Top 10 interior offensive linemen of the 2023 NFL Draft:

Continuing our discussion on the players in the trenches for this draft class, we’re moving on from offensive tackles and edge defenders to interior offensive and defensive linemen this week. As always, we’ll start on the side that has the ball and then transition to the guys lining up across from them on Friday. This group includes offensive guards and centers, which I’ll clarify if I believe the names mentioned fit better at specific spots or if they are capable of filling multiple roles.

This isn’t one of the strongest IOL classes we’ve seen in recent years, but there are two prospects worthy of going in the first round, three other guys in the top-50 range and about four more names who could go on day-two. Where I was surprised as I started digging deeper were some of the guys currently projected to go sixth/seventh round or even undrafted, who I believe could stick on NFL rosters for a while. So they may not come up here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a bunch of guards and centers get picked late.

This is what my top-ten looks like, with a little bit of cheating and one name at the bottom, who I couldn’t really slot in:


O'Cyrus Torrence

 

1. O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida

6’5”, 335 pounds; SR

 

A three-star recruit for Louisiana in 2019, Torrence started all but one of 36 games for the Ragin Cajuns across three seasons there, being named second-team All-Sun Belt in 2020 and improving to first-team the year after, for a group that averaged between 193 and 257 rushing yards in each of those. He decided to transfer to the SEC ahead of the ’22 season and continued his dominance against tougher competition, as he started 11 games at right guard for the Gators and was named a first-team All-American.

 

+ Looking at the massive build and natural force he brings, Torrence was made to play guard

+ Can create significant lateral movement on the front-side of inside zone runs and you frequently see him create cutback lanes in that same mold

+ Routinely lands his inside hand underneath the near shoulder-plate of defenders and is able to get that extra push to dig guys out of the gap

+ Has some really sticky, massive hands (11 and ¼ inches) and good dexterity to turn bodies and get his ball-carrier out to the edge with scoop-/reach-blocks, but also just to sustain blocks, as defenders try to throw him off

+ You regularly see him apply rotational force with the opposite hand to where he wants to turn interior D-linemen and get that guy to that side

+ Lands some forceful bumps just digging that inside shoulder into the down-lineman slightly showing in the gap next to him, whilst staying on track for the linebacker he’s responsible for

+ When he ends up transitioning to the second level and his assignments run themselves into traffic, he doesn’t just stop, but rather is looking for work and potentially peels back on a pursuit defender

+ And if he gets a straight shot at linebackers, you legitimately see the heads of those guys snap backwards at contact

+ Recognizes when guys on the second level run themselves out of the action or are blitzed the wrong way and he can just pivot his base around to shield a D-lineman on the backside of lateral schemes

 

+ With his ability to anchor and ride wide rushers past the quarterback, you rarely see quarterbacks not being able to step up his way

+ Has the girth and base strength to take two-handed punches into his chest and absorb them, before he counters with his punch and dictates things

+ When he’s the one to attach his paws to the numbers of D-linemen, he can really take control of rushes throughout the play

+ Because of the way guys try to lean into him and ride him backwards, when he does catch them off-balance, Torrence can put them on the turf

+ Plays with his eyes up when unassigned and sliding a certain way, in order to help out if guys counter towards the gap next to him, looking to dish out some rib-shots on nearby rushers when he’s unoccupied

+ And he makes catching these blitzing linebackers one-on-one look effortless, when he has enough time to square them up, but even if he has to pass off the initial down-lineman and can’t brace for the secondary impact

+ Just has a knack for getting the job done and not allowing pressure to get to his quarterback, where he gets a piece of defenders late, just enough to create enough time for the ball to come out

+ Torrence had an extremely impressive showing against Georgia in 2022, where he took an All-American D-tackle in Jalen Carter completely out of the picture a couple of times

+ His track record in protection is just insane – zero sacks and just one QB hit allowed across 1501 pass-blocking snaps in four years as a starter, with eight hurries last season in the SEC being his highest mark

 

– You see him freeze his feet and go for two-handed strikes when taking those direct angles towards linebackers, which can be eluded

– While this comes with guys of his dimensions, Torrence’s foot quickness is just average and he may be challenged in new ways at the next level with twitchy interior defenders attacking the edges of his frame

– Does get caught overextending and shifting his weight over his toes at times, working against pass-rushers who have more of a runway against him by alignment

– A couple of times you will see him hold late into pass-sets, when he really doesn’t need to, and draw unnecessary penalties

 

If you’re looking for a true guard, who can create easy movement in the run game and just end rushers by interior guys once he gets those massive paws latched onto them, Torrence is your guy in this class. He’s not the most light-footed guy or most graceful athlete out in space, but there really aren’t many negatives to find on his tape. Proving that he could handle the step up in class with his move to the SEC, after already putting together a stellar career at Louisiana, was a big piece in giving evaluators confidence that he will handle the next step too. Watching him continue to excel during Senior Bowl week and what he did against some of the top competition he’s faced, this is a first-round prospect for me all day long. The two names that came to mind for when watching him were Brandon Brooks and Mike Iupati – which I would be comfortable with taking Torrence in the range of the latter (17th overall back in 2010).

 

 

John Michael Schmitz

 

2. John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

6’4”, 320 pounds; RS SR

 

Just outside the top-1000 overall recruits back in 2017, Schmitz initially took a redshirt and then was mainly used on special teams, before becoming a part-time starter in year three. He started 19 games over the next two seasons and was one of the most consistent centers in college football, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention and second-team accolades. This past year he improved to first-team, leading the way for Mohamid Ibrahim’s massive 1600-yard rushing season.

