Finishing up our breakdowns of the best offensive linemen in the draft, after going through the tackles last week, we’ll now shift our focus to the guys in-between those, as always grouping the guards and centers together.
I feel like this year we actually don’t have a lot of prospects with true flexibility between the two spots and many of them rather have experience at tackle and even played there for the majority of their collegiate careers. To me there’s a 1A and 1B at the top of the class, with a number two/three very closely behind them. To me they’re all worthy of being picked in the top 20-25 picks, even if positional value sticklers may disagree. After those there’s a significant drop-off. However, even more impressive to me is the group of second-to-fourth round evaluations I have, particularly at center. Altogether I believe there are 13-14 names among the IOL, who have a legitimate case to go in the top-100, even though I’m sure that depth will push them further down.
Since there are varying skill-sets and offenses these players have played in, I will try to specify where these guys fit most cleanly at, in regards to schemes and exact spots, after outlining the strengths and weaknesses of every prospects. There’s so many players who are of similar quality, that you will find a lot variety in the way people stack them up depending on what exactly they value and even the final player you can find in my “the next names” is somebody I could see be a long-term starter.
1. Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
6’3”, 290 pounds; RS JR
This former top-500 overall recruit started his career with the Hawkeye on the defensive line and transitioned to the offensive side of the ball in 2019. In his first season at center as a redshirt freshman, Linderbaum earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.7 overall and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. The following year, he was one of the three finalists for the Rimington Trophy (given to the best center in the country) and a first- or second-team All-American selection (depending on the outlet). Last season he actually won the award and was a unanimous first-team All-American selection.
This is the only man on the planet, who can claim he had a record-setting performance at the annual Solon Beef Days in Iowa, where he heaved a 60-pound hay bale 14 feet high, as well as pin former Bruce Feldman freaks king at Iowa and now Bucs All-Pro Tristan Wirfs on the wrestling mat. The two things that show up right away with Linderbaum as a former D-lineman is the great pad-level he plays with and how he jumps out of his stance. He can create that initial vertical component of combo-blocks and doesn’t demand his guard to stay attached, if the linebacker tries to force the issues. Plus, he can torque guys to the side once he’s soloed up an give the back a clear indication. On outside zone schemes, Linderbaum aims at that arm-pit of zero- and one-techniques to reach-block successfully, allowing the play to flow. Yet if the guy he’s engaged with tries to slice through the gap too hard, he can also just ride him down the line and present attractive cutback lanes. This guy can legitimately scoop up three-techniques and give his guards the go-sign to peel off, as well as seamlessly transition himself and take linebackers out of their fits. When free to work up to the second level right away, the Hawkeye standout shows a lot of urgency to get to there and pins guys inside. And he displays an innate feel for when near-by bodies have an angle on the ball-carrier and he gets a piece of them. Linderbaum is just tremendous at releasing out on screens, finding targets and eliminating their pursuit.
In pass-protection, he operates with calm feet and good sink in his hips. There’s plenty of pop in his punch, to stand up rushers lined up over him and I really like the way he counters the hands of opponents in that regard. Not only do his hands crowd rushers in their approach, but he also keeps moving his feet and re-positioning his base, to stay in front of them. Thanks to Linderbaum’s background in wrestling, he shows an understanding for keeping his anchor-foot slightly behind his body, absorbing blows through his base wide and maintaining bend in his joints to stay balanced. Those things almost can’t be taught. When the A-gaps are uncovered, Linderbaum almost pedals backwards to stay behind his guards by half a step, with his head looking like a garden sprinkler, ready to bump rushers once color flashes to either side of him. Thanks to the depth he gains when unoccupied and how much he trusts his lateral movement skills, he can patiently sort through games up front and doesn’t get antsy to cut off angles. Yet, once he has to engage with guys slanting or stunting towards him, he can brace against their rush effectively by greeting them with his hands. And he’s almost effortless in the way he can open up his hips to pick up a late blitzers or loopers, who seem to be through the gap already, in order to guide them past the quarterback.
What may lead NFL evaluators to pigeonhole Linderbaum as a center in a zone-based offense primarily is simply the lack of size. I mean he’s in the bottom-sixth percentile across the board in terms physical dimensions, including absurdly short 31-inch arms. While he covers the ground to D-tackles rapidly on down-blocks, he doesn’t deliver real thump at contact, to move them off the spot. Savvy defenders will be able to take advantage of how far his weight is shifted out in front of him in the run game and slip over those blocks altogether. His play strength is certainly sufficient to me, but he’s just very light. There was a play in the Wisconsin game of 2020, where Linderbaum cut off the angle for Leo Chenal on the backside of a zone run and despite being in perfect position, the linebacker absolutely blasted through him and twisted the back to the ground. As a pass-protector, that tendency to lean into bigger defenders also can be an issue against push-pull maneuvers on quick sets. His hand-placement used to be a little over the place early on in his career on offense. That has certainly improved a lot, but they’re still pretty wide, which negates some of the excellent technique in his lower body to anchor, as big guys go through his chest.
Linderbaum is a player, where you can truly appreciate the journey he’s taken. Switching sides of the football, he gradually improved his game throughout his career, as the best true center in college football by a wide margin as he makes his move to the pros. Going through the Iowa tape, Linderbaum wins blocks because of his ability to torque bodies thanks to his wrestling background, but there’s still plenty of room for refinement, that you’d like to see. I don’t look at him as a pure zone center necessarily, but that would allow his skill-set to shine the most and his modest ability to displace large defenders between the guards is something that has to be considered as you project him to more of a power-based rushing attack. Too often I – among many others – have fallen for these undersized centers, but if you understand how to utilize this player accordingly, he can be All-Pro level performer.
2. Zion Johnson, Boston College
6’3”, 315 pounds; RS SR
This zero-star recruit started 19 of 22 games through two years with Davidson and was named to the PFL All-Conference First Team in 2018. After that, he transferred to Boston College, where he started seven of 13 games as a junior and made the All-ACC second team. In 2020, he was elected a team captain and third-team all-conference selection playing out at left tackle. He was given an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA and came back for ’21, which led to a first-team All-American season with a move back to his natural spot at left guard.
