2014 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Linemen

  • Post Author
    by Web manager
  • Post Date
    Tue Mar 04 2014

The game of football is won and lost in the trenches. Even if a team has an insanely talented running back or quarterback, if they have no room to run and no time to throw, then their talent is largely irrelevant. Whereas if a team has a mediocre quarterback or running back, giving them time in the pocket or clearing alleys for them to run in is going to make them look like much better players than they actually are. The point is, having a good offensive line is crucial to being successful as a team.

The problem with evaluating offensive lineman in a draft is that there really are no statistics available to help make an assessment. The only statistics available are pancake blocks and sacks allowed, both of which can be gray areas, and pancake blocks really does not account for the technician linemen who use their hands and feet to prevent the defenders from getting to the quarterback or running back rather than simply pushing them down with strength. So in evaluating linemen, the best way to judge a player is by watching them player and looking at the numbers they put up at the Combine. In my mind, it really is unfortunate that there is so little concrete data that can be used to evaluate what is arguably one of the most important positions on the field.

But enough of my rant. Quick reminders for anyone new to my ranking system.

How it works-
I will start each of these posts by examining which teams need the players in question. By in large this is only going to be teams that are in need of a new starting player, not necessarily a backup.

For each player I will provide analysis, statistics from the 2013-2014 season, and a general idea of where I believe they will be taken in the draft.

Things to keep in mind-

The rankings that I post here are based on my observations of the player's statistics, game tape, and any rumors that leak out to the general public. I make no claims to have insider knowledge into the draft process or any teams overall plan this is merely my own ranking system if I were evaluating these player for any given NFL team.

As with any ranking system, it is all relative. Scouting reports by professionals can differ greatly for the same individual for the same game. So my rankings by no means the definitive order.

I love football. I love the NFL, and college football, and I love sharing what I love with other people. And that is the ultimate point in creating these rankings: To share what I know about the players who will be a part of my favorite football event of the year, namely the draft. Whether you love the draft process as I do, just want to know a little bit more about some of the top college players outside of those at Wisconsin, or are simply interested in who your favorite team could be looking at in May, I want these rankings to be informative.

Now let's get to it.

Teams looking to draft and offensive lineman in 2014:

Miami Dolphins: The end result of the Jonathan Martin Bullying Scandal is that there are now three holes on the Dolphins offensive line. Martin is most likely on his way out, Incognito and John Jerry are both free agents and therefore unlikely to be retained, meaning that in all, the Dolphins lose a tackle and both of their guards. Ryan Tannehill is a talented guy, but behind a makeshift line like the one the Dolphins have now, he has no chance to succeed. The Dolphins need to use their first round pick on a member of the offensive line, and I would be shocked if they did not.

Arizona Cardinals: Being in the same division as the Seahawks and 49ers has overshadowed the success the Cardinals had last season, when they went 10-6 yet failed to make the playoffs. Carson Palmer was a huge upgrade from Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and whoever else the Cardinals decided to try under center. Although the Cardinals' line allowed only 41 sacks, Palmer was hit 98 times, ninth most in the league. Given that the Cardinals have a tremendous defense, and a quality receiving corps, adding a tackle to protect Carson Palmer would be an excellent plan, and would go a long way to contending with the aggressive defenses of San Fransisco and Seattle.

Baltimore Ravens: Despite adding Eugene Monroe during the season, Baltimore's offensive line really struggled. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce found little success all season, and it is not just because of their shortcomings, the Ravens' line did nothing to help them out. In addition, the Baltimore line gave up 48 sacks last year, the 4th most in the league. Joe Flacco was miserable last year, setting a new career high in interceptions with 22. I still have no idea what people were thinking when they said the Ravens would be better last year than the year they won the Super Bowl. Somehow, despite an abysmal running game and Joe Flacco not having anyone to throw to, the Ravens limped to an 8-8 record. If they want to contend with the Bengals, the Ravens have to fix their offensive issues, and adding a powerful lineman would be a huge help.

