game, I have to re-use a line I came up with when writing about him in the fall – trying to go this guy is like pushing a five-man sled around by yourself I seems like. He uses a lot of short-sets and once he lands his hands inside a defender’s frame, that’s basically it. He shows good pace to his steps and with how wide his body is, obviously have to go a longer way just to get around him. Brown can stonewall some aggressive blitzing linebackers and he does a great job of almost stepping behind his teammates, to pass on the first guy on different twists. His surprising quickness on skip-pulls was also utilized heavily in the play-action game, where he can pick up charging linebackers and knock them to the turf. In two-and-a-half seasons as a starter (810 pass-blocking snaps), Brown didn’t allow a single sack and just seven total hits on the quarterback. And among other difficult matchup, I thought he dealt really well with Georgia’s bear-like nose tackle Jordan Davis last year. Having logged 500+ snaps at both guard spots is certainly a plus as well.

However, there are certainly some limitations in terms of lateral agility for Brown and he can be labelled as a phonebooth guy. He tends to overreact to moves by interior rushers and then doesn’t have that ability to still recover, plus he can get a little lazy with his footwork and lose because of it. And he isn’t really looking for work when he isn’t directly matched up with anybody in protection. Brown’s struggles with interior quickness in the pass game were on display a couple of times at Senior Bowl practice and the actual game, where he got too wide with his base and his lack of being able to move laterally was only enhanced. And while he did do plenty of wide zone blocking at Alabama, against those freakish three-technique penetrators in the NFL, he might have serious issues. Brown also definitely paces himself on longer-developing plays, like screens, reverses and that kind of stuff.

It really depends on what you teach and ask from your guards in the pass game. If his future team uses a lot of play-action and he can use quick pass-sets, he can be really effective, but if he is left one-on-one 20+ times a game, where he has to back up and stay in front of those quick interior guys, you may have a problem at your hands. I believe Brown can be a gap-scheme mauler, who immediately boosts your run game and in a system that doesn’t expose some of his weaknesses covering space in pass-pro, he will be fine. The Senior Bowl was definitely a turn-off, but similar to teammate Alex Leatherwood, we have to remember nobody in college football played more than those 13 games Alabama did and they were only two weeks away from the National Championship game at that point. So everybody else was much fresher.

9. Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater

6’3”, 320 pounds; SR

Unranked coming out of high school in Hartford, Wisconsin, Meinerz didn’t have the opportunity to play for the nearby Badgers, but instead joined a powerhouse in Division III. After playing in only two games his freshman season, he dominated the competition in 2018 and ’19, when he was named first team All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) in each of them and first-team Division III All-American by the AP in 2019. However, he only started getting the recognition, when he received a Senior Bowl invitation and became a big story for NFL Network and ESPN, with that belly hanging out of his half-shirt and the way he performed against some of the top collegiate players in the country.

Meinerz definitely shows some nasty on tape and you are guaranteed – bodies will hit the floor. On inside zone, Meinerz can dip that inside shoulder, to enable his teammates to get their hips around and take over blocks of B-gap defenders, or when they are more in a 2i alignment and he has to ride that block, before passing it on, he can do so, as he has that guy pinned away from the ball-carrier, while his eyes are locked on the linebacker behind that. On more wide zone blocking, he can twist D-tackles with that outside hand and bring his hips around, to get the ball-carrier out to the edge. Overall I just really like the way he makes sure his fellow linemen are left in favorable positions and can take over blocks on all those lateral run-blocking schemes. Meinerz keeps those elbows in tight and strikes upwards through contact with backers, to create that momentum and drive them away from the action. And when he comes off those combos and there’s no second-level defender in his way, he will just keep going up to the safety. Plus, he is really quick at making up space and getting in front of bodies, after having to stay on the down-man a little longer, to make sure the block is secured. More than anything however, Meinerz can just uproot one-techs on more man/gap schemes, by getting chest-to-chest and displaying tremendous leg-drive. On double-teams with the center, you see those two completely overwhelm some defenders, put them on their backs and roll over them. He can level guys when hitting them from the side on pulls and he’s also very smooth releasing on RB screen, where he is looking to take out defenders.

