NFL Combine 2014 Results: Analyzing Top Offensive Linemen from Indianapolis

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NFL Combine 2014 Results: Analyzing Top Offensive Linemen from Indianapolis
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Not much appreciation goes out to offensive linemen. When a team scores a ton of points, they are overshadowed by the flashy skill position players, and they are chastised when their mistakes are glaring.

At the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, the big men up front who will help protect a future quarterback and drive the offense's operation were able to dodge that scrutiny. In front of pro scouts, coaches and other evaluators and spectators, several prospects were able to show off unique athleticism for their massive size at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

This was an excellent opportunity for those from smaller programs to step up on the high-profile stage and for those projected near the top of the NFL draft to prove they were worth the hype.

The combine wrapped up on Tuesday, so let's break down some of the best offensive linemen from this deep draft class, headlined by three potential first-round, franchise tackles.

 

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Taylor Lewan Combine Numbers and Measurements
Height Weight Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash Bench Press Broad Jump Vertical Leap 3-Cone Drill 20-yard shuttle
6'7" 309 lbs 33 7/8" 9 1/4" 4.87 29 reps 117" 30.5" 7.39 4.49

Source: NFL.com

In just about every category, Lewan was among the top performers, which reflects his tenacity as a competitor and the general tough attitude he brings to the gridiron.

Protecting for mobile quarterbacks such as Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner at the end of his college career forced Lewan to be ready for anything—and block for any duration of time throughout his career in Ann Arbor. Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com reported how Lewan felt about his all-around solid game:

Between a marked improvement as a senior, hard work in the weight room and conditioning, it's feasible that Lewan would have been drafted in the first round even if he didn't participate in the combine for some reason.

Lewan instead took the field in Indianapolis, participated in every drill asked of him and shined across the board, confirming all the positive characteristics about himself. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compared Lewan to the likes of Auburn's Greg Robinson in terms of athleticism:

The NFL's official Twitter account labeled Lewan in an appropriate manner after he'd cruised down the white strip on the Lucas Oil Stadium sideline:

At a towering 6'7" and just 309 pounds, the former Wolverine is nimble, has quick feet and should serve as a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle at the next level. His ability to get to the second level of the front seven is also impressive, and that was evident in his fast 40-yard dash time.

All signs point to Lewan as a first-round draft choice who may work his way into the top 10 after a sensational display this past weekend.

 

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Jake Matthews Combine Numbers and Measurements
Height Weight Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash Bench Press Broad Jump Vertical Leap 3-Cone Drill 20-yard shuttle
6'5" 308 lbs 33 3/8" 9 7/8" 5.07 24 reps 105" 30.5" 7.34 4.47

Source: NFL.com

Filling the shoes of Luke Joeckel—the 2013 draft's No. 2 overall pick—and blocking for perhaps the biggest college football star in history in QB Johnny Manziel put a lot of pressure on Matthews this past season.

The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews has also had quite the legacy to live up to throughout his life as a player. None of that hype nor the bright spotlight have prevented him from playing at a high level.

Matthews has had to undoubtedly learn to block out the noise and go about his business in a quiet but effective manner. So at the combine, perhaps no one was better prepared to face the gauntlet than the two-time Aggies All-American.

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Although he doesn't possess quite the gifted athleticism that Lewan and Robinson have, the 22-year-old tackle did his part in convincing NFL personnel that he is indeed worthy of an early first-round draft choice.

The 40-yard dash wasn't impressive, no, but Matthews had better lower-body explosiveness than anticipated with his vertical and broad jumps. His change of direction also stood out on the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.

What helps Matthews in terms of game tape is that he's played both left and right tackle. If he were to be chosen as the first lineman off the board—a distinct possibility—he would be different from last year's top overall selection in Eric Fisher in that he wouldn't be averse to positional flexibility.

In his evaluation for NFL.com, Nolan Nawrocki indicates that Matthews is capable of playing any position on the offensive line:

Smart, tough, versatile franchise left tackle capable of playing all five positions on the line. Can plug into a starting lineup immediately and will play a long time at a consistently high level. One of the safest picks in the draft, Matthews' best position might even be center.