 

+ Big center prospect, who fits well in a power-based rushing attack, thanks to his rugged playing style, but was highly successful in more of a zone-heavy scheme

+ Schmitz has his thumbs up and elbows tights, as he shoots his arms through the target and creates momentum that way on defensive linemen

+ Has freaky grip strength to create that extra torque at the end, to give the ball-carrier a clear indication of where to go

+ Does a good job of eating up the space to D-tackles on down-blocks, when his guards are tasked with pulling

+ Has that thing, where he kind of hooks D-tackles with the back-arm as works laterally down the line on zone concepts, to negate quick penetration behind him and allow his guards to take away that gap

+ Showcases good timing with staying attached to the down-lineman with a help-hand as long as needed to peeling off once linebackers commit

+ On more vertical concepts, he also makes sure the down-linemen is secured before climbing to the second level, where he can take guys for a ride, who try to get over his blocks

+ However, he also moves well for that size, being able to execute reach-blocks and scoop up 2i/2-techniques, in order to allow his guards to work to the backer on wide concepts, bringing his base all the way around and pinning them inside at times

+ You love the effort to fly out in front of screen passes and look for work in space – Had a couple of crazy take-out blocks on guys beyond ten yards down the field during Senior Bowl practices

+ Was the highest-graded center (and IOL overall) in college football in 2022 according to PFF (92.4)

 

+ Can land punches when defenders try to set up their moves, but then also keep those guys really tight to his chest, with hands that don’t detach typically

+ Does a great job of slowly giving ground and re-positioning his base to against power rushers, whilst keeping elbows in-line with his shoulders

+ When guys try to take wider paths around him, he can take them way off track, to give his quarterback clear space to step up into

+ Is ready to help out his guards once their rusher shows in the A-gaps, but then also recognizes when there’s a delayed second-level rusher and he can just get a piece of them, for his QB to get the ball out

+ You see him land some knockout shots in that regard on guys late into those plays

+ Fluidly transitions on twists, with the strong punch to stymie the second man or ride them out of their lane

+ With how much play-action from the gun the Gophers use, Schmitz regularly was asked to sell the run and basically cover up bodies, which he does exceptionally well and you never really see any pressure up the middle because of him on those, along with him sticking on that down-lineman until the backer really shoots downhill

+ Generally, when he feels the defenders he’s tangled up with lose their balance, he takes the chance to push them down and land on top of them

+ Did get charged with two sacks this past season, but otherwise only gave up 11 additional pressures across 619 pass-blocking snaps

 

– Has his issues when quick reactionary movement is required, such as adjusting to D-tackles slanting across his face

– If moved to guard, it may not be the most seamless fit for a wide zone-based rushing attack, if he has to basically reach-block penetrating three-techniques

– Not the most flight-of-foot to secure blocks in space and can be a little too aggressive with his initial angles

– Every once in a while, his feet can deaden just a little bit when he goes for two-handed punches and guys with strong push-pull maneuvers can yank him sideways momentarily

 

This young man displays textbook technique with his hand-placement and footwork, along with tremendous the strength in hands to take charge of defenders in the run and pass game. Senior Bowl week is typically not a setting for interior O-lineman to stand out, but Schmitz did in a major way. The vice grip hands, ability to frame rushers and control reps allowed Schmitz to shut down several of the top interior pass-rushers in the country, along with opening up several big lanes behind him in the run game. For somebody with his size, a fit in more of a gap-scheme based offense makes sense, but he has little experience as a puller and gets worse at securing blocks against second-level defenders the farther distance he has to cover initially. Either way, I think he’s a rock-solid player, even though he may not be the greatest athlete, and is worthy of a late first-round pick.

 

 

Joe Tippman

 

3. Joe Tippmann, Wisconsin

6’6”, 315 pounds; JR

 

A four-star recruit in 2019, Tippmann redshirted his first year in Madison and then only appeared in two games the following season. These past two years, he’s started all but one of 23 games he suited up for. He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten in both of them, paving the way for a rushing attack that averaged 211 and 180 yards respectively per contest.

 

+ Tall, athletic center, with plus experience in a multiple run scheme

+ Quick out of his stance, with the mobility to pull and climb to the second level effectively

+ Rapidly covers group laterally to down-block on guys in the A-gap and create that space purely by alignment, as well as on three-techniques, to allow his guards to pull

+ With his long arms, he’s able to fit the opposite hand under the rib-cage of bigger D-tackles and turn their bodies, in order to move them out of the lane and take advantage of their charge upfield, even if he may not be able to drive them off their landmarks with brute force

+ Shows good dexterity and balance to create lateral movement on zone run schemes and pull his inside foot through when needed, And he frequently is able to bring his hips around, to pin guys away from the action

+ Keeps his shoulders square on combos and times up exceptionally well when he peels off those typically, depending on the linebacker’s movement

+ Wisconsin took advantage of Tippman’s mobility on some long pulls, where he consistently was able to attach to targets in space

+ They would run some counter, where the center himself did like a counter/pivot step and be like an H-back sifting across the formation, to get out on the run

+ Effective folds/wraps around guards or tackles on skip-pulls, along with taking on trap and kickout assignments

 

+ Counterbalances his height with natural bend at his knees and keeping his elbows in tight to handle powerful interior rushers

+ Makes sliding in front of interior rushers lined up directly in the gap and mirroring their movement look pretty effortless

+ Very active with keeping his feet moving and not being caught off balance

+ Tippman’s length allows him to literally have a hand on each of the guards next to him at times, with the Badgers using fairly tight splits up front

+ In a more practical sense, he can reach out for mugged up backers in one A-gap and feel if he’s actually coming, whilst gaining depth and ultimately taking over a rusher on the other side

+ Shows flashes of independent hand-usage to keep rushers at bay

+ When unoccupied, he displays active eyes, to attach to nearby rushers or pick up blitzing linebackers angling his way

+ On some delayed interior twists and second-level rushers looping across, you see an impressive ability to open his hips and guide those guys off track

+ Was charged with just one sack and nine total pressures across 615 pass-blocking snaps these past two years combined

 

– While he does sink his hips well, Tippmann’s height can create some leverage issues and limit the movement he can provide as a drive-blocker

– Falls off too many blocks against A-gap defenders, where he needs to re-fit his hands and drop his base if he gets out-leveraged initially

– In protection, you see him dip his head and more crafty rushers pull him off later into reps, and because he isn’t necessarily pro-active with his punch, some guys at the next level will be able to attack his chest, to create anchoring issues for him

– Can be a little late to pick up wide stunts, as he has his hips opened towards a rusher one of his guard is tangled up with

 

Tippman is one of the more fun prospects to watch regardless of position – at least for me. His movement skills in the run game are rare for a center and whoever drafts him will have the opportunity to diverse their scheme because of what he can provide. His height brings positive and negative effects, where it provides some room for error/extended reach, but his higher center of gravity limits his ability to dig defenders out of their gap and anchor against interior rushers. He will need to work on protect his chest better, in order to counter-balance those issues you see at times in pass-pro, but the athleticism and crafty play for just a true junior makes him one of my favorite guys to target early on day two – assuming he’s available at that point. In a system that throws perimeter screens more regularly, this guy’s speed to cover ground and how well he snatches up bodies on the fly could really shine.

