Finding NFL fits for the big men of the combine

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
Read full post on NFL.com

The combine has come and gone, and the numbers are in. We’ve seen men in tights run through countless drills and tests, watched them bench press 225 pounds as many times as their bodies allowed and have even had one team play a card game with prospective job candidates (yes, it was the Browns).

We broke down how teams assemble an offensive line last week. Now we have some fresh pieces to fit into the puzzles. We took three prospects ranging from a favorite of the class to a second-or-third rounder who could make an instant impact, and projected how they might fit in with a handful of needy teams.

 

Garrett Bolles

 

Position: Tackle

School: Utah

Draft projection: First round

I almost shed a tear watching Bolles’ pass drop drill at the combine. He was the closest an offensive lineman can come to a gazelle, or a ballerina, or anything that moves so gracefully it transcends act and becomes art.

I’m not alone on this. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein said Bolles has the “sweetest feet at the tackle position in the draft.” There are fewer compliments that rank higher than that for offensive linemen, and especially tackles, who tend to be the most lumbering of the bunch. But that’s not Bolles, who at 6-foot-5 and 297 pounds, moves more like a linebacker than a tackle. He ran a 4.95 40, posted a 4.55 second 20-yard shuttle and a 7.29 second three-cone drill. In an NFL that is increasingly populated with devastatingly quick and agile edge rushers, Bolles has the rare feet to keep up with the likes of Von Miller, Justin Houston and Khalil Mack.

There are questions, though. Bolles only played one full season of FBS-level football and his physique shows it. He didn’t bench at the combine, but says he will at his pro day. How strong is the tackle? Will he be capable of filling out his frame as a pro and maintaining what makes him a top prospect?

This type of uncertainty has Bolles at No. 29 in Zierlein’s top 32 prospects in the draft, which is still rather high, but behind two other tackles in Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk and Alabama’s Cam Robinson. His fit would again find himself in Denver at No. 20, but if the Broncos elect to choose another tackle, he could fall to Seattle. The Seahawks are extremely green on the offensive line, but also demonstrated a serious need at tackle following the departure of Russell Okung, who is again a free agent and could return. The Seahawks could solve their issues at tackle in one fell swoop by bringing back Okung on a team-friendly deal and drafting Bolles.

Multiple top-10 teams (Jacksonville, Carolina, Buffalo) have needs at the position, which could jettison Bolles up the draft board in a position to be taken anywhere from eighth overall to 26th (watch out for Indianapolis at No. 15).

Or he could fall to the Patriots at No. 32. Ah, the rich get richer.

The golden scenario for the Norsemen in Minneapolis would be for Bolles to slide into the second round, where the Vikings could quickly scoop him up as they attempt to piece together a line that only has two returning starters currently under contract — and neither are tackles.

 

Forrest Lamp

 

Position: Tackle (will move inside in NFL)

School: Western Kentucky

Draft projection: Mid-to-late first, early second round

As my effervescent colleague Jeremy Bergman wrote during the combine, we love Lamp.

Forrest Lamp was a quick-footed tackle who was as efficient as he was athletic while protecting Hilltopper quarterbacks. NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks gave him a C+ for athleticism but admitted he didn’t expect Lamp to perform so well in the combine. How well?

Five-flat in the 40. Thirty-four reps on the bench. Nine feet, three inches in the broad jump. A three-cone drill finished in 7.55 seconds. And his drills were even better than that.

Oh, did we mention he scored a touchdown in his final college game?

NFL teams don’t draft linemen because of their nose for the end zone, though, and at 6-foot-3 5/8 and 32 1/4-inch arm length, Lamp isn’t quite long enough to play tackle in the NFL, though he was more than effective at the position in college. His tape against even the best college ball had to offer (Alabama) was sterling. He’s drawn comparisons to Dan Connolly of the New England Patriots, Cody Whitehair of the Bears and Zack Martin of the Cowboys. All are compliments, and all should set the bar for what Lamp aims to match and/or supersede as a professional.

Whichever team takes Lamp will be getting a lineman who is stout, stonewalls rushers and also is athletic enough to make long, difficult blocks. He should translate to a complete guard and make an immediate impact.

Teams in need include but are not limited to: Minnesota (no first-round pick), Denver (though the Broncosare expected to sign Ronald Leary), Indianapolis, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle. The most logical fit here, based on draft position, is Denver at No. 20. The Broncos struggled offensively, not because the young Trevor Siemian was all that bad, but because Denver couldn’t protect him. They need tackles and a guard opposite Max Garcia, and Lamp, at this slot, would fill a massive void at either guard or center and provide a major stopgap up front.

If Lamp were on the board at 22, he could be a good fit for Miami as well, which will look to fill the starting guard position after moving Laremy Tunsil out to tackle following the departure of Branden Albert. Lamp’s athleticism would be a fantastic fit with Miami’s zone-blocking scheme, which propelled Jay Ajayi to a breakout season in 2016.

 

Pat Elflein

 

Position: Center

School: Ohio State

Draft projection: Mid-second, third round

Elflein isn’t a lineman who’s going to blow anyone away with his measurables — he finished outside the top 20 in the 40, the three-cone drill, vertical jump and broad jump, and put up 22 reps on the bench (T-27th out of 40) — but that’s not what makes him a good football player. Elflein excels because he’s a traditional lineman who does his job day in and day out.

Need proof? The former Ohio State lineman started all 28 possible games at guard between his sophomore and junior seasons, then moved to center (not the easiest of position changes, mind you) and won the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award (the Big Ten’s top lineman honor) and was named first-team All-Big Ten. Average combine aside, NFL teams are looking at a center with thick, powerful legs — supremely important for centers, who need a strong base to meet immediate rushes on each and every snap — and an innate sense of leadership. Elflein was a team captain known for an outrageous work ethic, leading verbally and by example, has great body control and a mind for the game. He was the lone veteran on a young Buckeyes line that blocked well enough for Ohio State to end up in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.

So where does Elflein fit? A few teams have glaring needs at center: Seattle, Cincinnati, San Francisco and surprisingly only because they just drafted a center in the first round in 2015, Cleveland.

Some have projected Elflein to have an immediate impact a la Travis Frederick in Dallas, making him a hot prospect for most teams in need. Cincinnati’s offensive line struggled so much last season, the Bengals resorted to using a rotation in game, pulling starting center Russell Bodine in favor of T.J. Johnson. Simply put, very little is solidified along the line in Cincinnati, where the Bengals would benefit from inserting an Ohio-grown prospect with a second- or third-round selection.

Seattle’s offensive line problems were spread across the entire unit, so upgrades are welcome anywhere. The same goes for San Francisco, save for left tackle Joe Staley. And in Cleveland, Cameron Erving was a disaster for much of his first season at center, but started to show incremental improvement in the final month of the season. However, with the Browns set to sign center/guard JC Tretter and guard Kevin Zeitler, that can close the book on the Cleveland going with a center in the draft.

We can turn back to San Francisco, though, where the Niners will need to explore replacing Daniel Kilgore sooner rather than later, and could find a rock-solid option for the next decade-plus in Elflein.

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