2017 NFL Draft Offensive Line Early Preview

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The 2017 NFL Draft is widely regarded as a strong overall class, albeit weak along the offensive line (OL). My aim is to study and evaluate as many draft eligible offensive linemen as I can until Round 1 kicks off on April 27 in order to determine the validity of this claim, but also to present to you, the reader, well-rounded, detailed, and digestible analysis of as many players as possible

My goal with any college evaluation is to seek and identify the traits of each player relative to their competition, while forecasting their one- to three-year projection in the NFL. The latter idea stems from Dan Hatman and Mark Schofield. Mark used this method in all of his QB evaluations last season, adding much-needed value to the college-to-pro evaluation by offering measurable and specific analysis into the type of player you, as an evaluator, envision the prospect becoming within his first three seasons as a pro.

This initial report will consist of a few paragraphs of notes summarizing the player watched. These are my “initial” rankings because I have only seen a minimum of two games on the player up until this point, with several more tapes needed to complete a full evaluation. So take the ranking with a grain of salt, with more attention focused on the traits described in the summary.

Trait-based scouting will be the method to reach the rankings below, with 10 core traits being evaluated for each position. These traits range from overarching traits that transcend the individual position such as mental processing, play strength, play speed, and overall athleticism. Each of these critical factors break down into transferrable OL skills.
As an example regarding mental processing and play speed (combination of mental processing and athletic ability), how a blocker keys and diagnoses (K&D) a stunt in pass protection would be one aspect of OL play that helps speak to these two traits.
Here is arguably the best offensive guard in the NFL, Cowboys Zack Martin showing very good-to-elite level mental processing and play speed to K&D the T-E stunt.

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Notice how quickly Martin processes the defensive end’s hesitation and slow-play out of his stance. This is clue for a T-E stunt and a savvy recognition, followed by excellent technique.

Once this is identified, Martin is able to execute the appropriate response very quickly and smoothly (play speed) to pass along the DT on the inside slant while simultaneously working to identify the looping DE. Martin’s transition is seamless; the DT is passed off, the DE is picked up, and Martin maintains excellent spacing in very tight quarters. Each movement and reaction (strike) was efficient, deliberate, and violent.

This play is an example of elite mental processing, play speed, coordination, and overall refinement in handling line games, and just one aspect of mental processing and play speed in OL play.

The position-specific traits include the smaller details of the position, typically the details that separate the good starter from the All-Pro starter. Traits such as use of hands, drive blocking, zone blocking, space (2nd level) blocking, pass protection, and more all include the technique and nuance used by OL in various situations to get people blocked.

Oftentimes two or three traits will be on display on a given play for a blocker. An example would be the pad level (up and down leverage) and hand usage (left-to-right leverage) on display during a Deuce block.
With this in mind, when you see “very good” or “elite” traits, they jump out. First, they are naturally impressive because they are rarely possessed or executed. Once you build up context with the player, and if after three games the trait remains consistently dominant, you begin to aptly assert the distinction on the trait observed to be on the elite level.

My goal with film study is to study the player in as many environments as possible with exposure to the player playing at home and away (crowd noise can be a major factor for OL being delayed out of their stance), against top and lesser competition, and if possible, exposures to the player returning from an injury and / or dealing with a known injury or off-field issue (distractions).

In my opinion, there is no set rule for what defines ‘too much film’. It is more about understanding what ‘too much film’’ means for yourself and adjusting as necessary.

For some evaluators watching 8 or 9 games of a player can be overwhelming. For my evaluation style it simply means that I have more exposures to the player facing a multitude of skill sets, situations, and environments thus increasing the context in my analysis.
– Here are the first three prospects I have evaluated:
*Outline Key: Player Name – School – Class – H – W – Age at Week 1 – Games Watched

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Erik Magnuson – Michigan – RS Senior – 6044 – 303 – 23 – 3

Best traits: Mental Processing, Use of Hands
Worst traits: Play Strength, Athletic Ability, Zone Blocking, Pass Pro, Play Speed
Games Watched: 2016: vs. UCF, vs. Wisconsin, at Ohio State
Stance analysis:
Magnuson’s right heel on his kick leg is off the ground in his stance, which limits his ability to explode laterally and fight pressure with pressure through the 8 angles of OL play.

