I love college football, and realized today that we are just one month away from actual meaningful football games, which I cannot wait for. I wrote up the top quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs is college football during the first half of my 2012 preview (links below) and it is time to move on to the final positions on offense, the offensive line. The 2012 offensive line class is loaded, especially at the bookends, which boast many intriguing tackle prospects for the next level. The offensive line will be an interesting position to scout in 2012, because there is a deep group of prospects, but none have stepped forward and declared themselves the best in the country. This time a year ago, we knew USC left tackle Matt Kalil was the best offensive lineman in the land, and he ended up being selected fourth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Before we move onto defense, we have to preview the best offensive linemen in the nation.
2012 NCAA Football’s Top Offensive Linemen:
Rickey Wagner, Senior, Tackle (6’6, 320lbs) Wisconsin – The latest in a long history of standout offensive linemen, Wagner has prototypical NFL left tackle size, equipped with length, strength and quick feet. My one knock on Wagner is, although he is not a bad run blocker, he tends to play a little high in the run game and lose leverage. He is an excellent pass blocker and should be a nice addition as a left bookend of an NFL offense this time next year.
D.J. Fluker, Junior, Tackle (6’6 325lbs) Alabama – An absolutely massive tackle who quickly passes the eyeball test when you see him on the field, Fluker is a good player, but needs to step forward and be great before he moves on to the NFL. Fluker is excellent in the passing game and is a bulldozer in the running game, however, I need to see him be more aggressive on the field. He is so naturally gifted that, sometimes, he relies too much on his physical skills and does not play with a mean streak. He does not finish every play, but the sky is the limit with this kid if he can combine his physical skills with an every-down mentality.
Taylor Lewan, Junior, Tackle (6’8 302lbs) Michigan – Lewan is very tall with a huge wingspan, he is excellent in pass protection and is a great athlete, who excels at using his length and quickness to stonewall opposing pass rushers. When all is said and done, Lewan may be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2013 NFL draft, in my opinion nobody has a higher ceiling. If he can continue to develop, pack on some strength and bulk, he could become an absolute monster.
Barrett Jones, Senior, Center (6’5 310lbs) Alabama – The 2011 Outland Trophy Winner (for outstanding offensive lineman) Jones is experienced, versatile and tough. He has lined up all over the offensive line for the Crimson Tide over his career, although he is likely to be drafted as a center in the 2012 NFL Draft. Not only is he an excellent football player, but his big game experience and ability to play multiple positions will be something NFL teams value down the road, he should be a first round pick.
Chance Warmack, Senior, Guard (6’3 320lbs) Alabama – If you are seeing a pattern here, notice this is already the third Alabama offensive lineman listed, they will again be dominant in the offensive trenches this coming season. Warmack is a player that NFL scouts love, he is a thickly built guard with impressive lower body strength, who excels at driving defenders off of the line of scrimmage. Excels at opening up holes in the running game and getting to the next level, the type of guard every team dreams about having.
Oday Aboushi, Senior, Tackle (6’6 310lbs) Virginia – Many college football fans have not heard of Aboushi, but that will not last long, as he will quickly become a topic of discussion as the next in a line of great offensive linemen out of the University of Virginia (with Eugene Monroe and Brandon Albert). Aboushi is strong both as a pass protector and run blocker, if he dominates the line of scrimmage, we could see a huge jump in his draft stock.
Jonathan Cooper, Senior, Guard (6’3 312lbs) North Carolina – The most impressive thing about Cooper is he is incredibly athletic for a man of his size, and excels as a pulling guard, which is a tough skill to be great at. He is also very experienced and has been a name NFL scouts have been discussing since he showed flashes of brilliance as a red shirt freshman. Cooper should be one of the first interior linemen to hear his name called in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Luke Jockel, Junior, Tackle (6’6 310) Texas A&M – While he does not get the attention that Aggies right tackle Jake Matthews gets (he’s NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews’ son, mentioned below) Luke Jockel is currently the best offensive linemen at Texas A&M. While he is not a great athlete, he is a pleasure to scout, because he is an absolute technician as a pass blocker. If Jockel has worked on speed, quickness and improving as a run blocker, he will fly up draft boards because of his technical skills.
Khaled Holmes, Senior, Center (6’4 310lbs) USC – The anchor of USC’s offensive line and protector of Heisman Trophy front runner Matt Barkley, Holmes is a skilled center who uses a combination of strength and athleticism to dominate the line of scrimmage. Holmes could have left USC early but returned to help them compete for a national title, and he should be a big asset to their offense this fall.
Travis Fredrick, Junior, Guard (6’4 330lbs) Wisconsin – The Badgers seem to have a dominant offensive line year in and year out and 2012 will be no different, as they have young but skilled guard Travis Fredrick opening holes for their running game. Fredrick is an excellent run blocker with prototypical NFL guard size who should be a force at the line of scrimmage.
Jake Matthews, Junior, Tackle (6’5 305lbs) Texas A&M – As mentioned above, he is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, and plays on the right side of the Aggies offensive line opposite fellow top prospect Luke Jockel. Matthews is a good athlete and is a strong run blocker, but I wonder if he would benefit to a move inside to guard at the next level, which is where his father (now the offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans) once played.
Honorable Mention: Chris Faulk OT LSU, Alex Hurst OT LSU, Cyril Richardson OT Baylor, Dallas Thomas OT Texas, Gabe Jackson OG Mississippi State, Alvin Bailey OG Arkansas, Travis Swanson C Arkansas, James Hurst OT North Carolina, Gabe Ikard OG Oklahoma, Blaize Holtz OG TCU, Andrew Rodriguez OG Nebraska