Ranking the Top 20 Offensive Linemen in 2013 NFL Draft

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Luke Joeckel, Alabama Trio Headline Strong Offensive Line Class

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They don’t get the same glory of the quarterbacks they protect, but the offensive line is the most important unit in the NFL.

Having a great quarterback or running back is rendered moot if you don’t have a quality offensive line to protect the quarterback to give him time to throw to his receivers and tight ends, just ask Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler about that. What good is having a top running back if he is getting hit in the backfield every time he gets the ball? Being strong in those areas is like having a Ferrari body and putting a Ford engine under the hood.

Only one offensive lineman was taken in the first 22 picks in the 2012 draft and four in the first round, but this year may see as many as seven taken in the first round. The left tackle position is the most important position to solidify after quarterback and Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel could be the first left tackle to be the number one pick since Jake Long went first overall to the Miami Dolphins in 2008.

This draft class has two of the better guard prospects in recent memory, a center that is a three-time national champion who can play three different positions and back-to-back champion Alabama could see three linemen selected in the first round.

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20. Braxston Cave-C-Notre Dame

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Cave has some durability issues and is a bit undersized at 6-3, 300-pounds that will see him get drafted in round five or six, but is a smart player that makes up for his physical deficiencies with mental awareness and toughness. He has a little experience at guard, and could serve as a backup at that position, but he will be a center in the NFL, and should be a quality reserve because of his strong intangibles.

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19. Alvin Bailey-G-Arkansas

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Bailey has been an impressive and unheralded player for Arkansas over the past three seasons where he has started the last three years and helped block in an offense that featured a number of highly productive quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs. He was a Freshman All-American and later named to the All-American team by Pro Football Weekly in 2011. Bailey has exceptional strength bench pressing close to 500-pounds and squatting over 600 pounds and that will allow him to win one-on-one battles against defensive tackles in the NFL.

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18. Xavier Nixon-OT-Florida

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At 6-6, 314-pounds, Nixon has ideal size for a left tackle and has a wealth of experience on his resume. Nixon has appeared in 43 games for the Gators and has started 33 games during his career primarily at left tackle. Nixon started his career as a blocking tight end in jumbo formations before moving to right tackle and then finding a home at the left tackle. Nixon added a lot of muscle prior to his final season at Florida and demonstrated good mechanics in pass protection. He'll likely be drafted between rounds four and five.

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17. Chris Faulk-OT-LSU

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The 6-6, 323-pound left tackle declared for the draft despite missing all but one game of his junior season due to a torn ACL. Faulk was a second team all-SEC selection after his sophomore season when he started 13 games at left tackle for the Tigers. The health of his knee will be the point of concern for teams prior to the draft, but if he gets a clean bill of health should get selected in the early portions of day three.

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16. Travis Frederick-C-Wisconsin

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Frederick has a lot of experience along the offensive line having started double-digit games at both left guard and center, so that versatility will help him in the draft process and will the pedigree of former Wisconsin lineman having success in the NFL. Frederick was actually the first true freshman to start a season opener at the school, which is saying something considering the talent that has come through Madison. He has been one of the best in the Big Ten the past two seasons and should be an early contributor in the NFL because of his ability to line up at both guard spots but profiles best at center.

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15. Larry Warford-G-Kentucky

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Warford has tremendous size for a guard and profiles best at a right guard with his 6-3, 345-pound frame. He has started the past three seasons at Kentucky where he was one of the best linemen in the SEC. He has deceptive speed and quickness that you wouldn’t expect from a player his size, but that ability allows him to pull and get to the second level to seal off and knock down defenders. That ability will play well in the NFL, but due to his position being devalued in the draft he may not get drafted as high as you would expect of a player this skilled. He likely hears his name called in round three.

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14. Ricky Wagner-OT-Wisconsin

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Wisconsin continually develops NFL offensive lineman as the draft is annually littered with the next crop of tackles, guards, and centers from the Badgers. Wagner is the next in the line of great tackles to come from Wisconsin following in the likes of former first round picks Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi. Will likely start out as a right tackle early in his career, but can develop into a starting left tackle with his above average footwork and strength. He should be taken in in the middle of round two or early in round three.

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13. Khaled Holmes-C-USC

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The 6-4, 305-pound Holmes has good size for a pivot in the NFL and has been one of the more reliable and consistent lineman in the nation the past two seasons. Came to USC as a highly regarded recruit and started as a right guard before being moved to center and becoming one of the two or three best at the position. He has been slowed during his career by ankle, shoulder and neck injuries and the offensive production really dropped with him out of the lineup. He has been a team captain and is a strong presence in the locker room and his teammates have responded well to his leadership.

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12. Oday Aboushi-OT-Virginia

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A two-year starter for the Cavaliers is a better pass blocker than he is against the run, but could line up at either tackle position. Won’t be confused for a road-grading lineman like D.J. Fluker and needs to hit the weight room and add strength and weight. Shows a good feel for the game and his field awareness is one of his strengths, so he should be able to handle picking up complex NFL stunts and blitzes. If he shows good footwork and strength at the combine he can be in the second round conversation.

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11. Justin Pugh-OT-Syracuse

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Pugh is three-year starter is going to need to add bulk to his 292-poud frame, but has elite pass blocking skills and is able to handle speed and power rushers with relative ease. Can play too high at times in the run game, and with added bulk will help him drive defenders off the ball. Shows good awareness and is a smart player who is quick to pick up a scheme and read opposing defenses. Scouts will love that he shows a mean streak and could come off the board in the first 10 picks in the second round.

