We’re finishing up our Big Board this week starting with the interior linemen. The Bucs really don’t have a need in the middle of their offensive line this year. After giving Davin Joseph a big money extension last off-season, and then signing Jeremy Zuttah to replace Jeff Faine at center while adding mega free agent Carl Nicks this year, the middle of the Buccaneers offensive line is as formidable as any unit in the league.
That works to the Bucs favor too because aside from one truly stalwart guard at the top half of the first round, this isn’t a particularly deep class for guards and centers. In fact, aside from David DeCastro there’s not even another player with a first round grade in this group.
That’s a marked difference from years past, and while the offensive tackle position seems fairly loaded this year, the interior linemen may take more time to develop with less star power amongst them. I do think there are some very good gems in the middle of the pack, but very few guys are out-of-the-box NFL ready this season.
1.) David DeCastro, Stanford, OG, Jr.
In this 2012 NFL Draft, as far as interior line-play goes, it’s David DeCastro in one group and then everyone else in another. DeCastro just narrowly misses a top ten grade overall, and he’s easily the best player in this group. Through three years as a starter at Stanford DeCastro gained a reputation as an intense perfectionist, was highly recognized by the Pac 10 (and later the nation) and in that time surrendered just one sack. The lone sack of DeCastro’s career came as a redshirt freshman against current Buc DT (and former UCLA Bruin) Brian Price. Ever since then, he’s pitched a shut-out. DeCastro comes from an NFL-style system where he excelled at run blocking in addition to his sterling reputation as a pass blocker. At 6-5, 320, DeCastro is a monster with elite athleticism and the kind of mean streak you absolute crave in a high-caliber lineman. Factor in his intellect and work ethic, as well as the high character grades he’s been given, and DeCastro is going to make some NFL team extremely happy. He’s been compared to Maurkice Pouncey (first round pick by Pittsburgh in 2010, made Pro Bowl as a rookie) but with better athleticism. Could likely play any position on the line if need be.
2.) Peter Konz, Wisconsin, C, Jr.
I might have Konz a little higher on my big board if not for the fact he struggled with injuries so much throughout the course of his collegiate career. Konz was always battling some ailment in school, from blood clots in both of his lungs back in 2009 all the way up to an ankle injury which held him out of combine and pro day workouts this season. If you can overlook the injury history though, you have the best center in the draft and one of the best linemen, period. The most attractive part of Konz’s resume is actually between his ears. He’s got a brilliant football mind, that’s evident on pre-snap adjustments, it’s evident in practice and you can even see it in the blocking angles he takes from his center position. It’s not often you can turn on tape and see intelligence, but it’s plain as day with the Badger center. Konz might have the best football IQ of anyone in this draft outside of Luke Kuechly. As a pass blocker Konz is very effective, but his strong suit (as with most Wisconsin linemen) is his run blocking. Last season Konz, along with fellow draft prospect Kevin Zeitler, lead the way for Heisman runner up Monte Ball as the Badgers won the Big 10. In the NFL, if he stays healthy, Konz projects into a very good starter. He can play in most schemes and has the drive to be successful in the league.
3.) Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin, OG, Sr.
Are you noticing a pattern here? Of the top six linemen in this year’s draft (top three tackles and top three interior guys), two colleges produced four of the six prospects. Stanford claims the top guard and the third-rated tackle this year while Wisconsin boasts the top center and the second-rated offensive guard. These are O-Line factories. In fact, even USC and Iowa (the other two represented schools) have impressive records when it comes to producing top-tier NFL pros on the line. Zeitler is another stalwart in the Wisconsin line. At 6-4, 320 and with a hard-nosed, grinder mentality, everything about Zeitler is blue collar. Wisconsin absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage last year, amassing major ground yardage and winning the Big 10 (which incidentally now has 12 schools after Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 with 10) and Zeitler was a big part of that success. He’s more at home in a zone blocking system but could be effective in just about any scheme, he’s solid against the pass rush but it’s his ability to run block that turns heads. Last year, 142 different times Zeitler hit a defender so hard he knocked them down. 142 knockdown blocks. Toss in his off-the-field intangibles and you have a very solid offensive guard with a big-time pedigree.
4.) Amini Silatolu, Northwestern State, OG, Sr.
