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.

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

Ravens Draft: Lessons from being wrong about Ronnie Stanley

By Chris Schisler

The Ravens drafted Ronnie Stanley in 2016 with the sixth overall pick. When Ronnie Stanley entered the 2016 NFL Draft, I didn’t quite see a future Pro Bowl offensive tackle. In fact, Stanley is my favorite player that I was ever wrong about as an amateur NFL Draft scout. Let’s take a look at why I was wrong about Stanley, the Ravens franchise left tackle.

The NFL Draft isn’t about the result. That’s going to sound stupid to a lot of people, and I really don’t care. There’s no way to know that a player is going to pan out or flop. It’s both a science and an art, and I get really annoyed when people question the process. Because the process is what the draft is about. More often than not, the process is what gets the players who worked out in a Ravens uniform.

Every year, I watch way too much tape on the NFL Draft process. I don’t get paid to do this, and YouTube videos with prospects snaps are really my big source. I do it for the process. It’s because it connects me to the game, the battery of my life. Football to me is like the yellow sun is for Superman. I’m a battery and that’s the charge.

Let’s talk Ronnie Stanley

I worried about Ronnie Stanley’s frame. I thought his build was a little too lean at the top and I worried about his ability to be the bull, to overpower guys. To be fair, I liked the athleticism and the footwork. It’s not like I saw him as a bad prospect, I was just very wary of him in the first round, especially in the top 10.

If I ever met Stanley, I would like to thank him for teaching me a lesson. Stanley showed me that prospects aren’t finished products. A lot of players, especially offensive tackles, build up an NFL body once they get to the NFL. Stanley had the quality tape, with solid traits. I got too caught up on one thing and it made me overthink the rest of the story.

Stanley is basically the same weight he was during the draft process. You can tell the work he did, however. He’s gotten more solid, thicker, and harder to beat. Stanley also lifted my eyes to the type of tackle the NFL was getting ready for. I was always looking for the massive monster, the human plow.

Stanley has great length and reach, but he’s fit and athletic. He’s got the power in more of a smooth package. I was looking for a 345 pound Jonathan Ogden type. Stanley showed me that in this day and age, he’s what we should be looking for.

I still prefer the big mauler. Everybody has a type at the positions he scouts. This year I was a big fan of the big tackles with a surplus of power and a mean streak. Samuel Cosmi was my guy. I still think he was the most overlooked prospect. Washington got him in the second round and he’s going to be great for them.

Ravens Take home point:

In 2016 though, I would never have considered a player like Rashawn Slater to be a top 10 player. Slater is a 6-4 304 pound prospect. He’s a tight end with a traditional offensive guard body. His game is built on athleticism and quick feet. In 2021, I saw a lot of Stanley in him. I stayed true to myself in my evaluations, but I adjusted the way I look at these types of players. In 2021, Slater was a top 10 prospect for me.

NEXT POST: Marquise Brown has Joe Flacco’s number and it’s okay

I don’t mind pulling up a failure of mine here. That’s part of it, and the draft is about the process. I have a big tower of guys I was right about. The miss pile is bigger than I want it, but that’s the case with everybody. The process is about learning, not overcorrecting, and becoming more in tune with the game at both the college and NFL levels. The process is what it’s about. The good news is the Ravens understand this perfectly.