Carolina Panthers: This is not something I would have listed as a huge need a couple of weeks ago, but in the wake of Jordan Gross' retirement, finding a replacement for the All-Pro tackle is imperative for the Panthers. Cam Newton took a big step forward last year, but losing such a talented left tackle is a major issue. The Panthers will have to replace Gross if they want to see Cam continue to develop as a quarterback and keep pace with the Saints in what could be a stacked division depending on the Falcons and Buccaneers' turnarounds.

Atlanta Falcons: Last year, the Falcon's line allowed Matt Ryan to be sacked 44 times and hit 100 times. Given that Atlanta just gave Ryan over 100 million to be their franchise quarterback, keeping him upright would be a necessity. Matt Ryan is a good quarterback, but as I said in the intro, if he has no time to throw, there is not a whole lot that can be done. Especially given the fact that Stephen Jackson seemed thoroughly unable to provide any relief for Ryan in the running game, adding a new tackle to the equation would go a long way to flipping the fortunes of the Falcons.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns have two players on their offensive line that I am huge fans of. One is Joe Thomas, the Iron Man from Wisconsin, has never missed a game and plays like the best left tackle in the game. The other is Alex Mack, their center who is an impending free agent. Even assuming that Mack is retained by the latest Browns' front office members, they need to add some talent to the guard position at the very least, perhaps even at right tackle. Assuming that the Browns take a quarterback with the 4th overall pick, drafting an offensive lineman to protect their new investment would be a wise decision, given that last year, the Browns allowed 49 sacks and 121 QB hits, with the hits easily being the highest in the league.

I am doing things a little differently this time, instead of looking at 5 tackles, guards, and centers, I am going to give a top 3 at each position this week.

Offensive Tackles:

#1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Height: 6'5, Weight: 308 lbs
NFL Combine: 5.07 40-yard Dash, 7.34 sec 3-Cone Drill

Starting with the results from the combine, Matthews may not have had the most impressive numbers, but they are solid for the position, and he ended up being one of the top performers in the 3-Cone Drill and the vertical jump, two drills designed to measure footwork and explosiveness in the lower half, respectively. Matthews also looked solid in the on-field drills, exhibiting excellent technique, a trait he was famous for during his time at Texas A&M. Watching him, he did not look like a particularly large man, which is possibly one of the reasons Matthews is able to move so fluidly.

Looking at the tape is really where I see Matthews shine. He is a master pass-blocker. One of the main reasons Johnny Manziel was able to scramble so effectively and have time to throw the ball is because there was rarely any pressure coming from his blindside. Matthews locked down defenders with his near-perfect technique time after time, showing the impressive bloodlines he has, being the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. He may not physically dominate defenders at the point of attack, his footwork and hand technique are more than enough to prevent any pressure from getting to Manziel. Matthews could use a little bit of work in the running game, where using physicality is the preferred trait, but by no means is Matthews bad at run-blocking.

Bottom line, Matthews is probably one of the safest picks in this upcoming draft. He can play anywhere on the line, he started at left tackle this year after playing on the right side a year ago, and wherever a team decides to put him, they know that Matthews is going to be a stable, consistent blocker capable of protecting the quarterback. As it stands, the NFL is a passing league, and adding a talented, polished pass protector would be wonderful for whatever team takes him. It is hard for me to see Matthews fall outside of the top 10.

Final Decision: Top-10 pick

#2. Greg Robinson, Auburn
Height: 6'5, Weight: 332 lbs.
NFL Combine: 4.92 40-yard Dash, 32 reps bench press

Greg Robinson is an athletic freak of nature. Despite having about 25 pounds on Matthews, Robinson was able to run a faster 40 time, and Robinson ended with the second best time out of the offensive linemen. Throw in the fact that Robinson was able to bench 225 lbs 32 times, and I can easily see why it is that a lot of people prefer Greg Robinson to Jake Matthews. Robinson has great height and weight for the position, and he moves exceedingly well for a man of his size. As I said athleticism is Robinson's calling card, and based on his performance at the Combine, Robinson is probably shooting up a lot of draft boards, especially when you consider the fact that he is just a redshirt sophomore, still a young, talented player.