Even with borderline athleticism, Matthews could win any scout over with his fundamentals and football IQ.

Since he put up respectable totals at the combine, his status as a top-10 pick appears to be cemented. Matthews' measurements and his skill set suggest All-Pro potential.

 

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Greg Robinson Combine Numbers and Measurements
Height Weight Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash Bench Press Broad Jump Vertical Leap 3-Cone Drill 20-yard shuttle
6'5" 332 lbs 35" 10" 4.92 32 reps 113" 28.5" 7.80 4.86

Source: NFL.com

Playing in an up-tempo, run-heavy offense under head coach Gus Malzahn—and against SEC competition—should prepare Robinson for anything thrown his way at the next level.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We see a clear trend here amongst the most athletic and top-flight offensive tackles. All of them blocked for mobile quarterbacks, which enhances their NFL marketability, since the QB position is trending that way.

Robinson wasn't as fleet of foot in the three-cone drill or in the 20-yard shuttle, but he crushed all the other drills and may be the best all-around prospect in terms of technique and pure talent. Among his notable numbers were 32 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, a 113" broad jump and his 4.92-second 40-yard dash.

Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report wrote an extensive combine feature on Robinson for SportsOnEarth.com and revealed in the beginning that Robinson was actually sick with a head cold the whole week in Indianapolis:

The week before the combine, the Auburn offensive tackle caught a head cold. It settled in his nose and throat, and it hung on. He took a decongestant the whole week and quietly went about his business. Every night in Indianapolis, before bed he went through a light workout to try to 'sweat it out.'

That makes Robinson's workout at Lucas Oil Stadium all the more impactful, and Miller believes that Robinson's efforts vaulted him over Matthews as the top tackle in the class:

First among those in need of an offensive tackle in the draft are the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 overall. However, they could very well trade out of that spot. Other teams are searching for quarterbacks, and the Rams need as many assets as possible to compete in the tough NFC West.

The fact that Robinson could have tested even better suggests that his best is yet to come. It wasn't often that he had to pass protect at Auburn, so that is something he will have to work at and polish up his technique on.

But with the natural feel he has for the position, a willingness to take coaching and his toughness, Robinson is a true blue-chip tackle who could very well be the first from his position off the board in May.

 

Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada

Joel Bitonio Combine Numbers and Measurements
Height Weight Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash Bench Press Broad Jump Vertical Leap 3-Cone Drill 20-yard shuttle
6'4" 302 lbs 33 7/8" 9 5/8" 4.97 22 reps 114" 32" 7.37 4.44

Source: NFL.com

Now that all the expected, premier prospects have been broken down, let's look at someone from a less heralded program in Bitonio who bolstered his stock with amazing numbers.

Other than a mediocre 22 reps on the bench, Bitonio was among the top performers in every other drill. Compared to the other offensive linemen, he was second in the vertical and broad jumps, third in both the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drills and fourth in the 40-yard dash.

NFL Network expert Mike Mayock said Bitonio's "tape was good," was impressed with his combine and said Bitonio is a second-round prospect, per Chris Murray of the Reno-Gazette Journal:

Bitonio is rather light at 302 pounds, but speaking of players who have the chops to play anywhere in the trenches, he is like Matthews in that sense. The Wolf Pack product has the athleticism to be a pull guard and a center if NFL players prove too much for him to handle on the outside.

Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com was at the combine to report what Bitonio had to say about himself and what he would bring to an NFL team:

Despite playing against a lesser level of competition than some of his more acclaimed peers, it appears Bitonio has both the physical tools and mental makeup to handle the adjustment from the college level to the pros. Time will tell if he pans out—and if NFL front offices feel comfortable enough to take him earlier.

The combine is about helping oneself climb up all 32 teams' draft boards, demonstrating a willingness to compete and standing out from the crowd. Saturday's showcase from Bitino gave no one a reason to move his needle anywhere but up.

Note: All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.

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