Laken Tomlinson is the class of the 2015 NFL draft at offensive guard, but who else will catch the eye of teams looking for interior line play?
In the 2014 draft, there wasn't a single collegiate guard taken in the first round, but two players proved to be dominant at the position during their rookie seasons. Zack Martin moved over from left tackle (where he played at Notre Dame) to right guard and rewarded the Cowboys for their first-round faith in him by playing at a Pro Bowl level. Meanwhile, Nevada's Joel Bitonio, who also played left tackle in college, was drafted in the second round and kicked inside to left guard by the Browns. Bitonio had stretches of his rookie season in which he was not only the best guard in his draft class, but one of the best guards overall. The first actual guard prospect taken in last year's draft who showed a great deal of first-year success was Mississippi's Gabe Jackson, taken in the third round by the Raiders.
So it goes for the guards in the 2015 draft class. Among the players who saw most of their time inside the tackles throughout their collegiate careers, there doesn't look to be a consensus first-rounder, which means that the players named below may go underrated while more highly-regarded first- and second-round tackle conversion projects take the spotlight. That said, there's a lot of value here—it just depends on the scheme an NFL team runs and how much work they're prepared to do in a technique sense.
1. Laken Tomlinson, Duke: Unless one of the higher-caliber tackle prospects kicks over to guard, Tomlinson is probably the most talented player at this position. At 6'3" and 323 pounds, he's a real problem when he's got his leverage going in run-blocking. Tomlinson can move people around decisively with his tremendous upper-body strength and wide base. He's also more agile and better in pass-blocking than you'd expect from a big man. He gets into trouble when he tries to hit targets at the second level; he's not always aware of his surroundings in space. He'll also need to learn how to pick up more advanced defensive schemes at the NFL level. That said, Tomlinson has a high football IQ and certainly a high IQ in general—he wants to be a doctor when his playing career is over. For now, he's best-suited to a team with a passing game that works off a power running system.
Projection: Mid-second round
2. Tre Jackson, Florida State: As a longtime starter in a championship-level program, Jackson has faced some serious competition and excelled. Jackson's primary attribute may be that he generally keeps his defender in front of him and in a specific area. No matter how many hand moves, twists and counters opponents try, Jackson is very adept at maintaining his base and using his hands to direct the action. He's more a mauler than a technician at 6'3" and 330 pounds, he can be upended by quicker defensive linemen, and his second-level blocking is a work in progress.
Projection: Mid- to late-second round
3. A.J. Cann, South Carolina: Cann's most prominent asset is his reliability—he started all but one game for the Gamecocks over his four-year collegiate career, and he might be the most complete guard in this class. He's not quite as powerful as Tomlinson, but he's better at many of the things NFL teams will require of him: pass-blocking, tearing off to hit a target in space and keeping his head on a swivel to maintain protections in his area. The 6'3", 313-pound Cann would do well to upgrade his playing power, though. He tends to lunge his way around at times, and he's more of a technician than a finisher.
Projection: Mid- to late-second round
4. Josue Matias, Florida State: Matias started the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl as a true freshman and has played just about every game for the Seminoles since, a total of 46 starts. At times, Matias looks every bit a top-level left guard prospect—he's a powerful man who frequently plays with great leverage and can drive defenders off the ball. He also has moments where he's agile in pass protection and will peel off his first blocking assignment to take on a second opponent. This 6'5", 309-pound native of the Dominican Republic could be a longtime NFL starter with a little more core strength.
Projection: Late second round
[daily_cut.nfl draft]5. Ali Marpet, Hobart: Marpet received very little interest from big programs out of high school as a 230-pound offensive tackle and defensive end. He signed with Division III Hobart and dominated the opposition at left tackle, going long stretches without allowing a single sack. The obvious concerns about quality of competition dissolved during Senior Bowl week, when Marpet came to Mobile with a gigantic chip on his shoulder and held his own as a guard against guys like Washington's Danny Shelton, who outweighs Marpet by at least 30 pounds.
Marpet doesn't have the pure agility to play left tackle in the NFL, but there are some legitimate comparisons to Zack Martin in his potential to kick inside with the right attributes. Marpet might not hit the NFL right away at that level, though—there are some coachable issues to deal with, and at 6'4" and 307 pounds, he's very reliant on maintaining an extremely high level of technique to avoid being overpowered. He might project as a low-ceiling backup if his dedication and intensity hadn't been given a chance to show up on a bigger stage.
Projection: Early third round
6. Arie Kouandjio, Alabama: The older brother of Bills tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie may get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to pro-readiness because he played at Alabama, and there are a lot of things to like. At 6'5" and 310 pounds with the frame to add more weight, he's lighter on his feet than one may assume, and he's very powerful in the run game. Where he doesn't look pro-ready at all—and this is something that has been true of other Alabama linemen through the last decade—is that he occasionally gets lost in the action at times and doesn't always hit his targets accurately. Multiple knee surgeries will have teams scouring his medicals.
Projection: Third round
7. John Miller, Louisville: Miller doesn't really pass the size test at 6'2" and 303 pounds, but he's got 33 1/4-inch arms and a very powerful upper body. The strength is both an advantage and disadvantage when it comes to projecting him to the NFL, though. While Miller has an excellent punch and knows how to dominate at the line of scrimmage, he also has some decent-sized technique flaws. He tends to lunge when defenders get away from him, his second-level blocking is spotty at best, and he doesn't have quick reactions. Miller might be asked to move inside to center, but if he stays at guard he's best-suited in a power scheme with those important technique adjustments in mind.
Projection: Late third round
8. Mitch Morse, Missouri: After the Seahawks drafted Justin Britt in the second round of the 2014 draft, Morse took over at left tackle and looked good after appearing at multiple positions in his previous seasons. Morse is a very smart player who seems very aware of the action in front of him. He understands his place on the line and can pick up advanced defensive line schemes with ease. Where he could struggle at the next level is in his physical limitations. Morse is a bit top-heavy and will lose his base at times against more powerful defenders. He's more an edge-setter than a dominating run-blocker. He also has limited recovery speed, and though many project him as a guard, his ultimate destination may be center, where he played for the Tigers in 2012.
Projection: Fourth round
9. Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: Douglas played every line position but center for the Sun Devils, switching from left guard (where he started in 2012 and 2013) to left tackle for the 2014 season. He was named first-team All-Pac-12 there but projects better as a guard due to size (6'4", 304) and arm length (33 1/4") concerns. At left guard, Douglas is more of a technician than a mauler. He has a really nice kick-step in pass protection, he gets to the second level quickly and with a plan, and he's mobile enough to pull and slide effectively. However, he has a tendency to play too high at times, losing strength and leverage, and he may be a better fit for a quicker, zone-blocking line in the NFL.
Projection: Fourth or fifth round
10. Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah: Poutasi played left tackle for the Utes over the last two seasons, but he's not projected there at the next level—he doesn't have a kick-step to speak of in pass pro, and he's struggled with weight issues at times. But in tight areas, he's a big guy (6'5", 335 at the combine) who can enforce his will, especially when run-blocking. He's got the frame to handle 330 pounds and still be in football shape, but anything more than that will be a problem. What's surprising about Poutasi, and what may make his projection to guard a success, is how quickly he ascends to the second level.
Projection: Fifth round