It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. I get to get nitty, I get to get gritty, I get the privilege and the pleasure of diving into the trenches of football. First up, it is the Offensive Linemen and the top 10 guys to watch out for in the coming season. Football is won in the at the point of attack, and these 10 are the best college has to offer.
Linemen are changing with the game, it used to be enough to be bigger than your opponent, however now power is as important as speed and athleticism. Whether it is opening a hole for the Running Back going downfield, pulling across on a screen pass or protecting their precious Quarterback, Linemen are hugely important for the success of their team, just ask Patrick Mahomes.
They will never truly get the love they deserve, especially on the Offensive side of the ball, and fans are quick to forget that without the likes of Quentin Nelson, Tristan Wirfs and Orlando Brown Jr, the teams would have absolutely no chance of winning the game. A great offensive Lineman is like gold dust and can turn a franchise from a dud to a stud just by giving him time to get into his rhythm.
Adam covered Running Backs last time out, and now i’m here to get down and dirty with the O-Line. Check out his piece here.
1. Tyler Linderbaum (6’3 – 290lbs) – Centre – Iowa Hawkeyes – Junior
The Centre from Iowa is built different, not only is he powerful but he is unnaturally fast too, regularly keeping pace with the Running Backs on the next level looking for his next block. He could have come out last year and he would have likely been the best Centre in the draft, however by staying for another season, he gives himself a chance at being the best Offensive Lineman full stop. If he picks up where he left off, he is the best Lineman in this class.
As a former Defensive Lineman, Linderbaum has a unique perspective when it comes to his position. He knows the position well, but he knows his opposition better. He knows exactly where to put his hands when blocking and knows how to use his weight to his advantage. He proved this in high school when he wrestled the vaunted Tristan Wirfs, one of last years star Rookies on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They met in many sports, however it came to a head in Wrestling. One on one, Linderbaum dominated him.
He absolutely graded out on PFF last year collecting himself a 91.5 grade and outperforming current NFL players like National Championship winner Landon Dickerson. He cannot be contained when he is performing and he is an agile player, especially at his current weight of 290lbs. He will put on some weight when he hits the NFL, but teams would do well to keep him light on his feet as he is definitely an asset based on the pace he plays the game, something he cannot do is he weighs himself down.
2. Kenyon Green (6’4 – 325lbs) – Inside Offensive Lineman – Texas A&M Aggies – Junior
A very special talent on the Offensive Line, Green is likely to move to Tackle for this coming season, however for me he is an NFL Guard. His overall will limit him to inside in the league and honestly he should thrive here. Linderbaum is fast, Green might well be faster. While others have that straight line speed, Green has an incredibly ability to change direction. He can be blocking the right side, and in the blink of an eye can be smashing through the Defensive Line on the left. This owes to his ability to recognise the play and keep it in front of him.
Formally a 5* recruit, Green is not the best in pass protection and needs to improve this going forward if he wants to make a real difference at the next level. His hand placement is not elite and he can get caught out by Linemen with a variety of moves. He makes up for this via pure athleticism, while he may miss the first block, he can usually get away with keeping himself in the way to reset and start again.
Green wants his shot at playing Tackle this year, which he will get, however skills are that of a top tier guard. He is fast, agile and is great in the run. He lacks polish in the pass game, however that should come this year while he blocks outside for the Aggies. Expect big things from Kenyon Green this year, and if you are excited anything in relation to him, it has to be next years combine.
3. Ikem Ekwonu (6’4 – 325lbs) – Offensive Guard/Tackle – North Carolina State Wolfpack – Junior
Another player who has made it higher on a lot of lists based on his adaptability on the Offensive Line. Knowing that Ekwonu can play either Guard or Tackle really adds to his stock moving into the season. His measurables are nearly identical to Kenyon Green’s however he has one key difference here, his arm length. He has the arms of an NFL Offensive Tackle, however he had been plying his trade at Guard, which of course the NFL world will be excited to see.
The reason I prefer him at Guard however is due to the stark difference in his ability in the run game and in the pass game. In his two years on the Wolfpack line he has managed to grade at 85.0 and 91.2 overall as per PFF for his Run Blocking whereas when blocking on passing downs, he is almost a different player. He allowed seven sacks on only 25 pressures. If he wants to be a tackle in the NFL, then he has his work cut out and his Pass Blocking will need to drastically improve, but he should carve out a roll in the run game from day one.