Silatolu has become one of my favorite sleepers in the draft. Despite coming from a small school, Silatou is not an unknown. He struggled academically after high school, enrolling in a JuCo to try and make the eventual jump to Boise State. He didn’t qualify though and the following year failed at Nevada before finally heading to Division II and Northwestern State. At Northwestern State he was high recognized as one of the top linemen nationally playing left tackle, but in the pros look for him to move inside to guard where he will be a more natural fit. Outside of issues with his grade and coming from a small school though, this guy is all upside. He boasts tremendous athleticism for his frame and he is absolutely nasty when it comes to run blocking. All the anger and resentment over getting passed up to play major college football seems to pulsate out of him every time he gets within striking distance of a defender. Despite still being raw, Silatolu has all the tools to be a very good NFL guard and his experience as a college tackle will help with his pass blocking skills. Silatolu likely won’t get picked until late in round two or early in round three, but with the right coaching he could be amongst the best players in this position class.
5.) Brandon Brooks, Miami (OH), OG, Sr.
At 6-5, 340 it was expected that Brandon Brooks would put up a lot of weight on his pro day. He did that, putting up 225 pounds 36 times in front of scouts, but it was his sub-5 second 40 times that really caught the eyes of the NFL personnel evaluating that day. Hailing from Miami-Ohio, Brook is a massive man with a physically imposing frame that he actually seems to have grown into at times. Often when it comes to a person of that stature, they play almost in spite of their physical size. Everyone remembers those high school linemen who played at 280 but were easily dominated by guys they gave up 100 pounds to because they couldn’t play up to their size? Brooks has no such problems when he’s on his game and when you are as large as he is, there aren’t many men bigger in the NFL. The problem with Brooks is he’s inconsistent. He isn’t always on his game. He looked the part of an NFL lineman at his pro day, but at times in his career he has looked overweight and slow too. Much like his physical shape, his mean streak seems to ebb and flow as well. With coaching he could be a mauler in the NFL, but if left to his own devices he could eat himself out of the league too. He’s got plenty of upside, but some risk as well.
Best of the Rest
6.) Ben Jones, Georgia, C, Sr.
Ben Jones is not the best athlete in his positional class, but he may be the most experienced. I don’t buy into the SEC being bar-none the best league in the country, but they do have the best defenses without a doubt. So starting 48 games at center for UGA in the SEC is about as much of an NFL pedigree as any player could reasonably have entering the draft. Jones has a few areas to improve on before he’ll be NFL-ready, but he’s going to be solid in the league and should enter his rookie season with considerable confidence. After all, he’s already blocked most of the pro guys he’ll be seeing in college.
7.) Brandon Washington, Miami (FL), OG, Jr.
Unless there were extenuating circumstances that forced Washington to leave Miami early there is absolutely no reason he should have come out after his junior year. If there were ever a player that truly could have used another year to develop, it’s Washington. Miami, much like Wisconsin, USC, Iowa and Stanford is a lineman factory. Just look at the guys who continue to walk out of Coral Gables straight into NFL starting lineups. It’s that pedigree alone that will get Washington picked in the middle rounds, but he could have potentially been a first rounder with another year in school. As he is now, Washington is a stout run blocker with above average pass-blocking skills. He’s still raw, but he has upside. I just think he would have been better served to finish at Miami.
8.) James Brown, Troy, OG, Sr.
Brown is the definition of a tweener, he started 37 games at tackle for the Trojans in college but lacks the ideal size to play the position in the pros, unfortunately he isn’t considered thick enough to be an NFL guard yet either. I think he ultimately projects a little better as a guard, but he’s a project. He needs to improve his technique and strength, add some mass and pick a position for good, but he has the tools to one day be a solid guard in the league. Factor in a good nasty streak, his athleticism and his ability to stay healthy and this guy could surprise some teams.
9.) Josh LeRibeus, SMU, OG, Sr.
LeRibeus missed all of 2010, but prior to that had been named all-CUSA in his first year as a starter at left guard, he returned in 2011 to start 12 more games his senior season. In his time at SMU LeRibeus started 25 games and played in 35. He’s an above average prospect at guard who should go in the middle to late rounds. I think LeRibeus could be solid NFL depth, but I’m not sure he projects into anything more than a serviceable spot starter at this stage though.
10.) Michael Brewster, Ohio State, C, Sr.
Brewster is moving up the list quickly. He was the leader of the Buckeye line last season and despite a tumultuous all around year for the program managed to have a quality season. I think Brewster still needs to develop a little more before he’s ready to go, I don’t think he’s as accomplished as some of the other players on this list, but he may have better upside.