This is the seventh installment of my 2021 NFL Draft prospect rankings series, following quarterbacks, running backs, a two-parter on wide receivers (WR1-9 here, WR10-50 here), tight ends and offensive tackles.
My colleague Eric Froton is handling our interior defensive line and edge rusher reports — you’ll see his rankings and analysis on both over the seven days. I’ll be back next week with my linebacker rankings (my iDL and EDGE rankings will drop in April) — and I should also mention I have a seven-round mock draft scheduled soon.
Before we hop into the column, want to encourage you to check out NFL Draft War Room with Thor & Lindsay if you haven’t seen it. War Room is a live NBC Sports EDGE original Twitch show every Wednesday at 8 pm EST where I sit down with NFL agent Lindsay Crook and talk NFL Draft. This week’s episode, Lindsay and I are doing a live mock draft. We’ll also answer your questions live!
1. Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC) | 6’4/300
Comp: Will Hernandez
Vera-Tucker was a two-year starter that won USC’s offensive lineman of the year award in 2019 as the starting left guard over first-round LT Austin Jackson. Vera-Tucker returned in 2020 to replace Jackson at left tackle and earn first-team All-Pac 12 honors and win the Morris Trophy (Pac-12’s best offensive and defensive linemen as chosen by opposing players; Penei Sewell won the award in 2019).
I was extremely impressed with Vera-Tucker’s ability to seamlessly transition to left tackle last season following an offseason he didn’t think he was even going to be playing. The Pac-12 first canceled its season, causing Vera-Tucker to opt-out, but he ultimately changed his mind after his conference did with help from heavy re-recruitment from USC’s coaching staff. Without question the decision made Vera-Tucker money.
“He was right in that first round, high second-round category prior to the season,” Trojans HC Clay Helton said. “And I really felt (it would help) if he had one more year of starter tape and could really show his athletic ability that we knew he had because we knew him in high school and have been able to work with him. But to be able to show teams he’s as athletic as can be at tackle and can be a premier interior player as well — to have those two spots of tape, we just thought it would up his value.”
Helton was right. Vera-Tucker looked like a natural immediately at his new post, showing a veteran’s understanding of angles and a coach’s understanding of assignments and in-play adjustments. During the regular season, Vera-Tucker rarely looked panicked, and he received plenty of blind-side pass-sets in USC’s Air Raid system.
Vera-Tucker allowed only one pressure and one sack over 99 pass-sets during the Trojans’ five-game Pac-12 schedule. “I think it raised my stock a lot,” Vera-Tucker said of being allowed to play left tackle in 2020 for the first time since high school.
“…[O]n the inside of the O-line, guys are a lot heavier and sometimes stronger,” Vera-Tucker continued. “And they’re in your face a lot quicker, whether it’s run game or pass (protection). On the edge, I feel like you have to be a lot more patient at left tackle. You have to study guys a little more. Guys sometimes have more tools in their arsenal when it comes to pass rush. It’s two completely different positions. I’m glad I played left tackle because now I feel I can play either one.”
The bigger the body, the higher the degree of difficulty to achieve coordination. Vera-Tucker is that rare big man with elite, pop-up doll balance, dishing and absorbing massive blows while remaining perfectly stable in foundation, squared, weight evenly distributed. In those precious seconds post-collision, his legs keep driving as he slides into position to seal you off. Vera-Tucker plays low and does not lose the leverage game.
In pass-pro, Vera-Tucker’s hands and feet were the trump card that allowed him to mitigate his lack of length. Playing a patient angle game, Vera-Tucker does not commit unforced errors.
He smoothly shuffles to stay in front of his man, and he throws crisp, accurate punches that land to keep his man on the outside. Only two things give him issue on the edge: upper-tier length and strength, two trump cards his brain and technique can’t overcome.
Vera-Tucker gets adequate push in the run game because he plays so low and arrives with such force, jarring his man’s foundation and then torquing him up onto his heels, where Vera-Tucker’s leg drive finishes him off.
That power isn’t available to him in pass-pro, and power rushers with enough muscle can push Vera-Tucker’s boat up the canal to the quarterback even when his anchor’s down.
Only one man did this to Vera-Tucker at left tackle in college, stud Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, in this past year’s Pac-12 Championship game. Up until then, through five games at LT in 2020, Vera-Tucker had allowed only two pressures, two sacks, no hits and no hurries.
Against the Ducks, Vera-Tucker was lit up for six pressures, two sacks, two hits and two hurries. Thibodeaux was the clearly superior athlete, exposing Vera-Tucker’s lack of length and elite foot speed and using him like a turnstile.
This is my concern with playing Vera-Tucker outside in the NFL, where more Thibodeaux-esque monsters await. Whereas Vera-Tucker gave up two sacks and six pressures in the Oregon game alone, he allowed only one sack and eight pressures over 670 career pass-blocking snaps at guard prior to 2020.
