Top 10 Prospects: Offensive Line

Over the next couple of weeks and leading up to the draft, I will be taking a look at each position, if the Dolphins have a need to upgrade that position in the draft, and who are the top 10 prospects going in. Remember, this is only one man’s opinion. This is the fifth of such posts and today we will look at the offensive line.

Sorry for the delay. I’ve been a bit distracted for the past week or so, but I’m back and raring to go.

Offensive line. Now the fifth position I’ve done that the Miami Dolphins have a need to upgrade (this is my fifth prospect post, do the math). I thought about doing a separate post for each position on the line, but figured that might be overkill.

Jake Long is the star of this unit, hands down. If he continues on the path he is currently on, it may well end in Canton. Vernon Carey has been reliable on the other side of the line, but at 30 years old when (if?) the season begins, the interior OL may be where Carey’s future lies. Coming into camp last year, the big question on Richie Incognito was not his play, but his attitude. In his first year with the Dolphins, he behaved and played well. However, he is not a pulling guard and might fancy a move to center, where he matches up well with those big defensive tackles. That leaves the two guard positions. Rookie John Jerry was up and down in 10 games for the Dolphins last year, but it’s impossible to know if he is the future at the position. The coaching staff is very high on Nate Garner as well, the 6’7 320 pound third year player.

The Dolphins are still looking to upgrade the line (especially the interior line), with its dismal 3.7 yard per carry average last season. So, I give you the top 10 offensive linemen prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft:

*The position in parentheses is the one they are most likely to play in the NFL

1. Tyron Smith (OT), USC 6’5, 307 lbs

Smith is far from the most polished prospect in the draft. However, he is number one on this list because of his ridiculous upside. After playing at 285 for the 2010 season, he weighed in at 307 at the combine. He is athletic for his size, and can get out in front of his running back on tosses. He can anticipate the blitz and slide to cover if necessary. He is an excellent pass blocker and was voted the best offensive lineman in the Pac-10 (Morris Trophy) by the defensive linemen of the conference. His downsides include his ability to get off the snap first and the fact that is susceptible to the swim move. He also spent two years playing right tackle at USC, but never started a game at left tackle, where he is expected to play in the NFL. However, his agility will make the move from right to left easy for him. It is possible that the Dallas Cowboys like Smith at #9, but (surprise pick?) I’ve heard some rumors that the Arizona Cardinals at #5 really like Smith as well.

2. Anthony Castonzo (OT), Boston College 6’7 311 lbs

A lot of experts have Castonzo as the number one tackle in the draft, but I like Smith’s upside more. However, there is no denying Castonzo’s talent. He holds the career record for starts at BC with 54 and BC is known for producing NFL quality offensive linemen. Castonzo’s long frame, balance and quick feet in pass protection are certain to attract attention from many teams, especially the Lions at #13. He has great feet, but will need to bulk up a bit and work on his run blocking to be a star at the next level. He has good initial quickness off the snap and is usually able to secure the edge. He is also a high character guy and has said that he after his career he wants to pursue cancer research, after being inspired by teammate Mark Herzlich, who beat cancer.

3. Nate Solder (OT), Colorado 6’8, 307 lbs

Another linemen who is in the conversation for top lineman in the draft. Solder had an impressive combine and followed it up with an equally impressive pro day. The concern is his weight, which dropped 12 pounds between his pro day and the combine. However, his length and athletic ability make him an ideal blind side tackle. He stays low and attacks defenders. He is decent pass blocker and a good run blocker. Concerns about Solder are that he tends to lunge at defenders and can be beat by a good inside move. He will need a bulk up a bit, but is still a first rounder.

4. Mike Pouncey (OG), Florida 6’5, 303 lbs

The first guard on the board, Pouncey has a great NFL pedigree, with brother Maurkice Pouncey a starting center and pro bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The younger Pouncey actually spent his first year at Florida playing defensive tackle, before moving to the offensive side of the ball. Like his brother, he is known for his size, athleticism and versatility. Pouncey has played defensive tackle, both guard positions and center. He will more than likely be a guard in the NFL, even though he has said he’d like to play center. He has the ability to pull, something Incognito did not have for the Dolphins last year. He is a good pass blocker, and can hold up well with the big nose tackles. He has good burst off the line, and is a high character guy who can the be the “quarterback of the line” even at the guard position. He does struggle with the blitz though, and can be knocked around by a bull rusher. If the Dolphins move down and pass on Mark Ingram, many rumors have them taking Pouncey. He’ll probably be off the board by pick #20.

5. Gabe Carimi (OT), Wisconsin 6’7, 319 lbs

Carimi was probably the best player at the Senior Bowl. His elite footwork make him a likely first rounder in the draft. He has excellent lateral movement, which defenders will have trouble getting around the corner against. As a Badger, he was a top-notch run blocker. He rarely gets beaten off the line and has size and arm length make him an ideal NFL prospect. However, he tends to bend at the waist while engaged, with often leads to him on the ground. Team will like him because of his frame and his footwork, and his potential to be a 10 or more year starter at tackle.

