Position Analysis: Guards

The Vikings likely have their starting guards in place, but they could use some depth and competition. We review the strengths and weaknesses of the top 10 guards in the draft, some of them coming from tackle and tight end backgrounds.

POSITION OVERVIEW: The guard position is one that is difficult to predict on draft weekend because the ranks are often infused with college offensive tackles that are viewed as not having the agility or strength to hold up on the outside at the next level. However, this year is an exception to the rule. There is a lot of depth here – making it one of the stronger guard classes in recent years. There are likely to be a pair of guards coming off the board in the first half of the first round (Chance Warmack of Alabama and Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina) and there could be two or three coming off the board in each of the successive rounds. The guard position typically isn't a huge priority on draft weekend, but, given the depth of this year's class, it well might be this time around.

VIKINGS GUARDS – Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, Seth Olsen, Tyler Holmes.

VIKINGS NEED – The Vikings got decent play out of their guards last year after inserting Fusco into the starting lineup and sliding Johnson from left tackle to left guard. However, there is no questioning that the position could be upgraded. If for some reason Warmack or Cooper would slide to the Vikings' two picks in the first round, it could come that quickly. More likely, however, is that the Vikings will use one of their mid-round picks on a prospect that fits their system. Expect to see the Vikes use at least one pick on a guard, but not necessarily early.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Chance Warmack, Alabama, 6-2, 317 – Fourth-year senior…Third-year starter who started his final 40 games…An unanimous All-American as a senior…Has a good bubble and a low center of gravity…Long arms for his size to keep linemen away from his body and better maneuver them…Very nimble feet for his size and rarely caught off balance…Excellent blocking at the second level and taking out linebackers…Has a jolting hand punch…Doesn't quit on his blocks until he hears the whistle or takes his man to the ground…Has good lateral agility…Is not overly quick or blessed with an elite burst off the line…Is short by NFL standards and defenders will be able to see the QB on pass plays and time jumps…Struggles against speed rushers who anticipate the snap…Is not in top condition and has struggled late in games…Suffered a quad injury at the NFL Scouting Combine and didn't finish all the drills, but ran a 5.49-second 40-yard dash and had a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: The 'Bama O-line was as good as any in college football last year and Warmack was a big reason why. Some will rate Jonathan Cooper higher, but if I was a G.M., Warmack would be my pick – and there will be a G.M. in the first half of the first round that agrees with me.

Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina, 6-2¼, 311 – Fifth-year senior…Started 47 of 48 career games…All-American in 2012…Had left shoulder surgery in January 2012…A wealth of durability and experience…Always appears to be in the right spot for the right play call and looks very smooth in getting there…Excels on the move and targets defenders to hit and delivers the blow…Has long arms and uses them well to steer defenders…Very agile in traffic when blocking downfield…Extremely good upper and lower body strength…Very good hand punch…Gained 20 pounds between last season and the combine and needs to find a healthy, happy medium to be effective…Takes himself out of too many plays by not being patient; his aggression can hurt him at times…When facing huge DTs, he gets pushed back into the pocket (and his QB) a little too often…Has an injury history – his play suffers when he is injured and it shows on the field…Ran a 5.07 40 at the combine with 35 reps of 225 pounds, a 27-0 long jump and a 9-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: The case can be made for Cooper being the first guard off the board. 47 starts is an impressive body of work. While we have him ranked second, it's more like 1b and he could also come off the board in the top half of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Brian Winters, Kent State, 6-3¾, 320 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 50 career college games he played…Started 34 games at left tackle and 16 at right tackle…Had left shoulder surgery in January 2012…Three-time All-MAC selection…Only the second Kent State player to ever get invited to the Senior Bowl…Has very good feet and holds his ground well…Has an explosive hand punch and uses his hands well…Doesn't stop until the whistle and gives full effort on every play…Gets into blocking position quickly and doesn't take missteps…Has good lateral agility…Played marginal competition…Has never played guard in his football career, but he projects there as a pro…Has short arms by NFL standards (32 inches) and quick pass rushers will get into his body quickly…Too often comes out upright and his lack of experience against defenders that take advantage of a high target will need refining…Did not work out at the combine after injuring his shoulder during the bench press in practice warmups. PROJECTION: A dominant left tackle who played pedestrian competition, Winters is a dice roll on greatness as a player who doesn't have the "It Factor" to be a left tackle in the NFL, but could develop into a dominating guard. Someone will jump on Day 2, perhaps even trading up to land him.