Watching Robinson on tape is really where I start to think that Matthews is the better overall tackle prospect. When I watch Robinson, he is a real bear of a tackle. He uses his size and weight to gain leverage over the defenders, and in run blocking, he does a great job, and Robinson is one of the primary reasons that Auburn's vaunted rushing attack was so successful. The problem is pass blocking. I see a very raw player with Robinson in pass protection, and I saw a couple of concerning things in that aspect. Robinson seemed to struggle at picking up blitzes to his side of the field, and there were a few times when despite a linebacker and safety cheating up to the line, Robinson decides to block the defensive end already being taken by his guard rather than take one of the incoming defenders. Maybe this was part of the design, but given that this was a passing play, I am not convinced of that, and it seems to me that Robinson would have been better served taking the linebacker and allowing Tre Mason to block the safety. In any case, Robinson is spectacular is run blocking, but I would categorize him as a “work in progress” in pass protection.

A lot of people like Greg Robinson better than Matthews. It is actually one of the better debates going on at the moment, but for me, it comes down to relative ceilings and floors. Robinson, given his youth, size, and athleticism, could end up being a better overall tackle in the NFL than Jake Matthews. But Robinson has some work to do before he can make that come true, and right now, Matthews is the better overall prospect than Greg Robinson in my mind. Nevertheless, Robinson is going to end up being one of the top prospects taken in May, and there is a good chance that he is taken before Matthews. Ultimately, Robinson is going to be a top 10 pick, I just cannot see him falling with all of his talents unless something goes terribly wrong between now and the draft.

Final Decision: Top 10 Pick

#3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Height: 6'7, Weight: 308 lbs.
NFL Combine: 4.87 40-yard Dash, 9 ft 9 in. Broad Jump

A lot of people are under the impression that the race for top tackle in the draft class is a two man race, with Lewan being a consolation prize. And I am going to tell you now, that is simply not true. Lewan should be right up there in consideration for top tackle, and if Lewan is a consolation prize, he is a fantastic prize to end up with. Last year, three tackles were taken in the first 4 picks, and I fully believe that any one of these tackles could have been the first overall pick a year ago. I highly doubt that Matthews, Robinson, and Lewan would all be taken in the first 5 picks this year, but that really speaks to the quality of this year's draft rather than to a lack of talent in the top three tackles. In any case, Lewan was arguably the most athletic tackle at the Combine, he ran the best 40 time, and was a top performer in the vertical jump, broad jump, and 3-Cone Drill. Bottom line, a lot of people are ignoring Lewan to talk about Robinson and Matthews, but anyone who actually watches Lewan will know that the discrepancy between Lewan and the other two is not nearly as large as others would want you to believe.

The best way to describe Lewan in comparison to the other two, at least based on film, is to say that Matthews is an amazing pass blocker, and a good run blocker. Robinson is a stellar run blocker, and a decent pass blocker. Taylor Lewan does not do either thing with as much specialization as Matthews and Robinson, but he is a complete tackle, he can pass block and run block quite well, but he does not excel at one aspect like the other two. Watching Lewan against Michigan State's stifling defense and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt, I see that Lewan is highly talented and polished in both aspects of blocking, he moved his feet well and knows his assignments in pass protection, and it is rare to see him lose in a one on one fight. In run blocking, he is aggressive at the point of attack, and can dominate a defender physically to open up the holes for the running back. I love Lewan's overall game, he can step into the left tackle position right away for a team and succeed. I am not convinced that he has the same ceiling as Jake Matthews does, but I think Lewan's floor is still quite impressive, he could easily earn a couple of trips to the Pro Bowl, and maybe more.

