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Top 5 O-line prospects
Alabama tackle tops the list, but Texas A&M could have another first-rounder
Originally Published: May 17, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Cyrus Kouandjio Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesCyrus Kouandjio anchored the left side of Bama's line in 2012.
The 2013 NFL draft will, in the short term, be considered the year of the offensive lineman.
• Two offensive tackles were taken at picks No. 1 and 2, something that had never happened before.
• Three tackles were taken among the first four picks, again unprecedented.
• A guard hadn't been taken among the top 10 picks since 1997, and two were taken among the top 10 picks in 2013.
We didn't see a record number of offensive linemen taken in Round 1, but the priority placed on the position at the top of the board was remarkable, with six of the first 11 picks coming from the offensive line.
For the first look at the offensive line class for the 2014 NFL draft, I'm going to combine the position groups (tackle, guard, center) within the top five, simply because based on positional value, the group is dominated by tackles; that way you get a better sense of how teams evaluate the position. In fact, the one player among the top five who will be listed as a guard actually played all of 2012 at tackle and is moving back inside for 2013.
What's impressive about this group is that even with the run on linemen in the recent draft, I think at least three of the guys below would have gone in the first round, and perhaps as high as No. 1 overall depending on how they fared during the evaluation process.
1. Cyrus Kouandjio, Junior, Alabama
He effectively held down the left side of the Alabama offensive line in 2012, allowing only 3.5 sacks and providing a consistent push in a dominant running attack. And he did this as a 19-year old. Kouandjio is just a natural at the position, with quick feet and the ability to both absorb pass-rushers and simply ride them out of the play, and he has good straight-line power as a run-blocker.
He has a chance to be a top-three pick whenever he comes out, and if he does so in 2014, he'll be drafted a few months short of his 21st birthday. If he stays healthy, he's got the potential to be a Pro Bowl NFL left tackle.
2. Jake Matthews, Senior, Texas A&M
Normally, if I project a player to go in the first round and he decides to remain in college for another year I sort of wince, simply because you want to see a prospect secure his financial future when he has the chance. And in Matthews you have a player who was a starter midway through his freshman season, and has been one ever since.
That said, Matthews really does have a chance to make some money. With the departure of Luke Joeckel, Matthews will move from right to left tackle and have the chance to prove that's his future position at the next level. I suspect he'll prove capable, and Matthews -- son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews -- will be the latest in his family to succeed in the NFL.
3. Taylor Lewan, Senior, Michigan
I don't care who the pass-rusher is, when you line up across from Lewan you're going to have to be creative or simply run yourself out of contain if you want to find ways to consistently apply pressure. An athletic 6-foot-8 left tackle, he's best in pass protection, where he does a good job of using the width created by his base and long arms to keep rushers at bay (that includes Jadeveon Clowney for most of the day in the bowl game; Clowney stunted inside on the legendary hit).
Lewan isn't a mauler in the run game, but he has the athleticism to get out in front of backs and he can hit a moving target. I think he had a chance to be one of the first three tackles taken in the 2013 draft, which obviously puts him in a pretty good class.
4. Antonio Richardson, Junior, Tennessee
If you want to see why Richardson can be a good blindside pass protector at the NFL level, throw in the tape of the Tennessee-Georgia game from 2012. In that game, you see the most productive pass-rusher in college football last season become extremely frustrated by Richardson. Jarvis Jones had zero sacks that day, and just 0.5 tackles for loss, his least effective performance of the season.
Richardson showed why he's so tough in that game; he just moves extremely easily for a 6-6, 335-pound man, neutralizing speed rushers with his feet first, and long arms second. Tennessee liked him enough that they moved Dallas Thomas inside. Thomas was drafted and could still get a look at tackle in the NFL.
5. Cameron Erving, Junior, Florida St.
The Florida State coaching staff is really excited about Erving, and when I took more time to watch him specifically, I can see why. In spring of last year, they converted Erving to tackle after years spent as a good but not great defensive tackle. At 6-6, 310 pounds, Erving is extremely athletic for his size, and he moves his feet to deal with rushers easily. You can see technique flaws, but also a game-to-game improvement.
You can't overstate the fact that a guy who'd never really played offensive line picked it up in the spring and then went out and started 14 games for Florida State a few months later. Erving could develop into a top-five pick if he keeps progressing like this.
James Hurst, Senior, North Carolina
Cameron Fleming, Junior, Stanford
Rob Havenstein, Junior, Wisconsin
Zack Martin, Senior, Notre Dame
Aundrey Walker, Junior, USC
David Yankey, Junior, Stanford
Gabe Jackson, Senior, Mississippi St.
Cyril Richardson, Junior, Baylor
Xavier Su'a-Filo, Junior, UCLA
Anthony Steen, Senior, Alabama
Bryan Stork, Senior, Florida St.
Hroniss Grasu, Junior, Oregon
Gabe Ikard, Senior, Oklahoma
B.J. Finney, Junior, Kansas St.
Tyler Larsen, Senior, Utah St.
The year's upcoming draft and the college game can be discussed here.
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