The D3 standout beautifully slides his feet in protection and punches inside the chest of rushers with impact. What really stands out about Meinerz is the way that he anchors down against powerful inside guys, activating the full strength of his lower body by using the full range of his joints, as he sinks his weight, and grabbing the turf with his cleats, by getting his toes pointed outside. To go with that, he his paws rarely come off defenders, and even if he can’t fit the hands initially, he will keep working them, to make sure he can gain control. So he really limits that push up the middle of the pocket. When he’s not matched up with anybody in pass-pro, Meinerz keeps that inside hand on the defender locking horns with the center, while actively looking for counters back into the B-gap from edge rushers, where he can just flatten those guys if they try doing so. Meinerz has the foot quickness to get himself into position and brings some thump when engaging with stunts his way. He also really sells play-action with how aggressively he comes off the ball and turns his body. While the media had to ruin it a little, by hyping him up like crazy, Meinerz did have a very impressive Senior Bowl week, driving some of the best Division I defensive tackles way off the ball in the run game and getting more settled in pass-pro with every single rep, to go with landing on top on several rushers, ultimately being named the National Team’s offensive lineman of the week, playing a lot of center. And then the athletic testing at his pro day just put the cherry on top for a humungous pre-draft process.

Obviously this will be a huge jump in competition for Meinerz and he just won’t be able to bully defenders the way he did when watching the film. As impressive as he was down in Mobile, the top-end guys he will face at the next level, go even a step further. Of course I don’t know exactly if it was just about the timing of adding that snap and how much more natural that can become for him – you do have to consider he had never played center before he went to Mobile – but the one thing I did see at the Senior Bowl, that I thought he needed to do a better job of, is actually squaring up rushers, who are lined up shaded to one shoulder or more so directly in the gap, rather than allowing them to play half the man as they first initiate. That gave him some trouble, when they could shoot upfield. Meinerz’s weight tends to go over his toes and allows defenders to pull him off in pass-protection. And overall, there is some grabbiness to his game, which will get penalized more in the NFL.

While the projection is still not as easy as it would be with SEC offensive linemen of course, even in the 2019 D3 championship game against North Central, Meinerz was destroying defenders left and right. He could probably play either guard spot in the NFL, but I like him best at center, if he can iron out that little detail I just explained, in terms being pro-active with his footwork against shade alignments. To me this is the lower level offensive prospect since Ali Marpet out of Hobart back in 2015. I wouldn’t be shocked to see day go in the second round even.

10. Trey Hill, Georgia

6’3”, 330 pounds; JR

The number three guard recruit back in 2018, Hill saw action in all 14 games as a freshman and started the final four at right guard, while jumping in for basically another full contest at center, with the original starter getting hurt early on. These last couple of years, he has started all 22 combined games and played at a level worthy of all-conference accolades usually, if not guys like Lloyd Cushenberry and Landon Dickerson taking the spotlight off him.

Hill has a lot of girth across all body segments, including massive thighs and a bubble-butt, which contain a lot of power, but also some surprising suddenness off the snap. He initiates with low pad-level and creates momentum with powerful strides. Hill really covers up bodies in the zone run game and keeps those feet moving until the whistle blows. He makes sure his guards have their blocks secured and places that help-hand on the down-lineman before working up to the second level. If your guard seals the backside three-technique and you have Hill plus the other guard combo-ing on the shade nose, they might just open up a motorway in that backside A-gap. The Georgia center has that ability to torque defenders’ pads, to move them to the play-side and create a hole up the middle or get them in position, to bring his hips in front of them on more wide zone blocking, as well as putting smaller defenders underneath himself, to land on top of them, whilst on the move. When there’s nobody in the playside A-gap and no backer to work up to directly, Hill is looking to peel back on scraping defenders, to limit the pursuit. The Bulldogs asked him to pull out in front as a lead-blocker at times and he lands on top of some of these isolated defenders.