If I had to build a guard in a lab today, he might end up looking exactly like this guy, with serious girth throughout his frame. Johnson consistently plays from a low center of gravity and rolls his hops through contact tremendously well in the run game. Playing out at tackle, Johnson was able to create a lane inside against tight alignments from edge defenders, but he could really blow things open when allowed to hit somebody on an angle and that aspect got more of a chance to shine this past season on the interior. He’s not one of those guys, who will just step into the space of nose-tackles and keeps them there, but rather he digs them out of the A-gap. Even when his pads do get jolted back momentarily every once in a while, as guys hit him off slants for example, Johnson can gain back control of those collisions by activating his quads and reverse that momentum. You rarely see vertical combos that include him, where the down-linemen doesn’t get moved back a couple of yards into the defensive backfield. I thought in 2021 his quickness off the snap and ability to attack the outside edge of defenders in the wide zone game really improved. Even when seemingly in vulnerable positions, as his lower body is turned towards the sideline and he’s trying to work around bodies, his core strength and flexibility are proficient to secure those blocks. And his feet refuse to stop as he’s engaged with guys trying to get over his blocks. He delivers the kind of force to knock linebackers out of the lane or even to the ground as he catches them with just one hand, trying to slip underneath. However, there are also no issues working up to them in space and when you get him rolling around the corner as a puller on toss plays for example, he has buried several guys underneath himself.
Probably the most apparent feature of Johnson’s game is his absurd ability to anchor against powerful interior rushers thanks to his massive lower half. The way he can take on the initial thump, grab a large amount of turf with his cleats, re-set his base and shut guys down is second-to-none in this class. Johnson is very effective with his footwork to slide in front of defenders, his base doesn’t get too narrow and his elbows stay in tight. There’s plenty of jolt in his punch, but his ability to snatch guys and not let them go is what he does best. His sturdy base also allows him absorb blows, as a defender bangs into him while not being in great position on twists. Out at tackle, you saw his reactionary quickness at times when picking up an extra rusher off the edge late and just push that guy off track. When linebackers don’t have an angle on him to shoot past, Johnson can deaden their charge at the spot. Yet, if they try to go around him, he can use that momentum against them and ride them way off track. With Johnson being back between the tackle and center, I – and his teammates, I’m sure – were able to appreciate his impactful help-hand in pass-pro, as rushers flashed in the gap if Johnson was unoccupied. After some issues occurred out at tackle, he only gave up one sack and five other pressures in 2021 (on 364 pass-blocking snaps) at his best spot.
The one clear area of improvement for Johnson is his awareness for stunts and twists, as his eyes are on locked in on potential second-level rushers, instead of toggling between guys that are already involved in the pressure package. And as he scans through ancillary rushers, he should get more depth when not tagged with somebody. In the run game, Johnson tends to get over his skies at times and loses his balance in the process. You also see that on as play-action, as they try to make D-linemen commit to holding their ground, but can pull him forward and slip by to chase after the quarterback a few times. Johnson’s versatility to play full-time at tackle may be overstated, looking at his ability to keep the quarterback clean in 2020, when he surrendered 22 pressures on slightly over 400 pass-blocking snaps. His biggest issue in that regard was oversetting to the outside and getting beat up the B-gap particularly against counters. That may re-occuries on the NASCAR packages the NFL will throw his way, with those wide-three/4i techniques. And in general, there are certainly guys who are a little bit quicker out of their stance.
There’s so little too critique about Johnson’s player profile. He’s not quite up there for me in terms of elite guard prospects like a Quenton Nelson or Brandon Scherff, but he’s right there in that next tier. His upper and lower half are so well-connected and there are no major weaknesses to point to. You go back to the one-on-one’s at the Senior Bowl, where UConn’s Travis Jones was bull-dozing guys, but Johnson was the one able to hold his ground. Then he goes to the combine, leads the events with 32 reps on the bench press and finishes top-six among all the drills, other than a 40 that is still well above-average. His tape is phenomenal and he’s checked every single box since then. And Johnson is an incredibly smart young man, having majored in Computer Science and been part of the three-time All-ACC Academic Team. So I don’t believe a lack of intelligence is the issue in him missing gap-exchange on pressure looks at all, but rather he was responsible for looking back at the quarterback and tapping his center from the side once they were ready for play, which didn’t allow him to focus on some of the stuff shown pre-snap.
3. Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
6’4”, 325 pounds; JR
This top-20 overall recruit from 2019 started all 23 games through his first two years with the Aggies at both guard spots, earning SEC All-Freshman and consensus All-American honors respectively, whilst helping to pave the way for one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the country. In 2021 he received first-team All-American honors, despite Texas A&M taking a step back as a program overall.
Green comes off the ball with good bend in his knees and doesn’t turn his shoulders until he has to on inside zone schemes. When you watch the Isaiah Spiller tape, it seems like every damn play this dude pushes some defensive lineman downfield, delivering blows on an angle as he works on combo-blocks without having to compromise himself to get to the secondary defender. He has that overwhelming physicality and acceleration into contact, bringing the thump with his punch and operating out of a wide base. Yet, he also displays the mobility in his hips to transition to the linebacker trying to back-door the block. If his man tries to jump inside of him on outside zone schemes, Green can bring his play-side foot around and drive guys into the pile, to allow the ball-carrier to get around him anyway. And when he puts his body in front of guys to seal on the backside, people aren’t going through him. He shows good patience and football IQ of when to peel back and force linebackers to run themselves out of position. His adjustments on the fly in that regard as excellent for such a young player. As much zone as the Aggies ran, Green could be a real gap-scheme mauler as well, which he already has experience in, with the run-blocking splits last year being almost perfectly even split between inside, outside zone and man-based. He can really widen the A-gap when he’s allowed angle on 4/5-techniques. However, out of tackle, he also effectively utilized the gallop-technique to make up ground to wider alignments on down-blocks in controlled fashion.
