Rookie Offensive Line Review
So, I really appreciate my hog mollies. With draft season in full effect I’m reminded that we scout and scout these prospects but once they’re in the pros they’re often forgotten about unless they are really good or really bad, and there is plenty in-between. This is the case mostly for Offensive Lineman because their plays don’t make the highlight reels, they don’t have stats, and they do the dirty work. So, I took all of my winter break and then some dedicated to watching this recent batch of young linemen and put them in a nice list for you to have an idea of where each player is in their personal development, and amongst each other.
This list is mostly based on their performance last season with a curve based on upside. Only players with a significant snap count were eligible with\ Tytus Howard getting an exception. Each player has a link to my original twitter thread that has clips dedicated to specific traits, while here each player has a clip in Strength and Weakness that showcased their positive plays and negative ones.
This is what I saw. I watched anywhere from 33-50% of each player’s snaps ranging throughout the season. With this list out I’m officially onto #DraftSZN and will be really digging into this year’s OL class among others. I hope you enjoy!
#11: Nate Davis #64 – RG – Tennessee Titans
Round 3 Pick 82 out of Charlotte
Full-Time Starter: Week 5
71% Snap Count
Games Watched: Denver week 6, Oakland week 14, New Orleans week 16, New England Wild Card, Kansas City Divisional
Strengths: Off Snap, Effort/Looking for work, Improvement
What I can definitely give Nate Davis is that he made a lot of progress from his early starts to the end of the season. I wish I could say that could allude to future development, but these improvements weren’t as technical as they were experience based. What I mean is a lot of his technique issues remained, but he looked a lot more comfortable and less like a full-on rookie by playoffs. Also, he went from complete detriment to not as much. His effort never waned however so hopefully that translates to work ethic. If he flashed anything it was solid twitch, definitely quicker than fast but at times he was pretty quick off of the ball.
The highlights showcased here are more random flashes I saw. Usually they’ll focus on specific traits I liked but, in this case, I couldn’t find any.
Middling: Play Speed, Natural Strength, Mental and Area Awareness, Hand Placement/Punch, 2nd Level Blocks, Leverage
One of the places he definitely improved was hand placement and blocking at the 2nd level, two things he could not do turned into something he could do decently. In both cases he’s still very inconsistent but at least started to win some reps by doing so properly.
Didn’t have a leverage problem but could be stood up. Play Speed has to do with the twitch he flashed and his fluid footwork, it wasn’t something he would win with often, but he stopped losing or not making an impact here. I didn’t really notice a problem with his awareness, sometimes was too slow to react and occasionally missed something altogether, but commonly at least noticed a twist/stunt/blitz and managed to slow it down.
Weaknesses: Play Strength, Grip, Extension, vs Counters, Pull/Reach Blocks, Balance, Anchor
By far his biggest weakness was his play strength and hand grip, which was made worse by poor extension, that lead to problems dealing with counters and sustained blocks. While the lack of play strength showed up often it was most noticeable on combo blocks when defenders wouldn’t budge. His overall hand usage was all over the place and when randomly it all came together, he was a fine starting guard. For the most part, defenders never had issues shedding his blocks in both the run and in pass protection. Problems were made worse trying to anchor against power or keep balance against finesse, both exploitable. Finally, he added little dynamic ability in the run, he didn’t get asked a lot of to make movement blocks (reach, pulls, 2nd level) but when he did so he made little to no impact.
Thoughts: You can’t ask a lot of a 3rd round rookie out of a smaller school so this shouldn’t be too shocking. The Titans play-action heavy offense and three other great run blockers made Nate Davis’s job a good deal easier, but it appears those are the factors that led to a late season surge rather than the surprise play of a mid-round rookie. Upside is there since he did show improvement and came from a smaller school, however it’s going to take both physical and technical improvement for Nate Davis to become a solid starting guard.
#10 Tytus Howard #71 – RT – Houston Texans
Round 1 Pick 23 out of Alabama State
Full-Time Starter: Week 2
46% Snap Count
Games Watched: Chargers week 3, Falcons week 5, Jaguars week 9, Ravens week 11, Colts week 12
Middling: Play Speed, Footwork
So, Howard had some pretty impressive movement ability in college that was his calling card to the pros. While that didn’t quite show up this year there were some flashes of it and his feet usually weren’t what we’re putting him in bad situations. His kick step in pass pro is… weird, but from my perspective it didn’t necessarily hurt him though tightening it up may be beneficial.
