Five big OL questions heading in to 2019 season
Pro Football Focus is an invaluable resource to dive deeper into statistics when thinking about college football and the NFL Draft. Here is a breakdown of five offensive line storylines heading into next season, what the numbers could mean down the road and a take from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell.
1. Is Ohio State becoming Offensive Line U?
Overview: One glance at the snap counts among Ohio State offensive linemen and then a deeper study on how those players protected quarterback Dwayne Haskins last season makes a compelling argument for the Buckeyes to be considered among the best offensive line schools in the country.
Tackle Isaiah Prince, guard Malcolm Pridgeon and center Michael Jordan all played 1,104 snaps last season (that is also the most of any college offensive linemen) and Prince gave up three sacks and only four hits on the quarterback. Pridgeon allowed three hits and Jordan sacrificed a total of one hit.
All three of those players are off to the NFL Draft, but Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford are two highly respected offensive linemen that have big expectations in Columbus. Josh Myers is another five-star with lots of potential, and Harry Miller was one step away from a five-star ranking in the 2019 class. The nation’s top offensive tackle in the 2020 group, five-star Paris Johnson, Jr., is already committed to the Buckeyes.
Farrell’s take: No, but they are up there. I think Notre Dame, Alabama and a few others have done a better job recruiting and developing offensive linemen, but Ohio State is in the top five. Haskins was clean for the most part all of last season and the numbers show it. He was not a mobile quarterback, so the offensive line did a great job. I don’t expect them to miss a beat this year and could be even better protecting a very mobile Justin Fields.
2. Or is it Wisconsin that's becoming Offensive Line U?
Overview: A breakdown of the top Pro Football Focus grades for offensive linemen is basically a sampling of Wisconsin’s offensive line. Everyone knows the Badgers take pride in recruiting and then developing elite offensive line talent because the Big Ten power loves to also run the football, but these numbers are a little nuts. Here’s a look:
With a minimum of 560 snaps, Wisconsin’s Cole Van Lanen, Beau Benzschawel, Tyler Biadasz and Michael Deiter all graded out among the top 24 offensive linemen nationally. Van Lanen and Benzschawel were the top-two run blockers nationally.
Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor ran the ball 307 times for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and he should be a Heisman frontrunner entering next season. Wisconsin loses some big-named linemen to the NFL, but the Badgers signed high four-star Logan Brown, the top prospect in the state of Michigan, in their 2019 recruiting class and Wisconsin has the ability to reload across the line.
Farrell’s take: Over the last 20 years or so I would say Wisconsin and Iowa are the two programs that develop offensive linemen very well and among the best in the country. But again, I point to Notre Dame when it comes to the last few years. However, when you’re talking about run-blocking alone, a case can easily be made for Wisconsin, as no team runs the ball more effectively than the Badgers. It still puzzles me why more offensive linemen from around the country don’t choose to go to Wisconsin, but it doesn’t matter much. They just develop the ones they land.
3. Will Notre Dame have one of the nation's best lines?
Overview: Losing Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey heading into last season certainly put a damper on things when it came to the offensive line, but it was a more-than-serviceable unit as ND put together an undefeated regular season and there are a lot of pieces back that could make the Irish line one of the nation’s best. Plus, there are a lot of players who could be high NFL Draft picks if they grade out well heading into the 2019 season.
By Pro Football Focus standards, Robert Hainsey is the highest-rated lineman coming back to the Irish, but Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Jones could emerge even more. Plus Notre Dame is bringing in an outstanding haul of offensive linemen in the 2019 recruiting class. All four of its offensive line signees - Quinn Carroll, John Olmstead, Zeke Correll and Andrew Kristofic - were four-stars.
Farrell’s take: You can bet they will. Ronnie Stanley, Nelson and McGlinchey tell the story about how well Notre Dame develops offensive linemen. Yes all of them were four- or five-stars coming out of high school, but each improved greatly under the coaching at Notre Dame. This year’s line will be one of the best in the country once again, and the future continues to look very bright.
4. Can Tennessee's line help the Vols become SEC contenders?
Overview: Tennessee signed the best 1-2 punch combination on the offensive line when it landed five-star Darnell Wright and high four-star Wanya Morris in its outstanding 2019 recruiting class. Coach Jeremy Pruitt looks to be rebuilding the Vols from the inside out and Wright is a huge building block. But those weren’t the only two Tennessee linemen that drew some attention.
Chris Akporoghene is a four-star who is built like a refrigerator, Jackson Lampley is another four-star signee, and high three-star Melvin McBride already has the size to make an impact in the SEC. Tennessee’s problem is that it also has other holes to fill to become competitive again in the conference, and the fact is Alabama, LSU and other traditional conference powers also recruited well on the offensive line. But Vols fans have to be encouraged with Wright and Morris at the top.
Farrell’s take: I think this offensive line class, led by Wright and Morris, could be a building block toward SEC contention in a few years. I’m not sure if Wright or Morris or both will play right away but when they get their feet wet at the college level, they could be special. Offensive and defensive line recruiting are crucial in the SEC, and Tennessee has the offensive line part down.
5. Is Oregon's offensive line undervalued?
Overview: When it comes to run-blocking grades by Pro Football Focus, Oregon has four offensive linemen that grade out in the top 41 in the nation, with Shane Lemieux at ninth in the country followed by Steven Jones, Penei Sewell and Calvin Throckmorton. That success up front is a big reason why the Ducks were led in rushing by CJ Verdell with 1,018 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and also nice numbers by Travis Dye last season.
When one thinks about Oregon, it’s all about quarterback Justin Herbert, who skipped a probable first-round selection to return for next season, a high-flying attack and everything that comes with it. But are we underrating Oregon’s ability to block up front to open up running lanes and coach Mario Cristobal’s intention to do just that in his offensive system?
Farrell’s take: Sewell could be very special, and the rest of the line looks strong. And yes, I do think Oregon gets undervalued a bit when talking about national offensive line development. The Ducks have had some very talented running backs in recent years, led by Royce Freeman, and they always seem to have an effective rushing attack. And while the passing game is based on getting the ball out fast, when the quarterback has to go through his reads he usually has enough time to make the right decision, which has made Herbert so effective. The Pac-12 isn’t known for offensive linemen, but Oregon has some good ones.