 

 

Steve Avila

 

4. Steve Avila, TCU

6’4”, 330 pounds; SR

 

Just outside the top-1000 overall recruits in 2018, Avila redshirted his first year on campus and then saw action in 11 games year two. As a redshirt sophomore he started all nine games at three different positions (center, right tackle and right guard), before taking over the pivot in 2021 and then moving over to left guard last season. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection in ‘21 and improved to second-team All-American this past season, during TCU’s miraculous run at a national championship, even though they got stomped in the title game.

 

+ Excellent girth throughout his frame, but surprisingly quick out of his stance for that size

+ Very consistent with taking the “right” first steps and putting himself in position to take care of his assignments in the first place

+ Excels at covering up bodies with good leverage and flexibility to sustain blocks on inside zone schemes

+ Incorporates gather steps in order to not whiff against wider alignments or D-tackles in a more passive four-point stance

+ Has so much strength in his hands that he doesn’t always need to perfectly square up defenders, but can grab and torque guys a little bit, as well as maintain blocks on challenging angles

+ Didn’t get many chances to just uproot D-tackles out of their gaps, because TCU ran a lot of slower-developing zone runs, but when given the chance, you saw Avila take guys for a ride quite frequently

+ At guard, the Horned Frogs could utilize Avila as a puller more regularly, taking care of kick-outs and giving the lead-blocker and back room to work on GT power

+ Smaller bodies simply don’t find a way around his wide frame in tight quarters and linebackers won’t create any knock-back on him, even if they have some space to accelerate into contact

 

+ In true one-on-one pass-pro reps, Avila actually looked better at guard, because he could get his hands on the rusher right away and wouldn’t give them much room to breath anymore

+ Shows good understanding for the depth of the pocket and when to just guide rushers off track as they try to go wide around him

+ His anchor against power rushers seems nearly unbreakable

+ You see guys slant over his way or counter late and run into Avila, where it looks like they just hit a brick wall

+ Utilizes alternate hand-usage and stabs at interior rushers to keep those guys off kilter

+ When opponents take a wider path against him, he shoves them out of their rush lanes and into traffic regularly

+ Quickly shuffles in front of guys lined up towards the near-shoulder of the linemen next to him on slide protections, to force them to work around him

+ Back when playing center, if he saw his man stunt outside either guard and there was no threat in the opposite A-gap for him, Avila made sure to widen the angle and that’s where you saw Max Duggan take advantage of those big running lanes up the middle quite a bit

+ Number 95 for Texas Tech probably still has nightmare about Avila from their ’22 meeting, because of how often he clamped him down or put him on the ground

+ Didn’t allow a single sack and just 11 total pressures across a massive 540 pass-blocking snaps, despite facing an impressive group of interior D-lineman

 

– Carries plenty of weight in the mid-section and isn’t the lightest on his feet

– Lacks that agility to consistently pivot his base around and fully reach-block D-linemen head-up or on the near-shoulder of one of the guys next to him

– Could do a better job of securing the pec of D-tackles closer to the play direction for example on the backside of inside zone, where because he only has 9 and ¼-inch hands, guys are able to fight across him for the tackle if the back cuts it up that way

– Needs to start gaining more depth in protection when unoccupied at guard and doesn’t have quick lateral movement to recover if getting beat on the initial approach

– Playing center, when defenders between him and the guard slanted towards the B-gap and the protection was set up that he can slide that way, Avila was late at times recognizing he should peel back and help out with what may be going on the opposite side (even though it’s not technically his job)

 

Right off the bat, being a fixture in the lineup for three years with quality starting experience at each of the interior spots is a major plus, in terms of the value he can provide for his future team. Avila is a smart and powerful run-blocker, who combined with his wide frame consistently is able to cover up bodies. In pass-pro, his ability to work the hands in independent fashion and his strong base to hold his ground against power led to an exceptional track record. I don’t think he’s necessarily a great fit for a wide zone-based system and his small hands could create more problems sustains blocks at the NFL level, but this may very well be a plug-and-play starter for a decade at any of three inside positions.

 

 

Cody Mauch

 

5. Cody Mauch, North Dakota State

6’6”, 305 pounds; RS SR

 

Joining the NDSU program as a preferred walk-on in 2017, Mauch’s transformation since his arrival on campus has been made viral thanks to the optics, but his improvements on the field might be even more impressive. He redshirted year two, was part of the scout team in his second season and then stepped into the role of sixth linemen in 2019 (542 snaps). These last two years, he’s started all 15 games each left tackle, earning second-team All-MVFC and then first-team accolades respectively, along with being part of four FCS national championships.

 

+ Flexible athlete who plays with natural sink in his lower body and an apparent mean-streak in the run game

+ Consistently initiates first contact with low pads, heavy hands and feet ready to churn, along with the flexibility to keeps his hands latched

+ Makes opening the B-gap on the front-side look easy, creating impact on the near-shoulder and widening those edge defenders in just a couple of steps

+ Excels at torquing bodies and pinning guys away from the action, providing the hip mobility to execute reach- and hinge-blocks to high effect

+ Bullies most of these FCS three-techniques when allowed to get underneath their rib-cage and dig them out of their space on down-blocks, And he completely blows some guys off their landmarks on combo-blocks with the guard

+ Glides up to the second-level with ease and is able to cut off angles, before those defenders can even process the play – Shows the mobility to cut off linebackers on the backside of zone runs when the B-gap is uncovered

+ You regularly saw him kick out guys on the edge on short pulls, when they had a tight-end or two lined up next to him blocking down, and create massive lanes as they ran behind him

+ NDSU utilized Mauch’s movement skills pulling to the edge on sweep and crack-toss plays, where he wants to absolutely bury those smaller defenders in space

