Most agree that a possible position switch to guard might be in the cards next season, as Bitonio does not have the ideal arm length you look for in a left tackle. He does have explosive acceleration off the snap, evident by his consistency in shocking and stalling the bull rushers, having recorded 132 knockdowns as a junior and 117 more during his final campaign.
Bitonio's ability to get out front on traps and pulls allowed him to deliver 17 touchdown resulting blocks for a ground game that scored 23 times last season. Proving to be just as efficient as a pass protector, despite concerns about his arm length, he had 11 more touchdown-resulting blocks as a pass protector, as the Pack reached the end zone only 17 times through the air in 2013.
Bitonio's lateral agility, power, trap blocking skills and versatility are coveted by today's pro offenses. Boasting 38 consecutive starting assignments for the Wolf Pack, the agile athlete has vast experience at a variety of positions on the front wall, earning his first 26 appearances with the first unit as a right tackle before shifting to the ever-demanding left tackle position as a senior.
Still, with his explosion off the snap and ability to lead the running gamer into the second level, the Long Beach native is also being considered for another position change in the NFL – offensive guard.
Chemistry among a team's offensive linemen is critical for any offense's success. Since stepping into the starting lineup, Bitonio has stepped on to the playing field and lined up next to seven different guards during his 38 starts, yet, has never missed a beat. In two seasons protecting Cody Fajardo from the horde of blitzers and pass rushers trying to get to the quarterback, Bitonio has put up very impressive numbers that rival those of any offensive lineman in the collegiate ranks.
Bitonio's performance shined through – so much so, that he was one of the first invites to compete at the prestigious 2014 Senior Bowl. He became the first Nevada lineman to be invited to that game and in January, and was just the sixth Wolf Pack athlete to compete in the contest, joining quarterback John Dutton (1998), linebacker Deshon Myles (1998), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (2011), linebacker James-Michael Johnson (2012) and safety Duke Williams (2013).
"I think it's an incredible honor," Nevada head coach Brian Polian said. "The Senior Bowl is the premier all-star game for college players. It's so pivotal in the draft process that the NFL Network actually televises all the practices. I'm just so happy for Joel. We told the team, and their response and how happy they were for Joel was really pretty special and something fun to be a part of."
University of Nevada Wolf Pack
Bitonio is a well-proportioned athlete with a big chest (almost 52 inches), broad shoulders, muscular and long arms, large-sized hands, thick thighs (32 inches) and calves. He might not be the ideal height teams look for in a left tackle, but he has good bone structure and room to carry at least another 20 pounds without the added bulk affecting his overall quickness, especially if a team projects him as a better candidate to play in-line at guard. Unlike most guard candidates, his body is not "sloppy," as he has a firm midsection with a strong lower frame and a good overall offensive lineman's physique.
Bitonio has outstanding quickness and foot work in his kick slide. He shows the agility and balance to make plays into the second level and shows good lower body flexibility in attempts to change direction. He has excellent open field acceleration, moving well and adjusting easily while taking angles to neutralize the linebackers (see 2013 UCLA and San Jose State games). He is an above average knee bender who can recover on the rare occasions that he waist bends. He has very good quickness and movement ability to mirror edge rushers. He plays on his feet with very good balance and body control, doing a nice job of adjusting and picking up defenders in space. He is also a solid leverage player who can slide and sustain. Throughout the 2013 season as a left tackle, Bitonio showed impressive speed and balance, especially when blocking or running interference on the team's "power-left" sweeps or in the "pistol" lead blocking on options, producing most of his nation-best 28 touchdown-resulting blocks on the move. He displays good foot quickness and body positioning to deliver crunching blocks while working down the line (see 2013 Air Force, San Diego State and San Jose State games). He also demonstrates much better explosion and functional strength behind his punch, along with flashing good agility when changing direction in pass protection than when he was aligned at right tackle in 2011-12 (has the natural feet needed to slide and counter vs. edge rushers). He demonstrates good knee bend and hip flexibility to stay low in his pads while still firing off the snap in an instant.
