NFL DRAFT 2021 - SMALL SCHOOL OFFENSIVE LINE RANKINGS
By Rebecca Rennie
Very few small school prospects were able to produce game film in 2020. Most teams are set to play this spring with many seniors also choosing to return for one more season of eligibility.
That said, this is shaping up to be a promising class of small school talent for the 2021 NFL Draft. As with last season, I will again attempt to discuss as many of these players as possible. It will unlikely be as deep as the Top 150 small school draft board of last season.
Hopefully, however, this year’s version will better, regardless. There were some mistakes made in the process last season, the first attempting such a venture. There is always room for improvement!
This is an example of some of the content that will populate the completed small school big board. The group of offensive line prospects from these levels is fantastic. Several were among the standout performers at the recent Senior Bowl. However, there are a number of other interesting OL talents beyond those at Mobile.
1. Dillon Radunz, OT/IOL, North Dakota State. Grade: 2nd Round
Height: 6’5”. Weight: 304 lbs.
Pros: The Bison have had a strong recent run of developing quarterbacks but have quietly also put several solid offensive linemen into the league. While the likes of Billy Turner and Joe Haeg have become steady contributors, Dillon Radunz has the potential to be a high-level starter. One of several small school prospects in attendance, Radunz had an inconsistent start to Senior Bowl week. He quickly adapted however, and showcased his appealing skill set, complimenting his outstanding NDSU game film.
Radunz appears on film to be of modest tackle size at best. His measurements were always set to be among the more interesting to watch for. While he indeed is not the biggest for the position, he will have hit some basic thresholds for at least some teams. A touch over 6’5, a shade over 300 lbs, and scraping above 33” arm length. Nothing to get overly excited for but not prohibitive for playing outside. Ultimately, he could still be a better fit inside, dependant on team and scheme fit. He has legitimate potential to start at any of the five O-line positions. Either way, there is a lot to like about the projectable floor for Radunz as a pro.
The small school standout finished his Bison career with 32 straight starts at left tackle. He impresses with his technical proficiency and the consistency with which he applies it snap-to-snap. Radunz plays with good form, pad level, a stout base, plus footwork and hand placement. He can continue to add strength but makes himself more challenging to move through the foundation he sets, stacking that with fantastic aggression and motor.
He continually maximized his skill set and dominated the FCS level in both pass pro and run blocking. Radunz was rarely beaten in the former and nasty in the latter, often driving defenders out of frame. He controls the point of attack and finishes to the floor as necessary. His sharp footwork includes efficient changes of direction and overall mirror ability. Added to excellent control and balance, he routinely makes it difficult to disengage once establishing his block. His high IQ, awareness and anticipation are frequently on show in his blitz pickups and reactions to counters. Combination blocks on the second level contributed to the ground success of the Bison.
Cons: Though spinning the positives of his measurements above, the frame and length still could mark him down slightly for some teams. While dominating at the FCS level for NDSU, Radunz has sufficient but maybe not top-end core strength. He certainly compensates with his form and leverage, alongside the battling qualities in the trenches.
He could be an interior lineman only on some boards. If so, his nice athletic traits, energy and commitment will excel in certain systems and could thrive as a pulling guard. Though most of the time his hands are on point, he is not infallible to misses that can leave him on the back foot. At the very least it’s an area to continue to work on to be even more dependable.
Wrapping Up: Radunz has split opinions amongst draft fans and media since the summer. The stance of those with concerns is understandable. The opinion here is a positive one, however. His instinctive, smart play stands out, as does his smooth movement, control, balance and technique. His best fit may be debatable but should become a plus starter somewhere on the line.
2. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa. Grade: 2nd Round
Height: 6’8”. Weight: 314 lbs.
Pros: Brown stands out for his desirable frame. In addition to being 6’8”, he measures in with a wingspan to match, big hands and 34” arms. He has succeeded in putting weight onto his frame during his time in college. Likely factoring into to his lesser recruitment, Brown was a 230 lb tight end and defensive lineman out of high school. Northern Iowa saw the potential to develop as an offensive lineman. Brown redshirted in 2016 as he learned his new position and worked on his frame. His play time increased from 2017 through to his full-time starting role at right tackle in 2019.