2017 NFL Draft Offensive Line Early Preview
8 angles of OL play:

2017 NFL Draft Offensive Line Early PreviewBeginning each rep with a raised outside heel can hinder balance, lateral movement, and power in a variety of ways, similar to how pointing the back foot’s toes forward effects OL.
Additionally, Magnuson has a tendency to remain on the front ⅓ of his foot as opposed to using his entire foot (particularly his in-steps) to deliver force into the ground, generate movement, and sustain blocks.

Oftentimes he will struggle to control and steer on double teams, and on angled-drive blocks because his balance is being severely limited due to uneven weight distribution stemming from his feet.

This also could be a mobility issue. Some OL are unable to achieve the normal range of about 20 degrees of dorsiflexion at the ankle.

2017 NFL Draft Offensive Line Early Preview
This is a fairly common occurrence for OL (and people in general) because if they are not deliberate about properly stretching the surrounding musculature of the ankle and working on the mobility of the ankle joint then their ability to keep their heel on the ground in a stance becomes compromised.

This is a sign of either tightness in the musculature surrounding the ankle, or a structural problem in the bone from a preexisting medical condition such as a break or fracture. The former is more common, but the latter is something to consider if medical history is known.
These issues generally start from the ground level (feet) and travel up the kinetic chain.

2017 NFL Draft Offensive Line Early PreviewAs the above image shows, a weak link in the chain (thoracic spine in this case) compromises the entire chain, making everything above and below weaker because everything in the body is ultimately connected.

A lack of ankle mobility results in an inability to properly bend at the ankle, knee, and hip, causing a rise in pad level and a loss of leverage, two major issues with Magnuson.

Most OL considered for the NFL are carrying in excess of 300 pounds and are going through the wear and tear of the weight room, football practice, and games, resulting in soreness, pain, inflammation, and often injury.

These events can naturally decrease mobility, so working on breaking up scar tissue from injury and maintaining proper range of motion in joints through mobility work becomes critical for not only availability to play, but also the ability to move efficiently on the field.
There are always outliers to this such as OL who develop comprehensive recovery habits at a young age, are a part of a college with a great strength and conditioning staff, and / or deal with no ankle or foot injuries.

However, these issues have been a common finding during my brief journey evaluating players. Studying kinesiology and physiology has only heightened my awareness of inefficient movement patterns in film study, and I’ve worked to gain knowledge and intertwine this perspective as another piece of the 100-piece evaluation puzzle.

Since evaluators are scouting traits of human beings playing football, it only makes sense to incorporate the study of human movement (definition of kinesiology) into the evaluation.  

Summary:

Magnuson is a two-year starter who has started 36 of 45 career games (25 at RT). He plays in primarily a gap-blocking run scheme with some zone principles mixed in. In the majority of snaps through three tapes (2016: OSU, WISC, UCF) the offense ran 12, 21, and 22 personnel with a sixth OL brought in for short yardage situations. This is a run-heavy offense that gives schematic and alignment help to their RT using six- and seven-man protections, aligning a TE alongside Magnuson on majority of snaps, as well as chips from the running back.

This help enables Magnuson to be an adequate pass protector with solid hand placement against tight shades on jump sets (aided by limited space) as well as solid grip strength to sustain.

Once pass rushers align outside of his frame as a 9 technique it forces Magnuson to expand his set points via 45-degree sets and his base quickly becomes compromised. There is a slight hitch that will appear throughout games where his initial kick-step is slightly forward, resulting in his ensuing step to cross behind his first. This narrows his base and limits his overall range as a pass-protector on an island.

Not only does solid or better upfield burst from pass rushers give him trouble without help, inside counter moves make matters worse due to his limited lateral quickness / agility. Magnuson’s ability to transition inside is minimal due to uneven weight distribution and below average technique beginning from the ground up.

He displays solid mental processing to recognize the delay from looping ends as they pause for the DT to crash inside on T-E stunts, squeezes inside making life easier for the right guard.

