With interior pressure being such a point of emphasis for teams in the NFL, having quality players at the center and guard positions to protect against that pressure is key. Like we saw in the Super Bowl, if teams can eliminate an opponent's star defensive tackle, it's makes their pass rush one dimensional and allows teams to use their remaining blockers elsewhere. Games are won and lost inside the trenches more often than not, and the market for interior lineman is officially in the seven figures. There may not be a Quenton Nelson in this year's draft class, but there is a massive amount of potential and a handful of guys who can be plugged and played immediately. There are several other names that could have easily made this list, but upside and overall ceiling were the main factors in manufacturing this top 5 list. So without further ado, here are the five best interior lineman of this year's NFL Draft class.
1. Garrett Bradbury- Center, North Carolina State
Weight: 300 lbs
Career Stats: 39
Bench Press: N/A
Arm Length: 32.48"
When pure intelligence is mixed with raw attitude and natural instincts, you get someone like Garrett Bradbury. Not only will he punch you in the mouth, but he’ll also tell you exactly who he needs to block, what direction he needs to block them, and what angle to take on any particular play and against any defensive front. At times when breaking down Garrett’s film, you wonder if he actually has eyes in the back of his head. The center’s ability to track everyone on the field is quite impressive, from his own RBs or QB to D-linemen coming on stunts, or backers coming on delayed blitzes. He has a feel for all 21 other players on the field. At 6’3” 300 lbs, some scouts may say he’s slightly on the smaller side in terms of prototypical size and arm length, but the tape hardly ever shows it. His proper technique, accurate hand placement, and strong base make up for a lack of reach. Between his bullish, aggressive, trench warfare type of playing style and dedication to winning the body positioning battle, he’s fun to watch and hard to beat!
It’s impossible to be 100% sure when scouting only four games worth of film, but I can confidently say that Garrett Bradbury most likely has more pancake blocks than any other player on this list and possibly in the draft. The man’s goal each and every play is to punish and demoralize his opponent by driving them into the ground and did so on a consistent basis. Plain and simple, he’s a bully! And for a center, Bradbury is often bullying guys who are bigger, stronger, and better athletes than him. His dedication to proper form and leverage definitely stands out and allows him to win the bulk of his one on one battles. You hardly ever see him out of position, stood straight up, or losing the hand fight. His strong punch and quick set tend to counter the reach advantage a majority of the defensive linemen he faced have over him. Garrett dominates in the second level, taking smart angles to linebackers and seals off running lanes to spring open big plays for his offense. Although the NC State prospect may not tear it up at the combine or NC State’s pro day, he’s still a very good athlete who excels when blocking in space or pulling from the center position. His field vision and ability to track linebackers on combo blocks was very impressive. On several occasions when down blocking, Garrett would finish off a DT and instantly peal off to attack a linebacker in the second level.
Run blocking may be his strong suit, but the man’s pass blocking skill set isn’t far behind. Bradbury relies on technique over pure strength, winning with clean footwork that mirrors his opponent step for step, and uses those strong hands to dictate the distance between himself and pass rushers. That isn’t to say he wasn’t beat from time to time. It was rare, but every so often the center would be beaten off the line on the first step and could not recover due to his lack of elite strength and athleticism. Sporadically, his form and footwork can get wild and inconsistent, resulting in him being beaten by pure speed or raw power. And although his aggressive nature is something to marvel over, Bradbury had a slight tendency to lose against push/pull moves when overextending while attempting to engage and explode off of the line of scrimmage. He may not be the most athletic, the quickest, or the strongest lineman on the field, but the effort, intelligence, and intangibles are more than enough for him to succeed in the National Football League. With the center position being a hard one to judge in terms of draft value, I expect the NC State star to be off the board in the late first, early second round. All I know is whoever drafts him will fall in love once he hits the film room and field.
