Last season, I had a series of positional rankings posts heading into the NFL Draft, in which I took a look at several positions specifically related to the 49ers. Hindsight makes me look silly, but as I'm already working on a post that highlights everything I've gotten wrong over the years in regards to the 49ers, I'm totally alright with admitting that. I'll hang my hat on some decent picks here and there and know that I'm not a total blathering ninny.
We've not much time until the 2012 NFL Draft, so I'm going to condense these a little bit and focus solely on positions that are of interest to the 49ers. As such, we're going to begin with a look at the guard and center positions. While the 49ers are going to involve Alex Boone in the battle for the right guard position against Daniel Kilgore, that battle has always been a triple threat match with "TBA" penciled in. It's a surprise main event, though as with any surprise, leaks have come out here and there.
That leak being the fact that the 49ers will almost assuredly grab a guard or center in the early rounds of the draft. History shows us that the first round isn't necessarily the place to get your Pro Bowl interior linemen, but there is a strong class, with some exceedingly high potential guys in the top-end. I'd have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to some of them. At any rate, let's make the jump and take a look at my rankings, shall we?
Interior Lineman Prospect Rankings
|G David DeCastro, Stanford
|6'4'', 316 lbs
|G Cordy Glenn, Georgia
|6'5'', 348 lbs
|G Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State
|6'3'', 324 lbs
|C Peter Konz, Wisconsin
|6'5'', 315 lbs
|G Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
|6'4'', 315 lbs
|C Ben Jones, Georgia
|6'3'', 316 lbs
|G Brandon Brooks, Miami (OH)
|6'5'', 343 lbs
|G Lucas Nix, Pittsburgh
|6'6'', 310 lbs
|C Phillip Blake, Baylor
|6'3'', 311 lbs
|G Kelechi Osmele, Iowa State
|6'6, 347 lbs
|C David Molk, Michigan
|6'1'', 298 lbs
|G Brandon Washington, Miami
|6'4'', 320 lbs
|G Jeff Allen, Illinois
|6'5'', 315 lbs
|C Michael Brewster, Ohio State
|6'5'', 305 lbs
|G Tony Bergstrom, Utah
|6'5'', 315 lbs
|G Ryan Miller, Colorado
|6'7'', 321 lbs
|G Joe Looney, Wake Forest
|6'3'', 320 lbs
|G Senio Kelemete, Washington
|6'4'', 301 lbs
|C Garth Gerhart, Arizona State
|6'1'', 305 lbs
|G Jaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech
|6'2'', 307 lbs
- A lot of people seem to think guard and center are interchangeable - this is not true for plenty of reasons, but I will say that this draft has more players who seem to be able to do it all than any other draft in recent memory. I can see at least 12 of this top 20 being able to work at left guard, center and right guard.
- That being said, ranking them all in one ranking as opposed to sectioning them off is actually a bit difficult. Mostly, it's just odd to see a ranking where Peter Koonz is No. 4, but that's just how it is, at least in my mind
- No. 8, Lucas Nix, is my offensive line draft crush and I fully expect him to be very good. Sleeper pick for sure.
- In all honesty, I believe that a good portion of the guards in the top fifteen appear to be guys who can be NFL starters, to varying degrees. It's a strong class, to be sure.
- I'm just going to go with individual thoughts on the top ten - if you want some individual thoughts on 11-20, just ask ... I had a helluva time getting this post ready and it really does blend together when you write about this many players this much.
1. David DeCastro: My absolute favorite thing about DeCastro is the fact that he's so flexible and so powerful with his stance. The guy can shift his weight like a running back and make a cut to block a speed rusher coming along the outside if he must. While this isn't something normally expected of interior linemen in a normal blocking scheme (teams generally chip with the running back in this instance), that's mostly due to player limitations as opposed to personal preference.
In a system where Anthony Davis can't quite contain the speed rushers, DeCastro could be huge. His strength isn't elite, but just about everything else he does is. Great lateral range, re-directs better than any guard in recent memory, extremely intelligent and is dominant in the run game. The bullrush can, at times, overwhelm him. If there's a player to make a move for in the first round, it's DeCastro.
2. Cordy Glenn: While DeCastro has the stance to beat them all, but lacks elite strength, Glenn doesn't have the greatest stance, but makes up for it with his strength. His stance is sturdy, don't get me wrong, there's just no lateral quickness there as it's based in strength. In other words, Glenn doesn't really drive his legs to engage blockers, and balance is a key issue. He bends too much at the waste and loses leverage, and doesn't have his head on a swivel to deal with pass rushers.
That being said, those issues come at the tackle position, and if Glenn is used as a guard (which he will be), then he stands a much better chance to get his hands on an opponent and maul them into oblivion. He's an insanely power blocker in tight spaces, and with a competent coach, can be an all-around Pro Bowl lineman. There's just a few tweaks to be made.
3. Amini Silatolu: If DeCastro doesn't have the strength and Glenn doesn't have the stance, then Silatolu is the zen to the equation. Subtract a little bit of ferocity of the hands from Glenn and a little bit of the cohesiveness of DeCastro's hips, then make it all just a little bit more raw and you have Silatolu. I've got him higher than most, and that's because I believe he can be the best guard in this class.
