VIKINGS GUARDS—Steve Hutchinson, Artis Hicks, Anthony Herrera, Jimmy Martin (practice squad).
POSITION ANALYSIS—The Vikings are looking to upgrade the right side of the offensive line, but may find it hard to use their second-round pick to grab one of the top three guards available in the draft. The pool isn't extremely deep at the position this year and, while about 20 guards likely will be taken in the draft this year, less than 10 will go in the first four or five rounds and only a handful are viewed by scouts as being potential starters for years to come.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Justin Blalock, Texas, 6-3¼, 321—Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who made 51 career starts—a Longhorns school record…All but the last six games were played at right tackle before moving to right guard midway through his senior season…Ideal combination of size and strength, which he proved at the Combine (see below)…Plays with excellent balance and rarely gets moved around…Drives linemen off the ball when run blocking…Comes off the snap early and makes contact quickly…Durability is unquestioned…Hard worker who doesn't let up on plays…Needs improvement in pass defense…Viewed as a much better prospect at guard in the pros than at tackle…Doesn't have ideal technique when attacking linebackers beyond the line…Needs to work on his pass protection skills…Ran a 5.15 40 at the Combine with a position-tying best 40 reps with 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 8-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Although he doesn't have much experience playing guard, it is a position he could eventually dominate and play at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. His upside is big and he could go off the board late in the first round or certainly early in the second.
Ben Grubbs, Auburn, 6-2¾, 314—Fifth-year senior…Came to Auburn as a defensive tackle and moved to tight end as a freshman…Moved to left guard as a sophomore and started the last 38 games of his career…Great burst off the snap and hits defenders with a hard punch…Very good field quickness in the short area and can get out on sweeps and pulls…Keeps his feet in position at all times…Durable athlete who hasn't missed time due to injuries…A little soft in the body and doesn't look to be in the best of shape…Lets big defenders get into his body a little too often…Doesn't beat down weaker defenders and tends to let up at times…Ran a 5.10 40 at the Combine, did 35 reps (third-best among guards), a 26½-inch vertical jump and a 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: While he doesn't look like an Adonis, his quickness and on-field play tell more of the tale. The tape doesn't lie. While he might slide a little on draft day, the team that gets him—most likely somewhere in the second round—is going to get a player that, barring injury, will play for a decade or more at a high level.
Arron Sears, Tennessee, 6-3¼, 319—Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who finished his career with 37 starts…Played at every line position except center during his career…Is huge and hard to bull rush…Gets into his stance quickly…Neutralizes most defenders when he shoots his arms out…Excellent run blocker…Fights hard on every play…Versatility is a plus and a minus—he can be a big-time player, but doesn't have a wealth of experience at any position…Played the entire 2006 season at left tackle, a position he doesn't translate to in the pros…Looks awkward when running on pulls or traps…Will get beat when he gets turned by two-gap defensive tackles…Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine with just 21 reps (third-worst among guards), but his 30½ inch vertical jump with second best among guards as well as a 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A tremendous run blocker who many believe can be taught to improve in pass protection. He may take time to reach his full potential, but has so much upside that some team will take the chance early in the draft, most likely somewhere in the second round.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Marshal Yanda, Iowa, 6-4, 305—Fourth-year senior…Attended North Iowa Community College for two years because the credits from his small high school were not accepted by the University of Iowa…Two-year starter who made 21 starts at right tackle and four at left guard…Quick out of his stance and getting his hands on defenders…Drives on defenders and seems to relish in knocking them down…Has very long arms for his size…Motivated player who has a passion for the game…Has most of his limited D-I experience at tackle, but doesn't project to playing tackle in the pros…Is not natural on plays where he is asked to leave the line and go after linebackers in space…Will need some refinement of his technique…Ran a 5.15 40 at the Combine with just 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 27-inch vertical jump and a 8-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A classic ‘tweener who might struggle initially to find a new home at guard. For teams that put a lot of stock in effort, coachability and motivation, he'll move up their boards and likely go off in the third round, but will need time to develop.
Brandon Frye, Virginia Tech, 6-4½, 301—Fifth-year senior…His father Stan Rome played wide receiver for the Chiefs…Didn't become a full-time starter until his senior year, when he made 11 starts at left tackle…Suffered a dislocated elbow that bothered him most of the season, but he only missed one game…A very good athlete who has speed and agility that he showed at the Combine (see below)…Spends a lot of time doing the little extras like seeking out coaches to improve and being a fixture in the VT weight room…Can take out linebackers with ease and has good footwork at the second level…Very inexperienced and has no experience as a starting guard, but he projects to that in the NFL…Late reacting on the snap…Has problems trying to neutralize top defensive linemen at the point of attack…Doesn't take the initiative with defenders on the snap and will get pushed out of position…Impressed at the Combine, running a 5.08 40 (third-best among guard prospects), did 34 reps, had a 31½-inch vertical jump (tied for first among guards) and a 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Has all the measurables scouts look for and made a big impression at the Combine. But, with his limited experience, he will be a project that may never blossom into a starter and, even if he does, it will likely take time. That alone should drop him to Day Two of the draft.
