In a recent article, I discussed the weaknesses of the Dolphins interior offensive linemen. In 2010, the primary trio consisted of Richie Incognito (LG), Joe Berger (C), and John Jerry (RG) which caused the run game to take a step back from its above average performance in 2009. Tony Sparano has noted the lack of an interior push in the run game as well as an inability to get to the second level for blocks leading to chunk yards.
For me, I saw Justin Smiley pulling from his LG position to lead rushing on the right side in 2009. That did not happen in 2010. Richie Incognito did not show a similar consistent ability, if any at all, to pull from his LG position and lead rushing on the right side in 2010. So, one way or the other, I believe the Dolphins have to find a LG who has a demonstrated ability to pull with quickness to lead the rushing on the right side. Rather than finding a free agent for the job, it would be nice to see a young player drafted to pair up with Jake Long on the left side of the Dolphins line. So, what top guards could the Dolphins pick in the 2011 NFL Draft?
Let’s take a look at arguably the top six offensive guards in this year’s draft — Mike Pouncey (Florida), Benjamin Ijalana (Villanova), Danny Watkins (Baylor), John Moffitt (Wisconsin), Clint Boling (Georgia), and Will Rackley (Lehigh). Now, before we go any further, first let me say that I did not include Rodney Hudson (Florida State) and Steve Wisniewski (Penn State). These players did play guard in college, but are widely projected to play center in the NFL — I will be taking a look at them and other centers in an article in the near future.
Second, if you are familiar with my articles, I often first place the players side-by-side in a table to compare their college stats and combine numbers. Now, I know that many of you have negatively commented that college and combine stats aren’t everything. Well, I like to take a look at their experience base as a point of comparison — notice I said “a” point of comparison, as in one point of many. But, I, like many of you, do not spend all day studying film of all the players in the Draft – not many sports writers do either. If you want that, go watch ESPN or the NFL Network — although, I often wonder if Mel’s and Todd’s and Mike’s eyes don’t glaze over and confuse different players with all the film they supposedly look at. Also, I, like many of you, do not claim to be a position expert who understands center of gravity, footwork, or hand punch — not many sports writers do or else they would be working for an NFL team. I just want to know what I am talking about and I hope you do too — unlike some sports writers who, for example, blog about the ENORMOUS (yes Mando over at the Miami Herald capitalized it) size of Christian Ponder’s hands that will allow him to better grip the football in rainy weather, when Ponder’s hand size is actually the second smallest amongst the top eight QBs in this year’s NFL Draft (as measure at the NFL Combine).
So, here is a tabular look at the top six guards — you can click on the chart to enlarge. I have included in the table their college and age as well as some key results from the NFL Combine. I also included the number of starts they played in college and the positions they played in those starts, their projected NFL position, all-american and all-conference honors (if you are interested), and their 2010 team statistics for rushing and passing. I included these team stats because I was interested in whether their college team was a predominately rushing or passing team. Tony Sparano stated the Dolphins would still be a run first team. The Dolphins need their guards to perform better in the run game. So, I wanted to see what their experience base was in college — run or pass.
What first struck me when I did the research on these six prospective players is that 3 of the 6 do not have any reported experience playing the guard position in college. Ijalana, Watkins, and Rackley exclusively played left tackle in college. Now, the good news is that these players will have position flexibility and could be called on to play some tackle in a pinch. The bad news is that they will start their NFL career learning a new position. They will go from primarily protecting the blind side of the QB to learning how to primarily block in the run game – and, please note that 2 of the 3 played in pass first college offenses. This position change might not considered a big deal for an old NFL line coach like Sparano. But, I remember the big deal made last year about John Jerry learning to put a different hand on the ground when switching to a different guard position from college. I believe it would be better to pick a college player with a large experience base at the guard position – specifically the left guard. It is my opinion that the many repetitions of the left guard movements leads to muscle memory which allows a player to pick up the pro game more quickly. And, the Dolphins need help right away!
Moffitt has the most experience of the six playing the guard position in college — in fact, most starts were at LG with some starts earlier in his college career at center. This shows some position flexibility. Moffitt teamed with Gabe Carimi on the left side of the Wisconsin line to pave the way for two 1,000 rushers (John Clay and James White) in 2010. Both Moffitt and Carimi were selected to the first team AP All-American in 2010. Moffitt has good lower body strength (102″ in the broad jump) and above average quickness (3 cone drill), but needs improvement in upper body strength (23 reps in the bench press). Moffitt played well at the Senior Bowl. During team drills, Moffitt’s strength and balance seemingly made him a tough draw for any defensive tackle. Moffitt created holes at the first level and showed good agility in the open field. At times, the former Badger was blocking 15 yards downfield, including on a screen pass to Marshall tight end Lee Smith. To me, this sound exactly what Sparano is looking for. Moffitt is projected to be a second or third round pick — he would be great for the Dolphins in the third round if still available.
Boling has experience playing the guard position in college. He has much position flexibility primarly playing LT in college, but also playing RT (both sides of the line) and RG. It should be noted that Boling did not have any experience playing LG in college and played in a passing dominated offense. He has good upper body strength (29 reps in the bench press), good lower body strength (102″ in the broad jump), and good quickness (quickest of the 6 in the 3 cone drill). Boling is projected to be a third round pick — he would be good pick-up for the Dolphins in the third round if still available and if Moffitt was off the board.
Mike Pouncey played center in his senior year of college and RG in his junior and sophmore years. He had a great junior year in 2009 playing along side his brother Maurkice (who now playes for the Steelers). He was selected 2nd team AP All-American at the center position in 2009. However, in 2010, he could only manage being honored on the 2nd team of the All-SEC team as a center despite being part of an offensive unit that paved the way for four 300-yard rushing efforts in 2010, one of only six BCS teams to accomplish that feat. The step down in recognition from 2009 to 2010 may have been the result of stepping down from the Tim Tebow era and more likely from no longer playing along side of his brother. This step down is a little troublesome and an area of concern if your risking the 15th pick of the NFL Draft. However, he has played both guard and center positions in college and his performance warrants first round consideration. Gil Brandt (NFL.com) said “Mike, who shifted from guard to center when [brother] Maurkice graduated from Florida, doesn’t have the same ceiling as his brother, but has the makings of a very good player at the pro level”. I have previously stated the belief that the Dolphins will trade down in the first round. Maybe, Pouncey will be available later in the first round when the Dolphins pick. But, the Jaguars, Patriots and Giants have all shown great interest.
Okay, so there you have it! This is my take on the guards in the upcoming NFL Draft. What do you think? And, PLEASE remember that both Hudon and Wisniewski played guard in college, but are considered center prospects in the upcoming draft — so, I plan to take a look at them along with other centers. In fact, Hudson was first team AP All-American and Wisniewski was second team AP All-American in 2010. Justin Boren of Ohio State (6′ 3″ and 309 lbs) was also a second team selection, but was not considered in my article.