B/R CFB 250: Top 15 Interior Offensive Linemen in College Football
Editor's note: This is the fifth installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.
Interior linemen often go unnoticed compared to their outside counterparts, the cornerstone left tackles who get all the accolades for protecting the quarterback. This season is no different, as the guards and centers travel more under the radar than the high-profile tackles.
Guards and centers are integral to the efforts of a team in both the run and the pass. These are the guys who take care of the push from the defensive tackles and handle the defenders who attempt to penetrate between the center and guard. A quality interior lineman needs good pass protection and high level run-blocking skills.
We looked around the nation, viewing run-heavy and pass-heavy schemes in putting together this list. Looking at both pass- and run-blocking, we’ve put together the B/R CFB 250 list for the best collegiate interior linemen. And if there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.
Keep in mind, these interior linemen are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projection at the end of each player slide.
15. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
Ikard uses his quickness to get great results against bigger bodies at the defensive tackle spot. He is a center who does a good job of setting protections and blocking the short drops of the Sooners’ passing attack. His issues come into play when asked to block for extended periods of time.
Despite being smaller than most interior defensive linemen, Ikard is a quality run blocker. He works hard at the point of attack and sees good success getting defenders to move laterally in the run game. Powerful defenders can push him off the point, and that disrupts the run game quickly.
Oklahoma’s unwillingness to stick to a scheme hurt Ikard and the offense as a whole. He showed signs of success when OU committed to the run, but he was taken advantage of in major spots against defenses committed to getting interior push.
3rd Round—Upside is there, but has to get better pushing the pile in the run game.
14. Robert Kugler, Purdue
Kugler, a converted tight end, is a smallish body at the position, and thus, both his reach and power are tested in pass protection. Bigger bodies can collapse him into the quarterback’s lap. That said, he is a fighter who uses good leverage and can reroute oncoming traffic to buy his QB time.
Here is where Kugler has earned the respect of opponents. As a smaller body, he uses his quickness to beat bigger athletes to the point and works a low pad level to create seams for his running backs. He is much better in zone blocking and getting defenders moving side-to-side than he is in drive schemes.
Kugler’s star is not as bright because of Purdue’s lack of production on offense. Teams are loading up the box and limiting the Boilermakers’ effectiveness, but the center continues to excel.
5th Round—Lack of drive powering the run and delayed reaction time in pass protection have to improve.
13. Shane McDermott, Miami (Fla.)
McDermott is the biggest reason that Miami has moved close to the national lead in fewest sacks given up. He’s a smart player who puts his team in the right protections and then uses good technique to stop defenders’ advancements. He passes off blocks well to both guards, and he is capable of handling nose pressure very well after getting the snap off.
Although McDermott is not great at moving tackles with drive blocking, he has a lot of success with zone blocking. The junior gets tackles moving laterally very well, and when he is the help blocker, he secures his first assignment before moving to the second level and becoming a problem for linebackers.
McDermott is a quality center who fits the bill for a team that wants to be balanced against both the run and the pass. He is athletic enough to be dynamic in run blocking and moving bodies laterally. He also understands how to set protections against shifting defenses.
5th Round—A smart player who doesn't lock on and move defenders.
12. Blake Treadwell, Michigan State
Treadwell is the rare Spartans lineman who is better at pass protection than he is in run blocking. He passes stunts and blitzes off to the tackle and center well, and he does a great job keeping his base, shuffling to face up pressing defenders.
Treadwell is not the mauler that one would expect at the guard position for a run-focused offense, but he is a very good technician at the position. He uses quickness and technique to control the defender in front of him. If he can get to the second level, he will push to bully a linebacker.
The Spartans senior is a very good pass protector, playing for a team that runs the ball the bulk of the time. He is equipped with solid run-blocking skills, although knocking defensive tackles off the mark is not his forte.
6th Round—Has the power to be a player, but lacks the agility to be a starter.
11. David Andrews, Georgia
Andrews operates out of a traditional pro-style set and does a great job setting protections and then helping both guards and/or picking up blitzers. He has solid quickness that lets him control his area and stop defender’s advancements.
