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2016 NFL Draft: Top 10 offensive guard prospects

Interior offensive linemen aren’t considered to be a premium position in the draft, unlike the big name high profile tackles who tend to g

Interior offensive linemen aren’t considered to be a premium position in the draft, unlike the big name high profile tackles who tend to go early in the draft. That’s perfectly understandable, but the importance of having quality guards (and indeed centers, to come later) should not be underestimated. Take it from a Bucs fan who after watching some awful guard play in recent years finally look stabilised thanks in part to investing highly in a young talent in Ali Marpet this time last year. The offensive line can be tricky to determine who is going to play where at the next level. This top 10 includes a number of guys who played tackle in college and one who played center. Their eventual positions for some will depend on who ends up drafting them! Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore. An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college).

1. Cody Whitehair, Kansas State, rSr. 6ft 4, 300 lbs.

1st-2nd Round With 50 starts in four seasons, and as an all-conference selection each year, Whitehair brings a huge amount of experience.  In his final season, that included being chosen as first team all-American and receiving some votes for offensive lineman of the year.  Playing the last two seasons as the Wildcats left tackle, he has also played at right tackle and guard during his college career.  While he’s played on the edge a lot and most recently, his best fit for the NFL is to move inside, where his size best suits.  There is the potential however to offer cover at all five spots along the line; that kind of versatility is something that is always considered a big plus to a lineman’s stock.  Though he hasn’t played center for Kansas State, he took some snaps there during the Senior Bowl at the end of January, and could be an excellent fit there too.  Few O-linemen enter the league as polished and ready to go as Whitehair is.  An excellent pass protector, he has superb footwork with a wide stance setting a strong anchor.  Mirroring the movements of defenders well, his reactions and adjustments are quick and successful, always looking comfortable and in control.  He does have a tendency to play a little too high, with that leverage being one of the few technical issues that could use some work.  In a Senior Bowl in which the defensive line for the most point dominated their offensive counterparts over the course of the week, Whitehair wasn’t mentioned much but was one of the few who on his side of the ball that consistently held up both in practice drills and during the game itself.  Another box checked in the process along the way to the draft, which is seeing Whitehair draw some comparisons to a guy like Zack Martin or Joel Bitonio, who similarly made the switch inside after a long and impressive college career outside.  He’s not the same calibre of prospect that Martin was a couple years ago, but should similarly be a strong starter early on as a pro.  That ability to plug and play immediately, along with the versatility he offers gives Whitehair the chance to perhaps be selected near the end of the first round.  At the very least he’s a very safe second round selection.

2. Joshua Garnett, Stanford, Sr. 6ft 5, 317 lbs.

2nd Round If Whitehair is about polish and technique, Garnett is the opposite with his imposing size and overpowering strength.  I’ve always remembered the earliest description of him that I heard, referring to Garnett as “a coke machine with arms and legs”.  That is fitting, as he’s not just got the length and weight, but a very broad frame on which he’s built his NFL-calibre build.  Much of the huge success that his running back and Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey had came via the left hand side of his offensive line, where Garnett at left guard and his fellow senior outside at tackle Kyle Murphy opened up huge holes at times to ease through.  Garnett’s play in particularly stood out, and deservingly won the Outland Trophy in 2015 as the best interior lineman (on either side of the ball) in the country.  Garnett certainly uses his size to his advantage in his game, playing with physicality and power.  Once his contact is established, the contest is usually over, and typically his blocks are finished emphatically, pancaking defenders to the ground.  He had some definite inconsistency in the passing game, allowing a few too many easy pressures, but that area of his play appears to have received some focus as it was much improved in his senior year.  While his size should undoubtedly translate to the next level, Garnett needs to clean up his technique quite a bit.  In particularly, he has a frequent habit of bending over significantly at the waist, which can lead to over-reaching and balance issues.  Another area lacking is some very average athleticism and movement, but his strength and long reach do compensate for the most part.  With his ideal build, three and a half years starting experience in the PAC-12, and showing steady improvement over that time, Garnett will make a solid if not flashy roster addition, potentially on day 2 of the draft.

3. Vadal Alexander, LSU, Sr. 6ft 5, 336 lbs.

3rd Round Yet another who is going to enter the NFL with a lot of playing time under his belt already.  Alexander began at right tackle as a true freshman, started 25 games over the next two years at left guard, before finishing off back at right tackle again for his fourth and final year.  He certainly fits the interior much more than playing on the edge, where he clearly had his struggles this season.  Alexander lost weight entering 2015 with the intention of helping his movement at RT, but despite this he still struggled to handle quick pass rushers off the edge who regularly took advantage of his heavy feet and lack of a smooth kick slide.  He is much more at home playing at guard where he can win in a phone booth, using his greatest strength – his strength.  Once he locks on to an opponent, his long arms and big body stonewall would-be pass rushers, something that he displayed well during Senior Bowl weak.  He can also be a bit hit or miss in the run game.  When he gets it right, his blocks are hugely impressive, often flattening linebackers to clear a path.  A big concern for me is the mental side of the game.  Alexander’s overall football IQ, and this adjustments and awareness are all in question at times.  Late reactions to blitzers and the likes catch him out and can be forced into false starts.  While it’s certainly a good thing to have, I’m not sure he offers a great deal out with his size, and would argue he doesn’t truly offer versatility either, as he doesn’t look to be trustworthy out at tackle.

