Offensive line play is what I know best on the football field. If you could not tell by my twitter handle (@IPlayedD1) or by virtually any of my articles that I have written, I played OL in college at Northwestern University from 2012-2016. I am one of those loser former OL that get as excited about an offensive tackles kick slide to a wide rush as I do about a big hit. I mean, look at Tyron Smith take a pass set:
It’s just beautiful, right? Right?!?…
(“Right Eric, just look at how balanced and patient he is until the point of contact when snaps a beautiful two-handed punch”)
Point is, I love me some good OL play and with the draft around the corner, I immersed myself in the tapes of the crop of OL coming out this year. After watching the tape, I have concluded that there are 4 offensive linemen that are a significant cut above the rest. So without further ado, I present you, A Washed Up OL’s Absolutely Correct Top 4 Ranking of the OL in The Draft
1. Quenton Nelson, 6’5” 325lbs, Junior, G, Notre Dame
If this is your first time reading an article that I have written, I like Quenton Nelson, a lot. Like a lot, a lot. In fact, me and Quenton’s dad are actually friends, and by friends I mean he tweeted out my article on his son:
I know you’re reading this Mr. Nelson, I just wanted to say that your son is really good at the whole football thing, so, good work I guess.
But in all seriousness, Quenton Nelson is the best guard to come out of college in a long, long time. I wrote this in my last piece on him: “He toes the line between pure nastiness/aggression and technique, unlike anybody I have ever seen. His college highlight tape looks like my high school highlight tape. The only difference is that he is going against other division 1 defensive lineman and I was going against 6’1” 205 lbs defensive ends named Chad who went to snoody Massachusetts private schools.”
The best things that Quenton Nelson does: Physicality
You could never have watched a snap of football before and turn on Quenton Nelson’s tape and understand that the big guy wearing #56 in the funny gold helmet is a bad, bad man, simply by the ease in which he tosses defenders around. If you follow the draft at all, you have probably seen these clips before, but goddamn are they incredible:
Finishing defenders onto the ground with this amount of consistency requires three things: the technique to put yourself in a position to finish the block, a bad ass attitude and the strength to act upon it. Nelson has all three in spades. Take the last play, for example, Nelson does not come out the gates overly aggressive. Instead, he uses good technique, staying on his zone angle, tracking the linebacker, until the point of contact, where he then aggressively delivers a beautiful two-handed punch and finishes him into the ground with his patented tinge of nastiness.
The best things that Quenton Nelson does: Run Blocking Technique
Quenton Nelson’s run blocking technique is something from an OL coaches
wet dream teach tape. From his feet, all the way to his hands and elbows, everything is nearly picture-perfect:
It starts with feet; getting his short, powerful steps into the ground while keeping his feet apart. Then moves to hips/hands; snapping his hips on contact and landing his hands on the defender’s breastplate to control the block. This is what a 1 on 1 drive block is supposed to look it. Do not get it twisted, even though it looks routine in the play above, moving a defender, off the ball, by yourself, is one of the hardest asks of an offensive lineman.
When I said Nelson’s tape looks like a high-school highlight tape, this is what I am talking about. Nelson is in full control on this block since the second the ball is snapped. Again, its all in the feet, hands, and hips. Feet apart, with powerful steps, hips engaged on contact and hands to control the block.
2. Isaiah Wynn, 6’3” 315 lbs, Senior, Guard, Georgia
Although people are starting to take notice, Isaiah Wynn still is one of the most underrated players in this draft. He played left tackle for Georgia last year but projects at guard at the next level due to him only being 6’2” and having what my close personal friend Mike Mayock would call a ‘squatty body’. I wrote this in my piece on Isaiah Wynn: “Tackles who move inside, more often than not, excel in the passing game, making the idea of moving a college OT to guard intriguing for NFL teams. However, where they tend to find trouble is in the run game, as a different kind of strength is required for an interior lineman as opposed to tackles. Tackles can often get away with position blocking and simply using technique and angles to execute their assignments (it’s pretty much how managed I to survive playing in the Big Ten) and can be in for a rude awakening when asked to 1 on 1 drive block a 320 lb. DT. I say this because Isaiah Wynn flashes rare physicality and strength in the run game for an OT and has played guard previously; making him the ideal candidate for the move inside at the next level.”
