Third Round, 72nd Pick
Brian Winters is a former high school wrestler and an intriguing talent upfront. During his collegiate career, this big-bodied workhorse has demonstrated impressive durability where he played almost exclusively at either right or left tackle, while setting a Kent State record for 50 career starts.
Winters strikes me as a guy who will struggle to see the field in his early years, as he needs to improve upon several aspects of his game in order to stop NFL defenders consistently.
He will also be forced to learn a new position as he likely moves inside to guard or center, which should come with some obvious growing pains. However, if guard is his ultimate landing spot at the next level, it will also cover up some of his spatial deficiencies while accenting his ability to anchor and hold his ground.
Although Winters was indeed the noticeably stronger guy in his matchups throughout his career, he often failed to demonstrate true, dominant play against marginal talent. His invite to participate in the Senior Bowl gave him a valuable opportunity to show he can hold against some of the best prospects in the country.
Winters tends to be labeled as a finisher, yet that’s something which only happens on occasion. Typically he’s more of a “three-second” type guy, meaning he tends to let up after an imaginary three-count.
Winters will not be physically abused by guys at the next level and does have the power and core strength to control and keep his body in front of the defender. In a small space, Winters does have the necessary foot quickness to dance with defenders.
He also shows a useful, yet controlled anger, which plays favorably into his toughness. Some of his more impressive skill sets are his aggressive cut-blocking abilities along with a strong vice-like grip which stymies defenders regularly.
Brian struggles to block in space or on the move. He gets swung around because he leans in too often and keeps his arms too tight into his body. His short arms and tendency to hold are also cause for concern. Having those shorter arms might contribute to him being more of a grabber rather than a puncher.
Winters lacks body control and change-of-direction, as evidenced in his tendency to miss blocks and fall on the ground often. This can also mean his overall ability to balance is of concern or, at the very least, under question.
This 6’4”, 320-pound mountain of a man uses his strength well on a football field. However, his relatively short arms (33 inches) should limit his positional versatility at the next level. He has decent speed for a guy of his size, which gives him suddenness and quickness in his movements, especially on cut blocks.
Coming from a wrestling background should also aid in his understanding of leverage and improve grappling technique. Couple that with his core strength and strong arms and it's difficult for even the best defensive prospects to generate movement on him, as shown on numerous occasions throughout Senior Bowl week.
Winters is one of the more reliable guys in this draft. If you believe availability is one of the most valuable abilities, then Winters is surely among the top of his class, having started every game since arriving on campus, including all 12 games as a true freshman.
Respected by coaches and teammates, Winters was voted offensive team captain his senior year. He has a clean injury record and no known character concerns to date.
Winters is a guy who struggles when asked to attack a defender’s play-side shoulder and is not the good combo blocker he was made out to be. He looks most comfortable and capable in a man-blocking scheme where he can drive his legs into the guy in front of him and create push. Besides, his toughness and aggression are better served in a power-running scheme. This would play more to his strengths while covering up some of his weaknesses in space.
NFL.com’s player profile suggests “he can be an NFL starter in a zone-blocking scheme.” But tape study would indicate the opposite. Perhaps his impressive display of speed at the NFL combine will give some zone-blocking teams faith in his abilities.
He is not a natural pass-blocker but does play with a nice wide base, which helps him against the bull-rush. Have yet to see decent footwork out of him or proper technique in his kick-slide. This, however, can be coached if needed but will likely be unnecessary considering his switch to guard.
His lateral movement is poor, and he gets caught flat-footed against guys who are shifty.
He's not necessarily a finisher of his blocks, though he has shown this ability at times. Guys who are true finishers of blocks rack up a large amount of “pancake blocks,” which is defined by driving the defender onto his back where he is then “pancaked.” Winters does not generate many of these blocks throughout the course of the game, which is significant considering the competition level of the Mid-American Conference relative to the NFL.
His blocking agenda seems to be geared more toward walling off on the backside of plays and simply sustaining just long enough. He shows pretty good tenacity and leg drive when blocking head-up or play-side.
Blocking in Space/Recovery
One of his common tendencies is spending a little bit too much time looking around for the ball-carrier rather than finding a guy to block downfield.
When pulling or advancing to the second level, he often overruns or misses his blocks and ends up falling on his face. Limited athleticism makes it difficult for him to recover, and although he is a big guy, he lacks reach and balance. He doesn’t help himself by taking poor attack angles either, which force him to use physical gifts he simply does not possess.
Winters has a bad habit of being a heavy leaner, trying to stick his facemask into the chest of his opponent, which eliminates his vision and causes him to be pushed around where he then loses his balance.
His functional strength has allowed him to play with a high pad level in pass protection most of his career and get away with it. But at the next level, this must be corrected by getting more bend in his knees.
Winters does not have the frame or the length to play tackle in the NFL. He has limited positional versatility and will be relegated primarily to offensive guard or potentially center. He should do pretty decent playing inside where he can showcase both strength and toughness, while not having to move much in space.
His biggest obstacle will be improving his balance and body control along with refining his initial punch and hand technique. Where he gets in trouble most often is when he puts his head down and starts grabbing.