Length is an obvious advantage that Brown makes use of to win. However, it is encouraging that he is not solely reliant on it. Taking good initiative out of his stance, he is aggressive in delivering an impactful initial punch. There are more agile and explosive tackle prospects, but Brown shows sufficient baseline athleticism, aided by active and nimble feet. In most instances, the Northern Iowa lineman utilizes his kick slide width to keep in phase with outside rushes. When required, late extension as rushers corner can create enough angle and distance to buy his QB additional release time.
The Panthers prospect could do so more consistently but generally shows effective form. He keeps his pad level low enough to absorb attacks into the body and maintain his balance. Brown is capable of creating movement when driving in the run game. He runs his feet through contact and shows enough power in straight-line situations at the FCS level. Still developing at tackle, he has potential to continue to add strength as a pro.
Reiterating the above, Brown may show flaws and is unquestionably raw but the trajectory is pointing upwards. Over the brief time period of the Senior Bowl, the gradual improvements over the week are indicative of his abilities to work hard, learn and take coaching. The strides he made were evident and surely increased his stock as a result.
Cons: As suggested, for all the good flashes, Brown has some ways to go. Inconsistency is applicable throughout his play and execution. He remains vulnerable to giving up quick pressures in pass protection and missing opportunities and assignments as a run blocker. He has generally been able to compensate through his size and length at the FCS level but faces a steep learning curve. Given how high he’s projected to be drafted, he might be expected to contribute early but could need some time.
While able to use his stride length and solid footwork to track pass rushers outside, he shows vulnerability to counters and inside moves. Though generally holding up at the point of attack he has his moments of being worked in the opening exchanges and being subverted through those mid-rush counters and switch-ups. When knocked back as a result, he can struggle to recover and reset.
The technique is decent considering his relative rawness. However, he is prone to raising his already naturally high pad level. Hand placement and punch fall under the inconsistency umbrella. Too often he will miss with his hands and lunge in attempts to search out contact. The upper body technique issues can leave him inconsistent in sustaining blocks. He can slip off a defender’s frame and can allow rushers to cross his face as they work into the backfield. His mental game is improving but can appear a little lost at times if left searching out blocks in space, including on broken plays.
Wrapping Up: Though far from a finished product, it is very obvious that Brown offers a high ceiling. Given the variance between the good but raw and inconsistent film with the potential he could reach, it’s no surprise that he will grade high with many and more conservatively with others. Neither stance is unreasonable. Brown has all the tools to be a starting pro tackle but is not without risk.
3. Quinn Meinerz, IOL, Wisconsin-Whitewater. Grade: 3rd Round
Height: 6’3”. Weight: 320 lbs.
Pros: One of the biggest winners during Senior Bowl week, Meinerz was a late addition to the roster. He proceeded to impress with his measurements, on-field performances, and by all accounts with his attitude and interactions throughout. Concerns on film with his build and length were eased by appearing with a better distribution of bulk on his frame and solid 33” arm length. Practices saw the D3 prospect dominate 1-on-1 reps and during scrimmages. Finally, his work while not playing this year to teach himself how to play center will pay off significantly. His competence at that spot gives added versatility and value across the interior O-Line.
Though not the most dynamic athlete for the position, Meinerz shows good straight-line quickness working upfield to the second level. A factor in his run blocking success, the Warhawks lineman frequently blows open holes in the run game. Much of the blocking concepts apparent on film appear somewhat simplistically head-on and blinkered. However, there’s flashes of more nuance to torque and seal off defenders that can be further developed. He has noted in media interviews that he feels he is taking well to coaching relating to more complex designs.
Noteworthy from the Wisconsin-Whitewater film is reliable footwork, leverage and overall form. Regularly owning the point of attack, Meinerz gains the upper hand early, controls the action and creates backward movement. Once he has established an advantage, he rarely allows an opponent to recover and reverse the momentum. A high school wrestler, that background shows up in his hand usage and ability to sustain blocks post-contact. The 2019 Wisconsin-Whitewater team captain was a D3 1st team All-American as a junior.