As overpowering as he is in the run game, Green is a very patient pass-protector I would say, with smooth lateral movement skills. He does not overreact to initial moves off the line and he has a tremendously strong anchor, thanks to that girth in the lower half, keeping the pocket integrity upright. Pass-rushers can’t really break the angle at his elbows, as he clutches their jersey and denies them a way to escape. And as they try to cross his face, he can redirect sufficiently thanks to small steps and decelerate their momentum towards the opposite gap with his impactful hands. Green looks very comfortable passing off assignments and shuffling in front of blitzers late, while having the firm base to absorb those guys charging at him. He shows quick eyes to take over loopers and delivers a good strike to control them. When he’s without an assignment in pass-pro, Green keeps his head on a swivel and can deliver some devastating rib-shots. And even when there’s a free runner basically past him already, he can still deliver a significant push to get those guys way off track and allow his quarterback to get the ball out. Green has held opposing pass-rushers to ten pressures in each of the last two seasons (including just one sack last year) across 743 pass-blocking snaps, between left tackle and guard.
With that being said, Green’s willingness to let things develop in the run game can go a little too far to the extreme at times, when he’s clearly supposed to climb up to the backer, but forces the ball-carrier to slow down. He has the upper body strength to cover up defenders at the point of attack, but doesn’t quite bring his hips around to get the ball-carrier out to the edge routinely on wide zone runs, as you see guys disengage and flatten down the line late against him. And overall, fitting his hands consistently is something he has to work on, where the power in his lower half bailed him out for the most part until now. Green’s lateral movement in pass-pro is a plus, but he’s not the most fleet of foot against quick counter maneuvers and can get stuck in sand a little bit against high swim moves across his face. He heavily relies on the two-handed punch and isn’t super-quick to re-place the hands as rushers are able to knock them away. Green drew seven penalties in his first eight games last season (although he did stay clean after that). And he had a pretty disappointing showing at the combine, with just 20 reps on the bench press, clocking the second-slowest 20-yard shuttle among the O-line and below-average testing across the board. More importantly he just looked pretty sluggish changing directions and going through the field workout.
If you’re looking for a mauler in an inside zone/duo-based rushing attack, I wouldn’t really be concerned with Green’s athletic profile, but teams that ask their guards to pull and get out in space a lot might be concerned with what they saw in Indy. I still believe he’s a really good player in a more vertically oriented scheme, where he can take your rushing attack to another level. Green jumped in at left tackle and held his own in spots when needed. He spent at least 81 snaps at each position other than center this past season, with 55.4 percent of those (408 snaps) at left guard. To me that’s his best position, but I think he gives you legitimate flexibility across front. His ability to drive his legs through contact to displace defenders, the strength to anchor in pass-pro and the attitude he brings to an offense are all excellent.
4. Tyler Smith, Tulsa
6’6”, 330 pounds; JR
Outside the top-2000 overall recruits in 2019, Smith saw starting action in a couple of games as a true freshman and has started every game since then at left tackle, gaining experience at every spot other than center. He was named a first-team All-AAC selection in 2020 and then second-team all-conference this past season.
While Smith did start at left tackle each of the last three years, I think he would be better suited inside, because he has a nearly perfect athletic profile for a guard. This dude brings a bully demeanor to the table that is only rivaled by Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning, but Smith packs a lot more power I believe. He wants you to take your soul and question if you should step back onto the field. Smith was able to constantly torque edge defender to his outside hip and drive them out of the way, with routine pancakes being served, once he felt a lack of resistance. Blocking down on B-gap defenders, to allow one of his teammates to pull around, he is looking to uproot guys, while adding a lot to their moment as he extends his arms through and transitions to the backer. Tulsa had him kick out the end-man quite a bit – bodies hit the floor. As brute as Smith’s run-blocking may be, he also has the dexterity in the lower half to effectively reach-block B-gap defenders and even when he’s in perfect position, he will move them further away from the action. And his flexible lower half to come off combos and get hands on the backer on sharper angles away from his original direction is highly impressive as well, with the grip strength to often times twist them to the turf. He IDs defenders walking down late and he adjust his angles on down-blocks against them, while a teammate takes over his original assignment. Regardless of the play, Smith showcases relentless leg-drive and he led the FBS in what PFF calls “big-time blocks”. His tenacity is on another level and it can make up for some imperfections in hand-placements.
The intimidating Tulsa left tackle features a quick jump out of his stance in pass-pro. He has an 83-inch wingspan (34-inch arms) and his hands are just a quarter of an inch shy of hitting 11 inches. That reach isn’t only helpful wuth dictating the path of rushes, but he also has a lot of strength in those paws to snatch rushers and lifts from his elbow up to generate force, as he tries to absorb the same of his opponent. When guys try to sell out for beating him with speed, he can turn and ride them way past the quarterback, routinely landing on top of them at end. Smith excels at bracing against power rushes, by keeping his cleats in the turf, bending at the knees and bringing his hips through. Even when he’s caught off kilter initially, he can kick his feet back and re-anchor to stop vertical movement and keep the pocket upright. And he has the flexibility to not lose contact as his hands get slapped down and his head dips, as it seems like he’s losing balance for a split-second. Smith forcefully plants off the outside foot to mirror inside counters or delayed stunts, and he covers good ground to get in front of the secondary man on twists. On the edge, he routinely showed awareness for slot blitzers and pointed them out to his teammates. Smith saw his PFF grade improve each of the last three years and he surrendered just two sacks along with 16 additional pressures on just under 900 pass-blocking snaps across those.
With that being said, Smith’s technique in pass-pro still needs A LOT of work, standing straight up a lot of times and carrying his hands very low. Smith has a definite wind-up with his arms and they land way wide, often times on the outside of the rusher’s shoulder-pads. He bear-hugs rushers on way too many occasions and will only get called more frequently for it. He’s so erratic and defaults to holds, instead of actually squaring up defenders. I mean he was a penalty machine in college already, being charged with flags 16(!) times this past season alone. In the run game, Smith shows some excessive backwards motion of the arms and his hands landing at the pads rather than the chest of defenders. Too often he’s looking to just deliver blows, rather than sustain blocks. While the grading may have improved, you have to question how the timing and placement of his hands is still so all over the place with 24 career starts at one spot under his belt – and now he may need to transition to another one. His willingness to take coaching and execute the right way technically on gamedays will be key in his journey.
