We’ve had some readers ask us what scouts look for at the different positions, so with the Combine starting in two weeks we thought this was the ideal time to review the traits of each position. Today we will look at offensive linemen.
Different offenses will look for some different traits in a player depending on what they ask the player to do but overall there are many similarities. The one common trait, no matter what the offensive line position, is intelligence. As a whole, offensive linemen are very level-headed guys, and may have dominant personalities. You want a player to have some nasty to his play but controlled nasty.
Unlike any other position or group on a team, the offensive line is a sum of the parts. Everything has to mesh together. For that reason it is important that the group all like each other. When you draft a lineman, you want to make sure he is going to fit in with the other guys in the group. It can be very difficult for a rookie lineman to blend in with the veterans if his personality doesn’t mesh with the vets. In the offensive line meeting room there is a cast system and a young player has to earn the respect of the vets. If he is a loner or an outcast, it can be difficult for him to help the team — he just won’t be accepted by the older players.
In my view, the ideal tackles are guys that are in the 6-4 to 6-6 range and weigh around 310 to 320 pounds. In the past ten years, as zone-blocking schemes have become more popular, teams have been drafting taller guys (guys who may be 6-7 or 6-8) but many of those players don’t have the natural athleticism of a shorter player.
ICONBoston College OT Anthony Castonzo
Because he protects the quarterback’s blind side, the left tackle is usually the more athletic tackle. He has to have quicker feet, quicker recovery and more range. You want your tackles to have long arms — 33-inch arm length is a minimum with 34 to 35-inch arms the ideal length. Long arms give a player a leverage advantage; the shorter-armed players can have a hard time keeping his opponent off his body.
All offensive linemen have to have good bend. By that I mean natural knee bend. Straight-legged players have a tendency to bend at the waist and fall off of blocks. A good knee bender will keep his back straight and have a very good base and balance. Balance is extremely important. You can’t play the game on the ground. When I am scouting an offensive lineman that is one of the first things I look for. If he is on the ground a lot I refer to him as a “ground hog” and really lower his grade.
Another common trait of a good offensive lineman is quick hands and good overall hand use. You want to see the player “strike quickly” with his hands, be able to recoil and strike again. Players that have to wind up with their hands are giving his opponent an advantage. You always want to see an offensive lineman keep his hands inside.
Guards will generally have a little stockier build than a tackle. The ideal size would be in the 6-3 to 6-5 range and weigh 305 to 320 pounds. While a tackle has to be a pass blocker first, a guard has to be a run blocker. In many of the defensive schemes in the NFL, the defensive tackles are huge men that are run stoppers first. Because of that, a guard has to be a powerful man who can get off the ball quickly and explode into his opponent. When looking at a lineman’s explosion, you look for natural hip roll. A player who has that has good balance, keeps his weight well distributed and can snap his hips on contact while keeping his back straight. If the player is top heavy or doesn’t have that natural bend and explosion he will lose leverage and fall off the block.
While in many cases you look for a guard to be a dominant run blocker, he still has to have pass block skills. The difference is he doesn’t have to be as rangy or athletic as a tackle. Tackles on many occasions only have help on the inside but a guard has help on both sides. Because of the size and power of defensive tackles, he also has to have good natural bend and anchor. When he sinks his hips in pass pro he has to be able to hold his ground. An offensive lineman who can’t anchor will more often than not get pushed back to the quarterback.
Another trait a guard needs to have in many offenses is the ability to pull. He has to be able to get out of his stance, turn, run and adjust on the move to a moving target. This requires very good body control, so a good degree of athleticism is a must. In some zone-blocking schemes that don’t pull you can get by with a little less athlete.
Centers are much like guards. In fact, many can play both positions. The center in many cases is the leader of the offensive line group. He is the guy who makes the line calls, so he has to be intelligent and instinctive. He has to be very aware in pass protection because he is called upon to help both guards and needs to be able to read stunts and blitzes. From a size standpoint, he can be a little smaller than a guard but not much smaller. Rarely do you want a center who is less than 6-2. At the same time, you seldom see real tall centers — 6-2 to 6-4 is ideal. Like a guard, the center has to be a powerful man who can get movement with his run block. Often, the nose tackle he is up against is the largest man on the defense so he has to find a way to move this guy.
Tomorrow we will look at wide receivers and tight ends.
Want to work in the NFL? Click here to sign up for the NFP's "Chalk Talk at the Combine" Seminar February 25 in Indianapolis.
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