The best things that Isaiah Wynn does: Natural Knee Bender
Do I hate myself for saying that best thing somebody does is being a ‘natural knee bender’? Well, yes, but there are probably some deeper issues at play there as well. Although this phrase is cliche in draft circles, Isaiah Wynn really does have a pretty rare ability to stay in a power position throughout the course of a play. For those unfamiliar with this terminology, being a knee bender is pretty much exactly how it sounds. Being in a ‘good football position’ gives you the chance to generate power, no matter where you are on the football field and the difference between somebody doing this well and somebody not can be a matter of inches. Let me show you:
Look at the bend in his knee throughout the duration of the play. He never once goes straight legged and he never once squats too deep. Instead, he stays in a powerful position that also enables him to slide around effectively. Wynn does a fantastic job stopping the defenders initial rush, waiting for the defender to expose his chest and snapping a punch at the perfect time. But, where the knee bend comes into play is after the initial rush is halted. As all good defensive linemen are taught, he tries a counter move by converting from speed to power, hoping to at least push the pocket a bit. However, because of the power position that Wynn stays in, he eats this move up and the defender gets no push at all.
The best things that Isaiah Wynn does: Physicality in the run game at the tackle position
Point blank, pass blocking is more difficult on the edge than it is inside. As a tackle, not only are you dealing with far superior athletes but you also are operating in wide open space often times with little to no help. But as I mentioned above, often time tackles who move inside are ‘in for a rude awakening’ as many simply do not have the strength or attitude to block defensive tackles. This is not the case for Wynn. He was playing tackle simply because he was the best athlete on the line, his body, skill set, and attitude are much more equipped for the guard position:
Georgia is a running a simple inside zone left here. When I say that tackles can often get away with position blocking, the play-side inside zone block is the perfect example of that. All you really have to do is wall your man off and you have done your job. Wynn takes his first few steps as if he is going to do just that, but instead, at the point of contact, he snaps his hips and turns the block into a true drive block. Generating power out of a two-point stance, after taking a few ‘idle steps’ is not easy, requiring both immense lower body strength and pure effort. This type of power generation and effort to maintain and finish blocks will be exactly why Isaiah Wynn will succeed as a guard at the next level.
Pulling is something that tackles don’t often get the chance to do. Usually, you only really make it a point of emphasis in your offense if your tackle is a special player who wants to get out in space and lead the play. Wynn is right at the point of action for this play. If he gets stuffed, or even worse, whiffs, this play is doomed. Similar to the play above, Wynn flashes pretty rare power generation for a tackle as he steps, dips and strikes the defender and then finishes him on his back, creating space for the back to put the ball.
3. Mike McGlinchey, 6’8” 310lbs, Senior, OT, Notre Dame
We have officially moved into ‘really, really like, don’t love category’ (again, I should go fuck myself). McGlinchey and the player listed below fall into this bucket. I think there is a pretty clear 1 through 4, with the next grouping being very muddled. McGlinchey is a technician. He has some of the cleanest technique, in both the run and pass game, that I have seen from a college OT. His pass set is “smooth and quiet”, he clearly understands the game well and had some of the most thunderous double teams I have ever seen with him and Nelson. My biggest knock on McGlinchey is that I do not think he has the elite foot speed that some NFL OT’s have. Watch the game-sealing sack against Georgia this year:
The defenders pulls a simple hesitation to speed move and McGlinchey does not effectively slide with him. But, alas, I am not here to point out all the flaws in these kids (kids, lol, I’m 24), but instead, highlight what they do well, and with McGlinchey, there is a lot to love.
The best things that Mike McGlinchey does: Pro ready pass set
Despite what I just said about his lack of elite foot speed, McGlinchey makes up for it with an extremely efficient pass set. ‘Smooth and quiet’ is the phrase I used above and it is very apt in describing McGlinchey. The best way to describe what I mean is to show you:
Look at how ‘quiet’ McGlinchey’s movements are. His arms are not pumping to help him move back, his kick steps are quick, powerful and not over exaggerated, and his upper body is relaxed but upright. The fewer variables, or moving parts, in a pass set, the better. You want to be relaxed, but ready to strike. You want to move back quickly, but be balanced with your feet apart. It may sound counter-intuitive and may be hard to explain, but then you see someone like McGlinchey do it and it becomes a little more clear. Technique translates to the next level, no matter your foot speed. Harry Hiestand is a hell of an OL coach.