4. Christian Westerman, Arizona State, rSr. 6ft 3, 296 lbs.

3rd-4th Round A transfer from Auburn, Westerman has been an outstanding lineman in his 25 starts over the past two years.  He may have fairly average size, and not the same length of many of the other top guard prospects, but he can unquestionably match up in terms of strength.  There’s so much to like about his game.  Westerman is a weight room guy, which shows in his well-toned and filled out frame, and he combines it with a highly aggressive physical style that is so effective.  Technically sound and well-coordinated, Westerman is elite in pass protection.  His ability to set his anchor then mirror, react and recover saw him only give up one sack all season.  As a run blocker, his initial speed is impressive and shows good short area quickness.  The aggressive style certainly extends to this area of play where he relishes contact and takes pride in taking out his assignment.  His very enthusiastic style can be a little hit or miss mind you, missing his block or overrunning the play, but will win more often than not.  Westerman probably gets picked up on day 3 of the draft, ideally into a zone blocking scheme, but looks like the kind of player at a less than premium position that could turn out to be a bit of a steal when looked back on a couple years down the road.

5. Spencer Drango, Baylor, rSr. 6ft 6, 320 lbs.

3rd-4th Round Drango was one of a few offensive linemen who entered Senior Bowl week with questions as to what his position might be going forward.  A four-year starter at left tackle, he’s held up very well for the Bears on the blindside.  He generally looks very comfortable out there with the size to handle bull rushes and while not overly mobile, has handled speed rushers well enough to buy his usually mobile quarterbacks enough time.  Still, it’ll be a little more difficult continuing at tackle in the pros in a very different system than the Bears run, and looks a better fit inside.  He is heavy but also not that well distributed with some bad weight and a loose build.  He’s noticeably quite top heavy which isn’t ideal.  While he might not have the athleticism to ideally fit at tackle, he should make a dependable long term guard.  The movement might be average, but technically Drango is very solid and co-ordinated between upper and lower body, and uses his hands well to punch with good power.  Drango looked great in Baylor’s bowl victory over North Carolina in his final game for the school.  Though he was doing so from the left tackle spot, he really showcased his ability as a pulling lineman when run blocking, a skill that will translate very well to the interior at the next level.  In the win, Drango continually was instrumental in opening up big holes for the many ball carriers the Bears were using that day, including directly for two rushing touchdowns.  This is a very smart player who brings excellent awareness, composure and size to the position, who might offer some depth at right tackle as well.

6. Graham Glasgow, Michigan, rSr. 6ft 6, 306 lbs.

4th Round It’s early days in the post season / pre-draft process, but one of the biggest money-makers at this early stage is Michigan’s over-sized center.  Glasgow was a consistent stand-out throughout East-West Shrine practices, so much so that he quickly earned a late call up to also take part in the Senior Bowl the following week.  He played primarily at center during the Shrine week, then more so at guard in Mobile, allowing him to show his ability to scouts at both spots.  Given his length, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he could even offer something at tackle later in his career, potentially giving him the versatility to play all five spots on the line, which scouts love in a prospect.  His best fit though could be at guard, hence his listing in this group.  It’s been far from a smooth path that Glasgow has taken to this point at the conclusion of his college career. After being un-recruited out of high school, he had a DUI in March 2014, followed by a suspension in the spring of 2015 for violating the terms of his probation with a positive alcohol test. He is one of many this season though who benefited from the arrival of coach Jim Harbaugh, and credited him for finally sorting out his off field problems. Despite the issues, Glasgow started on the Michigan O-line for the 3rd season and has certainly impressed between the lines. Michigan’s pro style, run heavy offense installed by Harbaugh has been hugely successful this season, in big part due to an outstanding offensive line, anchored in the middle by Glasgow.  He does a fantastic job setting the blocking assignments, a reason that he could be looked at to stay at center despite his unconventional length for that spot.  On top of his size, he backs that up with both strength and aggression that proves effective in pass protection and opening holes in the run game. As well as calling blocks pre-snap, his intelligent play extends to post-snap, showing good vision and adjustments to second blocks and picking up late blitzers.  He had a strong outing versus Penn State this year with Michigan facing one of the top defensive lines in the country, and Glasgow in particular was up against two top interior rushers in Austin Johnson (possible 1st rounder) and Anthony Zettel. Both were kept quiet all game. Glasgow will have some tough questions to answer about his character red flags, but is a prospect on the rise.

