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2020 NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Offensive Linemen

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2020 NFL Scouting Combine begins next week. As I have for the past decade-plus, I will travel to Indianapolis, Ind., for the festivities.

This is the biggest job interview these players will ever have in their lifetime. It’s a rigorous process where they work out for teams, get interviewed by almost every franchise and they undergo medical checks by interested teams.

The Combine is often called the “Underwear Olympics” by some in the media; many poke fun at the process. That’s a foolish outlook from the more ignorant minds.

While it’s not a huge part of a player’s grade – I say roughly one percent – the Combine does reveal a lot about a player coming into the league. Scouts and general managers can see how players respond to workouts, how they’ve prepared for this process, and how intelligent they are during interviews and work on the whiteboard. Film is the largest part of a player’s grade, but the Combine is not to be overlooked.

Here is my 2020 Combine preview for offensive linemen.

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Top Tackles

Everyone always talks about how great this wide receiver draft class is – for good reason – but this offensive tackle class is pretty good, too. Any team in need of offensive tackle help should look to this handful of potentially elite-level players available early in the draft.

My favorite tackle in this draft class is Andrew Thomas from the University of Georgia. He’s an athletic prospect at 320 pounds and Thomas has the ability to play either tackle position, having started his freshmen season at right tackle and the next two years at left tackle. I love that he plays with ferocity while also maintaining a calm mind. Thomas never seems to be rattled, no matter the caliber of player he’s facing. This could serve him well at the pro level.

Jedrick Wills from Alabama might be the best talent in this tackle class. He has movement skills like a basketball player, which allows him to mirror rushers on the edge. Wills played his entire career at right tackle, but he was also the blind-side protector for a left-handed quarterback – Tua Tagovailo. Playing with a nasty streak, Wills moves well and can hit moving targets when tasked with getting to the second level of the defense. He’s likely the first tackle off the board.

Grinding through college all-22 film, I find myself falling in love with Louisville’s Mekhi Becton. He has a 7-foot wingspan and weighs in at 369 pounds. Becton is absolutely massive and that makes it difficult for defenders to get around him. He’s started games at both left and right tackle, and his length gives him an advantage if he has to reach a guy late. Hands are the biggest concern with Becton but that problem could be fixed with proper coaching.

Tristan Wirfs might be a guard at the pro level. The Iowa tackle is going to be a first-round pick in this draft, but he might not be playing outside in the NFL. He was a state champion as a high school wrestler and that experience helps him understand leverage and not get out of position when grappling with a defender. Wirfs has elite tools physically but he wasn’t as dominating as he could have been (or as we’ve seen other Iowa prospects like Brandon Scherff be), so he will have to be coached up.

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Second-Round Studs?

With around four offensive tackles going in the first round, there will be talented players at that position who fall to the second day of the draft. These potential second-round studs could make an immediate impact if they had a starting job. Others in this group have a ton of potential physically, but they need to be coached up to reach that potential.

Josh Jones from the University of Houston is getting a ton of buzz after a strong performance during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl earlier this year. He is certainly nasty as a blocker and can control his man at the point of attack. I liked what he showed at the Senior Bowl, but it wasn’t enough for me to move him off my high second-round grade. The main issue with Jones is his inability to use his hands properly. Often times it looks like he doesn’t know what to do with them.

Austin Jackson from USC is an athletic prospect who some are trying to shoehorn into the first round. I just don’t see him going off the board that high. Instead, Jackson is one of these potential second-round studs who should be available on the second day of the draft. He’s incredibly athletic, while measuring in at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds. Jackson is a left tackle prospect because of that athleticism, but there are some in the scouting community who feel he could be moved inside to guard if he adds more muscle in an NFL weight program. Either way, Jackson is too raw at this time to be counted on as a day-one starter. Instead, his hand-fighting and footwork issues will have to be cleaned up.

I am a card-carrying member of the “Niang Gang.” Lucas Niang from TCU is one of my favorite players in this draft and he’s a second-round pick with upside that scouts love. Described as a “dancing bear” by some in the scouting community, Niang’s 2018 film (especially against Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Chase Young) looks better than what he put out there in 2019. Niang is incredibly smart and is rarely fooled by pass-rushing moves put up against him. He will have to pass medical checks on his hip injury (and subsequent surgery) that cut his senior season short.

The second round is where we will see guards and center begin going off the board. While Wirfs may transition to a guard (maybe Jackson too), the college guards in this class are not first-round talent.

The best of the bunch at the center position is Cesar Ruiz from Michigan. He is a smart player who does a good job of striking defenders with a powerful punch. Ruiz does play to the echo of the echo of the whistle, and scouts love that sort of tenacity. He should hear his name called early on Day 2 of the draft.

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Looking Late

It’s always a good idea for teams to look for quality reserve offensive linemen late in the draft. There are more than a few names available – some very well-known names due to family history. Others are names because they were big-time prospects but will fall in the draft due to injury history.

There are many NFL fans who will know the name Runyan, and Jon Runyan Jr. from Michigan is going to get plenty of interest late in the draft. I saw him earlier this year at the East-West Shrine Bowl and he showed quality athletic traits during the week of practice. His father was a Pro Bowl tackle and it looks like the younger Runyan could have a long career at the pro level.

Netane Muti is a favorite prospect of mine, but he’s likely to fall in the draft due to a series of serious injuries. The Fresno State guard was born in Tonga, but he was an All-State offensive and defensive line during his prep career in Hawaii. During his college career with the Bulldogs, Muti battled through a couple of Achilles’ injury and a Lisfranc injury that limited him to just 19 games in four seasons. His strength and ability to win with strength make him a fine boom-or-bust prospect on the final day of the draft.

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