In the run game, the Georgia center is a solid positional blocker. He does not move bodies routinely at the point of attack, but he does use his technique and body control to create rushing lanes for the back. Powerful tackles can get push on Andrews.
Andrews is a very good center and has great control over what happens on the field, including both the run and the pass. What Andrews lacks in power he makes up for with his quickness and technique at the position.
5th Rd.—A grinder who needs to improve his burst and speed before heading to the NFL.
10. Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
Su’a-Filo is very good at man-on blocking against the pass. He maintains a good pad level and can control one-on-one blocking situations. His issues come with a changing defensive alignment or pressure from depth. Su’a-Filo struggles to pass off defenders to the tackle or center and then engage the charging added rusher.
The UCLA junior is athletic and aggressive against the run. He fires out of his stance, tracks linebackers at the second level and moves his feet well to get sound position on defenders. Su’a-Filo doesn’t bring a lot of power to his blocks, but he does bring good technique, and that creates space in the run game.
Su’a-Filo is a good guard and is having a solid season. When he has a faced-up assignment, he is a sure thing thanks to his technique and athleticism. If he improves his ability to move defenders off the point, he can improve his standing among the nation’s elite.
Early 2nd Round— An earth mover in the run game, just needs to get better protecting the passer.
9. Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M
Harrison is good at moving his feet to face up blockers. He transitions to handle stunts very well and gets his hands on the defender with a solid impact. However, Harrison allows his base to get wide at times, and that lets strong bull-rushers get a good push on him.
His positives in the run game are rooted in athleticism. When he gets the jump off the line, Harrison can move and track defenders well. He can climb to the second level and knock down linebackers, but quicker or bigger defenders sometimes give him trouble.
Harrison is a high-quality guard for the Aggies. The bulk of his deficiencies are masked by the athleticism of his quarterback. He moves well in space, but does need to focus on keeping his base to be consistent in technique.
6th Round—Good in a spread scheme, but has to prove he works in a pro scheme.
8. Anthony Steen, Alabama
Steen is the quintessential Nick Saban interior lineman: great technique, good power and the ability to consistently get things done. In pass protection, he keeps a good base, is capable of deciphering stunts and has a punch that knocks defenders off track.
Here is where Steen’s power gets to take center stage. He is at his best getting on top of defenders and pushing bodies out of the way. Thanks to Bama’s use of more zone-heavy runs, he gets to show his athleticism in getting to the second level to move linebackers.
Steen is Steady Eddie on the Alabama offensive line. He’s a good pass-blocker who closes down gaps and helps out his center, and he is a very good run-blocker who gives plenty of space to T.J. Yeldon.
Early 2nd Round—Powerful and stout, but struggles in pass protection when blocking alone.
7. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Grasu is capable in pass protection, and he blocks Oregon’s slide protections and rollout schemes quite well thanks to his athleticism. He’s not a big body, but he has good feet, gets a good punch and can move laterally to get in front of rushers to protect the quarterback.
In the run game, Grasu proves his worth with that top-level athleticism at the position. He moves well in the Ducks’ zone-blocking scheme and is able to get bigger defenders moving sideways so that he can control them and open run lanes. Grasu can move, and that ability allows him to reach defenders and give backs seams to run through.
He is one of the best true spread centers in college football. He moves laterally as well as any lineman in the nation and brings quality understanding and technique to the scheme. He is not a massive body who moves defenders with drive blocking, but he is great at getting defensive tackles to move laterally and then directing them to create openings.
Late 2nd Rd. — An exceptional athlete with first-round upside.
6. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
The Hogs center is quick off the ball and uses good hand placement against bigger defenders. As long as the senior keeps his pad level low and stays under control, he can control the line of scrimmage and stop defenders from walking him back into the quarterback.
Although a knee injury took away a little of Swanson’s mobility, he has played well in the run game. Swanson is quick enough to pull out in front of the back, and he shows a knack for getting to the second level and targeting defenders.