Weaknesses: Competitive Toughness, Mental/Area Awareness, Play Strength, Hand Usage, Blocking in Space/Movement Blocks
I wasn’t super content with the effort and body language I saw on film and hope it was a seasonal thing he gets past. Everything else I hit on below but if this alludes to a work ethic problem then Howard and the Texans may be in serious trouble. But there is hope this was just a down, injury-plagued season.
Thoughts: I could have (and probably should have) left Tytus off of this list entirely as I only watched rookie OL with at least 70% of snaps or more on the season. However, I made an exception for Howard considering his first-round status and because he *almost* played 50% of snaps.
I also want to preface with the reasons we can give him a break and hope for a much stronger second season. Not only did he season end early because of injury but he was pretty banged up throughout the season too. Coming from a DII school that development was crucial time missed. Add that he was over drafted in the first place and was given unnecessary pressure as a result, we can hold out hope for Howard.
Unfortunately, he did not have a good season. Howard was underdeveloped in about every aspect. His footwork, though far from clean, was more ahead and he was able to show off decent movement ability and occasionally flashed at times. His hand usage in every aspect was off though, placement the biggest issue constantly striking wide without a punch. On the rare occasion he did get his technique right he could still be moved as he was physically behind veteran defensive linemen, struggling to anchor to stay in front of finesse rushers. He also didn’t quite seem to have a grasp of NFL speed yet from a trickery perspective, either missing or being slow to reacting to a stunt/twist and a few too many blitzes.
Considering the Texans investment into the OL this last offseason, it’s important Howard can take a vital leap in some form of development. He can get stronger, learn to recognize blitzes, and hone in on technique. But with so much to learn you hope he can start improving one step at a time.
#9: Max Scharping #74 – LG – Houston Texans
Round 2 Pick 55 out of Northern Illinois
Full-Time Starter: Week 3
87% Snap Count
Games Watched: Carolina week 4, Oakland week 8, New England week 12, Buffalo Wild Card
Strengths: Play Speed
For a guard whose 6’6, 320ish pounds, Scharping’s movement ability was rather impressive. Even though it was about the only thing that was a complete positive the way he moved stood out. His feet were shockingly nimble and swift, and I was quite surprised to find out his size. Gives me belief he could play tackle in a pinch but with the investment of Tytus Howard and Laremy Tunsil it’s likely he won’t need to nor get the reps.
Middling: Mental/Area Awareness, Natural Strength, Movement Blocks, Hand fighting/placement, Leverage, Extension
A lot of these things came in flashes and were very inconsistent but demonstrated that he at least had the ability to do so. Didn’t think he had a hard time picking up the right block on blitzes or stunts/twists but did let a few goes, but it’s hard to know if that’s on him, the center or QB. When his traits did come together, he looked rather impressive, so I don’t think it’s a natural strength problem he has, but at his height he’s going to naturally have leverage problems and that set him back early. He really flashed some good hand usage with fighting and placement but for every rep he got them right he had one to two more they were wide or ineffective.
What’s most baffling is how little he was used for movement blocks. I’m not sure if he just doesn’t make them in practice or why he isn’t getting the opportunity, maybe the game plans of what I did watch simply didn’t align, but he just didn’t move around a lot. When he did results were mixed but I didn’t see enough to make me think he shouldn’t be getting the chance.
Weaknesses: Functional Strength, Anchor, Grip, Punch
Here’s where Scharping really struggled. He seems to sacrifice power for movement and it’s at every level. His anchor is what had the most hope because at times he did anchor well, but too often was his upper body setting back his lower half. His punch was ineffective, and his grip was easily shed in pass pro and in the run. In pass pro he had the awareness to be able to reset his hands but in the run game he could be discarded. This all worked its way down to make him exploitable at times.
Thoughts: I really like the upside here as I think some weight room strength and technical development could be big for Scharping. Some of the football stuff is already there but there are some worries that could certainly not improve like pad level. The hand usage and upper body stuff is so all over the place, it’ll be hard to improve drastically but some non-teachable traits are already there. Scharping was a far more interesting to watch than I expected and while he got bullied as a rookie, I think he could go either way as a pro provided, he’s in the right scheme.
#8 Garrett Bradbury #56 – C – Minnesota Vikings
Round 1 Pick 18 out of North Carolina State
Full-Time Starter: Week 1
87% Snap Count
Games Watched: Raiders week 3, Redskins week 8, Seahawks week 12, Packers week 16, Saints Wild Card
Strengths: Availability, Movement Ability
Got to give it to him here, his 97% snap count for a rookie is impressive. While not all his traits translated as smoothly as you’d hope his movement ability stood out early and had pretty good flashes. Able to get to pretty much wherever he needed to be for different types of blocks is commonplace in Bradbury’s game.
Middling: Natural Strength, Mental/Area Awareness
For a center I couldn’t let the missed blitzes and lack of general awareness slide. It’s far more crucial for him to make line adjustments and changes as need be and I wasn’t too impressed with his eyes. And it’s easy to know if he was late to see it because he has no problem getting in place or to a block.
His natural strength doesn’t seem to be an issue either. He was a bully in college, had an impressive combine, and had a few flashes of being able to move others and anchor right. Not *enough* flashes but they showed up.
Weaknesses: Functional Strength, Physicality, 2nd Level Blocks, Hand Usage/Power, Anchor
Functional strength and physicality were not there and there was plenty of struggles that stemmed from these issues. A lot does derive from his hand usage, his punch and grip were very poor, and placement was far too often wide. When those aren’t right, he’s working overtime with his lower half and pretty commonly failed to anchor as a result. Throwing his body into the block and sacrificing technique was regular. For someone who could get to the 2nd level quickly and with ease his inability to successfully effect LBs was shocking. Sometimes he’d miss the block entirely, most of the time he would at least get in the way but make almost no impact.
Thoughts: There’s still plenty of upside here for Bradbury but as a prospect that was commonly tabbed iOL1 in the process with an incredible speed/strength combo only half showed up and struggled mightily as a result. Thankfully I think you can isolate the problem to upper body technique and with the right coaching and an offseason there’s a very solid chance he can right his issues and be a very good starting center. However, this was a very rough rookie year and will need to take a very strong step forward if he wants to avoid a bust tag from impatient fans.
#7: Michael Deiter #63 – LG – Miami Dolphins
Round 3 Pick 78 out of Wisconsin
Full-Time Starter: Week 1
93% Snap Count
Games Watched: Cowboys week 3, Redskins week 6, Bills week 11, Patriots week 17
Strengths: Natural and Functional Strength
Middling: Mental/Area Awareness, Hand Usage, Anchor
Weaknesses: Play Speed, vs Finesse, 2nd Level and Movement Blocks, Balance, vs Counters
Thoughts: Michael Deiter is just a really solid, undynamic guard. His technique is still coming along but he could put together some really sound reps and when he did his strength really showed, able to stonewall in pass pro and open good lanes in the run. Even when he wasn’t there technically, he could flash some good natural strength, notably stopping a looping rusher with one arm at one point. His eyes were up and active while his hands (mostly placement) and leverage were inconsistent which could give him problems anchoring. These things were pretty come and go as he had his basic rookie struggles but looked like a solid player often as well.
However, his power came at a price as he isn’t a smooth mover at all. This was evident when he was switched to LT in a pinch halfway through the Cowboys game. His set was constantly short, and he was shaving area off of the pocket. Even at guard he could be late to picking up blitzes just because he couldn’t get there at times. Was mostly useless on any movement block as a result, either not getting anywhere in time or oversetting trying to compensate for his lack of speed, usually there was no impact. This continued to show up against finesse. If he could get his hands on you, he had a really good chance as going through his proved to be rather difficult. Going around him was not as hard.
Deiter appears to be one of those players who seem to be a really solid floor player who can give you a consistent powerful presence but won’t be able to give you anything extra. It’s possible he could trade weight for speed and really work on footwork, but I mostly see him as capped out for his potential. He can catch up with NFL speed some, get comfortable, and iron out rookie mistakes so there’s room for improvement, but I don’t see a much higher ceiling.