+ Has that true finishing mindset, to where you see him ride guys across the field until the echo of the whistle and doesn’t even stop if his helmets comes off

+ Even though most of his tape is against that lower level of competition, against the Bison’s one FBS opponent in Arizona last season, he still bullied those guys and earned an 80.1 PFF grade

 

+ Showcases the foot quickness to mirror quick, active defenders on the edge in passing situations

+ Stays tight to the chest of rushers going up against him and doesn’t really give them an escape route

+ Displays excellent balance to absorb force with his base, bend at the hips and set the anchor against bull-rush attempts

+ Very effective with re-fitting his hands against rushers who move left-to-right a lot

+ Doesn’t let go of guys as plays run longer and if he can land a little extra shove or put guys on the ground, he will gladly do so

+ Shows impressive moments of being able to recover after shifting his weight too far towards the wrong feet and being able to still ride guys off track

+ Only allowed a sack each and 15 combined additional pressures over the last two year (628 pass-blocking snaps total)

+ Tested above the 60th percentile across every single combine event and in the 82nd percentile or better in four of six

 

– Can get pretty top-heavy in the run game and lose his balance when defenders are able to knock his hands off momentarily – and he whiffs totally every once in a while where he telegraphs his punch and guys counter it accordingly

– With 32 and 3/8-inch arms, a move to the interior is likely in the cards for him, yet he has only logged 16 career snaps at all three of those spots combined

– Can be thrown off a little by guys jabbing inside and making him step with the post-foot, creating a softer corner for the rusher

– Other than an inside-out combination or a straight-up two-handed punch, Mauch lacks any type of advanced hand-usage at this point

– Has to work on his ankle flexion and get more cleats into the ground, in order to consistently deal with power at the next level, if he does move inside

 

This kid might have the best all-around athleticism and violent mind-set of any offensive lineman in this entire draft. The way he negates space towards defenders and just engulfs them, with continuous leg-drive until the play is over was one of my favorite things to watch during this cycle. While I would argue Mauch had a bit of an up-and-down week all-around at the Senior Bowl, he took snaps at all five positions during the actual game and didn’t look out of place at any of them – that flexibility should really help his cause. Now, I don’t see him sticking out at tackle and there could be a fairly steep learning curve in terms of the way he uses his hands to keep interior rushers off balance. With that being said, he can be an absolute gap-scheme mauler right away, with the athletic traits to become a high-level pass-protector on top of it. He definitely should be a top-50 pick.

 

 

Emil Ekiyor

 

6. Emil Ekiyor Jr., Alabama

6’3”, 325 pounds; RS SR

 

Just outside the top-100 overall recruits in 2018, Ekiyor played in 24 and started in 13 games heading into his junior year, when he started all 15 games and helped Alabama finish top-six in terms of scoring offense (39.9). This past season he became a first-team All-SEC selection by the AP and league coaches, once again being a full-time starter at right guard.

 

+ Features a powerful, compact build and basically played 2600 snaps in the SEC these last three years

+ Wants to bring the pain in the run game, with a thick lower half and easy ability to create flexion in his joints

+ Routinely is able to center blocks and cover up big bodies

+ Lands that backside hand under the near arm-pit of D-tackles and rides them down the line when running zone his way

+ On the backside of wide zone runs, he can land that bucket step and bring his other leg across to cover ground and scoop nose-tackles effectively

+ Frequently utilized on different pulling assignments, where he unload at contact in forceful fashion to create lanes

+ Just handles second-level defenders so effortlessly it seems like, whether he has to drive them on the move off combos or is used leading up the hole as a puller, where you never see his pads get rocked back, even if that guys sees it coming and can attack downhill

+ His reactionary skills to secure blocks in space are impressive for a man his size

+ Continues to drive his legs, turn bodies and put them on the ground, if he can – Had a play against Auburn in 2021, where he was still driving his man almost ten yards downfield after his helmet had come off

 

+ Has the girth in his lower half to handle powerful interior rushers, while doing a good job when kicking his feet back to re-gain leverage and control pass-pro reps

+ When he gets his hands inside the frame of the guy across from and sets the anchor, you see him completely deaden the rush – Can sling-shot blitzing linebackers, mugged up in the gap

+ Constantly looking to re-fit the hands, get the elbows in tight and find a tighter grip

+ Understands the depth of the pocket and when he can almost back-pedal to help out his tackle, if there’s no threat to the A-gap, often times bumping them past the QB when given the opportunity

+ When tasked with slide-protections, if there’s a defender in the opposite gap and no immediate threat towards where’s supposed to go, Ekiyor still makes sure to provide the help-hand and not allow somebody to just shoot upfield

+ If unassigned with a rusher, his head is on his swivel and his feet keep shuffling, with some violent strikes towards their rib-cage ready to dish out

+ Displays excellent awareness for secondary rushers and picks up wrap-around blitzers really well

+ Was asked to pull on play-action quite a bit, where he could either kick out guys attacking upfield or settle and pick up guys trying to read what’s going on

+ Didn’t allow a single sack of QB hits this past season and just eight hurries across 414 pass-blocking snaps

 

– Is a little late to come off combo-blocks at times and watches the backer shoot across his face as he’s still engaged with the down-lineman

– Too often has his head down and can allow defenders to slip off blocks in the run game

– Has that same kind of issue in pass-pro, where he would benefit from just latching his hands and not letting his shoulder shift beyond his toes

– Overly reliant on two-hand strikes, where he kind of gets his feet stuck in the ground and has to revert to recovery mode

– Could still work on the pacing and timing of his hands in that regard generally, to not see them get knocked away as often

 

I’ve been a big fan of Ekiyor for a couple of years now. Left tackle Tyler Steen was a steady presence for the Crimson Tide after transferring in last season, but otherwise the right guard position has been by far the most steady for them over that stretch. His natural leverage, power and tenacity as a run-blocker stand out as soon as you put on the tape, and he’s been a highly effective pass-protector. During Senior Bowl week, he got the opportunity to play some center and I thought despite never actually snapping the ball at Alabama, his ability to get that first step onto the ground and square up rushers instantly was very impressive. Plus, the strong base to anchor against bull-rushes was on displays throughout practices. He has two nasty tendencies – not keeping his chin up generally and over-using two-handed punches in pass-pro. If he can iron those out, I think he can be a long-term plus starter probably at any of the three interior spots.