One of the nation’s best centers, although he did not have the season he wanted to have in 2013. Being asked to pass protect for an inexperienced quarterback gave defenders more time to work on him and the entire offensive line. Swanson excelled against the run.
Early 2nd Rd. — Has potential, but has to be smarter about picking up blitzes.
5. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Richburg is one of college football’s headiest players on the interior of a line. He has elite quickness after the snap and the ability to stay low on larger defensive linemen in order to redirect them and keep them from pushing through to the quarterback.
Richburg has good technique from the center spot and that same elite quickness. He is one of the few centers who is comfortable pulling out after snapping the ball, and his speed allows him to lead his running backs down the field. Richburg does struggle with bigger bodies in zone blocking. They are able to move him off his point and get penetration into the backfield.
The Colorado State senior is a high-level center. He moves with great quickness and his technique is among the best in the country. What he lacks in power he more than makes up for with his low pad level, leverage and knack for beating defenders to the spot.
4th Rd. — Sleeper potential, he just needs to get better at timing his blocks.
4. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Jackson is a quality pass-protection guard. As long as he can get his hands on the rusher, he can control the action in a tremendous way. Blitzers and rushers working angles give him trouble, but Jackson has the ability to ride them past the quarterback when he cannot get in front of them.
Gabe Jackson has high-level hand placement and an ability to lock onto defenders in the run game. He keeps his hands tight and delivers a wallop when he gets to the opponent. Jackson also tracks well at the second level or when he is pulling to pick up his targets and clear a path.
Jackson is a high-level guard for Mississippi State. What he lacks in true foot quickness he makes up for with length and the ability to redirect defenders. He’s a fighter in the pass game and a guy who is looking to get on top of defenders when blocking the run.
Early 2nd Rd. — Run blocking power is exceptional, but gets lost in pass pro.
3. Bryan Stork, Florida State
Stork is the leader of a quality offensive line at Florida State. His biggest strength in pass protection is his ability to diagnose multiple defenses. That said, Stork is also a brilliant technician at the center position, using great hand placement, quickness and low pad level to keep defenders off balance and out of the backfield.
The Florida State senior transitions into run blocking quickly after the snap, and his quickness allows him to get on top of defensive linemen and move bodies at the point of attack. Stork is good at moving laterally to block zone runs, and he is able to get to the second level with power and control to help spring running backs.
Stork is having the best season for any center in the nation. He consistently puts Florida State into the right protections, wins his one-on-one battles and shows great athleticism to get out into space. He is the guy you want in the middle of an offensive line.
4th Rd. — Mobile and smart, but needs to get stronger at the point of attack.
2. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Richardson is the best player on Baylor’s offensive line. That is most evident in pass protection. The senior moves well for a massive human being, but his biggest assets are his length and power. He can knock defenders off line with his punch, and his length allows him to carry stunting defenders down to the center or out to the tackles.
Even though Baylor operates as a zone-blocking team, that does not stop the Bears from being rooted in power. Richardson fires off the ball and has to work on staying low, but his raw power is amazing to watch in run blocking. He pushes defenders off the point, and when he gets a shot to hit linebackers at the next level, he does not waste them.
Richardson is a force, perhaps the most powerful player on the interior line this season. He moves bodies, is athletic enough to be a problem at the second level and is a quality pass protector.
Late 1st Rd. — Combines power with quickness, just needs to refine his pass pro sets.
1. David Yankey, Stanford
Yankey is a solid pass protector from the interior. He handles stunts extremely well, is able to move laterally inside the box with great control and packs a tremendous punch with his hands. He is the rare mauler in pass protection. He can control defenders and bury them because his game is so technically sound and he has elite strength.
Power is the name of the game for the Cardinal, and that starts with Yankey. The senior keeps his pad level low to leverage defensive tackles and root them out of position. He is a monster at the second level who knocks out linebackers when given a chance to run.
Yankey is the best interior lineman in college football and, as the numbers show, one of the top players at any position in the nation. Yankey excels at blocking for both the run and pass. He is the linchpin for the nation’s most physically imposing rushing attack.
Late 1st Rd. — Pure technique, and strength to push the pile. Top guard potential.
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