To me moving inside to guard would be the right decision for Smith’s career. At the combine, his 4.89 in the 40 was just one hundredth of a second off the best among offensive linemen there, along with a 9’1” broad jump, while his measurements are perfectly fine for tackle. So athletically there’s nothing he’s really missing and I hate when people act like playing on the interior makes everything easier, because that’s absolutely not true. However, his hand-placement in general is something that with rigorous coaching can be cleaned up. My concern with him is that if he’s left on island out on the edge, the combination of having to set a hard corner whilst gaining depth and there being more room for error with timing up his punches, will be tough. His mentality, brute force and physical gifts are things that can’t be taught – now it’s about being willing to learn technical nuances.
5. Sean Rhyan, UCLA
6’5”, 320 pounds; JR
A top-100 overall recruit and the second-highest ranked guard in 2019, Rhyan won the starting gig at left tackle as a true freshman and never gave it up, starting all 31 games over his three years at UCLA. He was a Freshman All-American in ’19 and then a first-team All-Pac-12 selection this past season. All along he was a key piece to the Bruins’ bruising rushing attack, averaging 230.6 and 215.1 yards on the ground per game respectively over the latter two seasons.
Despite playing out at tackle for the Bruins, Rhyan presents great thickness throughout his frame that you want to see from a guard. He initiates contact with his low pad-level and bad intentions. On the front-side of zone runs, he will run his hips into contact and take edge defenders for a ride. Plus, he can hit the near-pad with his inside hand and blow the B-gap wide open. I mean he will not stop driving his legs until he and the guy he’s engaged with end up at the sideline. When stepping inside, he stays tight to the chest of defensive linemen and has really strong grip to not allow them get to the edges of his frame. You see Rhyan twist guys to the inside and give the ball-carrier a clear indication to work around him on sweep/toss plays. Along with that he can get underneath D-tackles on combos and help create plenty of vertical movement in combination with one of his fellow linmen. Working up to the second level, Rhyan snatches linebackers when he gets into their frame and takes them way off track. Having those monstrous 11-inch paws certainly helps in that regard. UCLA put him outside the right tackle a few times to run off-tackle behind him, because they knew there would be room to operate.
Looking at his technique as a blindside protector, Rhyan did a great job of cutting off the angles of edge rushers, without compromising his base too much. He’s very much within himself and keeps his weight centered, while showing patience and not overreacting to jabs and more dramatic moves. He can absorb power with those massive quads and good sink in his hips. And once he gets those claws on you, he’s not letting you go anymore. Rhyan had a tremendous showing against Oregon last season, stalling Kayvon Thibodeaux’s rushes on numerous occasions and not allowing guys to affect the quarterback overall – other than one hit off a late inside counter by somebody, where the guard was in his way to mirror. Working in condensed spaces should only highlight his strengths in that regard even further. Rhyan showcases good awareness for games up front and closes the distance to the guard if his man drops out, with eyes on the inside for any potential loopers and the hands ready to pick them up. He improved his numbers in protection and game overall in each of his three seasons with the Bruins. After giving up zero sacks and 11 pressures in 2020 (seven games), he surrendered just one sack and 13 total pressures on basically 200 additional pass-blocking snaps. PFF only gave him a grade below 66.7 once all of last season – and that came in week zero against Hawaii.
On the negative side, Rhyan doesn’t have the loose hips to pivot around guys when trying to shield them on the back-side of outside-oriented runs. He looks pretty heavy-footed and uncomfortable when getting out in space, particularly in the screen game. Too often he got high and reactionary with his hands and allowed rushers to attack his chest, while he’s at the shoulder-pads of the rusher. Against real speed off the edge, you saw him “cheat” and add in a little back-pedal step in, before switching to the kick-slide, and has to lean into contact as guys try to bend around him a little far. His 32 ½-inch arms don’t meet the typical threshold for NFL tackles and I think that lack of length, along with not having the lightest feet will force a move to guard.
There’s something to be said about a guy starting for a Pac-12 team as a true freshman and showing up every single week over the next three years, as his play and the team improved gradually. I don’t believe Rhyan has the foot quickness or length to stay on the edge full-time, but he could become an excellent guard, where those few weaknesses are de-emphasized. He has the right demeanor and power in the run game (backed up by an OL-best 33.5-inch vert at the combine), along with the smarts to choose his angles appropriately and decipher complex games up front on passing downs. And if one of your tackles goes down, he can jump in and you don’t have to worry about it a whole lot. Unfortunately we don’t have tape on him playing on the interior, but when I initially evaluated him at tackle, those two issues I already described where the only things that concerned me.
6. Dylan Parham, Memphis
6’2” ½, 315 pounds; RS SR
Originally brought in as a two-star defensive end recruit at just 230 pounds in 2017, Parham redshirted his first year on campus. He would start all 28 games over his next two seasons at left guard and then all 11 at right tackle, before spending his senior year at right guard ultimately and earning first-team All-AAC accolades.
While Parham certainly has played on the small side for the O-line, there’s some serious muscle to his thighs and butt. He shows cat-like quickness off the snap and consistently gets his first step down to establish positioning in the run game, while his combination of lower-end height and ability to play with sink in his hips allows him to win the pad-level battle on the vast majority of snaps. On the play-side of zone runs, he can bring his base around and pin edge defenders inside, in order for the back to get to the perimeter, but also has the grasp strength to toss to the outside and drive them towards the sideline. Working on combos that way, he trusts his ability to beat linebackers to the spot enough to have his shoulders turned slightly inside, so his teammate can bring the base around and secure the initial defender, before peeling off. Away from the action, Parham displays the mobility in his lower body to scoop-block blitzing linebackers in the play-side gap next to him on wide zone concepts, while working up patiently if they try to stay home against cutbacks. When the closest defender flows too hard, he clearly indicates cutbacks behind him to the runner. And he effortlessly seals guys head-up or to the inside shoulder of him on the backside. Memphis had him skip-pull and lead the way from the guard and tackle spot, where his mobility could really shine.
