Draft top 5: Centers/Guards

In many drafts, guards and centers rarely get drafted in the first round. That wasn’t the case last year, as two guards got drafted in the top 10 (Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack), and a center (Travis Frederick) got drafted late in the first.

While there may not be any guards or centers drafted in the first round this year, the second round may have more than a few in the second round. The following are my top five interior offensive linemen for this draft.

1) Gabe Jackson – Mississippi State

I have Jackson as my highest rated interior offensive linemen. I’ll admit that there are some around the league who don’t have him rated as high, but I like what I see on tape.

He is a huge, strong, and explosive man who consistently gets movement with his run blocks. He often pancakes his opponent. While not a great athlete, he can get to the second level and make a productive block. In pass protection, he knows how to use his hands, has a strong punch, and can anchor. He is light on his feet and can play with bend. I see him coming in and starting right away as a rookie.

2) Xavier Su'a-Filo – UCLA

Su'a-Filo is a little older than some of the other offensive linemen in this class because he spent two years on a Mormon Mission. He enrolled in 2009 and was a starter at left tackle. He missed 2010 and 2011 while he was on a mission and then came back to start every game of the 2012 season at left guard. In 2013, he started out at guard but was moved to tackle because of an injury to the starter.

When playing inside, he is an effective run and pass blocker. He has good initial quickness and gets into his blocks. He is explosive on contact and is able to get movement. He is athletic enough to play in space and adjust on the move.

In pass protection, he shows he can use his hands, mirror, and anchor. Watching tape, he is obviously more suited to play inside. In saying that, he will have the versatility to be able to play anywhere along the line. He will start out at guard, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him moved inside to center. He has that type of frame and is more athletic than many centers. I expect Su'a-Filo to get drafted in the second round.

3) Joel Bitonio – Nevada

Bitonio is an interesting guy. While he played left tackle at Nevada, many scouts have him projected to guard in the NFL. I feel that it depends on the team that drafts him and what they ask their linemen to do.
Bitonio has good, not great size at 6042 – 302. He has the frame to get to about 310. He doesn’t have the big, wide butt that scouts look for in offensive linemen, but he is very athletic and strong. He tested out as one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the draft.

Bitonio plays the game with an attitude. He almost has a defensive lineman’s temperament. He is an excellent competitor who goes all out every play. With his narrow frame, he has to. Bitonio is effective as a run and pass blocker. He has been well coached and knows how to use his hands. With his lack of top girth, he can get bull rushed some, but he does a good job resetting his feet and getting lower. He is a natural bender. I see Bitonio coming in and starting. He can play left tackle or either guard position. He may be best suited to play left guard in the NFL.

4) Marcus Martin – USC

A third-year junior, in his first and second years at USC, Martin was a starter at guard. He moved to center for the 2013 season. Looking at tape. I thought he was a better player at guard in 2012 than center in 2013.
At guard, he takes better angles to blocks and keeps better position. He is low out of his stance and makes solid contact. He needs improve his footwork. At times, his feet stop and restart. I did not see that on 2012 tape. He has some snap in his hips and shows power to get movement. He has the athleticism to play in space.

In pass protection, he sets quickly, stays in balance, and can slide, recover, and anchor. He has a good punch and keeps his hands inside. An added plus, he makes all the line calls for USC and is a very alert player. Martin should come in and start right away at either guard or center.

5) David Yankey – Stanford

During the season, Yankey was looked at as a possible first round pick, He has size and very sound technique. At Stanford, he played in a pro-style system, so the jump from college to the NFL won’t be that difficult.

While Yankey has excellent tape, he is an average athlete. His 40 time, agility drills, and jumps were all very average. This has to be concerning when projecting him going forward. Still, he does a good job as both a run blocker and a pass blocker. While he didn’t show explosiveness at the combine, he shows it on tape. On tape his opponent’s legs often buckle on contact. He can be a little inconsistent playing in space, but he always takes good angles. In pass protection, he uses his hands, is alert for stunts, and plays with bend.
I can see the team that drafts Yankey trying him at center. He has the intelligence to make all the calls to go along with the toughness and competitiveness needed to play center. He will start early at either position.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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