Part 2, OL: Buyer beware...
Ohio State's Dawand Jones epitomizes an ultra-polarizing class of offensive linemen. He could be a "Hall of Famer" but, as is the case with everyone in 2023, scouts have serious questions.
This is the 39th year that Bob McGinn has written an NFL Draft Series. Previously, it appeared at the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1985-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19), The Athletic (2020-’21) and GoLongTD.com (2022-’23). Until 2014, many personnel people were quoted by name. The series reluctantly adopted an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of most scouts. The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test no longer is administered at the NFL combine. Players generally took the test at spring 2022 timing days, all-star games and at pro days in March and April. The NFL average score is about 19.
Today, Part 2: Offensive Line.
Faced with a short list of draft-eligible offensive linemen, NFL decision-makers gaze upon Ohio State tackle Dawand Jones with a mixture of hope and dread.
Through the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 31, Jones was the toast of the pro football world, a giant of a man coming off a brutishly brilliant opening practice at the Senior Bowl.
Two and a half months later, the air long removed from his early off-season momentum, Jones represents just another messy question mark in a position group overflowing with them.
“This is the worst offensive-line crowd in the history of the draft — maybe,” a long-in-the-tooth NFL personnel executive. “We have like 15 guys in our top 150. For an entire 32-team league. We need 320 linemen.
“It’s so bad,” he continued. “There’s going to be some reaches on offensive linemen in this draft. I think every lineman in the top 100 overall will go a half-round to a full round, if not two rounds, higher than they normally would in a given year.”
Six years ago, talent evaluators also foresaw a terrible draft for offensive linemen. That year, however, teams didn’t even bite. Just 10 were taken among the top 100 selections, a far cry from the five-year average of 19.4 in the top 100 from 2018-’22.
As might have been predicted, just one of the 33 offensive linemen drafted in 2017 has made a Pro Bowl. That was Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins, a 2021 selection who was the 63rd player chosen in 2017. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk of New Orleans, the No. 32 pick that year, has made All-Pro but, oddly, never the Pro Bowl.
The deficiencies in this class exist at the top, in the middle and probably near the end.
“In years past there have been more clear-cut (elite linemen),” an executive in personnel for an AFC team said. “Charles Cross would still be the top guy in this draft by head and shoulders. There’s guys with traits. Paris Johnson has those kind of traits so it wouldn’t surprise me if people took him at pick 9 or 10 but the film isn’t as clean as some of those other guys that have gone that high. A lot of these guys don’t feel as clean as what you feel like a first-round O-lineman is.”
Cross, a third-year sophomore out of Mississippi State, was selected No. 9 by Seattle a year ago. He went off shortly after Ikem Ekwonu was picked by Carolina at No. 6 and Evan Neal went to the New York Giants at No. 7.
My recent polling of 16 personnel men asked each to rank their top offensive linemen regardless of position on a 1-2-3-4-5-6 basis. A first-place vote was worth 6 points, a second 5 and so on.
Paris Johnson and Peter Skoronski tied for first with 74 points, although Skoronski had eight first-place votes compared to five for Johnson. Following, in order, were Broderick Jones (61, three), Darnell Wright (29), Anton Harrison (28), Matt Bergeron (20), O’Cyrus Torrence (14), Dawand Jones (10), Cody Mauch (eight), Joe Tippmann (seven), Steve Avila (four), John Michael Schmitz (three), Sidy Sow (two) and Luke Wypler (two).
Is there an offensive lineman worthy of a top-10 selection based on draft standards over time?
“Not legit,” said one scout. “Broderick Jones and Paris Johnson are the two that are going to go because we’re in an era now where a kid that’s a 5-star recruit, he comes in and it’s Covid the first year, backs up and plays a little bit the second year and starts the third year, they have the measurables and they’re the best in class. This is the world we’re in right now.
“Johnson and Broderick both will go in the top 10, top 12. But their resumes are nowhere near a Joe Thomas or Jonathan Ogden, or Walter Jones or Orlando Pace. Trent Williams, for that matter.”
