Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame) – 93

There is a bear-like quality to Nelson’s play – and that is certainly not a criticism when it comes to interior offensive linemen.  He is a huge (6-5,330), very physical guard who simply moves people in the run game.  Woody Baron of Virginia Tech was one of my favourite college football players in 2016 but Nelson treated Baron like a rag doll at times in the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech game.  The ursine comparisons extend to his pulling game – he is not the smoothest athlete but, when he comes lumbering round the corner on the pull, he is an intimidating spectacle.  I like the way he sustains his blocks and he gets real explosiveness from his hips.  As a pass blocker, he is alert, intelligent and quick to identify threats.  He can handle both quick, penetrative DTs and the massive space-eaters with equal confidence.  Some people have mentioned Nelson as a potential top 5 pick but that is too rich for my blood; I don’t see the rare athleticism needed to select a G or C that high.  I do, however, see a player who could be an immediate, productive starter in the NFL.  Nelson reminds me of a less psychotic Richie Incognito and I think he certainly deserves the first round consideration he’s been receiving; I like him in the 15-25 range of the 2018 draft.

Advertisements

Jake Pruehs (C, Ohio) – 44

It’s easy to see on tape why Pruehs is considered a preseason All-MAC lineman and an Outland Trophy contender.  He is a squat, intelligent player, who identifies threats rapidly and, at the MAC level, can get to the edge quickly.  As a run blocker, he has a sound grasp of angles and his own responsibilities – this works very well in the Bobcats’ run-heavy offense.  In terms of how he projects to the NFL, however, there are some serious concerns.  In the passing game, he plays too high and lacks leverage against quick and nimble DTs.  This is something that can be addressed by coaching, of course, but I am also unconvinced as to whether Pruehs has the athleticism and strength needed to play at the next level.  There are moments on tape (Q2 14:53 v Troy, for example) where he simply gets swatted aside and he struggles to sustain blocks against powerful DTs.  I see Pruehs, currently, as a very good center at the MAC level but as someone who could be ruthlessly exposed should he wind up in the NFL.  As such, I have a marginal UDFA grade on him at this point in the process.

Braden Smith (G, Auburn) – 87

Having won 2nd Team All-American and 1st Team All-SEC recognition in 2016, Smith returns to the Plains for his senior year as one of the most heralded linemen in college football.  On tape, it’s easy to see why he is so highly regarded.  He is a strong, aggressive, technically proficient blocker who very, very seldom loses.  In pass protection, his head is always on a swivel and he has a knack of identifying secondary blitzing threats quickly and successfully.  In the running game, he is extremely impressive when he comes firing off the ball; he is quick, powerful and athletic and short but heartfelt prayers should be said for linebackers who have to face him, bearing down upon the second level.  My only real concern with Smith is when he pulls to his left; in 2015, it was almost comical how far backwards he went before pulling.  The 2015 LSU game (3Q 2:26) is a good example; the ball was snapped on the LSU 19 and Smith was virtually back on the 23 as he pulled.  It was not quite so pronounced in 2016 but I’d still like to see more economy of movement when he pulls left.  When he pulls right, the problem has never been so apparent.  Good coaching, however, will help to fix this and there is certainly a lot to like about Smith’s size, power, athleticism and demeanour.  I have a high Day 2 grade on him at this point; it will be interesting to see how he handles the shift from RG to RT as a senior.

Cody O’Connell (G, Washington State) – 80

Watching Cody O’Connell reminds us of Bill Parcells’ planet theory; there are simply not very men on the planet who have the size (6-7, 350lb), strength and athleticism of Washington State’s #76. If you try to bull rush O’Connell, you would expend as much fruitful energy by sitting on the ground, waving energetically to your friends on the sidelines. He simply engulfs power rushers – he almost absorbs them! It’s difficult to assess O’Connell’s potential in the running game, due to the infrequency with which Wazzou QBs hand the thing off. From a small sample size, however, he looks impressive; he reminds me, at times, of Jaws from the Bond films, in the way in which he disposes of enemy threats. My issue with O’Connell, however, is his agility. He can appear a bit lumbering and slow to pick up stunts, blitzes and twists. A good example comes at 9:19 of the 1st quarter of the 2016 Arizona State game, when he is very slow to react to what the defence is doing. I’d be intrigued to see O’Connell in the Titans’ exotic smash mouth scheme; I think he could wreak havoc in that sort of offence. He is, to me, a boom or bust prospect. If he can adjust to NFL veterans’ wiliness, he certainly has the power and size to excel at the next level. Equally, however, that lack of agility could see him exposed in the NFL. There is enough here, though, for me to give careful consideration to selecting O’Connell on Day2 of the 2018 draft.