Going back to the 2020 tape, Parham legitimately showed the ability to cut off angles for guys coming off the edge with his kick-slide. Out at tackle, he used to deliver jabs with the inside hand to the near shoulder of rushers, to protect the B-gap and he had the foot quickness to guide speed guys past the arc. He had several highly impressive pass-pro reps against Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders in their ‘20 matchup. That projects pretty cleanly to slide-protection based passing games. However, he’s more than capable of handling head-up assignments and keeping the interior of the pocket upright. Parham keeps his elbows in line with his shoulders, lifts from his mid-section upwards to stand rushers up and keeps them in tight. He has some really strong hands to grab cloth and control opponent, while showcasing tremendous flexibility in his hips and ankles, to slow down power rushes as he gradually gives some ground with his kick-backs. That way he can also brace against charging blitzers sufficiently. Parham has the flexibility and lateral movement skills to pick up stunts and get in front of delayed loopers. Looking at his last two seasons in college, he only gave up one sack and 18 other pressures across 1047 pass-blocking snaps.
For teams projecting Parham back out to tackle, his height at 6’2” ½ and barely clearing the 33-inch arm length mark would make it challenging for him. He presents very narrow shoulders and frame altogether. Even when he was out at tackle, against physical edge-setters who could lock out with the inside arm, Parham had to settle for stalemates a lot of times. Projecting him inside, he may not be somebody, who you want to get defensive tackles off their landmarks on gap-based schemes. In protection, Parham does have some issues with balance at times, when having to commit to either side. And he gets his hips turned too far outside at times when picking up loopers on twists, leaving himself vulnerable the other way. He swings wide with and hooks the outside arm around the shoulders when rushers are able to get to his hips. And when he isn’t directly occupied in pass-pro, he needs to gain better depth on the inside, in order to help the guys next to him properly, which could draw flags for holdings more frequently at the next level. Mississippi State was the only Power-Five school on Memphis’ schedule over the past two seasons. So level of competition is certainly a question mark, even if he did hold his during Senior Bowl practices.
So since I referenced it just now, Parham did end up with his hands outside of the frame of rushers a few times down in Mobile, but overall he did an excellent job of stymieing bull-rushers throughout the week, thanks to the leverage and core strength he brings to the table. Memphis listed him at only 285 pounds, yet he performed at 311 pounds at the combine, where he ran a 4.93 and had a nine-foot broad jump, while looking very well-coordinated with his footwork during the on-field drills. He may be a zone-blocker first and foremost, but I believe he can legitimately play all three interior spots at the next level. He’s one of those guys who looks smaller than the rest of that front-five, but doesn’t play like it. That natural leverage advantage is something that will aid his play inside.
7. Ed Ingram, LSU
6’3”, 310 pounds;
A four-star recruit back in 2017, Ingram appeared in 45 games during his tenure in Baton Rouge and started 34 of those for the Tigers, with two thirds of those coming at left and the rest at right guard. SEC coaches voted him second-team all-conference in 2021. And he showed gradual improvement for an LSU program, that equally regressed during that period of time
This guy is built like a fridge, but you can hire him for a moving company today with the way he can move large masses around the field. Ingram delivers some real thump at first contact in the run game and moves big men against their will with routine. Ingram can blow the B-gap behind him wide open on inside zone runs by driving guys down the line horizontally, and even when they seem to have the advantage to shoot through the gap, he can take them off track to where his back can get to daylight. Blocking duo runs, where he could create vertical movement on double-teams, they gave the bal-carrier plenty of room to operate behind, while he frequently twisted that defender to the turf to finish things off. Coming in on an angle on down-locks, he can move true nose-tackles a couple of yards off the spot, to set up power schemes for example. In short-yardage situations and at the goal-line, Ingram can dig guys out of their gap and give the ball-carrier room to accelerate through. You see him absolutely displace edge defenders consistently, who try to take him on pulling that way on kick-outs, as well as steam-roll through second- and third-level defenders in his path, getting around the corner at full speed. And he routinely adds that little extra shove at the end to get guys out of the way.
Ingram brings significant force with that punch in pass-pro, where he keeps his elbows in tight and once the hands glue onto the numbers of his man, that’s pretty much it. He routinely negates A-gap rushers as he takes them over from the center when sliding that way and if he’s actually doubling somebody with either one of the teammates next to him, that defender is basically done. Against aggressive upfield rushers, Ingram can turn and ride them way past the quarterback. Thanks to the jolt in his hands, combined with his large thighs and backside, Ingram can eat bull-rushers for breakfast. If guys do create some push initially, you will see him arch his back through and dig his shoes into the turf, to stall those attempts. Even against blitzing linebackers, he can lay down the anchor and stone-wall them for the most part. Ingram quickly covers the space between him and his fellow linemen to pick up slanting defenders and helping out if his initial man loops out or a linebacker bails out. He displays good peripheral vision for games up front and he really tosses the first man sideways before picking up a secondary rusher coming the other way, being able to stun their momentum or ride them away from the action if they go for a wider angle. And if he ultimately doesn’t have anybody to pick up, he’s actively looking for someone to put on the floor. There’s a snap against Texas A&M from 2020, where Ingram barely even sees DeMarvin Leal looping over, but as Ingram dips the shoulder on him casually, he flattened the defender with ease. Last season, he was responsible for only 11 total pressures (including two sacks) across 484 pass-blocking snaps.
The biggest issue for Ingram as a run-blocker is that his weight gets too far out in front, while his eyes are down, and he fails to initiate contact with defensive linemen off the snap at times. In particular, you see that when he tries to establish position by stepping into the gap and guys can slip underneath unimpededly. What Ingram seems to struggle with in terms of pass-pro are those twitchy interior rushers, who by alignment (such a wide-three or 4i), have some room to operate and can give him a little shake before slicing by him. He tends to step too far outside his frame and leave himself vulnerable the other way. And he can get a little lazy with his feet if he’s not engaged with anybody directly in protection. Ingram presents physical dimensions that are about as average as it gets. His good 40 time of 5.02 overshadowed that he was below-average across all the other drills at the combine, including a horrific 20 ½ inch vertical jump.
Watching Ingram at Senior Bowl practices, he was too reactionary and lackadaisical off the snap early on in one-on-one, but once he started to actively approach rushers, he was able to stun them. He was put a center later on as well and when he quickly got those hands inside, I liked what I saw, unlike the D-linemen who he was voting, which voted him American OL of the week. I’m not sure if Ingram is necessarily built for an outside zone-based offense, but other than that, I don’t believe there are any schematic limitations to what he can do. I believe he’s a day one starting guard, who will boost your rushing attack instantly and won’t allow people to run through him in the pass game. And he may be able move to the pivot, if it’s a more vertically-oriented scheme.