2. Elgton Jenkins- Center, Mississippi State
Weight: 314 lbs
Career Starts: 36
Bench Press: N/A
Arm Length: 34.48
An athletic center with prototypical size, length, and strength to succeed at the next level, Elgton Jenkins is one of the draft’s most well rounded interior linemen prospects of 2019. He’s a smooth mover who’s quite agile for his size, and has plenty of room for improvement. On film, rarely was Jenkins ever beaten, much less overpowered. At 6’4”, 314 lbs Elgton carries his weight well and is very light on his feet. The senior’s athleticism and agility allow for smooth, fluid movement, which is rare for a man of his size. As a center in the SEC he faced his fair share of quality defensive linemen, having his best performance against Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Da’ron Payne back in 2017. Payne was considered the best DT in his draft class and Williams is currently considered a top 3 overall prospect in 2019. Elgton not only held his own against these two but arguably put up his best performance on film facing the powerhouse that is the University of Alabama. It’s one thing to dominate against the lower level talent and smaller school prospects, and it’s another to do it against the best defensive linemen in the country. Facing the likes of potential first round D-line prospects Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat in practice every day may have something to do with his success.
The Mississippi State center has put up quality play for years now. He’s a seasoned vet of a prospect at 23 years of age and shows a high football IQ. Elgton consistently recognizes stunts and picks up blitzes with ease, and possesses the ability to quickly adjust or redirect his momentum. Jenkins does a tremendous job at anchoring, as he’s constantly stonewalling pass rushers regardless of if he has the body positioning or leverage to do so. The senior isn’t the quickest out of his stance and doesn’t show much pop or explosion off of the line of scrimmage but recovers well and outmuscles his opponents play after play. He has plenty of room to grow in terms of hand placement and fighting, but when he can get those mitts on a D-lineman, his strong grip prevents defenders to break away from the block. The center also needs to do a better job of using his reach to dictate the distance battle and not get stood straight up. If Jenkins can lower his pad level and not play so tall, he’ll surely have a bright future in the NFL. Too often was Elgton beaten off of the snap, losing proper body positioning, and having to use brute strength to halt the opposing defensive linemen’s path to the ball. His ability to gain leverage will certainly need work, but his wide base helps mask his shaky upper body technique. Luckily, his footwork and lower body mechanics are amongst the best in his draft class. He does a great job of keeping his feet active and mirroring his opponent step for step. Balance and fluidity may be his best traits on the field. The center was hardly ever knocked off of his feet and shown an ability to stay upright even with his inconsistent technique.
Jenkins is a successful run blocker who has no problem getting into the second level and blocking downfield, but he could learn to take better angles in space. The problem is his lack of aggressiveness and effort to finish blocks. Elgton doesn’t seem to have a mean streak to his play as he’d rather block you than punish you, and getting his body in position is enough for him. You won’t see him driving his opponent into the dirt or even initiating contact. He’s another body catcher-type who looks as if he’s conserving energy for the long haul. Coaches and scouts alike will ding him for his lack of tenacity as an interior lineman. It’s easier to get stronger and correct technique than it is to develop an attitude to your playing style. Jenkins may never be considered the nasty, hostile type of offensive lineman most teams look for, but he’s certainly the cerebral type of leader every team needs on their offensive line. Ferocity may not be his strong point but the mental aspect and ability to process information at the line of scrimmage is up there with the best of the 2019 NFL Draft Class. Elgton Jenkins is a top 50 prospect who’s best suited in a zone scheme that’ll allow him to take advantage of his athleticism and movement down the line. He could go as early as the 1st round, but with such a stacked defensive class and there being several linemen with a similar skill set, I expect his stock to slide down into the second.
3. Michael Jordan- Center/Guard, Ohio State
Weight: 312 lbs
Career Starts: 40
Bench Press: N/A
Arm Length: N/A
Ohio State’s guard-turned-center, Michael Jordan is a true monster among men. Standing 6’7” weighing in at a lean 312 pounds, this skyscraper of an interior lineman has the reach to match the height. In terms of size, he looks as if Cowboys’ LT Tyrone Smith was moved two positions to the right. His mass is his biggest attribute and advantage over his competition but it comes with the athleticism to match. A three-sport athlete, Michael also competed in wrestling and track and field while at Ohio State. He may not have the best forty time or bench press the most reps, but the man is athletic, especially for his size. A dominant force in the interior, Jordan has wreaked havoc on the big-12 since 2016, where he started all 13 games as a true freshman. The Ohio State O-lineman proceeded to start 41 straight, going from right guard his first season, to left guard in 2017, and finally center this past year. To say he’s versatile would be an understatement. With some footwork refinement and a half decent kick slide, Michael could play all five positions at the next level if needed too.
