Scouting the Draft: Interior O-Line

Here is a look at the first three rounds of centers and guards, led by the versatile first-round trio of La'el Collins, A.J. Cann and Cameron Erving.

Photo of Cann by Jeff Blake/USA TODAY

In Part 7 of our Green Bay Packers draft preview, we examine the centers and guards.

PACKERS AREA OF NEED (1 TO 10)

Three: At guard, the Packers have arguably the top starting tandem in the league with Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. Both players are under contract through 2016. It might be worth taking a midround prospect as an insurance policy just in case the team can’t afford to keep them both.

At center, how good was Corey Linsley as a rookie? He received one vote for the All-Pro team. For what it’s worth, he was ProFootballFocus.com’s fifth-ranked center. J.C. Tretter figures to be the backup, leaving little reason for general manager Ted Thompson to expend a draft pick on a center.

IT’S WORTH NOTING

Two of the six guards drafted by Thompson played left tackle and one of the three centers played left tackle, making it three of the nine. A bunch of the midround guard prospects played left tackle, making guys like Missouri’s Mitch Morse and Arizona State’s Jamil Douglas among the names to remember.

THOMPSON’S SUCCESS RATE

The Packers have their latest long-term center with last year’s fifth-round pick, Linsley, following in a long line that includes Jim Ringo, Ken Bowman, Larry McCarren, Frank Winters and Scott Wells.


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS on all of the draft-worthy GUARDS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


ROUND 1

G/T La’el Collins, LSU (6-5, 305): Collins started at left guard as a sophomore and at left tackle as a junior and senior. The two-time All-American was the recipient of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given to the best offensive lineman in the SEC, as a senior. He led the SEC’s offensive tackles with 109 blocks. He contributed 16 touchdown-resulting blocks while allowing three sacks and no additional pressures. (Note: We have sacks, pressures, knockdowns, touchdown-producing blocks and downfield blocks on all of the offensive line prospects in our full scouting reports.)

“The senior’s potential as a guard in the NFL is due to his ability to get to the collision point very effectively,” reads a small portion of his scouting report, which was provided to Packer Report by the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas. “He also shows above-average shuffle and fluid on the move when having to mirror edge rushers or retreat to protect the pocket. During his last two seasons, you can see the marked improvement when he sets with quickness and a good base to anchor.

G/C A.J. Cann, South Carolina (6-3, 313): Cann earned some first-team All-American accolades and was all-SEC in academics, as well, as a senior. He started every game at left guard to run his streak to 51 in a row. He paced SEC interior linemen with 115 knockdowns and produced 15 touchdown-resulting blocks without allowing a sack.

“Once Cann locks on to a defender, he will generally win the battle. He can drive with good initial force, but is best when accelerating to get to the second level. In pass protection, few guards possess the speed to mirror and square up with an opponent as well as Cann. He has a very strong anchor, which lets him maintain position when trying to neutralize the pass rush charge. Even with all of his experience as a guard, his incredible field smarts, enough to have called blocking assignments for the team since his sophomore year, could see him shift inside to center at the next level.

C/G/T Cameron Erving, Florida State (6-5, 313): Erving personifies what the Packers look for, though given the strength of Green Bay’s line, he won’t be a consideration at No. 30. Erving had 20 tackles as a defensive lineman as a freshman and started at left tackle as a sophomore and junior. As a junior, he dominated matchups against Vic Beasley (a presumptive first-rounder in 2015) and Aaron Donald (a first-rounder in 2014). He opened his senior season at left tackle before starting the final five games at center. He delivered 18 touchdown-producing blocks during each of his final two seasons. He’s the ACC’s two-time lineman of the year. With 34 1/8-inch arms and 30 reps on the bench, he can play all five positions, though center is probably his best option.

“You can see that Erving appeared lighter on his feet working in closed areas as a center. He did not flash the ability to recover when caught out of position on double moves, but with his strong lower frame, he did not have any problems stalling any powerful initial bull rush, as he showed better ability to sink hips and regain leverage working in-line than out on an island. He is not as adept with the shotgun snap and will need better accuracy firing the pigskin back when the quarterback is aligned in this formation.”


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS on all of the draft-worthy CENTERS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


ROUNDS 2-3

G Laken Tomlinson, Duke (6-3, 323): Tomlinson was a starter for all four seasons and the school’s first first-team All-American since 1989. He led the ACC blockers with an 89.92 percent grade for blocking consistency, as his 124 knockdowns marked the first time a Duke blocker went over the “century mark” in back-to-back years since Chris Port had (101 in 1988 and 111 in 1989).

