SQ's College Football Top 5: Offensive Line
As winter turns to spring, college football starts a new chapter. A new season approaches, but it is still too far off for our liking. Therefore, we will fill these agonizing weeks with our position-by-position rankings of the top five players entering the 2015 season; this week we will name our top five offensive lineman. The only thing we are certain of about next season is that these rankings are sure to be wrong, so let us know why we are full of it in the comments below. Enjoy!
No. 5: Spencer Drango, Baylor
Measurements: 6-5, 315 LBS.
Spencer Drango will be entering his fourth season as the Bears’ starting left tackle. Many were surprised when Drango opted to return to Baylor for his senior season, as he was considered a top offensive line prospect in the NFL Draft. The Bears are often lauded for their offensive firepower, and Drango is an extremely important reason for this. Despite weighing 315 pounds, Drango has tremendous agility and quickness which he uses to counteract edge pass rushers. Without quarterback Bryce Petty in the fold for Baylor, it remains to be seen how the offense will fare in 2015. Seth Russell appears to be the man positioned to take over for Petty, and the transition will be that much easier with a player like Drango protecting his blindside.
Sean: Baylor prides itself on machine-like offensive production, seeming to score at will. But, one of the key components that made this offense go last season was very much overlooked, and that was the offensive line. Spencer Drango was the anchor of that line, a line that allowed just 60 tackles for losses (T-18th in the nation) throughout the season. Drango could’ve easily taken his large frame to the NFL, but has instead opted to stay for his senior season and will be a four-year starter for the Bears. Not only does he have all the physical tools needed to be a great left tackle - he’s got quick feet and excellent hands - but he’s also got the intangibles needed to be a great player at the next level. Having Drango return for a final season should help Baylor’s quarterback transition be a little bit smoother.
William: Like Sean said, Baylor's offensive line was rarely given the credit it was due for the role they played in the juggernaut offense. Drango’s presence was a large part of that success, and his return should be the highlight of the Bears’ off-season. All of these lineman have the ability to play on Sundays, and although some scouts will knock Drango for playing in a spread offense, there is no question that he has the skills to excel at the next level. He shines in pass protection, but I would like to see him add a little more polish to his run-blocking, something that should be easy to accomplish over the course of this season.
No. 4: Taylor Decker, Ohio State
Measurements: 6-8, 315 LBS
Like Drango, Taylor Decker surprised scouts when he decided to forgo the NFL and return to Ohio State for his senior season. Decker was a crucial component to Ohio State’s championship season, especially when their quarterback situation is taken into account. Appearing at No. 14 on Mel Kiper’s first Big Board, Decker has the versatility to play both tackle spots and the technical skills to complement his physical size. He has filled out his 6-8 frame nicely during his time at Ohio State, and can overpower his opponents as well as mirror them on the edge. Decker is a strong run-blocker, and has worked to improve his skill set in the passing game. In 2014, Decker improved his draft stock greatly. If he continues to wow scouts and show growth as the Buckeye’s anchor on the offensive line, Decker could move into the top 10 in next year’s Draft.
William: Pass protection was a skill which Decker wanted to improve last season, and I think it’s safe to say that he accomplished his goal. Ohio State’s championship season can really be looked at as a season of growth, and Decker is no exception. He improved in almost every facet of his game, and learned to play within his body. Another season should allow him to add more polish and move into the top ten of next year’s Draft. This off-season’s debate has been focused on the Buckeye’s quarterback situation, but all can rest easy knowing that they will have an experienced left tackle to rely on.
Sean: When Ohio State entered the 2014 season, there was a ton of skepticism as to how the offensive line would perform, given the fact that Decker was the only returning starter. Early on, the inexperience of the line showed, especially during the Buckeyes' only loss of the season. But, Decker pulled the rest of the line together and helped lead this offense to a national championship. Decker is strong in the run game and has really progressed as a pass protector, playing with a stronger base and better leverage. Since moving over to the left side and becoming a blindside protector, Decker has improved his overall value and could be one of the top linemen chosen in the 2016 draft.
No. 3: Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Measurements: 6-6, 318 LBS
As a red-shirt sophomore, Stanley burst onto the scene as Notre Dame’s starting left tackle. Had Stanley decided to declare as an underclassmen in last year’s draft, many believed he would have gone in the first round. In Mel Kiper’s first edition of his Big Board, Stanley was listed as the No. 10 overall prospect. Scouts have praised the left tackle for his ability to remain under control while on the move. He has the skills to mirror the league's best pass rushers, and is rarely seen lunging at opponents. While playing against some of the top pass rushers last season, Stanley only allowed one sack. As a redshirt freshman Stanley started all 13 games at right tackle, proving that he has the versatility to play both sides of the line. Stanley may be the most pro-ready lineman in college football, and should continue to dominate even the best college pass rushers.