If I were a GM looking for a pass blocker, I would probably want to take Lewan before Robinson. Beyond Lewan's polish, he has much more experience at the position. Lewan has played tackle for 4 years at Michigan, and I have no doubt that he will be able to succeed at the next level. In fact, as a GM, I would almost prefer that Matthews and Robinson be taken before Lewan, to give him some competitive fire help bring out the best in him, because at the end of the day, I think that Matthews, Robinson, and Lewan all have a chance to be the top tackle from this draft class.

Final Decision: Top 20 pick

Offensive Guards:

#1. David Yankey, Stanford
Height: 6'6, Weight: 315 lbs.
NFL Combine: 5.48 40-yard Dash, 22 reps Bench Press

So first off, Yankey did not have an excellent combine. He did well enough, and no one is going to ask a guard prospect to run a quick 40, but they will look at his bench press and ask a couple of questions. For that matter, I did as well, and ultimately Yankey does not crush defenders with terrible consistency, but he is capable of it, especially in run blocking. In any case, during the Combine Yankey performed well in the on-field drills, which is encouraging despite his somewhat lackluster performance in the 40 and bench. Bottom line at the Combine, Yankey did not blow anyone away, but I do not think he really hurt his draft status either.

The tape is what makes me put Yankey at #1 for guards. Realistically, none of these guys are worth a first round pick, but Yankey is the best of the bunch in my opinion. Everyone in the top 3 is a good run blocker, and Yankey is no exception. He played at Stanford, one of the more “traditional”, power run teams in college. He is aggressive at the point of attack and finishes his blocks with authority, but he does not physically crush defenders like some of the other guards I will list. What really puts Yankey at the top of my guard list is the fact that his pass blocking is the best of the bunch. Watching him play, it is obvious to me that Yankey spent time at left tackle, working against some faster pass rushers. He can still get beaten by them, but his footwork and hand technique stands out above the other two guys. Realistically, what you have in Yankey is a former left tackle who was moved in to the interior because while he was not quite good enough to cut it as a tackle, still has great physical talent and footwork.

I am higher on Yankey than a lot of other people, but at the end of the day, I think right now Yankey is the most complete guard on the board, being able to work both aspects of blocking well enough to step in and be a good starter. He definitely has talent, and he could become a great guard with a bit of experience under his belt. That being said, there is no Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper in this year's guard class. (Though in fairness, that is like saying there's no Andrew Luck of guards. It is highly abnormal to see a guard taken in the top 10, and last year two of them managed it.) Anyway, Yankey looks like a Day 2 pick, I would happily take him in the 2nd Round, but if by some chance he slips to Round 3, all the better value for whoever takes him.

Final Decision: Round 2

#2. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Height: 6'3, Weight: 336 lbs.
NFL Combine: 5.51 40-yard Dash, 30 reps Bench Press

Gabe Jackson is a big man. He's huge. Which means he has great size to be a guard, and he utilizes that size quite well when it comes to run blocking. But more on that later. No one expected Jackson to run anything close to a 5 second flat 40. He is not athletic like Greg Robinson, so seeing a 5.51 really is no big deal. It is not often, if ever, that a guard will be asked to run 40 yards flat. Only situations that happens would be screen plays that are working ridiculously well, or a fumble/interception, and if that is the case, I doubt any guard would be able to hunt down the ball carrier. Bottom line, no one cares about a guard's 40 unless it is insanely low or above 6 seconds. Anyway, at the Combine, 30 reps on the bench did not make Jackson a top performer in the area, but Jackson has long arms, which makes lifting the bar more difficult for him than a short-armed lineman. In any case, Jackson did nothing to hurt himself at the Combine, which is great for him.

On tape, I love watching Jackson run block. He is an absolute mammoth, running over would-be tacklers and just generally doing a great job opening lanes for the running backs. From a pure run blocking standpoint, I think that Jackson is the best in that respect. His pass blocking is what drops him to #2 for me. He struggles mightily against the speed rushers, but If he can catch the defenders he does a good job preventing him from getting to the quarterback. What that really says to me is that Jackson really shines when he is able to dictate his movement, like in run blocking. He knows where he needs to go, and pushes forward with great strength. In pass protection, he does not know where the defenders are going to try to attack, and he can struggle then in filling the gap. Jackson does do a good job following the defenders as they try to move across the line, but in close quarters, if a defender has good burst, they can get around Jackson.

