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Draft Time: Evaluating the Guards (and One Right Tackle)

The keys to a rushing offense, guards are usually shorter and stouter than tackles. The NFL demands that these big men pull to the outside for sweep plays, block downfield on screens, and keep massive Defensive linemen from terrorizing your QB, while opening a few throwing lanes for him. So, which one of these guys can get the job done?

Kevin C. Cox

Jonathon Cooper, North Carolina (Projected: Top 10)

6’2", 311 pounds - When you are getting compared to current or past pro-bowlers, the comparison really helps your draft stock. When you are getting compared to 9-time pro bowler that will likely be enshrined in Canton, that sends your value through the roof. Such is the case with Cooper. He is a fluid athlete that shows incredibly smooth mechanics in pulling and drive blocking. His pulling abilities have drawn comparisons to the great Alan Faneca. His only deficiencies for now seem to be a lack of elite strength and some footwork issues in pass pro. Scouts believe he may be susceptible to larger, stronger bull rushers early in his career. Still, both he and Warmack may the highest drafted Guards since Mike Iupati was taken in the 17th spot a few years ago by the 49ers.

While it may be tempting to take Cooper or Warmack at the 11 spot if the top shelf LT’s are gone, this team needs to restock talent at many positions that have relative scarcity for top rated prospects. If the Bolts do trade down in the first, I could see taking guard at 15+ in the first round, but spending an 11 pick on a guard, not matter how good they are, is a luxury the team can’t afford right now. Still, Cooper does look good:

Jonathan Cooper - 2013 NFL Draft Profile (via Erick Ward)

Chance Warmack, Alabama (Projected: Top 10)

6’2", 317 Pounds – A human fire hydrant, Warmack is built as solidly as a football player can be. Despite his stout frame, he is actually fairly light on his feet and slides as well as he anchors. Does not mind blocking interior D-linemen or hitting the second level to blast a linebacker. His only limitation is his size. He will play only Guard in the NFL. At this point, he is probably the better guard than Cooper, but with proper coaching and physical training, Cooper may actually turn out to be better a NFL guard. In any event, both Warmack and Cooper should be fine NFL interior linemen. Given the skill sets and body type, it is easy to project Pro Bowl level play from either, if not both of them within a couple of seasons.

Had the Chargers not gotten Rinehart and still had a hole at the Guard position, the drafting of either of these players at the 11 spot would have been OK in my opinion. Warmack is projected as high as a number eight pick in some mock drafts. Unfortunately, the team needs to acquire superior level talent at LT, and if that is not going to happen in the first round, there are just too many other roster spots that need a talent upgrade. Take a look at a fine interior lineman that will likely be playing for somebody else:

2013 NFL Draft Profile: Chance Warmack - Alabama (via Erick Ward)

Justin Pugh, Syracuse (Projected: 2nd Rd)

6’5", 307 – Pugh is listed as a Tackle but, while he has the height of a typical tackle, he does not have sufficient athleticism to play there in the NFL. Pugh is the opposite of Kyle Long. He started every game for three seasons at Syracuse (he missed 4 games in 2012 due to a shoulder injury), but is not an athletic freak. The main concerns to me are his shoulder injury (although to be fair, scouts say he looked fine after coming back from the shoulder injury) and his short arms (31.5"). Pugh showed up at the combine 17 pounds heavier than his 290 pound playing weight.

His mobility projects to the NFL, but he has suspect core strength and is widely criticized for having terrible hand technique. Should the Bolts go this direction, it should only be after thorough medical review of his left shoulder and further evaluation on his physical growth potential and ability to get stronger. Simply put, he is better suited to play Guard and the Bolts do not have as pressing a the need for that spot. Perhaps worth a 3rd pick or lower as a Right Tackle, but a reach in the 2nd round.