Cons: Meinerz is next in line of a talented group of Division 2 and 3 offensive line prospects in recent draft classes. Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa and Ben Bartch lead the names of coveted prospects from those levels. Unlike those prior prospects however, Meinerz’s college film shows hints of the potential but did not feel it was as consistently dominant as the others displayed. Prior to his Senior Bowl exploits, the film alone would have Meinerz grade up to several rounds lower on its own.
His body composition and conditioning looked poorer on film during that 2019 season. Given his revamped look and the results shown since, this eases some consistency questions raised from his junior film. The 2019 game film suggests some athletic limitations, particularly when moving laterally and changing directions. Again however, that looked improved upon reaching the Senior Bowl, further emphasizing the extent to which Meinerz has boosted his projection through this pre-draft process.
Wrapping Up: Meinerz epitomizes a genuinely deserving riser through the pre-draft process. His junior film is solid, at times dominant, but was far from flawless. The positive weigh-in, the added versatility at Center, and proving he belonged by owning the competition in Mobile was hugely important. The power, physicality and stout base are starting caliber traits.
4. David Moore, IOL, Grambling State. Grade: 4th Round
Height: 6’1”. Weight: 350 lbs.
Pros: There is a deep group of small school OL prospects in the upcoming 2021 class. While the likes of Radunz and Brown were discussed frequently over the summer, it was Grambling’s David Moore who was among the earliest accepted Senior Bowl invites back in October 2020. Though he was unable to play out his 2020 Senior season, his 2019 film is dominant. As with his small school OL peers, he also excelled during Senior Bowl week. Moore was voted top OL on the American team by the opposing defensive line group.
Moore features a short but broad, powerful frame. Previously listed at 320 lbs, he weighed in at Mobile at a substantially bulkier 350 lbs. Whether that remains his playing weight or he trims down slightly, there’s no question that he has outstanding power within his muscular frame. Power is a big factor in how he wins but should not be undersold as an athlete either. The Grambling standout has good explosion out of his stance. He shows impressive overall quickness, agility and flexibility to go with the core strength.
During reps when his base and technique are solid, Moore is balanced and difficult to move backward off his spot. Built lower to the ground with natural leverage, his anchor is generally excellent. The Tigers lineman can land some heavy-handed punches to jolt back defenders. Though his form can let him down, Moore regularly shows ability to maintain his blocks and recover through his battling qualities and physical advantages over most FCS opposition.
There is so much to like about the play style overall. He brings a motor and mauling, overpowering effort. Up for a fight with anyone, Moore thrives in the physicality of the trenches and finishes emphatically. He could excel as a pulling lead blocker, with lateral agility and quickness onto the second level. In the run game, he is constantly looking for someone else to take out if unengaged.
Cons: Moore measures in at a shorter height than most NFL lineman at 6’1” flat. His length is good enough but the 32” 5/8 arm length is modest. This is a minor note though, as he exploits his leverage advantage and power well. Currently, Moore’s physical tools generally lead to more wins than through his technical execution. The consistency of his hand placement and arm extension can improve. The punch at the point of attack is impressive when it hits the mark. Other times however, he can miss his target.
Moore does not consistently lock down rushers after initial contact. Some speed rushes and quick second-phase counters can see him allow disengagement and pressure. Natural balance is good, but his coordination and form can deteriorate as the play progresses and under increasing duress. On film he can lunge, overextend and bend at the waist while attempting to stay engaged. He has worked on those since that 2019 season, however.
Wrapping Up: It is noteworthy that Moore was a relatively late starter to football. There is rawness in his game and technique but is an ascending prospect. While sitting out the 2020 season, he has worked with NFL legend Bruce Matthews. Particularly, he has reportedly focused on flexibility, lower body technique and maximizing his core power. He projects well as a potential future NFL starter.
5. Drew Himmelman, OT, Illinois State. Grade: 6th Round
Height: 6’9”. Weight: 315 lbs.
Pros: Himmelman has been a known name on the NFL Draft radar for some time. Though debatable whether it is truly an advantage, his 6’9” height and 315 lb listed frame inevitably draws interest. Himmelman was a 230 lb TE and DL out of high school. Though he could have walked on at Iowa, he was a zero-star prospect with Illinois State as his only offer. Aside from a two-game foot injury absence, Himmelman has been a three-year starter at left tackle. He has succeeded in adding considerable bulk but is still relatively lean with room to potentially add more.
