Name one successful NFL franchise that has a weak offensive line. I’ll wait. Tough, isn’t it? Most NFL teams will be looking to strengthen in the trenches in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hearing the name of an interior lineman in the draft doesn’t get fans out of their seats. However, time and time again we see failing sides invest significant draft capital into their front trench. When it goes right, fortunes change quickly.
Cesar Ruiz was the only interior lineman taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, when the New Orleans Saints selected him at #24 overall. Chris Lindstrom (Atlanta Falcons) and Garrett Bradbury (Minnesota Vikings) heard their names called in 2019. The names below may well drop into Day Two. If they do, kudos to the franchises that land a bargain.
Of course, offensive linemen have no direct worth to your fantasy team. They can however elevate the play of the quarterback behind them. In reality, elite protection elevates the entire offence.
Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
Height: 6′ 4″
Weight: 310 lbs
Wyatt Davis is clearly the #1 IOL of this class. If anyone is going to be selected on Day One of the 2021 NFL Draft, it’s him. Davis is dominant and explosive off the line of scrimmage, and is rarely shaken off-balance. He is most comfortable when making first contact with his defender.
As a run blocker, he works well on the inside to create lanes for running backs to exploit. Davis can manipulate space for plays designed to punch the gut of the opponent.
He could immediately contribute in his rookie year, particularly in a run-heavy offence. Ohio State has been a reliable source of O line talent in recent years. Davis is up there with the best of them.
Trey Smith, Tennessee
Height: 6′ 6″
Weight: 325 lbs
Trey Smith has overcome significant health scares to get to where he is today. Doctors discovered blood clots on his lungs in 2018, which threatened a premature end to his career. A reappearance of the clots seemed to predicate the end. Thankfully, he has made a full recovery, and has two seasons of experience under his belt entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
Smith is strong, and defensive linemen have difficulty when he drives forward. Though strong in straight lines, weaknesses emerge with more elusive defenders. He can be slow to react to spin moves, and often fails to regain lost momentum.
At 325 lbs, he is one of the heaviest guards on the board. NFL franchises might want to see him lose some of that weight to maximise his ability to contribute to more complex blocking assignments.
Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
Height: 6′ 5″
Weight: 315 lbs
Creed Humphrey is the only centre that makes our list of top interior linemen. One thing that is clear on tape is his vision. He is a vocal member of the offence, and is able to recognise defensive giveaways before the snap.
An experienced leader of the Sooners offence, you can expect a “high character” talent to attract NFL franchises. A former wrestler, he has effective hands when fighting off his opponent. Humphrey also relies on his impressive anchor to keep rushers at bay.
We see few left handed quarterbacks in the NFL. A similarly small proportion of centres are left handed, too. Humphrey is one of those rare examples of a lefty centre. It is a minor issue to observe, and shouldn’t be a problem for his new quarterback to get used to. Training camp should iron out any teething problems.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
Height: 6′ 4″
Weight: 300 lbs
Consider Alijah Vera-Tucker as the newcomer to this group. Before this season, his peers listed above were household names. By opting back into the 2020 season (he initially opted out when it looked like the Pac-12 wouldn’t play), he gave his draft stock a huge boost.
One factor that has boosted Vera-Tucker’s draft stock (alongside some impressive 2020 tape) is his versatility. He has played at both tackle and guard for The Trojans, which will endear him to draft scouts. It might mask concerns about his play style. Vera-Tucker doesn’t have that nastiness one might hope from an interior lineman.
Despite the ability to slot him at tackle, Vera-Tucker’s size is more suited to the guard position. At 6′ 4″, he may be considered just too small to play on the outside.
Other names to look out for:
Deonte Brown, Alabama
That’s it for the interior linemen. An admittedly unsexy, but much desired, place on an NFL offence. Check out all of our positional deep dives over at 5yardrush.co.uk and @5yardcollege.