#6 Cody Ford #70 – RT – Buffalo Bills
Round 2 Pick 38 out of Oklahoma
Full-Time Starter: Weeks 12-16
69% Snap Count
Games Watched: Giants week 2, Titans week 5, Browns week 10, Cowboys week 13, Patriots week 15
Strengths: Natural Strength
Make no mistake, Cody Ford is an animal. A lot of what Ford is, is because of the scheme he ran with at Oklahoma. The dude is a mauler.
Middling: Functional Strength, Play Speed, Mental/Area Awareness, Hand Usage, Leverage, Movement Blocks, Anchor
What’s promising is the traits he flashed throughout his rookie campaign. His raw strength didn’t always show up because his hand usage was inconsistent and footwork was rough, but when either of those things came together you saw positive results. A lot of upside in the awareness department as well, had his share of rookie mistakes but the game never looked too fast for him and he managed to pick up plenty on blitzes and stunts.
Weaknesses: Footwork, Lack of Traditional Pass Sets, Punch
Once against Oklahoma made the product you see today. He didn’t get very many traditional pass sets at all in that offensive scheme and protecting Kyler Murray his final year. His footwork wasn’t consistent at all in pass pro and sometimes hurt him in the run game as well. Choppy, awkward steps often shaved off the back of the pocket if he wasn’t beaten all together. This fundamental lower body stuff often contributed to his weak punch as we know he has a ton of power but against NFL starters his punch failed to give him any advantage.
Thoughts: The Bills may have been the perfect spot for Ford who can play in a scheme similar to what he did in college. But even protecting for a playmaking QB with the scheme tailored to him he’s still taking plenty more traditional pass sets than he did prior and that showed. The Bills know this and opted to play Ty Nheske often throughout the season rotating series until his injury. However, he proved to be a nuanced run blocker on the move as well as off the line and that plays well into what the Bills do. What everyone thought prior to the draft seems to be correct, his skillset still says he’d be a better guard. With the Bills getting quality guard play at the moment and considering he’s spent all his time at tackle it’s worth trying to continue to develop him in that spot, but if his footwork can’t improve much further, he should be a long-time starter at guard at least.
#5 Dalton Risner #66 – LG – Denver Broncos
Round 2 Pick 41 out of Kansas State
Full-Time Starter: Week 1
96% Snap Count
Games Watched: Packers week 3, Colts week 8, Vikings week 11, Texans week 14, Lions week 16
Strengths: Competitive Toughness/Effort
By all means Risner is a high-character player but his effort on the field doesn’t go unnoticed. Constantly near the ball, and one of the only OL I’ve seen stop a ball-carrier from falling and throw him for a few extra yards.
Middling: Movement Blocks, Natural Strength, Functional Strength, Play Speed, Footwork, Anchor, Hand Usage
Thoughts: Really a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none player at the moment. All of these things like hand usage, consistent pad level, and especially movement blocks were on the plus side of middling and showed great promise but weren’t quite consistent enough to be considered strengths yet. Risner isn’t a faster lineman but showed just enough twitch and fluid feet to be able to make a number of pull and 2nd level blocks. Physically he isn’t overwhelming but isn’t often bullied, he could easily be moved if his technique didn’t align but was able to make good lanes against quality opponents when it did.
Risner’s ceiling isn’t super high but what he can clean up should lend to a very above-average guard who’s solid in pass pro and dynamic in the run game.
#4 Kaleb McGary #76 – RT – Atlanta Falcons
Round 1 Pick 31 out of Washington
Full-Time Starter: Week 3
95% Snap Count
Games Watched: Colts week 3, Cardinals week 6, Panthers week 11, 49ers week 14, Buccaneers week 17
Strengths: Movement Ability, Movement Blocks, Footwork, Hand Usage
Honestly the traits McGary demonstrated were rather shocking. Every aspect of his hand usage was that of a veteran, able to reset if losing a hand fight if he didn’t get a solid punch off and commonly hitting and gripping the chest. His feet were fluid enough to allow him to get wherever he needed to be on the field, making him a plus asset at the 2nd level, as a puller, and when reaching. The Falcons were comfortable running to his side early and often.