Vera-Tucker’s eye-opening 2020 campaign showed that he could potentially handle tackle duties at the next level. I see him as a high-floor, high-ceiling guard with the positional versatility to swing outside and help if needed.
2. Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma) | 6’4/312
Comp: Maurkice Pouncey
Humphrey, the son of three-time Division II All-American wrestler Chad Humphrey, was a three-year starter in Norman that earned Freshman All-American honors in 2018 while helping the Sooners win the Joe Moore Award as the country’s top offensive line.
In Humphrey’s swan song as a redshirt junior in 2020, he earned third-team All-American honors (his second-straight All-America accommodations), the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year award (Humphrey was also the co-winner of this award in 2019), and first-team all-conference.
Like his father, Humphrey grew up wrestling. Creed finished as Oklahoma’s state runner-up in the heavyweight division as a high school junior. He gave up wrestling and turned his attention to football full-time in college. Following a redshirt season, Humphrey became the fulcrum of Lincoln Riley’s high-powered attack at the pivot.
There, you could see the skills that made Humphrey a wrestling star. A grizzly bear-strong grappler that latches on and doesn’t let go, Humphrey is also a whip-smart player that was in charge in charge of the line calls at OU. He was a two-time captain that drew work-ethic and leadership raves from coaches and teammates.
Humphrey finished as a top-10 graded PFF center in two of his three starting campaigns. His off-year, a snakebitten 2019 campaign, started by missing all of spring practice with a hand injury and ended early with a knee injury.
Humphrey plays with unmistakable intensity, but always within himself and under control, with technical acumen you have to work hundreds of hours on the field and hundreds of hours off it in the film room to achieve. I
n the run game, Humphrey’s main objectives are arriving with force and winning position early to seal his opponent from the play-side of the field.
Humphrey is not a mauler that drives nose tackles 10 yards backwards, but he’s proved adept at erasing his man from the play by getting him turned such so that he’s going to have to break free of Humphrey’s grip and fight across Humphrey’s helmet to have any shot at the ball-carrier, by which point the ball-carrier is long-gone.
Humphrey is effective in the second-level for similar reasons, erasing pursuit angles from his man by winning early position. Humphrey’s vice-grip hands, no doubt honed over years on the wrestling matts, come in handy in pass-pro, where he throws mean hands but doesn’t over-extend.
Opponents can get into Humphrey’s pads and move him back a little — this is where Humphrey’s lack of reach comes in — but Humphrey’s ability to drop his anchor and stand his ground in a grappling match, ala the wrestling mat, make him difficult to easily shed.
Over 1,297 career pass-pro reps in OU’s pass-happy system — spanning the starting seasons of Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and Spencer Rattler — Humphrey never gave up even singular sack. But physically gifted interior players like Quinnen Williams and Bravvion Roy gave him fits, because a bit of hip stiffness causes Humphrey to play high.
But Humphrey isn’t limited as an athlete — he proved that much at his pro day workout. Humphrey tested as the most-athletic center to enter the league since 1987, according to Kent Lee Platte’s RAS system. Humphrey finished in the size-adjusted top-50 historically at his position in the 20-yard split (2.9), vertical (33 inches), broad jump (112 inches), short shuttle (4.49) and 3-cone (7.5).
Humphrey will likely need a little help in cases where his technique, strength and brains can’t compensate for a physical disadvantage. Fortunately, those instances are rare, and Humphrey is, in general, an extremely reliable pivot. I’m not sure that he’s physically gifted enough to become an All-Pro, but Creed Humphrey is going to start from Day 1 and be a mainstay in NFL lineups for the next decade as an above-average starter. Preferably in a gap/power scheme.
3. Landon Dickerson (Alabama) | 6’6/326
Comp: Frank Ragnow
Dickerson arrived at Alabama via transfer from Florida State, where he’d become the first true freshmen offensive lineman to start a home opener in more than three decades.
But Dickerson’s time in Tallahassee soured, in part due to three-consecutive season-ending injuries, and in part due to Jimbo Fisher’s defection to Texas A&M (Dickerson escaped in the nick of time — Florida State had arguably the Power 5’s worst offensive line play over the last four years).
At Florida State, the five-star Dickerson mostly played guard, also moonlighting at both tackle positions, showing off his versatility. At Alabama, Dickerson began 2019 as the starting right guard before kicking inside to center, where he remained until tearing his ACL in the SEC title game against Florida in December.
Dickerson won the Rimington Trophy (nation’s best center) and was named a first-team All-American in 2020. But if you’re counting at home, that ACL tear was his fourth season-ending injury in five college seasons.
Well, not technically, I suppose. Dickerson decided to suit up in his pads for the national title game the next month anyway — and then talked his way onto the field to make the final snaps as Alabama kneeled the clock out. One of the most random chills-inspiring moments of the past college football season.
Dickerson has a wide, rangy frame for the interior — more of a prototypical right tackle build. He’s a physical force of a pivot with a cruise ship anchor.
