The second part of today’s Big Board is the interior linemen. Unlike the offensive tackles in this year’s draft, the 2011 class is not as deep at center and guard. There are certainly a few top-notch prospects that will deservedly be selected in the first round, but the drop-off after those players is a bit more pronounced than it was with the tackles.
The Bucs may be looking at spending a mid-to-late round pick on on an interior lineman. While I doubt they will spend a pick in the first few rounds on their offensive line (or their offense in general), they may be looking to acquire some additional depth along the line. Last year, Jeremy Zuttah and Ted Larsen came up huge for the Bucs down the stretch. Zuttah stepped in to play center and guard when need be and Ted Larsen finished the last half of the season beside Donald Penn on the left. Both look to return and have good years next season, but with injury concerns regarding Jeff Faine and Davin Joseph (who also needs a contract) the Bucs may be looking to add depth.
Here are the top interior linemen in the 2011 Draft:
1.) Mike Pouncey, Florida - Pouncey is the safest pick in the 2011 draft, amongst linemen. He has a twin brother who garnered national attention for his strong play in Pittsburgh as a rookie. That’s why it’s not hard to believe that if Mike has as much drive and work ethic as his twin, he should also be a very good NFL lineman. Pouncey started as a defensive tackle at UF before transitioning to right guard in 2008. Last year, after his brother left school early, Pouncey moved to center. He’s capable of playing all three of the interior line positions and has all the size and athleticism you could ask for in an NFL prospect. Pouncey is fundamentally sound most of the time but does tend to get a little lazy (slower off the line, pads get high) when he fatigues. Still, he is the best of the interior linemen in this year’s class.
2.) Danny Watkins, Baylor - Watkins was a left tackle in college but lacks the size to continue at that position in the NFL. At 26 he is a bit older than other prospects and his fundamentals are hardly amongst the best in the draft, but he is still incredibly effective. Tenacity is the name of Watkins’ game, he is a max-effort player with a true nasty streak. Even despite not being a technically superb player he still played at a high level all throughout college. Projects as a solid guard in some NFL systems, though he’s never going to be great a pulling or trapping. Should be a late first, early second rounder.
3.) Rodney Hudson, FSU - Hudson is supremely athletic, but that may come as a detriment to him in the NFL. Whereas in college the FSU offensive system required blockers to be quick and athletic, the NFL likes bulk and strength, two things Hudson doesn’t have a ton of. Hudson’s footwork and athleticism are amongst the best in the class, he will need to improve his strength at the point of attack to be successful in the NFL though. Hudson will almost always be in perfect position, with great technique, to make the block in the NFL, but his lack of size and strength may prevent him from following through on his assignments. Hudson has the potential, but will need to work hard once he gets into the pros to add size and strength to his frame. Fortunately, Hudson has tremendous work ethic and football IQ. He should be fine.
4.) Benjamin Ijalana, Villanova - Coming from the FCS division of the NCAA, Ijalana never faced the kind of competition that a lot of other players in this draft class saw. As a result of that, Ijalana got by in college with extra weight and sub-par footwork. That won’t fly in the NFL. But, with a little extra weight and bad technique, Ijalana dominated his competition. He can be a truly elite pass blocker and has all the tools to be an exceptional run-blocker as well. It’s going to require coaching, but Ijalana can be excellent at the next level with some work.
5.) Stephen Wisniewski, Penn State – Wisniewski was a center at Penn State and a good one at that. He is very comfortable snapping the ball out of shotgun sets and still has the athleticism to move over and help a guard. He utilizes great technique pass-blocking and run-blocking, but could improve his strength to help with both. He’s highly intelligent, with good character and fundamentals, basically a coach’s dream. He also comes with the Big Ten pedigree, something that surprisingly still matters in NFL circles. Frankly, Wisniewski would be a great mid-round pick for the Buccaneers. He would be capable of replacing Jeff Faine down the road and is the type of cerebral player you want anchoring the line.
Best of the Rest:
6.) Will Rackley, LeHigh – If Rackley weren’t coming from a small school he’d likely be a first round pick. But he does come from a small school and questions about competition will keep him in the middle-to-late rounds.
7.) Clint Boling, Georgia - Gets the most out of limited athleticism, very smart and durable but doesn’t have a high athletic ceiling. Could be a starter in the right system though.
8.) Kristofer O’Dowd, USC - Has good size and technique, but struggles with balance and confidence at times. History of injuries will be a concern for many teams.
9.) Stephen Schilling, Michigan - Has the body and athleticism of a tackle, but playing guard. Can be beaten by stronger defenders but has solid technique. Could be a great sleeper.
10.) Tim Barnes, Missouri - His best asset is his run-blocking but he came from a spread system. Struggles with slow footwork and needs to keep his hands up against quicker defenders, could develop into a solid player though.