They are blindside protectors and road graders in the run game. They're the cornerstones of an offensive line and the men called on to protect the $100 million men in the backfield. A great offensive lineman may not get a ton of notice on Sundays, until you don't have one. Then the world is ending for your team and your quarterback.
What do NFL teams look for when scouting offensive linemen? Size and speed are tops on the list, but technique is important too. Hand use, timing, balance and a powerful base are among the most important traits of an elite offensive lineman. You can see the full list in our "How to Scout" series, but the idea is to find a big man who moves like a small man and hits like a heavyweight. Easy, right?
As the 2014 NFL draft nears, these are the 10 best offensive linemen in the class. Big and bigger. Strong and stronger. These are the best of the best.
A big man on the inside of the offensive line, UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo has the movement and power teams want from the offensive guard position. That's what makes him one of the top 10 linemen in the 2014 draft class.
Su'a-Filo is more than just a power guard locking on and clearing out rushing lanes, though. He's patient and shows the balance and punch to be a factor in the passing game. Ask him to come up off the ball and protect the quarterback and he'll do it with a smooth slide and mirror ability.
Need a left guard in your favorite team's depth chart? You want this mammoth guard in there.
Ohio State does a great job putting offensive linemen into the NFL, and Jack Mewhort is the next man on the list.
A left tackle by trade, Mewhort has the tools to potentially play right or left tackle in the pros. He definitely has the length and the strength to play on either side. His game film shows a powerful first step and the leverage to lock on and move defenders out in the run game. And while his pass protection can be hit-or-miss when facing speed-rushers, Mewhort is tough to move off his spot against power.
He's a bit rough around the edges if you want him protecting the quarterback's back, but Mewhort could be a starter at right tackle immediately and has the projected upside to move to the left side down the road.
The top-ranked center in the 2014 NFL draft class, Arkansas' Travis Swanson is as pro-ready as they come. As the leader of the offensive line and as a man responsible for calling the shots pre-snap, Swanson is ready. Not to mention his play after the snap, which is pretty good too.
Swanson has the strength to hold his own in man-blocking situations against nose tackles or an inside pass rush. He's able to slide his feet and reach 3-technique defensive tackles, too, and has shown the ability to combo block and get to the second level to reach linebackers.
Whether he's locked in the middle or tracking down linebackers, Swanson is ready to be anchoring an NFL offensive line in 2014.
Morgan Moses is a mountain of a man lined up at left tackle. He's tall. He's long. And he's strong enough to push the pile or stonewall pass-rushers coming off the edge. Moses passes the eyeball test and then some when you look at this athletic ability and his overwhelming size.
That's what NFL scouts will see when they turn on the Virginia game film. A big, long tackle with the ideal ratio of quickness, balance and reach. The technique might not be Joe Thomas-level, but that can and will be coached up at the next level. And that's the key here.
The NFL is all about height, weight and speed at most positions, and when you're as big and as strong as Moses, you're going to find a home early in the NFL draft.
The best pure guard in the 2014 NFL draft class, Stanford's David Yankey is an NFL-ready stud in the interior of the offensive line. Draft him, assign him a number and put him in your starting lineup for the next decade. It's that easy.
Yankey is a technician first and foremost. He is an athlete, and he is strong, but his hand placement and timing are some of the best you'll see from a college guard. And he uses his fluid movement ability to complement just how smart he is about angles, leverage and timing. And when a player can mesh the two together, you know he's special.
Yankey may not be as big and strong as other guard prospects, but his ability to lock and clear out in both the run game and in pass protection makes him my top-rated guard.
Play him at guard or at offensive tackle—it really doesn't matter. Wherever you want to line up Zack Martin, he's going to excel. That much has been shown time and time again in his college film and during a full week of practices at the Senior Bowl.
Martin is the real deal, and his versatility is just another part of what you love about his game. He's stout enough and smart enough to use his leverage and quickness to stop edge-rushers, but on the inside, his smaller height and shorter arms wouldn't be an issue. In fact, for some NFL teams, they'd be a benefit as a taller guard can be a bad thing in some scouting departments.
Martin is, at the end of the day, a quality offensive lineman who can play four spots on the offensive line. Draft him. You won't be disappointed.
Alabama offensive linemen are doing pretty well in the NFL right now. There's D.J. Fluker dominating in San Diego during his first season. There's perennial All-Pro guard Evan Mathis. And soon there will be Cyrus Kouandjio.
The big left tackle doesn't have the athleticism of Ryan Clady or Duane Brown, but he's powerful at the point of attack and can easily move most defenders off their spot. He also comes with a ton of upside and raw potential. Like Fluker, there's a good chance he's a better pro than college player. That's what NFL teams are banking on.
Kouandjio has incredible raw tools, which can be encouraging and also dangerous. The team that drafts him has to believe in its ability to develop him, but in a worst-case scenario, he's a damned-good right tackle for a long time. Best-case scenario, he's your blindside protector for more than a decade.
Top to bottom, Taylor Lewan's career at Michigan has been the picture of what a top prospect should look like in college. He's been a pillar of consistency and top play in a major conference against some of the best defenders in the country. And week after week, he's played as well as anyone.
Lewan may not be the athlete the two players ranked ahead of him can claim to be, but he makes up for that with excellent technique and punching ability as a pass protector. He won't win any footraces, but when asked to step off the line and kick-slide to protect, Lewan excels. When asked to fire off the ball and drive block a defender in the run game, he's more than capable.
Cleaning up some minor technical issues with Lewan's balance will be easy. And if a team does that, he could be an All-Pro at the next level.
When you think of blue-chip offensive tackle prospects, Jake Matthews definitely comes to mind. He's polished, smooth and rarely makes a mistake in space. He's NFL-ready and has the bloodlines to prove it. The last name "Matthews" carries plenty of weight in the NFL, and Jake is ready to live up to that promise.
Looking at his game film, you see a young man with smooth footwork when reaching to the left or right. He's experienced playing either tackle position and has the length to punch and knock edge-rushers off their path. And if you come chest-to-chest with him, he's strong enough to bend his back, sink his weight and stop you cold.
The biggest knock on Matthews might be that he's as good as he'll ever be. And if that's the case? He's still pretty dang good.
There are times in NFL scouting when we, as evaluators, bite too hard on potential and promise instead of the here and now. When it comes to Greg Robinson, it's a little of both.
Robinson is as athletically dominant as any left tackle prospect I can remember evaluating since I started doing this way back in 2002. He's aggressive, so fast and has the length to reach players you'd never expect him to get to. And in the run game, good luck. He's mean and uses his big frame to get low and drive defenders way off the ball.
Robinson is a project in the passing game, but when evaluating redshirt sophomores you have to look at their developmental potential. And Robinson's is as high as any player I can remember. If his pass-protection technique gets refined—and he's already good enough to dominate on athleticism alone—then we're looking at a player with "best in the league" potential.