I have Ekwonu listed ahead of some of the other more polished players on this list due to his raw power and his aggressiveness in the block. He plays downhill and with considerable violence, capable of knocking an anchored player off his feet. Once he locks in on a player in the run game, it is going to be tough for them to do anything but go backwards. If he insists on playing Tackle in the NFL, players will pass him, but if he is happy at Guard, the right coach will utilise his natural power to have him in the lineup in his Rookie year.
4. Evan Neal (6′ 7 – 360lbs) – Offensive Tackle – Alabama Crimson Tide – Junior
Where do I even begin with this mountain of a human being. Neal is absolutely enormous and plays to his size too. He has experience all over the line from his time with the College Football National Champions and he knows how to win the battle up front. Following the recent draft he will be moving out to Left Tackle which will be the tape that he is drafted on. He has a significant amount of positives already to watch, however teams may look to treat this as a one season evaluation.
The problem with any player coming out of Alabama is that the team as a whole is just so talented that it is very difficult to stand out. Players enter their final season before the draft ranked highly by virtue of their College, however as soon as this process begins, they are under the biggest microscope. He has allowed 21 pressures in his whole career, however while that is a good statistic, for the reigning National Champions it does not sound nearly as good.
He is a natural game player however, and has a level of fluidity to his movement that most 6′ 7 men do not have. He is competent in both the run and the pass game and is a welcome presence for the Quarterback on the Offensive Line, especially since by the nature of the team he plays for everyone is out to beat him. He will transition well into the NFL, but for me, I need more convincing. Lock down the Left Tackle position and my top ten may change overnight.
5. Jaxson Kirkland (6′ 7 – 300lbs) – Offensive Tackle – Washington Huskies – Senior
Teams looking for a premium Pass Blocker, here is your guy. Jaxson Kirkland grades out better than all his opposition on this list as a pure Pass Blocker. He allowed all of 10 pressures over all 456 snaps he has played to date and is extremely smooth in his movement. His foot placement is excellent and he has an uncanny knack for sealing off the edge and making it difficult for even the fastest Defensive Linemen. His hand fighting at the Line is truly outstanding and he always keeps his man in front of him.
His detractors will comment on the fact that he is not the quickest or the strongest of this draft class, however he is one of the smartest with how he plays the game. Teams with problems in the passing game should look to him, however teams will likely avoid him if they want to shore up the run game. Kirkland is an exceptionally smart player though and he will likely be able to thrive in systems that promote playing with your brain and not just your ability.
He falls to five here because the previous Offensive Linemen do have the higher ceiling. Jaxson will continue to improve but if everyone in this class hits their full potential, then he may end up left behind. He is the very definition of plug and play, especially in the passing game. He is not flashy, but he will do a job and therefore he holds himself firm on this list.
6. Daniel Faalele (6′ 9 – 400lbs) – Offensive Tackle – Minnesota Golden Gophers – Senior
I held off on mentioning Faalele on this list for as long as I could, however a nearly 7 foot shadow was cast over my list and I have to talk about him. He is practically the polar opposite of Jaxson Kirkland, because while Kirkland is polished, Faalele is raw talent. He is enormous, and at 21 years old, might still be growing. Already topping 400lbs and with a future in an NFL weight room, this man is on course to break size records. He only took up American Football in 2017 and the Australian might just have the most potential in the entire group.
Problem is, it is all potential. He missed the entire 2020 season and per PFF and their grades, managed a 60.4 and 72.3 as an Offensive Tackle. There is an obvious up turn in form and if he has played in 2020 and his form had continued to an 84.2 grade as the trajectory showed it may have done, he would have cracked my top three. His lack of experience in the game does show however and he can get caught out, especially against better players who know how to beat their man. At the moment getting his body in the way works, however at the next level he will need to improve all aspects of his game.
There is an old adage in sports and it is that you cannot teach size and this has been proven time and time again. No matter how inexperienced a player is, you cannot give them any coaching that will make them 6′ 9. Faalele has been blessed to be a naturally huge human being and as long as he gets the right coaching, he can thrive at the next level.
7. Thayer Munford (6′ 6 – 321lbs) – Offensive Tackle – Ohio State Buckeyes – Senior
A veteran on the Buckeyes line, Munford has started for 3 years at Left Tackle for the finalists of the College Football Championship. He graded out last year with a 91.2 overall grade from PFF. He has unmatched experience at the top level of College Football playing week in and week out against solid competition and his statistics show this.
His issues come from his overall body control and balance. He extends very easily, and if he is not careful he is easily caught over extending. If he hits his block and keeps the play in front of him he is excellent, however he does sometimes feel himself on the back foot. When facing particularly athletic players, he struggles to keep his balance and can get run out of position before he can properly react.
