Fifth Round: 168th Pick
Ricky Wagner is the type of prospect that could make quite a few NFL draft analysts look silly.
He could end up being really good.
But analysts are spooked. After a senior season hampered by injury and a Senior Bowl week that drew generally bad reviews, Wagner seems to be thought of as a tackle who is likely to come off the board no earlier than Day 3.
Wagner came into the 2012 season a favorite for the Outland Trophy, and a player touted as a possible first-round pick in 2013. There are reasons for confidence in Wagner, but there are also reasons for concern.
We always start with feet, because feet are the single-most important thing to watch in offensive tackles, and any position, really. Athleticism starts in the feet.
Wagner's feet are adequate but sluggish. He makes a good power step because he is a generally disciplined player. He keeps his knees bent, eyes up and hips aligned. Once engaged with the defender, (especially against a speed rush) his feet sometimes get "stuck in cement" as we'll get to.
Motor, Toughness and Power
Wagner has a motor on him. He plays with the type of temperament that NFL offensive line coaches love, and comes from a Wisconsin power-run game that takes pride in salty attitudes through the trenches.
The toughness is there, too. Wagner loves to latch onto a defender and drive.
The power is the issue. What shows up on film showed up at the NFL scouting combine. His measly 20 reps on bench show up in his game, but so does the impressive 31" inch vertical jump. Wagner is explosive, but lacks true, brute finishing strength thus far in both the run and passing games.
Quickness, Agility and Balance
This is where we talk about Wagner getting his feet in cement. Far too often, when the rush comes to the outside, Wagner plants his feet as something of a last defense. He is a player that likes to "latch and drive" in the run game—which is a trait to love—but, as a pass blocker, sometimes he will latch on to a defensive end with planted feet. This can look an awful lot like holding at the NFL level.
This run play will be coming directly inside Wagner's right hip, and his only job in this assignment is to hold up the point of attack and simply leave a little bit of room for Montee Ball to squeeze through. As you'll see, the fullback will be coming to the tackle's outside in order to pick up the scraping linebacker and block him out, as well.
Things do not start out as planned for Wagner. While the defense has recognized the fullback's motion away from the tight end, the unit's movement is all generally aiming play side, except for Wagner's assignment, who has attacked Wagner's inside shoulder directly where the hole should be.
"Just holding up" at the point of attack was all that needed to be done on this play, though, and Wagner gets planted and uses positioning and power to move the man outside just enough to create what seems like a small crease for Ball to slip through.
When looking at the end-zone camera, though, things look different. Wagner holds the point of attack beautifully in this play, and while he does not exhibit the power to blow the defender off the line of scrimmage, it is hard to block a play more perfectly as a unit than this.
This is how Ricky Wagner can get his feet in cement. There is no "holding up" in pass-blocking. A pass blocker should always be on the balls of his feet and in athletic position. "Planting" your feet against a pass rush is a surefire way to get beat, and as we'll see here, a great way to end up holding.
This is the biggest issue in Wagner's game, and one of the main reasons he consistently appears to be "latched on" to defenders coming at his quarterback. It isn't the "good" kind of "latched on," though. Not the same kind of "latch on and drive" trait we see out of road-grading maulers in the 2013 class like D.J. Fluker and Eric Fisher.
The defender gives a great head fake to start this play which leads to quite a mess for Wagner.
The defender aims back inside after giving the initial outside head fake, and delivers his bull rush. Wagner's hips have opened up to a point that can be exploited, and his general balance and positioning are beginning to fall to pieces as no contact comes from the area his power base is set to defend against.
This is just awful. It's hard to know where to start with all that is wrong with this picture. Wagner lost this battle when the head fake initially occurred, and this is why. His feet are an absolute mess. They are planted in the ground and much wider than shoulder-width apart. His weight is on his heels, and he is bent over at the waist.
This is the definition of "overextended," and it's almost as if he is having to "hold on" to the defender's jersey at the shoulder pads just to stay up.
And as is generally the case with Wagner, this leads to holding—a common theme. You love the nastiness he plays with and the love for "attaching" to players and being sticky, but it's a hard trait to love when it happens as a result of poor technique to start. This hold occurs in the wide-open and would be called as such in the NFL.
But, all is well that ends well, right?
Wagner is a player who coaching staffs will like having on board, and scouting departments know it. He's not a flashy prospect, but he comes from a great program and plays with an exceptional urgency. Wagner has long arms and a big, solid power base that he can continue to grow into. NFL teams can't teach motor and they can't teach "mean."
In the 2013 NFL draft, Wagner is a late-third- or early-fourth-round talent who is currently being undervalued.
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