The San Francisco 49ers are only midway through their 2015 preseason schedule, leaving them two preseason games and 16 regular season games (and hopefully some playoff games!) until we reach the next offseason. While the NFL season is only just beginning, it is never too soon to start draft coverage! In the past, we have put together weekly prospect reports for college games on a given weekend. We have also done some work with prospect rankings later in the season.
This year, we're adding something new. I thought it would be helpful to come up with a preseason watch list for each of the main positions on both sides of the ball. We still don't even know what the 49ers roster will look like in two months, let alone next offseason. However, some folks are already going to be looking at next year's draft. And so, I wanted to get started with some top prospects at each position.
We're back today with offensive linemen (other positions linked above). Greg Valerio has a look at five offensive linemen, with three offensive tackles, two guards and one center. The list of names is far from all-inclusive, but rather some of the big names to help get things started. Additionally, this depends on some of the players declaring for the draft, so again, it is just looking at some potential top options at each position.
The 49ers drafted Ian Silberman and Trenton Brown late in the 2015 NFL Draft, added Erik Pears in free agency, and recently acquired Jordan Devey via trade. They also have Brandon Thomas coming back from a year on the NFI list, and might have Anthony Davis returning next summer. With Alex Boone hitting free agency and Daniel Kilgore's long-term status up in the air, another offensive lineman addition would not be entirely shocking. I don't know that they go with somebody particularly early in the draft, but you never know what will happen between now and next April.
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
#78 | Junior | Notre Dame Fighting Irish | OT
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 315 lbs. | 40 Time: 5.17 | Age: 21
2014 Stats: 16 knockdown blocks yielding only 1 sack
Notre Dame Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2014
Strengths: We all know how impressive Dallas Cowboys' rookie (2014) and First-Team All-Pro Zack Martin has been in his first year in the league. The Cowboy's guard, and former Notre Dame left tackle, transitioned nicely in taking his dominate skill-set to the next level. Once Martin left for the NFL, Ronnie Stanley moved from right tackle to left tackle, and the Fighting Irish did not miss a beat at the position. One word in describing Stanley, Technician! Stanley showcases tremendous combination of size, athleticism, length, quickness, speed, and strength. Using his long arms, lateral quickness, balance, solid technique, and a quick first step, Stanley easily mirrors defenders in pass pro, and shows physicality in the run game. He also shows durability starting every game the past two seasons.
Weaknesses: With Stanley, it is really just nitpicking. Occasionally, he will miss on some blocking angles in the run game, and there are bouts when his pad-level is too high giving up leverage, although his quickness and long arms do help him recover. He will need to increase his strength to take on the rigors of the NFL.
Conclusion: Ronnie Stanley is a dominate force at left tackle and arguably the best tackle in college football. I fully expect him to continue his dominance this season, and ultimately become one of the best tackles in the NFL. Another positive is that he shows versatility at both tackle positions playing left in 2014 and right in 2013, and did I mention he yielded only one sack the last two seasons against some fearsome competition! Stanley is a lock for the first round in the 2016 Draft, and if he declares early, he will likely be a top 5 selection.
Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
#78 | Junior | Ole Miss Rebels | OT
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 305 lbs. | 40 Time: 5.23 | Age: 21
First-Team All-SEC in 2014
Strengths: Many of the Rebels extremely talented youth are now draft-eligible, and with high profile names such as defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell taking the headlines, the talented and impressive left tackle Laremy Tunsil will likely be the top prospect out of the bunch. Tunsil showcases impressive quickness, athleticism, technique, explosion, balance, solid and fierce punch at the point of attack, and great footwork. A very smooth athlete, he handles the edge against speed quite well with impressive lateral agility and using his impactful hands to stifle defenders. Tremendous in the run game showcasing his power and foot speed to drive defenders away. Anchors well and maintains solid leverage.
Weaknesses: Needs to show more consistency. Occasionally, will get off balance lunging at defenders and needs to shore up some mechanics. Durability concerns could be an issue, since Tunsil suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle during the 2014 Peach Bowl in December. He also missed two games last season with a partially torn bicep. Another potential area of concern is decision making. In June 2014, Tunsil was arrested (he turned himself in) for a misdemeanor domestic violence-simple assault against his stepfather. Reports indicated the stepfather shoved Tunsil's mother, which lead to Tunsil stepping in to defend her. As of August 2015, the case involving the misdemeanor domestic violence charges between both parties were dismissed when both sides decided to drop the charges against each other. Unfortunately, after the altercation in June, the drama-filled fiasco inflamed when the stepfather levied allegations that Tunsil received improper benefits from sports agents, an NCAA violation. With the NCAA's investigation still in play, Tunsil's college eligibility remains in question. Questionable red flags, but red flags nonetheless.
Conclusion: Laremy Tunsil is an extremely talented and elite tackle prospect, and if he can stay healthy, he will battle Ronnie Stanley for the top tackle spot in this years' class. A likely top 5 draft pick in the 2016 Draft, Tunsil simply needs to stay healthy, work on a few mechanics, and he should be a cornerstone left tackle in the NFL for years to come.
Credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
#68 | Senior | Ohio State Buckeyes | OT
Height: 6'8" | Weight: 315 lbs. | 40 Time: 5.21 | Age: 21
Second-Team All-Big Ten in 2014
Strengths: Oh looky here! We have another Buckeye making our top 5 prospects for each position list, and don't expect the Buckeyes theme to end with this list either, sorry Oregon fans. Taylor Decker is one of apparently an endless amount of draft-eligible prospects coming out of Ohio State, and likely will be one of the early prospects selected. The former high school basketball player showcases an amazing combination of size, length, strength, sneaky athleticism, agility, and physicality. With his solid fundamentals, strong hands, and a fierce punch, Decker impresses with superb toughness in the run game driving defenders away, and an impressive kick-slide maintaining balance and anchoring nicely in pass pro. Shows versatility to play both tackle positions, and durability playing in all 41 of Ohio State's games the past three seasons. Also, Decker practices against my top rated draft prospect of 2016, oops I said too much. Tune in tomorrow for that tidbit.