8. Luke Fortner, Kentucky
6’4”, 305 pounds; RS SO
Once a three-star recruit at offensive tackle in 2016, Fortner redshirted his first year on campus and turned himself into a quality starter over the next three year for the Wildcats, primarily at right guard. This past season he got a chance to return for one more year thanks to the COVID eligibility rules and took full advantage of it, moving over to center in place of Drake Jackson and turning that into a first-team All-SEC season.
There’s no pause whatsoever between the snap and Fortner’s first step. You don’t see D-tackles get up the gap before he can initiate contact and he consistently creates successful lateral movement in the zone run game, but also scoop up guys in a hurry and free guards to transition to the second level almost instantly. His ability to continue bringing his hips around and seal guys away from the play is as good as it gets in this class. Fortner consistently gets to the edge of the frame of zero- or one-techniques and allows the ball-carrier to work around him, regardless of the run scheme, as he places his hand underneath the play-side shoulder-pad and twists that guy to where he has to work through him. The principle of giving ground to gain ground is routinely on display in his approach. And while he may not jump off the tape with crazy power into contact, he will not stop churning those legs. When Fortner recognizes the closest defender on lateral schemes is securely in the B-gap and he can immediately work up to the second level, he displays highly impressive lower body flexibility to attach to targets and clearly indicate to his back which way to go. Overall, Fortner is very quick to get on his horse and has shown the ability to even pin play-side stack linebackers inside when the ball went out to the perimeter. And he has a ton of grip strength, to grab guys and not let them get around him. The same things show up in the screen game, where you actually see him put hands on safeties multiple times.
In pass-protection, Fortner really latches those hands into the chest of interior rushers and has the feet to stay engaged when they try to take wide angles around him. And he doesn’t let quicker guys escape either, as they try to jump from side to side. Against bigger nose-tackles, he takes control of pass-pro reps early on with a rapid punch on short-sets. And because he maintains good knee-bend deep into plays, he can withstand bull-rushes sufficiently. That ability to get to his landmarks and cover grass laterally you see in the run game is also apparent on slide protections, where he can get in front of guys slanting into the A-gap with favorable angles. He’s not somebody you can make uncomfortable by looping guys across his face, thanks to his smooth lateral mobility. And he shows the easy movement skills, where he can pick up and stay in front of blitzers linebackers on an island. Wherever defenders are coming from towards him, Fortner makes sure to put hands on them early, to be able to shuffle along. He really held his own against Georgia in their matchup last season, not getting driven backwards and creating room for his QB to follow behind on sneaks, to convert in short-yardage a few times. The most impressive part about that game was him showing the ability to anchor down against the monstrous Jordan Davis on multiple occasions.
However, Fortner tends to overextend and have his pads way out in front at times in pass-pro, when he mirrors sideways movement in particular, making push-pull and counters the other way problematic for him. He is almost too eager to come off the down-lineman he originally slid towards, because his eyes get trapped on the opposite side, looking for somebody to loop his way or whatever. I don’t believe Fortner is a great fit for a gap-scheme based rushing attack necessarily, if he’s asked to uproot D-tackles out of their space. When he does block down on and actually has to create movement, he tends to take his head down and significantly lean into defenders. And as much as he excels at reaching A-gap defenders, those one-techs with great lateral mobility and power give him issues with securing the block and they end up running down the line towards the ball together at times. While I love Fortner’s ability to get out in space, he wants to look back and find his teammate with the ball way too much instead of just blocking whoever is in his path.
Watching Senior Bowl practices the first time, I didn’t feel like Fortner necessarily had a dominant showing, but going through those one-on-one reps again, I realized that he actually didn’t really lose straight-up ever, as he did an excellent job of staying in front of guys, with very active footwork and a strong grip on defenders. So that combined with his smarts to recognize pressures and work his way through games up front, I don’t have much of a concern with him in pass-pro. And then in the run game, I believe there are some schematical limitations, in terms of him not being suited for a gap-oriented approach, but the way he can seal defenders or even be used as a puller himself simply commands a plan of how to maximize those strengths, while he should excel in a wide zone-oriented scheme. I was shocked with how good the tape really was and he should be a lock for day two, in my opinion, especially with at least 600 snaps at left guard, center and right guard each.
9. Cam Jurgens, Nebraska
6’3”, 300 pounds; SR
Recruited as a 240-pound tight-end among the top-200 overall names in 2018, Jurgens ended up redshirting his first season at campus, before starting all but one of 32 games over these last three seasons at center. In 2021, he was named a third-team All-Big Ten selection, as well as the team’s offensive lineman of the year and an Academic All-Big Ten pick for the third consecutive year.
Right away, Jurgens’ snap-to-step quickness is off the charts. He is an excellent fit for a wide zone-based scheme, showing the ability to scoop-block A-gap defenders and urge his guards to work up to the second level. However, if the shade-nose slants across his face, his ability to pivot his hips almost simultaneously as that inside foot hits the turf, to pin guys on the back-side is remarkable. And overall, as he’s engaged with somebody, that ability to keep churning his legs through curvilinear movement and keep his hands locked in place, as defenders try to defeat the block, is highly impressive. Jurgens’ athleticism allows him to effectively fly to the second level and even work up to safeties at times, opening up your playbook to some degree. He perfectly aims at the near-shoulder of down-linemen to set up his teammates on combos. And he shows the loose lower body and short-area quickness to angle more than 45 degrees on the D-tackle, to set up his guards on brief combos, yet still get himself in front of the backer, who has a clean lane to shoot through. Due to how much Nebraska used their quarterbacks on in the run game, you saw that really shine out of empty sets, as well as his ability to sell quick “losses” in pass-pro and driving guys off track on draw plays. For being a rather small interior lineman, Jurgens showcases tremendous physical toughness, paired with his elite mobility. He can legitimately get a bump on the nose and cut off the angle for the linebacker lined up across from the play-side guard, as they throw a wide receiver screen off a light run-fake.
