2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Offensive Line

Photo: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

If you were to survey 100 different respected football minds or players on the state of offensive line play around the NFL, they would probably come to a consensus that it's better, but it still has a way to go to catch up to the defensive line talent entering the league yearly. 

The discrepancy with the athleticism between the two groups seems to be an enlarging gap, but the 2020 offensive tackle class should give the league plenty of hope. With a top-heavy class through the first two days of the draft, there is a lot of talent on the board. While the interior crop isn't nearly as good as past years, there are some gems contained in the group with a few participating in the 2020 Reese's Senior Bowl.

Former long-time NFL coach Mike Tice put it best when he compared offensive lineman to the engine of a car. The core five up-front are at the center of the entire operation, but how it’s hidden under the hood of a vehicle; they rarely receive credit until obvious problems become apparent. As a result, offensive linemen will always be in high demand because of the importance of the position. Last season we saw first-round selections in Chris Lindstrom, Garrett Bradbury, Andre Dillard and Tytus Howard from this very game a season ago. Erik McCoy, Dalton Risner and Elgton Jenkins were other prospects who went on to become rookie starters. This year’s class could produce a similar level of talent.

Most Talented: Josh Jones, Houston

Coming from a wide-open offense in the Lone Star state, Josh Jones has been one of the best-kept secrets in the country. You often hear the names Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills and Mekhi Becton, but a strong candidate in an impressive second tier is Jones. He was a 45-game starter during his time with the Cougars placed exclusively at left tackle. He seems to be very light on his feet, but it's his relaxed pass sets and hand timing are his best traits. 

Jones’ hands are deadly accurate, and he is keen on knowing when to extend and strike defenders. He is unafraid of being the enforcer. Jones is capable of leveraging his hands inside and locking his arms to immediately stop rushers in their tracks. His added arm length serves as an extra barrier between him and the opposition, which makes it very difficult to surpass and disrupt his rhythm.

Edge rushers who attempt to unravel and detach are often unsuccessful as a result because of the marriage and strength between his arms, hands and footwork. Also a reliable run blocker, he's supremely athletic with climbing to the second level and showing patience to eventually cover up second-level targets.

Most Potential: Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn

It's been a long journey for Prince Tega Wanogho to land in this spot. After moving to the United States in 2014, he was accidentally introduced to football the following year. Wanogho had aspirations of being a professional basketball player and Olympic swimmer but quickly realized both were unrealistic possibilities. However, after some success on the gridiron, he was beginning to get attention. Wanogho’s first offer came from Kentucky. He ultimately chose Auburn with only one year of experience. Since stepping foot on campus in 2015, he has proven to be a rock-solid offensive tackle. 

Wanogho has developed more seasoning as he continued to get repetitions, but there's still a low of rawness to his overall game. The baseline traits to be a reliable starting-caliber option are there, but its early stages. Wanogho's is an easy mover who possesses light feet and an effortless pass set. The biggest area of his game he must improve is his ability to sustain and finish as a run blocker. Wanogho already has the foot speed necessary to run his feet on contact, but it's his grip strength and inability to sustain where strides must be made. If able to do so, he has the makings of being one of the better young offensive tackles in the league by the end of his rookie contract. 

Late-Round Steal: Alex Taylor, South Carolina State

Every season there seems to be a small-school offensive lineman catching everyone’s attention. In years past it was Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa. This time around, it will be Alex Taylor. South Carolina State has recently produced the likes of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Now there’s Taylor, who also had an interesting journey to small-school prominence. 

His career originally started as a two-sport athlete at Appalachian State where he played both basketball and football. At 6-foot-9 and hovering at nearly 300 pounds, he's still built like an NBA power forward. That, of course, has its caveats as well. Right now, his game is more of a set, shuffle and extend to win during pass blocking reps. He is still trying to figure out how to match up his twitchy feet with below-average strength.

What you want to see from small-school prospects though is how they adjust to the speed of the game throughout the week of practices. Coming from the MEAC, he hasn't seen the speed of edge rushers from the SEC, ACC and other Power Five conferences he will be matched up against next week. Johnny Culbreath was the last offensive lineman to be drafted from the program as he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh-round (No. 209 overall) in the 2011 draft. 

Most To Prove: Ben Bartch, Saint John's

Ben Bartch is another player who comes from lower levels of competition but has plenty to prove in Mobile, Alabama. He converted to tight end after only seeing action in four games prior to his junior season, he bulked up and gained nearly 80 pounds to become one of the better players in program history. Bartch's film is littered with a lot of impressive blocks, but the usual "look at who he's facing" argument will always arise when he's playing smaller players at the position.

Bartch has a chance to make an impressive statement as he will face the best competition he's ever seen during his brief career as an offensive lineman. Evaluators will want to see his adjustment to the speed and power he will be matched up against. Bartch is currently listed as a guard on the Senior Bowl roster, which is where his game is suited best without the necessary quickness and stride lengths to survive as an NFL offensive tackle.

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Jordan Reid is a Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Gaining experience from various lenses of the game, he has previously served as a college quarterback, position coach, and recruiting coordinator at North Carolina Central University. He now serves as a Color Commentator for FloSports, covering both high school and college football games around the country while also being the host of The Reid Option Podcast.