If this free agency is any indicator, the Raiders are committed to rebuilding the franchise from the inside out. To that end, today’s preview will focus on the offensive line — in its entirety. There’s good reason to believe the Raiders draft will be, as well.
The biggest reason is the Raiders have yet to address a line that graded out as one of the worst in the NFL last season. Though there are a couple of players who performed admirably — Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski — the majority were downright awful, especially against the run. This fact combined with McKenzie’s acquisition of Matt Flynn would suggest the Raiders have their eye on an offensive lineman or two in next week’s draft.
So what kind of offensive lineman might McKenzie be interested in?
Well, in addition to needing to be physical, intelligent and tough, since 2005 players selected by either McKenzie or teams under which he was employed averaged 6-feet 4-inches, 33-inch arms and 9.75-inch hands.
In addition to correlations of physical size, players drafted were also relatively athletic. Though no single combine test reveals a clear parallel between players, draftees were more athletic than their positional averages, as shown below. The NFL averages were compiled from 2008 to 2012 by ESPN.
Measurables aside, players drafted were mostly four-year starters on the offensive line. Those who weren’t either contributed to their collegiate team on the field as a reserve/special teams role or as a tight end. Other common phraseology in scouting reports were “hard worker” and “athletic.”
With this information in hand, there candidates that seem to match (almost) perfectly the “type” of lineman McKenzie would be most apt to select in next week’s draft.
Luke Joekel, Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson
Projected Round(s): 1st
All of three posses the toughness, intelligence and physicality that McKenzie covets. Plus, all three are athletic and gained a wealth of experience at the collegiate level. Of course, all have some qualities that lie outside of McKenzie’s “type,” but they fit, for the most part.
Justin Pugh, Tackle/Guard (Syracuse)
Projected Round(s): 1-2
– Notes: Pugh is a 4th year junior and has completed his degree. Though his arms are shorter than average, they’re still longer than Tony Bergstrom’s.
CSNChicago: “Does not lack mental toughness and is confident in his abilities.”
ESPN.com: “An above-average student and was a regular on the schools’ Honor Roll. Completed his degree requirements in finance. … Overall instincts are solid. Displays good awareness in pass pro. … Also show ability to identify and react to pressures coming from the second and third level of defense. He is an assignment-sound run blocker that does a nice job of identifying targets at the second level.”
Pugh: “My football IQ,” Pugh noted when asked what separates him from other offensive lineman. “I’ve been in a pro system the past four years with Coach (Doug) Marrone. So I think my technique and my knowledge of the game is higher than most guys.”
Russ Lande: “Possessing good playing strength, once he locks up on pass rusher he can keep man tied up and eliminates man from the play. Quick off the ball and highly competitive, Pugh does a good job of pinning inside shaded DL inside on down/side run blocks.”
Ourlads: “Strong hands to lock on the breast plate and control the defender.”
ESPN.com: “Coaches praise his work ethic and ability to quickly pick up the offense and blocking schemes.”
PFW: “Solid intangibles.”
NFL.com: “Very good range and mobility. Good feet. … Plays with body control and balance. Gets to the second level easily.”
ESPN.com: “Light on his feet and shows good patience and balance in his sets. … Displays above-average lateral agility to reach defenders from the backside or seal the edge as a front side run blocker. Appears to be an above-average athlete in space.”
CBSSports.com: “Effortless mover for a 290-pound tackle with good body control and coordination to take on blocks and mirror rushers in space. Good combination of speed and athleticism enables him to reach the second level as fast as any offensive lineman in this class.”
NFL.com: “As a high school senior, Pugh earned the Maxwell Award, which is presented to the Top 50 high school scholar-athletes in the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware). The award recognizes athletics, academics and community service. Pugh also earned all-area and All-Suburban One League First Team honors as a junior and senior in addition to being named second-team all-area as a defensive lineman as a senior. Named 2008 team MVP and defensive player of the year as a team captain. Pugh is involved in Special Olympics and volunteers for Athletes Helping Athletes.”
– Daniel Jeremiah believes Pugh is a “better prospect coming out of college than current NFL starters Sam Baker and Andy Levitre were entering the draft.”
Lande: “ Overall, I do not think Pugh will be drafted as highly as I have him rated, but am confident that within a season or two will develop into a quality starting left tackle in the NFL. He is a good risk to take because even if he does not pan out at tackle due to arm length, he has what it takes to be a good starting guard or center.”
