The 2013 draft offered rare high-end talent among interior offensive linemen as Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack both became top 10 picks, and they were joined as first-round selections by guard Kyle Long and center Travis Frederick. The outlook for this year doesn’t appear nearly as promising, with no guard projected to be selected before the latter stages of the first round and no center expected to be taken before the middle of the second.
Perhaps a half-dozen guards will be selected before the end of the second day of the draft, although that group won’t include Clemson’s Brandon Thomas, who went from a potential second-round pick to a late-round projection after he sustained a torn ACL during a pre-draft workout. After only five centers were selected in the entire 2013 draft, a total of eight players at that position were invited to the 2014 scouting combine.
The Dolphins have selected only one pure interior offensive lineman in the first round through the years, that being Mike Pouncey
in 2011. Vernon Carey in 2004 and Roy Foster in 1982 both were first-round selections with the designation of guard/tackle. The Dolphins, however, frequently have taken a guard or center in the second round — the list includes Chuck Bradley (1973), Jeff Toews (1979), Dwight Stephenson (1980), Keith Sims (1990), Eddie Blake (1992), Tim Ruddy (1994), Andrew Greene (1995) and Samson Satele (2007). BREAKING DOWN THE TOP OUTSIDE GUARD/CENTER PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)
Joel Bitonio started his last three years at Nevada and played left tackle, and he had his best season in 2013 when he earned first-team All-Mountain West honors. Bitonio, however, seems destined for a position switch to guard because he lacks the ideal size to line up at tackle in the NFL. What Bitonio does have is the aggressiveness — you might call it a nasty streak — that NFL teams like in their offensive linemen, and he’s also got some athletic ability. While he didn’t face great competition on a weekly basis at Nevada, Bitonio stepped up when confronted with a big challenge. For example, he helped hold UCLA star linebacker Anthony Barr without a sack in the opening game of the 2013 season.
One of the youngest prospects in the draft at any position, Marcus Martin won’t turn 21 years old until November. He declared for the draft after completing his true junior season at USC. A highly touted recruit, Martin made an immediate impact at USC when he started 10 games in 2011, becoming the first USC true freshman to start at guard in 10 years. Martin started again at guard in 2012 before he moved to center to replace 2013 Colts fourth-round pick Khaled Holmes. Martin proved up to the challenge as he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in his first season at center. Martin will go into the NFL having shown the ability to play both guard and center, although his size makes him clearly better suited to play center. Even though he’s not the most polished center prospect in this draft, his long-range potential could make him the first player selected at the position.
After setting a Colorado State record with 50 consecutive starts over the past four seasons, Weston Richburg became the first player from that school to be invited to the scouting combine since tight end Joel Dreessen (Houston Texans) in 2004. All of Richburg’s starts in his four seasons at CSU came at center, except for three at guard in 2010 and two at tackle in 2011. Richburg steadily improved as a center, earning first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors as a senior. He then helped his draft stock at the Senior Bowl when he showed he could stand his ground against some of the better interior defensive linemen in the country. Richburg isn’t considered an elite athlete, but he’s got some versatility, he’s obviously durable, and his leadership was evidenced by the fact he was twice named a team captain at Colorado State.
A Parade magazine high school All-American, Xavier Su’a-Filo played left tackle in 2009 when he became the first true freshman offensive player in UCLA history to start a season opener. Su’a-Filo was away from the game for two years after that as he went on a Mormon mission in Alabama and Florida, where he learned to speak Spanish. When Su’a-Filo returned to UCLA in 2012, he began playing guard, a position better suited for his skills and physical dimensions. Su’a-Filo entered the draft as an underclassman after earning first-team All-Pac-12 and second-team All-American honors. Despite the two-year Mormon mission, Su’a-Filo turned only 23 on New Year’s Day. He’s in the running to be the first guard selected in this year’s draft.
Born in Sydney, Australia, David Yankey played his high school football in Georgia before moving out West to enroll at Stanford. Yankey was a three-year starter at Stanford, going from left guard in 2011 to left tackle in 2012 and then back to left guard last fall. While Yankey has the ideal height to play tackle in the NFL, his skill set is better suited for guard. After being a second-team All-American selection in 2012, Yankey earned first-team All-American honors last season when he helped the Cardinal rush for a school-record 2,904 yards. Yankey became Stanford’s first two-time All-American since Bob Whitfield, who was selected eighth overall in the 1992 draft by the Atlanta Falcons. THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)G Dakota Dozier
Furman G Gabe Jackson
Mississippi State G Cyril Richardson
Baylor C Travis Swanson
Arkansas G Trai Turner
LSU BREAKING DOWN THE GUARD/CENTER CLASS Other small-school prospects to watch:
C Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State; G Kareem Edwards, Tennessee State NFL bloodlines:
Tennessee guard Zach Fulton is the brother of Xavier Fulton, a fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 now playing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL … Utah State center Tyler Larsen is the brother of Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Cody Larsen. Long shot to watch:
For teams literally looking for bright prospects, one player who stands out is Penn State guard John Urschel. The native of Winnipeg, Canada, was the 2013 recipient of the Campbell Trophy, which goes to the player who best combines academic success, football performance and community leadership. Urschel earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in May 2012, a master’s in math a year later and then started working on a second master’s in math education. Oh, and Urschel isn’t bad on the field either — he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection the past two years.