(A series looking at some of the top players at various positions leading up to the NFL Draft, set for April 27-29)
Quarterbacks have become tougher to evaluate in terms of their projected transition into the NFL due to the proliferation of the spread offense in college football, and quarterbacks aren't the only ones.
"My contention is it's every bit as hard to evaluate, especially the tackle position, the offensive line," NFL Network and NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock maintained during broadcast coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine in February in Indianapolis. "A lot of these guys have never put their hand in the dirt and now their vision is different, they're seeing things from a different angle and they're being asked to do things they've never done before.
"The guys that are used to it, I think, have a huge advantage, not just here but also at training camp."
That's one of the reasons expectations are tempered regarding this year's crop of available offensive linemen.
"From talking to talent evaluators, general managers and coaches in this league this week, expectations are pretty low for the offensive line," the NFK Network's Kim Jones reported from Indy.
Still, some finds might be available to those willing to look hard enough.
"We might not have some of the premier guys, a Laremy Tunsil in this group," NFL Network and NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah acknowledged. "We've got some guys who are going to be value picks in the third-, fourth-round range."
He has first-round potential but also a few potential red flags, which Mayock addressed at the Combine. "He had a lot of issues growing up," Mayock said. "I read an article, he basically said, 'I was a lost kid.' He was into drugs. He was suspended and kicked out of five schools." Bolles' troubles as a teen left junior college as his only post-high schol option but he eventually made it to Utah and earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors in 2016, his only season at the FBS level. "He's 24, he's gone on a mission, gotten married and he's had a son," Jones reported. "He said the No. 1 question teams asked him, if he has put the issues from his teenage years behind him?" Bolles ran a 4.95 40-yard dash at the Combine at 6-5 and 297 pounds. Jeremiah likes "the nasty he shows and how he wants to finish." Added Mayock: "He plays through the whistle, that guy."
"I think he's a Day One starter," Mayock declared. But where? "He's everything you want to see in an offensive lineman," Mayock continued. "The question is, is he a guard or a tackle? I think he's a first-round draft pick. And if it's me, he's a guard. But I've talked to a bunch of teams that think he's a tackle, and that's fine, also." Robinson (6-6 1/4, 322) spent his three seasons at Alabama at left tackle but said at the Combine he's open to playing guard at the level. Mayock saw Robinson following in the footsteps, potentially, of Kelechi Osemele, who progressed from tackle at Iowa State to Pro Bowl guard in the NFL.
Another one-year wonder at the NCAA Division I level with a backstory that you don't hear every day. "After high school he was a welder, out working for a living, not sure if he wanted to take a football scholarship," Mayock explained. Ramczyk (6-5 5/8, 310) eventually returned to the game at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point and, finally, at Wisconsin. Ramczyk had hip surgery after the season and didn't work out at the Combine but is nonetheless intriguing. "Extremely confident tackle with the athleticism to stay on the left side," NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein assessed. "Ramczyk is an early starter with the potential to become a good starting left tackle provided his medicals hold up."
He played left tackle at Western Kentucky and his tape against Alabama, Mayock insisted, was the best he'd seen against the Crimson Tide defensive front in the last five years. But that said, multiple draft evaluators anticipate Lamp will play guard in the NFL. "I think he's going to be a first-round draft pick," said Mayock, who sees comparisons to Zach Martin and Joel Bitonio when assessing Lamp's relative lack of size and length (6-3 5/8, 309, with 31 1/8-inch arms). Lamp did 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and checked in a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash. "Everything about this guy screams to me, 'I got it, I'm going to start Day One and help a team,'" Mayock said.
There will be no adjustment issues for Elflein transitioning out of Ohio State's offense. "Coming out of the Big Ten programs that typically run the ball and they're a little more balanced than a lot of the spread teams, I think some of the Big Ten offensive linemen have an advantage going into the NFL," Mayock explained. "They're used to their hand in the dirt. They're used to running the football. They're used to pass-protection calls between the center and the quarterback. This kid is NFL ready, probably second round and plugged in Day One." Elflein (6-25/8, 303) played guard for the Buckeyes before switching to center and was a team captain at OSU. He was also a high-school wrestler. NFL Network analyst Shaun O'Hara appreciated Elflein's "football intelligence," and how he was "never surprised. Good awareness, good anticipation, he has great footwork, a great base. You never see him on the ground."
The 2016 Draft, OL
Number drafted: 41
Picks by round: 7 in the first; 3 in the second; 7 in the third; 5 in the fourth; 11 in the fifth; 5 in the sixth; 3 in the seventh
Highest pick: Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, Round 1, 6th overall, Baltimore Ravens
Impact pick: The Tennessee Titans made Jack Conklin the second offensive tackle and second offensive lineman selected when they summoned him from Michigan State with the eighth overall pick. Conklin wound up making 16 starts at right tackle, allowed one sack and wasn't called for a holding penalty on his way to becoming a first-team All-Pro.