Are Interior Offensive Linemen Worth the Risk of a First Round Pick?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 25: Offensive lineman David DeCastro of Stanford participates in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 25, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

In a recent article on CBSSports.com, Pat Kirwan wrote about how Stanford guard David DeCastro has a lot of upside because of his intelligence and ability, but he might not be worthy of a first round grade. For many fans, drafting any offensive linemen with a first round pick is silly because they are not as flashy as the trenches players (during the draft, take note of what picks get a cheer and what picks get boos; every offensive lineman chosen in the first will get boos from their fans). Any fan of football knows that the offensive line, while they don't get to score touchdowns that often, if at all, are the most important part of the team. Without them, the offense does nothing except for go through quarterbacks like they were hot dogs in front of Kobayashi. The saddest part is that even to those who comprehend the importance of drafting offensive linemen early in the draft, they still favor tackles and centers over guards because of their role in safely getting the ball to the quarterback and protecting his blind side.

The offensive guard position might not be the prettiest position to draft, but it is certainly one of the most important. The above article by Kirwan is a good example of under-valuing the guard position and under-valuing the best guard prospect in the draft. Stanford guard David DeCastro had one of the best performances at the combine out of the guards present and is projected by most, if not all, mock drafts to be taken in the first round, but Kirwan believes that, though DeCastro is a serious talent, taking him in the first would be a risk.

I know David DeCastro is NFL-ready, yet still has room for growth, which makes him an intriguing prospect. I would not fault a team for taking him in the first round but I will not be shocked if he winds up at the top of the second round.

Kirwan points out three main reasons why DeCastro could be a risk in the first round, but each of them seem to be unwarranted, inconsistent, and harsh.

1.

DeCastro ran a slow 40 at the combine (5.43) but he did demonstrate explosive skills with his vertical leap, standing broad jump and bench press. I like to add up the three scores; if the score hits 70 or better, you've got an explosive player. DeCastro's three-score total was 72, which is very impressive for an offensive lineman.

Since when do 40 times for offensive linemen make a difference. I don't know about everyone else, but I do not want my starting offensive guard to run a 4.4 40-yard dash, but I want him to have a higher vertical and broad jump (shows explosiveness) and a high bench press number. I'm not sure how DeCastro's slow 40 time makes him less of a prospect because I think that all of the scouts are going to be looking at the other workouts that he aced and will likely toss aside his 40 time.

Kirwan makes this note about DeCastro's 40 time, then states that he has an impressive "three-score total" for offensive linemen and that he left with the top three-cone time for all offensive lineman at 7.3 seconds. This means that DeCastro has a lot of agility and strength in his legs and can pull and adjust very well in a short space. Kirwan is very inconsistent in this explanation of DeCastro's workout because he faults him for his 40 time, but extols him because of his agility. As a guard, how fast you run 40 yards means NOTHING, but how fast you can do the three-cone drill or 10 yard shuttle does, and both of which DeCastro had the top time for all offensive linemen.

2.

DeCastro tends to play too high in his pass sets at times, and is susceptible to a bull rush that will push him back into the QB. He must be more consistent dropping his weight, bending his ankles and knees, and winning the leverage game.

This is the only legitimate argument against DeCastro's abilities in the entire article but, at the same time, it is something that can be easily taken care of by a NFL offensive line coach and an off-season of work. DeCastro is young and teachable, and after getting bull-rushed the first few times during OTA's by Domata Peko, DeCastro will learn to bend his lower body and obtain a lower level of gravity. Though this is something that DeCastro needs to work on, it is hardly a point that could stop teams from drafting him in the first round. If he were consistently getting beat or making these mistakes, it would be a different story, but this is something that DeCastro has to learn in the NFL because he could likely get away with having lapses in technique against college defensive linemen. Give DeCastro a full off-season and, because of his intelligence and teachability, his technique will be fixed by the start of training camp. But, for Kirwan, that is a bit harder to accept.

I know David is a smart player and understands he must control his tempo and trust his technique. Easier said than done, especially for first-round picks who line up as starters in Week 1.

3.

[T]here was a play when DeCastro set for pass protection and the defender vacated and was uncovered. As he waited for the blitzer, he was fooled by a head fake and went to the ground.

The key word in this statement is, "There was a play..." Now, I am not making an argument over semantics and minor word usage, but if Kirwan is going to make an argument as to why DeCastro is not a good first round pick over one play, then it is my duty to point out why Kirwan is mistaken. IT IS ONE PLAY!! I have not watched a lot of tape on DeCastro because of my lack of resources, but from what I could see on YouTube, DeCastro seems to have good balance and quick feet. Even D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Joe Thomas, Jake Long, and Andrew Whitworth get beat by a solo rusher every now and then. Drew Brees doesn't make every throw just like Wes Welker doesn't make every catch (too soon Patriots fans?). One play does not make or break a career, just like one play does not determine if you are a first or second round pick.

At the end of the day, Kirwan's article is really good because it points out some things that DeCastro needs to work on, whether right or wrong, and it shows the dearth of negatives in his game. If anything, Kirwan made even more of a case for DeCastro to go in the first round (he's not making it out of the first past the Bengals at no. 21) because it highlighted the minimal work an offensive line coach will have to do to get him ready to start in the NFL. Sure, he is young and needs a bit of work but, coming out of college, who doesn't? Kirwan makes it clear that taking a guard is difficult not because of the positives and negatives of the player, but because of the "franchise player" you would be passing up.

My good friend Gil Brandt and I talked about taking a guard in the first round. As he pointed out, it isn't the guard you are taking but rather the guy you will be passing up at a franchise position like pass rusher or cornerback that makes it tough to take the guard.

If a team like the Bengals has a need at guard, and DeCastro is availble, you draft him. Drafting in the "best player available" school is a bad approach to the draft and will have you with two all pro quarterbacks or running backs, but no line to block for them. Offensive line, especially offensive guards, are not very "pretty" when it comes to the draft, but they are necessary. And in the 2012 draft, there are no better guards than David DeCastro and the Bengals will be lucky to get him at no. 17.

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