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Positional analysis: Guards
TEAM NEED – The Vikings re-signed Johnson in the offseason and signed Ducasse away from the Jets, but both are coming to the team on short-term contracts. The Vikings have had Johnson and Fusco as their starting guards the last two years, but both of them could potentially be upgraded at any time. If there is a guard the team likes in Rounds 2-4, it wouldn't surprise anyone if they draft one with the intention of having him compete in Mankato for a starting job, not necessarily fighting the backups for a roster spot.
POSITION OVERVIEW: A pedestrian group that is average at best, there may not be a guard that goes in the first round. That being said, it wouldn't be surprising to see a half dozen or more guards come off the board in the second day and twice that many on the final day. There will be several guards who get selected draft weekend; they just won't come off the board that early.
THE CREAM THE OF THE CROP
David Yankey, Stanford, 6-5¾, 315 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 26 games at guard and 14 games at left tackle…A team captain as a senior…A native of Australia whose father was from Ghana and his mother was from Slovakia…Naturally athletic and fluid in his lateral movements in a short area off the snap…Has good anchor strength in his lower body and can steer defenders…A very intelligent player who uses technique to adjust on the fly and consistently make plays…Plays with a mean streak and is a strong finisher who plays to the whistle…Can come up high out of his stance and lose some of his leverage…Doesn't have good speed and is plodding in space…Will drop his head on contact and lose sight of what's happening in front of him…Doesn't have a jolting initial hand punch…Ran a 5.48 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds with a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: The best run blocker in the 2014 class, he could come off the board late in the first round. If he's still on the board in Day 2, he won't last long.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA, 6-4¼, 307 – Fifth-year junior who took 2010-11 off to complete a Mormon mission…Three-year starter who started all 13 games as a true freshman at left tackle and the last 27 games elsewhere – 22 at left guard and five at left tackle…A natural athlete with excellent quickness and burst off the snap…A durable player who started all 40 games of his college career…Has good lower-body strength and footwork and moves fluidly when asked to mirror defenders laterally and wall them off…Brings versatility to the table but is much more natural as a guard projecting to the next level…Ends up on the ground too much because he will lunge at defenders and miss too often…Doesn't have a consistent hand punch off the snap and allows defenders into his body…Will turn 24 during the 2014 season…Needs to refine his angles, but is a willing student that would thrive under the right coaching staff…Ran a 5.04 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A versatile, experienced player, the only significant downside is that he is two or three years older than most prospects, which could limit his NFL shelf life. But he has the potential to be a dominant guard and a left tackle in a pinch, which could make him the first guard to come off the board.
Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State, 6-3¼, 336 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 52 games of his career…First-team All-SEC as a senior…Has a prototypical body with long arms and good power from his upper body to move and steer defenders…Is arguably the best pass protector among the 2014 class because of his agility…Is well-schooled in leverage technique and consistently finishes plays…He has surprisingly good feet when on the move and leading sweeps to the edge…Can get caught on the ground because he doesn't always show patience and will lunge at defenders at times…Can be slow to recognize line stunts and blitzes…Struggles against bull rushers…Can wear down in games and may need to work more on his conditioning…Ran a 5.51 40 at the Combine with 30 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and a 9-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Another battle-tested guard who has excellent durability. His limitations are mostly correctable and he could be an NFL starter for years to come. But, given 2014 draft class, he won't be a premium pick until the second round.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Brandon Thomas, Clemson, 6-3¼, 317 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter (27 at left tackle and nine at guard) that projects as a guard at the next level…Two-time All-ACC selection…Suffered a torn ACL while doing a private workout with the Saints in April and his 2014 season may well be over…Has prototypical size and long arms to keep defenders away from his body…Showed a lot of versatility and agility, which was needed considering how often QB Tajh Boyd scrambled out of the pocket…Has a strong hand punch and uses his hands effectively…Has the upper-body strength to steer and drive defenders when run blocking…Doesn't have ideal footwork and often takes stutter steps…Too often is the last linemen to react off the snap…Doesn't look natural at the second level and often appears lost…His ACL injury could be devastating to his draft stock…Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine with an impressive 35 reps of 225 pounds with a 29-inch vertical jump and an 8-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Prior to his injury, Thomas was viewed as perhaps the best guard prospect because of his experience at left tackle, but his torn ACL that has likely wiped out his 2014 season, which is a shame coming off an impressive showing at the Combine.
Cyril Richardson, Baylor, 6-4¾, 329 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 25 starts at guard in 2012-13 and 13 starts at left tackle in 2011 while protecting Robert Griffin III's blind side…Grew up in New Orleans, but had to move to Texas after his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and missed two years of high school football…Has incredibly long arms (almost 35 inches) and uses them to push off defenders and keep them at a distance…A durable starter who has never missed time due to injury in his college career…Has ideal anchor strength to dig in and seal off defenders…Had almost 100 knockdown blocks in 2013…Doesn't have great flexibility and struggles when asked to move laterally in a hurry…Has trouble with speed rushers, something that was exposed at the Senior Bowl practices…Struggles reading and reacting to line stunts and blitz pressure…Is not from a pro-style offense and his NFL assignments will be different than he was used to in college…Ran a 5.36 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 25½-inch vertical jump and a pathetic 7-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A huge wide body that will be a scheme-specific fit. He has the talent to be a second-round pick, but given his lack of lateral movement skills he will be of interest to a specific number of teams, which should drop him in the late second- or third-round range.
