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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 16 April, 2014

The Redzone Draft special: Offensive and defensive line

In the first in a series of NFL Draft specials, The Redzone looks at the big men who make the big bucks.

Matt Kalil is likely to be the first non-quarterback to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Matt Kalil is likely to be the first non-quarterback to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Image: Michael Conroy/AP/Press Association Images

OVER THE NEXT four days, The Redzone will preview the top players entering the 2012 NFL Draft. In this edition, Steven O’Rourke looks at offensive and defensive linemen.

Offensive Linemen
Too often, the big men up front are forgotten in a world of Tom Brady’s and LeSean McCoy’s, despite how crucial they are to success of the stars in the backfield.

The one weekend they do get a chance to shine is during the NFL Draft as coaches, scouts and general managers everywhere sign up the fittest, fastest and fattest players in college sports in a bid to protect their franchise quarterbacks.

Top three
1. Matt Kalil – University of Southern California
At 6’6″ and 306lb, Kalil is almost the perfect offensive tackle. In 2012 he allowed just 8 sacks on Matt Barkley, a quarterback who would give Brett Favre a run for his money in the mobility stakes. A guaranteed top five pick, he’s almost certain to go to the Minnesota Vikings.

2. Riley Reiff - Iowa
Another tackle, Reiff  is the same height as Kalil but heavier by 7lb. He is incredibly durable and has started every single game of his career so far. Able to play the much valued left tackle spot – the position that protects a right-handed quarterback’s blind side – Reiff is likely to be the 10th overall pick where he’ll land with the Buffalo Bills.

3. David DeCastro - Stanford
Though his collegiate team mate Jonathan Martin should be drafted ahead of him – by the Cardinals at 13 –  DeCastro is the standout offensive guard in the draft. While there are some question marks over how he finishes his run blocks, he’ll still probably be the best offensive lineman on whatever team he ends up with. It’s likely DeCastro will go to either the Bengals or the Chargers in the top twenty though don’t be surprised if his stock rises on draft day.

Sleeper pick
Nate Potter - Boise State
He may well be waiting until round six or seven before he is selected – rare for a left tackle – but Boise State’s Nate Potter has agility and athleticism and made a collegiate career protecting the most successful QB in college football history. His stock has fallen over fears of a perceived lack of strength but a few months in an NFL weight room should sort that out and Potter could well be a Pro-Bowler some day at a very cheap price.

Biggest risk
Jonathan Martin - Stanford
Has a horrible tendency to stand bolt upright on the snap and so becomes an easy target for athletic pass rushers. As a first round pick, he could cost the Cardinals a lot of money and yet find himself out of the league very quickly. Some would argue he has room to improve, I fear he could get worse.

***

Defensive Linemen
Ndamukong Suh and his ilk have really glamourised this position in recent years. While it’s important for the defensive ends to rush the passer, the nose and tackles are primarily there to stop the run.

However, as the NFL becomes evermore a passing league, it’s the outside guys who’ll dominate the 2012 draft.

Top three
1. Melvin Ingram - South Carolina
While I have some issues with Ingram’s physicality, he is incredibly athletic and has the speed of thought to, somehow, always end up close to the football. He has got short arms, not T-Rex-like or anything but it’s enough to make teams worry he won’t have the ability to break up double teams from offensive lines. However, the Jaguars seem to think he can play any number of defensive positions and so he’ll still be the top defensive lineman pick in the 2012 draft.

2. Dontari Poe - Memphis
The best nose tackle in the draft, Poe has an uncanny ability to clog lanes and disrupt the run. He is a good reader of the game and can use his athleticism and quickness to force teams to double team him, leaving team mates free to rush the passer. The big question mark over Poe remains his ability to play in anything other than a 3-4 defensive front but, as the Jaguars need a nose tackle, he’ll arrive there as the number nine pick overall.

3. Andre Branch - Clemson
Branch could easily end up playing at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defence but his ability to beat offensive lineman could see him become a regular Pro Bowl defensive end. Originally I considered Branch a second round pick up but he ticks a lot of boxes for the San Diego Chargers and so is likely to go as the 18 pick overall. The one concern over Branch is that he’s not nearly as effective against the run but, in a pass heavy league, that’s unlikely to bother the Chargers.

Sleeper pick
Chandler Jones – Syracuse
Jones could conceivably go in the first round to the New England Patriots but there is a chance he could fall as low as late round two into the hands of the Chicago Bears. The brother of UFC Champ Jon ‘Bones’ and Ravens defensive lineman Arthur, Jones has 35-inch arms. That’s longer than an average person’s legs. He hasn’t convinced a lot of teams of his ability to play at the next level but, for me at least, he’s excellent value wherever he’s picked up.

Biggest risk
Fletcher Cox - Mississippi State
Cox is one of the fastest climbers in this year’s mock drafts with many predicting he will go to the Philadelphia Eagles at 15 overall. That will mean a lot of money for a kid who is incredibly raw – only spending two years as a starter with his college team – and is seemingly incapable of beating a double team. He could be moulded and matured but the risk-reward balance weighs too heavily on the side of the former for my liking.

The Redzone’s look at this year’s draft will continue with a preview of the top wide receivers and defensive backs tomorrow.

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