At first glance, it might be hard to imagine that a Texas-El Paso squad that finished 0-12 in 2017 might be led by a future top 50 NFL draft pick but that may very well be the case with Hernandez, a four-year starter at left guard who may just be the best senior interior offensive lineman in college football.
After a standout prep career at Chaparral High School (Las Vegas, Nevada) in which he earned all-conference honors at both guard and defensive tackle, Hernandez earned plenty of attention from college recruiters, including virtually everyone from the Pac-12, including USC and Arizona State. Many programs backed off, however, when it appeared that he might have to take the junior college route due to academics. Then-UTEP head coach Sean Kugler stuck with him, however, and Hernandez rewarded the loyalty by signing with the Miners.
Hernandez redshirted his first year with the program (2013) but earned the starting left guard position out of camp in his first eligible season and never looked back, starting the next 49 consecutive games. He enjoyed rare publicity for any offensive lineman - especially one who played for a team which struggled as much as UTEP did. Hernandez is the first Miner to receive consecutive all-conference first team honors since Quintin Demps (2006 & 2007) and is the first UTEP offensive lineman to ever receive back-to-back first team recognition. The captain was appointed UTEP Offensive Player of the Year voted by the team. He was voted a preseason All-American by several publications and likely only the fact that UTEP finished winless kept him from earning post-season accolades. He has been invited to both the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game because those willing to look past box scores and watch the tape can see that his talent is obvious.
From his broad build to his quick feet, power, nasty playing demeanor and rare durability, Hernandez looks like he was carved out of wood to play guard in the NFL. He can generate movement at the point of attack in the running game with his sheer strength but also shows impressive agility when asked to block on the move. He is balanced and technically refined in pass protection, showing the awareness that only comes with playing time.
Hernandez is a legitimate plug and play candidate at guard who offers positional flexibility with some experience at center. Had he played at this level at a more accomplished program, he might be earning acclaim as a first round pick. As it stands, he should not escape the second round with every indication that he possesses the competitiveness, work ethic and durability to be a longtime NFL starter.
Hernandez recorded 42 tackles, eight sacks, one interception, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries at defensive tackle during his senior season at Chaparral High. He was convinced by Kugler to make the permanent switch to guard and started every game of his college career after redshirting in 2013. "He's the hardest working kid in our program, the toughest kid in our program, the strongest kid in the program," Kugler said in an article highlighting Hernandez as a Preseason All-American (El Paso Times) prior to the 2017 season.
Hernandez looks like he was cut from an "OG" template with very broad shoulders and a thick overall musculature including meaty thighs and stubby limbs very conducive to winning the leverage battle. He is an impressive athlete for the position, showing terrific initial quickness out of his stance when asked to pull as well as explosive power in his hands and hips to generate clear movement at the point of attack.
High school defensive tackle, Hernandez still plays with the fire of a defender, jolting opponents with an explosive initial pop and showing legitimate nasty in his play, looking to pancake and dominate opponents. Hernandez shows light feet, balance and excellent core strength in pass protection, sliding laterally and anchoring effectively when opponents attempt bull rushes. He keeps his head on a swivel and reacts aggressively to twists and stunts, firing outside when necessary to flank his left tackle and protect the edge.
As a run blocker, Hernandez shows an explosive initial punch and leg drive to generate movement at the point of attack and sells out when blocking at the second level, lunging into opponents to often create eye-popping collisions. He looks for work in pass protection, delivering well-timed punches to knock defenders off balance. UTEP's former and current coaches all rave about Hernandez's work ethic and commitment. - Rob Rang 12/2/2017
Though he occasionally squared off against Big 12 opponents (including Oklahoma and Texas), the majority of UTEP's games were against inferior competition. Further, though he saw some time at center during practice over his career, Hernandez has zero starting experience at any other position other than left guard and does not long snap.
He can be a bit sporadic with his hand placement, grasping outside of the numbers and leaving himself vulnerable to slipping off or drawing penalties. Though Hernandez possesses impressive initial quickness (including when pulling), he occasionally gets a too far ahead of his skis once on the run, lacking the elite body control and anticipation to consistently hit moving targets. At times, he'll resort to lunging at opponents here, delivering some terrific hits but occasionally missing, as well. - Rob Rang 12/2/2017
COMPARES TO: Randall McDaniel, Vikings. McDaniel starred in an era in which 300 pound offensive linemen were rare but it is easy to remember the great No. 64's squatty frame, physicality and consistency when watching Hernandez. Like McDaniel (who started 202 consecutive games and earned All-Pro designation nine straight seasons), Hernandez earns top marks for durability and overall dominance, at least at the college level.
IN OUR VIEW: Do not make the mistake of thinking that because the Miners finished winless in 2017 that the team lacks talent. In fact, in Hernandez UTEP boasts its best NFL prospect since the Raiders made linebacker Thomas Howard the No. 38 overall selection of the 2006 draft.
Hernandez is a plug and play candidate with 49 consecutive starts (all at left guard). As his size suggests, he is a mauler in the running game with terrific power. Hernandez also shows excellent awareness to recognize stunts and twists, as well as the athleticism to react appropriately.