The Redbirds O-lineman makes use of his length fairly well on first contact and to aid him late against speed outside to force rushers wider. Against most opposition on film his pad level doesn’t hinder him too greatly. Winning reps often involve getting good early extension and limiting access to his own chest. Though not a notable athlete, he has enough foot quickness to effectively work upfield in a straight line.
There are a lot of positives in his mental game and football IQ. He has consistent timely release from his stance and looks coordinated in his pass pro sets. Though far from the most agile mover, Himmelman anticipates well, aiding him against counters. Overall, he plays calm and composed. He is more prone to attacking into contact than playing passive. He plays combatively when driving as a run blocker.
Cons: As hinted earlier, it can certainly be argued that Himmelman’s height is as much a hinderance as a help. He is generally at a disadvantage in terms of leverage and pad level. When defenders exploit that, he can be knocked off balance, have his anchor raised and worked back into the pocket. In those instances, it can appear difficult for him to reset his feet and recover.
Himmelman does not appear to be a standout athlete. The lack of ideal agility and flexibility is noticeable in his lateral and backward movements. He makes it work during most pass pro reps but often has to abandon his kick slide early into more of a run in attempting to stay in phase with speed rushes. Not helping his stock, Himmelman is an older prospect, set to be a 25-year-old rookie.
Wrapping Up: Himmelman catches the eye early when watching Illinois State football with his rare frame. In fairness, he is steady and controlled on film. The frame he offers should earn a draft selection on Day 3. There are concerns though, relating particularly to his pad level and athleticism. Those questions, along with his age, may limit how early he hears his name called.
6. Michael Johnson, IOL/OT, Savannah State. Grade: 7th Round
Height: 6’5”. Weight: 328 lbs.
Pros: Johnson had the option of returning for another season, but with a number of NFL teams showing interest, chose to take his shot at the league in 2021. After applying to the Tropical Bowl All-Star event, they responded that he was among their top prospect targets. It’s easy to see why. The Savannah State lineman looks the part with impressive size and length, and a broad powerful frame. Some in attendance at the Tropical Bowl singled out Johnson as one of the standouts in practice.
In addition to his size, Johnson’s core strength is clear in his run blocking and generally in how he acquits himself at the point of attack. He brings a proactive approach to the initial blocking phase, looking to dominate early. There are some technical flaws, but the Tigers lineman seems to have decent natural balance despite at times blocking with poor form. It was also notable during his Tropical Bowl and Hula Bowl performances that he has worked on the consistency of his technique and coordination, relative to his 2019 game film.
Johnson has experience at both guard and tackle, showcasing himself at both spots during the Tropical Bowl. He arguably projects better to the interior, where his power and anchor can be fully utilized. Though not featuring the quickest footwork and movement, he could potentially offer depth at right tackle also. It is noteworthy that Johnson has worked hard and done well academically, with both a bachelor’s degree and Masters.
Cons: Though the frame is ideal, there are athletic limitations evident in Johnson’s game. The Division 2 prospect therefore might fare better at guard than tackle. However, he is a comfortable mover, not overly tight and can execute fairly well as a pulling guard. At times, the SSU lineman can be a little late out of his stance. This occasionally leaves him as one of the last to move off the snap and a step behind the action.
Johnson’s game film shows ragged, raw technique and form. He can lunge and bend as he reaches for contact and often has untidy footwork. Too often he will raise his pad level post-contact, get narrow in his base and lose leverage. He is generally able to hold on but negates some of his power advantage. The All-Star circuit showed better footwork and coordination but is still a work-in-progress, particularly with his pad level.
Wrapping Up: Johnson is considered to have a head-down, hard-working mindset that should take well to coaching. That is encouraging as he has plenty to tighten up with his raw technique. His big frame and core strength will surely result in a look in training camp at the very least. He grades here as a draftable prospect.
7. Kion Smith, OT/IOL, Fayetteville State. Grade: UDFA
Height: 6’6”. Weight: 304 lbs.