Dickerson’s combination of length, strength and Mike Tyson punching power makes it very hard to breach gaps on either side of him on the way to the quarterback. In 871 pass-blocking snaps over the last three seasons, Dickerson allowed only one sack and eight hurries.
Dickerson shines in the run game — particularly in 2020, where he was outright dominant clearing holes up-the-middle for Najee Harris — because Dickerson is an animal in a phone booth.
He brings a massive load for a center that most defensive tackles aren’t used to, but gets low enough to spring extra power through his hips on contact and forklift his foe onto his heals for easy moving. It goes without saying that Dickerson’s legs churn through the echo of the whistle.
Dickerson was PFF’s top-graded run-blocking center last season. Among all offensive linemen, Dickerson ranked No. 5 (the first three names on the list: Brady Christensen, Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkens, all of whom will be off the board by the end of Day 2… and possibly Round 2).
Dickerson is an exciting interior prospect with legitimate three-position starting versatility (and even enough versatility to play either tackle position in a pinch if needed). He’s very consistent, and he’ll be a team leader from early-on in his career.
A lack of athleticism limits him to gap/power schemes (and is also the reason he isn’t a tackle anymore and probably shouldn’t man that post in the NFL). Teams will have to be comfortable with Dickerson’s medicals and pray HIS body doesn’t betray him. Dickerson tore two ACLs in college, along with suffering two separate season-ending ankle injuries.
4. Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater) | 6’3/320
Comp: Nate Davis
Meinerz has had arguable the most dominant pre-draft process of any prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft to catapult from little-known D-III guard to Day 2 hopeful.
The ascendence is all the more incredible considering Meinerz, a first-team D-III All-American in 2019, started for only two years at UW-Whitewater and had his 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
Meinerz’s magical run began at the Senior Bowl (credit Jim Nagy and his staff for the find). Meinerz spent that week dominating big-name Power 5 defensive linemen one-on-one in drills, earning the Senior Bowl’s offensive lineman of the week award for his squad and drawing superlatives from NFL draft scouts in attendance.
Incredibly, Meinerz competed through a broken hand that week. This was no surprise to those that knew him. The toughness speaks for itself.
But it was Meinerz’s drive to excel that was evoked for me in Mobile. After Meinerz’s 2020 season was canceled, if you would have polled 100 NFL scouts, I bet half or less would have predicted Meinerz gets drafted.
Meinerz could have spent the fall feeling sorry for himself, assuming he was going to be bypassed by the large all-star games and overlooked by the NFL.
Instead, he worked out like a banshee. Meinerz’s Chris McCandless-meets-Heavyweights-meets-McGyver workout regimen is the stuff of folklore. Every summer, when UW-Whitewater’s spring tests concluded, Meinerz would drive into the Canadian wilderness to his uncle Tim Meinerz’s fishing camp in Alberta.
There, Meinerz would split his time working at the camp and working out with any supplies that happened to be lying around. Trees became defensive linemen, piles of wood became squatting weights, and giant gas cans became his running companions.
Meinerz started training to become a center in his backyard in Wisconsin during his off-time, because, as he told Nate Burleson on Good Morning Football, he believed showing the NFL more versatility would increase his odds of making it.
So Meinerz jerry-rigged a pizza paddle to a garbage can and tried to hit the skinny part of the paddle flush with his shotgun snaps. If he missed the can, he had to run further to retrieve the ball. He taped himself doing this and then studied the tape for hours to hone his accuracy.
Meinerz was called a “Senior Bowl Riser” by everyone that wrote such a column. He entered his pro day workout not as an unknown curiosity, but as arguably the draft’s biggest riser.
This was a new position for Quinn Meinerz. The media showed up knowing who he was, specifically to watch him and speak with him. With all 32 NFL teams on hand to watch, including high-level decision-makers like Washington GM Marty Hurney and San Francisco 49ers assistant director of college scouting Tariq Ahmad, Meinerz put on a show, submitting a RAS athletic profile that ranked No. 2 among all centers since 1987 (only the aforementioned Creed Humphrey tested better).
Meinerz’s showings in the 40 (4.99), 20-yard split (2.88), vertical (32 inches) and broad jump (9-feet-3-inches) ranked top-35 all-time size-adjusted among centers in the RAS system. Meinerz’s workout may have been even more impressive if he hadn’t had to pull out of the bench press due to his broken hand.
Meinerz is a low-firing, explosive, downhill run-blocker. He hits his target flush, latching his vicious hooks in, and his leg drive from there could be shown in offensive line seminars (why do you think Meinerz ran around the Canadian wilderness with those jugs of gasoline every summer?). Meinerz is one of those linemen who takes it personally if his man ends a run-block rep on his feet.
Meinerz mostly got by on size, athleticism and powerful, active hands in pass-pro in college. That was enough. It was nice to see in Mobile that, technically speaking, Meinerz appeared to have ironed out some sloppiness with his footwork at Whitewater that led to some unnecessary balance issues on tape.