Jackson is probably going to end up being the first guard taken. He has great size, work ethic, and has been a pure guard for his years at Mississippi State, unlike Yankey and Su'a-Filo, both of whom have dabbled at tackle. There's no question that Jackson can step in and be a real force in the running game, but he could use a bit of work in the pass protection aspect. I do not doubt that he can reach his potential, and whatever team ends up with him will be getting a starter for the next several years, but they may have to take some time and teach him better pass protection movements.

Final Decision: Round 2

#3. Xavier Su'a-Filo, University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA)
Height: 6'4, Weight: 304 lbs.
NFL Combine: 5.04 40-yard Dash, 25 reps Bench Press

Out of the three guys I have listed here, Su'a-Filo definitely demonstrated himself as the most athletic guard available of the bunch. He came quite close to running a 5.0 flat, which would be great for a guard. He might have ended up weighing in a little bit light that what one would expect from a guard, but I think he can still make it work. He also ended up tied for 3rd best time in the 20-yard shuttle, with a 4.44 sec time. I would say that Su'a-Filo helped himself at the combine, showing off his athleticism quite effectively.

In watching Su'a-Filo, you can see that he rotates between left guard and tackle in the middle of games, but that his true home is going to be at the guard position. I cannot see him at tackle, he looked lost in pass protection as a tackle, and that is a huge problem for any team interested in him. As with the other two, Su'a-Filo is a great run blocker, he is aggressive, and actively looks for the next man to block after knocking down his first opponent. He gets into the second level effectively, a result of his athleticism. Su'a-Filo's main problem is in pass protection. He gets beat at the line of scrimmage, he seemed particularly susceptible to the swim move, and ultimately he has a lot of work to do in that respect. He does not lock down defenders as well as Jackson does, most likely a result of his slightly smaller frame, but he does a good enough job.

Full disclosure, I would be a little nervous about drafting Su'a-Filo. Not because he has off field issues by any means, he spent two years on a Mormon mission trip in 2010 and 2011 and is an Eagle Scout. Everyone speaks to fantastic intangibles about him, and I do not doubt it. The problem with him is, while he was on the mission trip, he lost two years of football workouts and practices, so as it stands, he is 23 years old, and has the farthest to go out of these three guards before reaching his potential. 23 is not terribly old for a prospect, (Brandon Weeden was 29 when he was drafted in the 2012 draft, now THAT is old for a prospect.) but he is behind on the timeline. In 2009 he started as a left tackle, then decided to go on his mission trip, and since he came back he has been working between tackle and guard, meaning that he will be raw wherever he is put on the field. If I were a GM picking in the latter half of the second round, I may pass on Su'a-Filo simply because I do not know when he will maximize his potential. If he does though, he will be a quality starter, and as such, he will probably be taken in the second round.

Final Decision: Round 2


#1. Marcus Martin, University of South California (USC)
Height: 6'3, Weight: 320 lbs.
NFL Combine: 23 reps Bench Press

In my opinion, there is not a whole lot to say about this year's center class, because none of them seem ready to step in right away and start, meaning that any team with a dearth at center will have to develop one of these guys or hope for better fortunes in free agency. In any case, Martin is probably the best available, in terms of potential and size. At the Combine, all Martin did was the bench press, which was a little underwhelming, but Martin did check in as the largest of the top 3 centers at the Combine.

On tape, Martin flashes talent with his size and strength, but it is relatively inconsistent. Watching him against Stanford, there were a few times that he drove the line and opened some huge holes for the running back, but it did not happen every play, so I have to question Martin's overall effort on each play. That being said, Martin's flashes of talent are highly encouraging. He shows strength in run blocking and good awareness in pass protection, but in both situations I think he could use a little more refinement. In fairness, he is relatively new to the position, with 2013 being the first year that he started all of his games at center.

