Offensive guards have never gotten much respect in the sport of football, an unfair but true reality. Whether it’s pee-wee or the NFL, it doesn’t make a difference, and it’s reflected in both salary and draft position. Slowly, however, guards are beginning to gain the respect they deserve.
All-Pro’s like Jahri Evans (New Orleans Saints), Carl Nicks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Logan Mankins (New England Patriots) and Andy Levitre (Tennessee Titans) all have average salaries north of $7.8 million, and the 2013 NFL Draft featured three guards drafted in the top-20 overall, including two in the top-10. Will the growing value of guards continue in the next draft?
All signs are pointing to yes, as the guard class in the 2014 NFL Draft is once again strong.
Cyril Richardson (Baylor, 6-foot 5, 340 pounds) and Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State, 6-foot 3, 335 pounds) are widely considered the two best guards in the 2014 NFL Draft, and are very similar. Both are absolutely gigantic maulers who can immediately aid an NFL team’s rushing production, but both also need work in pass protection. Jackson is more polished at this point, but Richardson probably has the higher ceiling. Both should go in the latter half of round one.
David Yankey (6-foot 5, 315 pounds) is latest stud lineman to come out of Stanford, and has compared favorably to former Cardinal guard David DeCastro (24th overall in ’12, Pittsburgh Steelers). He’s got experience at both guard and tackle, which will serve him well, but doesn’t have the feet to play outside at professional level.
He’s a classic blue-collar, smash-em-in-the-mouth grunt lineman who finishes well. There’s a good chance he could go in the latter half of the first round as well, but he likely won’t dip past the middle of round two.
So if three guards get drafted in the first round for the second year in a row, it won’t be totally shocking. It may even be four depending on Notre Dame’s Zack Martin (6-foot 4, 305 pounds), who’s played like a first-rounder at left tackle over the last four years. But, he might not have the size to play outside in the NFL, as many believe that his brightest future is inside at guard.
Four guards in the first round? It hasn’t happened since 1982. Likely? No. Possible? Very.
And while it’s nice to hang your hat on the potential first-rounders, no one should scoff at the depth of the rest of the class. Anthony Steen (Alabama), Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA), Chris Watt (Notre Dame), Ryan Groy (Wisconsin), Zach Fulton (Tennessee) and John Urschel (Penn State) all are big, grizzled veterans who have big-game experience going against some of the best interior defensive linemen in the land.
All should be mid-round picks, and all will find themselves as part of a rotation (at worst) next year in the NFL, if not starting outright. This year’s guard crop may not feature two top-10 picks like the class of ’13, but it does look to be deeper. Maybe the days of guards being undervalued are finally over.