Justin Pugh - OL - Syracuse (via XOSSports)

Larry Warford, Kentucky (Projected: 2nd Rd)

6’3", 332 – With only one inch more of height on Cooper and Warmack, Warford routinely is scouted as being "too stout around the middle" (scout speak for "flabby"). He is also slow on pulls after showing what is described as "adequate" initial burst. He does drop his head at times which means a swim move from a quicker DT (which will be many of them in the NFL) will work against him. He is also lacking in straight line speed, which makes him delivering a block at the second level a fairly unusual sight.

He grades as a 2nd rounder by virtue of his ability to consume space in a pocket, unexpected balance and agility, and large shoulders that make it difficult for a defender to get by him. Scouts are also pleased with his hand strength and good awareness of stunts and blitzes. His size and good initial pop can knock smaller or weaker defenders off the ball. Overall, I do not like Warford in the 2nd round, but if he is there in the 3rd, that may be worth it. If he is on the Bolts, perhaps some fitness incentives in his contract may be beneficial. Even Guards need some speed in today’s NFL. Take a look for yourself:

2013 NFL Draft Profile: Larry Warford - Kentucky (via Erick Ward)

Brian Winters, Kent St (Projected: 3rd Rd)

6’4", 320 pounds - I must confess, Winters intrigues me a little more than Warford. Winters was a 3 year letterman in both wrestling and football in high school and it shows in his play. He has really good hand technique and seems to have instinctive feel for getting and maintaining leverage. Scouts praise his wide base, good natural weight distribution, and a really nasty streak in run blocking. He seems to really enjoy the one on one nature of line assignments. The man is also tough. He injured his left shoulder while wrestling as a sophomore in High School. He did nothing special to treat it. Playing his remaining High School and first three years of college, he dislocated the same shoulder in the 3rd game of the 2011 season, played through it at "70%" (his words) and then had to get surgery to repair the shoulder that had apparently never quite healed for five years.

Winters is not ranked higher due to the quality of competition in the MAC, playing with too high of a pad level too often, and questionable foot speed and flexibility. He played mostly at LT during college, but scouts believe he is better suited to play guard in the NFL, which means he would have to learn a position. Still, he has strength and tenacity. The mean streak he has on the field reminds me of a young Kris Dielman; he just gets after it. He may be worth a 3rd round pick, but will still need some development at the Guard position, but judge for yourslelf:

2013 NFL Draft Profile: Brian Winters - Kent State (via Erick Ward)

Dallas Thomas, Tennessee (Projected: 3rd Rd)

6’5", 300 pounds – Thomas played at Guard his last season at Tennessee. He did play his first two seasons as a starter at LT. He grades out higher at guard due to suspect footwork and lower body strength. He does show a natural knee bend and ability to sit into his blocks. His talent for anchoring his blocks is matched by superior agility. He has a tendency to lunge at his target, which can result in overextension and allowing the defender to get by. Footwork needs to catch up with agility and speed. The subpar footwork gets him unbalanced sometimes. Again, not a player that the Bolts need this draft, unless he falls into the 4th round or lower.

NFL Combine Preview: Dallas Thomas (via utsportstv)

Bonus Coverage - Right Tackle

D.J. Fluker, Alabama (Projected: 1st Rd)

6’5", 339 pounds – an absolute mountain of a man, Fluker projects exclusively at RT. He is the quintessential road grader; big, strong, and nasty. As dominating at run blocking as he has been during his Alabama career, his pass pro, especially against speed rushers is abysmal. He does have a bad habit of dropping his head and stopping his feet at contact, which permits disengagement by the defender. While he has very long arms (36+") and really good hand technique, his lack of balance and agility limit his upside. A team that wants a guard upgrade may even consider drafting Fluker. He is not a player that the Chargers need right now, unless he drops to a lower round, can play guard for a season or two, and learns pass pro to take over for Clary. He looks great at everything, except pass protection against speed rushers:

D.J. Fluker - 2013 NFL Draft Profile (via Erick Ward)