Sean: Now that Everett Golson has decided on where he’s transferring to, Stanley knows whose blindside he’ll be protecting this season - that belonging to Malik Zaire. Stanley and the rest of the Notre Dame squad are coming off a disappointing end to the 2014 season in which the team lost five of its last seven games. Yet, things are looking up with Stanley returning to help fortify a line that allowed 28 sacks and 82 tackles for losses last season. Stanley has physical tools that scream first-round pick with the balance, strength and aggression that make NFL coaches drool. With Stanley pushing people around, Zaire should be well protected this season as he gets his chance to be the full-time starter for the Irish.
William: Ronnie Stanley has one of the highest ceilings among offensive lineman in college football right now. As Sean mentioned, NFL scouts and coaches are already impressed with Stanley’s physical traits. Now he will be given the chance to build upon a successful season at left tackle, and smooth out what few edges he has. Something I would like to see Stanley do this season is step into a leadership role. With Everett Golson retiring down in Florida, Stanley has a chance to become a vocal leader in an offense that does not have many household names.
No. 2: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
Measurements: 6-5, 332 LBS
Tunsil became the first offensive lineman in Ole Miss history to earn All-SEC honors as a true freshman, back in 2013. He entered 2014 as one of the top lineman in the country, and was placed on the Outland Trophy watch list. What was a stellar 2014 season for both Tunsil and the Rebels, quickly turned sour as the left tackle suffered a broken fibula in the first half of the Peach Bowl against TCU. Coming off of a major injury, it remains to be seen if Tunsil will return to the dominant form he displayed during his first two seasons. At his best, Tunsil has short, quick footsteps that help him stay in front of defenders as well as active hands which help combat opposing rush moves. Right now, the biggest question mark concerning Tunsil is his health. Should he enter 2015 at full strength, however, he will be the best player on what could be the country’s best offensive line.
William: Tunsil’s health is a big concern for Ole Miss. last seasons’ success was a great story, but if the Rebels want a repeat, they will need their left tackle at full strength. The rising junior has proven that he has all of the tools to become a force at the next level, but now he must show that he can overcome his injury. For me, a successful season for Tunsil is one in which he is still standing at the end. If he makes it to the end of the 2015 season with no setbacks, he will be a top pro prospect, regardless of the type of season he has.
Sean: Tunsil was once the nation’s top offensive tackle prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, a class that Ole Miss took home the top honors in. Tunsil has dominated on the line ever since he’s stepped on campus, earning All-SEC honors in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He’s great at handling pressure on the edge and is great at protecting the run. Tunsil’s biggest strengths are his quickness, footwork and physical strength. If Ole Miss wants to build off its success from last season, it will need a healthy Tunsil to continue to play like one of the best, if not the best, offensive tackles in the country.
No. 1: Cam Robinson, Alabama
Measurements: 6-6, 323 LBS
As a true freshman, Robinson exploded onto the scene. For the SEC champion Tide, Robinson became the first freshman to start at left tackle since Andre Smith in 2006. In his first season in the SEC, Robinson played against the top pass rushers in the country; including, Shane Ray and Dante Fowler. Now, with a full season under his belt, he is ready to prove that he is the top lineman in the country. Robinson already has the skillset required to thrive: strong hands, quick feet and good balance; with a full off-season of coaching and conditioning, he may be the best returning player that the Crimson Tide has. Much to the delight of Alabama fans, Robinson will be around for the next two seasons.
Sean: Much like Tunsil, Robinson was also the top-rated offensive tackle in his recruiting class (2014), and also proved worthy of his top ranking almost immediately. Breaking into the Alabama starting lineup is a pretty huge accomplishment in itself, but it wasn’t enough for Robinson, as he would go on to earn All-SEC Freshman Team honors. The ceiling for Robinson is so high that he could wind up being a top-five draft pick by the time he finishes his career with the Crimson Tide. His footwork and strength are already great, but they will continue to improve as he matures. Offensive tackles might not be too exciting to watch, but I assure you that Robinson is an exception.
William: When taking into account Nick Saban’s propensity to keep underclassmen on the bench despite their talent level, Robinson’s season looks all the more impressive. The Tide’s offensive line was a strength last season, but it did have a few injuries to deal with. Robinson was one of the few constants, and he turned out to be the most consistent player along that line. It's pretty much common knowledge that Alabama doesn't rebuild (it simply reloads), and having a player of Robinson’s caliber at left tackle is a big reason why. Regardless of who is behind center or running the football, boasting the best offensive lineman in college football is a major advantage. Sean put it best: Robinson is as entertaining an offensive tackle as any in today’s game.