Some have said he's your prototypical interior lineman, but I think that's hogwash. He's better than prototypical. He's prototypical on steroids. He does need a bit of coaching though, and needs to work on his tendency to get upright and struggle as games go along. My biggest issue with Silatolu is he has a tendency to get into a slump when he gets beat once. There's no bounce-back with him, and that's one of my biggest issues with Anthony Davis at right tackle, so the two of them could be a bad combination. That being said, he's got a bit of a nasty streak and I love that about him, so it helps him a little bit. He's a hard worker who will do whatever you ask of him, is a dominant run blocker and snaps his hips with the best of them. He impacts with the force of Chilo Rachal, but is actually accurate and doesn't proceed to fall on his ass after doing it.
4. Peter Konz: I still can't get over the feeling that Konz will be a better guard than a center. I see nose guard having their way with him by getting up and under his pads, and that's why he's not No. 2 on my list like he would be on most others. He bends well, but I'm still not impressed with his pad level. His power isn't elite to make up for it, either. That being said, he's quick to make adjustments and has a strong base, which makes up for the lack of polish with his pad levels. The reason he can be a good center is his intelligence, and ability to lead and make all the calls. He's heavy-handed, and gets to where he needs to be to make use of the hands in the run game. He doesn't tip his hand, which I like a lot - he's the kind of guy who engages right there at the point of attack with little wasted movement, and for me, that's very important with an interior lineman.
5. Kevin Zeitler: He'd probably be the top guard in the class if his movement wasn't so poor. Actually, that's not true, because DeCastro exists. But yeah, you know what I'm getting at. Zeitler doesn't get off the ball quickly in the pass game .. you can actually see the delay as the rest of the line moves and then Zeitler moves. That being said, he's very strong and uses leverage well whenever he's able to get set for it. He's tough, flexible and definitely durable. He pulls very well and mauls in the run game. Zeitler is almost a finished product - he can start as a rookie, but I'm not sure there's an insanely high ceiling there. Immediate upgrade for San Francisco but not necessarily worth a first-round pick given the relatively low ceiling.
6. Ben Jones: You know something that always worries me? When two players on the same collegiate offensive line are rated so highly in the draft. You get a dominant line in college and you tend to overrate the second best player on that offensive line. That's sort of what's happening with Glenn and Jones here - I'm not sure who is actually better when it all comes down to it. Or at least, I wasn't sure until I watched a couple hours of them playing. Glenn is definitely the better player, and it needs to be said that the drop off from Konz to Jones is exceptionally large. Jones has a lot of tools, from his great leverage and ability to mirror the defender well to his intelligence and experience, but he's not very athletic and still needs a little work to be ready to start in the NFL.
7. Brandon Brooks: I'm not nearly as impressed with Brooks as some - he's slow and not athletic, and still pretty darn raw. That being said, he carries his bulk like any good run blocker and could be a serviceable starter right off the bat. He has good but not great technique, and is similar to Zeitler in the "finished product" sense. He's got a good stance, with good bend in the knees and the best part is that he's gotten much better every single year he's played. That's a definite bonus.
8. Lucas Nix: He's pretty tall, and most have questioned his longevity at the position due to it, but let me just say: Nix will be a starter in the NFL. More than that, I think he'll be very, very good - he's my sleeper pick if I ever had one. He's very athletic, but can't really block the outside well, which is why he's kicked in to guard and is not suited for a tackle position in the NFL. Nix is great with leverage and has an excellent stance. His biggest issues is working in small spaces - he can get overwhelmed at times, but he has excellent recovery and can get back in line when he needs to. Nix is very aware, and keeping the pocket clean is something he's very good at. A coach will need to work on him with his hands.
9. Phillip Blake: I rate him a bit higher than some for one reason: he's a rock. His technique isn't flawless, and he's not great on the retreat and doesn't keep a clean pocket, but the guy is a rock and powerful off the snap. He's an immediate force in the run game (powerful and hard-working, smart) and developmental in the passing game.
10. Kelechi Osmele: I'm not nearly as sold on this guy as some. Everybody talks about how long his arms are, and that leads to a ton of comparisons to huge specimens that haven't panned out. That being said, he's surprisingly quick on his feet for someone his size and that's what keeps him in the top ten. I even think he could play right tackle at some points, but he'll almost certainly end up a guard (also probably on the right side). Unfortunately, he's kind of like Isaac Sopoaga, in that his power is a bit overhyped. (Though Sopoaga has turned it on in recent years, yeah?)
So there you have it - that's my top twenty. My actual list comprises about 30 or so - have to have a cutoff at some point, so if you're interested in those, just let me know. These are the rankings as I see it - with information sourced from lots of places (ie, the weight and height), but I've spent as much time as possible watching them through public means. You should be able to find enough to make some opinions of your own. If you want more expanded thoughts on any of the players I didn't talk about, just ask. Up next: wide receivers.