 

 

Luke Wypler

 

7. Luke Wypler, Ohio State

6’3”, 300 pounds; RS SO

 

Just outside the top-100 overall recruits in 2020, Wypler played in just one game as a true freshman and ended up taking a redshirt. However, he already earned the starting gig at center the following spring and started all 26 contests over these last two seasons. Having two fellow top-100 overall prospects at the pivot in his own conference “only” allowed him to earn third-team All-Big Ten accolades in 2022.

 

+ Just a redshirt sophomore, who showed he can be a quick learned – in his first season as a starter in 2021 he already earned 79.6 overall grade by PFF, and this past season he improved that to 82.4 – tied for the fourth-best mark among all centers

+ Keeps riding defenders down the line in the zone run game, to create that lateral flow

+ Particularly on wide concepts, he really shoots out of his stance and shows the agility to scoop up 2/2i-techniques, almost pushing off his guards, to get them to climb off those combos

+ Shows the reactionary skills to go from having his shoulders turned play-side to peeling back if a linebacker tries to shoot the gap behind him

+ Has an innate feel the short-area agility to come off combos right on time, to secure the backer

+ If he can, as B-gap defenders try to stay square of peak inside a little, Wypler will deliver a solid bump to get them turned, without getting off track for his man

+ Works up to the second level in controlled fashion and covers up bodies well, while having the quick burst to get to his landmarks as he directly climbs up to MIKE backers straight across from him

+ Was tasked with plenty of long pulls and had some impressive moments beating linebackers to the spot on toss plays

+ Generally his loose hips allow him to pin defenders inside who try to go underneath of blocks or just if he has to peel back on guys in pursuit

 

+ Does well to latch his hands inside the chest of interior rushers with his elbows in, to control reps, and plays with good flexion in his joints to provide the anchor

+ Showcases impressive lateral agility to mirror active defenders across from him

+ Yet if they do give a little shake off the line or try to take those wider paths, he’s consistently able to get his hands onto the near shoulder-pad and ride them past the quarterback

+ Gains the appropriate depth when unoccupied, in order to help out his guards

+ Lifts up at the side of rushers over the guys next to him and completely negates their impact for the most part

+ Showcases advanced awareness for games up front and times it well when to come off and slide in front of loopers

+ Very patient at picking up second-level rushers and delayed blitzes, while consistently being able to square them up, and if they peel off, Wypler still makes sure to find work

+ Just has that knack for where the weaknesses of protections may be and where pressures may occur, to make sure his guy back there stays clean, which made him a crucial piece for maybe the most explosive passing attack in college football over the last two years

+ Was responsible for only eight pressures each (one combined sack) of the last two years on 516 and 449 pass-blocking snaps respectively as a redshirt freshman and sophomore

 

– Likely profiles as a center-only in the NFL and primarily in a zone-based rushing attack

– Wypler isn’t somebody with a ton of upper-body strength to just torque bodies in the run game, and he only has 31 and 5/8-inch arms

– When blocking down, to enable his guard to pull for example, at best you typically get a stalemate at that spot and mostly Wypler has to give up some ground

– You have to question his ability to anchor consistently against powerful interior rushers when left on an island, as you already see guys walk him back at times when selling out for the bull

– Michigan’s Mazi Smith gave him some real issues with getting over the top of zone-blocks and thew his to the side with push-pull maneuvers

 

Wypler is an impressive young athlete, who already plays the game at an advanced level mentally in relation to where he is in his developmental process. Like I already mentioned, not leaving him at center in a zone-heavy system would be a disservice to him, as he lacks the play strength and length to dig or twist nose-tackles out of their gap. I am a bit worried about leaving him one-on-one against powerful interior pass-rushers, because I’ve seen him getting ridden backwards at times, but the ability to mirror twitchier types and slide in front of delayed loopers or second-level blitzers is highly impressive and you consistently see him help out in the right places, in order to keep his quarterback clean. If he’s a fit for your offensive scheme, he’s worthy of a mid-day two selection.

 

 

Chandler Zavala

 

8. Chandler Zavala, N.C. State

6’5”, 325 pounds; RS SR

 

Once a walk-on at Fairmont State in 2017, Zavala gained 60 pounds over his first year on campus and started 21 games between left and right guard, before transferring to the ACC ahead of the 2020 season – which he unfortunately ended up missing due to needing back surgery. These last two years, he’s been able to get onto the national radar, as he started all 17 games he was available for the Wolfpack at LG. In 2022 he was named a first-team All-ACC selection.

 

+ Well-built guard with tremendous football IQ to recognize defensive fronts and late movement, being able to choose and adjust angles accordingly

+ Provides great lateral movement in the wide zone run game, being able to cover up bodies and keep riding them by running his feet through

+ Packs the strong upper body to torque interior linemen and open up lanes effectively, as you regularly see the back cut it up behind him for good yardage

+ When defenders try to stay square to the front-side tackle, Zavala will deliver a rib-shot to get that guy bumped over to the outside

+ Brings some good oomph with that inside arm on combos with one of his fellow linemen and rides the down-linemen into the backer a few times basically, so he can just peel off at the end

+ Very controlled on the second level, to not overshoot his marks or allow linebackers to side-step him – Seems to ride backers off track on the front-side of zone runs every single time

+ Quickly and tightly works around his fellow linemen on skip and wrap-around pulls

+ Recognizes when designated kick-out defenders are shifted too far inside and he can bring his hips around to allow the ball-carrier to work around them

+ Effectively pushes defenders up the field and releases in the screen game

 

+ Quick out of his stance to get his square up interior rushers in pass-pro, while keeping his hands and feet in sync

+ Keeps a tight grip and solid base in protection, while letting defenders get off balance themselves

+ You see him widen his feet and really sit back in his stance against powerful rushers, where his cleats really “eat” a lot of turf consistently, in order to allow him absorb force

+ Effectively utilizes one-handed stabs, to take charge off interior rushers and throw them off kilter

+ Continues to slide his feet with consistent distance between them, to mirror to guy the across from him and not allow him to get to the edges of his frame

