Position Analysis: Guards

Danny Watkins (Aaron Sprecher/Getty)

Guards may not be as valued as many other positions, but the Vikings could go hunting for one in the draft. The varieties seem endless, but unless there is incredible value, don't expect the Vikings to take one until the third day. We review the stats, measurables and abilities of more than a dozen of the top guard prospects for 2011.

POSITION ANALYSIS – If there is such a thing as a disposable position on draft day, it's at guard. There are many college guards that are sound at what they do, but, when it comes to the NFL, only the elite guards actually end up on rosters and, in many cases, teams will move college offensive tackles that don't have the foot speed to handle NFL pass rushers inside to the guard position. In the 2010 draft, only one guard went in the first two rounds and only eight were selected in the entire draft. While we expect more to get taken this year, it is still a position that gets ignored or marginalized by an influx of failed tackles to fill those spots. However, there will be action early and two players – Danny Watkins of Baylor and Mike Pouncey of Florida – have a very good chance of both being taken late in the first round.

VIKINGS GUARDS – Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Chris DeGeare, Seth Olsen.

VIKINGS NEED – The team found a solid late-round prospect in DeGeare in last year's draft, but he was needed as injuries to both Hutchinson and Herrera forced the Vikings to juggle their lineup late in the season. Hutchinson remains one of the pre-eminent guards in the league, but is approaching the point in his career where the wear and tear of earning that reputation will come home to roost. He is still a Pro Bowl talent, but the right guard position remains a question mark. Herrera is a focused former backup who expects to get his job back in 2011 – but his play has been good, not great. The Vikings likely won't use one of their first two picks here, but if they trade down from the No. 12 pick and acquire additional later picks, there is the a possibility that this position will get early consideration if a player they covet remains on the board.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Danny Watkins, Baylor, 6-3¾, 309 –
Fourth-year senior…Four-year starter who started all 23 games played in 2007-08 at Butte (Mont.) College and all 25 games played in two years at Baylor…Went to Butte to get a degree in firefighting and walked on to the football team…A native of Canada who didn't play football until he went to junior college…Big, physical player who has a mean streak…Has good anchor strength and protects the blind side of the QB well…Pushes defenders and seals them off in run blocking…Can be dominating in pass protection…Has excellent quickness off the snap…Smart player who reads blitzes and has the agility to make plays laterally…Doesn't have ideal size or strength…Plays a little out of control when pulling or at the second level and eliminates himself from plays…Will turn 27 during the 2011 season…Has never played guard and will need to adjust…Has only played four years of organized football…Ran a 5.36 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds (second-best among guards), a 26-inch vertical jump and an anemic 7-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A real boom-bust type of player, he has all the intangibles to be a good NFL starter and really stood out at the Senior Bowl. However, a rookie who turns 27 during the season is almost unheard of. But, he's smart and his body doesn't have a lot of wear and tear, so it may outweigh the age concerns – making him a fringe first-round prospect.