Bitonio plays with great awareness, knowing how to use his size to engulf and his quickness to get in front and lead on sweeps. He needs minimal reps to retain and has a firm grasp of the playbook. He is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line and knows all of his other line mates' assignments. He is quick to pick up the game plan and it is very rare to see him make a mental error (only penalized five times during his last 1,974 plays plays). He shows the ability to read and react quickly on stunts and games. He makes good adjustments on the field. He puts in the extra hours in the film room and is more of a technique-oriented type than one that will rely on his first instincts. He is very alert to the blitz, showing the foot slide to mirror his opponent. He does a good job of seeing schemes develop at the X's. As a former prep center and with teams also looking at him as an interior blocker, he spent some time prior to reporting to Senior Bowl practices working on snapping duties, as this will likely afford teams further evidence that they can possibly utilize him at center, guard and tackle. It might be an eventual position for him in the NFL to guard, and if shifted to center, he is smart enough to be relied upon to make the blocking calls. He has that natural feel for defensive schemes and easily adjusts. He is very adept at switching off vs. stunts (see 2013 Cal-Davis, Air Force and San Diego State games) and with his cumulative grade point average (3.25), you can see he is more than capable of handling the mental aspect of the game.
Off the field, Bitonio is a nice guy, but on the field, he is a legitimate tough guy who plays with a mean streak. He is physical using his hands and consistently works to finish his blocks. He is not the type that will hesitate to intimidate an opponent and is the type that will play through pain. He wants to finish every play and shows good initiative looking for secondary targets to hit after he neutralizes his man. Bitonio is a player that loves to mix it up in the trenches. He relies a lot on technique and while he can be an effective mauler, he is not the type that gets rattled under pressure or one that will get overaggressive. The thing you see on every play is that he will not quit until the whistle. He uses his strength well to simply drive defenders off the ball. He is the type that is always looking for defenders to hit. He plays with enthusiasm and knows how to keep his temper in check (only one personal foul penalty in two-plus years as a starter), but will not hesitate to throw down and mix it up in the trenches. He works to finish blocks and covers defenders up with his consistency at the X's. The thing you see on film is that he is not wild and mistake-prone, rather taking that businessmen's approach, but don't be fooled, he wants to win every battle in the trenches.
Bitonio displays very good initial quickness, getting his hands up and in the defender's chest on the rise, in order to control and position. He is light on his feet for a player his size, ideal for the short pulls and traps (see 2012 South Florida, Hawaii and New Mexico games). With his explosive burst and low pad level, he easily gains advantage on the defender. He has the balance and change of direction agility to get out front on traps and pulls. He can gain advantage on scoop and reach blocks thanks to his quick first step. He shows good hip strike and suddenness getting out of his stance and moving up field. He shuffles his feet well to gain position and is explosive off the snap to reach his spot on the outside, but also demonstrates the lateral agility to protect the inside well (his thirteen downfield blocks led all of major college's right tackles in 2012-see South Florida, Northwestern State and New Mexico games), as he is quite nimble redirecting down the line. He is quick to turn up field and neutralize the linebackers on the move. His quick feet will generally see him gain position when blocking in-line, making him also a prime candidate for the guard position (strong-side). He is also very adept in sliding out to pick up edge rushers in pass protection. As a left tackle during his senior year, Bitonio has certainly displayed very good explosion with his initial step, coming off the ball with good urgency on both run and pass plays.
The thing you notice immediately on film is his excellent foot quickness and lateral movement to slide. Bitonio shows ease of movement redirecting in either direction and accelerates instantly when stalking out defenders in the second level. He has made steady progress in taking good angles to attack second level defenders on the move. In 2013, he demonstrated the loose hips needed to easily redirect (see Cal-Davis, Hawaii, Fresno State and San Jose State games), keeping his balance while moving laterally when sliding. As a left tackle, he displayed very good lateral quickness moving in the short areas and was quite effective locating and neutralizing second level defenders. He plays with a good base and keeps his hands inside his frame, which helps him maintain balance and generate a fluid change of direction running interference on the power sweeps.
Balance/Stays On Feet
Bitonio has the footwork and strength to anchor and hold his ground at the point of attack. He is quick off the snap, usually getting advantage on the defender due to his ability to stay on his feet. He stays low in his pads, works for position and uses his hands well to lock on and finish. With his balance and footwork, he has excellent mirror ability. Even with his quickness, he shows good patience to sustain blocks. When in pass protection, his footwork in retreat allows him to get back and protect the pocket from edge rushers (see 2013 Hawaii, Ari Force and UNLV games). He has good knee bend and is not the type who will get straight-legged and bend at the waist. He is very good at keeping his feet on the move, as you almost never see him flop around some working long distances. He demonstrates good body control when working on short pulls. At the line of scrimmage, he has the quick feet and balance to slide and sustain, doing so with good flexibility. He is simply a tough position blocker who shows consistency working to finish. When he gains position and keeps his base wide, he will generally win most battles.