+ Plus then he has a knack for feeling the guys he’s engaged with shifting weight to far to one side, which he tosses them down to the turf for

+ Shows plus awareness and ability to sort through twists and games on the interior

+ Didn’t allow a single sack and just one QB hit across 615 pass-blocking snaps with N.C. State (seven hurries)

+ Surprised a lot of people with an excellent pro day showing (after getting snubbed by the combine), with a 5.01 in the 40, a 32.5-inch vert, a 4.53 in the short shuttle, a 7.56 three-cone drill and 30 reps on the bench press – that amounts to a 9.9 RAS score

 

– May not quite have the explosion and short-area agility out of his stance to consistently scoop up aggressive shade nose-tackles at the NFL level

– Not the most graceful mover when he’s asked to get out into space in the screen game and overall his ability to latch the hands onto targets gets worse the further the distance is he has to cover first

– Tends to lean too far into rushers late in plays and allows them to slip off him

– Has only played in 17 total games across the past three seasons, missing all of 2020 due to needing surgery on his back, and even when available all of last year, he left a couple of contests I watched due to getting banged up

 

Zavala is one of the smartest, most consistent offensive line prospects in this draft. Listening to him talk about blocking rules and the intricacies of the position during an interview with the boys from the Bootleg Football podcast, that commitment to his craft confirmed everything I saw on tape. I believe the further he gets away from the line of scrimmage, the less effective he becomes as a blocker and he has that tendency late into pass-plays, to allow rushers to get by him. With that being said, especially for a zone-based system, he’s probably a solid starter from the first day he steps onto the field and could be a fixture in the lineup for a decade. Zavala ad an outstanding East-West Shrine practice week, with several highly impressive reps of shutting down interior rushers during one-on-ones and never really seemed to get out of control in the run game.

 

 

Jarrett Patterson

 

9. Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame

6‘4“, 305 pounds; RS SR

 

A four-star OT recruit in 2018, Patterson very much the look of a tackle, but a lack of length and where he excelled made the Irish put inside. He appeared in just three games as a redshirt freshman, but has since started 46 total games, being one of the most consistent centers in the country and being on the watch list for the Rimington trophy and others perennially. He decided to return for a fifth season, when he transitioned to left guard in 2022 and repeated his brilliance, being named first-time All-Independent in back-to-back years.

 

+ Can anchor and drive better than you’d expect for his weight class, holding his own against shade nose tackles

+ Despite his height, Patterson finds ways to create leverage with his hands and get underneath the pads of defenders in the front-seven

+ Very good with his angles and understands how to effectively shield guys away from the action, Has the grip strength to twist D-tackles and pin them away from the action even if he can’t get his body across

+ Does a nice job of timing up when he comes off the down-lineman on zone combos, but when he’s the one staying on that guy as the linebacker shoots down, he can create that little extra turn and churn his legs to create a lane between them

+ Excellent mobility to cut off and beat linebackers to the spot when climbing up to the second level, while driving his legs through contact

+ Strong hands and dexterity to deal with force being applied to his shoulder(s), and simply has a knack for deliver that little shove late to open up that lane for the ball-carrier

+ Is familiar with traps, kickouts and long pulls, where he doesn’t stop his feet and latches onto targets in space pretty effectively

+ Recognizes when edge defenders negate that space to the down-blocker when they’re supposed to be kicked out and pivots his base around at contact, to show the ball-carrier to work around him

+ Notre Dame’s screen game was highly dependent on Patterson’s ability to get out in front – I love watching him hustle his ass off in that regard, looking like he is running as fast as he somehow can with arms pumping hard and leading the convoy

 

+ Quick to land his hands and take charge in big-on-big protection against nose-tackles, with the dexterity in his upper half to stay attached as they try to dip their shoulder and get to his edges

+ If rushers do swat his reach away, Patterson with stab with one hand and then re-fit

+ There’s so many reps where he has his elbow in tight, lifts from the ground and just stalemates those guys

+ Very active feet in pass-pro, shuffling good at a good pace on slide protections and being quick to redirect when there’s no threat to that A-gap or he can give a shove to guys slanting across, to help out the other guard or pick up a wrap-around blitzer

+ Consistently rides rushers off track who try to work around him on wider angles

+ Has such a good feel for the space to his teammates and when to gain depth based on the rush, and to be able to attach to the hip of either guy next to him, to help out or take over defenders

+ Keeps his head on a swivel after the snap, when not directly tasked with a defender in protection, Even as he has hands on somebody drifting further outside, he’s looking for a threat up the opposite A-gap

+ Patterson may have the most impressive statistic of any player in this draft regardless of position – he never charged with a single sack in four years as a starter (1607 pass-blocking snaps) by PFF, along with just one hit exactly in each of the past three years (21 total pressures on over 900 pass-blocking snaps since 2021)

 

– Average athlete for NFL standards, while his 31 and 3/8-inch arms are in the bottom-two percentile

– Can certainly get pretty top-heavy in the run game and that may be more on display in spread out offenses

– Doesn’t have the brute force to plow A-gap defenders out of the way or the great agility consistently complete reach-blocks against three-techniques

– On gap schemes he’s still late to come off combos on quite a few occasions and allows LBs to shoot the gap – Not the most sudden at adjusting to second-level movement as guys try to back-door him basically

– Crafty interior rushers could punish him with the push-pull as his weight shifts forward trying to anchor against the bull-rush

 

This has been one of the elite offensive linemen in college football over the last three years – no doubt about it. Patterson’s ability to take care of his assignments in the run game with tremendous consistency and how he’s anchored the integrity of the pocket for the Irish will make him a legend in their program’s history. Unfortunately, I believe his marginal athletic talent and lack of length will be taken advantage of more regularly at the next level. You saw those thing become an issue to some degree during Senior Bowl week, where he regularly got caught shifting his weight too far out front or overextending in pass-pro. Nevertheless, his grip strength to control blocks and his football IQ to handle a bunch of stuff thrown his way, will make his future position coach fall in love with him. I believe he can absolutely be a starter in the NFL, but at worst he should a quality sixth linemen for up to decade.