Being that massive with that long of arms has its advantages, and Michael Jordan uses them to the fullest (maybe even too much). Jordan’s game heavily relies on size and length to get the job done, which is both good and bad. On one hand, it means he has plenty of room to grow if taught proper technique; on the other hand, he won’t be able to depend on reach and a big body alone in the NFL. Michael unquestionably has the biggest upside amongst all interior offensive lineman in the 2019 NFL Draft but needs to improve his mechanics while facing equally gifted big men. With tree trunks for legs and tree limbs for arms, Michael uses his length to dictate the distance battle. When run blocking, his reach and mass swallow up defenders. If given any momentum, he’s driving them five plus yards downfield. The Buckeye is a wrecking machine in the run game. With such light feet, once unleashed into the second level, linebackers and would-be tacklers were no longer in the way. Jordan’s dominant run blocking was a key factor in one of the best rushing attacks in all of college football in the past three seasons. In pass blocking, he uses that massive wingspan to control the entire middle of the line. Defensive tackles rarely tested the A-gap on Michael and steered clear of cutting back inside when lined up on his either guard. He has a great feel for pressure and even showed the peripheral vision to cut across the line to help out a struggling right or left tackle. Speed rushers can’t get by his blocking radius and the arm extension allows him to absorb the power of oncoming bull rushers.
As gifted as Ohio State’s Michael Jordan is, there are several flaws in his technique that can’t go unseen. The footwork is a work in progress at best; it’s inconsistent and the false steps are consistently present. The knee bend is adequate but nothing to brag about. He doesn’t anchor very well in pass protection and often gives up ground in order to maintain the block. His hand placement will need to improve and he lacks power behind his punch. All that being said, he’s still twenty-one years of age and didn’t allow a single sack in 2018 according to multiple sources. He may have a lot to learn but also a ton of room to grow. The ceiling is sky high with this prospect and teams will greatly value his versatility and raw intangibles. If given a coach that can teach the bad habits out of him and proper technique into him, not only could he be the best lineman in this draft class, but one of the best in the NFL. He’s a day two prospect with early first round upside.
4. Michael Deiter- Guard, Wisconsin
Weight: 328 lbs
Career Starts: 54
Bench Press: N/A
Arm Length: N/A
Michael Deiter may not have an eye-popping stature or insane measurables, and he likely won’t light it up at the combine or his pro day. But what he will do is put up a solid effort and outing every time he steps onto the field. Deiter was asked to play both guard and tackle while at Wisconsin, where he started a school record 54 straight games, one behind Ohio State center Billy Price’s Big Ten record. He was voted first team All American and the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2018. It’s safe to say, he’s pretty good at what he does. Deiter is a decent athlete who’s functionally sound in terms of mobility, balance, and quickness, but doesn’t flash raw power and likely won’t impress with his forty time. He’s not the physically gifted freakish athlete that we are growing accustomed to seeing both in the draft and on this list. That said, Deiter may have the least amount of flaws in his game than the rest of his competition. He doesn’t do any one thing great but also isn’t bad at any one particular ability either. Deiter is as well rounded and versatile as they come, and with 54 starts, he’s a seasoned vet for a soon to be rookie.