When evaluating Munford there is a lot of good tape that show an experienced Offensive Lineman who is improving with every game he plays. Problem is, there is also a lot of tape that shows him over extending and committing too much to a block. He is coachable which is a bonus and the experience will help. A strong showing this year will do wonders for his stock.
8. Darian Kinnard (6′ 5 – 345lbs) – Offensive Guard/Tackle – Kentucky Wildcats – Junior
Darian Kinnard is a big, nasty Offensive Guard who people also project could play tackle at the next level. For me his strengths and his chances for the most success sit at Offensive Guard. He is a unit of a man who can bully the Defensive Line and regularly blows them off the ball when given the chance. Currently he plays in a run heavy Offense which plays to his obvious strengths, it does however narrow his ability to be successful due to him being a little bit too specialised.
While he is an incredible Run Blocker, his Pass Block game lets him down and has him sliding down lists. For me he is so good at one, that the other can be poorer. Early on he will have success in the run game while he develops his blocking on passing downs. He struggles to be first into the block and because he arrives second he struggles to anchor and move. His footwork leaves a lot to be desired, therefore the better pass rushers will exploit this.
Kinnard is extremely strong, but he plays smaller than he is. Working in compact spaces will be best for him and teams like Baltimore who are unashamedly run first would benefit from a player in his mold. He has the size to play Offensive Tackle in the NFL, however currently I think he thrives at Guard.
9. Dylan Parham (6′ 3 – 285lbs) – Offensive Guard – Memphis Tigers – Senior
When I first looked at Parham I dismissed him, firstly due to the Tight End with the same name at NC State and secondly because at 285lbs I figured he was just listed incorrectly. Being fair to all involved though I checked out some tape and I was very impressed. He might be a lightweight for the position, but he blocks as well as any of his peers especially in the run game. He is extremely fast and therefore he almost always makes contact first, because of this he is able to get the upper hand in most of the battles at the point of attack. If you need a Blocker downfield, he is your guy.
Parham’s problems however will be glaringly obvious to anyone looking for them, while he is quite possibly the fastest Offensive Guard in the class, he is only 285lbs. Playing inside at Guard he can make contact first however some Offensive Tackles will outweigh him by nearly 100lbs, at this point he can make contact as quickly as he wants but moving them back will be the problem. He thrives as a system player, which if he arrives at a place that likes to move their Offensive Lineman around, he will be an asset, however if a team is asking him to block in a power run system, his Rookie season will be a very long one.
Success for the Memphis product, especially early, will come from him arriving in the right system. While I understand he will likely bulk up throughout his senior year and when he enters the NFL, he can only bulk up so much before he loses his most dangerous weapon, which is his speed. He makes it up to 9th on this list because his ceiling is high and he feels like a new type of Offensive Lineman has come to town, one who can keep up with a Defensive Line that is speeding up.
10. Jarrett Patterson (6′ 4 – 307lbs) – Centre – Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Senior
Nothing is truer in College Football than this statement, ‘Notre Dame Offensive Linemen are the most reliable Linemen in College Football’. It has been known for a number of years that if you draft a player out of Notre Dame you are getting a solid player who is not only going to compete from day 1 but will also help your Line from the moment they enter the building. Jarrett Patterson will be the next coming of this statement. The only returner from last season will have a lot to live up to, but providing his obvious leadership will be the first test. He is agile and good versus both the run and the pass, which shocks nobody.
Having come back while all his famed colleagues left means Patterson will be starting from scratch, he has the ability to still perform at a high level, but it is unlikely the Offensive Line will have the same success as last year. If Patterson and Notre Dame have an average season, he will quickly begin to look like an average Lineman, even though he outplayed Aaron Banks last year who ended up as a second round draft pick. He is not the best at any one thing, however you will struggle to find someone more consistent.
With anyone Lineman playing for Notre Dame, in the same way Running Backs are treated at Georgia, there is an expectation of greatness. It remains to be seen how he handles the pressure and the rebuilding of the personnel around him. He will get drafted come 2022, but his position in that draft feels out of his hands.
Zion Nelson – Miami Hurricanes
Abraham Lucas – Washington State Cougars
Alec Lindstrom – Boston College Eagles
Kyler Schott – Iowa Hawkeyes
Charles Cross – Mississippi State Bulldogs
And there we have it, the top 10 (in my humble opinion) Offensive Linemen to open up the 2021 College Football season. Things always change during this process, but with protection being the difference between winning and losing, ask Patrick Mahomes, a good Lineman is all anybody wants for Christmas.
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