When directly occupied in the pass game, Jurgens instantly squares up shade-nose tackles and lifts up through their chest-plate to force their pads to rise. He can keep rushers off balance with independent hands, that quickly land and re-fit themselves, while making it a priority to bring his elbows back in line with his shoulders. Jurgens has the light feet to mirror laterally movement with ease and doesn’t overstride typically. The flexion in his ankles and knees is as good as it gets, in order to slow down the momentum of bull-rush attempts. He gets into a lot of positions I saw with now-Broncos starting guard Quinn Meinerz, where his toes are nearly completely opened up to the side and his knees are slightly in front, to maximize the transfer force from the ground. Jurgens doesn’t lunge against creeped up linebackers, who may be a spy or set up a delayed game up front. Not only do you do see Jurgens communicate information tirelessly pre-snap on obvious passing downs, but his eyes are very active with scanning through the ancillary rush and not allow free runners up the middle. And it’s so effortless for him to open the hips and trail wide loopers across to the opposite A-gap of where he originally had to step towards. Jurgens covers ground to his guards in a hurry when unoccupied in pass-pro and he’s not content with just having done “his job”, actively looking to help out in that regard, which was a big benefit for his quarterbacks, to open up a big lane to run through, if they couldn’t find anybody open downfield. Overall, Jurgens has held opponents to just one sack and 20 total pressures over the course of 616 combined pass-blocking snaps these last two years.
On the negative side, Jurgens simply doesn’t have the pop in his hands to create initial momentum on defenders in the A-gap, not being able to move them off their landmarks. On solos, he allows guys to lock out and routinely slip over the top, as they see the ball-carrier come through the hole. He overcompensates that at times with wrapping the play-side arm around the name-plate of the defender. And he needs to make a clearer distinction between inside and outside zone blocking, as he bucket-steps deeply and allows guys to back-door him, when they actually have an H-back sifting underneath to create a potential cutback. As impressive as Jurgens ability to get out in front and put hands on people is, he often times is a little overzealous and just gets a piece of them, rather than really snatch them up. In pass-pro, Jurgens’ base gets very wide to counter powerful interior rushers, which limits his ability to move sideways and stay in front of them deeper into play, as try to get around him. And he tends to overset against guys that are lined up more directly in the gap, which makes him vulnerable to quick inside moves, where his post-leg can’t stun them.
This young man grew up on a cattle-farm and produces his own beef jerky, which he named after what he was called back home – “Beef Jurgy”. He actually brought it to the combine and left some at his meetings. That automatically bumps his grade up probably. Along with that, he was tied for the second-best 40 time among the O-line in Indy (4.92) and had an outstanding field workout, showing off his comfort at moving around in space. So this is a tremendously athletic player and a three-year quality starter in the Big Ten, who has been responsible for all the calls. He’s certainly better-suited for lateral run concepts, because he won’t drive 300+ pounders off the ball necessarily, but with his mobility as a puller, you can diversify some of the gap-stuff your team wants to run as well. As much as I love Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, if you’re looking for an athletic center who you can plug in week one, getting Jurgens potentially 50 spots later or so presents more value to me.
10. Darian Kinnard, Kentucky
6‘5“, 325 pounds; SR
A top-500 overall recruit in 2018, Kinnard saw plenty of playing time as a true freshman, before taking over as the starter at right tackle in year two and doing so in all 24 contests over the next two years. He earned second-team All-SEC honors as a junior, before being named a first-team All-American his final season.
Kinnard has serious girth throughout his frame, particularly with large quads and calves. He comes out of his stance with urgency and brings a mean-streak to the table in the run game, where he routinely keeps those legs driving and doesn’t stop until the guy in front of him is on the ground or completely taken out of the play. He has the force in his monstrous 11 ¼-inch hands to grab underneath the near-arm pit and torque the bodies of edge defenders frequently. The UK standout does a nice job of getting underneath and just toss bodies around even when he doesn’t have them perfectly centered at all. He consistently gets edge defenders to his outside hip and opens up the B-gap. When Kinnard comes in on an angle on lateral schemes, he can lift some D-tackles off their feet and knock them over by a full gap, but he also has the agility to consistently scoop-block three-techniques on backside zone combos. And he’s not just looking to deliver blows, but rather sustain blocks in the run game and keep moving defenders around. Overall play-side zone-combos with the guard, he can keep that long arm attached to the down-lineman until his guard secures the block, while his shoulders are already pointed to the backer. He doesn’t look uncomfortable working up to linebacker or even safeties in space, with fairly conservative approaches, where on combos, he creates knock-back with one shoulder and stays mostly on track to the second level. And his reactive quickness to adjust to targets on the second level is a plus.
Protecting the passer out on the edge, Kinnard comes out of his stance with the help-hand ready, while being quite conservative in his kicks and quick to help out his guard, if left without a task. Plus, he looks loose in his hips when having to flip open against a late looper. At the same time, he was able gain enough depth to force edge rushers to go through him on deeper sets – which is certainly not easy to do – and his 35-inch arms are an asset as a pass-protector, where he can punch at the outside pec to significantly slow down outside rush attempts. By putting a hand on the far hip, he can force guys to go past the QB. When he gets tight to the rusher’s chest and can clamp down, that guy usually not getting away anymore. That’s what I see from him being able to directly took over to guard. Kinnard swallows stabs at his chest with ease and when he digs his cleats into the turf, he can stall bull-rush attempts to great effect. He displays patience against hesitation moves and delayed games up front. And he sells play-action well, by really stepping into the space of defenders, forcing them to try holding their ground. Kinnard gave up just one sack and six additional pressures across 414 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, receiving PFF grades of 91.5 and 91.9 respectively over the last two seasons. And he’s surprisingly effective in the screen game, showing an understanding when to look for somebody to peel back on.
However, Kinnard does play a little high overall for my taste altogether. In the run game, his weight distribution gives him issues at times, where he wants to get his body in position and gets over his toes, for defenders to push him by. In pass-pro, he gets caught dipping his head a few times and just somehow guiding his man off track. Pass-rushers who can counter that effectively with pulling cloth and/or hitting swim-moves will punish him for that routinely. I don’t see him playing out on the edge, because he doesn’t have those athletic tackle feet and plays with very wide hands. Too often he would stab with the inside arm and overextend, leaving the B-gap wide open. Kentucky allowed him to slide inside a lot, with a tight-end working across the formation or other ways to work in full-line slides, along with the RPO game. And he does get pretty grabby, as rushers try to turn the corner on him, which will continue against (wide) B-gap rushers.
