CFF Overview: Interior O-Line - Sleepers
In our pro work, we’ve always stated that we don’t care if an offensive lineman is a knee bender or a waist bender as long as he gets the job done. Projecting from college to the NFL, though, those physical traits obviously matter and you have to look for guys with skills that will translate. There are blemishes on each of the following prospects’ resumes, whether it be competition, athleticism, or technique, keeping them off most NFL pundits’ big boards. Not ours, though, as each guy produced at a high level a year ago and all showed some tools we think can translate to the NFL.
Chris Jasperse, Center, Marshall
Sometimes you see one flash play from a guy and it forever your changes your opinion of them. That’s how I feel about Jasperse after watching him reach Kaleb Eulls with 13:49 remaining in the second quarter of the Senior Bowl. The only center on this list, Jasperse reminds me of Cowboys center Travis Frederick the more I watch him. Both ran slow 40’s and failed to impress in agility drills, but both make up for it by exploding out of their snap extremely quickly and getting the first punch on nose tackles.
The biggest concerns with Jaspers are obviously the competition he played against and his head-scratching penalty problem. The first concern is alleviated somewhat by his positive grade in the senior bowl while the latter is more of a mystery. Jasperse committed 13 penalties last season (nearly all false starts), the second most of any offensive lineman in the draft and there is really no excuse for it.
Signature Stat: Jasperse’s 98.9 Pass Blocking Efficiency was fifth-best among draft-eligible centers.
Matt Rotheram, Guard, Pittsburgh
Rotheram teamed up with right tackle T.J. Clemmings to form our highest-rated linemen duo in all of college football last year. No tandem crushed more double teams than this one, allowing Panthers running backs to gain 1600 to the right of center last year. Clemmings gets all the draft hype with his immense physical skills, but Rotheram produced at almost the same rate. All of our analysts that watched Rotheram loved how technically sound he is. He rarely breaks form and gets himself into bad positions and thus rarely gets beaten cleanly.
Unfortunately for Rotheram, all of our analysts also agreed that he is an extremely underwhelming athlete for the position. His strength and agility pale in comparison to the upper echelon of guards in this class. NFL teams are far more likely to take an athlete with poor technique rather than the other way around for the simple fact that you can’t coach athleticism. This will work to Rotheram’s detriment, but we think he does enough things well that he should be on an NFL roster Week 1 next season.
Signature Stat: Only Laken Tomlinson had a lower percentage of plays graded at -1.0 or below among guards in the Power 5 conferences.
Cody Wichmann, Guard, Fresno St.
Wichmann is a very intriguing prospect as he absolutely dominated the Mountain West and had the honorable distinction of grading positively versus USC, albeit barely. What’s curious about Wichmann is that he has tremendous size for the position (6-foot-5, 319 pounds), superb measurables (4.98 40 and 8’10” broad jump at pro day), and outstanding production (our fourth-highest graded guard) yet he is getting very few even draftable grades from analysts. The thing that jumped out to me was how good his feet were for a guard in pass protection. He impressed me enough that I think he could swing out to tackle if need be.
The two knocks Wichmann are his strength and performance against the top competition he face. In the run game Wichmann never really attacked and was far more concerned with positioning than really punishing defensive linemen. This led to him getting stood up far too often at the line of scrimmage and at the second level. The strength issues were especially apparent against Nebraska, USC, and Utah where he graded negatively for run blocking in all three. Those problems may be fixable, though, as they didn’t show up at all in pass protection. Wichmann wasn’t beaten for a pressure with a bull rush all season.
Signature Stat: Wichmann allowed just three pressures in 158 pass blocking snaps against teams from Power 5 conferences.
Shaq Mason, Guard, Georgia Tech
We knew going into the college season that triple option teams were going to produce some odd results in our grading system, but no one quite embodied that more than Mason. Firing straight off the ball and only pass blocking on 25% of his snaps, Mason graded out as our second-best guard last season. Unlike others on this list, Mason faces no questions about his athleticism as he tested off the charts at the combine. His low draft status is purely based on his raw technique.
The Georgia Tech right guard was essentially a bowling ball as he was rarely asked to maintain a block for more than a split second in their scheme. This was glaringly obvious at the Senior Bowl where Mason got predictably waxed in pass protection for the South squad. It also didn’t help that he was playing guard in Mobile, whereas at 6-foot-1, 300 pounds he likely projects as a center in the NFL. Mason’s obviously a work in progress, but so few interior linemen can move and find linebackers at the second level like he can.
Signature Stat: Mason pass blocked on only 267 plays last season, 340 fewer than Wichmann.
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