In the pass game, Hill is quick to land his hands inside the frame of rushers lined up over him and limits their charge instantly. Those clamps stay in there tight and don’t come off usually, while at times he just drives away interior rushers out of the way, when they try too hard to get around him, plus he shows the ability to re-anchor routinely. The UGA center really snaps his head and kicks back with that near-foot, to gain width and depth on slide-protections, while his eyes stay busy. And he at times gets in this sideway shuffle, where he tries to stay behind the closest rusher, in case he slants/works his way, where his hands are ready to shoot and neutralize the target. Hill does a nice job of getting underneath defenders who slant across his face and riding them off track. His success rate is pretty high against linebackers with a two-way go, as he squares up and puts that big frame in front of them, with the ability to take the steam out of blitzers, who try to come in hot, and doesn’t let them get away usually. Being very patient in that regard and not overreacting to them giving him a wiggle is key here. He recognizes interior twists and takes on the secondary man with his wide chest and a firm base.

Unfortunately, there is certainly some wasted movement getting out of his stance at times for and Hill seems much more comfortable opening up his hips to the right at wider angles, as he snaps the ball, for it not to be in the way. His pads tend to rise and knee flexion disappears as plays go along in general. Hill lacks great lateral agility and the soft feet to match those quick interior rushers, while not being the most fluid mover overall, plus he dips his head too much when initiating contact. He is a bit of a phonebooth guy altogether, who would probably benefit from a move to guard for most teams, as he may not be able to execute those difficult reach-blocks on A-gap defenders consistently at the next level, especially to his left, where that little bit of depth advantage guards have would help. His limited mobility outside the tackles is apparent on screen passes out on the perimeter.

As much hype as their tackles coming out last year and right guard Ben Cleveland have been getting these last couple of years, Hill’s consistency in the middle has not gone unnoticed by me. I like the pad-level and power, to create movement in the run game, he has a phenomenal anchor and squares up targets in pass-pro that he presents. He may not quite have the athletic upside of some of these other guys in the class, but he was a very high recruit for a reason and he just gets the job done, presenting flexibility across the three interior spots, depending on the scheme to some degree.

Just missed the cut:

Ben Cleveland, Georgia

6’6”, 350 pounds; RS SR

A top 100 overall recruit all the way back in 2016, Cleveland redshirted his first year in Athens, before playing in all 15 games and starting the final five at right guard as a freshman, including the national championship against Alabama. Four games into year two, he fractured his leg and was only a depth piece late, while started seven of 13 games in 2019. This past season, he finally became a regular in the lineup and was named first-team All-SEC for his efforts.

This is a barrell-chested, haulking guard prospect, who guy brings a mean streak to the table as a run blocker and wants to put defenders on their backs. Cleveland creates plenty of lateral movement in the zone run game and pushes those defenders in position for the guy next to him to just drive that defender and he can get up to the second level. When he is coming from the side on nose-tackles, he gets under their arm-pit and can blow them off the ball, to create huge lanes behind him.  And he shows good fluidity climbing up to the backer and stunning that guy at first contact, after getting movement going that way already on the combo. On more gap-oriented runs, he extends those arms with some wrath, as he grabs that near-shoulder plate and throws defenders through the B-gap basically, to open up space on the inside, and when he just delivers a little bump from the side, that guy often pops up quite a bit. He does a really good job of getting tight to his teammates with the elbows and on duo blocking, to not allow defenders to split or slip through somehow. Cleveland’s mobility was on display quite a bit as a puller leading up in the hole on power runs. What stands out about Georgia’s right guard in the pass game, is how patient he is with his hand-usage and how those long arms allow him get hands on the defender even when that guy lands his stabs first, as well as being able to guide rushers along, to not force the quarterback to move off the spot. To go with that, even big D-tackles have a tough time pushing those 350+ pounds very far into the depth of the pocket, thanks due to his competitive mindset, to re-position his hands and the base strength he has to slow down their momentum. Cleveland displays good awareness and ability to counter stunts & twists, where his head really snaps over to find the looper, he delivers a strong shove and does a good job squaring up the secondary defender. Over these last two years combined, he didn’t give up any sacks and just one total hit on the quarterback on just over 500 pass-blocking snaps.

