We have previously covered the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end position in this 10 part series. Today, we will dive head first into what I think is one of the more difficult positions to scout, offensive lineman.
This is the last of the offensive positions and instead of breaking down each position along the offensive line I decided to give more of a broad observation of what I look for when analyzing offensive lineman.
Like I previously stated when discussing the tight end position, the scheme that a particular team uses is extremely important when scouting the offensive line position.
Does the team use a zone blocking scheme or a man blocking scheme?
A zone blocking scheme like the Dallas Cowboys use relies on more athletic offensive lineman that can play in space. These types of linemen are usually smaller and use their quickness and athletic ability to secure their blocks.
A man blocking scheme relies more on bigger linemen that tend to use their strength and power when making their blocks. These types of players usually aren’t quite as athletic and the majority of their blocks are determined pre-snap, whereas in the zone blocking scheme the linemen have to use their vision to know which player to block.
Determining whether an offensive lineman prospect is best suited in playing a man or zone blocking scheme will go a long ways in deciding how they fit in with the team.
When studying offensive lineman and trying to figure out their athletic ability, I like to start from the ground up.
An offensive lineman needs to have really good “feet”. They need to be able to get out of their stance quickly in order to engage a player in the running game or slide their feet to cut off a defender in the passing game.
It doesn’t really matter to me if the prospect is a center, guard, or tackle because if an offensive lineman can’t move their feet they are going to be a liability at the NFL level. An offensive tackle has to be able to use his kick slide to cut off a pass rusher and a guard/center has to have smooth footwork when pulling to make a block.
Athletic ability may be a little more important for offensive lineman in a zone blocking scheme, but I believe that having smooth footwork is something that cannot really be taught. It’s either something you have or you don’t.
One of the traits I look for in an offensive lineman is where they are at on their technique, because at the NFL level they are not going to be able to get away with just having good athletic ability like they did in college.
Technique is something that can be coached up and learned at the NFL level, but properly identify whether or not an offensive lineman is already technically sound can determine how early and often they can play at the next level.
Offensive lineman are asked to make several different types of blocks in the NFL so they have to be able to use their athleticism and proper technique in order to become a fundamentally sound NFL player.
Athletic ability and technique are the two traits I really look for when analyzing an offensive lineman’s run blocking prowess.
I want to see him engage with his assigned defender and move him out of the running lane. I look to see if his hands are inside the shoulder pads of the defender and if he was dropping his weight and driving his feet.
I also look to see if he is firing out of his stance once the ball is snapped and playing with an intensity and aggressiveness. Leverage is a term that is often used in the running game and I like to analyze if a lineman is maintaining his leverage when engaging with a defender or getting washed down out of the play.
Like run blocking, an offensive lineman’s athletic ability and technique need to be up to par, otherwise your quarterback is going to be running for his life in the NFL.
Protecting the quarterback is the number one priority when pass blocking and one of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys invested so highly in their offensive line.
I like to analyze if a lineman knows where his QB is at during the play and whether or not he can adjust if the quarterback has to scramble to buy time. I like to see a lineman playing with patients and a readiness to be able to adjust to exotic blitzes.
One of the most important things I look for when pass blocking is whether or not a lineman is using his hands. When pass blocking lineman have to be able to use their hands because they are catching defenders instead of firing out and trying to impose their will.
Lastly, I like to see how quickly an offensive lineman can get in his set, with his eyes up searching for the defender. This is an area where the battle can be won or lost in the blink of an eye.
A lot of people look at the bench press numbers that offensive lineman put up at the NFL Scouting Combine and use that as a reference to how strong a player is, but I think those numbers are somewhat inaccurate when judging a prospects strength.
Personally, I think strength for an offensive lineman starts in their base because that will ultimately determine whether or not they can hold up against a defender trying to overpower them with a bullrush.
I like to see a player anchor down in the passing game and hold their ground when a defender is trying to overpower him.
In the NFL, offensive lineman are not going to be going up against very many 225 pound defensive lineman, so that’s why I’d don’t like to use the bench press as a measuring stick to determining a player strength.
I think the strength starts with their foundation and then works itself up.
The offensive lineman position to me is the most difficult to scout and that’s why they are usually drafted so highly.
Athletic ability and technique are the two most important traits I look for when analyzing the offensive line position, but you always have to keep in mind the type of scheme that the player will fit best in once they are drafted into the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys are pretty much set along the offensive line, but they still need quality depth at nearly every position. That is why I really like Joe Thuney out of NC State. He has played every position along the offensive line and that would be a huge benefit for the Cowboys.