This year’s NFL Draft class is headlined by quarterbacks and wide receivers, the two glamour positions of football in 2020. A great passing attack is vital to success in 2020, and teams will have ample opportunity to improve that part of their offense thanks to the strength at the top (and, with receivers, throughout the draft) at those spots.
However, a passing attack can’t reach its potential without a strong offensive line, and luckily for teams, this year’s offensive line group is very solid, with four players at the top that all have top-10 potential at tackle. Tackle has long been a coveted position, as they are tasked with keeping the $100 million quarterbacks upright, and this year there are some serious freaks available. We’re going to look at the various tiers of linemen available in this year’s class, with sure-fire first rounders, a pair of strong interior lineman, Day 2 options, and some Wild Cards that could sneak up boards and maybe hear their names called on Thursday night.
Tristan Wirfs: The hyper-athletic Wirfs figures to be the latest long-time NFL starting tackle to come out of Iowa. At 6’5, 320 with 34 inch arms and 10.25 inch hands, he has prototypical size, and he blew the Combine out of the water with a jaw-dropping performance. His tape is strong, and he can do it all from the tackle spot. He uses his long arms to disrupt pass rushers, has the quickness to kick out to speed rushers and the balance and strength to deal with inside moves. He’s strong in the run game as well, and can be an anchor for years to come for some team in the top 10.
Mekhi Becton: Becton may have the funniest film of any offensive lineman in this class. A mammoth of a human, Becton uses all of his 6’7, 364 pound frame to overwhelm opponents with ease. But unlike most gargantuan tackles, Becton mixes size with athleticism — his 5.10-second 40 at the combine turned heads, while he is not clumsy by any stretch of the imagination, even if he can certainly stand to polish his technique at the pro level. That’s not to say he is a gigantic work in progress, he just has room to improve. With his unreal strength and impressive athleticism, that’s a horrifying proposition.
Jedrick Wills: Another top-10 caliber prospect, Wills was dominant for Alabama from his right tackle position. He’s not quite as big as Wirfs (and certainly smaller than Becton), but he’s an elite technician, which should be no surprise given Alabama’s pedigree. Wills has elite-level footwork and has the quick hands to match. He’s a great puncher and rarely gets out of position or off balance. Another guy that’s talented in pass pro and moving downhill, who could hear his name called very early.
Andrew Thomas: Teams that want to run the football but need offensive line help should may be wise to have the former Georgia standout No. 1 on the board. Don’t get fooled by his 21 bench press reps at the combine, Thomas’ power is special. His punch and ability to blend scary upper and lower body strength are a dangerous blend, while he plays with a mean streak that few can match. We’ll see what his best position is — i.e. whether or not he can handle quick pass rushers well enough to play left tackle (he certainly has the talent to do this) — but he is as safe of an offensive line prospect as you will find.
Cesar Ruiz: Cesar Ruiz is perhaps the top interior lineman available in 2020, and the three-year Michigan starter has a lot to offer. Though he isn’t blessed with overwhelming measurements, Ruiz has strong pedigree as a former top-50 recruit and he played to that level in Ann Arbor. It would be fair to note that he wasn’t dominant early in his final college season as a junior, but Ruiz improved steadily during the campaign. When taking into account the fact that Ruiz is quite young, it is easy to see his upside, even at a position that is often overlooked. He might not be a first rounder, but, if a contending team is in need of a strengthening presence up the middle, Ruiz would make a lot of sense as a player that can help immediately and progress from there.
Lloyd Cushenberry III: The man in the middle at LSU is the other top interior lineman in this year’s class, who could hear his name called late on Thursday or early on Friday. LSU’s offensive line is probably underrated given what they did to allow Joe Burrow and that offense to shine last season, and Cushenberry was in the middle, handling line calls and making sure he kept a clean pocket for Burrow to step up into. He’s not a behemoth, but he’s got ample size and his football IQ from dealing with that Joe Brady offense is a major asset to come in and be an impact player early in the NFL from the center or guard position.
Josh Jones: The boom or bust prospect in this offensive line class. Jones looks the part of a franchise left tackle — he comes in at 6’5, 319 pounds — and the times where he blends that size with some impressive athleticism are breathtaking. On the other side of the coin, there are times where it looks like he’s never been coached up, and he absolutely needs some time to refine his technique. A redshirt year would be in his best interest, especially as he makes the jump from a Group of 5 school where he wasn’t exactly going against the nation’s scariest pass rushers every week.
Lucas Niang: The big question on Niang is how his medicals looked after suffering a hip injury that ended his senior season early, but if teams are convinced that’s OK, this is a strong right tackle with excellent athletic ability. Another TCU guy that could hear his name called in the first two days of the draft, Niang’s biggest obstacle might be the inability during this process for teams to bring him in for workouts and medicals.
Prince Tega Wanogho: Get ready for the “he started as a basketball player and only took up football to stay in shape” stories on draft day, but it’s part of what makes him intriguing. He’s still a pretty raw talent, with excellent athletic abilities who an OL coach might see as someone they can shape into their vision. Starting 20 games in the SEC while still learning the finer points of playing left tackle tells you a lot about the talent here, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone take him Day 2 with the idea that he can continue to tap into that athletic potential.
Jonah Jackson (G): An interesting prospect, who finished his career with one season starting at guard for Ohio State after a career at Rutgers, and that’s noticeable in his build. He’s not as polished a physical product as you’d expect from an Ohio State prospect, but that could offer even further room for growth if a team likes the skillset he has now as an All-Big Ten performer. Better in pass pro than going downhill, but more time in elite weight rooms might turn this kid into a beast.
Saahdiq Charles: It’s amazing we’ve gotten to the point where the 6’4, 321 pound guy has questions about whether he’s big and strong enough, but that’s the NFL. Charles was the left tackle at LSU last year and, as mentioned with Cushenberry, that group didn’t get enough credit for keeping Burrow clean all year. There are the strength questions with him and he missed six games for disciplinary reasons, which surely came up in interviews, but he’s got excellent feet and has positional versatility having played both tackle spots and pinched in at guard some as a freshman.
Matt Hennessy (G): Pour yourself a snifter, it’s Hennessy time. The Temple product is a smart, technically sound football player who is quite good at putting himself in positions to win battles against opposing defensive linemen. His frame — 6’4, 307 pounds and without a condor-like wingspan — screams interior offensive lineman, and while there are concerns about whether he has the strength to ever overpower opposing defensive tackles, he can usually make up for that by knowing exactly what he needs to do. Older brother, Thomas, is a long-snapper for the Jets.
Austin Jackson: There is first round buzz about the USC tackle as he’s got a prototypical frame and raw abilities that at times pop on film. Like just about every USC prospect, the question is about consistency in technique, but there’s a chance he gets his name called on Thursday due to the measurables and athletic gifts.
Isaiah Wilson: There is no functional difference between Wilson stonewalling someone and getting hit by a train. He is a monster, coming in at 6’6 and 350 pounds, and has the kind of raw power that will take your breath away. The issue is he is mostly raw power right now — his technique isn’t particularly stellar, while he doesn’t have the skillset to be much of a left tackle and keep a QB upright in passing situations. The raw power is something, though, and with time and proper coaching, a run-heavy team could get quite the return on investment at right tackle.
Ben Bartch: The St. John’s (Minn) product has a story many heard at the Combine, as he’s the guy that drinks the disgusting smoothies to gain weight. The former tight end packed on the pounds to become a tackle and still has some room on his 6’6 frame for more. He’s got tons of athletic ability, and despite coming from a small school he’s someone you could see a team falling in love with during the process — although he might be one of those hurt most by the lack of in person workouts this year.