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August 23, 2000
Line ’em Up
by Paul Hammons
I have a theory about draft rankings and offensive linemen, and it’s not one you’d think would come from someone in my position as an online analyst. My theory is that nobody really understands this position but the people that have either played it and/or coached it. My point is that a lot of the all-conference lists you see out there right now are useless journalists pick the biggest guy on a good offensive line and assume that they’ve found gold. There’s obviously more to it than that leverage, quick feet, technique, intelligence (yes, you read that right, some of the smartest guys out there may just be on the offensive line) all play as significant a role as size.
Having said that, here’s some guys that may loom large in more ways than one when the 2002 draft rolls around. One of the top guys in this area may be Dominic Raiola, an athletic center from Nebraska, who, at 6’2″, 295, definitely qualifies as a big guy on a good line. Another center, Texas A&M’s Seth McKinney (6’3″, 290), should challenge Raiola as one of the top senior centers entering the 2002 draft.
From a size angle, it’s hard to beat Ryan Diem, a 6’7″, 325-pound junior from Northern Illinois there’s always at least one dark horse in this area from an out-of-the-way directional school, and Diem looks like a good bet for that honor. Add two more guys to your watch list: Joaquin Gonzales, a 6’5″ 290-pound tackle from Miami who’s just a sophomore this year and Antwan Kirk-Hughes, a 6’3″ 320-pound guard from Texas.
When watching these guys and there’s plenty more where the aforementioned came from, including Kenyatta Walker of Florida and Michael Collins of Wake Forest look for someone that can move, especially pulling along the line. Watch for someone who isn’t getting beat on speed rushes around the outside of the pocket. And takedowns without the benefit of an actual wrestling hold are always a good thing.
Defensive linemen are a lot easier to judge. Big, mean guys that spend a lot of time running loose in the offensive backfield are always a good bet here. You want people that can rush the passer with more than one move, people that can get off their blocks and make plays along the line of scrimmage. Generally, if you’ve got a defensive lineman that is getting his number called a lot in a game, you’ve got something good.
One of those guys is Alex Brown, a junior from Florida, who may be good enough to make the jump next year to the NFL. He continues a trend of top-notch Florida linemen with the athletic ability to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield, logging 13 sacks and 18 tackles for losses last year, with seven of those QB drops (coupled with two forced fumbles and two interceptions) coming against SEC powers Tennessee and Georgia. Another defensive end turning heads is Missouri junior Justin Smith, who, at 6’5″, 273, has a little more size than Brown (6’4″, 255), and likely hasn’t gotten as much notice due to his low-profile squad in Columbia.
Moving inside, Wendell Bryant of Wisconsin could be a good one the junior shows good quickness for a defensive tackle and still has NFL size at 6’4″, 298. As much talent as there is at this position, there’s a couple of defensive ends that you might want to keep an eye on that are still sophomores: William Joseph, a 6’5″, 285-pounder from Miami, is already getting first-team Big East mention, and Cory Redding (6’5″, 245), a former high school national defensive player of the year (as a linebacker) that may be ready to blossom as a sophomore this year with Texas if he can prove his ability to stop the run.
Paul Hammons served as a sportswriter for various and sundry publications (only one of which is now defunct) before leaving the lucrative world of journalism for his MBA and a shot at a big-screen TV and more time in front of Saturday afternoon college football. He currently resides in Plano and spends his days wondering why he couldn’t have been born six inches taller and a few steps faster in the 40.