The NFL has many rules to protect quarterbacks and other offensive players, but the first line of defense has been and always will be the offensive line. These men are often the unsung heroes of the offense who never gain recognition unless they screw up, the best ones are usually never heard from. This year's class of offensive linemen has a few elite talents, and lots of depth at every position.
Offensive tackle (LOT/ROT): Offensive tackles in the NFL need to be able to run block effectively, but they make there presence felt the most against the pass rush of a defense. The best OT's will usually be placed on the left side of the line to protect a quarterback's blind-side. NFL OT's are ideally tall, have long arms, and the foot quickness and agility to handle aggressive pass rushers.
NFL prototype: Jake Long, Joe Thomas
Matt Kalil, USC, 6'6", 306 lbs
Kalil is one of the elite prospects in this draft and is by far the top offensive line prospect. Kalil has the size, measurables, and feet that scouts look for in an elite left tackle. With a prospect this good, any negatives would just be unnecessary nit-picking.
Draft projection: #3 overall to the Minnesota Vikings
Riley Reiff, Iowa, 6'5", 313 lbs
Reiff has exceptional upper body strength as well as good arm length and great hand quickness. He can stand to add more strength in his base, and has good but not elite footwork. Reiff benefits in coming from an Iowa program that has produced quality linemen in recent history.
Draft projections: #10 overall to the Buffalo Bills
Mike Adams, Ohio State, 6'7", 323 lbs
Adams has all the tools to become an elite talent, but needs to show more consistency at the next level. Though Adams is usually dominant against strong bull-rushing DE's, he can struggle to handle small speed-rushers. Adams showed off his potential with a dominant Senior Bowl.
Draft projection: #19 overall to the Chicago Bears
Other OT's to keep an eye on: In order of rank/projected draft position;
Jonathan Martin, Stanford, 6'5", 312 lbs
Bobby Massie, Mississippi, 6'6", 316 lbs
Zebrie Sanders, Florida State, 6'5", 320 lbs
Mitchell Schwartz, California, 6'5", 318 lbs
Guard: Typically a little shorter, heavier, and better supporting the run, guards are normally the unsung players on the offensive line and are key in keeping defenders out of the quarterback's face while opening lanes for running backs to run through. This year's class is amazingly deep, possibly the deepest we've seen the last decade.
Protoype player: Carl Nicks, Ben Grubbs
David DeCastro, Stanford, 6'5", 316 lbs
DeCastro has elite instincts and skill and was dominant the three years he played at Stanford. DeCastro has top 10 talent but his position hurts him, he could go as high as the Chiefs at #11 but will not fall any further than Cincinnati at #17.
Draft projection: #17 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals
Cordy Glenn, Georgia, 6'5", 345 lbs
Glenn was a LOT in college but will probably have to move inside since his weight and lack of quickness may make him a liability in the NFL. His strength and sheer size makes him a perfect fit at guard. Ability to play guard and possibly move outside in a pinch is the only reason he might go higher than DeCastro despite not being ranked as high.
Draft projection: #16 overall to the New York Jets
Other OG's to keep an eye on: In order of rank/projected draft position;
Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State, 6'3", 311lbs
Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin, 6'4", 314 lbs
Joe Looney, Wake Forest, 6'4", 353 lbs
Late 2nd – early 3rd
Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State, 6'5", 333 lbs
Tony Bergstrom, Utah, 6'5", 313 lbs
James Brown, Troy, 6'3", 306 lbs
Jeff Allen, Illinois, 6'4", 307 lbs
Brandon Brooks, Miami (OH), 6'4", 353 lbs
Center: Possibly the most important position on the line, centers need to be like a second quarterback on the field, adjusting blocking schemes on the fly to best fit defensive fronts. Only one center prospect this year (Peter Konz) is deserving of a first or second round grade.
Prototype player: Maurkice Pouncey, Nick Mangold
Peter Konz, Wisconsin, 6'5", 314 lbs
Konz comes from a system at Wisconsin that excelled in the running game. Konz hits hard and plays with an edge and tenacity that teams crave. His size and intelligence make him a valuable asset and anchor but he could stand to add some strength to his core.
Draft projection: #29 overall to the Baltimore Ravens
Other C's to keep an eye on: In order of rank/projected draft position;
3rd – 4th round:
Ben Jones, Georgia, 6'2", 303 lbs
David Molk, Michigan, 6'1", 298 lbs
Photo Credit: Icon Sports Media
For more information on the upcoming NFL draft, keep logging on to CraveOnline.com for pick by pick projections and analysis.
J. Lance Moose is a contributor and lead football writer for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JLanceMoose, and subscribe on Facebook facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.
To read more positional analysis and my first round mock draft, click on the links below: