With my quarterbacks and receivers rankings complete, we now shift to the offensive linemen in this year’s draft class. Much like with receivers, this is a critical position for the Chicago Bears to hit come late April. Fortunately, this class is as deep as we’ve seen in recent history.
I will say that the top 2 guys look to be ready-made superstars. They have capabilities to do anything that is needed within a scheme. After those two (as well as the third), the talent drops off somewhat. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of really good, but there’s nothing truly great.
With that said, let’s begin.
1. Tyler Linderbaum, University of Iowa
Simply put, I was blown away by Tyler Linderbaum. He is as slam dunk a superstar as it gets for an offensive lineman, particularly a center.
First off, the physical tools are outstanding. Yes, he is listed at 6’3”, 291 lbs. but looks far bigger on film. He possesses incredible strength and power, and his speed and explosion off the line of scrimmage are all exceptional, hence why he can beat defensive lineman to the point of contact. He is also highly capable of getting to the second level, which will prove critical in a West Coast system heavy on pulling guards and gashing teams with speed backs in the running game.
As far as technique goes, he is a machine. His balance, hand placement, and footwork are always perfect, and his leg and hip drive is outstanding as well. But the other aspect of being a machine is consistency, and Linderbaum’s consistency with his technique is unbelievable. There are very few plays where he lacked proper footwork in pass protection or overcommitted on a block and got caught off balance that it is almost mind-boggling.
All in all, he is a can’t-miss superstar. There is zero doubt in my mind he will come into the NFL, make an immediate impact, and transform a team’s trenches for a long time.
2. Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan University
Folks, welcome to Rahul Ramachandran’s draft rankings. When I started evaluating offensive linemen, I expected the big-name guys to display top-tier talent (i.e., Ickey Ekwonu, Charles Cross, etc.). Those guys certainly have big-time talent, but it is not in the same class as Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan.
Much like Linderbaum, I was blown away by Bernhard Raimann. He is the total package. At 6’7”, 304 lbs., his size is phenomenal, yet he is still able to keep his center of gravity close to the ground, which allows him to maximize balance and contact absorption. Athletically-speaking, he is by far the best in this class. His ability to explode off the line of scrimmage is unreal, and his lateral quickness is as good as they come.
His technique - again, much like Linderbaum - is machine-like. He rarely finds himself out of position in pass protection or run-blocking, which - for a guy his size - is truly unbelievable.
Overall, it is very close between him and Linderbaum. I gave Linderbaum the edge because he played against top-tier competition, so his game will translate immediately. Raimann might take a year to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but once he does, he is without a doubt a franchise tackle.
3. Evan Neal, University of Alabama
Though he isn’t quite as good as the top two, Alabama’s Evan Neal is certainly in the next tier down.
At 6’7”, 350 lbs., he is an extremely physical and powerful offensive lineman. He has phenomenal strength, hence why he is capable of stiffing people even when off balance and powering through others in run-blocking using his leg drive. Despite that size, however, he is still a very good athlete. He has good explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and is certainly capable of getting to the second level.
His technique requires some refinement, though. He can overcommit to a defender and get caught off balance at times as well as misfire with hand placement. The good thing is that I see him use proper technique enough to where he’ll be able to refine this aspect of his game at the next level.
I love the player, but he’s not in the class of Linderbaum and Raimann because of those two guys’ superior athleticism and refinement with technique.
4. Trevor Penning, University of Northern Iowa
The first thing that pops off Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning is his size. At a hulking 6’7”, 322 lbs., he is nearly impossible to bull rush through. His strength and power is phenomenal, and he moves very well for his size.
His technique is quite flawed, though. He struggles with balance and patience in pass protection. The latter will be an easy fix with NFL-caliber coaching, but the former will be far more difficult because the root of the problem is his height. Unlike Raimann, Penning doesn’t keep his center of gravity lower to the ground, so he gets pushed off balance far too easily. Even more concerning is that I don’t see him do things the right way enough to where he can hone it with extra time and effort.