Bitonio has a hand punch that can simply stall even the biggest of defenders, as he can easily shock-&-awe a defender. He fires off the snap with a low stance, getting that explosive thrust from his strong lower frame to prevent bull rushers from walking him back into the pocket (has allowed just two sacks and one pressure in his last 24 games encompassing 1,974 snaps). He is a savvy player who combines strength and quickness to generate explosive pop in his drive blocking. He plays with above average leverage and shows more than enough hand usage and power to drive the defenders out of the hole. This year, he showed steady improvement in getting his hands up quickly on the rise to jolt defenders with his punch, perhaps feeling more comfortable in one-on-one assignments vs. edge rushers at the demanding left tackle position. He is active with his arms in attempts to leverage and sustain. He uses his leg drive well to fire off the snap, showing good hip rotation and surge in short yardage situations. He can generate enough explosiveness to be effective on the short pull. His strength allows him to neutralize the defender's charge and create movement. When he plays at a proper pad level, he shows the ability to sink his hips and use his lower body to explode into his man. When he gets too high in his stance, he fails to roll his hips and pop into blocks. Not only does he demonstrate above average quickness, but he positions himself well and gets his hands up quickly on the rise, generating strength with quickness to impact, pop and surge with sudden force.
Bitonio has the strength and quickness you look for in a trap blocker, as he consistently creates space and finish blocks for the ground game (see 2013 Cal-Davis, San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State games). He has the hand usage to initiate contact, lock on and drive off the defender, along with the leg drive to control multiple opponents or assist his center and tackle on combo blocks/double teams. He is equally effective in space and working in-line, as he can get movement and widen the rush lanes between the tackles, along with demonstrating the valid speed to enter the second level and stalk linebackers. His lower body strength lets him flash into the defender and drive his opponent quickly off the ball. He blocks with a flat back and locks on to the defender quickly to move his man out of level one. His ability to keep his pad level low and play with leverage lets him control the action with his quick initial step. He has made great strides in this area due to his ability to bend at the knees and drive to get movement when working in-line. He rarely loses his base at the X's and excels at walling off and screening, especially when he rolls his hips on contact. Working his way in-line or on combos, he drives off the snap hard, as he demonstrates the leg drive and feet to stay on his blocks and sustain. He brings power to his game when driving for movement and will generally finish, as he possesses good footwork to stay on his feet on the move and can handle the switch-off well when working in combination with his guard.
Bitonio stays square and balanced when shuffling and sliding. Even when he gets over-extended, he is quick to recover, thanks to his above average athletic ability. He could use more bulk, but is strong with his anchor, and has the speed to make a run on the edge rushers. As a left tackle he demonstrates more than enough foot quickness to slide, good knee bend and hip flexibility, patience and a strong hand punch. With that crushing punch and anchoring ability, he is very consistent when attempting to shock the bull rushers, doing a very nice job of extending his arms while sliding his feet to maintain the integrity of the pocket. He stays square vs. movement and when challenged by multiple defenders, he uses his solid punch on the way to anchoring and stopping the charge. He is a smart performer that understands the importance of protections and communicates well with the other blockers, especially his guard (see 2013 Cal-Davis, Boise State and San Jose State games). He plays flat-footed and can sink his hips to mirror, and it is very rare to see him drop his head at the X's. Earlier in his career, he used to get a little straight-legged trying to adjust and recover, but he showed improved flexibility and balance as a junior and even more as a senior. If he generates proper knee bend, he can anchor and slide when trying to set and base. He is conscious of picking up defenders to his outside shoulder, as well as working in unison with the tight end in taking care of any edge blitzers. His vision is very good to anchor and hold at the point of attack. It is very rare to see him "out-quicked" when taking on quick edge rushers, as he is never late in recognizing and positioning vs. the stunts. He has that strong body base and positioning strength in pass protection, as that anchor allows him to slide, mirror and change direction to stay in front of his opponent.
Bitonio does a nice job of pulling and trapping, reaching and logging. He has the speed to cut off the linebackers when leading through the inside holes and looks very fluid, with good feet adjustment to make solid contact in the open. He is athletic and smooth when moving off the line and has the body control to execute blocks in space. He has very good athleticism to stay up and play the game on his feet. He is very capable of coming off the snap smoothly to pull, something teams require from a potential offensive guard candidate. He has exceptional open field acceleration for a down lineman, doing a very good job of initiating contact and following through with his hand placement and leg drive to sustain. The thing you have to like about Bitonio is his ability to play on his feet. He has sudden moves when going laterally after the snap to block on the outside (see 2013 UCLA, Cal-Davis, Air Force, San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State games). He has better quickness out of his stance and a first step than any other draft eligible guard, even though he is a collegiate tackle. He also hits his targets well with intent to finish, along with very good agility to kick out or seal with high efficiency. He accelerates out of his stance with good urgency, doing a nice job (especially to the left corner) of turning up and sealing inside, making good, physical contact to finish.