Middling: Mental and Area Awareness, Anchor, Play Strength, Leverage
His movement came at the price of some strength and you could tell it was his technique keeping him in some fights, when that faltered, he was able to be pushed but his effort didn’t wane. He was better in the run than in pass pro, but he showed plenty of good traits, was just far more inconsistent in this area.
There wasn’t a single trait that negatively stood out to me when watching McGary. Just that game-to-game you could get a different player, his good games were great, his bad games were baaad. McGary infamously gave up plenty of sacks though they seem to have compounded over a few key games. I chalk this up to rookie struggles while catching up to NFL speed, while he was beat by elite savvy rushers, he also posted very impressive games the first time against Cam Jordan and the 49ers. I believe the mental errors will clear up and the game will slow down for him, I believe McGary has the highest upside of all tackles in this class.
#3 Jawaan Taylor #75 – RT – Jacksonville Jaguars
Round 2 Pick 35 out of Florida
Full-Time Starter: Week 1
100% Snap Count
Games Watched: Texans week 2, Saints week 6, Colts week 10, Buccaneers week 13, Raiders week 15
Strengths: Availability, Natural Strength, Size, Extension, Anchor
Let’s talk about how impressive simply playing every game all the way through is, especially for a rookie. The only rookie OL do it, and 1 of 22 total OL to do it. 23 other OL even had a 99-99.99% snap count, but Taylor didn’t miss a single snap of the 1,108 he took which ranked 20th of all OL.
Then when you get to his actual play and a handful of traits stood out, most notably his strength. While his technique needs improvement, you can tell he was used to being able to body defenders in college without much mechanics. While he couldn’t get away with that as much, he was still a physical specimen capable of shutting down weaker defenders. His 6’5, 320ish LB frame helps him anchor a bit easier but his 35⅝” arms help him keep his body clean and get to the defender before they got to him. While he was still fairly inconsistent in a number of these traits, he developed them well throughout the season and showed more than enough flash to believe he’ll be clean up his rookie errors.
Middling: Functional Strength, Hand Usage, Mental/Area Awareness, Balance, Footwork
Like I said he wasn’t very clean with technique and it showed how raw his strength was. Most of it came from his footwork. While he managed to improve in this regard over the season you can still tell that moving his weight isn’t as easy as it is for others. Hand Usage was two stories. His placement was often wide, and he held a good amount because of it, while his hand fighting was fairly underdeveloped because he didn’t have to do that often in college. On the other hand, his punch was impressive and grip hard to shed when he did get them in the right place.
Weaknesses: Play Speed, Leverage, Movement Ability/Blocks
Taylor just isn’t fast, quick, or twitchy. He’s powerful enough and uses his feet just well enough for this not to be a significant problem in pass protection and standard run blocks, but it did allow him to get beat on some speed rushes and against impressive finesse rushers. The biggest detriment is that he isn’t dynamic in the run game at all. Pulls and reach block are likely not to be part of his arsenal and 2nd level blocks will be far and few. For a shorter frame he still tends to let his pad level slide up and if his hands weren’t right, he could get pushed back and be unable to anchor. This wasn’t super common but enough to be notable.
Thoughts: Taylor was seen by many to be a top-2 tackle in the 2018 draft class, and shockingly fell late in the process when he was flagged for medicals citing knee, back, and weight concerns. It looks like Taylor overcame these problems or proved them to be false as he was one of the most active players in the NFL playing nearly 1,200 snaps over a full season. If this holds up the Jaguars got a steal as Taylor was impressive getting veteran responsibilities early often playing on an island against plenty of elite pass rushers. He had his rookie struggles, having to adapt to not simply overpowering defenders took a minute, but his progress was promising, and a full season and healthy offseason should do wonders for his development.
