BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills let left guard Andy Levitre go and failed to amply replace him. Doug Legursky and Colin Brown proved to be below average starters, and the offensive line, especially the interior, got pushed into the backfield enough to neutralize most of running back C.J. Spiller’s game-breaking ability.
Also needing to take pressure off of EJ Manuel, finding solid pieces to fill out the offensive line is of utmost importance to the Bills this offseason.
Some people have suggested drafting an offensive tackle like Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and shifting Cordy Glenn to right tackle or left guard, but most specifically, the Bills need to find someone who can fill the need at left guard. Based on Doug Marrone’s style of offense, the Bills are likely to look for a versatile offensive lineman who can block with power, but also has the athleticism to pull and get to the second level to help free running back C.J. Spiller.
The Draft’s Top Guard Prospects
Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA (6’4″, 307 lbs)
Arguably the top guard on the board, Su’a-Filo is regarded as a nasty blocker who plays through the whistle. He’s incredibly powerful as a run blocker but also shows the athleticism and footwork to be effective in pass protection.
He has good mobility for a man his size, making him athletic enough to block on screen plays and versatile enough to play multiple positions. People have criticized Su’a-Filo’s technique because both his knee bend and arm extension have been lacking at times in pass protection, and he does not use his leverage well on run blocks. However, he has been able to get away with this inconsistency because he is incredibly strong, which allowed him to put defenders on the ground in college without giving much effort.
Su’a-Filo could stand to add more weight and muscle mass to his frame. While he is not a surefire stud, he is helped by the fact that there might not be one at the position in this year’s class. He is strong, athletic, and possesses solid on-field awareness, which might be enough to land him in the back half of the first round.
Cyril Richardson, Baylor (6’5″, 329 lbs)
Richardson’s stock has slipped a little bit since the Senior Bowl, but I’m not too concerned about his poor performance there, as he is not a player who is going to show well in one-on-one exercises where he is placed on an island against a pass-rusher.
He has a massive frame with a large wingspan, and is surprisingly agile for his size, which has allowed him to pull rather effectively. Richardson moves well laterally and was solid even as an offensive tackle for Baylor, though it’s pretty clear he is best suited to play inside at the next level.
Richardson is a tough blocker who loves to finish off blocks by putting defenders on their back. He was a consistent starter at Baylor, who flashed violent punch but never consistently finished off plays. He has a tendency to allow rushers into his body too often and took some plays off, but if a team can get him to play with the same violence on a consistent basis, he could be a great asset at guard.
Travis Swanson, Arkansas (6’5″, 312 lbs)
A center who might be best suited to play guard at the next level, Swanson has the athleticism to pull in the running game or seal off defenders when he blocks straight ahead. He displays good explosiveness off the snap, and his time at center has given him great awareness of defensive schemes.
He shows good balance and power as both a run and pass blocker and was incredibly durable at Arkansas, starting all 50 games of his four-year career. With strong hands, elite intelligence, knowledge of angles and vast experience, Swanson might be one of the safer interior offensive line selections in this year’s draft.
He doesn’t have the upside of some of the other likely second-day selections because he can be beaten by quicker defenders and doesn’t have the natural power to be a true brute force, but he should be a consistent pro for a long time.
Zack Martin, Notre Dame (6’4″, 308 lbs)
We had a piece on Zack Martin prior to the beginning of the 2013 college football season, so I’ll do my best to refrain from repeating information that others might have already read here. However, Martin certainly improved over the course of his senior season. He showed consistency in pass protection and really picked up the blitz well at the tackle position, which had been one of the concerns people had coming into the season.
Martin is athletic enough to remain at offensive tackle, but his unspectacular physical traits mean he would likely be average at best on the blind side in the NFL. He might fit best as an athletic guard with versatility, much like the player in last year’s draft that he is most often compared to, Justin Pugh, who ended up playing right tackle for the New York Giants after being selected with the No. 19 overall pick in last year’s draft.
David Yankey, Stanford (6’6″, 315 lbs)
Ever since Jim Harbaugh’s head coaching tenure at Stanford (2007-10), the school has continued to produce highly-touted offensive linemen, even since his departure. Yankey is the next in line. He is an athletic and mobile guard who can pull block well and still square himself up to defenders.
Yankey gets off the snap quickly and has the lower body explosion to knock defenders off the line of scrimmage. At his great size, his athleticism becomes even more of an asset, as does his history of playing multiple positions along the offensive line, including left tackle.
Yankey’s best trait might be the tenacity and violence that he plays with. He consistently finishes blocks and has the mean streak many covet in offensive linemen. He sometimes has issues with bending at the waist and lunging forward, but this is a common flaw among college linemen that is often fixed at the next level. With his athleticism, solid footwork and aggressive demeanor, Yankey could be a very solid mid-round draft pick.
Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (6’3″, 336 lbs)
One of the strongest offensive linemen in the draft, Jackson combines his impressive raw power with surprisingly nimble feet and balance. He displays great knee bend and is able to mirror quicker rushers in pass protection. He never seems to be out of position and is able to keep his shoulders square to defenders, which enables him to have a natural leverage advantage and powerfully drive block.
A very large man, Jackson also shows good lateral agility and is quick off the snap. One of his biggest weaknesses, however, is that he has trouble moving his size once he locks into place. Defenders that hit him with delayed bull rushes, or can change directions quickly, often give him trouble because it’s hard for him to stop and start once his weight is shifted to one direction. That said, he is a disciplined player and four-year starter, giving him experience and consistency that many teams should covet.
See page 2 for analysis on six more top guards in this year’s draft.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Alabama, Anthony Steen, Arkansas, Baylor, Brandon Thomas, Clemson, Cyril Richardson, Dakota Dozier, David Yankey, Draft Needs, Furman, Gabe Jackson, Guards, Joel Bitonio, Michael Schofield, Michigan, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Nevada, Notre Dame, Spencer Long, Stanford, Travis Swanson, UCLA, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Zack Martin