Scouting Football Talent – Building a better O-Line (Wall)

Continuing the series on where to look for the best incoming talent through the annual NFL Draft, TheFootballEducator.com addresses the all important yet oft-overlooked offensive line.

A ” Chorus Line”

Generally speaking it’s difficult to fathom any sustained success without a consistently stable front five, and the best way to describe a productive NFL O-Line is using the analogy of a “chorus line”.  In unison they’re a perfectly choreographed unit, able to sing/dance on a grander scale than just one performer.  But when out of synch, it doesn’t matter how well the others produce, the entire ensemble looks bad.  Pity the poor guard that doesn’t pick up the inside loop stunt and allows pressure up the middle.  Mercy on the right tackle that gets bull rushed and pushed into the quarterback’s face.

Doesn’t really matter what the others did, it all shows up as TFL’s, sacks, hits, and hurries.  The best offensive lines are well integrated and in tune with the strengths and weaknesses of one another.  Communication and instincts are key to execution.  Body balance and patience are just as significant as mass and brute strength.  The very best actually show parallels to the aforementioned “chorus line”; excellent footwork, timing, strength and stamina.  Constructed of individuals, yet combined into one functioning unit, the offensive line is a project every General Manager is constantly working to maintain and improve.

Position Parameters

No better way to build a championship O-Line than through the NFL Draft.  I’ve already addressed Quarterbacks and Running Backs, let’s look at Center, Guard, and Tackle;

Pos

Ht

Wt

Arm

Hand

Bench

10

20

40

VJ

BJ

SS

LS

3-C

OC

6032

302

32 1/2

10

25

1.81

3.02

5.25

25.2

8-4

4.71

-

7.67

OG

6041

316

33 3/8

10

25

1.82

3.02

5.22

26.9

8-4

4.77

-

7.90

OT

6056

322

34 3/8

9 7/8

25

1.83

3.04

5.22

27

8-9

4.76

-

7.81

The past five seasons have seen the parameters of the O-Line along the above averages.  Most notable is the continued growth of OT’s (height and arm length).  Offensive Centers are still pressed to display outstanding short area quickness and change of direction, while Guards appear to remain a hybrid of their inside/outside counterparts.

  • Combine studies show the odds favor Centers who exceed peer average (EPA) in short shuttle, 3-Cone and 40-yd dash, along with any 2 other attributes.  88% EPA 3-cone, 80% 40-yd dash and 76% short shuttle were starters 2005-2010.
  • Guards EPA in the 3-Cone and 40-yd dash, and any 2 other attributes had the best chance of starting.  86% of OG prospects EPA in 3-Cone and 74% in the 40-yd dash.
  • Tackles need straight line speed (4o yard dash) and 4 other attributes for the best shot as a starter.  72% of the starting OT’s EPA’d in the 40 between 2005-2010.

2-deep rosters

2-Deep rosters are open to the greatest depth in talent along the offensive line.  From 2009-2011 all three positions combined to show consistent levels throughout the draft;

  • 1st Rd – 15%
  • 2ND Rd – 14%
  • 3rd Rd – 13%
  • 4th Rd – 12%
  • 5th Rd – 9%
  • 6th Rd – 8%
  • 7th Rd – 9%
  • FA – 21%

Based upon those numbers, it’s remarkable that any Personnel Executive or General Manager wouldn’t be looking for O-Line talent over any other position deeper into the draft.

Avoid the bust

These stats correlate nicely with the 56/5 Rule (56 starts over 5 years) in avoiding draft day busts.  No other positions display the propensity to find quality talent beyond the first 2 or 3 rounds (1993-2003).

 Pick/Pos

1-10

11-20

21-50

51-80

81-120

121-160

161-200

201+

OC/OG

100%

80%

55.6%

28.6%

19.4%

10.4%

7.9%

8.2%

OT

91.7%

72.7%

40%

31.3%

10%

0%

7.7%

4.8%

*I intend to update the data for the next decade, but I still felt these were compelling enough to give a general idea.

Sudden impact?

Don’t look for young OL’s to have the sudden impact of the so-called “skilled” positions.  It takes time to develop and integrate offensive linemen into a team’s overall play.  OT’s fall in a similar category to defensive corners in that their play is integral to the unit, but 1 on 1 ability is a prime component to execute the position.  You’re likely to see a young tackle quickly thrown into the fire and produce (9.3% over vet avg).  OC and OG take more time to work their way into a starting lineup (3.8% & 5.6% over vet avg respectively).

It should also be noted that the O-Line tends to be some of the sharpest players on the field, able to quickly analyze and react to movement along the line of scrimmage.  Wonderlic scores are traditionally on average higher for most OL’s over just about any position (except QB).

Inspect each brick and you’ll build a better wall.

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