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NFL Team Building: An NFL Offensive Lineman Should be a Mix of Wrestlers and Basketball Players

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Much has been said about what a great wide receiver class this will be. However, my prediction is that in five years, there will be more All-Pro Offensive Tackles from the 2020 draft than receivers.

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NFL: New York Jets at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Lets start of with a quote from former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker:

“If you start every play with ‘What can we do on this play to make the OLine successful’...I think if more play callers would look at it through that prism...If it is well blocked, what is the chances the play is not successful?”

This is not as simple as it sounds, because, many experts believe there is no bigger athletic mismatch on the NFL field than the defensive line’s athletic advantage over it’s offensive line counterparts.

The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah discusses what he looks for in an offensive lineman:

1. Toughness + Intelligence. Has to know what the guy to the right and left are doing.

2. How does he do in pass-pro? >> run blocking

3. First thing I am looking for is their feet. (Flexibility, nimble, lite, redirect, lateral quickness). Footwork is about Recover Ability

4. What are their hands like? Can they latch on/lock on.

5. Want to see them finish (nasty guys) physical running game

6. Core traits are balance and body control, strength and finish.

7. Only as strong as your weakest link. Must have chemistry as a unit.

8. You gotta have two good tackles. You’ve got to invest a little bit.

9. Find the best OLine coach you can.

10. Back-ups get limited reps. Need veterans that can be plug and play.

John Owning talks about what he watches at the Senior Bowl (on the RSP Podcast Ep. 46 @22:30)

1. Are they a “latcher” or are they a “puncher”?

2. If you are a puncher and you miss, the nature tendency is to lunge (and lose balance).

3. Owings explained the benefits of MMA training or a wrestling background.

4. During the Senior Bowl, he wants to see how flexible they are (effects ability to recover).

Lance Zierlein

Lance does the draft profiles for NFL.com. He credits his passion for offensive line play to his father, Larry Zierlein, who was an offensive line coach, both in college and in the NFL.

Lance says “I like to find guys with very strong hands, because you can control the the point of attack.” He also emphasizes having strong core muscles, and explains the importance of roster flexibility (the able to perform at multiple positions) when putting together a 53 man roster.

Russ Lande (Matt Waldman’s RSP Podcast Ep.1 Scout Talk @34:15)

“When I look at offensive lineman, I want to see can you bend your knees and how thick and strong is your lower body.”

Ross Tucker (The Ross Tucker Podcast 3/13/20) This is a theory of mine. I would usually prefer for offensive tackle a guy that played basketball, because the nature of playing defense in basketball. Playing tackle if more about playing in space (blocking an edge rusher is similar to being out on the wing where a basketball player could take the baseline or toward the free throw line). A wrestling background is more beneficial for interior offensive lineman.

The NFL Combine Testing is all about playing the odds

Kent Lee Platte is the inventor of RAS. Relative Athletic Score is a composite metric on a 0 to 10 scale based on the average of all of the percentile for each of the metrics the player completed either at the Combine or pro day.

More information can be found HERE or by following Kent on Twitter @MathBomb.

Is arm length important or not?

In 2019, Kyler Murray wasn’t the only prospect to shatter preconceived notions about size thresholds. Jonah Williams was the first offensive tackle drafted despite less than ideal arm length (33 5/8”, 26th percentile).

Thirty-eight offensive tackles were drafted in the first three rounds of the last five NFL Drafts. Their average arm length was 34.1 inches, with just four having arms under 33.5 inches.

The long arm contest was won by Connecticut’s Matt Peart (36 5/8), followed by Georgia’s Andrew Thomas (36 1/8) and South Carolina State’s Alex Taylor (36 1/8).

In the 2020 draft class, Jack Driscoll (33”), Saahdiq Charles (33), John Runyan (33 1/4), Ezra Cleveland (33 3/8), Prince Wanogho (33 1/2) each have arms that are considered sub-optimal for offensive tackle and some teams may feel they project best at guard.

The average for interior offensive linemen drafted in the first three rounds during that time period wass 33.1 inches, with none under 31.25.

SeahawksDraftBlog’s Rob Staton is the creator of the Trench Explosion Formula (TEF)

TEF is yet another attempt to combine individual metrics into a singular number that quantifies athleticism. TEF combines three metrics, the vertical and broad jumps plus the bench press.

The goal of a 31 inch vertical, nine-foot broad jump plus + 27 reps on the bench press is ideal. Staton refers to this ideal as 31 — 9 — 27.

First proposed by Pat Kirwan, the Kirwan Explosion Index simply adds those numbers, a formula that Staton states was “full of flaws.” Among other things, Staton’s formula cubed the broad jump to give it greater emphasis. For a full explanation, click here to listen to the podcast. Trench Explosion starts around the 1 hour, 8 min mark.

Here’s what the ideal (31 — 9 — 27) would look like using this formula:

1. Vertical ÷ 31

2. Broad ÷ 9, then cube the result

3. Bench ÷ 27

4. Results added together = TEF

And here are the 2020 results:

Tristan Wirfs (3.47), Hakeem Adeniji (3.27), Cesar Ruiz (3.25), Austin Jackson (3.21), John Simpson (3.20), Ezra Cleveland (3.16), John Molchon (3.09), Matt Peart (3.08), Jack Driscoll (2.98), Justin Herron (2.98), Damien Lewis (2.97), Isaiah Wilson (2.96), Danny Pinter (2.90), Matt Hennessy (2.88), Joe Runyan (2.85), Joshua Jones (2.84), Terence Steele (2.83), Alex Taylor (2.82), Charlie Heck (2.80), Andrew Thomas (2.79), Tremayne Anchrum (2.65), Jonah Jackson (2.62), Cameron Clark (2.59), Nick Harris (2.56), Colt McKivitz (2.52), Darryl Williams (2.52), Kyle Murphy (2.50), Cordel Iwuagwu (2.46), Calvin Throckmorton (2.45), Tyre Phillips (2.26).