7. Willie Beavers, Western Michigan, rSr. 6ft 5, 324 lbs.

4th Round Of those listed here, the one who perhaps has the best chance to find himself eventually playing the left tackle position is Beavers.  As well as having the size to do so, the Bronco lineman has the smooth fluid movement and athletic ability that is ideal to have when playing in that position.  He’s unsurprisingly a little bit under the radar coming from a MAC school that when he first broke into the lineup was one of the worst teams in the nation, finishing just 1-11 in 2013.  Head coach P.J. Fleck has turned the program around though, and for three years Beavers has been a key part of that improvement.  He looked a complete natural straight away in that redshirt sophomore year, playing with a quiet and understated confidence against strong opposition that included the likes of the Michigan State Spartans on the schedule.  His film is a little below his usual standard at times in his senior season, but reportedly has been carrying knocks over the course of 2015, and just getting on with it without complaints as expected from him.  His junior 2014 film is probably his most consistent and best of his college career therefore.  There’s work to do in his game for sure.  As accomplished as his footwork is, it’s not always matched by the upper body where he can over-reach and lose some balance, leading to him ending up on the turf a little too often.  Some of that is technique, some is over-aggression; the latter in a more controlled way should overall be a positive in his game though.  Beavers has the physical tools looked for at the NFL level, and offers plenty of upside value to potentially come from a mid-round selection down the road a bit.

8. Landon Turner, North Carolina, rSr. 6ft 3, 325 lbs.

4th Round Turner has grown in his final season with the Tar Heels, in more way than one, having added some weight to play at around 330 lbs during 2015.  He grew as a leader too though, and was a big part of an unexpectedly successful year that saw the team reach the ACC title game and into the top 10 rankings nationally.  Turner introduced a “got your back” motto that the whole team adopted and embraced as part of the overall comradery that contributed to their 8-0 undefeated conference record in the ACC.  As a player, Turner is a guard only who lacks great length.  He is at his best as a pass protector in enclosed areas where his lack of ideal movement is less exposed and he can instead make the most of his solid technique, short-set anchor and body control.  What he lacks in his reach he makes up for to some degree with his good strength to handle the opposing power of the lineman across from him.  His average athleticism means there isn’t great explosion out of his stance or pop at the point of attack.  He’s a solid run blocker at the line to open running lanes, but doesn’t excel on the second level when he finds himself in space.  Turner has had a strong career with North Carolina, including 41 starts at guard over his four seasons, but likely has pretty limited upside to offer.

9. Connor McGovern, Missouri, rSr. 6ft 4, 305 lbs.

4th Round Over his 40 starts the past three seasons, McGovern has been an indispensable piece on the O-line for the Tigers, who has had to adapt to a change in position multiple times.  That has given him starting experience at right guard, right tackle, and now this past season at left tackle.  It speaks well to his natural football skills and ability to learn quickly that will bode well for him at the next level, even if ultimately he’s very likely an interior guy only.  With his smarts on the field it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone gave him a bit of a try at center as well.  His former teammate Mitch Morse of the Kansas City Chiefs successfully made that switch from left tackle in college to center in the NFL this year.  On top of not having the ideal arm length at just 32”, he’s not the most fluid mover on the edge at tackle that saw him have issues often handling speed.  His best asset is unquestionably his strength where he excels in the weight room.  Expect McGovern to push the 40 reps barrier on the bench press at the Combine this year and could end up the leader in that event in 2016.  That outstanding physical ability is evident at the point of attack where he is consistently stout, rarely seen getting forced backwards to break the pocket integrity.  That ability translates to both his pass protection and run blocking, and will also be a factor in securing his spot on an NFL roster in the fall.

10. Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas, rSr. 6ft 4, 317 lbs.

4th-5th Round The Arkansas program made a point of featuring their entire offensive line on the front cover of its 2015 media guide.  These guys are big – in fact the line was officially the biggest on average in the country, NFL included.  Tretola has been a very strong part of that line and in particularly the Razorbacks’ success in executing their pro-style running game the past couple seasons since he joined the team as a junior college transfer.  Tretola is an effort guy, with a little bit of a nasty streak.  Overall, his mental side and character is a big positive.  He quickly became a leader on this team, especially vocal in adversity, standing up after the early season loss to Toledo this season and inspired his teammates for the next game to bounce back.  Unfortunately, Tretola’s measurables haven’t turned out to be as good as hoped.  Originally listed at 6ft 5 and around 335 lbs, he’s dropped to 317 lbs and officially 6ft 4 in height.  But more importantly he turns out to have exceptionally short arms at just 30.5”.  That is significantly short, and will be a big negative for a lot of teams.  It’s something that is genuinely important, and the effects were on show during one on one drills during the Senior Bowl where he had consistent struggles at the point of attack.  One thing that can’t be argued with though is how effective he’s been as a Razorback, allowing just 0.5 sacks in his two years.  That’s incredibly impressive and counts for a lot.  

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Rebecca Rennie

Hello all, I'm Rebecca, also going by Bex, and I am the RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst.  I also edit other sports including the CFL, cycling and golf, while occasionally contributing to the NFL section as well.  I'm a fan of most sports and enjoy discussing with fellow fans, so do please comment on articles and interact.  A big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of the Central Florida Knights in college.

2016 NFL Draft: Top 10 offensive guard prospects

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