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Guardians of the Future

by DJ Boyer on Apr. 8, 2014

The guard position is one that cannot be overlooked just because teams are not running the ball as much.  Guards that are better in pass protection are at a premium, as pressure up the gut of the line seems to bother quarterbacks more than pressure off the edge. Let's look at some of the premier prospects and some gems that can be found in the later rounds.

 

The Top Prospects

 

Xavier Su'a-Filo has a great chance of being the first guard off the board although he may be used more as a tackle at the next level despite not having true tackle size.  Su'a-Filo is amazing in that so much of the UCLA offense went behind him and even though opposing teams knew it, they were often times powerless to stop the Bruins for extended periods of time. He can adapt to a running or passing offense and has the footwork and speed to get into the open field and lead the play.  He has likely played his way into the late stages of the first round and has a lot of upside. Many teams are starting to buzz about Su'a-Filo and he might be a player a team has to trade up for in the draft if they want to ensure they win his services.

 

Gabe Jackson has the size and strength that makes coaches jump out of their chair when watching him on film. Jackson is the prototypical player we have come to expect as a lineman from the Mississippi area; massive in size with questionable feet, stamina and consistency. Jackson will likely hear his name called during the second round of the draft and his sheer strength will put him on a lot of short lists. Jackson would benefit going to a team with a little depth as conditioning and consistency are concerning. That team should also rely a little more on the run where he can maul opposing players at the line of scrimmage and gain leverage quickly.

 

Cyril Richardson was once thought of as the cream of the crop when it came to the guards and someone who had about a 75% chance of being drafted in the 1st round and the first true guard off the board. But some lackadaisical play and workouts have failed to wow scouts and have pushed him down the board where some see him as low as the 4th round. Yet Richardson could likely go in the late stages of the 2nd round to the early stages of the 3rd because demand will be high from teams looking for interior guards who have experience playing multiple positions along the line, which Richardson can do.

 

David Yankey is the steady rock of the top prospects. While Su-aFilo is flying up the boards and Jackson and Richardson are moving down, Yankey has been steady and is likely going to be selected at the top of the second round. The pro style offense at Stanford has drawn raves from many NFL organizations and we are seeing more and more lineman really prepared for the next level with minimal changes to their natural playing styles. Yankey seems to be a leader with a high football intelligence. Yankey isn't really a mauler nor does he play with an exorbitant amount of finesse. He simply gets the job done and comes up big at critical moments of the game. He has shown improvement with hand placement and back peddling so there are not a lot of flaws with his game, although just a bit limited athletically.

 

Second Tier

 

Dakota Dozier is a small school player that is moving up the boards at an alarming rate. Dozier is an example or tireless work and someone who is willing to do whatever it takes. Dozier has experience at virtually every position along the line and has been utilized coming out of the backfield in short yardage situations.  He needs to improve his upper body strength but seems to have a frame that will support 10-15 pounds of muscle with little issue.

 

Kadeem Edwards is another small school player like Dozier although he is not as polished and is considered a project for the next level. Edwards seems to be a relatively safe gamble, it's just that he was moved around often at Tennessee State and never seemed to settle at any position naturally. Thought to be more of a guard, he could project as a right tackle with his impressive wingspan as Edwards has very long arms. He will wear down later in games though so conditioning will be a concern. Edwards could go in the middle rounds based on potential though many teams will feel better if Edwards is on the board in the later rounds where he will be a safe bet.

 

Anthony Steen went under the knife to repair a partially torn labrum but the long-term outlook looks well for Steen. He was the most underrated lineman along the line over his three years as a starter and is equally effective protecting the pass as he is a run blocker. Steen needs to work on getting lower in his stance and is a little stiff which leads to some uneven results due to balance and leverage. Steen was up front with the medical personnel for the teams that talked to him and had a regimented workout schedule to come back, which seems to have kept teams' fears and concerns at a minimum. Expect to hear Steens name called during the 4th round of the upcoming draft.

 

Brandon Thomas is still listed as one of the top prospects at guard despite the fact that it was just confirmed that he tore his ACL in early April during a workout.  Thomas was very durable during his tenure at Clemson where he played 90% of the time at tackle. Thomas doesn't have ideal tackle height at 6'3” but he does have good reach with 35 inch arms which could lead some teams to rethink whether he can play tackle or guard at the next level. The tear suffered by Thomas does not look like a complete tear and with the injury occurring before the draft he may be able to play near the tail end of the season. Thomas would benefit going to a team that has some depth and could put him on the shelf for a year for a full recovery.

 

Lurking

 

Ryan Groy has all the tools you could look for when asked to keep opposing rushers in front of him. Groy is a limited athlete and when asked to slide or play in space he struggles and his lack of speed shows up on film. He does show terrific technique though, as we have seen throughout the years from a number of Wisconsin linemen. Groy looked very stiff early in his career but he seems to have left most of those problems in the past. He has good instincts and will often make the right decision when faced with decisions in the open field. He he has been used on occasion in the backfield.  A running team who doesn't use a zone blocking scheme would be ideal for Groy, as his lack of speed would not be as evident.

 

Jon Halapio was a two time captain of the Florida football team who was in charge of many of the line calls and communication when things needed to be relayed along the line.  Halapio seems to be a bit of a departure from the typical Florida lineman as he is more of a dominant run blocker who goes about his business in a silent manner. Halapio has seen his weight go up and down during his career and he seems to play better in the 305-310 range, so losing about 10 pounds may be the best solution for him long-term. Halapio has shown a propensity for questionable calls though when facing delayed rushes or times when defenders cross lanes and the blocking assignment needed to be changed. Halapio has some issues but he looks like a late round pick that could pay huge dividends at the next level.

 

Trai Turner is a redshirt sophomore who declared early for the draft and, as one can imagine, is quite a raw prospect.  Turner was an integral cog in a rushing attack that was near the top of the SEC once again as the team topped 300 yards rushing in a game a record 5 times on the season. Turner was seen as a top five guard for next year who had the opportunity to leave early but leaving two years early was a surprise to many. Turner looks like a 4th-5th round prospect who will hopefully spend most of his first two seasons in the league learning from a pro that will take him under their wings.

 

Chris Watt is a rare find at the major college level; a four year starter. Watt played at a high level from the beginning of his career although the only problems he had with injuries came this season as he missed time due to knee issues on two occasions. He has sometimes come under scrutiny for his play where experts claim it had as much to do with playing beside 1st round guard/tackle prospect Zack Martin as it did with his personal play. This seems to be unjustified as Watt has done enough to be selected between rounds 5-7 of the draft even with the late injury concerns. Watt is slow in the open field and his footwork is something that needs to improve at the next level, but he consistently is able to gain leverage on opposing rushers and keep them off balance.