Andy Alleman, Akron, 6-4, 305—Fifth-year senior who began his career as a true freshman linebacker at Pitt…Followed offensive coordinator J.D Brookhart from Pitt to Akron as a junior and had to sit out the 2004 season…Two-year starter who started 24 of 25 games at right guard…Very good footwork and can pull effectively on sweeps…A hard worker who gives everything on every play…Solid in run blocking, especially at the second level of the defense to spring long runs…Doesn't have an overly strong lower body and will get directed by big men…Not a great knee bender and plays a little too stiff-legged…Lunges a lot and will end up on the ground too often…Needs to add some bulk…Showed some agility at the Combine, tying for first with a 5.07 40, doing 27 reps, posting a 30-inch vertical jump and a 8-10 broad jump (the second-best among guards).
PROJECTION: He was successful at the college level, but doesn't play with a mean streak and will have to add at least 10 pounds or more to be effective at the next level. A solid Day Two developmental prospect.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Uche Nwaneri, Purdue, 6-2¾, 326—Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter at left guard who was suspended by the school after getting in a fight with a teammate in which he broke the other player's jaw…Ended up suing the university, saying that the discipline should be handed out by the coaching staff but lost the case in court…Has a wide lower body and holds his ground well…Effective on screens and in space…Plays with a mean streak and isn't content when he's locked onto a defensive tackle until he has him on the ground…Picks up blitzes well…Played in a gimmick offense that didn't require him to maintain his blocks for more than a couple of seconds on most plays…Has trouble with quick pass rushers who have multiple moves…Falls off too many blocks because he tends to stop and dig in his cleats when he makes initial contact…Ran a disappointing 5.46 40 at the Combine (third-worst among guards), with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 27½-inch vertical jump and a 8-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Has a lot of the attributes coaches like, but missing a year in '05 didn't help him at all, and he didn't have a particularly good week at the Combine, which should drop him into the second day of the draft.
Tala Esera, Hawaii, 6-3½, 310—Fifth-year senior…Came to Hawaii as a defensive lineman but switched to offensive tackle following his freshman season…Started 48 games during his four-year career as an offensive tackle…Is married with two children…Has exceptional footwork and can be effective in space…Very strong and likes to throw people around…Very strong on seal blocks…Has strong hands to neutralize power rushing tackles…Doesn't always use his hands enough to consistently stop and frustrate DTs…Gets by more on finesse than someone with his strength should…Doesn't always keep his knee bend and will get directed…Doesn't have overly muscular legs…Needs to work on run-blocking technique…Ran a 5.31 40 at the Combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump (tied for best among guard prospects) and the third-best broad jump of 8-9.
PROJECTION: A player who struggled against bull rushers playing tackle, moving inside will bring a new set of problems with active DTs. But he has all the intangibles that scouts love and should go off the board somewhere in the early part of Day Two.
Mansfield Wrotto, Georgia Tech, 6-3, 313—Fourth-year senior…Spent his first three years as a defensive tackle, making 32 starts and making 41 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss and five sacks…Started all 14 games in 2006 at right tackle…Very good size and wide body…Excellent footwork in space…Pushes and drives defensive linemen down the line of scrimmage…Strong in run blocking…Has a good hand punch that shocks a lot of defenders…Extremely raw and new to the position…Has trouble picking up blitzes and will get beat…Lets defenders get into his body too often and can't shove them off effectively when it happens…Doesn't consistently finish his blocks…Ran a 5.41 40 at the Combine with 27 reps, but just a 25-inch vertical jump (tied for worst among guard prospects) and a 7-8 broad jump (second worst for his position).
PROJECTION: He made some good impressions at the Senior Bowl, but because he is extremely raw he will take time and may never be what coaches envision he could be on draft day. For that reason, he will likely last well into the second day of the draft.
Mike Otto, Purdue, 6-5¼, 310—Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who started all 50 games of his college career at left tackle…Solid in pass protection and has the ability to neutralize some of the Big Ten's top pass rushers…Durability is a big calling card…Can mirror and shadow defenders and take them out of plays…Not as strong in run blocking, where he lets defenders dictate the pace too often…Had some of the smallest hands among offensive line prospects at the Combine as well as short arms…Like teammate Uche Nwaneri, played in an offense that used the spread formation and featured short passes, so he wasn't asked to sustain blocks for more than a couple of seconds…Ran a 5.27 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 29-inch vertical jump and a 8-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A durable player who had a lot of experience at the collegiate level, but needs a lot of refinement to his game and will be moving to a new position at the next level. There is some debate whether he is the better pro prospect than teammate Nwaneri, but our money says he will finish second in that race and likely go off the board somewhere in the fifth or sixth round.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Mike Jones, Iowa, 6-5, 312
Dan Santucci, Notre Dame, 6-3½, 301
Manuel Ramirez, Texas Tech, 6-3½, 335
Tim Duckworth, Auburn, 6-3, 303
Cameron Stephenson, Rutgers, 6-3¼, 306
Positional Analysis: Guards
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