6. Derek Sherrod (OT), Mississippi State 6’5, 321 lbs

Sherrod may have the best build and size and of any of the prospects to play tackle in the NFL. He uses his hands extremely well and has the ability to turn defenders away from the ball on running plays. He can protect the edge from fast defenders and also can mirror defenders in the open field. However, he isn’t elite at getting off the line and tends to get off the line too high on running plays. He has also been compared to Michael Oher in The Blind Side for not being mean enough to finish off his blocks. He is an extremely smart and high character guy though, and with a bit of coaching, can be a starter for a long time in the league. His impressive performance at his pro day have started talks that he may have worked his way into the first round, as the Colts at #22, the Ravens at #26 and the Bears at #29 have all shown interest in Sherrod.

7. Danny Watkins (OG), Baylor 6’3, 310 lbs

Watkins followed a pretty routine path to the NFL. He played rugby and hockey in Canada, then spent four years as a firefighter in his hometown of British Columbia. He then went to Butte Junior College in 2007, primarily for the schools firefighting academy, and decided to walk-on to the football team. 4 years later, the now 26-year old Watkins is now a first-round prospect in the NFL Draft. In 2010, Watkins took over the left tackle spot for #2 pick Jason Smith. While both of his years at Baylor he played tackle, he is projected as a guard in the NFL because of his size.  He is a powerful run blocker and can reach the second level. His agility says that he has the ability to pull across the line. He plays with a mean streak and at 26, has the maturity asked of NFL rookies. However, his lacks the initial burst asked of guards in the NFL and his age and lack of experience has thrown up some red flags, as well as his short arms. Watkins may be able to sneak into the first round, but will more than likely be an early second rounder.

8. Stefen Wisniewksi (C), Penn State 6’3, 313 lbs

The first center on the list, in a year that the position is extremely weak. He is another that has a great NFL pedigree as both his uncle (Steve) and father (Leo) played at Penn State and in the NFL. Wisniewksi has limited size, but makes up for it with his toughness, awareness and quickness. He was successful at both guard positions and center during his time with Joe Paterno, but most experts believe his future is at center. He won’t overpower any nose tackle, but will beat them with his technique, which is second-to-none. Another high character guy that won’t quit on any play until he hears the whistle.  He will put his defender on the ground and keep him there. He can get out in the open field and mirror defenders. He needs to work on being more consistent with his footwork and has a history of injuries, but he has great upside. He will be a top 50 pick.

9. Benjamin Ijalana (OG), Villanova 6’4, 317 lbs

There was not a more dominant lineman in the CAA than Ijalana, who helped to lead the Wildcats to a national championship in 2009. He is extremely durable and played all 53 games during his time at school, and was the only player from FCS to be on the watch for the Outland Trophy (top lineman in the country). Unfortunately for Ijalana, a sports hernia caused him to miss the Senior Bowl, his best chance to prove to NFL scouts that he can play with the big boys. He absolutely dominated FCS competition, using his excellent footwork and athleticism to keep his defenders at bay. He also has the ability to move into the hole and stop blitzing linebackers. Concerns will go back to the level of competition he played against and the fact that he plays too upright in pass protection. His injury will also throw up a red flag for some teams. Because of his size, scouts are projecting him as a guard in the NFL. Whichever team takes a chance on him in the second round might end up being rewarded handsomely.

10. Rodney Hudson (C), Florida State, 6’2, 299 lbs

Hudson is an interesting prospect. At only 299 lbs, he is a little small to stay at guard, which why most experts have him being a center in the NFL. However, he is athletic enough to fit in a zone blocking scheme. Just like Stefen Wisniewksi, he plays stronger than he is and uses his excellent technique to beat defenders. There are concerns that Florida State’s wide-open scheme fit well for Hudson, but that won’t translate well to the NFL. One of his biggest strengths is his initial burst, which allows him to get off the line first and control bigger defenders. If Hudson can bulk up a bit, he will fit in well in a zone blocking offense. He will be off the board by the end of the second round, and possibly before that.

Five others to watch:

Marcus Cannon (OT), TCU 6’5, 358 lbs

Orlando Franklin (OT), Miami (Fla.) 6’6, 316 lbs

Clint Boling (OG), Georgia 6’5, 308 lbs

James Carpenter (OT), Alabama 6’4, 321 lbs

Will Rackley (OG), Lehigh 6’3, 309 lbs

I’ve thought about this a bit, and I love the idea of trading down with San Diego, getting the 18th pick and a pick sometime in the second round, taking Mark Ingram (if he is there) with the 18th pick, and grabbing Ijlana in the second round. I love players from FCS schools, especially players who absolutely dominated there. Why? I think experts severely overvalue level of competition and FCS players tend to be steals in later rounds. The fact that Ijlana is still a projected second rounder coming from an FCS school just speaks to how well he played there.

If that doesn’t happen , I don’t mind a trade down to take Mike Pouncey in the first round and a quarterback in the second. That seems to be a popular option and I happen to like Pouncey a lot.

Who do you believe is the best option for our beloved Phins?

Other Top 10 Prospects:

Quarterback

Running Back

Wide Receiver

Tight End

Twitter- @notquiterosey


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Tags: Anthony Castonzo Benjamin Ijalana Clint Boling Danny Watkins Derek Sherrod Gabe Carimi James Carpenter Marcus Cannon Miami Dolphins Mike Pouncey Nate Solder NFL Draft Offensive Line Orlando Franklin Rodney Hudson Stefen Wisniewski Top 10 Prospects Tyron Smith Will Rackley

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