Weaknesses: As with all offensive lineman that have a knack for blocking out the sun, high pad level is a concern, especially when the battle of the trenches is won with leverage. Moreover, he is not the quickest guy off the snap, but once established he is solid. Decker will need to polish up on all aspects of his game for the next level, but pad level will be his primary concern.
Conclusion: Straight out of Valhalla! Actually, Taylor Decker's hometown is Vandalia, OH, a simple mistake I made initially reading his hometown location, but the mistake explains a lot. Decker is a warrior on the field, high-character athlete with tremendous poise, amazing work ethic, a weight room grinder, and fantastic leadership qualities that makes this Norse god, err I mean rookie prospect, extremely desirable for any NFL team. Just give him his hammer and he should be good to go. I project Decker to be a first round selection in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
#74 | Senior | LSU | OG
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 320 lbs. | 40 Time: 5.39 | Age: 21
Second-Team All-SEC in 2014
Strengths: We all recall the unfortunate circumstances that led to La'el Collins' (LSU's offensive tackle in 2014) fall from grace with a mighty thud propelling all those dollar signs into the void of nothingness. The very talented first round prospect ultimately signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Dallas Cowboys for crying out loud (I know, you sensed the bitterness tone, and clearly there is too much Cowboys usage in this article; need to to take shower post haste). The good news is those that missed out on the Collins sweepstakes can now have their chance with the equally talented Vadal Alexander. Alexander showcases an excellent combination of size, strength, very long arms, athleticism, and instincts. A true mauler and road grader, Alexander is very powerful athlete that plays with a nastiness. He is an exceptional run blocker, quickly engages opponents and mauls his way driving defenders with explosion and power. Shows good technique, anchors well, nice lateral movement and decent footwork in pass protection, and has a heavy and powerful punch that jolts defenders. Shows versatility in playing different positions on the offensive line (25 games at left guard and 9 games at right tackle), and will go back to playing right tackle for LSU this upcoming season. Good durability playing in 38 games with 34 starts.
Weaknesses: Although Alexander has lost weight (15 pounds over the Spring), he will need to stay on top of his weight and conditioning. He lacks the quickness to handle edge rushers with speed and is likely projected as a guard at the next level. Has room for improvement with his footwork and technique/hands, as well as the need to improve his tendency to be a waste-bender lunging at defenders.
Conclusion: Vadal Alexander will thrive in a run-heavy offense; however, if he stays committed to his conditioning and continues to lose the weight improving his footwork and quickness, then his opportunity in diversifying his skill-set will only improve his draft status. Moreover, the versatility to play guard and tackle is an attribute many teams covet, especially the 49ers. I look for Alexander to be a low first round selection in the 2016 Draft.
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
#75 | Senior | USC | C
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 285 lbs. | 40 Time: 5.12 | Age: 21
First-Team All-PAC-12 in 2014
Strengths: When you look up versatility in the dictionary you are going to see a picture of Max Tuerk. The impactful senior offensive lineman has been a tremendous asset to the USC program and his versatility cannot be overstated. During his 33 career starts, Tuerk has had 14 starts at left guard, 13 starts at center, 5 at left tackle, and 1 at right tackle. Relishing his status as the jack of all trades in the offensive linemen community, Tuerk will look to hone in on his skill-set embracing the center position for USC in 2015. Tuerk showcases a very unique skill-set not usually seen in the center position. For one, he is very tall at 6'6" with a slender build, which makes him look like an agile tackle in a zone-blocking scheme. Along with his height, length, and agility, Tuerk also displays explosiveness, mobility, impressive footwork, speed, good technique, tremendous awareness, and balance. He is quick in reaching the second level and although he does not possess a lot of power, his sound technique and footwork does the job in opening spaces. Moreover, when he pulls, he showcases his impressive speed and awareness in quickly finding targets and eliminating them. He shows an excellent base when anchoring and solid technique utilizing his very long arms in pass protection. He has a high football IQ to go along with his impressive leadership qualities.
Weaknesses: Somewhat still raw at the center position (one year); nonetheless, Tuerk has clearly established himself as one of the top center prospects in this years' class. Therefore, with more refinement to his game, his skill-set will undoubtedly improve thus improving his draft stock. He will need to gain weight in order to add the necessary strength and power to battle NFL defenders. The second unique trait he has as a center is his unusual and unorthodox snap. He snaps the ball from the backend forcing the tip of the ball in the dirt. Not sure if snapping in this manner has any disadvantages or if he wants to expand his versatility in taking over the holding duties for the place kicker; nevertheless, thus far this unique method of snapping is working for him and not expected to change according to USC's offensive line coach Bob Connelly.
Conclusion: Max "Versatility" Tuerk is likely a prospect that will be impressing a lot of NFL GMs and coaches when the draft rolls around. For being such a novice at the position, he has taken it by the horns and exceeded quite exceptionally. With the added experience he will surely gain this college season, I envision Tuerk on being one of the top offensive line prospects in the draft. Versatility is key at the next level and Tuerk has it in spades. As of now, I have Max Tuerk projected to be a low first to high second round prospect in the 2016 Draft; however, I believe that draft projection will only improve as the season goes on.