Ralph D. Russo | Associated Press
Two offensive linemen were selected in the first round of last month’s NFL draft, the fewest since 1965.
In 2017, the big guys up front are positioned to bounce back.
With the help of former Auburn guard and ESPN and SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic, here’s a look at some of the draft-eligible offensive linemen that will be vital to their team’s performance in 2017.
Mike McGlinchey, OT, and Quinton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish are hoping the left side of their line can help lead a turnaround from last season’s 4-8 mess. McGlinchey is a mountain at 6-foot-8 and 312 pounds, with potential to be the first offensive lineman taken in next year’s draft.
The 6-5, 330-pound Nelson is a dominant run blocker. “He’s an absolute mauler,” Cubelic said.
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The Sooners have to replace some top-flight talent at running back and wide receiver, but the offensive line should make life easy on the new playmakers. Brown is the leader. At 6-7 and 340, Brown took a big leap forward from his redshirt freshman season to last year in fundamentals and technique. Athletically, he has all the tools. “He is your elite, prototypical tackle frame,” Cubelic said.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
Hyatt was a huge recruit who has been starting since his freshman season. He has made steady progress from solid in 2015 to very good in 2016. This season the Tigers expect him to be one of the best offensive linemen in the country and a leader of an offense that will have plenty of new faces at the skill positions.
Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
Rankin is a junior college transfer who redshirted his first season with the Bulldogs in 2015. He needed some time to develop last season, but by the end of 2016 he was showing star potential. “He has some nasty when he gets latched on,” Cubelic said.
Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
How important is Frank Ragnow to the Razorbacks? Arkansas coach Bret Bielema held his center out of full-contact scrimmages this spring to preserve a key asset. Ragnow is a three-year starter who passed on a chance to jump into the NFL draft after last season when he graded out as the top offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus.
Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Williams has grown into his massive frame during his two seasons at Texas while retaining quickness and athleticism. The 6-6, 320-pound junior is the best player on an offensive line that has experienced players but needs better overall play. Remarkably, Texas has not had an offensive lineman drafted since 2008. Williams is likely to break that string.