NFL Draft 2014: Ranking the Most Versatile Offensive Linemen

Luke EasterlingCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2014

NFL Draft 2014: Ranking the Most Versatile Offensive Linemen

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez

    The 2014 NFL draft is full of trench warriors on offense who excel in a particular area of blocking or at their specific position.  

    But offensive linemen who have the experience and/or skill set to play multiple positions are becoming more valuable every year.

    With the frequent injuries that often occur to an offense's front five, combined with the challenge of fielding the most effective 53-man roster, NFL teams could be placing greater value on linemen who can give them increased flexibility.

    Here's a look at the 10 offensive linemen in the 2014 NFL draft who bring the most versatility and experience to the table.

     

    How They're Ranked

    Considered in these rankings were four factors:

    • Experience at multiple positions
    • Effectiveness at each position
    • Projected ability to translate experience/effectiveness to the NFL
    • Overall skill level and draft projection

    Some of these prospects might not be projected as top overall picks, but their ability to wear many different hats gives them an edge.  Others might not have much experience at a secondary position, but their skill sets and overall talent level suggest they could successfully make the switch at the next level.

    All four of the factors listed above are rolled into their final overall ranking.

Joel Bitonio, Nevada

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    Otto Kitsinger

    A first-team All-MWC pick in 2013, Joel Bitonio has seen his draft stock rise steadily throughout the offseason.  Taking over as the Wolfpack's starting left tackle as a sophomore, Bitonio never looked back and became one of the top blockers in the conference.  

    Even when matched up against top competition, such as UCLA's Anthony Barr, Bitonio turned in impressive performances.  He combines great fluidity and balance with a hard-working style of play, and his technique in both run blocking and pass protection is adequate.

    Lacking the desired combination of size and reach for an NFL tackle prospect, most scouting reports project Bitonio to be forced to slide down to the guard spot.  While Bitonio has plenty of qualities that make him an attractive prospect, his lack of experience outside of the left tackle spot makes it tough to project his success if he moves inside.  

    His skill set might make him a better fit at guard, but it's a position he's never played at a high level before, keeping him relatively low on our list despite his high draft projections.

Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    A finalist for the Campbell Trophy in 2013 (given to the college football's top scholar athlete), Gabe Ikard is a high-character guy known for his great work ethic and leadership ability.

    Though he's not the most gifted athlete, Ikard always seems to execute his assignments effectively and is a valuable, positive presence in the locker room.  The Oklahoma City native started 12 games at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2010 then split the 2011 season between guard and center.  Over his final two seasons in Norman, Ikard made 25 starts at center, giving him 50 starts in 52 career games.

    Though his overall athleticism is his biggest question mark, Ikard posted the fastest times of any center at the NFL Scouting Combine in both the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.

    An exceptional leader with great intangibles, Ikard is better suited to remain at center.  But his experience at guard gives him added value among other center prospects in this year's class.  He's projected as a late-round pick, but his experience at multiple positions allows him to slide into the lower third of the list.

Greg Robinson, Auburn

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    One of the top-rated guard prospects in the country coming out of high school, Greg Robinson's draft stock is soaring at just the right time.  A relatively late bloomer, Robinson came on strong towards the end of Auburn's improbable run to the BCS Championship Game in 2013.

    A massive mover with freak natural ability, Robinson has an outstanding combination of size and athleticism.  However, he's still an extremely raw prospect, and his technique is still in need of some major refining.  His high school experience at guard is evident in that he seems much more comfortable as a run blocker than in pass protection.

    Though he's an elite overall prospect in this year's draft, Robinson has only two years of experience at tackle at Auburn under his belt, none of it at the guard position.  Still, his ability to maul defenders in the run game could make him an elite guard prospect if things don't work out on the edge.  

    His potential to succeed at either position lands him a spot on this list.

Billy Turner, North Dakota State

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    R Brent Smith

    A member of three straight FCS National Championship teams, Billy Turner was a four year starter and two-time consensus first-team All-American.  Turner started at right tackle as a freshman before moving the to the left side the following year, where he would start 44 straight games protecting the blind side for the Bison.

    Turner sports a massive frame, great wingspan and nonstop motor.  A raw but athletically gifted prospect, the son of former NFL running back Maurice Turner has the fierce, nasty temperament that NFL teams covet in the trenches.  

    While all of Turner's college experience was at tackle, his lack of polish and technique as a pass protector might force him to slide inside to the guard spot.  But his combination of physical skills, play-to-the-whistle mentality and upside give him a spot in the lower half of these rankings.

     

Austin Wentworth, Fresno State

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    A first-team All-MWC selection in 2013, Austin Wentworth has spent the past two seasons protecting the blind side of one of the top quarterback's in this year's draft class, Derek Carr.  

    Named to the 2013 preseason watch lists for both the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy, Wentworth was the anchor in a unit that allowed Carr to be sacked just 11 times all season.

    As a sophomore in 2011, Wentworth was one of only two Bulldogs offensive linemen to start all 13 games, and he split them between two positions (right guard and right tackle).  Heading into the 2013 season, he was one of just 60 players in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision to have 30 or more starts in his career.