Pros: A name not widely known, but Smith entered the season as a potential late round draft pick for some scouts. His 2020 season was lost due to the cancellations, but the Division 2 prospect has been on the recent All-Star circuit. Smith took part in the Tropical Bowl, Hula Bowl and Gridiron Showcase. He was noted as standing out for many during practices at the former. Awarded first team All-Conference in 2019, his junior film showcased his pro potential, despite the lower competition level.
The Broncos lineman measured in bigger than expected at the Gridiron Showcase. He weighed in at over 300 lbs, after looking slight on film and listed at around 295lbs in 2019. His appearances at the Tropical and Hula Bowls reflected that added bulk from his Fayetteville State film. He also measured in at 6’5” 5/8 with 34.5” arms. He played at RT and RG at the Tropical Bowl, and at LT in the Hula Bowl.
Smith’s film shows good athletic traits to compliment his length. Quickly out of his stance off the snap, he is fluid and flexible executing in pass protection. His changes of direction are sharp as part of good overall mirror skills. In addition to quick reactions, his anticipation of counters flashes well on film.
He generally plays with good footwork, pad level and keeping a wide base. Smith typically maintains his form throughout reps, including under pressure. Though not the strongest, his solid technique helps him to hold up at the point of attack. He makes good use of his extension, including mostly consistent hand placement.
Cons: Though reports from practice was positive, Smith’s performance in the Tropical Bowl game itself felt shaky. Too often he allowed a step to the opposing edge rusher off the snap and chasing to recover. Smith has some decent technique as listed above but is not averse to lunging for contact in pass pro.
While the added weight may not have been the largest amount, he didn’t appear quite as agile as his 2019 Fayetteville film showed. Ultimately though, the prevailing opinion on All-Star events are that practices outweigh the game itself, where Smith impressed. His Hula Bowl game showing was arguably an improvement on his Tropical Bowl film. By all accounts the events were a positive overall for his stock.
The reported added weight may assist, but the 2019 film suggests that Smith may not have the best core strength. He compensates well with his movement and length, but hopefully can add more power as he develops. The D2 prospect missed all of 2018 due to shoulder problems. That could be considered a medical red flag if there is any risk of future issues.
Wrapping Up: Should he end up drafted in the late rounds, he will be a relative unknown to most watching the event. Smith absolutely has length and movement that can translate to the pro level. He would be something of a flyer and a long-term developmental prospect. However, he has shown enough to warrant that opportunity. The offensive line, particularly tackle, is a premium position that has all teams searching for hidden gems.
8. Calvin Ashley, OT/IOL, Florida A&M. Grade: UDFA
Height: 6’6”. Weight: 335 lbs.
Pros: Of the fringe-draftable small school prospects in this class, Ashley entered college as one of the more high profile. Starting out as a 5-star commit at Auburn, he has some impressive physical tools that led to that earning that early hype. The double-transfer to Florida Atlantic initially, then to Florida A&M will certainly raise eyebrows. However, the second move was explained as being for family reasons, to be closer to his wife and new son.
Ashley stands out for his imposing prototype frame. He certainly demonstrates that he has the expected power to match the stature. The size and strength allow him to absorb bull rushes easily when his footwork and hands are solid. While not explosive, his lateral movement is fairly smooth. There’s potential to offer depth across various spots on the offensive line. The Rattlers transfer has played primarily at right tackle, with physicality potentially applicable to playing guard also.
Cons: Ashley saw very little playing time over his college career. He made one start in five appearances over his two seasons with the Tigers. Going through Florida A&M film, he didn’t appear to start much there in 2019 either. The Delaware State film was the sole game personally found with Ashley starting at RT; there may have been others. Furthermore, while there are flashes, the film itself is not overly encouraging in truth.
Too often, Ashley resorts to bending at the waist to maintain contact. Already poor coordination and overall form would get more ragged as plays progressed and defenders worked against him. His hands are frequently late, misplaced and not sustaining contact. There are signs of concerns with body control and balance, not helped by often high pad level. At times this negated some strength advantage and led to being on the turf a little too often.
His overall movement, though reasonably smooth, looked a bit slow and lethargic. Late reactions out of his stance and initial movements often leave him a step behind. For his size and power, Ashley’s motor and aggression seemed too varied. In addition, the mental side of his game raises questions. The awareness and anticipation can let him down too often and he can be exploitable via late pressure. Reactions and adjustments required to counters are not ideal.