“Tomlinson plays flat-footed and generates a strong anchor and power base. He uses his hands well to catch the defender and is quick to recover vs. counter moves. He displays good consistency in attempts to seal and wall off while working in unison with his center, showing good ease-of-movement playing in space. When he gets position on a defender, he knows how to use his mass and hand punch to shock and jolt.”

C/G Hroniss Grasu, Oregon (6-3, 297): Grasu started 48 consecutive games until going down against Utah as a senior. He was a finalist for the Rimington Award as a junior and earned some All-American accolades as a senior, the injury notwithstanding. He delivered the key block on 13 rushing touchdowns.

“Grasu has the strength to neutralize the bull rush and good balance along with proper hand placement, as he is quick to recoil and reset his hands, but when he gets upright in his stance, he leaves his chest exposed and defenders have had success locking on and pushing him back into the pocket (see Michigan State vs. Lawrence Thomas; Washington vs. Danny Shelton and Utah vs. Lowe Lotulelei as examples).”

G/C/T Ali Marpet, Hobart (6-4, 307): The three-year starter was a Division III first-team All-American as a senior. He so impressed scouts throughout the season that he was picked for the Senior Bowl, where he showed he belonged against the big-name players from the big schools. His testing results at the Scouting Combine rivaled those of any other lineman, with his 4.98 being the only sub-5.0 among the offensive linemen in the 40. He gained more than 70 pounds at Hobart. As a senior, he didn’t allow a sack or pressure and delivered 20 touchdown-resulting blocks. The last player from Hobart to play in the National Football League was halfback Fred King, be he appeared in one game for the defunct Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1937.

“Marpet is a wide-body type who shows surprising quickness for an athlete with his size. He has the strength, speed, quickness, body control and change of direction agility to mirror defenders in pass protection and has an explosive burst off the snap. He shows very good sustained speed to get into the second level and has exceptional acceleration for a lineman. Despite his frame, he is very athletic, showing good muscle tone and a thick upper body.”

G Tre Jackson, Florida State (6-4, 330): Jackson was a three-year starter at right guard. The consensus All-American graded a career-high 88.7 percent, the highest mark by a Florida State blocker since tackle Walter Jones compiled a 91.4 percent mark in 1996. He delivered the key block on 12 touchdown runs and yielded one sack.

“At close to 340 pounds, Tre’ moves like a fullback exploding off the snap to widen rush lanes. He has long, well-developed arms and strong hands to shock and jolt on contact. He has the quickness to make reach blocks and knows how to use his size and power to create space and finish blocks. He is quick to get his hands up and push the defender off the line to maintain the rush lane and flashes excellent upper body power to move people out.”

G John Miller, Louisville (6-3, 303): Miller was named to The NFL Draft Report’s All-American Sleeper Team and received All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team honors from that scouting information service, but despite pacing the league with 125 knockdowns and a 92.4 percent grade for blocking consistency, along with delivering 18 touchdown-resulting blocks, the league’s media and coaches only accorded him honorable mention All-ACC status.

“Miller possesses adequate-to-good height and shows enough room on his fame to add 10-to-15 more pounds. He shows good awareness in pass protection and a good job working on double teams, while still keeping his head up to find stunts/blitzes. He has the upper-body strength to jar defenders with initial contact. He shows urgency to maintain good separation once locked on when protecting the pocket and gives great effort as a run blocker.”

G Arie Kouandjio, Alabama (6-5, 310): Kouandjio missed most of his freshman season with a knee injury, an injury that rendered him a backup as a sophomore. He started his final two seasons and delivered a combined 28 touchdown-resulting blocks as a junior and senior. He won some All-American accolades as a senior.

“Kouandjio has good body control and balance when stationary, generating good pop coming straight out of his stance and into the defender’s body. With his strong base, few opponents have had any success in pushing him back into the pocket and he is quick to counter the bull rush by generating a bone-jarring hand punch.”

C B.J. Finney, Kansas State (6-4, 318): Finney started 52 games in his career, including the final 51 at center. He’s a three-time all-Big 12 first-teamer who delivered 14 touchdown-producing blocks as a senior.

“Finney displays the body control you look for in a center when asking him to reach and shade, along with showing the ability to get his hips around for wall-off activity. He plays on his feet and has the quickness to chip and seal, along with good angle concept when working into the second level to block for the ground game. He uses his loose hips to make plays in space and possesses more than enough strength to turn his man and widen the rush lanes.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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