Larry Warford, Kentucky, 6-3, 332 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 37 starts at right guard…First Kentucky offensive lineman to be named an All-American since 1976…Has an explosive hand punch…Has a wide base and holds his ground well to prevent defenders from getting around him…Has good anchor strength in the run game…Has impressive agility when moving side to side to help out other O-linemen…Strong at blitz recognition and pickup…Doesn't look like a great athlete and has a tire around his midsection…Has short arms (less than 32 inches) and has a hard time keeping defenders away from his body…Very slow in getting to the second level to block linebackers and when pulling…Doesn't always finish or sustain blocks…Gets beaten too often by swim moves…Ran a 5.58 40 at the combine 28 reps, had a 22½-inch vertical jump and an 8-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: An experienced pure guard, Warford has the ability to be a long-term NFL starter. But his lack of condition will drop him well into the second round.

Kyle Long, Oregon, 6-6¼, 313 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who spent 2008 playing baseball, 2009 not playing any sport and 2010 at Saddleback Community College in California, where he played defensive end…The son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of St. Louis Rams DE Chris Long…Was arrested for DWI in 2009…Has prototype size…Has good foot and lateral agility…Is strong at pulling on sweeps and reaching the second level to make blocks…Plays with a mean streak and enjoys physical confrontations…Will play through injuries…Has an impressive NFL bloodline…Is very raw, having played baseball after high school and defensive end at Saddleback…Has inconsistent hand placement and will allow defenders to get into the backfield…Doesn't have ideal lower body anchor strength…Is overaggressive and will take himself out of too many plays…Has some off-field issues that will concern some teams…Didn't lift at the combine, but ran a 4.94 40 with a 28-inch vertical jump and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player with an impressive NFL pedigree, some scouts believe he has the agility to play offensive tackle but is ideally suited to play guard at the next level. He is still raw and may be viewed as a project but likely will come off the board late in the second or early in the third round.

Alvin Bailey, Arkansas, 6-3¼, 312 – Fourth-year junior…Started all 38 games he played…Has excellent strength to shield off and direct defenders…Has a strong hand punch that jolts defenders…A durable three-year SEC starter…Has good feet and uses them effectively in pass protection as well as leading the way on sweeps…Plays with a mean streak…Plays with excellent balance and rarely ends up on the ground…Not an effective blocker at the second level and lunges too often…Doesn't have great burst off the snap and is often reacting to what defenders do rather than taking it to them…Isn't a consistent finisher on blocks…Relied too much on strength and doesn't use sound fundamentals as often as he should…Gets beaten too often by stunts and swim moves and needs to improve his awareness…Didn't jump at the combine after suffering a hamstring injury, but prior to the injury he ran a 4.95 40 with 27 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Any time you have a three-year starter from the SEC, it's going to get the attention of scouts. However, Bailey needs a lot of refinement to his game. He may well end up being a starter in the NFL, but it will take time to improve his mechanics, which should drop him into the third round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Hugh Thornton, Illinois, 6-3¼, 320 – Fourth-year senior…Four-year starter who started 35 of 42 career games…His mother and sister were murdered in their family home in Jamaica in 2004.. Was arrested for underage drinking in 2009 and again in 2010 for a violation of his original sentence…Plays with a mean streak and tries to finish off blocks by taking defenders to the ground…Has a strong bubble and anchor strength…Has a strong hand punch to pop defenders off the snap…Has long arms and prevents defenders from getting into his body…A versatile prospect who played three years at guard and 2012 at left tackle…Struggles against speed rushers and will lose his fundamental technique when pressured early…Drops his head too often in the open field and misses blocks too often…Clutches and grabs a lot and gets called for holding penalties…Immature in some ways and his brushes with the law will concern some teams…Plays too upright when on the move and is easy to hit…Didn't jump at the combine after experiencing swelling in his left knee, but, prior to the injury, he ran a 5.11 40 with 27 reps. PROJECTON: A versatile swingman who projects at guard but could play tackle in a pinch. His upside is good, but he has a learning curve he needs to overcome, which should drop him to the end of the second day of the draft at the earliest.