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10. Dallas Thomas-G/T-Tennessee

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A bright spot for the struggling Volunteers is an above average pass blocker who has room to improve if can utilize his hands better to get power rushers disengaged off his light frame. Moves and mirrors the defenders well, but needs to develop more upper body strength. Added bulk and strength would aid in his run-blocking which is average. Thomas has experience at left guard and left tackle and has no significant injury history during his college career. His versatility, durability, and experience will do wonders for him during the evaluation process. Thomas should be gone in the first 40 picks during the draft because of his versatility and durability.

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9. Barrett Jones-C/G-Alabama

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Jones as lined up all along the Alabama offensive line the last four years and won the Outland Trophy starting as the left tackle on the national champions in 2011 before winning the Rimington award as the best center in 2012. A three-time national title winner, who possesses every intangible you look for in an offensive lineman, excels in getting proper leverage and taking the proper angles to seal off the defender and will be a coach’s dream. Jones is a very cerebral player similar to long time pro bowl center Matt Birk who can be a pivot on the offensive line and handle all the calls and blitz pick-ups with ease. He could have been a first round pick before the injury, but now will slide into the second round.

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8. Kyle Long-G/T-Oregon

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The son of Howie and brother of Chris, Kyle has the pedigree to be a player in the NFL for a long time. He can line up at either guard or tackle and at 6-7, 311-pounds has the size and strength to excel at either spot. He may be best suited in the inside initially as he learns the nuances of the offensive line as he has only been playing on the offensive line since 2011 when he made the transition at Saddleback Junior College. A raw prospect but one with a high ceiling that may take a couple years to develop, but his potential could see him crack the bottom of the first round if he has a great combine.

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7. Menelik Watson-LT-Florida State

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A former Marist basketball player, Watson is a very raw prospect with quick feet and can still dunk a basketball. He could run in the 4.7 range in the 30-yard dash which would rank among the best for any offensive lineman in any class, especially considering he’s 6-6 and 320-pounds. Watson may need more refinement as he learns the nuances of the position such as proper hand placement, but has as much potential as any offensive line prospect in this draft class. He is a real diamond in the rough and a player that will soar up draft boards after his combine workout.

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6. D.J. Fluker-RT-Alabama

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An absolute physical presence at 6-5 and 335-pounds, Fluker will be penciled in at right tackle where he could open up holes for his running backs with relative ease for the next decade. Some are concerned if he has enough foot speed to hold up in pass protection, but I think he has enough agility and good enough feet to be a standout at right tackle for a long time. He’s a multiple national title winner and has blocked for a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and finalist in Trent Richardson. Look for Fluker to be taken in the first 20 picks.

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5. Lane Johnson-LT-Oklahoma

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Johnson is one of the fastest risers among the offensive lineman in this year’s class. The former Junior college quarterback transitioned into a tight end and eventually a standout left tackle for Oklahoma. Is one of the more athletic specimens at the tackle position and has prototypical size at 6-7 and 300-pounds. He has experience at both right and left tackle in college, but profiles as a left tackle in the NFL because of his quick feet and lateral agility and that skill-set could land him inside the top 10.

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4. Jonathan Cooper-LG-North Carolina

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Cooper is a four-year starter that excels as a pass blocker because of his quick and nimble feet. Has really developed into an above average blocker in the run game and delivers a good hand punch and a nasty demeanor. He can line up at either guard spots and play center in a pinch, but his best position is at left guard where he can get out and pull to the second level as well as any guard in America. Because of his position he won’t go as high as he is rated, but he should be taken in side the top 15-18 picks.

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3. Eric Fisher-LT-Central Michigan

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A bit of a sleeper because he’s from a smaller school, but there is nothing small about the 6-6 300-pound Fisher who has prototypical size for a left tackle. He has quick feet, good balance and rarely is on the ground. He may encounter some growing pains early in his NFL career as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL, but once he settles in he should be a starting left tackle for a long time. He will be a fast rising prospect after the combine and could be taken in the top five picks. Somewhat reminiscent of former Central Michigan standout and first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers Joe Staley.

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2. Chance Warmack-LG-Alabama

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Warmack is the best guard prospect I have seen in years, and will be a starter as soon as he steps on the field in training camp. Guards traditionally do not get drafted that high in the draft but he can be the exception and be the first interior lineman taken in the top 10 in decades. He really has no weaknesses in his game and excels in the run and pass game while possessing exceptional field awareness, durability, and toughness. During his time in Tuscaloosa he has blocked for a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and another Heisman finalist in Trent Richardson.

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1. Luke Joeckel-LT-Texas A&M

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Joeckel is a very smart and aware left tackle that has started since his freshmen year at Texas A&M that plays with an aggressive and relentless motor while displaying nice athleticism. At 6’6’’ and 305 pounds he could stand do add some bulk to his frame which would improve his run blocking skills and not lose a step as a pass-blocker. Projects as an elite left tackle because he excels at pass protection with his knack for recognizing line stunts and blitzes. Protected the blindside of Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel in college and won the Outland Trophy as a junior. Could be the top pick overall to the Kansas City Chiefs with a strong combine and pro day workout.