Continued fine-tuning of Meinerz’s footwork and sets are going to make it difficult to beat him with speed and counters at the next level. We already know that it’s going to be rare to see this former wrestler beaten by power.
He may be jumping up three levels of football, but Quinn Meinerz arrives in the NFL with grown-man strength, freak athleticism he worked doggedly for, and an insatiable desire to improve that, especially to concerned camp-goers in rural Alberta the past few summers, borders on maniacal.
Players with this much skill, physical talent and desire don’t fail. Round 2 prospect for me.
5. Wyatt Davis (Ohio State) | 6’3/315
Comp: Trai Turner
Wyatt Davis, a two-plus year starter at Ohio State, says that his only regret on the day he’s drafted is that he won’t be able to share the moment with his late grandfather, Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame defensive linemen Willie Davis. Football runs in Wyatt Davis’ blood.
His father, Duane, had a collegiate football career at Missouri derailed by injuries but audibled into acting. Duane went onto star as “Alvin Mack” in the iconic college football movie “The Program” (he was also in the criminally-underrated college football comedy “Necessary Roughness”, as well as “Under Siege” and “Beetlejuice”).
Not only that, but Wyatt Davis’ brother David was a DT at Washington State and Cal (like his father, David’s college career was hampered by injuries). His family is used to the spotlight, and so is Wyatt Davis.
He was a consensus five-star prospect and top-25 overall national recruit coming out of high school, the top offensive guard in the nation. Davis chose Ohio State over offers from all the blue-bloods.
After a redshirt year in 2017, Davis appeared in every game in 2018 and started the last two before entering the starting lineup full-time. He was named first-team AP All-American and first-team all-conference in both 2019 and 2020.
When Davis talks about his own game, he always focuses on his dedication to craft and technique. That was a staple of his recruiting profile that carried over onto the collegiate gridiron. A plus athlete that plays with outstanding balance and great knee bend, Davis consistently wins the leverage game while always remaining in control, dictating interactions.
Davis gets outstanding push in the run game by exploding through contact into a divot-spitting leg drive that gets 300-pound nose tackles moving backwards urgently like they just accidentally walked into a hot yoga studio.
Davis’ reps in the second level are inconsistent — he tends to either divorce linebackers or defensive backs from their equilibrium, whiff altogether, or wander around looking for work. There’s room to grow here, but we should concede that Davis may not have the upper-tier mobility to appeal to zone teams.
Davis’ technical prowess shines through in pass-pro. He sets up quickly with a sturdy base, keeping enemies across the moat with his bridge-like arms and cannon-ball shooting fists. The power, speed and clockwork efficiency of Davis’ handwork in this phase is something to behold — pop, pop, pop.
Davis was impossible for collegiate defenders to beat man-up in the pass rush, and I mean that literally. Davis’ first two years on campus, in 585 pass-pro reps, he allowed one sack and zero hits.
Last year, in 280 pass-pro reps, Davis seemingly regressed to three sacks and one hit allowed on 280 pass-pro reps. But each of those instances came on a blitz or stunt pickup, not a heads-up interaction.
I am absolutely willing to cut him a little slack here: Ohio State as a team was hit heavily by COVID-19 in 2020, and the offensive line as a unit was ravaged as much as any unit. Miscommunications among Ohio State offensive linemen was the expectation, some games.
Things got so bad that against Michigan State, Davis was one of only two active OL starters who hadn’t come down with COVID — and then Davis got knocked out early with an injury. The Buckeyes were shuffling bodies on the offensive line all season.
But I can’t cut full slack: Davis doesn’t get beaten by power, but he can be schooled by movement. In the NFL, he’ll need to get better at shifting his attention to blitzers quickly enough to blast them as they try to knife through the gap; Davis’ feet may not be quick enough to bail him out last-second if he doesn’t recognize the situation immediately.
Davis is on the slightly-smaller side, and he isn’t an elite athlete. He also was frequently nicked-up in college. In 2020, Davis was helped off the field prematurely in three of Ohio State’s eight games — the first two times (including the Michigan State injury) didn’t keep him off the field longer, but Davis ended the national title game against Alabama on crutches after sustaining a knee injury, not the first he’d suffered in Columbus.
There’s a bit of risk in the profile, but Davis checks every single box and has proved it at the highest level. I’d be very comfortable targeting him on Day 2 to plug an immediate starting hole at guard.
6. Aaron Banks (Notre Dame) | 6’5/338
Comp: David DeCastro
Banks was a three-year starter in South Bend who endeared himself to coaches, teammates and scouts with surly play and a high football IQ.
A technician in pass pro, Banks lets his length and width work for him, sitting back into his hips and letting his man come to him. He has dynamite in his hands, blasting a charge into opponents who breach his reach. Like a pre-game walk-through drill, Banks always immediately resets his hands in one fluid motion, ready for another pop.
