(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, set for May 8-10.)
One major difference between the people who put together mock drafts and the people who actually do the picking for the various NFL teams is the way the big-uns are valued. Mock drafts have a tendency to include a lot of players who handle the football at the top of the first round, but the way it usually ends up is that the big people – offensive and defensive linemen with athletic ability – are valued more highly.
In the run-up to this particular draft, there's a lot of interest in where the quarterbacks will go, how many receivers will be among the top 10 selections, whether the team picking first overall can afford to bypass Jadeveon Clowney. Not a lot is being said about the offensive linemen, but expect that to change rather quickly once the picking begins on May 8.
Before the first day of the draft is over, there could be seven offensive linemen among the first 32 selections, and maybe there ends up being even more. Remember, the Dallas Cowboys were mocked for picking center Travis Frederick on the first round a year ago, but after the way he played as a rookie season it's the Cowboys who should be laughing.
Check out photos of potential draft prospects. (Photos by AP)
The magnificent seven for 2014 could include tackles Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, and possibly Cyrus Kouandjio; guards Zack Martin and Gabe Jackson; and center Marcus Martin. And maybe someone unexpected sneaks into the first round, as Frederick did in 2013.
The 6-foot-5, 332-pound Robinson enters the draft as a redshirt sophomore, which means if his lack of experience can be seen as a negative his being a relatively blank canvas in terms of bad habits can be seen as the corresponding positive. Robinson is an outstanding run-blocker who could stand to refine his technique in pass protection. Like a lot of young tackles, Robinson will have to learn to stay focused through the secondary moves of the pass-rushers or risk getting beat late in the play. He has the skill-set to become a Pro Bowl left tackle.
This is a 6-5, 308-pound limb of the Matthews football family tree. Jake (pictured above) is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, the nephew of Browns Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., the cousin of Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay III, and a cousin of Eagles linebacker Casey. Jake Matthews played in 10 games with seven starts as a freshman in 2010, and then started all 26 games at right tackle during the 2011-12 seasons. In 2013 he replaced Jaguars No. 1 pick Luke Joeckel as the starting left tackle. Seen as quite possibly the safest pick in this draft, Matthews could end up being a better player than Joeckel.
Lewan, 6-7, 309, became a starter four games into 2010, which was his redshirt freshman season. Then he started all 39 games at left tackle from 2011-13, and he won the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award his last two seasons. A team captain, Lewan's 4.79 was the Combine's best 40-time among offensive linemen. Of the top three tackles in this class, Lewan can be considered the finesse player of the group.
At 6-7, 322, his surname is pronounced "KWON-joe." Cyrus was a backup at Alabama as a freshman in 2011 and had his season end against Tennessee when he sustained season-ending torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. Kouandjio started all 26 games at left tackle in 2012-13. If Lewan is a finesse player, Kouandjio is not. His size and long arms allow him to lock onto and then control a pass-rusher, and he will be a 21-year-old rookie. His 5.63 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine tied for last among all players participating, and because he isn't particularly fast or nimble Kouandjio might be better suited to right tackle in the NFL.
Martin, 6-4, 308, started 13 games in 2010, 11 at left tackle and two at right tackle, and then he started all 39 games from 2011-13 at left tackle. Martin was a two-time team captain whose 52 starts are the most in Notre Dame history. Even though Martin has a lot of the skills that NFL teams want in their offensive linemen, his best spot might be at guard in the pros. Martin was one of the few who played well against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, and he was voted MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl after the 2013 season. Martin is considered a very safe pick in this draft.
Jackson, 6-3, 336, redshirted in 2009, and then he started 52 straight games at left guard. As a two-time team captain, Jackson didn't give up a sack over his final two seasons in the SEC. A big guy with a thick lower body, Jackson combines the physical requirements with a solid fundamental understanding of technique. His durability and approach in college are giving scouts the idea he can develop the proper mind-set to be a professional. With him, it all could come down to how quickly a team decides to address the guard position.
Martin, 6-3, 320, is widely considered the best prospect among the centers. At USC, he started the final 10 games of his freshman season of 2011 at left guard, and he started 10 of the 12 games in 2012 there as well. Martin was moved to center in 2013, where he started all 13 games, but against UCLA in the finale he dislocated his left kneecap and sustained a high left ankle sprain. Martin played his final college season as a 20-year-old.
THE 2013 NFL DRAFT, OL STATISTICS
Number drafted: CENTERS: 7; GUARDS: 15; TACKLES: 20
Picks by round: CENTERS: 1 in the first; 0 in the second; 0 in the third; 3 in the fourth; 0 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 1 in the seventh; GUARDS: 3 in the first; 0 in the second; 2 in the third; 2 in the fourth; 2 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 4 in the seventh; TACKLES: 5 in the first; 1 in the second; 4 in the third; 2 in the fourth; 2 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 4 in the seventh
Highest pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan, Round 1, 1st overall, by the Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest impact: Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys. Many laughed when the Cowboys drafted a center in the first round, but Frederick started every game as a rookie, and he showed good lower-body strength and the ability to get out and block the linebacker. He has the potential to be Dallas' center for the next 10 to 12 years.