Draft Preview: Offensive Line
By Nick Wagoner
USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is the clear cut top lineman in the draft but would the Rams pull the trigger on taking him if he were to fall to No. 6?
In the nearly two decades that Jeff Fisher was the head coach of the Tennessee franchise; his teams never drafted an offensive lineman in the first round. Not once.
With Mike Munchak as his line coach, Fisher’s teams became notorious for using picks later in the draft on slightly less talented players and then letting Munchak work his magic.
While Fisher doesn’t have Munchak in St. Louis, he does have Paul Boudreau, himself an experienced and hard nosed coach with a penchant for getting the most out of his players.
Barring something unforeseen, that streak of passing on offensive linemen – particularly tackles - will continue this year in Fisher’s first year with the Rams.
“I think it’s important to have one that’s darn good,” NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly said. “There are different philosophies on how to attain that. Jeff Fisher has had a lot of success not having to spend high picks on it and he had one of the premiere coaches in the game in Mike Munchak. I think a lot of that was tied into scouting and coaching. I don’t think he diminishes the importance of the position but people have different ways of getting it. He’s been very fortunate to get them without having to spend a high pick.”
That isn’t to say the Rams would totally discount the idea of using their first round pick, No. 6 overall, on an offensive lineman. Considering where they sit in the draft, there’s only one player that would probably garner that consideration, though.
USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is far and away the best lineman in the draft and isn’t expected to last past Minnesota at No. 3. If the Vikings were to pass on him, the Rams would be faced with an interesting decision.
Casserly believes that though Kalil is clearly the top tackle in the draft, he might not be the type of lockdown left tackle that will be a superstar for years to come.
“Kalil I think is a step ahead of everyone else, a good step,” Casserly said. “I think there’s a bigger difference between Kalil and say (Iowa tackle) Riley Reiff than between (receivers) Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd. Kalil is like Blackmon, I don’t see a guy like Joe Thomas. I could argue that perhaps Russell Okung or Trent Williams were better than Kalil. I think the tackle Dallas took last year in (Tyron) Smith is better than him.”
Of course, opinions on Kalil can differ. Chad Reuter, Casserly’s co-worker at the NFL Network, believes that Kalil’s best NFL comparison is Thomas and that he would be a slam dunk pick for the Rams if he were somehow to become available.
“In terms of just the general makeup he has as a prospect in size and speed and all of that,” Reuter said. “I don’t think he’s quite as athletic as Thomas or quite at that level but he will start for a long time and be a good pass protector. He’s only getting bigger and better so I think he’s definitely worth going if by some miracle the Vikings don’t take him and he’s sitting there for the Rams at 6, I’d move Jason Smith to guard in a heartbeat and pick this kid.”
That scenario is still unlikely to play out and the fact is that the Rams feel pretty good about Rodger Saffold having a rebound season and Jason Smith getting healthy. More likely, the Rams could be in the market as early as round two for a tackle who could provide some help on the right side. Kalil is scheduled to visit the Rams on Thursday.
Reiff is considered the second best tackle in the class but likely wouldn’t be a consideration for the Rams unless the moved down again via trade. After that, though, things could get interesting.
Ohio State tackle Mike Adams paid a visit to Rams Park on Monday and could be an option in round two. Same for Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Mississippi’s Bobby Massie. Someone like California’s Mitchell Schwartz or Auburn’s Brandon Mosley could be intriguing in the middle rounds as possible right tackles.
“In this draft, you are not going to find a pass protecting left tackle after Kalil,” Reuter said. “He might be it. If Mike Adams gets his stuff together he could be really good but Kalil is really it in terms of pass protectors in this draft.”
Then, of course, there are pair of extremely talented linemen that have some confounded whether their best position is tackle or guard. Georgia’s Cordy Glenn is a monster at either spot but some think he’s a multiple time Pro Bowler if he played guard.
“You have to make a decision on whether you think Cordy Glenn is an interior or exterior player,” Reuter said. “I think a team like the Steelers or the Bears, teams that value size and length over pure athleticism might try him at tackle. Teams like Arizona that want to move the ball on the ground will like him as a guard. He has got the potential to be really, really good as a guard.”
Glenn will probably go in round one but Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele could be a guy the Rams look long and hard at in rounds two or three. He too could be a dominant guard but also has the athleticism to slide out to tackle though he’s had some injury and temperament questions.
“He’s a guy that could be like a Carl Nicks of this draft of being a guy who ended up as a third round pick and just blows it up as a guard,” Reuter said. “He’s a power running guard. He could end up really good value, he plays with attitude and is so big and strong he can control his man. He could end up being a really good player for somebody.”
The Rams’ need for help on the offensive line might actually steer them in the direction of a player that can play outside and inside. With Scott Wells signed to play center, the Rams have Wells, Harvey Dahl and Saffold pretty well set. Smith will get a shot at right tackle but coming off a concussion, nothing is guaranteed.
That leaves a guaranteed opening at left guard and a possible one at right tackle. It’s also possible Dahl could stay outside at right tackle, where he finished last year and put the Rams in need of two guards.
Fortunately, it’s a solid class for interior linemen this year. Stanford’s David DeCastro is a surefire first round pick at guard but probably not in play for the Rams barring a major trade down or two.
More likely candidates at guard would include possible early second round choices such as Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler, Midwestern State’s Amini Silatolu and Osemele. Wake Forest’s Joe Looney, Pittsburgh’s Lucas Nix and Washington’s Senio Kelemete could be middle round options.
“If Zeitler is available to them in the second that would be a fantastic fit for them,” Reuter said. “Amini Silatolu is a pretty athletic guy and now that I think about it Fisher brought in Eugene Amano in Tennessee so he would be an interesting pick for them, too.
This draft has some interesting guard guys later so they might be able to fill that need in the middle rounds.”
Top Five Offensive Tackle Prospects
1. Matt Kalil, USC
2. Riley Reiff, Iowa
3. Mike Adams, Ohio State
4. Jonathan Martin, Stanford
5. Mitchell Schwartz, California
Sleeper: Jeff Adams, Columbia
Top Five Offensive Guard Prospects
1. David DeCastro, Stanford
2. Cordy Glenn, Georgia
3. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
4. Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State
5. Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
Sleeper: Ronald Leary, Memphis
Top Five Center Prospects
1. Peter Konz, Wisconsin
2. Philip Blake, Baylor
3. Ben Jones, Georgia
4. David Molk, Michigan
5. Quinton Saulsberry, Mississippi State
Sleeper: Jason Slowey, Western Oregon
Re: Draft Preview: Offensive Line
We trade back not likely but who knows:
LG DeCastro - Cordy Glenn
We could draft a guy like Amini Silatolu who can play OT and G. If moving Smith inside is an option, we can keep our options open in case Smith finds his game or not.
RT Amini Silatolu
The bottom line Fisher seems to get his guys later in the draft and has already addressed the poor line play by cutting two starters in Brown and Bell. Replacing one with a pro bowler from a recent super bowl team in Wells. I have complete confidence in this FO that our O line will be much better going forward.