Matt Williamson says the ONE athletic test to keep an eye on is the 20-yard short shuttle, especially when watching offensive lineman.

Waldman explains “Some might think that the short shuttle drill would be most important for smaller athletes that do most of the work in space. But to me, for offensive linemen, these test results very much correlate to what they are asked to do time and time again. Offensive linemen do operate in space, its just not easy for fans to see that while watching the games on television.”

The defenders NFL offensive linemen are asked to block are almost always faster, quicker and better athletic specimens and that is truer in today’s NFL than in any time in history. The best offensive linemen have the ability to abruptly redirect to get their man.

For me, the short shuttle demonstrates and quantifies this ability extremely well. You can’t do well in this drill without being able to bend at the knees and sink your hips; two important traits needed for high-end offensive line play.

Timing between 4.4 to 4.6 in the short shuttle is considered exceptional for an offensive lineman. At the 2020 NFL Combine, only two offensive lineman ran 4.6 or faster in 2020.

The fastest in 2020 was Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland (4.46 seconds), followed by Temple’s Matt Hennessy (4.6), Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz (4.62), Ball State’s Danny Pinter’s (4.62), San Diego State’s Keith Ismael (4.65), Georgia’s Andrew Thomas (4.66), and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs (4.68).

Meanwhile, Brandon Thorn feels the NFL Combine metrics are very overrated when evaluating offensive lineman.

Thorn has focused on building a brand by breaking down the world of line play. He hosts the Trench Warfare Podcast, and contributes to The Athletic.

The following is summarized from The Ross Tucker Podcast 6/10/19 and Trench Warfare Podcast Ep. 10 & 22.

Thorn feels the NFL Combine metrics are very overrated when evaluating offensive lineman.

His explanation is “with offensive lineman, it’s all about play speed, which is a marriage between mental processing and athletic ability. It’s all about how fast you execute your assignments on the field and your functional athleticism.”

According to Thorn, right tackle is the thinnest position of the five offense of line positions and he only rates eight NFL right tackles as good or better. He says center is the deepest.

Thorn also says that running a zone scheme, that prioritizes functional athleticism and technique, allows you to “skimp a little bit” on the resources invested on the Oline, while finding value in the later rounds.

Finally he believes certain colleges churn out better prospects than others, specifically certain (unnamed) SEC and B10 teams.

What does all this mean?

Big-10 teams like Wisconsin and Iowa have a long history of developing mid-level high school recruits, into very good offensive line prospects, while SEC teams like Alabama have been able to recruit 5-star athletes who then go on to play against the best of the best while in college.

Having an offensive lineman who is pro-ready is more important than any other position than quarterback, because NFL teams rarely substitute along the offensive line, unless there is an injury.

Like many positions “play speed” is a product of both mental processing and athletic ability. While the former can be difficult to quantify, the later is easy by way of NFL Combine like testing.

Given the emphasis on speed on defense, it only makes sense to prioritize speed, agility, and explosiveness along the offensive line.

Different teams/coaches/schemes will look for different athletic traits, but arm length, short shuttle times, 10-yard splits, and lower body explosiveness measured by vertical and horizontal jumps all should be factored in to a prospect’s evaluation.

The five year average number of offensive lineman drafted is only 40 per year, with just 17.6 in the top-100.

The 5-yr ave breaks down to 19.2 for OT, 15.4 for G, 7.2 for C.

Average in top-100: 8.4 for OT, 5.8 for G, 3.4 for C.

Tier 1 (Top-15 Prospects)

Jedrick Wills (Alabama) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 8.42

Mekhi Becton (Louisville) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 9.85 (incomplete)

Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) recorded Relative Athletic Score of 9.71

Andrew Thomas (Georgia) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 8.12

Thomas is my personal favorite, but the lowest ranked. Wirfs would probably be the 2nd best guard in the NFL (after Quinton Nelson) in five years, but his athletic testing will probably keep him at tackle.

Tier 2 (Top-50 Prospects)

Josh Jones (Houston) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 7.83

Austin Jackson (USC) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 9.46

Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 9.93

Cesar Ruiz (Michigan, C) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 8.98

Tier 3 (Likely Top-100 Prospects)

Lloyd Cushenberry (LSU, C) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 5.19

Isaiah Wilson (Georgia) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 8.16

Lucas Niang (TCU) did not work out

Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) did not work out

Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin, C) did not work out

John Simpson (Clemson) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 9.53

Biadasz, Niang and Tega Wanogho each entered the 2019 season as potential top-50 picks but their medicals could cause each to fall out of the top-100.

Tier 4 (Fringe Top-100 Prospects)

Saahdiq Charles, LSU (G/T) incomplete RAS

Solomon Kindley (Georgia, G) did not work out

Jonah Jackson (Ohio State, G) incomplete RAS

Calvin Throckmorton (Oregon, G/C) recorded a Relative Athletic Score of just 1.46

Ben Bredeson (Michigan, G) incomplete RAS

Conclusions

Much has been said about what a great wide receiver class this will be, and in terms of total number drafted, and how many receivers are drafted in the top-100, it could be historic.

However, my prediction is that in five years, there will be more All-Pro Offensive Tackles from the 2020 draft than receivers. The difference is that barring medical/character concerns, I expect all the top prospects to be off the board by the 50th pick.