However, Cleveland does play too tall for the guard position and loses the leverage battle for the most part. He is really high-hipped, that chest flips forward and eyes drop a lot, when initiating first contact, which can create some balance issues and tend to have him slip off blocks. Because of his build, he is certainly a bit of a waist-bender and his hands get pretty wide in protection, not necessarily landing forceful strikes routinely, while the ability to redirect literally is average at best. due in part to how much he limits himself at the hip level. And let’s not forget, that he only has one full year as starter, because of past academic issues and a broken fibula in 2018.

I’m big on mobility in the hips, to be able to open and move laterally, which is why I’m probably a little lower on Cleveland than the consensus and I like the guy playing next to him better, but he is still a fun prospect to watch, who will give an offensive line an attitude in the run game. While a power-run offense would fit him best, I don’t see him as a scheme-dependent player and I think he could probably kick out to tackle and survive there in a pinch.

Kendrick Green, Illinois

6’3”, 300 pounds; RS JR

A former top-500 overall recruit at defensive tackle and one of the highest ones in the state of Illinois, Kendrick decided to stay home and play under Lovie Smith. He redshirted his first year on campus, to transition to the offensive side of the ball full time, and now has started all 33 games over these last three seasons, with all but four of them at left guard, jumping in at center for those other ones. In 2019 he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten and then consensus first-team all-conference this past season.

His freshman year, Green played a big role for the most-improved running game in the nation (+137.4 yards per game from 2017 to ’18). He received an elite zone-blocking grade by PFF in 2020 and it’s easy to see why. He has very mobile hips and crazy agility, to be able to cover ground laterally for reach-blocks on three-techniques or scooping up shade nose-tackles in the wide zone run game, where he continues to swivel his base around, to put his frame between the defender and the ball, plus he smoothly transitions to LB off zone combos. Yet, he can also create plenty of vertical movement and ride guys down the line if they shoot upfield aggressively, plus he has the grip strength to throw defenders to the turf, as he tries to create that late space between him and the center late. He excels at catching bodies on the move, where he leaves little space between them and stays on top until the whistle blows. Green has experience with a multitude of pulling responsibilities in the Fighting Illini’s run-heavy offense – skip-pulls and isolating backers, kicking out end-men, wrapping around or getting out to the edge and leading the way on sweep and toss plays, where he shows some good speed and overall delivers some umph at first contact. In the pass game, he displays a tight punch, to strike upwards, and neutralizes rushers early on, with his feet dug into the turf. His eyes are always up in protection and he uses balanced, well-coordinated steps and slides, to get in front of rushers. When they are engaged, he operates with good sink in his hips to stymie their power and sit down on them. Green does an excellent job squaring up edge rushers slanting into the B-gap or blitzing coming from off-alignments, where he has the anchor strength to slow down their charge. There are a few snaps, where he has no work in protection and you see him actively target rushers, accelerate up to them and blow them up coming from the side. Last season, he didn’t allow a single sack and just six total pressures on 238 pass-blocking snaps.

When you go back, Green’s 2019 tape was not nearly as good as last year’s. You see defenders crash through the B-gap on the frontside of zone runs on several occasions, where he doesn’t show quite show the agile footwork or strength to keep those bodies parallel to the line of scrimmage. His aiming points are a little off at times still and his angles up to the second level can be too aggressive at times. Green tends to overextend against pass-rushers taking wider angles and miss on edge defenders showing in the B-gap because he gets too enamored with landing a big hit, rather than just protecting his space. Plus, he is a little late to diagnose games up front, And you see him land on the turf on too many occasions, especially as a puller, often without any fault of a third party.