Here is another clip of this at work. Again, look at the efficiency of his movements. He even over sets a bit, but can easily make up for it because of his balances body position:
The best things that Mike McGlinchey does: Usage of angle’s
Being able to understand how to effectively use angles to your advantage is one of the subtlety most important parts of offensive line play. Simply put, your job is to be between the defender and the ball. In order to give yourself the best chance to do that, you have to understand the ‘angles of the play’. Whether that means knowing how wide the defensive end is and how vertical your pass set needs to be to get on his angle or understanding where the running back is supposed to put the ball and what angle to take to block the linebacker. Mastering this is a sign of a smart football player and McGlinchey does this extremely well:
“Staying on your zone angle”, if you run a zone-scheme this is what coaches will drill into your head. McGlinchey is responsible for the DT and the front side LB. His assignment is to double team the down man to linebacker, however, the DT slants across Nelson’s face. It is incredibly tempting for an OL to get off their track and chase the DT, but not McGlinchey. He stays balanced, keeps his eyes up, and takes a perfect angle to the next level. Once there his lands a violent punch on the LB and gives the RB a place to cut and take the ball to the house.
4. Frank Ragnow, 6’5” 315 lbs, Senior, C/G, Arkansas
Frank Ragnow is one of the hot names in the draft currently, and rightfully so. There is nothing about Frank physically that jumps out and screams that this guy should be a first-round pick. But the more and more you watch him, he just gets it done, with incredible consistency. He finishes the play in a lot of the same positions that Quenton Nelson does (on top of his defender) it just doesn’t look nearly as pretty getting there. He graded out as one of the best OL in the country last year according to the PFF and it’s easy to see why when you watch his tape, he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
The best things that Frank Ragnow does: Finishing blocks
For a guy who looks like a local gas station attendant who was an All-State OL back in the day, Frank is a bad man on the field. He plays with phenomenal effort and deceiving strength, and, short of Quenton Nelson, has the best collection of pancakes of any OL in the draft:
This is what I mean when I say he gets himself in a lot of same positions as Nelson, it just doesn’t look as pretty. Even though Frank is dominating the DL and plants him on his back, his legs are kind just of flopping around and he makes an ungraceful fall with the defender. However, despite this lack of grace, Frank starts the play with phenomenal technique. Look at his hands, and how he snaps a punch below the defender’s breastplate, keeping his elbows tight and controlling the block. You can see the defenders head snap back when Frank lands the punch, it’s a beautiful thing and is what allows him to be in the position to finish the defender onto the ground.
This play is pure effort. Frank had done his job, he stopped the defenders rush and it seemed that both were going to be okay to shut it down. Not Frank! Because of his exceptional hand placement (see a theme?), Frank is able to take the defender for a ride and toss him on the ground.
The best things that Frank Ragnow does: Hand usage
The secret sauce to Frank’s game is his hands. On nearly any play you watch, Frank has his hand in the right place, landing a punch and in turn, controlling the block. It’s the reason he can sometimes get into awkward body positions but still be effective and execute his assignment. The best way to describe the role that the hands, and elbows, play for an OL is that they can make up for flaws in the lower body. You can get away with your feet being tangled if you land your punch perfectly. Additionally, if you combine effective hand usage with good lower body technique, you truly dominate a play:
My OL coach used to say you want your hands to be ‘fork lifts’ because you generate your power when you have a bit of an upward motion. If you just punch horizontally, not only are you going to have nowhere you place your hands, but your power is lost. Frank executes this beautifully, striking his hands in the perfect place to control the block and finish the LB. Additionally, this task is significantly harder in space and against 2nd level defenders as the number of variables only increases, impressive stuff.
This what I mean by your hands can make up for your lower body. Frank’s feet are not great here. You would like to see him cover up the defender more, and the biggest issue is his second step as it drags and does not come off the ground. Because of this, the defender is able to get some penetration up the field. However, because Frank has perfectly landed his punch and has control on the defender’s breast plate, he is able to drive him out of the hole, finish him on the ground and give the running back a place to put the ball.