I’ve always looked at Kinnard as a guard, because while he does have the long arms for sure, he has the solid build to play on the inside and not the feet to play on the edge necessarily, where the patience in his pass-sets can also be interpreted as a lack of activity in his footwork. You saw it at the Senior Bowl as well, where his foot quickness appeared to be a little sub-par compared to the other tackles and be more effective when he was able to be more pro-active on the interior, although he did have a couple of quick whiffs. However, then he showed up at the combine even lighter (down by 20 pounds to 320), but still had one of the slowest times among the OTs (5.31), while looked sloppy and gassed during the on-field drills, and testing between the 15th and 38th percentile. So he’s had a rough pre-draft process, but I believe if you put him at guard, he might be able to alleviate some of those concerns and be a key piece to a rushing attack.
Just missed the cut:
Cole Strange, UT-Chattanooga
6’5”, 305 pounds; SR
A former two-star recruit all the way back in 2016, Strange redshirted his first year at Chattanooga. He would go on to start 44 of 49 career games, with all but three of those at left guard, to go along with a couple at left tackle and one(-and-a-half) at center out of necessity. He was a second-team All-SoCon selection in each of the first three years and then made first-team all-conference in 2021, along with winning the Jacobs Blocking Award for the top offensive linemen in the league in each of the last two.
+ Continually works upward and rolls his hips into contact, while keeping those feet pumping almost like a machine
+ Displays tremendous dexterity to reach defenders in the play-side gap on wide zone runs, covering good ground with that initial shuffle step and then pivoting his base around through contact.
+ Shoots the inside shoulder up through contact on the down-lineman, extends that arm and then peels off to the backer effectively on zone combos
+ Was heavily utilized as a puller, where he can quickly turn the corner and get out in front, at times even working up to safeties and attaching to them, if nobody got in his path
+ Locates and snatches second level defenders at a high level, not getting antsy if the target doesn’t work downhill actively
+ Excels at squaring up the guy in front of him and keeping his hands inside his frame in pass-pro
+ Approaches rushers with a well-timed and -placed upwards strike to control reps
+ Plays with good flexion in his ankles and knees, while stepping back gradually to hold his ground against bigger interior rushers, along with quick-setting to enhance that ability to take charge
+ Eyes are up and looking for potential blitzers when he passes the initial man in pass-pro, as well as having the short-area quickness to come off and catch guys coming over late
+ Had an outstanding Senior Bowl week, as one of the few guys to actually hold his own against Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, who was arguably the MVP of the entire event
– Such a small guy and there’s a lot of lunging all-around in his game
– Doesn’t bring a ton of thump at first contact in the run game and typically he would more so wall off or bear-hug A-gap defenders
– Projecting him to center, I’m still not sure if I want him isolated against big nose tackles for 30-40 plays every game
– Tends to lean to the foot he’s sliding towards and when guys get a hand underneath the opposite shoulder-pad, they can push him out of the way
– Almost too hell-bent on staying at/near the line of scrimmage, to not give potential blitzers a runway up to him, and now he doesn’t have the angles to help out the guys next to him.
There are obvious size concerns with Strange and I’m interested to see how much more mass he can add to firm up his body. He may not be a people-mover in the run game, but he’s been very effective in a zone-based rushing attack with his ability to beat defenders to the spot and opening up lanes for the ball-carrier. In pass-protection, his approach off the snap is certainly aggressive with getting his hands inside the chest of rushers, but he’s so efficient with initiating the contact and gaining control early into the play that I feel much better about it. And what he did down in Mobile has me feeling much more confident in him being able to make that step up in competition, showing his toughness and even calling out guys like UConn’s massive D-tackle Travis Jones. Then at the combine, other than an average vertical jump, he was in 86th percentile or better in all events.
Dohnovan West, Arizona State
One of the top-1000 overall recruits in 2019, West started all 29 games of his three-year career with the Sundevils, playing both guards in the first two, before starring at center this past season. This past season he made second-team All-Pac-12 after being a first-team all-conference selection for those four games in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.
+ Snap-to-step is basically simultaneous
+ Displays excellent mobility sideways in the zone run game and will keep driving his legs to create movement
+ On wide zone, he keeps swiveling his hips around to allow the back to get outside him and scoop the back-side
+ Works up to the second level in a controlled manner, to shield linebackers effectively
+ Overall he displays an impressive ability, to get his feet back into the turf when he gets off balance initially
+ Can throw by down-lineman and quickly release into space in the screen game
+ Such easy lateral agility to slide in front of wider alignments and handle cross-face rushers in man-protection
+ Holds where nobody sees it, to shut down rushes and shows excellent technique to anchor down despite being slightly undersized
+ Keeps his head on a swivel when he has no defender in either gap next to him and is looking to help out his teammates with chips from the side
+ Surrendered just one sack and six additional pressures on just under 500 combined pass-blocking snaps these last two years
– Powerful defenders shooting up the gap will give him problems
– Didn’t face many true nose-tackles, who can create issues for him right off the snap; The best one he did play – UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia – made him look bad
– Does lean his weight over his toes quite a bit in protection, due to lacking the sand in his pants to anchor more conservatively
– Tends to overstep in slide protections, making him vulnerable to when he has to redirect to the opposite gap
– Might be looked at as a pure wide zone scheme center by quite a few evaluators around the league
If you’re running a zone-based offensive attack and are looking for a center, this guy could go on day three and be a week one starter for you. In terms of smarts for the position, to choose appropriate angles and lateral movement skills, along with the ability to hold his ground in pass-protection, I don’t really have any questions. I think if you leave him one-on-one with big A-gap defenders, who can overwhelm him at the point of attack, he’ll struggle, but in the right system, he could be a quality starters for several years.
The next names up:
Lecitus Smith (Virginia Tech), Alec Lindstrom (Boston College), Jamaree Salyer (Georgia), Marquis Hayes (Oklahoma), Thayer Munford (Ohio State), Zach Tom (Wake Forest)