David Quessenberry, San Jose State, 6-5, 302 – Fifth-year senior who came to SJSU as a tight end prospect…A three-year starter who started his final 38 games at offensive tackle…A two-time All-WAC selection…Has prototype size for an NFL guard…Has excellent feet and keeps his body in good blocking balance at all times…Has never missed a game in his football career from grade school through college…Has good burst off the snap and gets to the defender quickly…Does a nice job of steering and directing defenders…Played marginal competition and isn't familiar with the responsibilities of the guard position…Doesn't have ideal anchor strength to stand up defenders on the bull rush…Doesn't have an explosive hand punch…Drops his head to hit defenders at the second level…Isn't fundamentally consistent and has quite a bit of wasted motion in his blocking technique…Ran a 5.08 40 at the combine with 25 reps, a 29½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: An intriguing prospect with good size, his lack of tangible experience against elite defenders will hurt his stock somewhat and drop him to late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.

Dallas Thomas, Tennessee, 6-5½, 306 – Fifth-year senior…Became a starter as a sophomore and started his final 37 games – 25 at left tackle in 2010-11 and 12 at left guard in 2012…Was named second-team All-SEC in his first season at guard…Has prototype size and a body that can add 10-20 pounds more of bulk and muscle…Versatile and capable of playing both guard and tackle positions…Has good quickness off the snap to get into blocking position…Has excellent lower body strength to anchor…Has good technique and rarely gets knocked off his feet…Has an explosive hand punch…Has good agility to pull and move side to side…Often stops moving his feet on contact…Has limited experience at guard, where he projects in the NFL…Needs to improve his functional upper body strength…Is not a classic glass-eater and doesn't show a lot of aggressiveness…Is not very effective trying to block in space or at the second level…Was medically excluded at the combine due to a right shoulder injury. PROJECTION: A player who meets all the measurables that teams are looking for. His skill set projects him out as a late Day 2 prospect, but, of all the guards at this level of the draft, Thomas is as likely as any to be drafted higher because of his versatility. However, given the improvements he needs to make, it would be a mistake to take him prior to the third round.

Earl Watford, James Madison, 6-3½, 300 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter…Came to JMU as a tight end and played that position as a freshman…Two-time All-CAA first-team pick and received some All-American mentions in 2012…Very athletic and fluid – has excellent technique and looks natural in both run and pass blocking…Has a motor that never runs idle and plays with a mean streak…Has good arm length and uses his hands to steer and redirect defenders…Is strong attacking on sweeps and tracking in on linebackers at the second level…Plays with good balance and keeps his feet consistently in good blocking position…Impressed a lot of scouts at the East-West Shrine Game practices…Very limited experience in a small-school football conference where he didn't face elite competition from one game to the next…Has a thin lower body that may struggle to hold up against bull-rushing DTs…Doesn't have elite strength and will need to add power and bulk strength…Gets pushed back too often by power rushers and will have to change his technique…Plays a little too high and opens himself up to being pushed backward in pass coverage or stopped in run blocking at the next level…Ran a 5.06 40 at the combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He dominated marginal competition in college and, while he has an upside, he won't become a priority draftable project until the final day of the draft.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Jeff Baca, UCLA, 6-3½, 302
Christian Barker, Nevada, 6-2¾, 305
Travis Bond, North Carolina, 6-6, 329
Sam Brenner, Utah, 6-2½, 307
Manase Foketi, West Taxas A&M, 6-4¾, 318
Garrett Gilkey, Chadron State, 6-6, 318
Eric Herman, Ohio, 6-4¼, 320
Edmund Kugbila, Valdosta State, 6-4¼, 317
J.C. Tretter, Cornell, 6-3¾, 307
Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 315

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