Earlier this month, I pointed out that the 2018 NFL Draft is particularly strong in most of the Colts’ primary position needs. With nine picks to use next weekend, Chris Ballard has an opportunity to make serious change to his roster for the short and long term. It is impossible to foresee just how the draft will breakdown so we will take a look instead at my short list of possible targets who should be available throughout the draft.
Today, we move to interior offensive linemen.
Quenton Nelson - Notre Dame
Very few offensive linemen enter the NFL Draft more highly respected than Nelson. He receives top grades for his ability to recognize and react to defenders, maul opponents in the ground game, has the athleticism to get to the second level, and the lateral agility to be effective in pass protection. The only thing that is different about Nelson is that few college guards ever get the kind of attention he is receiving as a projected top-10 draft pick. Typically, that kind of draft capital is reserved only for tackles. This year he is expected to be the first offensive lineman off of the board.
Isaiah Wynn - Georgia
Wynn is another interior offensive lineman who could be selected in the first round of the draft. He might also fall into the second round and would present considerable value if he does. He played against the very highest levels of college competition and was effective in pass protecting and as a run blocker. He isn’t as polished as Nelson and doesn’t possess the brute strength but projects as an early or immediate starter on the inside in the NFL.
Will Hernandez - UTEP
If Nelson is the most polished offensive lineman and Wynn is potentially the second most well-rounded guard prospective, Hernandez might be the draft’s biggest bully on the interior of the offensive line. There is a chance that he will struggle a bit with his lateral agility in pass protection but if he can develop his skill-set in that facet of his game, he could be an absolute monster opening holes for running backs on the ground.
Frank Ragnow - Arkansas
If Ragnow hadn’t missed much of his senior season with a high ankle sprain, he could easily be a higher rated prospect heading into the draft. He is a seek-and-destroy-style offensive lineman with experience at center, has NFL size, and the skills to play at guard. It pays to have position flexibility in the NFL and moving one of the better center prospects out to guard might make more sense than moving this year’s tackle class inside. In many respects, Ragnow is almost the opposite of Will Hernandez as a prospect and projects as a strong pass protector and only an average run blocker.
Billy Price - Ohio State
Price is another interior offensive line prospect who should be able to challenge for year-one starting reps. He has position flexibility to move inside to center if needed and is coachable. He tore a pectoral muscle at the NFL Combine so it is possible that he will slide farther down the draft board than he otherwise might. Snagging him in the middle to late second or early third round would bolster the Colts offensive line.
James Daniels - Iowa
Daniels is a highly athletic prospect for the offensive line who plays with more speed and quickness than is typical for a man his size. He will need to work on his functional strength as a run blocker and should benefit for a professional diet and lifting program. He is yet another interior offensive lineman with immediate position flexibility at center that could drive up his value.
Braden Smith - Auburn
While Smith is not a perfect interior line prospect, he has a whole lot of tools that make him a possible year-one starter. He was a strong presence as a run blocker for Auburn and identifies pressure as a pass protector. He will need to work on how to be efficient with his footwork and how to effectively remain active in pass protection but has all of the attributes NFL teams look for in the middle rounds for the offensive line.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of this list is the it is entirely likely that one or two of these players will fall to the third round. There is an outside possibility that one could fall to the fourth or fifth rounds. Teams are often looking for tackle prospects and if they place their focus on the outside, a team like the Colts could benefit with excellent value at the guard position much later in the draft than they otherwise normally would.
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