Because of his length and strength, Banks is able to turn power rushers into kittens. If you don’t have another push-rushing weapon outside of the bull rush, prepare to take four quarters off. Even in rare instances of a mistimed punch, Banks doesn’t get overextended or off-balance, making it difficult to get into his pads.
Banks shows similar strength and balance in the run game, firing quickly off the ball and getting consistent initial movement to and through the collision point. A heady player who doesn’t take plays off, one hallmark of Banks’ film was his desire to look for work. In the passing game, for instance, he’ll charge over and broadside the man you’re engaged with if he’s found himself without a dance partner.
A limited athlete with average foot speed for his position, Banks isn’t as skilled on the move. Playing in space outside of a phone booth is the only time you see Banks lose his technique outright, lunging and reaching to compensate for his lack of agility. He’s a two-way guard that’s an ideal fit for a gap/power scheme.
7. Trey Smith (Tennessee) | 6’5/331
Comp: Kelechi Osemele
It’s really cool to see Trey Smith in this draft class. That wasn’t always assured. One of the most ballyhooed recruits in the history of Tennessee football, a two-time Tennessee Mr. Football, Smith was a consensus top-5 overall prospect in the 2017 class.
Smith became a four-year starter, and a three-time All-SEC pick, but he never took over 760 snaps in a season. Smith worked his way into the lineup as a freshman, had his career interrupted by a blood clot issue in his lungs as a sophomore, and then Tennessee’s season was shortened by COVID in 2020.
That Smith overcame the lung issue to get here is incredible. And that he elected to play in 2020, despite being in a high-risk category due to his condition, is note-worthy in the eval. As other star players were opting out, Smith desperately wanted to play, stating he had things to “fix in order to get at a higher level.”
Smith played through the season without issue and hasn’t had one that we know of with his lungs since 2018. But that’s an area each team’s individual medical staffs will have to sign-off on before Smith’s magnetic placard is situated onto the draft board.
Tennessee took some time finding the best spot for their prodigious talent, giving Smith cups of coffee at left tackle and each guard spot as they pondered. Smith’s 2018 season at left tackle (62.9 PFF grade) — also the year ultimately ruined by the revelation of his lung condition — convinced the Vols to permanently move him inside, a sage decision.
Smith lost 40 pounds to gear up for that transition, and his play took off from there. Over the past two seasons, in 754 pass-pro reps, Smith allowed only one sack and four hits.
Smith is a first-guy-off-the-bus looking guard, with a massive, rangy build. His length was the reason he was first thought-of as a tackle out of the prep ranks, and why the Vols ultimately gave him a full season outside.
Smith’s length suits him well in pass protection on the inside, where he’s able to shut down power rushers with ease by stalling their engines on the outside with a punch so vicious it shorts out circuits.
Smith brings a semi-truck load forward in the run game, showing impressive drive strength once he’s engaged. But he’s inconsistent in this phase, vacillating between forklifting opponents at the collision point onto a conveyor belt to easily move them backwards, and lurching downward into contact, allowing his opponent to get under his pads and ghost him like a one-night stand.
In pass protection, rushers with speed and twitch give Smith the most issues. Because while Smith can stall power all day — and send smaller defenders flying with his hands alone — his heavy feet can get stuck in quicksand against counter-moves, teetering the big fella off balance.
Smith’s lack of lateral agility on tape was somewhat belied by his pro day workout, where Smith tested as a 9.91 RAS athlete. Smith’s 7.43 second 3-cone drill ranked 37th among 901 guards in Kent Lee Platte’s system since 1987. Technical improvements could lead to legitimate on-field gains in pass-pro if Smith can prove the concept of his agility in on-field scenarios.
Assuming Smith is cleared medically, he makes a ton of sense for a gap/power team searching for a long-term starter at guard. Smith’s heavy feet cap his ceiling, and ensure he’ll never be tried at tackle again, but he’s improved each of the past two seasons since moving inside and has more improvement to go if he polishes his technical foibles.
I wouldn’t bet against him. In addition to first-team all-SEC honors last fall, Smith won the Jason Witten Award for leadership on the field and community service off the field and the Fritz Pollard Trophy for extraordinary courage and community values.
Smith has slayed enough dragons off the field in his private world to assume he’ll have hold a laser-focus on his deficiencies until he corrects them. Let’s just hope Smith’s body allows for a lengthy NFL career.
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8. Jackson Carman (Clemson) | 6’5/345
Comp: Brandon Brooks
Carman spent the past two seasons protecting the blindside of Trevor Lawrence, taking over the post from long-time program mainstay Mitch Hyatt. During Clemson’s most recent playoff run in 2020, Carman was named a second-team All-American.
Carman always set up shop quickly and with a wide base at Clemson, presenting an obstruction as big as the stuck Suez Canal boat for edge rushers to have to motor around to touch Football Jesus.