Trai Turner, LSU, 6-2¾, 310 – Third-year sophomore…Started the final 20 games of his brief college career…Has all the physical tools that scouts look for – foot speed, off-the-snap power and anchor strength…Has a strong hand punch that jolts defenders off the snap…Has long arms to keep defenders away from his body…Has the explosiveness to drive defenders back in run blocking…Very raw and has a lot of room to improve…Falls off too many blocks and needs to improve his balance…Struggles with speed and tends to hold when he gets beat off the snap –likely will pick up more than his share of penalties in the NFL…Undersized in terms of height for a guard in the NFL…Didn't take part in the broad jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.93 40 with 25 reps of 225 pounds and a 27½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Had he stayed at LSU for another year or two, he likely would be a premium pick early on Day 2. Now he probably will be on the board well into the second day.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Ryan Groy, Wisconsin, 6-4¾, 316 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who started his final 27 games over the last two years…Has natural size and athleticism…A versatile player who, in his first two seasons, had starts at guard, center and fullback…Plays with outstanding leverage and holds up well against bull rushers up the middle…Has limited mobility and has difficulty getting the edge and maintaining his balance in space…Is tight-hipped and will struggle when pass plays break down…Comes up a little high out of the snap and will need to refine his technique at the next level, where that doesn't fly…Ran a 5.13 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 26½-inch vertical jump and a 9-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Wisconsin has consistently produced NFL offensive linemen over the years, including seven in the last two years. Groy fits that mold and, while he likely won't be drafted until the final day, he could develop into an eventual NFL starter.
Chris Watt, Notre Dame, 6-2¾, 310 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 37 games he played in that span…Tore his right PCL in 2013 and missed Notre Dame's bowl game, the Senior Bowl and the Combine because he injured his right MCL in the regular-season finale… Is quick off the ball at the snap and has a good hand punch…Keeps his legs churning on running plays and can anchor in a short zone on pass plays…Plays with a hard-nosed style that shows of a nasty streak at times that can frustrate defenders…His two knee injuries in the last year are a huge red flag for some teams…Doesn't have ideal footwork in space and can look awkward at the second level…Plays with too much intensity at times and loses focus – he was called for far too many false start penalties…Didn't work out at the Combine because of his MCL injury. PROJECTION: Prior to 2013, he looked like a guy who was a lock to go on Day 2 of the draft. Now the only question is how far into Day 3 he will go before he gets drafted.
Joe Halapio, Florida, 6-3½, 323 – Fifth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt three games into his true freshman season…Started the final 43 games he played, becoming a starter midway through his redshirt freshman season…Has excellent upper-body strength and uses a stiff hand punch…Plays with a mean streak and consistently finishes plays…Very good footwork when asked to slide or mirror defenders…Has one of the most exhaustive injury histories of any prospect – a knee injury in 2009 that resulted in him being redshirted, a torn hamstring in 2010, a back injury in 2011, a torn meniscus that required surgery in 2012, and a torn pectoral muscle and an eye injury in 2013…Has short arms and defenders can get into his body…Stops moving on contact and can get tossed around by big, aggressive D-tackles…Did not lift at the Combine because he got a medical exclusion for a lumbar spine injury, but ran a 5.34 40 with a putrid 21½-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: With his injury history, there will be several teams that drop him completely off their draft list. He has talent but may be viewed as too big a risk any earlier than the sixth round or so.
Anthony Steen, Alabama, 6-3½, 314 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 33 starts in the 38 games he played in that span…Named All-SEC as a senior, but his year ended with labrum surgery on his left shoulder (see below)…Has an excellent work ethic and is a student of the game who shows up first and leaves last in film study and the weight room…Has a stocky body type that is ideally suited for gaining leverage by using his balance and nimble feet for a big man…Fundamentally and technically sound…Has very short arms (30½ inches), which may keep some teams away completely because he will have a difficult time keeping aggressive DTs away from his body and pushing him backward….Durability is a significant concern…Isn't overly aggressive (or effective) blocking at the second level…Didn't work out at the Combine, receiving a medical exclusion as he recovers from left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. PROJECTION: He was likely going to be a Day 2 pick, but a prospect with a shoulder problem is a risk/reward type pick that typically isn't made until the sixth or seventh round.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State, 6-4¼, 313
Brandon Linder, Miami, 6-5¾, 311
Dakota Dozier, Furman, 6-3¾, 313
John Urschel, Penn State, 6-3, 313
Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt, 6-5½, 297
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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