Adjust on Linebacker Downfield
Bitonio has made a nice living of getting on second-level defenders, as he can engulf and pancake linebackers on the move (23 downfield blocks in his last 24 games-see 2012 South Florida, Northwestern State and New Mexico; and 2013 Cal-Davis, Hawaii and Fresno State games). With his hand punch and drive off the snap, he shows the agility to smother his primary target and move on to the next man. He has very good feet working in space. He maintains balance and slides easily to make the cut off. He is strong enough to stay up in his stance, maintaining proper pad level to keep his feet and adjust on the move. The thing you notice on film is his ability to consistently take good blocking angles to neutralize and cut off the linebackers. His athletic ability is shown when he makes quick adjustments to pick up secondary defenders down field. His success on the pulls and traps is from his ability to consistently reach and make the cut-off block. He takes proper angles working into the second level and is consistent adjusting his feet to stay up and finish. He makes good adjustments on second level chip blocks, which is more typical for a running back than a tackle, but he knows how to slow down an opponent so another lineman can take a better angle on the opponent.
Use of Hands/Punch
Bitonio has a strong punch and active hand usage. He consistently gets placement and has the strength to grab and control. With his powerful hand punch, he can stymie a defender in an instant. When making contact, he will usually put the defenders up on their heels. He can generate very good power to shock and jolt when he gets his hands into the defender's chest. He has improved greatly his recoil and recovery quickness (his hand speed could see him eventually shift to guard or center). His powerful short punch is a dangerous weapon when working in-line. As he became more confident in his hands, he was able to shock and knock down defenders with good consistency. Thanks to his hand strength, when he locks on to a defender, he will usually control the play. On run blocks he comes off the snap low, using his hands to pop the defender into the chest and ride out his blocks. At left tackle in 2013, he also showed improvement in using his hands effectively to keep defenders off his pads. When he follows through with his hand delivery, he can finish with force. He has shown as a senior that he has much better ability to grab and control, doing a fine job of stunning his opponents with his punch.
Bitonio keeps his head on a swivel and even savvy defenders fail to fool him. He uses his foot quickness and balance to slide and redirect in pass protection and is smart enough to know when he is needed to help out other blockers. He gets good depth with his kick slide and even though Nevada does not run an NFL-traditional offense, his ability to locate targets on the field and recognize schemes should see him be a relied-upon type of NFL blocker as a rookie. His lateral agility, lower body flexibility and field alertness allow him to do a very good job of redirecting and picking up stunts. He shows the vision to easily pick up twists and will pivot to recover when he misses a block. He works well with his guards switching on stunts and also has the ability to combo with his tight ends when picking up the outside blitz. He is very good at using his nimble feet to move out the pile and shuffles those feet with effectiveness to neutralize linebackers trying to shut down the rush lanes. With his above average lateral movement, he easily changes direction when moving inside or out coming off the snap. He keeps his head on a swivel, showing above average reactions and awareness on both running and passing plays. He has no problems handling movement, as he kicks slide allows him to adjust laterally.
LOGAN MANKINS-New England: Like Mankins, Bitonio has had great success as a drive blocker the last three years, but he is also a very effective pass blocker, evident by the team's explosive aerial game during his sophomore and junior campaigns. He is a tough second level stalker with above average quickness and athletic ability for a down lineman. His continued success during his senior year, followed by a dominant performance in the Senior Bowl, should make him one of the first guards to hear his name called in the 2014 NFL Draft. Like Mankins, teams are also looking at the collegiate tackle as a potential guard candidate, but with his ability to shut down edge rushers, a team with a zone blocking scheme will get a high value draft pick if they feel he is better suited to play tackle at the next level. He has very good hand usage and placement, showing the hip-snap and kick slide to mirror vs. the quicker edge rushers. He stays low in his pads and has the foot speed and angle concept to easily neutralize second level defenders. While he has shown the ability to play left tackle during his senior year, he could be re-converted to the right side at the pro level, where he can get on the field quicker and be surrounded by veteran mentors before being moved back to the left side in a year or two.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.