 

 

Olusegun Oluwatimi

 

T.-10. Olusegun Oluwatimi, Michigan

6’3”, 310 pounds; RS SR

 

Outside the top-3000 overall recruits in 2017, Oluwatimi spent a year at Air Force without appearing in any games. He had to sit out the following season as a transfer, before starting his collegiate football career at Virginia. Across the next three years, he started all but one of 35 games, earning second-team All-ACC accolades in the last of those campaigns. Olu decided to transfer once more for his redshirt senior season with Michigan, where he won the Outland trophy for the best interior offensive lineman and the Rimington trophy for the nation’s top center.

 

+ At Virginia in 2021, Olu earned a 90.2 run-blocking grade – best mark among any returning centers

+ Was utilized in a diverse run scheme at Michigan last season, where he was asked to block down, reach-block shades, kick out and on long-pulls

+ Can dig one-techniques out of those A-gaps on gap-scheme runs, and the Wolverines pulled their guards quite a bit, because thee guy at the pivot was able to gain the ground laterally to pin three-techniques away from the play

+ Has that strong backside hand on (inside) zone runs, as defenders try to stay square, to be able to push them to the play-side gap and create cutback opportunities as he moves them down the line

+ Features the grip strength and dexterity to turn bodies and create running lanes later into plays on true solo-blocks with zero-techniques

+ When backside A-gap defenders want to shoot upfield, Olu will gladly ride them away from the action

+ Brings plenty of thump to jack up edge defenders pulling on kick-outs or wrapping around to linebackers on power concepts

+ Does a great job of delivering a bump for his guards to secure the down-linemen while keeping his shoulders square and not allowing guys behind it to shoot the gap

+ Stays balanced when climbing up and has that broad frame to cover up bodies on the second level and give ball-carriers almost a two-way go behind him

 

+ Oluwatemi was a major addition for the Wolverines, thanks in part to the way he kept those A-gaps clean in pass-protection, providing help hands and instantly recognizing when to redirect the other way

+ Gets that first foot down almost simultaneous with the snap, to take care of his slide assignment, and packs plenty of shock in his hands when he lands his initial punch, to stand up defenders

+ Keeps rushers tight to his chest and is working to have both hands inside their frame after they get knocked away momentarily

+ Operates from a wide base and rarely allows big D-tackles to push him into the depth of the pocket, being able to hunker down

+ Typically has no issues with interior rushers trying to dip underneath him, being able to stymie their charge and guide them off track when trying to go wide

+ Does a great job of using the momentum of pass-rushers against them as they stunt across his face and he’s able to put them on the turf

+ His contact balance is a definite plus, to not land on the turf, as multiple bodies crash into him from the side

+ Generally understands when his hands get outside the frame of defenders and when to let go, at times actually putting them up late, to show he isn’t holding

+ Didn’t allow a single sack and just nine total pressures across 410 pass-blocking snaps last season

 

– I don’t think this guy is the most natural bender at his knees and you see him play top-heavy quite a bit

– Not somebody who just explodes off the ball and moves guys against their well with a violent demeanor

– When you ask Olu to get on his horse and cut off backside linebackers, he lacks that burst to actually beat them to the spot consistently, and generally gets too far over his toes trying to secure blocks in space – more of a phonebooth type of guy

– His grip strength allows him to get the job done mostly in pass-pro, but he does rely heavily on leaning into guys and riding them off track, rather than being able to sit back and mirror quick interior rushers – and he has shockingly tiny 8 and 5/8-inch hands

– Due to all the half-man slides at Michigan, we rarely saw him isolated with more dynamic second-level rushers, where I think he may have some struggles staying square to them

 

Other than eventual Heisman trophy winner Caleb Williams at USC, you can argue Oluwatimi was the most impactful transfer in college football this past season. He anchored an offense that averaged 238 rushing yards and the sixth-most points per game in the country (40.4), during an undefeated Big-Ten season. He isn’t the most mobile center and tends to play rather top-heavy, but I don’t think there’s much bad on his tape otherwise. Olu’s calling card is his feel for the game and how under control he is at pretty much all times. Looking at the grades by PFF, he was by far his worst on what they label at “true pass-sets” (61.2) and I would be a bit worried if he’s left on an island against twitchy interior rushers a whole lot, but he’s ready to be an excellent run-blocker day two and makes sure the interior of the pocket stays firm.

 

 

Atonio Mafi

 

T.-10. Atonio Mafi, UCLA

6’3”, 340 pounds; RS SR

 

A three-star guard recruit in 2018, Mafi began his career on the defensive line, where he started 14 of 24 games and recorded 44 tackles (5.5 for loss) for the Bruins. In 2020 he transitioned back to offense, seeing action as a backup in seven games, before starting three of 12 contests the ensuing season. This past year he started all 13 games at left guard, getting the coaches to vote him second-team All-Pac-12, as he helped pave the way for a rushing attack that averaged 237.2 yards per game and six yards per carry.

 

+ There’s really no other way to say it – this guy is built like a brick shithouse, with a wide frame and massive girth throughout it

+ Mafi is consistently able to create vertical displacement in the run game – inside zone or gap-schemes

+ You see him and a fellow linemen ride the down-man into the backer with regularity on combo-blocks

+ Isn’t content with being “wasted” on wide zone, when the man next to him has their man secured, by folding underneath that block and trying to find a different target, almost as if he was skip-pulling

+ Yet, if guys try to shoot the play-side gap or back-door the man next to Mafi, he can take those guys for a ride down the line

+ Doesn’t just get in the way of nose-tackles, but actively takes that space between them, establishes that upfield foot and locks them there

+ Surprisingly sudden as he’s engaged with a defender and then comes off it late as somebody tries to shoot the gap next to him

+ Doesn’t usually overshoot his targets in space and shuffle up to them under great control, while packing the force in his punch to still get those backers off track if they try quickly slip by him

+ UCLA tasked Mafi with several short pulls, where the force he build up with a short runway on kickouts for example is pretty remarkable and you see some defender’s pads pop straight back at contact, and if he does have more room, he can throw guys out of the club

 

+ You will not run through this wall in protection, with his wide and strong base

+ Keeps his hands in tight and can stymie powerful rushers pretty effectively that way, plus he won’t let them lift him up on rip moves, but rather rides those guys up the field