Carman made sure, in this base, to always remain square, with his feet more than shoulder-width apart. From a power base, Carman fires thunderous hands.
On the perimeter, his issue is with speed. And it’s for this reason that I believe Carman is headed inside at the next level. Stud athletes can make Carman look stationary and silly, because, though Carman provides a building to run around, he tends to move like one trying to adjust to quick-twitch movement in short quarters. These are the moments you tend to see Carman either plant himself in the ground or twist his own ankles into knots.
But you have to love what Carman brings in the run game. He’s a #mauler, packing enormous power, dislodging at least of a fraction of the opponent’s cleats from the dirt on impact. With surprising bend for a player his size, Carman gets low and explodes from his thick trunk through contact.
You better not let Carman set his hooks, because you’re going backwards or into the dirt if he does. Carman’s exceptional work in the run game can be seen on the tape, of course, in Clemson’s run-calling tendencies, and, indeed, in Travis Etienne’s very stat line.
Here’s an incredible stat that I first shared in my RB rankings: Clemson RB Travis Etienne averaged 6.7 YPC on 84 carries to the left side last year running behind Carman the Colossus. On 82 attempts to the right side, Etienne averaged 4.4 YPC. That’s an objectively wild efficiency discrepancy for a potential Round 1 pick at running back. And it of course speaks glowingly to Carman’s value in this facet.
Carman’s lack of foot speed and agility make him a no-go on the left side in the NFL. I believe he’s better suited to guard than tackle for reasons dovetailing out of the same thesis.
On the interior, Carman’s strengths will play up, while his weaknesses will be mitigated or outright masked. With Day 1 starting traits on the inside — sure to charge-up any gap-team’s run game immediately — Jackson Carman is a Day 2 upside-play with staying power.
9. Ben Cleveland (Georgia) | 6’6/343
Comp: Jeremiah Poutasi
A four-star prospect and consensus top-150 recruit coming out of high school, Cleveland redshirted his first year in Athens and then went on to start five, six, seven, and, in 2020, nine games (a leg fracture shortened his sophomore season, and an academic suspension likewise to his junior campaign).
Cleveland capped his career by earning third-team All-American and first-team All-SEC accommodations in 2020. Cleveland is a sensational north/south athlete for his size with fluidity — he used to be a star baseball player! His 9.63 RAS output from Georgia’s pro day workout was eye-opening, but it requires contextual explanation.
Cleveland recorded a 40-yard dash of 5.05 with a 20-yard split of 2.91 seconds, absurd showings for a 343-pounder (Cleveland hilariously needed a postseason workout-prep mini-diet to drop more than 10 pounds to that weight).
But Cleveland’s short-shuttle was poor — below the 40th-percentile, even size-adjusted — and he skipped the 3-cone (there is no penalty for skipping or being forced out of specific tests in the RAS or SPARQ systems, an issue we should all address when we have more time).
Cleveland’s David Blayne act during those two tests was brilliant by he and his reps, and also very telling. It’s funny how often testing and testing decisions jive with what you’ve seen on tape.
Cleveland is a breathtaking north/size blocker in the run game, getting off the snap with a speed that should be illegal at his size. He brings herculean power at the collision point, seeking violence, always violence.
Cleveland seeks to embarrass every defender he gets onto their heels by getting them onto their backs. This kid craves pancakes. Not everyone does. Cleveland is a tone-setter in this way.
But Cleveland’s feet get heavy and sleepy when he isn’t moving forward. He struggles to change directions in pass-protection. Cleveland isn’t flexible enough to fully settle into his hips with proper knee bed, so you tend to see him playing upright.
Despite the poor technique, Cleveland was able to consistently shut down power in the SEC, and he will likely keep doing that in the NFL. But movement and speed could always be some level of bugaboo in pass-protection at the next level.
I loved watching Cleveland. He’s a well-seasoned vet from a blue-blood that plays with passion, know-how, and Babe Ruthian power. He’s only a fit for gap/power teams — if I ran a zone offense, he wouldn’t rank high enough on my board to warrant a magnetic placard. But a team with a power-run ethos is going to fall in love with the kid, and I imagine its fanbase will quickly come to in kind.
10. Deonte Brown (Alabama) | 6’3/364
Comp: Solomon Kindley
A 24-game starter at Alabama, Brown ended up winning two national titles in Tuscaloosa, the first as a redshirt reserve and special-teamer in 2017, and again in 2020 as the starting left guard on one of the most dominant offenses the sport has ever seen.
Brown is a massive force in the run game. Three things jump off the screen in this phase: the sheer size, the raw power, and the tap shoes for a grizzly bear. Brown began as a starting right guard for Alabama before kicking to the left side, and what he showed at both posts was a dominant, devastating brand of drive-blocking football.
