The "The Triple Take" now moves to the offensive line. In our eighth installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the offensive line position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
Matt's Take ...
Matt Williamson: This is a league that is short on offensive linemen. The big people on defense are getting more and more freaky from an athletic standpoint and offensive linemen are entering the NFL less and less prepared to handle those challenges. On the interior, at guard and center, this group of incoming players is one of the worst position groups of this draft class. But, on the other hand, the more difficult spot to find talent, offensive tackle, is actually quite rich this year with talent. And you will notice that few interior linemen made the top 10.
#10 - Isaiah Wilson, Georgia (6-6, 350 lbs.) - Wilson is a massive person that gets on his man and finishes him with power. He can engulf defenders like few offensive linemen coming out of college in recent memory. Wilson is quite explosive in a straight line, but not yet a technician. Playing is space isn't Wilson's forte though and he lumbers to change directions, so the scheme he goes to could have a lot to do with if he ends up being a success at the NFL level.
#9 - Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU (6-3, 312 lbs.) - Cushenberry is widely known as a huge team leader and is a very high character guy that would be an asset in any locker room. Cushenberry comes to play week after week. He is powerful at the point of attack and does a much better job stymying power rushes than he is dealing with quickness. As centers go, and Cushenberry might be able to play guard as well, he has great length and big hands.
#8 - Ezra Cleveland, Boise State (6-6, 331 lbs.) - While Wirfs' Combine performance was about as we have ever seen by an offensive lineman, Cleveland's might have even been better. Cleveland is a natural knee bender and a smooth mover overall. He played his best football to finish up his final season at Boise State. He is a leaner guy though that still needs work in the weight room, but it looks like Cleveland has the frame to carry more muscle mass although you would prefer that he had longer arms. His punch and ability to latch on aren't not particularly strong. Scheme fit will be important for Cleveland.
#7 - Austin Jackson, USC (6-5, 322 lbs.) - A bit of a project, Jackson is a very young prospect as he enters the NFL. He isn't overly physical or aggressive and needs work his punch and hand usage, but Jackson has a long build and has obvious athletic ability to groom. There is some risk here, but the best could be ahead of Jackson.
#6 - Cesar Ruiz, Michigan (6-3, 307 lbs.) - Ruiz is an extremely solid all-around player, which is extra impressive because he is a very young prospect. He lined up exclusively at center this past year but could project just fine to guard. Ruiz isn't an elite athlete, but he plays hard and looks to finish blocks. He also plays with a very solid base and has big powerful hands. Ruiz isn't flashy, but he is effective and should only get better.
#5 - Josh Jones, Houston (6-5, 319 lbs.) - Jones was utterly dominant this past year for Houston and is a four-year starter. He uses his hands very well and is comfortable in space or on an island in pass protection. Jones can get his pads too high during his pass set or in the run game but is a good enough knee bender with great overall flexibility to get that corrected.
#4 - Andrew Thomas, Georgia (6-5, 315 lbs.) - Thomas has insanely long arms, moves very well for a man with his frame and has a finisher's mentality. That being said, he is more of a power player than one relying on finesse and shows excellent recognition skills. In the run game, he is best as a zone blocker on the move but should have little trouble in any run scheme. Thomas really isn't far off from being first on this list, but his balance is slightly worrisome.
#3 - Mekhi Becton, Louisville (6-7, 364 lbs.) - Obviously the first thing you notice with Beckton is that he is just a massive human being. Then, you notice that this huge human being ran a 5.10 40-yard dash at the Combine, which boggles the mind a little. Beckton has long arms and massive hands. And once he gets those hands on his opponent in the run game, the battle is usually over. Still, he isn't yet a high-end pass protector and that might take a little time to develop. He also can be a little too aggressive at times, which leads to some overextending. What Beckton possesses as a prospect is a rare combination nonetheless.
#2 - Tristan Wirfs, Iowa (6-4, 320 lbs.) - Wirfs simply put on a show at the Combine and you can see why he would have been successful in other spots like wrestling and as a shot putter. He has a massive powerful lower body. Even with his amazing testing numbers, there is some thought that Wirfs would be an elite guard with his wrestling background and ability to get out and pull on the move. Wirfs brings that wrestling toughness to the football field as well and relishes in winning his one on one battles with a powerful low center of gravity. That isn't to say that, while Wirfs doesn't possess ideal tackle length, that he can't be a very good starter on the outside.
#1 - Jedrick Wills, Jr., Alabama (6-4, 312 lbs.) - A natural right tackle, Wills saw the field as a true freshman for Alabama and is a killer in the run game. He plays with a wide powerful base and shows excellent upper body strength. Wills looks to bury his opponent. At times, that aggression can get him in trouble by overextending for a kill shot. But Wills isn't just a mauler. He is very agile for a big man with rare explosiveness. That's a dangerous combination.
Dale's Take ...
Dale Lolley: We could see as many as six or even seven offensive tackles taken in the first round of this year's draft, making it one of the deepest positions in the event. The interior offensive line? Not so much. We might only see one of two of those taken before the end of round 2.
With so many teams in need of offensive line help, a run or two on linemen early would not be a surprise.
#10 - Lucas Niang, TCU (6-6, 315 lbs) - A talented player who fought through a hip injury to finish his junior season and play half of his senior season before it got too painful. Had surgery to repair the issue and should be good to go at the start of the season.
