The 2023 NFL draft is stacked from top to bottom. There is depth similar to the 2022 class, but the star power could make this year historic. Guard is the one position group that hasn't gotten much attention, but is really good. There are several names with starter potential. The difference between guard and some other positions is that there isn't a clear-cut top player. After going through the film, I concluded that North Dakota State's Cody Mauch is not only the top guard in the class, but he has Pro-Bowl potential.
Like many small-school players, Mauch had a unique path to North Dakota State. Coming out of high school, Mauch was 220 pounds, with experience at tight end, defensive end and quarterback in high school.
It wasn't an immediate transition for Mauch to the offensive line, as he played tight end and even some defensive end to start. Being one of the best programs in the country, North Dakota State knew Mauch would be best on the offensive line.
After his first spring ball, Mauch was moved to the offensive line room. He redshirted as a freshman and played sparingly through the 2018 and 2019 seasons, playing behind future NFL players Cordell Volson and Dillon Radunz.
With Radunz off to the NFL, Mauch got his chance to start during the spring of 2021. Mauch played right tackle to start before transitioning to left tackle for the remainder of the season. For a first-time starter at a position that he didn't start at until that season, Mauch gave up a total of six pressures and zero sacks. In most cases, when a team loses a player like Radunz to the NFL, there is a drop-off at left tackle, but there wasn't one with Mauch.
Being a more inexperienced player, there wasn't much attention surrounding Mauch heading into his second campaign as a starter. He put his name on the map with a dominant season, helping the Bison win a national championship. It wasn't hard to notice Mauch. He stood out when watching other players' film. When watching Montana linebacker Troy Andersen's film in that national championship game, it was Mauch who looked like the NFL player.
Anytime he had the opportunity, Mauch put Andersen and the other Montana defenders in the dirt. When watching Volson, a starter in the NFL as a rookie, it was Mauch who looked like the best player on the North Dakota State offensive line.
Going into the spring, Mauch was a name I had circled as a senior to watch. I had high expectations for the Bison left tackle and he did not disappoint. It starts with his athleticism. Mauch is an elite athlete, with unbelievable foot quickness. He gets out in space with ease and is as good as it gets at the second level. Mauch climbs with low pad level and does a great job locating and latching onto linebackers or safeties. The best part was that Mauch always finished plays on film. He consistently pancaked defenders and played through the whistle.
Some players will get knocked for lack of aggressiveness, but that won't be the case with Mauch. His hip flexibility and ability to seal off defenders led to massive holes for running backs to get through. In the run game, Mauch didn't allow his hands to get too wide or lunge at defenders, two mistakes that are too common with college offensive linemen.
His athleticism translated in pass protection really well. Mauch was explosive out of his stance and used his foot quickness to mirror defenders. It was almost unfair for the edge rushers who had to go against Mauch. They'd try to win with speed and bend, but Mauch's foot quickness and knee bend would keep them outside the pocket.
Defenders who tried to work counters or inside moves were met with Mauch's great technique and agility to stay in front of them. As a former tight end, I thought there might be some power concerns, but Mauch is naturally strong, with good core strength. Pass rushers tried to win with power to no avail.
Simply put, Mauch was not only one of the best tackles in college football, but also the best players. Going into the season, I was extremely high on Mauch, but wanted to see him continue his success against an FBS team in Arizona.
In the Missouri Valley Conference, Mauch was going up against some really good defensive ends, but I wanted to see how he'd respond against the Wildcats.
It was much of the same for Mauch against Arizona. He had no issues in pass protection and had some "wow" reps in the run game. Mauch was easily the best player on the field and looked like a future pro.
The move to guard at the next level will only be because of his arm length. Mauch measured in at under 33 inches this spring. Most teams ideally want 34-inch arms on their tackles, but will rarely go under 33 inches. I think he could play tackle at the next level, but his skill set will translate exceptionally well at guard, especially in a zone scheme because of his athleticism.
Everything teams look for in a guard shows up on Mauch's tape. He has natural power, consistently wins the leverage battle, is elite at the second level and great on the move.
In addition to playing tackle, Mauch will be able to show teams how good he is inside at the Senior Bowl, where his stock will only soar. It also wouldn't be shocking to see Mauch test off the charts at the Combine.
We have seen a number of top-tier offensive linemen come from outside the FBS. High-end starters such as Mike Iupati, Ali Marpet, Spencer Brown and Quinn Meinerz, to name a few. Two FCS players, Trevor Penning and Cole Strange, were selected in the first round last April. The stigma that FCS players are worse or won't transition as well to the next level has been disproven over and over again and teams are aware of that.
In a deep guard class, there are a lot of good players vying to be the first drafted. No one has the combination of athleticism, power, technique and consistency Mauch possesses. Not to mention, his tape has now been fantastic for three seasons.
It wouldn't be shocking to see Mauch end up as the third FCS player drafted in the first round in the last two years. He is the complete package, and will start in the league for 10 years and is a potential Pro Bowler, making him the top guard in the 2023 draft.