Similar to offensive tackle play, the Big 12 demands their interior offensive linemen to be athletic. Multiple teams in the conference, such as Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, run spread-based passing systems that require their interior linemen to be able to pass set with efficiency.
With the necessary athleticism for NFL offensive linemen essentially being a requirement for offensive linemen in many Big 12 offenses, the positional group is actually one of the strongest in the conference.
1. Patrick Vahe, Texas (6’3, 325)
Patrick Vahe has the most NFL-potential among the Big 12 interior offensive lineman, with the prototypical size and athleticism combination that the NFL covets. Vahe is great at climbing to the second level with the mobility and frame that allows him to swallow linebackers. He has flashes of dominant power, occasionally finishing and rag-dolling defenders to the ground.
Vahe is an aware pass protector, able to handle stunts or look for work when he doesn’t get a rusher. In run blocking, he does a good job maintaining leverage underneath the defensive lineman’s pads and replacing his hands.
Vahe will suffer the occasional whiff in both run and pass blocking. He can stand to be more consistent in how he uses his power, as he will struggle to move defensive linemen who play with equal leverage. Vahe’s ceiling is not yet reached, but with a strong season in 2018, he could find himself among the elite interior offensive line prospects in the 2019 class.
2. Ben Powers, Oklahoma (6’4, 314)
Ben Powers has a very strong, wide base as a run blocker and carries his 314-pound frame very well. Powers has shown to be an effective puller, who takes optimal paths to his targets while on the move. He is an aware pass protector, easily processing defensive stunts and picking up his assignments. One of his best traits is his anchor in pass protection, as he can sink his hips and stall nearly every bull rush.
The next step for Powers to elevate his game will be driving and finishing blocks. He is too often content with stalemating in the hole or at the end of a pull, where running his feet through contact would allow him to open wider running lanes.
Powers enters the season as one of the more well-known interior offensive line prospects in the country, and has current value somewhere around day 2 of the NFL Draft.
3. Adam Holtorf, Kansas State (6’4, 295)
Adam Holtorf is a veteran anchor on the Kansas State offensive line, holding down the interior at the center position. Holtorf has a thick, strong lower body that allows him to keep his hips in the hole, and be effective on down blocks. He’s surprisingly twitchy for a center, able to dominant slower-moving defensive linemen with his lateral movement skills. Holtorf has the demeanor and intangibles that coaches love from their center spot; a high motor, consistent leverage and quick mental processing.
Holtorf’s weakness comes when playing against defensive lineman with quick get-offs, as he’s a touch slow to anchor and stall their rush. His size may limit his ceiling, which means he could return to school next year, but he should become a legitimate NFL prospect when he does enter the Draft.
4. Dru Samia, Oklahoma (6’5, 297)
Dru Samia has excellent mobility packaged in an athletic frame, and it results in him being a true weapon as a puller. Samia brings a pop to the point of attack, playing with a nastiness not usually matched by defenders. He has a very solid initial drive and can dominate with power as a run blocker. Samia is always conscious of his hat placement, and will force defenders to consistently work through him.
Where Samia is limited is in his zone and reach blocks, as he isn’t the best lateral mover despite his vertical mobility. Samia will struggle when he cannot attack a defensive lineman while square, and is too often swung around off-balance in these scenarios.
Samia should find himself with similar value to counterpart Ben Powers, and could contend for a Day 2 selection.
5. Marcus Keyes, Oklahoma State (6’3, 300)
Marcus Keyes is the anchor of the offensive line in Stillwater as he enters his redshirt junior season. Keyes has now started in 26 straight games for the Cowboys, and is effective in both the pass and run game. Keyes excels with his hands, using and positioning his frame well and popping defenders to keep them at bay. He is a mobile, sleek mover, but has the power and lower body strength to move defenders in the run game.
Keyes will have eligibility left after the upcoming season, and it is not clear whether or not he will enter the NFL Draft. If Keyes were to enter, he would likely find himself as a mid-round pick, as his athleticism and consistent technique make him a safe, reliable pass protector.