Mike Pouncey, Florida, 6-5¾, 312 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started last 41 games of his college career…As a true freshman moved from guard to defensive tackle due to injuries there – making four starts late in the year…Quick feet and excellent lateral agility…Plays very physically…Has the size, base strength and technique to take on big DTs in single coverage…Good speed on lead blocking on sweeps…Gets into pass protection stance quickly…Played next to his brother Maurkice, a 2010 first-round pick by the Steelers, for three years…Looked a bit out of his element at center making line calls, having spent his first two years as a starter at guard…Had more than his share of problems with technique in the shotgun formation, which diminishes his value as a center for a team in need…Doesn't have great instincts and will whiff on stunts…Doesn't always have knee bend and will get off-balance…Ran a 5.12 40 at the Combine with a 25-inch vertical jump and a 8-0 broad jump – he opted not to lift.
PROJECTION: There's no question that his twin brother will grease the wheels for Pouncey. We have him as a borderline first-round prospect, but fully expect him to be the first guard to come off the board. His versatility – starting at all three interior line positions – will likely vault him into the mix as the first interior linemen to get drafted.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Ben Ijalana, Villanova, 6-3¾, 320 –
Fourth-year senior…Started all 53 games of his career at tackle…Has excellent pass-blocking skills and good feet to mirror defender and force him upfield…Came to Villanova as a doughy 350-pound freshman…Missed the Senior Bowl and the Combine workouts after having double-hernia surgery in December…Has long 34½-inch arms and uses them well…Sustains his blocks well…While projecting as a guard, he has the physical tools and versatility to develop into a tackle if needed…Durable player who has never missed a game due to injury…Has foot agility to make blocks at the second level…Looked dominant, but was consistently playing against inferior competition and was rarely challenged by frustrating ends in the second half…Doesn't have a classic O-line upper body or bulk strength…Hand punch isn't effective…Doesn't have the lateral quickness to consistently hold up at tackle at the next level…Doesn't have great natural awareness…Will be transitioning in the NFL…Didn't work out at the Combine.
PROJECTION: Ijalana has near-prototype size that, had he been a four-year starter at guard, would be a lock to go in the first round. As it is, he is a player that will likely be on the board into the second round. Depending on his recovery from hernia surgery, his stock could drop even farther.

Clint Boling, Georgia, 6-5, 310 – Fourth-year senior…Started 49 of 51 career games…Works extremely hard and is a natural leader on the field…Has a lot of versatility having played multiple O-line positions in the SEC – a tall order week to week – including six games at left tackle, five games at right guard and two games at right tackle in his 13 starts in 2010…Has good technique in run blocking…Is good when asked to pull or trap…Recognizes blitzes quickly and reacts…Has good lateral agility and doesn't end up on the ground…Doesn't play up to his measurables…Won't be able to overpower defenders at the next level…Doesn't get a lot of knee bend and will play too high to be consistently effective…Struggled against Nick Fairley when they played and raised some concerns…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with 28 reps, a 31-inch vertical jump and a 8-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Any time you've been a four-year starter for the best conference in college football, you have earned your stripes. He isn't a dominant guard, but has all the tools to be a 10-year starter in the NFL. But, without the big upside, he will be on the board into the second round.

Will Rackley, Lehigh, 6-3¼, 307 – Fourth-year senior…Started 45 of 46 career games…The first freshman starter on the Lehigh offensive line in 20 years…Dominated his competition consistently…A very strong run blocker capable of getting a big push to open running lanes…Has very strong hands and delivers a good punch…Durable and leads by example…Has good balance and rarely ends up on the ground…Biggest drawback is that he has never faced elite competition, so he looks more dominant on film…When he locks on a defender, he doesn't use his strength to wash him out completely when he can…Raw in terms of football intelligence and being able to read and react to blitzes…Has difficulty sustaining blocks on the move…Did not run at the Combine because of a hip flexor injury, but did have 29 reps, a 23½-inch vertical jump and a 8-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A four-year left tackle for an FCS school doesn't translate to the NFL. He has all the requisite skills, but will have to make a significant transition, which will likely drop him into the third round.

Zach Hurd, Connecticut, 6-6¾, 325 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started his final 39 games…Arrived on the U-Conn campus as a 230-pound redshirt freshman…Suffered a strained calf muscle and had to skip the Senior Bowl…Has very good footwork for his size…Is huge and can engulf smaller defenders…Aggressive in run blocking and pushes defenders around…Sustains blocks when he gets a leverage advantage and doesn't let up…Durable player who has never missed a game…Doesn't have a great football I.Q. and blows assignments too often…Didn't play elite competition very often…Struggles against speed rushers…Doesn't have natural knee bend and can look a little sluggish in his movements…Gained almost 100 pounds from the time he showed up at U-Conn…Doesn't take advantage of hand use as much as he should…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with a 28-inch vertical jump and a 8-6 vertical jump – did not lift, citing his was recovery from the flu.
PROJECTION: A nice combination of size and strength, he could develop into a starter, but, more likely, be a competent swingman capable of playing both guard positions and right tackle. That is enough to assure that somebody will take him on Day 2 of the draft.