Brian Schwenke, Guard/Center (California)
Projected Round(s): 2-3
ESPN.com: “Tough and plays the game with an edge. Flashes a nasty side and can be downright dirty on occasion. … Will hustle and chase in pursuit to clean up downfield piles.”
ESPN.com: “Assignment sound in the run game. Locates and identifies targets quickly at the second level. Recognizes DL twists/games/stunts in a timely manner.”
CBSSports.com: Showed “improved awareness as he gained experience at the position. Made all of the line calls for Cal despite his inexperience at the position.”
NFL.com: “Constantly wins the leverage battle. Gets his hands inside of the chest plate of defenders.”
CBSSports.com: “Alert, competitive blocker who looks to help his teammates and blocks to the whistle.”
ESPN.com: “Accountable both on and off the field. Well respected by coaches and teammates. Team first player. Made the switch from OG to OC as a senior in 2012.”
ESPN.com: “Just an average athlete in space and can struggle when having to adjust on the move to throw on defenders at the second level or third level.”
CBSSports.com: “Possesses an exceptional initial burst off the snap to turn and seal off defenders. … While possessing very good quickness to the second level, shows only average change-of-direction and awareness in re-directing to make effective downfield blocks.”
Lande: “He has quick feet and shows good footwork in pass-protection and it helps him to slide side-to-side to stay on blocks through the play.”
NFL.com: “He earned Coaches first-team all-conference honors for his play (in 2012).”
CBSSports.com: “COMPARES TO: Max Unger, C, Seattle Seahawks — Like the former Oregon Duck standout, Schwenke’s value lies not only his versatility but in his short-area quickness, reliability and smarts.”
Hugh Thornton, Guard (Illinois)
Projected Round(s): 4-5
ESPN.com: “Aggressive mauler that blocks to the whistle and can get under defender’s skin but doesn’t appear to be a hothead prone to personal foul calls. Always looking for someone to hit and uncoils on linebackers at the second level. Looks to deliver kill shot when ever gets a chance to blind side defender in space or help guard out when no one comes to him in pass protection.”
CBSSports.com: ” Plays with a bit of a nasty streak, and fights to the whistle.”
ESPN.com: “Late recognizing blitz. and can be too quick to commit to defenders in pass protection making him vulnerable to delayed blitzes. However, appears to show better awareness in pass protection late in the season.”
NFL.com: “Tenacious blocker once engaged either in the run game or pass pro, finishes blocks to the ground whenever necessary.”
Lande: “Hugh does a good job of making contact first and when he stays over his feet and under control he is able to maintain block and eliminates lLB from the play consistently.”
ESPN.com: “Thornton went through extreme difficulties as a child, seeing his parents get divorced, finding his mother and sister murdered while visiting them in Jamaica over Christmas break in 2004, and eventually moving to Ohio before his senior year in high school to live with his aunt after being abused by his father while living with him in Idaho. He also hurt his own cause by being arrested for underage consumption in Champaign in 2009 and attempting to use a fake ID card the following fall. But he’s fought through all of that, however, to become a reliable, versatile lineman with NFL potential.”
NFL.com: “Quick feet and good straight-line speed also help him block down and reach second-level targets, also pulled for outside runs. Uses athleticism and length as an effective cut blocker in space to take out defenders.”
ESPN.com: “Above average upside. Quick and above average lateral mobility. … Quick and athletic enough to develop into an above average zone blocker and can cover up linebackers at the second level. Above average range when asked to pull.”
Lande: “Not expecting much when I began evaluating Thornton, I was pleasantly surprised by his combination of strength, athleticism and competitiveness. While he no doubt needs to work on his technique and consistency, the improvements he made from his junior season to 2012 were impressive and lead me to believe that his best football is ahead of him. As I mentioned above, Hugh’s ability to potentially start at guard and center and possibly even tackle give him much more value to teams as he becomes a multi-positional linemen who can fill more than one spot on a game day roster. Overall, I am not confident that Thornton will be drafted as highly as I have him rated due to his struggles with consistency, I believe in his talent to become a quality starting guard or center in his second or third season.”
Others to watch
J.C. Tretter, Guard
Garrett Gilkey, Guard
Eric Herman, Guard