#2 Erik McCoy #78 – C – New Orleans Saints
Round 2 Pick 48 out of Texas A&M
Full-Time Starter: Week 1
99% Snap Count
Games Watched: Rams week 2, Bears week 5, Buccaneers week 10, 49ers week 13, Vikings WC
Strengths: Run Blocking, Movement Blocks, Functional Strength, Leverage, Anchor, Mental/Area Awareness, Availability
Erik McCoy was a dynamic run-blocker from the get-go and gave the Saints a crucial piece in the middle of the offense right away. Capable of making every block, from opening basic lanes up the middle to every movement block – 2nd level, reach, and pulls, McCoy was nuanced and dynamic in the run game. His pad level was consistently low and that helped him win blocks and anchor properly against strength. It took a short minute, but his eyes and mind caught up to NFL speed quickly, commonly finding the right blocks and assignments against blitzes and stunts. His 99% snap percentage shouldn’t go unnoticed either as his reliability helped propel this unit as one of the best in the league.
Middling: Pass Protection, Hand Usage, Play Speed, Footwork
His Pass Protection wasn’t as great as his run-blocking and it took longer to come along. Early on pure power was able to move him backwards. However, as the season went on his development was noticeable as it would take savvy pass rushers a combination of power and finesse to beat him. His hand usage contributed to this. It remained mostly inconsistent throughout the year but flashed tons of upside. Usually at least one aspect of his hands was right be it placement, punch or grip, but just often enough, especially early, would he lose leverage and get unable to reset. In these areas he was still mostly a positive and showed the understanding and flashes of excellence to believe this was just rookie struggles.
Thoughts: Replacing Max Unger wasn’t supposed to be easy as he was a 3x Pro-Bowler, 1x All-Pro and one of the more consistent centers in the league while he was with the Saints for the final four years of his career. Instead they got a steal in the 2nd round in Erik McCoy who provided solid center play early and improved throughout the year to become a borderline elite presence. There’s a clear separation from the rest of the rookie OL class and the top 2 as their rookie struggles were minimal while their impact was that of a seasoned veteran. McCoy is likely to be a long stay in the Saints offense along Ryan Ramczyk as elite young linemen.
#1 Elgton Jenkins #74 – LG – Green Bay Packers
Round 2 Pick 44 out of Mississippi State
Full-Time Starter: Week 3
89% Snap Count
Games Watched: Eagles week 4, Chiefs week 8, Redskins week 14, Lions week 17, 49ers Divisional
Strengths: Play Speed, Mental/Area Awareness, Pass Protection, Run Blocking, Movement Blocks, Hand Usage
What really sets Jenkins apart is how slow the game comes to him. Very active eyes and precise decision making, seemingly making the right block and picking the right assignment routinely. This let him minimize rookie mistakes and maximize his effectiveness in pass pro and the run game.
Then he’s the only to be really good at both. McCoy’s run blocking is on par with Jenkins pass protection, elite for rookies and likely to be elite in the long run. Jenkins however was a far more nuanced run blocker than McCoy’s pass protection. I expected a trade-off, instead Jenkins was able to make every kind of run block and effectively too. Proficient hand usage at every level. Punch may have been lacking at times but his placement, timing, ability to rest, and grip were all top-notch. Jenkins play at times was elite and borderline a majority of the time.
Middling: Functional Strength, Leverage, Off-Snap
This that keep him from being genuinely elite off of the bat. He’s a better mover than most so with it comes some power issues. Not a lot, but if you were to beat him it was with pure strength and even that wasn’t as exploitable as it was early in the year. Had a tendency to get high with pad level and wasn’t commonly the first off, the ball. Again, these weren’t problems as much as they were where his inconsistencies most appeared.
Thoughts: What really nailed home this ranking was the Divisional Round game where the rest of the team struggled, Jenkins was still really good against an elite opponent when they needed him most. There was even a point where SF stunted Buckner and Bosa where he was ready for the switch but Bakhtiari was unable to get off of his block. The game just isn’t fast for him, he was straight up hard to fool with blitzes and stunts, very rarely blowing his assignment. His technique is so well put together and he’s physically impressive enough that together he didn’t look like a rookie at all past the half-way point of the season. He had some catching up to do early in the year, but he was still able to contribute positive play, there was not a steep curve to his rookie season. Jenkins alongside Bakhtiari and other plus contributors are expected to give the Packers one of the best OL units going into next season.