Magnuson maintains adequate spatial awareness to the RG on other twists and stunts (Wisconsin used many gap exchanges and it gave him trouble), tends to lose proper spacing with RG against delayed loopers / blitzes.

Additionally, he possesses adequate play speed and athletic ability; most problems stem from his stance. His lateral agility is negated by a tendency to “step” instead of “drive” out of his stance in pass protection, as well as a tendency to execute a false ‘forward’ step on his initial kick that puts him behind pass-rushers with a solid or better upfield burst.

One- to Three-Year Projection:

Overall, Magnuson is a limited player who has largely gotten by in pass protection with consistent help and will likely struggle as a pro at tackle, which is why I am projecting him inside to guard, where he would have a better chance of making an NFL roster.

He is at his best in pass pro and in the run game when operating in minimal space and when able to get his hands on defenders quickly. This reduces the amount of space that Magnuson would need to cover and operate in, likely making the college-to-pro transition easier on his development. He will likely battle to make the 53 man roster as a rookie, but has the potential to develop into a key backup by year three.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Dan Skipper – Arkansas – Senior – 6092 – 317 – 22 – 3

Best traits: Use of Hands, second Level Blocking (angles, effort, finish), Competitive Toughness.
Worst traits: Pass Pro, Anchor, Play Strength, Athletic Ability
Games Watched: 2015: vs. Missouri 2016: vs. Louisiana Tech, at Auburn

Summary:

Skipper is limited range in pass pro. He lines up pre-snap on the toes of his kick (left) leg, restricting his all-around movement ability (failing to obtain / maintain proper contact points with his foot into the ground).

Without the ability to firmly plant into the ground and fight pressure with pressure Skipper has to consistently deal with rising pad level, uneven weight distribution, and a lack of all-around power.

The result is limited lateral agility and quickness to counter inside rushes, as well as a loss of leverage at the point of attack (POA), which is accentuated due to his 6’9” height. He van get laborious out of stance (3 point) in pass pro, would benefit from playing in a 2 point stance until flexibility and mobility can increase in his joints, namely his ankles and hips. This would help facilitate better overall balance, agility, and fluidity from snap-to-finish, in all areas of his game.
Skipper’s play strength is adequate, but likely would improve if he would sync his feet and hips at the point of attack (POA). Skipper’s height and lack of mobility often limit his ability to ‘lift and drive’ on the ‘hit, lift, and drive’ aspect of power run-blocking. The ‘hit’ portion is generally solid with Skipper, as he consistently fits using good leverage, angles, and hand usage but the subsequent portions of run-blocking (‘lift and drive’) involves bringing your feet, hips, and hands simultaneously together to generate power from the ground up. There is a disconnect with Skipper’s ankles and hips achieving proper flexion, which hinders his ability to get underneath defenders to transition into extension portion of movement, and thus his ability to generate power becomes limited.

Nonetheless, Skipper is still a solid overall run blocker due to his ability to fit at the POA, create leverage with his hands, sustain, and steer defenders in the run game.
Improvement from 2015 at RT to 2016 at LT is noticeable, primarily in his hand usage. Skipper’s competitive toughness was very good last season and remained consistent this year; he plays with a nasty demeanor.

There is a high level of refinement to Skipper’s hand placement, ability to create leverage with his hands, as well as his grip strength to sustain blocks despite minimal power due to aforementioned biomechanical and technical issues. While this ‘gets the job done’ more often than not at the college level, his inability to ‘lift and drive’ at the POA is one of his primary weaknesses.

One- to Three-Year Projection:

Skipper’s skill set is best suited in a key backup role as a rookie, followed by the potential to develop into a swing OT / spot starter by year two. By year three I would expect a solid starter if schemed consistent help in pass protection, similar to what the Tennessee Titans did for their tackles in 2016. With appropriate help, Skipper can be a functional starter by year three who you can win with.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Ethan Pocic – LSU – Senior – 6-6 – 306 – 22 – 3

Best traits: Zone Blocking, Play Speed, Use of Hands, Competitive Toughness, Pass Pro
Worst traits: Anchor, Pad Level
Games Watched: 2016: vs. Missouri, vs. Ole Miss, at Texas A&M

Summary:

Pocic is a three-year starter who has started 37 career games (27 at C, 9 at RG, 1 at LT). He plays in primarily a zone run scheme with gap principles mixed in. In the majority of snaps through three tapes (2016: Missouri, Ole Miss, TAMU) the offense ran 12, 21, 22, and 13 personnel and pulled Pocic often (typically done using the pin-pull technique).