Wrapping Up: Ashley’s NFL projection is a balance between some underwhelming film and obviously intriguing physical tools to work with. There could yet be some untapped potential to harness. The path of Ashley’s college career certainly did not go as planned. He also could have shown steps in his technique and execution had his opportunity to play in 2020 not be taken from him. If he goes undrafted, he ought to be a training camp invite afterward.
9. Jack Batho IV, OT/IOL, South Dakota Mines. Grade: UDFA
Height: 6’8”. Weight: 315 lbs.
Pros: With a massive frame, Batho not only towers over D2 competition, but also did at the Hula Bowl All-Star event. At college and in Hawaii he lined up at left tackle. His abilities will likely see him either switch to right tackle or inside at guard. Previously listed on his team website at just 285 lbs, he now weighs in at 315 lbs. In addition to the height, he is broadly built with good length in his arms.
Unsurprisingly, Batho frequently dominates on film for the Hardrockers. Heavy hands consistently shut down pass rushers who attempt to directly challenge him at the point of attack. Destructive run blocking saw him regularly flatten overwhelmed defenders at the line and on the second level. As a pass protector, Batho is quite impressive technically. His upper and lower body are well coordinated, gets good extension and plays with balance. Mentally tough, he was not deterred by a broken finger at the Hula Bowl, taking the field regardless.
Cons: Athletic limitations are a concern with Batho. It looked worrisome on his Division 2 film and continued at the higher competition level of the Hula Bowl. Struggling with quickness, he was left trailing frequently on outside rushes. Late in the second quarter, Batho was also poorly beaten on an inside swim move. The slowness in his overall game was apparent and detrimental. Though tall for the position, a move to guard might be his best opportunity to earn a roster spot.
On top of the significant step up in competition, Batho has not played much over the past couple years either. The Hardrockers lineman appeared in only one of four games the South Dakota Mines played in 2020. A broken left foot cost Batho his 2019 season.
Wrapping Up: Batho offers a sizeable and powerful frame, complimented by a tough, physical style to match. As hoped for from a prospect from Division 2, he does dominate that level of competition. He knows how to maximize his length advantage and has solid technique for a big man. The issues with quickness are a limiting factor that could ultimately leave him undrafted. He could be a good candidate for a practice squad spot.
10. Samuel Cooper, IOL, Merrimack. Grade: UDFA
Height: 6’2”. Weight: 305 lbs.
Pros: There are clear signs that NFL teams have interest in Cooper. The interior line prospect received invites to the Tropical Bowl, Hula Bowl, and the cancelled East-West Shrine event. A two-year starter after transferring from Maine, Cooper was a team captain in 2019. Highly driven to succeed in his dream to reach to pro level, Cooper is respected for his work ethic, including excelling academically. He has overcome personal tragedy and loss that contributes to an already motivated mindset.
Cooper has a shorter frame but looks to be a well-proportioned and toned athlete. He brings good power within his stout, stocky frame, along with enough lower body explosion and movement. Cooper attempts to apply his strength at the point of attack, bringing an aggressive initial punch. He impresses with his motor to drive and finish each snap. His best reps see him exploit his natural leverage and power to knock back defensive linemen.
Cons: Cooper was unable to play much during three seasons with Maine, prior to his transfer. Injuries were reportedly a big factor keeping him off the field. Those included multiple broken fingers, a partially torn patellar and an ankle injury. After the Merrimack transfer, Cooper was again injured in the spring game, costing him several games to start the 2018 season. The frequent injury troubles likely will be flagged by scouts.
At times, his technique will see him forced back into the pocket or on the turf more than ideal. His form can deteriorate over the course of a snap, particularly if he’s on the backfoot early. Cooper has a naturally lower pad level but still has a tendency to get narrow and upright in his stance as he engages and as the play progresses. This can affect his leverage and balance on some of his poorer reps.
Wrapping Up: The application and refinement may not be there yet. However, there are a lot of likeable physical, athletic and mental traits to work with. Work on his consistency and raw technique could pay off long term. It’s easy to buy in the character to give himself every chance to succeed.
Feature Image Credit: Tim Sanger