Top underclassmen offensive linemen

Even with a solid group of senior offensive linemen, there is still the potential for some raw yet talented junior prospects to end up declaring early for the 2011 draft and make their way into the first-round mix. Today, the National Football Post breaks down several of the nation’s top junior offensive linemen to see who could end up challenging some of the top-tier seniors from the class.

The challengers

Nate Potter, Boise State (6-6, 293)

The breakdown

Potter will be a redshirt junior in 2010 after starting the final eight games of the 2009 season at left tackle. He’s a natural bender for his size who looks comfortable playing with his hand on the ground and quickly getting out of his stance. Showcases good, not great, range off the edge in pass protection, but does a nice job staying compact and clean with his footwork on his kick-slide and redirecting in space. Exhibits impressive athleticism when asked to change directions on any kind of counter move and does a nice job mirroring defenders through contact. However, he lacks ideal base strength at this stage and has a tendency to get too upright at times in pass protection, causing him to be overwhelmed on contact. Isn’t real powerful with his punch or heavy-handed and too often falls off blocks in both the run and pass game. Nevertheless, he looks natural when asked to get out of his stance and reach targets off his fame, as he’s fluid and coordinated in space with the body control to drop his pad level and chop down defenders on contact. He’s a gifted athlete who still needs to become stronger and learn to play with a more consistent base, but the skill set is there for him to take the next step in 2010.

What the future has in store

The Boise State coaching staff has done a nice job in recent years sending some very talented offensive line prospects to the NFL (Ryan Clady, Daryn Colledge), and Potter looks to be the next in line. He isn’t the same caliber athlete that Clady was off the edge, but he’s still a very good athlete in his own right who possesses the flexibility in his lower half to win with leverage and anchor on contact. He definitely needs to add more power to his lower half and play with a more consistent pad level on contact, but I expect him to take a big step forward in year two as a full-time starter. Although he might end up being better off staying for his senior year, it wouldn’t surprise me if he works himself into the mix as one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the nation following a strong junior season.

Matt Reynolds, BYU (6-6, 329)

The breakdown

A massive, thickly built offensive tackle who possesses impressive anchor strength and knows how to sit into his base on contact. Works primarily from a two-point stance, and although he displays above-average range off the edge in pass protection for his size, his footwork is very raw at this stage. He doesn’t look natural on his initial kick-slide and really struggles to bend at the knees and maintain a compact base. However, he does a great job using his hands to get under opposing pass rushers despite his size. Possesses a long reach and a real jolting punch, is really heavy-handed and can stick to blocks through contact. Possesses only average change of direction skills for his size, but is not the caliber of athlete needed to play on the left side; looks more like a right tackle only to me. However, he does a great job dropping his pad level initially in the run game, gaining leverage and consistently is able to seal and/or drive defenders off the football at the point. Overall, possesses great size and hand placement on contact but is raw with his footwork and has an athletic skill set more suited to play on the right side at the next level.

What the future has in store

Reynolds is a mature kid who has already started 26 games at left tackle over the past two seasons and has become one of the more dominating blockers in the Mountain West Conference because of his pure physical skill set. However, he needs to become more compact with his footwork off the edge and learn to block with a lower pad level in order to take the next step. Again, much like Potter, he’s still young and is still learning the intricacies of the position. But the overall size, power and athletic skill set are in place for this guy to develop into one of the draft’s better right tackle prospects, if not in 2011, then in 2012.

Others worth noting:

Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech (6-5, 304)
A tough, right tackle prospect who not only plays with a mean streak and loves to finish blocks but is a pretty good athlete in his own right.

Ryan Miller, Colorado (6-8, 310)
He’s tall, long-armed and can absolutely engulf defenders on contact. Has experience at both guard and right tackle and is one of the more intriguing junior offensive linemen in the country.

Tyron Smith, USC (6-6, 285)
A thin, long-armed athlete who needs to continue to add more weight/power to his frame. However, he’s an impressive athlete with good range off the edge and the ability to reach/seal defenders in the run game. Looks like an ideal zone-blocking scheme type of lineman at the next level.

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