Pity the fool that ended up the wrong side of an assignment calling for a double-team from Brown and Landon Dickerson. Two wrecking balls. Preaching to the choir on anyone that’s watched Najee Harris’ cut-ups — Alabama reset the line of scrimmage for him each carry, with Brown acting as a squared-up, low-to-the-ground, 364-pound bundle of dynamite that cleared holes in the sides of mountains for Harris to choo-choo through.
Brown’s wide-body/wide-stance power-game and ability to sink back in his hips tends to disarm power in the passing game. The famous example is his work against Auburn stud DT Derrick Brown, a top-10 NFL draft pick. Derrick Brown, a high-wattage power interior lineman, mostly had his lights shut off by Deonte Brown.
Brown comes with ample experience at both guard spots at the highest levels of college football, where he proved to be one of the country’s elite run-blocking guards. But length and movement limitations tend to get him exposed in pass-protection against longer, springier interior players.
This isn’t an area that will improve in the NFL, but his team drafts him knowing Brown shouldn’t be left on islands against players like this. It also knows it’s getting one of the more fearsome road-clearing gap/power run-blockers in the 2021 draft.
11. Josh Myers (Ohio State) | 6’5/312
Comp: Tyler Biadasz
Myers was a two-year starter in Columbus at center after serving as a backup guard earlier in his career. Athletics run in the family. His father and brother are both former offensive linemen at Kentucky, and his mother is in the Dayton athletics hall of fame as a basketball player.
Myers is a smart player that made all of Ohio State’s line calls. He’s a real asset in the running game, where Myers plays the angles, arrives with bad intentions, and works hard shuffling his feet after impact to establish play-side positioning and supremacy. When he misses, it’s because he’s coming in high and trying to use his body like a kamikaze, not a sealant.
In pass protection, Myers offers length, throws powerful hands, and plays angles like he does in the run game. But he plays too high, with a base that can get too narrow, leading to balance issues against movement, and a disadvantage in shuffle length and fluidity that can get him roasted by speed.
More troublingly, for an interior player with length and hand power, Myers also isn’t automatic against power, sometimes allowing bull rushers to breach his halo and get into his chest, where he becomes a building with too narrow a foundation to withstand a tsunami. These issues led to six sacks allowed and 27 total pressures since 2019, according to PFF.
Myers’ specific issues may be difficult to completely reconcile due to the hip stiffness, which isn’t going away. His drafting team will likely have to accept a potential long-term starter with a capped ceiling.
12. Kendrick Green (Illinois) | 6’3/300
Comp: Cody Whitehair
Like the interior version of OT James Hudson in this class, Green was a ballyhooed prep defensive lineman that ultimately shifted to the other side of the ball a year into his college career. Green became a 33-game starter on the offensive line, 29 at left guard and four at center when injuries forced him to shift on short notice (he acquitted himself well). Like Hudson, Green’s play took off this fall.
Harkening back to his defensive line days, Green fires quick and low off the snap, establishing early dominance by achieving first contact and stealing leverage. Built squatty and low-to-the-earth, Green glides quickly to the second level but remains inconsistent finding work immediately and squaring up moving targets when he does.
Green sets up quickly back into his hips in pass-protection. A former wrestler, he knows how to use his hands at distance, and he knows how to win a grappling match in close quarters. Power is what gives him issues.
While Green plays with solid balance and acceptable core strength, he simply doesn’t have the girth and muscle to go fire-on-fire with high-end bull rushers. And because Green lacks length, he may never be able to completely mitigate the issue, as interior players with wingspan advantages can get into his pads.
Green provides three-position starting interior versatility at the next level. Because of his issues with power, Green is better suited to a zone scheme, where he could start early at either guard or center.
13. Jaylon Moore (Western Michigan) | 6’4/311
Comp: Rodger Saffold
It’s always a beautiful thing when collegiate prospects finally find their true-calling position. That happened for Jaylon Moore, who became a three-year starter at left tackle for Western Michigan after signing with the Broncos as a tight end and practicing at defensive end during his redshirt year after he showed up to campus 25 pounds heavier than when he signed.
Moore, who earned second-team All-MAC honors in both 2019 and 2020, tested as an 8.76 RAS athlete as a guard at his pro day, showing out better than the size-adjusted 80th percentile in the bench (27), vertical (30.5 inches) and broad (8 feet, 10 inches), while basically checking in above-average in every other metric. Interestingly, Moore’s RAS drops to a 7.45 when scored as a tackle.
Speaking of that, Moore of course doesn’t have prototypical tackle height, but he does come with ropey 82-inch arms and massive 11-inch hands. Western Michigan throws plenty, which provided Moore with 1,129 pass-pro reps on the blind side in college. Valuable experience, yes, but he did allow seven sacks and 28 pressures over that time to a low-level of competition.
Moore’s athleticism is apparent on film, a smooth, rhythmic mover that explodes out of his stance in the run game and sets up shop quickly in pass-pro. Moore’s quick set-up, Stretch Armstrong arms and adequate agility mostly allowed him to hold court in the MAC.
