By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
Offensive line is tough to rate from casual viewing. But even us lay people and fans of the draft can get some idea of a guy’s quality if you actually take the time to watch. You don’t need to watch the lineman literally every single play. We all know its more fun and natural to just follow the ball. But I sometimes make a point to check out some guys on the o-line and will watch. If a play is coming up for replay and isn’t something spectacular I really want to study, I sometimes then will say…..okay, lets see how such and such a guard did. Replays are actually a great time to see how the blocking held up that sprung a play or caused it to fail. In any event, here is our rankings of the best offensive linemen in college right now.
1.) Clint Boling (#60), Offensive Tackle, Georgia: Boling has been rated anywhere from the 5th best player in next year’s draft and best lineman, to further down the list and a late first rounder. Georgia’s poor season does have potential to damage Boling, but this kid is as complete a lineman as you’ll find. He’s a technician and very good in many areas, but not outstanding in any. He can be versatile, having played left and right tackle and right guard. He is tough, physical and competitive. He’s never missed significant time with injuries and been a 4 year starter. He did have ankle surgery in the offseason, but it was minor. Boling will be a steady, starting tackle in the NFL for a long time. Its conceivable a better athlete will wow teams prior to the draft, leaving Boling to be chosen behind them. But for my money, Boling is as much a can’t miss, will-be-good prospect as there is along the offensive line.
2.) Anthony Castonzo (#74), Offensive Tackle, Boston College: Local product Castonzo has manned BC’s offensive line virtually from the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman. A physical and tough kid with an attitude, Castonzo plays left tackle for BC. Many have him rated as the best lineman in the draft and a top 10 pick. Watch him tonight pave holes on the left side and protect a freshman quarterback, Chase Rettig, making his first college start. BC will be on ABC at 8PM EST playing Notre Dame at home.
3.) DeMarcus Love (#65), Offensive Tackle, Arkansas: Antother former guard who has made the switch to tackle. Love is a better athlete than the above two, but probably not as good a football player overall right now. Still, his natural physical ability points to a big upside. He could switch back inside to guard in the NFL, but given his talent to be a top tackle that would seem to be a waste. Right now, Love plays right tackle but he has the talent to switch to left. His upside could vault him to be taken ahead of the above two. He also shows weight room strength, benching 415 regularly. Given that he’s a right tackle and the Patriots prefer a different style lineman, they probably won’t be interested in Love. But many teams will be.
4.) Stephen Schilling (#52), Guard, Michigan: Schilling is a captain for the University of Michigan football team that is off to a pretty good start this season after some down years. The Patriots always like to see players who display leadership. He also is versatile, having started his first two years at right tackle and now playing left guard for this last two years in college. As a left guard, it could be he’s a match for the Patriots as they may be looking for a player at that position next offseason given the Logan Mankins situation. Schilling fits the Patriots typical lists of requirements of strong, tough, physical, loves the game, versatile, smart and a leader. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they look in this direction next year at the draft.
5.) Gabe Carimi (#68), Tackle, Wisconsin: Carimi is rated higher by some, including as high as the best tackle in the draft. He is a typical Wisconsin road grader. Big, strong as an ox and excels in run blocking over pass blocking. Carimi actually took over left tackle for Joe Thomas after he graduated. Thomas has gone on to become one of the best tackles in football playing for the Cleveland Browns. Carimi has a massive frame and a lot of talent. His rawness as a pass blocker could scare away the Patriots, but given how Thomas adjusted and excelled that is unlikely.
6.) Nate Solder (#78), Tackle, Colorado: This guy has tons of talent. Runs fast with a 4.88/40 time but also puts up great strength numbers such that those in the Colorado football program have taken to calling him “The Freak.” Came to Colorado a tight end, which is a biography the Patriots like for their tackles. They like guys who are not just maulers, but also have some foot speed and quickness. They have repeatedly brought in former tight ends who have converted to tackle. Solder is a guy who maintains the speed he had as a tight end and is a good athlete. But now he is packing it on a 6’9″ 315 lb. frame. Solder is a guy the Patriots will likely have an interest in. The day after Thanksgiving he’ll be on with his Colorado teammates taking on a tough Nebraska squad on ABC at 3:30 PM EST.
7.) Mike Pouncey (#52), Florida, Center: The twin brother of Steelers first round choice Maurkice Pouncey, who has won the starting center job in Pittsburgh. Mike Pouncey himself is now a center taking over after converting from guard for his brother Maurkice. The reason one twin is in the NFL while the other, Mike, isn’t is that Maurkice came out early to the NFL Draft while Mike decided to wait. Mike has shown some versatility in his ability to play guard and center and that could interest the Patriots. Like his brother, Mike is likely to be the top center in next year’s draft.
8.) Derek Sherrod (#79), Mississippi State, Tackle: If you’re noticing a trend of tackles you are absolutely correct. The best linemen in this draft are at that position. And Sherrod is another good one with left tackle ability. He consistently grades out as one of the best Mississippi State linemen. Slower and less athletic than Solder, but still not a slouch. Has good power and is a run blocker.
9.) Kristopher O’Dowd (#61), USC, Center: The second best center in the draft, he has plenty of experience in the shotgun and pass blocking. He’s had a few injuries, but is another line captain who can be physical, tough and strong but also has the intelligence and leadership you look for from a center. USC takes on Stanford October 9th at 8PM EST on ABC.
10.) Danny Watkins (#59), Baylor, Tackle: Another big, strong tackle who can play on the left side and has plenty of experience pass blocking. May end up being one of the strongest players at the Combine. Watkins has an interesting back story as well. He turns 26 years old this football season and will be 27 midway thru his rookie year in the NFL. Additionally, he never played football until 2007 and played only hockey in high school. Tried out for football team on a whim when he enrolled in some classes at Butte Junior College to study firefighting. Eventually that led to a spot at Baylor and here he is, being talked about as one of the better linemen in college football just years after he first tried the game. His age and inexperience will likely hurt him at draft time. But its important to remember how talented and strong he is and how far he’s come. He proved in college he could leap in and contribute right away and any team drafting him high will have to feel comfortable he could make the leap in competition quickly again.