the lookout list: OL
By Simon Carroll
Punting and kicking aside, playing offensive line is the least sexiest position in football. It’s also one of the most important. With that in mind, here are ten names that should make an impact in College Football in 2019:
Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn Tigers
Auburn look set to have one of the highest rated defensive lines in college football this year. But don’t sleep on their o-line bringing the heat too. That starts with Prince Tega Wanogho, who heads back to Jordan-Hare Stadium for his senior year as one of the top tackles in the nation. Starting at Left Tackle every game last season, Wanogho achieved the highest pass-blocking grade in the SEC from Pro Football Focus.
Having initially lined up on defense since coming over from Nigeria, he’s found his home and honed his body for the offensive line. He’s gained fifty pounds since enrolling and can still run a sub-five second 40 yard dash.
Tommy Kraemer, OG, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Moving from Tackle to Guard can be seen as a backwards step for offensive linemen. It’s normally indicative of a lack of athleticism or length to play on the outside. Well this isn’t the case in South Bend. Offensive co-ordinator Chip Long loves to pull his guards, and ever since Quenton Nelson dominated in these trenches playing guard for the Fighting Irish has been an honour.
Tommy Kraemer lost his spot at right tackle to Trevor Ruhland after battling through an ankle injury for most of the year. Inside he can use his strength to dominate in the run game. And if he gets that speed back after his ankle has recovered we could see him bulldozing linebackers at the second level in 2019.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa Hawkeyes
Holy moly. Tristan Wirfs is a monster. At 6’5” and 320 pounds Wirfs is an intimidating sight for edge rushers. And it’s not all cosmetic either – the junior left tackle might just be the strongest man in college football right now. Watch him knock out four reps at 450lbs to beat Brandon Scherff’s Iowa record in the hang cleans. Bear in mind Scherff was 23 when he set this record – Wirfs is just 20:
Wirfs has joined the correct program to maximise his talents. Iowa is famed for it’s production of offensive linemen, but even by their high standards Wirfs is special. He’s the only freshman ever to start a full season since Kirk Ferentz became head coach in 1999. His natural size and off the charts athleticism, coupled with the growth from strength coach Chris Doyle, should see him be even more dominant in 2019.
Trey Adams, OT, Washington Huskies
Entering his third season at Washington, Adams has had his fair share of tests. A rocky start to his freshman year, Adams had just about got comfortable when he tore his ACL. The effect on this offensive line was significant – the amount of times Jake Browning had a clean pocket to throw from dropped drastically.
Coming back last year Adams looked dominant. He improved his PFF run blocking grade from 35.6 to 83.1, and learned how to deal with pass rush moves, particularly the bull rush. But once again his season was cut short, this time with a back injury. Heading into his senior year, Adams’ biggest challenge will be staying on the field. If he can do that, then new quarterback Jacob Eason will have a much easier transition.
Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin Badgers
Probably the most dominant offensive lineman per their position, Tyler Biadasz is the consensus best center in college football. He plays with a level of aggression that Wisconsin linemen are famed for – so much so he should be renamed Tyler ‘Badass’. But it’s his smarts and understanding of alignments that separate him from the pack. With Michael Dieter, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards all leaving for the NFL, they’ll be relying on Biadasz to be the anchor for Jonathan Taylor and that running game.
Walker Little, OT, Stanford Cardinal
Much like Tristan Wirfs, Walker Little made an instant impact as a freshman. He’s the first left tackle to start for The Cardinal since 2000, and since then he’s just gotten better and better. Heading into his final year at Stanford, Little has got very little (sorry) to prove in the passing game. He’s widely regarded as one of the best blindside protectors in the nation and he’s already on the radar of some NFL teams. The improvement of his run blocking, and that of Stanford’s as a whole, will determine if he takes the step from good to great in 2019.
Lucas Niang, OT, TCU Horned Frogs
A bit different to the rest of the tackles on this list in that he has primarily played on the right side, Lucas Niang has started the last 20 games for the Horned Frogs. In that time he has given up just seven pressures and ZERO sacks. None. He is by far the standout tackle returning to the big 12 this season. He sees the game – watch him (#77, bottom of screen) effortlessly pick up Texas’ Chris Adimora here on the safety blitz, allowing a big strike to Jalen Reagor:
Niang’s trademark is his speed – he demonstrates elite quickness off the line and gets in his set before the pressure comes. Questions as to whether he’ll stick on the right or try his hand on the blindside remain. But in today’s world both tackle spots are valuable commodities, and his draft stock should remain high.
Ben Bredeson, OG, Michigan Wolverines
These are exciting times in Michigan. The Wolverines look set for a run at the Big Ten, and hiring Josh Gattis at offensive co-ordinator looks like a move trying to get the most out of this offense. Obviously with a no-huddle, RPO scheme people will look at the Quarterback & weapons, but it’s the offensive line that could be the key to success in Ann Arbor.
Four out of five of last year’s O-line return from 2018, and Bredeson is probably the most valuable. Lined up mostly at left guard, Bredeson has the athleticism and core strength to play any guard or tackle spot on the line. He’ll be key to implementing the new gap-zone running scheme under new line coach Ed Warriner. The versatility he brings will be crucial to Michigan as the season progresses and injuries take their toll.
Calvin Throckmorton, OT/OG, Oregon Ducks
As with Ben Bredeson, Throckmorton’s value lies in his versatility. He can play any spot on the line except for center. And he’s reliable too, playing thirty-eight straight games across three seasons. In his freshman year he played 91% of the offense’s snaps! A true team leader and dedicated to his education, he sets an example off the field and the tone on it.
He’s excelled at right tackle, particularly in his sophomore season where he recorded a PFF rating of 84.5. But his run blocking skills mean that he’s often kicked inside when injuries build up, and ultimately it might be where his NFL future lies. He has one more season of business to take care of in Eugene as The Ducks look to get back into the PAC 12 conversation.
Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia Bulldogs
There’s a reason this sophomore offensive tackle is generating first round NFL Draft buzz before a ball has been snapped. There’s a steep learning curve for freshman linemen in the SEC but Thomas stuck two fingers up to that, starting every game at right tackle in 2017. Moving to the blind side last year he maintained his elite standard – PFF had him graded as the best lineman in the country.
His 92.0 grade for run blocking promises big things for running back D’Andre Swift as this Bulldogs team looks set to challenge for playoff football once again. Amazingly, Thomas just turned 20 this year. The sky is the limit for him.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.