THE BEST OF THE REST

John Moffitt, Wisconsin, 6-4, 314 –
Fifth-year senior…Became a starter midway through his redshirt freshman season and started 42 of 45 career games…Has a history of abdominal strains and required hernia surgery after the 2009 season…Willing teammate who has moved from guard to center when the team has needed it…Has excellent mass and a wide, proportional body scouts like…Excellent run blocker who has good footwork and hand use…Very good mechanics and neutralizes defenders on almost every snap…Will get overwhelmed by speed rushers…Doesn't look natural or overly effective blocking out to the second level…Is stiff-legged and will play too upright at times…Doesn't have ideal athleticism…Ran a 5.51 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 8-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Another in a long line of Big Ten offensive linemen that have moved on to the NFL, but his calling card may well be as a versatile backup, which will drop him into Day Three.

Stephen Schilling, Michigan, 6-4¼, 302 – Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who spent his first two years at right tackle and his last two at left guard…Started all 49 games of his college career…During his redshirt freshman season, he contracted mononucleosis and lost 20 pounds and had shoulder surgery…Three times named team's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman…Good size with a body capable of growing more…Sets up quickly in pass protection…Good burst off the snap in run blocking and attacks defenders…Very good at the second level…Has short arms and allows defenders to get into his body…Did not help his case at the Senior Bowl…Will lunge and get out of position…Stops moving his feet on contact too often in run blocking…Doesn't have good recovery ability when out of position and ends up on the ground…Ran a 5.18 40 at the Combine with an impressive 30 reps, a 25½-inch vertical jump and a 8-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Scouts have varied opinions on Schilling, but experienced Big Ten linemen find a way onto NFL rosters. He will likely come off the board in the middle to end of Day Three and will have no guarantees of making a roster, but will end up, at the very least, on a practice squad.

Bryant Browning, Ohio State, 6-3, 310 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made all 39 starts in that span…An old-school wide body with strong legs…A solid pass protector who can lock onto defenders and steer them…Good burst out of his stance…Versatile, intelligent (was his high school's valedictorian) and a natural leader…Doesn't use his hands well and will need refinement…Doesn't have ideal upper-body strength and bull-rushers can cause him a lot of trouble…Doesn't have great lateral range and looks awkward on the move…Is not a factor consistently at the second level…Did not work out at the Combine.
PROJECTION: Browning has experience at right guard and tackle, which should get him drafted late, but his upside is marginal and will have to be in the right system to make it long-term in the NFL.

Keith Williams, Nebraska, 6-4¾, 313 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 34 of 40 starts in that span…Looks the part and has good size with growth potential…Has good upper- and lower-body strength and doesn't get pushed around…Plays with a mean streak and, when he has a leverage advantage, drives defenders into the ground…Has good short-area lateral quickness…Has a good hand punch…Has short arms and it is hard to keep defenders out of his body…If he is stood up on contact, his feet stop moving and he pushes opponents rather than sinking his hips…Has trouble sustaining blocks if the pocket starts to break down and the QB still has the ball…Isn't a gym rat and it shows in his conditioning…Ran a 5.28 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 24½-inch vertical jump and a 7-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He has the body type that scouts love in projects, but his lack of passion to be better made him a big man on campus, but won't translate to the NFL. Will need more work than your average experienced Nebraska O-lineman. That should drop him into the final couple of rounds.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Maurice Hurt, Florida, 6-3, 319 –
Fifth-year senior granted a medical redshirt three games into his freshman season…Played in 41 career games, but started just 17 – only became a full-time starter last year…A laundry list of injuries – missed his senior year of high school with knee surgery, two games to "stingers" and three more to a shoulder injury his freshman year, six games in his sophomore year from stingers, and his 2010 season ended with a MCL injury that required surgery and kept him from playing in the Outback Bowl or working out at the Combine…Strong and has a jolting hand punch…Gets out of his stance quickly in pass protection…Has position versatility…Steers defenders well as a run blocker…Good football I.Q….Has a lot of difficulty will speed rushers and doesn't have good recovery skills when he loses leverage…Sheds off too many blocks when asked to sustain…Has very limited footwork and isn't adept at pulling or trapping…Injury history is an enormous red flag…Some teams won't rank him because of his medical history, but he has enough upside to get taken late.

