The flavors of guards entering the NFL draft this year vary. Some are better suited for a zone-blocking scheme. Others have a nasty streak waiting to maul a defender.
This 2011 class of guards also has several prospects that played at other positions, like tackle or center, in college as much as much or more than they played guard. But what matters now is where NFL scouts project them to play.
From a center that struggled to snap consistently to a 26-year-old rookie, the 2011 class of guards provides a wide variety of skill sets.
POSITION REPORT CARD: With a couple of first-round-caliber players, some solid second-round picks and quality talent to be had in the later rounds, I've assigned this group a B-minus grade.
Mike Pouncey, Florida
Good News: Quick out of stance and very effective pulling…Efficient steps getting to the outside – usually takes just two to get working down the line…Excellent athletic ability…Good awareness to mirror and hunt down linebackers on the outside…Great all-around strength and exceptional ability to anchor…Generally gets hands on the defender first with a quick first punch…Keeps his hands active…Looks to finish blocks in the run game and has a mean streak…Experienced and versatile along the interior.
Bad News: Well-documented problems snapping out of the shotgun…Can play a little high at times…Can lunge a bit at times and lose balance but is solid overall in this area.
Prediction: Prior to his senior season, Pouncey moved from guard to center to fill the void left by his identical twin brother Maurkice, who was selected 18th overall by the Steelers in the 2010 draft and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He had some issues snapping the ball throughout the year and is a more natural fit inside at guard. He possesses terrific athleticism that makes him effective when pulling, as well as the power and tenacity his brother is known for.
Danny Watkins, Baylor
Good News: Excellent lateral agility in pass protection and mirrors defenders very well off the edge...Fantastic anchor and wide base to handle the bull rush…Plays on the balls of his feet and generally displays good leverage…Keeps feet moving to drive defenders off the ball…Looks to finish blocks…Surprisingly solid technique.
Bad News: Inexperienced having played just four seasons of football…Enters the league as a 26-year-old rookie and turns 27 in November…Athletic ability is good, but not at the level of an NFL left tackle…Little experience pulling and lacks elite quickness.
Prediction: April 28th (or 29th) will mark the second time Watkins has been drafted, as the Canada native was selected fourth overall by the B.C. Lions in the CFL draft last May. After two years at Butte Community College, Watkins took over at left tackle for Baylor with the departure of Jason Smith. Although his size and athletic ability are solid, it's not quite up to par to handle the speed of the NFL on the outside. He'll be better suited inside at guard and could be a late first-round pick if a team is willing to live with the fact that he'll be a 26-year old rookie.
Ben Ijalana, Villanova
Good News: Very good athleticism…Possesses the quick feet on the edge to stay at tackle (likely right) at the next level…Extremely good length ideal for the outside and controls defenders when he locks on…Has quickness to get downfield efficiently and agility to block moving targets (or use those talents to pull)…Good strength and flashes the ability to drive defenders off the ball, but mostly a positional/seal-off blocker…Started all 52 career games.
Bad News: Played FCS competition and relies more on natural ability…Never faced elite speed off the edge…Feet are quick, footwork is a bit of a disaster…Kick-slide is inconsistent and has as a tendency to step out off the snap, causing him to lunge…Far too often slides feet close together on the edge…Sat out the Senior Bowl and scouting combine due to surgery on a double sports hernia.
Prediction: A two-time All-American left tackle for Villanova, Ijalana has enough ability to stay on the outside at the next level. However, surgery on a double sports hernia prevented him from participating in the Senior Bowl, where scouts wanted to see how he fared against top-notch speed. Though his foot speed and length make him a potential fit at right tackle, Ijalana is going to need some refinement in his footwork. His height is ideal for guard and his skill set makes him a good fit in a zone-blocking scheme. I believe he will at least start his career inside and should come off the board in the second round.
Marcus Cannon, Texas Christian
Good News: Outstanding size and carries it well…Very strong hand punch and flashes the ability to rock defenders on their heels initially…Fairly nimble on his feet for his size…Exceptional strength in the running game…Drives defenders off the ball to open running lanes and engulfs smaller defenders in the second level…Plays with a mean streak and kooks to finish blocks by driving defenders downfield or to the ground.
Bad News: Struggles to bend at the knees and sink his hips and is a waist bender in pass protection…Athletic ability is good for his size but may not be good enough for tackle…Will have a tougher time protecting the edge against better speed (this aspect is protected a bit by TCU's quick passing game)…Arms are a bit shorter than desired and hands aren't very big either…Drops his head and lunges too often.
Prediction: Cannon is a massive prospect that carries his weight very well. Although he played left tackle in his final season with the Horned Frogs, his future is likely as an NFL guard. Cannon may have enough athletic ability to get by at right tackle, but his arms are a bit shorter than you would like to see. He's a waist bender on the edge and TCU's quick-passing offense kept him somewhat protected from being more exposed by speed. On the other hand, his athleticism would be good for an interior player and he's very strong in the running game. Cannon should expect to hear his name called in the second- to third-round range.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Clint Boling, Georgia
Notes: Versatile throughout his career with the Bulldogs (started at both tackle spots and guard) and displays the strength to move defenders off the ball.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round.
Steve Schilling, Michigan
Notes: Battle-tested in a conference known for power and has the athletic ability to shine in a zone-blocking scheme.
Projection: 3rd round.
Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
Notes: Former left tackle with solid agility and strength whose build projects best to guard.
Projection: 3rd-4th round.
DeMarcus Love, Arkansas
Notes: Another former offensive tackle that will be forced to make the transition to guard, as his lack of great pass-protection skills were protected by the offensive scheme.
Projection: 3rd-4th round.
John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Notes: Doesn't test well, but is an absolute mauler in the running game and highly underrated.
Projection: 4th-5th round.
Cardinals: Guards able to provide versatility
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