Five things we learned about the offensive linemen at the 2019 NFL Combine:
1. Short arms? Look at Joe Thomas and others, says Jonah Williams. Only in the NFL could a 6-foot-4, 302-pound human with 33 5/8-inch arms and 10 1/8-inch hands be considered too small. But arm length is an important physical trait for offensive tackles. By elite standards, Alabama’s Jonah Williams doesn’t measure up in that category. His response? He excels in every other facet.
“That’s a small portion of what it takes to be a tackle at the next level,” Williams said on Thursday at the NFL Combine. “I think if you look at a lot of the really successful tackles over the past 10 years from Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, Jake Matthews, Jason Peters, La'el Collins, Riley Reiff, Ryan Ramczyk – just a couple guys off the top of my head that have shorter arms. I don’t think that that’s necessarily a huge deal. I’m proud of the way that I play. My approach to the game is what makes me a great player, so if my fingers were an eighth of an inch longer, I’d be good enough? The way that I play is what defines me as a football player.”
Williams secured the starting right tackle spot as a freshman for the Crimson tide — an accomplishment in its own right for a program that stockpiles talent — before moving to the left side as a sophomore. But could guard be in his future?
“I’ll play wherever a team wants me to play,” he said. “I was the best tackle in college football, and so I know that I can play at the next level. But I’m a competitor, I want to be on the field, I’ll play wherever a team wants me.”
2. Kyler Murray is an O-lineman’s dream. Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, wouldn’t be where he is today without his offensive linemen, and vice versa. Oklahoma’s Cody Ford and Mississippi’s Greg Little, two of the top five offensive tackles at the NFL Combine according to NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, know that first-hand.
“He makes us look good when we look bad,” said Ford, who played right tackle for the Sooners with Murray. “So that helps us out a lot.”
Meanwhile, Little played with the dynamic quarterback at Allen High School in Texas.
“I think we could have beat some college teams,” Ford said. “It was a lot of fun. Kyler is a great quarterback. He can be very explosive in the league. I don’t have any doubt in him, has a high competitive drive, loves to win. He lost no games in high school; I lost one game in high school in my last game in my senior year. We had a good run. … He’s an O-lineman’s dream. He gets you out of a lot of bad situations. He saves you from getting cussed out a lot and chewed out. He’s a very explosive guy. He can escape from anything.”
Little went on to play in the SEC, while Ford made a name for himself in the Big 12 and constantly hears people de-valuing his conference.
“I give them much respect, but as far as talent levels, the Big 12 is not far from the SEC,” said Ford, who lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal. “The SEC hype of talent versus the Big 12 is kind of overrated to me.”
3. Taylor is chasing that bag. Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, ranked the top offensive tackle by NFL.com, has a tattoo on his stomach, which is much smaller after going from 380 pounds in high school to checking in at 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds at the combine. The tattoo reads “bag chaser.” He is looking to fill the proverbial bag as a high draft pick in the NFL.
“It’s just like a dream for me,” said Taylor, who played right tackle for the Gators. “A lot of people have ‘dream chaser.’ I wanted to be different, so I have ‘bag chaser.’ It’s on my stomach. It was after the weight loss. It was probably close to a year ago now.”
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah had Taylor as the No. 11 overall prospect heading into the combine.
“He has average height and a broad frame for the position,” Jeremiah said in his scouting report. “In the passing game, he has the foot quickness to cover up speed rushers and the athleticism to redirect versus counter moves. He has a bad habit of scooping instead of punching, which allows defenders to get into his chest. However, he is still sturdy versus power rushers despite giving up his chest. In the run game, he has tremendous upper-body strength to torque and toss defenders. He's nasty. Some teams will prefer his power inside at the guard position, but I see him as a quality starting right tackle.”
4. Dillard among OL trying to transition to NFL style. One of the toughest positions to evaluate these days is the offensive line because of the difference between college and pro styles. In college, linemen typically set up in two-point stances instead of putting their hands in the dirt like the NFL. Furthermore, Andre Dillard, ranked the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 10 overall by NFL.com, comes from Mike Leach’s pass-crazy offense at Washington State. Dillard said they had just two zone run plays in their playbook.
“I did kind of have to learn because my first four years of college, we were doing kind of like no staggering our stances and our pass sets were kind of backpedaling, stepping back with the inside step first, which nobody really does,” Dillard said. “So it’s kind of hard to look up pro players to emulate what they do if we’re doing that. Since we got to my senior season where we were a little more flexible with my sets, I kind of took that opportunity like, OK, now I can watch NFL tackles and kind of translate what they’re doing to what I’m doing now.”
Dillard appeared in 42 games for the Cougars, starting his final 39 games at left tackle. He was a two-time All-Pac-12 Conference selection.
5. Weber State’s Opeta is the bench press leader in the club house. Workouts began today with the bench press for offensive linemen and running backs. Iosua Opeta of Weber State, located north of Salt Lake City, leads everyone after Day 1 with 39 reps in the bench press. That was two more than strongman Will Hernandez, also from a non-powerhouse school, did last year before getting drafted by the Giants in the second round out of UTEP. The closest to Opeta so far in 2019 is Kansas State running back Alex Barnes and North Carolina State offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury, who both did 34. Sitiveni Paea holds the recent record with 49 in 2011.