+ As defenders try to beat him across his face and turn the shoulders away from him, Mafi is regularly able to place his hands in the mid-section of them and guide them off track

+ When he catches rushers off balance, he will put them on their backside and land on top of them

+ Really good at passing off and picking up rushers on twists, with the strong hands to guide those guys towards his teammates

+ Stays with square shoulders and is patient when he sees second-level rushers coming or guys stunting across multiple gaps

+ On slide protections, he makes sure the next-closest rusher doesn’t counter towards his responsibility, but then can still stonewall guys who try to take advantage of the opposite gap left open

+ Significantly raised his PFF grade each of the past three seasons, with increased snap totals, with grades above 70 in pass-, gap- and zone-blocking last year

+ While he was charged with five sacks over these past two seasons, he did only surrender 19 other pressures across 683 combined pass-blocking snaps

 

– While he does feature sufficient mobility for his size, Mafi isn’t somebody you necessarily want on those long pulls across the formation against NFL speed

– His hand-placement overall is still a bit of a work in progress, limiting his ability to transfer force from the ground up and you therefore see guys slip him on the initial approach occasionally

– That’s also why he visibly becomes less effective when there’s more space for defenders past the line of scrimmage to elude his blocks

– Has to gain more ground vertically when he’s not directly engaged with a defender in protection

– A hair late every once in a while with picking up delayed rushers, if his eyes get locked in on the first-level guys

 

I just outlined Mafi as one of “my guys” this past weekend. He was one of my favorite watches in this entire draft, because watching him take out bodies on the move just makes you perk up. Despite his fridge-like build, he has surprisingly nimble feet to get to his land-marks in the run and pass game and once he gets those big paws onto guys, they’re done. The hand-placement generally isn’t where it needs to be and there are some small details of playing the position that he still to master, but that’s to be expected for somebody who got to start on the O-line for just one full season. Mafi was stone-walling a strong group of defensive tackle during Shrine Bowl week and opened up some massive lanes in the run game. I believe he has the chance to be a plus starter at the next level if he continues to develop.

 


 

Unranked due to injury:

 

Andrew Vorhees

 

Andrew Vorhees, USC

6’6”, 325 pounds; RS SR

 

One of the top-500 overall recruits back in 2017, Vorhees already started the final nine games of his true freshman season at right guard as an early enrollee. He remained a fixture at that spot the following year, before missing all but two contests with an ankle injury in 2019. As a redshirt junior, he switched over to the left side and stayed there until the final four weeks of ’21, when he moved out to tackle. In 2022, he was able settle in back at LG and improved from third- to first-team All-American in his sixth season at USC.

 

+ Gym rat with just under 3500 career snaps, including more than 400 each at LT, LG and RG

+ Shows an advanced understanding for angles and body-positioning in the run game

+ Operates from a wide base and generally plays under control

+ Vorhees is very good at landing the backside hand underneath the near arm-pit of defenders and initiating the momentum to ride them down the line – And he continues to work them that way

+ Really gets his hips around and puts his frame in the way of D-tackles on he backside of lateral run concepts

+ Just has that knack for using the momentum of D-linemen against them and taking advantage of them getting off balance

+ Frequently digs D-tackles out of the gap in concert with the center of tackle next to him and makes sure the down-lineman is secured on combos before working up to the backer in controlled fashion

+ When he’s the one to set up pulls by either guy next to him, he makes sure to flatten his angle and erase that space to defenders lined up a gap over

+ Routinely was utilized as a puller, where particularly wrapping around and taking out linebackers in the lane was something he excelled at

 

+ Can really take steam off interior rushers with his punch and ride them off track as they try to get around him

+ Slowly gives ground and anchors down against bull-rush attempts, while still allowing his QB room to step into the throw

+ You rarely see him actually lose balance on those reps, because of the way he keeps his cleats in the ground

+ Active with re-fitting his hands and keeping guys from working the most direct paths

+ Once he can grab cloth, it looks like Vorhees’ hands are glued to interior rushers, to not let them escape

+ If linebackers are mugged up in the gap but don’t actually comes on the rush, Vorhees doesn’t get antsy, but extends to put a hand on that guy if possible and stays ready

+ Provides a forceful help-hand and keeps defenders from being able to gain leverage on the gap between him and his teammate, allowing that guy to square up the rusher

+ Keeps his head on a swivel if potential assignments slant away or drop out

+ Never allowed more than two sacks in a season with the Trojans and over the past two years, he held opponents to 28 total pressures across 990 pass-blocking snaps

 

– Dips his head and comes in wide with his hands too often, which limits his ability to fully activate his lower half and trying to overpower interior linemen at the point of attack

– More of a plodder and the more space he has to cover, the less comfortable he appears with locating targets and looking like he has easy athleticism

– Getting up to linebackers, you don’t see him shoot his hands or hips through the target to create momentum or snatch them up

– His hands can slip a little high and well-schooled defenders can push them up in pass-pro

– Will already turn 25 years old at the end of this upcoming season, which he most likely won’t be able to participate in at all due to tragically suffering a torn ACL running the 40 at the combine

 

If not for suffering that knee injury in Indy, Vorhees would’ve had a good chance of going some time on day two. Now, with just three seasons of contractual control basically, when he’s already a sixth-year prospect, he will probably have to wait a little bit longer. However, the fact he still decided to do the bench-press the very next day, when he moved over there on the crutches and bang out a combine-high 38 reps, is the type of stuff you can directly pump into the veins of O-line coaches around the league. He’s technically sound, gritty, has those vice grip hands and has the mental fortitude to get the job done in any type of offense. He’s just not a great athlete and maybe wouldn’t be as successful in a system that asks him to operate in space with regularity.

 

 

 

The next names up:

Alex Forsyth (Oregon), Jon Gaines II (UCLA), Braeden Daniels (Utah), Ricky Stromberg (Arkansas), Nick Broeker (Ole Miss), Juice Scruggs (Penn State), McClendon Curtis (UT-Chattanooga), Jaxson Kirkland (Washington) & Brett Neilon (USC)

 



 

For in-depth breakdowns of the NFL and college football, head over to my page halilsrealfootballtalk.com and my Youtube channel

Twitter: @halilsfbtalk
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