Pocic displays solid overall athletic ability with good initial quickness, solid agility, and solid explosiveness.

He demonstrates very good hand usage in the run and pass game, quickly latches on and creates leverage at the POA by controlling and steering defenders away from the ball. This is his strongest trait and it bleeds into every area of his game. Pocic shows flashes of using his backside hand against tight outside shades who slant inside at the snap, catching them and securing.

Additionally, he displays good competitive toughness in the run game, consistently driving his feet to the whistle with the intent to put defenders on the ground and consistently remains engaged throughout games despite the score, possessing a steady motor.

Pocic is a good zone-blocker who is coached to take an upfield angle (stretch) step out of his stance (as opposed to a bucket step) on reach blocks. He is extremely efficient coming out of his stance working a reach block to his left and right, quickly opens playside hip to gain ground (leverage) and seal shaded defenders as far away as a 2i technique. He shows very good aiming points, angles, and understanding of leverage when working laterally; when unable to seal off the DL on a reach block, Pocic is able to transition to a drive block smoothly. Additionally, Pocic does a good job of getting the defender’s shoulders opened up while generating movement down the line of scrimmage and past the play. He does this while simultaneously keeping his shoulders square and his base strong, giving the RB a three-way go.

As a puller in space Pocic does a good job of identifying the most dangerous man (MDM); works back inside to seal undercutting LBs on pulls and blocks inside-out on DBs in space. Pad level can take his solid overall athleticism and lessen it to an adequate level at times in space when second-level defenders are able to counter with their hands. This can result in Pocic becoming “grabby”, but he often keeps his hands inside the frame of defenders to escape holding penalties.
Pocic is solid in gap-principles with very good hand usage and solid functional strength to fit, control, steer, and sustain angled-drive blocks. He does a good job releasing / overtaking on ACE / combo blocks; bangs down / secures the DL prior to releasing and shows good timing to overtake.
The OL possesses good pass pro ability on both man / slide scenarios as well as in moving pockets to the left and right (QB rollouts / PA boot). Efficiently pulls his back hip into extension at the snap to create space while obtaining half-man leverage vs. tight and wide-shaded players. He maintains levels in slide protections to both sides; shows solid spatial awareness and solid recognition of T-T / T-E stunts, smoothly passes off line games and will look for work when uncovered and  displays good hand usage in pass pro with good initial hand placement and good ability to reposition his hands underneath / inside of defenders frame vs. counter moves.

Pass-rushers with good leverage and hand usage can get underneath his pads due to generally high pad level. Pocic makes up for this with refined hand usage and understanding of creating leverage with his hands, but to take his pass protection from a solid-to-good level he will need to learn to sink into his hips against power and generate force from the ground up through his posterior-chain (feet, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and back). Lastly, he shows a solid hop-back technique vs. power, but overall his anchor is adequate.

One- to Three-Year Projection:

Overall, Pocic has positional flexibility to play either guard spot as well as center. He is an immediate solid starter at these positions with the ability to play RT in a pinch. Pocic will enter his first training camp with a very good trait (use of hands) along with good traits (zone blocking, toughness, pass pro, and play speed) that can serve as his on-field foundation while also helping to mask his one adequate trait (anchor) early in his career. If he is in a system that consistently uses zone principles in the run game and likes to roll their QB out of the pocket, Pocic can shine. He will likely be a good starter by year two, with potential to have developed any one of his best traits into very good traits in that time. By year three he should be a high-level starter capable of competing and winning vs. the majority of NFL competition.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his look at the wonder that is Joe Thomas, an explanation of why Doug Free is underrated, and his piece on Kansas City Chief center Mitch Morse.

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