(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, set for April 30-May 2.)
Over the previous couple of drafts, there have been a handful of offensive linemen who were selected in the first round, and this group looks to have the talent and depth to match those classes. As always, teams will go after the offensive tackles first, but position flexibility is valued to such a degree that now in the NFL it's rare for a lineman to be able to play only one position.
View some of the top 2015 NFL draft prospects at the offensive line position.
The only question here seems to be whether Scherff will play tackle or guard in the NFL. Mike Mayock, NFL Network draft analyst, said he believes Scherff will be the first offensive lineman drafted and that he will move inside to guard and become a starter right away. Scherff is 6-foot-5, 319 pounds, and his eventual employer's decision as to a permanent position could come down to whether they value him more as a tackle against the elite pass rushers or as a butt-kicking guard capable of helping a team dominate the interior.
There is no doubt where Peat will play once he gets into the NFL. This 6-7, 313 prospect is more of an athlete than a mauler, and he will be a 21-year-old rookie who started 27 games at left tackle during the 2013-14 seasons at Stanford. One concern about Peat is that he seems to lack a consistent nasty streak. If an opponent gets the better of him, Peat will respond, but in college he wasn't always known as what grizzled offensive linemen refer to as "a finisher."
After appearing in seven games as a freshman, the 6-5, 305-pound Collins started 13 games as a left guard as a sophomore in 2012. He shifted to left tackle and started 12 games there in 2013, and as a senior in 2014 he was the Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner – as the top offensive lineman in the SEC – and was voted LSU's most outstanding player. According to LSU statistics, Collins totaled 217 knockdowns in his final three college seasons. A team captain, Collins will be a 22-year-old rookie. He lost 20 pounds between his junior and senior seasons, and he constantly plays with a chip on his shoulder. A finisher.
He is 6-5, 307, and Humphries played three seasons for the Florida Gators, but inexperience and then injuries limited him to 19 starts during that time. He sprained and then tore his left MCL in 2013, and then an ankle injury sidelined him for two full games in 2014. Good feet and athleticism are Humphries' best traits, and he was solid in pass protection throughout his college career. The movement part of the job is something Humphries should be able to handle, but he probably is going to have to work on the strength part of it.
Big. That's typically the first thing that comes to mind when Flowers walks into the room. He's 6-6, 329 and young enough to enter the NFL as a 21-year-old rookie. As a freshman in 2012 he started four games at right tackle; in 2013 he started all 13 games at left tackle; and in 2014 he missed one start because of a torn meniscus. His 37 repetitions in the bench press at the Combine showed his strength, and he plays with a nasty streak. In an early-2014 matchup vs. Nebraska, Flowers handled OLB Randy Gregory in the run game and neutralized him as a pass-rusher. Still inexperienced, which is another attractive thing about him from the NFL scouts' perspective.
A late-arrival to the sport in high school, Clemmings in fact received multiple Division I offers in basketball. After a redshirt year in 2011, Clemmings began his college football career at Pitt as a defensive lineman, but he was moved to offense before the team's bowl game that season. The 6-5, 309 Clemmings started 26 games at right tackle in 2013-14, and he left Pitt having played for three different coaching staffs. Clemmings is unpolished and more of an athlete than a mauler. Of the players in this upper tier of offensive line prospects, Clemmings is the project.
What makes this guy so interesting, and what end up making him some money in the NFL, is that he's a left tackle who can play center. Erving (6-6, 313) took a redshirt in 2010 at Florida State, and he played defense the following season. He was converted to offense in the spring of 2012, and he started all 28 games at left tackle. In 2014, he started the first nine games at left tackle and then the final five at center. The ACC coaches twice voted him the conference's best blocker. Maybe Erving is best suited to moving inside in the NFL, but he looks to have all of the tools necessary to line up at tackle and give his team quality play there. And if he can add center to his resume, Erving can become a very valuable part of some team's roster for a long time.
THE 2014 NFL DRAFT, OL STATISTICS
Number drafted: CENTERS: 10; GUARDS: 16; TACKLES: 19
Picks by round: CENTERS: 0 in the first; 1 in the second; 2 in the third; 2 in the fourth; 2 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 1 in the seventh; GUARDS: 1 in the first; 3 in the second; 6 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 3 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 0 in the seventh; TACKLES: 4 in the first; 3 in the second; 2 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 2 in the fifth; 3 in the sixth; 4 in the seventh
Highest pick: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn, Round 1, 2nd overall by the St. Louis Rams
Biggest impact: Zack Martin, guard, Dallas Cowboys. Using first-round picks on offensive linemen is no way to excite the fan base, but it's a solid way to build a football team. For the second straight season, a Cowboys rookie offensive lineman made a significant contribution. In 2013, it was center Travis Frederick. Last May, it was Martin. And with those two, plus Tyron Smith, the ninth overall pick in 2011, DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards in 2014.