Frank Ragnow (C, Arkansas) – 79

I believe that PFF have Ragnow as a 1st round prospect in the 2018 draft but I’m afraid I see that as an indication of that website prioritising statistics over what you see on tape. I appreciate the thoroughness of their analysis but, at the same time, one of Benjamin Disraeli, Mark Twain or the Duke of Wellington was absolutely right when he pontificated about lies, damned lies and statistics. At least, that is, when they were talking about the blocking percentages of SEC centers. Anyway, enough of such fiddle-faddle. Let’s start off with Ragnow’s strengths. He is a physically imposing, powerful center who, when he is up against college-level talent, can overwhelm defenders at the point of attack. He is quick and athletic enough to get out and pull in the running game, although a lack of flexibility when it comes to sealing means it’s unlikely he’ll remind anyone of Dermontti Dawson. Nevertheless, there are a fair few starting centers in the NFL who lack this ability, so it’s not to be underestimated. He is also a smart, alert veteran, who identifies targets quickly and easily, both in the run game and when it comes to blitz pick-up. I do, though, have a couple of concerns about Ragnow. He is at least 6-5 and, as a result, he plays too high at times, especially against squat, fire-plug DTs. He really struggled at times against Daylon Mack, of Texas A&M, for instance, where his lack of leverage told against him. I would also like to see him sustain blocks more consistently. There are enough positives with Ragnow to suggest that he could potentially be a good starting center in the NFL but, at this stage, there are also sufficient doubts for me to be disinclined to take him any higher than the 3rd round.

Nate Velichko (G, San Jose State) – 47

Velichko is an experienced and versatile lineman, who has started at both tackle and guard at San Jose State, on both sides of the line.  He is by no means an elite prospect but I do think that his skill-set, allied to this versatility, might make him a viable practice squad candidate for an NFL team in 2018.  His main strength is his alertness; he recognises his responsibilities and can often be seen shunting off his primary responsibility to one of his teammates in order to pick up a secondary threat.  He has quite a powerful punch and is reasonably athletic, with the ability to move quickly towards the second level.  When he keeps his feet chopping, he is a creditable run blocker and I enjoyed the amount of pancake blocks for which he was responsible – always, for me, a positive sign!  He is, however, a marginal prospect at best at the next level, due to the flaws in pass protection, where he tends to over-extend and lose his balance, forcing him to lunge and lose control of contact situations.  This is, I suspect, partly due to two things: 1) he plays too high – at 6-7, he struggles to gain leverage – and 2) he is a bit slow off the snap and, as a result, lacks the explosion you would really want to see.  A good offensive line coach will smooth out some of these difficulties and, although Velichko is a long-shot to make it in the NFL, I see enough on tape to suggest that a camp invite is feasible.

Billy Price (G/C, Ohio State) – 87

The words that come to mind when you scout Billy Price are ‘alert’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘savvy’.  He has started 41 consecutive games at guard for Ohio State and the fact that he is almost certainly moving to center for his senior season will probably only enhance his stock.  Price has extremely quick feet, which enable him to shift fluidly into position against both 1-tech NTs and 3-tech DTs.  You can also see this athleticism when he pulls; he looks very nimble for an interior lineman when he comes round the corner.  He is an intelligent player, whose veteran experience enables him to cope comfortably with stunts and twists.  You very rarely see him being pushed back in the running game, although I would like to see him being a bit more aggressive when he gets to the second level.   He could be a very serviceable starting guard but I’m not sure if he has the raw strength to excel there; as a center, however, his combination of athleticism and intelligence could enable him to be a top five player in that position.  My instinct is that Price will end up playing center in the NFL and, if that’s the case, I can see him being a player who contends for Pro Bowl honours.