There is no doubt that Martin has talent. He was able to start 10 games for the Trojans at guard as a freshman, not something commonly done at USC. But he is new to the center position, and needs to work a bit on his overall effort. He has strength and vision in blocking and does a good job overall in blocking, but I doubt any team would take him expecting him to be their starter week 1 of next year. That being said, center is a highly coveted position, so I could easily see some needy team drafting him in the second round, and I think he will at the latest be picked within the third round.

Final Decision: Round 2-3

#2. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Height: 6'3, Weigh: 298 lbs
NFL Combine: 5.10 40-yard Dash, 25 reps Bench Press

I like Richburg. He has great tenacity and versatility, being a converted quarterback/linebacker from his time in high school. He started a total of 31 games at center for Colorado State, along with a couple at guard and tackle, but in the NFL Richburg will have to be a center. He simply does not have the size necessary to be anything but a center. He showed a nice blend of speed and strength with his 40 and Bench Press, so I would certainly say that Richburg helped himself out at the Combine.

Watching him on tape, I liked what I saw in him as a blocker, he did the best he could in both aspects against Alabama, but because it was Alabama, he really could not drive any of the Crimson Tide back. Maybe it was unfair to watch the Alabama game, but the fact of the matter is that Alabama is the closest thing to a professional team in terms of talent in college football, and even then there is a huge game. So by that logic, watching Richburg against Alabama gives me a decent idea of where he is in terms of NFL potential. And the answer is that he is not ready. He has talent, and his ability to move, determination, and aggressiveness will help him maximize his talent, but right now, no team can draft him and start him with a good conscience. He simply could not move the Alabama line effectively, and I doubt he could without gaining some extra weight. But the talent is there, and if he can add some extra strength, he could be a good starting center for an NFL team, given his natural leadership and athleticism.

Like I said, I like Richburg. But he is a project player. He has the tools, he just needs a team to take a chance on him and help him meet his potential. I have faith that he will be drafted in the 3rd round at the very latest, possibly 2nd round if a team believes he can learn quickly, possibly 4th round if teams are scared off by his overall lack of weight and size.

Final Decision: Round 3

#3. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
Height: 6'5, Weight: 312 lbs.
NFL Combine: 5.28 40-yard Dash, 20 reps Bench Press

If Swanson was able to fill out his frame a bit more, then I think a team could have something in the Arkansas center. As it stands, he has good height, but is lacking in the weight and strength department. 20 reps on the Bench was not ideal for Swanson, and if he wants to move up draft boards he is going to have to do better at his Pro Day. However, he is a tough guy, starting in 50 games for the Razorbacks, and one of only 11 people to ever serve as a team captain in back to back years. Leadership and durability are Swanson's calling cards for the time being.

When I watch Swanson on tape, I am concerned by the fact that he never seems to dominate the opposing defenders. He can hold them in check, which is a start, but he did not seem able to overpower the defensive lineman, which is in line with the perception that Swanson needs more strength to succeed in the NFL. He moves his feet well in pass protection, and he can create some openings for a running back, but he is not the physical presence on the field like the guards I mentioned earlier, and as a result, he can have issues getting to the second level.

There is no doubt that Swanson is a smart guy, and a capable leader. But he has quite a few question marks around him. He is basically stuck at center, but if he could find a way to shift out to a guard position then it would help his draft stock. As it stands, Swanson is going to need work before he can be a starting caliber center for an NFL team, but worst case scenario he should be able to stick around as a backup one brains alone, if not on brawn. If I were a GM, I would not feel entirely comfortable drafting Swanson in the 3rd round, which is where I think he will end up, unless I had a stable core of linemen to help him in his process of becoming an NFL starter. But as I stated before, center is a position of need, and some team is going to draft him with the belief that they can fix him and make him a good NFL center.

Final Decision: Round 3

That does it for my Offensive Linemen rankings, next week I will post my rankings for the Defensive Ends.

By Mike Veldhuis