What may have been his biggest tell as an offensive lineman was his 2017 film while playing left tackle against likely #1 overall pick Nick Bosa. Okay, he did give up a sack, but he also won a vast majority of his one on one’s verse Bosa, who’s regarded as the consensus best pass rusher and defensive end in this year’s draft class. On several occasions, Deiter drove Bosa off the line of scrimmage, anchored well against his bull rush, and even put him on his back a few times. But despite this success, it’s clear that Michael is better suited as an interior lineman rather than a tackle. His footwork is decent but he lacks the lower body fluidity to consistently block the edge against elite athletes and speed rushers. As a guard, his footwork wasn’t as exposed and his quick set ability and strong base helped stop defensive tackles dead in their tracks. When run blocking, Deiter showcased his aggressive mauler type of physical playing style. He thrives in the second level and when executing combo blocks in the run game. The O-lineman has a knack for locating backers and squaring them up when pulling down the line or setting the edge in space.
There isn’t one specific trait or aspect of his game that Michael needs to improve on in order to make it at the pro level. The Wisconsin senior doesn’t use his length to his advantage as much as you’d like to see and could improve his hip rotation when having to adjust to an outside move. The initial punch could get stronger and his footwork needs to be more consistent but again, he’s the most well rounded interior lineman on the list. Every team in the draft will be considering him due to his versatility and lack of red flags. He’s got a high football IQ and understands the responsibilities of all five positions on the field. Deiter is likely to be an early day two guy. He’s not the sexy pick teams may want, but he’s the solid plug and play offensive lineman all teams could use in the National Football League.
5. Nate Herbig- Guard, Stanford
Weight: 350 lbs
Career Starts: 33
Bench Press: N/A
Arm Length: N/A
Nate Herbig is about as big of an offensive linemen as they come. At 6’4” and weighing in at a whopping 350 lbs, Nate is as wide as he is tall. The Stanford prospect nicknamed “The Big Island” makes your everyday lineman look small, unathletic, and at times downright weak. For being such a large individual, he moves quite well. It's a scary site to see as a lead blocker coming through the hole. With size typically comes power, and the guard truly possess a lot of both. It may be raw and lacking of proper technique, but he can move bodies with the best of them. Herbig will surely need molding, and he’s a developmental player who probably doesn’t start immediately but has a ton of upside. The fact that he found success when asked to fill in at right tackle is promising and shows he’s able to adapt on the fly.
As a Stanford true freshman, Herbig was the second offensive lineman to start all 13 game since 2000 for Stanford. Herbig went on to make first team and second team All Pac-12 in the following two seasons but many say he could have used another year in the NCAA. Nate’s quick first step out of his stance is extremely impressive and shows explosion at the point of attack. For being that massive of a man, his feet are quite fast. Once he’s moving forward, there’s no stopping this locomotive. The guard is a true mauler in the run game and dominates anyone lined up across from him when Stanford is running the ball. His hand placement is inconsistent at times but he does a great job at using his length and powerful grip to leverage his opponent and drive them backwards. His down blocking is amongst the best in his class, as he not only seals running lanes, but he opens up gaping holes for his star running back and NFL Draft prospect Bryce Love. Nate’s skill set and natural gifts allow him to be a dominant force in space, as he’s agile enough to pull across the line and fluid enough to lead the way on screen plays. This behemoth isn’t someone you’d like to see running full speed at you.
If only his pass blocking matched his run blocking ability. As a run blocker, the Stanford junior is pro ready, but in pass protection it’s a completely different story and at times he can actually be a liability. Notre Dame's Jeffrey Tillery had his way with Nate in 2018 and exposed his already questionable pass set by sacking QB K.J. Costello on multiple occasions. His footwork is wildly inconsistent and downright sloppy. Herbig’s punch and hand usage are nonexistent at times, and he severely lacks any anchor ability once initially beaten off the 1st step. The guard takes far too many false steps, needs to lower and widen his base, and not lunge into his blocks. Far too often the film would show him getting off balance by leaning too far over his toes or false stepping when being forced to change direction. It’s safe to say that Nate Herbig is as big of a project as he is a man, but the potential is massive if able to adapt and apply his traits to passing game. A run heavy, old-school type of team may have him a lot higher on their boards that others. He would definitely benefit from being drafted by a team like the Seahawks, Titans, or Jaguars. The physical gifts simply can’t be ignored, which is why I have a late second to mid third round grade on him. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he went earlier than that.