Commentary

Analyzing draft prospect skill sets: Offensive linemen

Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay breaks down the skill sets needed for a college offensive lineman to make the leap to the NFL, and lists the top players in each area.

Updated: August 27, 2008, 1:55 PM ET
By Todd McShay | Scouts Inc.

Evaluations are typically broken into two parts: universal football traits and position-specific skills. Production, durability, measurables and character are the four categories analyzed under the umbrella of universal football traits. Position-specific skills, as the phrase suggests, differ for each position.

The following is a glimpse at the five most important specialized skills used for evaluating offensive linemen. Also included within each category are the three college players who, in my opinion, best exemplify the corresponding skill set.

1. STRENGTH/TOUGHNESS
Best three examples:
1. Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi (Sr.)
2. Sergio Render, OG, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
3. Kraig Urbik, OT, Wisconsin (Sr.)

Size and wingspan are important in order for a lineman to engulf defenders at the point of attack. Explosive upper-body strength helps to jar a defender with an initial punch, and to sustain once locked on. A wide base allows a blocker to anchor against bull rushers in pass protection. Strong legs are needed to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage on run plays.

2. AGILITY
Best three examples:
1. Jonathan Luigs, OC, Arkansas (Sr.)
2. Alex Mack, OC, California (Sr.)
3. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama (Jr.)
Good agility starts with a lineman showing initial quickness out of his stance. He needs to fire out quickly in the run game and get set quickly in pass protection. A blocker must play with leverage and show good body control. Can he gather himself and redirect in space? Strong indicators: the 10-yard split (1.85 seconds or faster is good, 1.95 or slower is poor) and short-shuttle run (4.65 or faster is good, 4.70 or slower is poor).

3. AWARENESS
Best three examples:
1. Alex Mack, OC, California (Sr.)
2. Jon Cooper, OC, Oklahoma (Sr.)
3. Jonathan Luigs, OC, Arkansas (Sr.)
Successful NFL linemen are tactical. Studying film, learning tendencies and transferring knowledge to the field can maximize player potential. An understanding of blocking angles and the ability to use technique to overcome physical deficiencies are all but required. The capacity to pick up new assignments quickly is a key skill. And versatility is a huge plus. A blocker who can fill in at multiple spots along the line is more valuable than one limited to a single position.

4. PASS PROTECTION
Best three examples:
1. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama (Jr.)
2. Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia (Sr.)
3. Ciron Black, OT, LSU (Jr.)
The instincts to anticipate double moves, twists, stunts and blitzes can make or break some linemen. Quick feet (to set up in time) and balance and body control (to mirror and slide) are key pass-blocking tools. Good lateral movement helps a lineman shuffle back inside. Long arms allow a blocker to maintain separation and force pass rushers wide. A powerful punch jars defenders and ruins pass rushers' momentum. Good NFL pass protectors are natural knee benders who play with a wide base in order to anchor against the bull rush.

5. RUN BLOCKING
Best three examples:
1. Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma (Sr.)
2. Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi (Sr.)
3. Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia (Sr.)
Size and strength are important for blockers to match up in a phone booth (a confined area). They need to be nasty and aggressive, but also possess adequate mobility to consistently establish good position. They must take a good first step and proper angles on reach blocks. A wide frame allows offensive tackles to engulf smaller defensive ends in the run game, and a strong lower body helps them finish off blocks.

Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. and has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl also contributed to these evaluations.