Green might only have one season of tape on which I would grade him close to a top ten prospects on the interior O-line, but we also have to consider that he hasn’t played only those positions for very long. So there are certainly still things he can and will clean up. I really liked what I saw from him at center, where those issues of working through lateral contact won’t hurt as much, and I think he will go higher than expected, because he had some freakish testing at his pro day, in the 97th percentile or better for every single testing measurement.

David Moore, Grambling State

6’2”, 350 pounds; RS SR

With only two years of playing high school football, Moore was a no-star recruit, despite being an all-state selection in Arkansas, and joined one of the more-recognized HBCU programs. He played in nine games as a backup his freshman season, before starting all contests at either guard spot respectively in 2018 and ’19, earning some attention from NFL scouts and Jim Nagy’s Senior Bowl team, where he intrigued talent evaluators again in late January, after the SWAC didn’t play in 2020.

Moore presents a very solid, block-like build, but he has surprising quickness off the snaps and he kind of stands out along up front right away on tape. He has the power to uproot one-techniques out of the gap on vertical run schemes, to open some lanes that a car could drive through, and he can whack over defensive tackles into the opposite A-gap, when he comes over to deliver a bump, before working up to the second level. Moore does a really job good securing blocks on A-gap defenders and then has that almost odd suddenness to come off and wall off the backer with excellent timing, when you consider what his frame looks like. And he is under really good control and very effective getting up to linebackers in general. Moore also shows pretty good mobility to pull out to the edge or skip-pull leading up in the hole and is a like a tank clearing the way. He has that finishing mentality and from what it looks like play-to-play. Moore has vice grip on his hands, to end reps in pass-pro on the spot, keeping rushers tight to his chest, where nobody sees that he’s grabbing cloth, plus he takes those small steps to make the subtle adjustments, as his guy tries to get away. He doesn’t overreact to pass-rush moves and with his wide chest, he is still in front of defenders after spin moves. Moore may allow rushers to get around him momentarily, as they try to attack the gap, but when he gets another hit on them, he can absolutely send them flying. And when he puts defenders on the turf in pass-pro, he will jump on top of them right away. He has the surprising ability to redirect after “handing off” the first man on twists, to go with the strong upper body to support that, as he takes the steam off the second guy. And when Moore isn’t tasked with anybody in protection, but sees one of his teammates locked up with somebody, he lands some rib shots that are worth remembering.

With that being said, Moore has to flatten the angle when blocking down at times, because he allows defenders to slip underneath because of it. There could still be some improvement with hand-placement in the run game overall, while his upper and lower body aren’t very well-coordinated all the time. Moore is just a little slow-footed and limited in terms of space he can cover laterally. He allows defenders to get to his edges too much in general and his weight is out in front quite a bit, which more well-schooled pass-rush will take advantage of to a higher degree. Something that was apparent early on at the Senior Bowl was that he can struggle with guys who are already lined up in the body and he can’t both hands on them. I could see those upfield penetrating style players give him some trouble because of that.

Down in Mobile, Moore had a very rough first day, just not moving his feet and holding guys, but he settled in more when they put him primarily at center, where you saw him really clamp guys off the snap and not let go. Like some reps were all over and he still had his hands full with jersey, to the dislike of plenty of defenders. There’s more fleet-footed players, but Moore can drive defenders around in the run game and snatch interior pass-rushers. I think center would be his best spot, in a gap-run oriented scheme.

The next names up:

Drake Jackson (Kentucky), Sadarius Hutcherson (South Carolina), Drew Dalman (Stanford), Michal Menet (Penn State), Robert Hainsey & Tommy Kraemer (Notre Dame), Robert Jones (Middle Tennessee) & Jack Anderson (Texas Tech)


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