The interior of the offensive line isn’t talked about with the same reverence as the tackle positions, but as defenses recognize the importance of getting a pass rush up the middle and disrupting the center of the pocket as much as the edges, solidifying the inside of the line is becoming as important to the passing game as having a tackle that can protect on the outside.
Still, it’s fairly rare to see interior O-linemen at the top of draft boards, and this year’s Draft likely won’t see one off the board until the late first round — unless you count Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, who could move from tackle to guard, but is listed at tackle. Still, there’s talent to be had out there and with increasingly freakish interior defenders entering the league, teams have to be cognizant of walling up the inside of their line.
The Top Dog: O’Cyrus Torrence (Florida)
Can I interest you in an insanely strong 6’5, 330 pound guard? If so, then please enjoy the stylings of O’Cyrus Torrence. The prospect out of Florida is an absolute road-grader inside, who can hold up against the biggest and strongest tackles. The reason he’s a late-first guy is he’s not a crazy athlete who’s going to be doing a lot of pulling or advancing a ton to the second level, but he’s just rock solid inside at right guard who any running back will happily look to run behind and any QB will be happy to have keeping the inside of the pocket clean. Please enjoy him picking up a blitzer with one arm while blocking a DT with the other.
Other guards: *I gotta focus on the three-tech and pick up the blitzing linebacker*
O’Cyrus Torrence: Nah, I’ll just block them both at the same time. pic.twitter.com/PNEs0WGIrH
— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) April 14, 2023
There are questions about his fluidity and fit is going to be important to his success in the run game, but for a team that wants some beef inside and will play to his strengths, Torrence is the man in this class.
The Next Best: Steve Avila (TCU) and John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota)
The clear tier below Torrence belongs to a pair of big fellas from TCU and Minnesota, respectively. Avila spent the season at left guard for a TCU offensive front that was among the best in the country, paving the way forward for Max Duggan and company, and also has experience at center to provide some positional versatility. He is just a massive presence in the middle at 6’3.5, 332 pounds and his biggest strength is, well, his strength. He is an absolute wall inside and his sturdiness in pass pro is a separator for him as a guy who will come in and likely immediately start wherever he’s drafted.
Schmitz, meanwhile, is a road-grader in the run game. He’s not the biggest center, but he’s plenty strong and has the quickness to reach and pull in the run game. Fit is going to be important (as his six years of experience in Minnesota are in a zone scheme) but in the right system he, like Avila, can be an immediate starter, even with a few questions about his pass protection given his size and general lack of length (just over 32.5 inch arms at the combine). Having so much experience at the center position, making calls and snaps under center, is a big plus for Schmitz as he moves to the next level.
Boom Or Bust: Andrew Vorhees (USC)
Vorhees tore his ACL at the Combine in Indy, which means he’s going to likely miss his rookie year. Still, the USC guard managed to wow scouts by slamming 38 reps on the bench with his leg straight out, knee in a brace, showing off the freakish strength he possesses.
He’s got room to fill out (6’6, 310 pounds) but he’s got great strength and loves to use it in the run game. His pass protection is also good, but shorter arms (just over 32 inches) and not the best quickness mean he can get beat by quicker defenders when they move inside. Still, he’s great against power rushers and, when he gets the mitts on someone, they rarely work off of him to get by him. The injury will drop him down the board a bit, but a team willing to be patient for a year could get a starter for a bit of a steal.
Day 3 Swing: Olusegun Oluwatimi (Michigan)
Oluwatimi is the exact kind of player that slips into the third day because of measureables and athleticism questions and then goes on to have a very good career when he’s drafted into a team that sees a scheme fit and values his productivity and leadership inside. He won the Rimington and Outland Trophies in his lone year at Michigan after transferring in from Virginia, helming one of the best offensive lines in the country in 2022. He is not a tremendous athlete, nor the biggest, strongest center, but he’s just rock solid inside and has ample experience making calls and getting a line set before play. Going somewhere that will play to his strengths (particularly as a double-team operator inside, sealing and popping second level) rather than asking him to play one-on-one with tackles that can overpower him, will be important, but part of what helps a guy like Oluwatimi is the teams that’ll be really looking at him are ones that will see that scheme fit.