Posted in Complicated made simple: X's and O's and scouting for all fans

NFL Draft: What to look for in offensive linemen: Examples from Ravens history

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens have used the NFL Draft to get some of the best offensive linemen in the NFL’s history. Jonathan Ogden and Marshal Yanda top the list, but they’ve been solid upfront throughout much of their history. Do you want to know how scouting linemen works? Let’s talk fundamentals for a second.

Finding an offensive linemen is getting harder. Traits used to mean more than they currently do. That doesn’t mean traits aren’t important. It just means that more and more of the prospects have traits and not all of them are set just having the tools. First of all, let’s define what I mean by traits.

Traits are things that can be measured or observed. For example, a 6-8 build would count as height (and would most likely count as length). Height is different than length. Length is about reach and wingspan. Anything with size or athletic gifts that can be measured is a trait.

Things that can be observed and are consistent parts of a player’s game are traits. For example, great instincts were a defining trait of Ed Reed. It was obvious how he felt the game. That’s not subjective, that’s objective because it was well evidenced by the tape.

Let’s get back to offensive linemen. What are the main things you want to look for when you’re look for? Let’s start with the feet.

NFL Draft skills: Watch for footwork

The main thing you want to see is active feet. It’s a coaching cliche but if you stop your feet you get beat, especially in pass protection. The feet need to keep chopping. One warning sign to look for is what I call heavy feet. If it looks like a lineman’s feet are being weighed down by a chain, that’s a problem.

The term dancing bear is used in a lot of draft coverage. Basically that means that you want linemen who move gracefully. You want some bounce in their step, you want them to move the same way you want your skill positioned players to move. If it would count as stiff for a 220 pound tight end, it’s stiff for a 300 pound guard.

The most important thing for an offensive tackle is a good kick slide. It’s the simple step that allows the tackle to back up and give himself space to work against the pass rusher. You’ll know it when you see it. Good tackles and bad tackles have the same moves, the good ones just have superior form, technique, and movement.

When looking for footwork think WWRSD? That stands for What Would Ronnie Stanley Do? Stanley is probably the smoothest operator in the NFL. Stanley may have missed his calling as a tap dancer because he moves them perfectly. He doesn’t have them pointed every which way, he stays square and he has so much spring in his step that a slinky would feel jealous. Telling you to watch Stanley is a lot easier than explaining all this.

A problem to look out for

One warning sign is a disconnect between the upper body and the lower body. This is something that Michael Oher struggled with. He started playing football in high school. This put him at a disadvantage in the NFL. He was never a smooth operator because he hadn’t been doing it as long as a lot of the other players. You saw similar struggles with Jermaine Eluemunor, a player who came from England and basically just had his Texas A&M career as his experience.

I can actually detail this well because I struggled with this when I was playing football. I started playing rec league in the eighth grade. My career didn’t last past the high school football realm, but hey, I am proud I was a part of my high school team. Anyway, the mechanics never quite felt natural to me. I would have spurts where my upper body and my lower body stopped communicating. My upper body would take over because it was the easiest to focus on. My footwork was always going to be inconsistent because I never fully conquered the problem.

I recognized this pattern of behavior with Oher. He was used to relying on his size and strength at Ole’ Miss. In the NFL, inconsistent footwork was his biggest undoing. It made him paranoid to fire out of his stance and really pronounce his initial steps. He was the easiest tackle for a pass rusher to read. His problem was related to his confidence level. Why do you think he got beat to the inside so much? When his feet stopped with the disconnect issue, he had to reach and he had no leverage. Two ways of getting beat for one main problem.

Base, reach and moving with purpose:

The one thing you don’t want when it comes to winning with leverage is a lineman who likes to play bent over. You want a player who wins with leverage. A good bend at the hip is very important. He has to be able to anchor down almost like he’s sitting in an invisible chair. Matt Birk was the master of this.

He played center and he took on a ton of bull rushers in his career. He was good at getting his hands inside the defensive lineman’s pads and anchoring down with a solid and square base. Extra weight is a given with NFL caliber linemen, but not having flexibility or balance at the hips and knees is a sign of a bad lineman.

One of the worst two centers the Ravens ever had were A.Q. Shipley and Gino Gradkowski. These are two players who didn’t have the traits. Gradkowski was an all around undersized center. Shipley was what I call squatty (which is somehow not a word) and he had a lack of reach. Short arms are almost always a huge red flag. That’s a combine measurable that actually does matter.

Another thing I want to talk about is moving with purpose. This is a know-it when you see it kind of thing. Marshal Yanda didn’t have elite and prototypical traits. People forget that Yanda was a third-round pick. Yanda moved with purpose. He didn’t waste movement and he had amazing control.

Yanda was almost picture-perfect on technique. He had an accurate punch. Also, he attacked the exact place he needed to in order to make the block. Yanda had perfect form. The reason Yanda is in the Hall of Fame is that he had the most consistent tape for a right guard during his time in the NFL.

NFL Draft scouting final thoughts:

I am an ammeter NFL Draft scout. I don’t have a ton of resources and I’m not on the road going from school to school. YouTube usually has cutup videos of a player’s snaps from a game. That’s a great place to start. In the search type in (Player name) vs. With offensive linemen, it’s better to look for videos of that offensive line. If you want to watch Ben Cleveland for instance, type in “Georgia Bulldogs offensive line vs.”

You learn by doing and there is a lot more to this than I can fit in a single blog post. Hopefully, this can get you started if you’re interested in doing draft work. If not, hopefully, it gets you a little more tuned in to watching offensive line play. You don’t have to go to my level of having player rankings a big board and notebooks full of notes.

NEXT POST: Ravens are still the class of the AFC North

I started with the offensive line because I think it’s the position I scout the best. More Complicated Made Simple posts are on the way. Football is complicated but it’s simple when you take it bit by bit. I hope you all have fun with this.


I am Chris Schisler. I am the owner and lead writer here at the Nest! Football is my passion and I'm very happy to share it with the Flock!

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