Offensive Guard Prospects

UCLA prospect Xavier Su’a-Filo is the number one guard in this year’s draft. Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson is a close second. At a distant third sits Stanford’s David Yankey. This may come as a shock to those who have been looking at rankings on CBS sports and NFL.com, but game film coupled with combine performances led me to drop Yankey and promote Jackson.

Su’a-Filo impressed everyone when he ran a 5.04 second 40-yard dash at the combine last month, but that should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has seen his leg muscles. The way he propels himself toward defenders off the line, gets downfield to set up blocks on run plays, and anchors himself like a rock on pass plays are all evidence of his skill and lower body strength. Furthermore, he keeps his center of gravity low and has a good lean as he charges down the field. Teams may as well just give him the ball and eliminate running backs completely. Su’a-Filo could work on engaging defenders and not letting fast defensive linemen blow past him. I’m not saying that happens often, but it is one area in which he could improve. His upper body strength isn’t the best, either, but that can be corrected easily enough. He is my clear number one choice at guard. San Diego is likely the first team that will take a guard, so Su’a-Filo shouldn’t have a problem relocating for his new job.

The 6’4’’, 337 pound Jackson clocked in as the slowest guard invited to the combine, but he managed the third best bench press results at the combine among guards, with 30 reps. His strength is what I want to focus on. When one watches tapes of Jackson, words like “strong,” “thick,” and “heavy” immediately come to mind. He has good footwork and awareness, and is hard to disengage from due to his amazing upper body strength. Let me put it this way – while the rest of Mississippi State’s offensive line is being driven backwards, Jackson can be seen driving his man 10 yards downfield. He is an immovable force on pass plays and an unstoppable force on run plays. The Browns have the fourth and 26th overall picks and need a guard… and Jackson should be available when the 26th pick rolls around.

Yankey is a bulldozer that a running back can get behind and just follow for at least good five yards. He knows how to set up running lanes, making up to four blocks on a single play. He has also played at both tackle and guard, which is a plus. I must say his pass blocking, though good, needs some improvement. Despite giving up a mere 16 sacks per season over the past years, he can be overpowered too easily and needs to plant better. He also needs to be more physical and able to manhandle opponents, engaging them instead of just bumping into them. Yankey is not the widest, the strongest, or the fastest, but he is a solid pick overall. Since the Minnesota Vikings need a run blocker, I wouldn’t be surprised if they selected Yankey in the second round with the 40th overall pick.

In summary, Su’a-Filo will go to the San Diego Chargers, who are feeling the loss of guard Louis Vasquez to their rival, the Denver Broncos. Since the Cleveland Browns understand that New Orleans and New England could both use a new guard, they will use their first round pick to preempt them and take Gabe Jackson in order to replace current guard Shawn Lauvao. Lauvao’s ankle injury and mediocre performance has made him a liability, so he will most likely not be tendered a new contract, with the Browns instead choosing to invest in their offensive line. With Su’a-Filo and Jackson gone, other teams will probably pass on Yankey until the Vikings take him early in the second round to replace struggling veteran Charlie Johnson. The Giants will likely take Yankey with their second pick if the Vikings pass on him.

Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.



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