#9 - Isaiah Wilson, Georgia (6-6, 350 lbs.) - His size probably limits him to playing on the right side, but his size.
#8 - Cesar Ruiz, Michigan (6-3, 307 lbs.) - A true center, Ruiz could sneak into the late first round if a team is looking for immediate help there. He's easily the best of the bunch this year and the only interior linemen to rank among the top 10 here.
#7 - Ezra Cleveland, Boise State (6-6, 331 lbs.) - A big, mobile blocker who just needs to get stronger to be effective at the NFL level.
#6 - Austin Jackson, USC (6-5, 322 lbs.) - A true junior, Jackson has youth on his side. He's still developing. But the talent is certainly there.
#5 - Josh Jones, Houston (6-5, 319 lbs.) - A four-year starter at left tackle who suffered a knee injury in 2019 that limited him to nine games. He's healthy now and a probable first-round pick.
#4 - Andrew Thomas, Georgia (6-5, 315 lbs.) - Another athletic talent who could play on the left or right side. The last of the four sure things to go in the first round.
#3 - Mekhi Becton, Louisville (6-7, 364 lbs.) - A massive, athletic blocker who has the feet to play on the left side.
#2 - Tristan Wirfs, Iowa (6-4, 320 lbs.) - Played mostly on the right side at Iowa, but certainly has the athleticism to play left tackle in the NFL.
#1 - Jedrick Wills, Jr., Alabama (6-4, 312 lbs.) - Willis doesn't have prototypical size, but he's not lacking in any other facet. He makes up for his lack of ideal size by being a true technician.
Mike Prisuta: They're big, they can run and there are plenty of them.
"If you need an offensive lineman, you are smiling from ear to ear," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah assessed of the available offensive linemen in February at the NFL Scouting Combine. "The depth of the tackle class specifically is as good as I've seen in a very long time. From the first through third rounds you've got a chance to get starting-caliber tackles."
Added NFL Network analyst Shaun O'Hara: "There's probably five guys that could be starting (at offensive tackle) Week One, maybe more."
Here's how they may come off the board:
#10 - Cesar Ruiz, Michigan (6-3, 307 lbs.) - Jeremiah thinks Ruiz is a "Day One starter." Ruiz started 26 consecutive games to end his college career. Dane Brugler of The Athletic projects Ruiz as "a longtime NFL starting center."
#9 - Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU (6-3, 312 lbs.) - A story told by NFL Network reporter Kim Jones at the Combine speaks volumes: "As a freshman he swiped a football from the equipment room and he and his rookie roommate, Lindsey Scott, a quarterback, would practice shotgun and under-center snaps every single night. Cushenberry told me. 'I did what I had to do to get better.'" He was awarded the No. 18 by his teammates, a coveted number given to an inspirational player at LSU, and wore it as a patch on his uniform and as a badge of honor.
#8 - Isaiah Wilson, Georgia (6-6, 350 lbs.) - He was athletic enough to have played Wild Cat quarterback in high school. O'Hara broke down a little tape of Wilson doing so at the Combine. "It's like 'The Fridge,'" O'Hara insisted. References to William "The Refrigerator" Perry are never a bad thing.
#7 - Ezra Cleveland, Boise State (6-6, 331 lbs.) - He started all 40 college games he played at left offensive tackle. And his 7.26 three-cone drill was the best at the Combine among offensive linemen. No one, in other words, did it Better Than Ezra (credit Jeremiah for the alternative rock reference).
#6 - Josh Jones, Houston (6-5, 319 lbs.) - Jeremiah saw Jones get better as Senior Bowl week progressed after a "rough" first practice. Jones isn't necessarily dynamic "but he doesn't get beat," Jeremiah maintained. "He blocks the guy in front of him."
#5 - Austin Jackson, USC (6-4, 322 lbs.) - The story told at the Combine was of Jackson providing a bone marrow transplant for his little sister Autumn prior to the start of last season. He's impressed evaluators as a player who will continue to get stronger (he's only 20) and one who can get a lot better under more normal circumstances. Despite his youth and unusual situation, Jackson was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2019.
#4 - Andrew Thomas, Georgia (6-5, 315 lbs.) - The rave reviews have included this from O'Hara: "He's a Week One starter, plug him in, don't even have to think about him." And this from Jeremiah: "He's going to be a starting left tackle in Year One." Sooner or later, in other words.
#3 - Tristan Wirfs, Iowa (6-4, 320 lbs.) - Wirfs became the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle in the Kirk Ferentz Era at Iowa (if you understand Iowa football under Ferentz you appreciate the significance). Some think he might be better suited to play guard in the NFL (NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, for one). Either way, his physical testing in Indianapolis was freakish for a man of his size.
#2 - Jedrick Wills, Jr., Alabama (6-4, 312 lbs.) - He played right tackle for the Crimson Tide (the bind side for a left-handed QB). And he put on a physical show in Indy. "That's what a Top 10 pick looks like and moves like at that position," Jeremiah gushed.
#1 - Mekhi Becton, Louisville (6-7, 364 lbs.) - He was the heaviest player at the Combine and he ran a 5.10 in the 40-yard dash at 360-plus pounds. Davis called Becton "the human Richter scale." O'Hara was every bit as impressed "This guy's a planet," he insisted. "I didn't think big people could move like that."