But Moore lacks the sort of anchor you’d need to compensate for the short, thin build, even with those arms and a heavy punch. And he gets caught by speed outside more than he ought to, mostly because he gets caught playing too high, losing the final angle too late in the game to adjust.
In the run game, Moore’s athleticism allows him to reach any target on schedule. He seals off opponents but doesn’t create a ton of movement. But Moore can pull and act as a hard-charging lead blocker like a bull raging through Pamplona.
I think this collegiate tackle is heading inside at the next level, where Moore will provide zone teams with a long, ambulatory weapon in the run game.
14. Jack Anderson (Texas Tech) | 6’4/309
Comp: Ben Powers
A four-star recruit ranked No. 77 overall in the 247Sports composite coming out of high school, Anderson surprisingly turned down a procession of blue-bloods to stay home and play for Texas Tech. Anderson started from his freshman year on in high school. He pulled the same trick in college, a four-year starter that flashed immediately, earning Freshman All-American honors.
Anderson is a size/power guard that plays mean and rugged while staying under control. Anderson’s strength, length and predilection to scrap give him an army’s arsenal in the run game.
He’s not necessarily quick out of his stance, but Anderson tends to reach targets with surprising speed, eating up grass by shooting forward with long strides and putting every once of childhood trauma into the collision point.
When Anderson plays under control in this phase — scrappy not possessed — he tends to move opponents backwards with powerful, indefatigable leg drive.
When Anderson doesn’t — it’s hard to tell from film without context in these circumstances if he’s lost control of his emotions or just lost his appetite for technique — he arrives out-of-control, murderous, shoulders angled haphazardly. He tends to not hit targets flush in these circumstances, keeping defenders in the play after they ricochet off him.
Anderson has more issues in pass protection than in the run game in part because he’s a limited athlete, and in part because he loses his power when he isn’t allowed to come forward. Anderson plays too high, and with inconsistent hands, simultaneously allowing power player into his personal space and constricting his already compromised lateral agility.
Anderson gave up three sacks and seven pressures in 459 pass-pro reps last year, worse than you’d like to see for a 22-year-old four-year starter that projects as a middle-round NFL Draft prospect on the interior.
Still, Anderson provides plenty of appeal for power-running gap teams. Assuming, of course, that his medicals check out after Anderson’s 2019 campaign was wrecked by a season-ending September shoulder injury.
15. Michael Menet (Penn State) | 6’4/306
Comp: Brian Allen
Menet was a three-year starter and two-time captain at Penn State who earned All-Big Ten honors as a junior and senior. He’s your prototypical high-floor, low-ceiling interior prospect.
Menet is a gym rat that plays with outstanding technique, always from a stable foundation. He uses his hands efficiently, setting the hooks in the run game, or punching and resetting in beautiful rhythm in pass protection.
Menet’s a limited athlete for sure, but he gets off the snap quickly enough all the same because he’s timed out and partitioned his movements over tens of thousands of reps, Malcolm Gladwell.
But Menet’s physical limitations cleave several floors off of his NFL ceiling. For a taller pivot, he has short arms. Even with hand usage that has clearly been honed over hundreds of hours of shadow-boxing, he’s simply no match for longer, stronger pivots that can get into his pads.
And while Menet admirably plays the angles, his heavy feet get stuck in the mud against quick-twitch movers when he’s moving backwards. Coming forward in the run game, Menet loses cell reception the second he leaves the comfort of his phone booth, clomping through the second level like a lost polar bear in a blizzard.
Menet can’t do anything about his weaknesses — no amount of hard work will correct them. But this kid is going to bring his hard hat to practice every day, and his physical limitations aren’t acute enough to disqualify a starting NFL future. I think he gets there, but don’t expect more than a steady-eddy type.
Best of the rest…
16. Sadarius Hutcherson (South Carolina) | 6’4/320
17. Royce Newman (Mississippi) | 6’5/306
18. David Moore (Grambling State) | 6’2/350
19. Drake Jackson (Kentucky) | 6’2/290
20. Drew Dalman (Stanford) | 6’3/286
21. Will Sherman (Colorado) | 6’4/310
22. Kayode Awosika (Buffalo) | 6’5/285
23. Tommy Kraemer (Notre Dame) | 6’6/319
24. Larry Borom (Missouri) | 6’6/340
25. Trey Hill (Georgia) | 6’3/330
26. Robert Jones (Middle Tennessee State) | 6’4/319
27. Jimmy Morrissey (Pittsburgh) | 6’3/300
28. Carson Green (Texas A&M) | 6’6/319
29. Matt Farniok (Nebraska) | 6’5/330
30. Jake Curhan (California) | 6’5/323
Check out the rest of Thor’s 2021 NFL Draft work here:
Read more: https://sports.yahoo.com/2021-nfl-draft-iol-rankings-063024644.html?src=rss