Clearly, the path to first-round money and notoriety was wide open for Dawand Jones after his destructive work in Day One at the Senior Bowl. “It was almost embarrassing the way he went out and was throwing people around,” said an AFC evaluator.
At one point, Jones practically body-slammed Army’s Andre Carter out of bounds during one drill. “I said, ‘Oh, my God,’” another scout recalled.
Then it was over. Jones decided not to practice the rest of the week or play in the game. A month later, at the combine, he agreed to run two 40’s and do drill work but turned down the bench press, the jumps and the shuttle runs. When pro day arrived in Columbus, Jones stood around refusing to work or even weigh in.
“After the first day of the Senior Bowl, when he was the talk of the town, he completely f---ed this whole thing up,” an evaluator said. “He had one good day of practice and then basically shut himself down. He’s killed himself in the process.”
Listed at 359 by Ohio State in the fall, Jones scaled 374 at the combine while measuring 6-8 1/4. He clocked 5.36 in the 40. His arms (36 3/8 inches) and hands (11 5/8 inches) each were among the longest recorded.
In the last 10 years, five tackles of Jones’ physical dimensions have been drafted. Two became fine players, one failed, one has been bedeviled by injury and another has barely played.
Trent Brown (6-8 ½, 353, 5.26, 36, 10 7/8), a seventh-round pick in 2015, and Orlando Brown (6-8, 340, 5.68, 35, 9 ¾), a third-round choice in 2018, are in the midst of outstanding careers. Zach Banner (6-8 ½, 353, 5.59, 34 7/8, 10 ¾), a fourth-round pick in 2017, was a bust. Mekhi Becton (6-7 ½, 357, 5.11, 35 5/8, 10 ¾), the No. 11 pick in 2020, has started just 14 games in three seasons due largely to injury. Yet to be heard from is Daniel Faalele (6-8, 390, 5.60, 35 1/8, 11), a fourth-round selection last year. He made one start and played 169 snaps as a rookie for the Ravens.
Since Jones pulled back, evaluators have expressed serious concern. In the survey, the scouts were asked to pick which of the top offensive linemen was most likely to bust.
Dawand Jones was a runaway choice with seven votes compared to two each for Broderick Jones and Wright and one each for Bergeron, Harrison, Johnson and Skoronski. One of the 16 scouts declined to vote.
“He’s a better athlete than Orlando Brown,” said one personnel man. “If he had clean character and wasn’t lazy and didn’t have a weight problem, you’re looking at a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“You’re taking a risk, for sure. But this guy is the real deal when he wants to be. And even when he doesn’t want to be he’s still pretty good.”
Full scouting reports on this draft’s top tackles, guards and centers, full of the scouts’ perspectives…
1. PARIS JOHNSON, Ohio State (6-6 ½, 311, no 40, 1): Third-year junior. Hardly played in 2020, started at RG in 2021 and at LT in 2022. He replaced Nicholas Petit-Frere, a third-round pick by the Titans. “He’s a physical freak,” one scout said. “He is a great kid, too. He’s more talented than (Peter) Skoronski. Maybe not the football player that Skoronski is now but Johnson has a higher ceiling.” Extremely long arms (36 1/8 inches), small hands (9 ½). “He’s got all of the physical traits,” said a second scout. “He’s got really good character. He doesn’t have unique stopping power (compared to past leading prospects). Needs to get stronger.” His score of 26 on the Wonderlic test was the highest of the top four tackles. “He is so up and down,” a third scout said. “It’s all there but there’s no consistency. Needs to play stronger and more physical. He pushes. Soft hands. If you can get through to him he certainly has the size and long arms.” A fourth scout insisted that Petit-Frere manned the position better in 2021 than Johnson did in ’22. “I don’t see it with this guy,” a fifth scout said. “Decent athlete, nothing special. Technique is off. He falls off a lot of stuff. Just real hit or miss. Just a work in progress. Unlike (Broderick) Jones, who has tons of natural athletic ability, I see this dude as just an average sort of talent. He’s not (real tough). He's not impressive.” From Cincinnati.