Justin Boren, Ohio State, 6-3, 309 – Fifth-year senior…Played two years at Michigan before transferring to OSU – the first football player in 70 years to transfer from Michigan to Ohio State…At Michigan, he suffered a broken leg as a freshman, but returned to start all 13 games (eight at center, five at guard) in 2007…Started all 25 games played for Buckeyes…Intelligent player who was an Academic All-American…Has explosive hand punch and comes out of his stance quickly…Has good field awareness and instincts when to slide to take on another defender…A hard worker who puts in the extra time to improve…Can handle multiple pass-rush moves…Isn't overly athletic and struggles when on the move on sweeps or traps…Stops his feet too often on contact…When plays break down, too often he becomes a spectator instead of improvising…Has a history of knee injuries, which cost him a chance to work out at the Combine…A player who didn't like his coach and quit the team doesn't bode well in the minds of NFL coaches and G.M.s, especially when you're a marginal talent that may not get drafted until the final rounds.

Andrew Jackson, Fresno State, 6-5¼, 302 – Fifth-year senior…Started 39 of 40 games played…Underwent back surgery in early 2008 and missed time the last two years with knee and ankle injuries…Is quick out of his stance to get in pass protection…Is a solid anchor in pass protection…Has a mean streak…Has a good hand punch that can rock defenders…Is much too lean in his frame, which will turn off some teams…For being as tall as he is, he has short arms for an NFL guard (32 inches)…Doesn't look natural in leading sweeps or trying to take out a defender at the second level…Doesn't consistently bend his knees, which is death for a 6-5 offensive lineman at the next level…His stock dropped after he missed nine games due to an ankle injury as a senior and his East-West Shrine performance was iffy – dropping him the realm of the late-round cattle call.

David Arkin, Missouri State, 6-4¼, 302 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 44 career games…Two-time team captain and Academic All-American…Has good upper-body strength…Versatile, having played both guard and tackle…Sustains his blocks extremely well…Played in a zone blocking system like they run in Denver, Green Bay and Houston…Very durable – has never missed a game due to injury…Played marginal competition…Did not have a good week at the East-West Shrine Game and struggled with speed tackles…Plays too high and will be redirected…Limited guard experience…A Catch-22 of a player with the skill set of an offensive tackle, but not the size to play outside. He dominated at Missouri State, but will be given a shot in the late rounds.

Garrett Chisholm, South Carolina, 6-5½, 312 – Fifth-year senior…Spent a year at Pikesville (Ky.) College in 2006 and a year at Trident Tech in South Carolina in 2007…Out of football in 2008, and, after walking on to the squad, in two years with the Gamecocks, he started 14 of 20 games, including all 12 in 2010…Is tall with long arms and a body that can hold additional weight if needed without losing mobility…Has been timed at 5.05 in the 40…Has good footwork and is quick out of his stance to lead on sweeps and react on screens…Plays with fire and passion and works hard in practice and in the weight room…Had ACL surgery in November and some teams won't even have him on their board, especially if they believe the current labor stoppage will continue into the developmental camp season…Has thin lower body that doesn't look like it can withstand an inside pounding…Doesn't explode out of his stance and allows defenders into his body…Only 14 Division I starts point to a long learning curve…When you look at him on tape, he looks like a much better prospect than he is rated here, but he may not be healthy until October or November after knee surgery and most teams won't use a draft pick on damaged goods. They would rather sign him as a free agent.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.


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