He’s certainly much more raw than my top 3 guys, and I think he can be a very good offensive lineman at the next level due to his sheer size and movement, but I highly doubt that he reaches his full potential.
5. Kenyon Green, Texas A&M University
It’s really close between Green and Penning. Ultimately, I gave Penning the edge because I think his ceiling is slightly higher, but I believe Green will develop into a very good tackle as well.
Size-wise, he has incredible thickness at 6’4”, 325 lbs. and is still capable of moving well. His explosiveness and lateral quickness pop off the screen.
From a technique perspective, he is phenomenal. No, he isn’t the machine that Linderbaum and Raimann are, but there is still enough consistency on film such that I believe he’ll grow into being somewhat of a machine.
Mentally-speaking, his ability to read and react to games up front instantaneously is exceptional, which makes him very NFL-ready.
All things considered, I like the prospect, but he’s the classic “low risk, low reward” pick. I feel fairly certain saying that he won’t be awful, but he likely won’t be great either. He’ll develop into a very good offensive lineman, but that’s about as good as it will get.
6. Daniel Faalele, University of Minnesota
Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele is far and away the most physically-imposing lineman in this class.
He has unteachable size at 6’8”, 380 lbs., and possesses good strength and power. Moreover, his long arms allow him to hold defenders up at the line of scrimmage in pass protection and generate greater leverage in run-blocking.
Technically-speaking, he has some inconsistencies with hand placement but shows enough on film that he’ll be able to pick this up with NFL-level coaching. The question for Faalele is his balance. Much like Penning, Faalele doesn’t play low to the ground, which - when paired with his height - limits his ability to stay on balance after contact in pass protection. In run-blocking, his lack of mobility limits him from keeping his legs driving through the point of contact.
He certainly has some elite traits to his game, but the movement is so lacking to the point where he lacks versatility, and with this era’s emphasis on zone running schemes and pulling linemen, that is enough for me to put him at #6.
7. Ickey Ekwonu, North Carolina State University
First off, the positives. At 6’4”, 320 lbs., his size, strength, and power are all exceptional. He also has an incredible ability to process games at a high level.
However, unlike most of my top 6 guys, the athleticism is really lacking. His foot speed is extremely slow, hence why he often gets beat by speed rushers or defensive backs on nickel/edge blitzes. This limits his versatility, as he won’t provide much in the screen game or in an outside zone and bootleg-type system, and even in a traditional pass-protecting role, he will struggle recovering when he is inevitably beaten by guys like Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt.
Technically-speaking, he is very raw. He can overcommit and throw off his balance and struggle with hand placement. More often than not, he keeps his elbow turned outside-in, which limits the power he can generate. It also leads to a lot of holding.
He’s got big-time upside, but he is extremely raw, and I’m not sure many of these technical and athletic flaws are fixable.
8. Charles Cross, Mississippi State University
At a base level, I just don’t see it in Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. Yes, his physical tools are exceptional, but he’s so raw to the point where it’s quite concerning.
First off, as great as his physical tools are, they don’t translate on the field. Strength and power both appear to be a problem, which is why - despite those great physical tools - he plays much smaller than he actually is. Moreover, just like Ekwonu, his foot speed is lacking. When he gets beat, he rarely recovers, and just like all lineman in the NFL, he will inevitably get beat by the Khalil Macks, T.J. Watts, and Myles Garretts of the world.
But most of all, it’s the technique that scares me. He is all over the place with his technique in run-blocking and pass protection to the point where he relies more on his natural talent than a technique to fall back on when he’s not on top of his game. His balance is off from the snap to the point of contact, and his hand placement is all over the place, hence why he holds a lot.
Again, the physical tools and ceiling are very good, but he’s extremely raw. Personally, I just don’t see him as the top-10 pick that many mock drafts have him as.
With that being said, I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. Based on all the interviews I’ve seen of him, he is certainly easy to root for, and I definitely hope he proves me wrong and balls out in the NFL. But I’ve got some serious questions about his game that need answers before I can be a believer.