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.

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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.

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.