    Wentworth has enough strength and power to hold his own as a blindside protector, but is athletic enough to get to the second level and take on linebackers in the run game.  His agility and and quickness were even on display in the video above, as he fired out down the field to receive a lateral and walk in for a touchdown against Cal Poly.

    Wentworth is projected to go in the final stages of the draft, but his experience and success at three different positions makes him an attractive prospect.  An NFL team looking for a great depth piece who can fill in at a number of different spots will take a flyer on him late in the draft.  

    His production on both the inside and outside of the offensive line put him No. 7 spot on this list.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill

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    The CFL Scouting Bureau's top-rated CFL draft prospect, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif arrived at Canada's McGill University at 253-pound defensive lineman.  

    He leaves the Redmen as a 320-pound offensive lineman with a flurry of NFL teams interested in his services.

    After making three starts on the defensive line as a freshman, Duvernay-Tardif moved to left tackle, where he made 26 consecutive starts.  He didn't leave behind his defensive roots completely, however, often playing both ways throughout his sophomore and junior seasons.  A tough competitor with outstanding strength, "Larry" is as impressive in the classroom (studying medicine) as he is on the field.

    Though he definitely has the frame and experience to play tackle, he's projected to fit best at guard at the next level.  A menacing run blocker, Duvernay-Tardif might find that the move to guard would accentuate his strengths, as playing on the edge might expose weaknesses in his technique.  

    Still, as an impressive athlete with experience on both sides of the ball and a high ceiling, the Metras Trophy winner (Canada's top collegiate lineman) merits a spot among the most versatile blockers in this year's draft class.

Zack Martin, Notre Dame

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    Called "the best lineman I've ever coached" by Irish head coach Brian Kelly, Zack Martin soared into the first-round discussion thanks to a dominating week of practice at the Senior Bowl.  Playing in 2013 as a graduate student after finishing his degree in Management Entrepreneurship, Martin started a school-record 52 games for Notre Dame.

    Martin seems to be as "safe" a pick as any lineman in this year's class, as his combination of solid technique and natural athletic ability give him a well-rounded skill set.  He doesn't have the size or reach that you'd want from an NFL left tackle, but he did enough to convince those at the Senior Bowl that he might be able to stick at the position.  

    Though he doesn't have the game experience at guard, Martin showed enough during the practices in Mobile to make scouts believe that he can be effective if asked to move inside.  His projections to succeed at either position, as well as his virtually question-free skill set, put him in the top half of this list.

Brandon Thomas, Clemson

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    A two-time All-ACC selection, Brandon Thomas started 35 consecutive games for the Tigers, playing both guard and tackle at an extremely high level.  A permanent team co-captain, Thomas was named to the preseason watch lists for both the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award, and his on-field performance didn't disappoint those high expectations in 2013.

    At 6'3", Thomas is shorter than most top tackle prospects, but he was one of the more impressive performers during Senior Bowl week.  Despite his lack of height, Thomas has the arm length to frustrate edge-rushers and the athleticism to neutralize his first assignment and still move up to the second level.  

    Though his length and experience at both tackle spots could keep him on the outside in the NFL, he could potentially develop into a dominant player if he makes the switch to guard.  He could easily end up outplaying his mid-round draft projections, and his experience at three different positions in one of the nation's better conferences gives him the No. 3 spot in our rankings.

Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

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    Arguably the safest pick in the entire draft, Jake Matthews has been named to the All-SEC's first team at both tackle spots.  His efforts in protecting Johnny Manziel's blind side also earned him first-team All-America honors in 2013.

    A sound technician with impressive NFL bloodlines, Matthews is an extremely balanced prospect who excels both as a run blocker and pass protector.  A likely top-10 pick in last year's draft, Matthews' skill set owns no glaring weaknesses.  His versatility also gets a boost from the fact that he excelled in two very different offensive systems in 2012 and 2013, and he even spent time in 2012 as the team's long snapper.

    Matthews could be the most NFL-ready prospect in this year's class.  His high level of play at both tackle positions in the nation's toughest conference, in addition to his ability to adapt to vastly different offensive schemes, gives him a firm spot in the top shelf of these rankings.

David Yankey, Stanford

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    Just the eighth unanimous All-American in Stanford history, David Yankey helped power one of the best rushing attacks in the nation over the past three seasons.  After spending his sophomore year at left guard, Yankey moved to left tackle to replace Jonathan Martin, allowing only one sack and earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors.  

    As a senior, Yankey moved back to guard and established himself as one of the most punishing run blockers in the country, helping the Cardinal rush for a school-record 2,904 yards in 2013.  A native Australian, Yankey keeps a good center of gravity despite being 6'6", and he has a nasty disposition on the field.

    While he projects best at guard in the NFL, Yankey has both the size and experience to succeed at tackle, if needed.  His elite production at both positions against some of the nation's top competition makes him the most versatile offensive lineman in this year's class.