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NFL Draft: In an ultra-deep offensive line class, take your pick from a variety of styles

This NFL Draft is going to be offense-heavy, both in the first round and into Day 2, when the rounds are shorter and applause from fans becomes more scattered. The draft’s first four selections could all be quarterbacks. The first 10 (or dozen) picks could all be spent on offensive players. There is also a more than decent chance that this year’s first round could break the record for offensive players taken in the first round (19).

Along with the quarterbacks, there will also be a Round 1 helping of pass catchers and potential future fantasy stars. But, to get to a record-breaking first round of 20 or more offensive players, other positions will have to raise the tally. Where will they come from considering there aren’t 10 running backs hearing their names called in Detroit on April 25?

The 2024 draft, at least early on, features a cornucopia of offensive linemen, a heaping of hogs, a pile of pile pushers, a stack of pancake makers, you get the point. There is going to be an offensive lineman or two hearing his name called in the top 10 and the floodgates will open in the teens and beyond.

It’s not filled with just blindside protectors, the typical early selections of the first round. There is a variety of players, including versatile ones, who will make their landing spots — and future careers — true choose-your-own adventures.

[Nate Tice’s NFL Draft top 100 big board Top QBs Top RBs Top WRs Top TEs Top OL Top Edges Top IDL Top LBs Top CBs Top safeties]

Every NFL (and football) team since the days of Knute Rockne has been in a place to upgrade their offensive line. At least one place could stand to use a tier bump, depth or a succession plan. An offensive line is what keeps a team’s season from stagnating or bottoming out. These players are floor raisers on an offense and overall team. Think of how many promising seasons have fallen apart because a team was on its third center or simply can’t hold up. Think of the broadcast that features a graphic about the amount of starting lineup combinations a certain team has had in a season. Think of the Kansas City Chiefs’ blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 season’s Super Bowl, a defeat that prompted general manager Brett Veach to heavily invest in his front line, to great success.

There will be a good amount of fan bases in Detroit that clap and look around at each other after they hear their favorite team take a player who “will likely be kicked inside to guard” and “is the best player in his class at backside cutoffs” while the highlights look more like an early “Raw” squash match at the Hammerstein Ballroom. But, they should be clapping! Investing in your offensive line is a good thing, and this year’s class should make fans excited when they see “O_” somewhere in their drafted player’s position label.

I took the 15 offensive linemen I currently have in the top 50 of my big board and categorized them into what needs or roles they could fill on an NFL team, with team fits I like best.

First off, it’s the headliners among the hosses (a bit of an oxymoron), the players I think can stay outside as professionals:

Meet the tackles

Notre Dame's Joe Alt could hear his name called very early in the NFL Draft. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images)

At the top of the draft, the consensus top tackle is Notre Dame’s Joe Alt. He has tremendous size and light feet, a combination that works for every team. He is a converted tight end and he’s young, with his hand usage improving greatly last season. Alt was a left tackle in college and he can stay on that side in the pros, but he could easily play either tackle spot if need be because of his length, athleticism and past experience as a tight end. Alt isn’t a true mauler as his hand strike is more solid than overwhelming. He is still firmly good in the run game because of his size and balance, while also showing plenty room to improve. The Tennessee Titans with offensive line coach Bill Callahan (who has past experience with Notre Dame’s offensive line coach Joe Rudolph) would be a perfect fit for team need. The Los Angeles Chargers have Rashawn Slater on the left side, but Alt (or even Slater) would have no issue switching sides because of their past playing experiences (Slater played right tackle in college).

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Next is Olu Fashanu from Penn State, a player I think is tied with Alt atop of the linemen big board. Fashanu has good size and length, plays with a great base as a pass protector and is seldom out of whack with his feet or shoulders. His frame and ability to recover with his length and balance, plus a great awareness for blitzers and defensive line games and twists, allow Fashanu to stay in control at all times in protection. He is a good run blocker but will at times lose his defender late because of a lack of hand strength (this is where his outlier 8½-inch hand size shows up). Overall, Fashanu has the traits of a real deal left tackle, and there is still youth and athleticism to tap into at the next level. The Titans and Chargers are teams that could take a look at Fashanu, along with the Las Vegas Raiders (putting him on the right side), New Orleans Saints or even the New York Jets at the No. 10 spot of the draft if they want to get a real needle mover for their 2024 push and beyond (and also create depth for the first time in ages).

JC Latham from Alabama is the other player I am high on and consider close to the Alt and Fashanu tier. Latham is a monster who looks like a jumbo-sized guard more than a player who can make a living isolated on the outside. He constantly wipes out defenders in the run game, sometimes moving them a gap or two over from their initial starting spot. That strength and size has undersold his light feet and athleticism; Latham has the athletic tools, strength and long arms to not only hang on the outside in pass protection, but to dominate out there without help. A true mauler at the point of attack in the run game who can be good or better as a pass protector is a fantastic combination. I’m a big fan of Latham’s game and think all of the teams listed above as matches for Alt and Fashanu make sense for Latham.

Alabama offensive lineman JC Latham runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)Alabama offensive lineman JC Latham runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Alabama’s JC Latham is built like a guard but can play tackle because of his incredible mobility despite his massive size. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Then there’s the groups of project offensive tackles, in various stages of construction.

Another true first-round graded prospect is Georgia’s Amarius Mims, who didn’t start double-digit games in college at one of the hardest positions to adjust to in the professional ranks. Yet Mims has as good of a chance to be the best player among the highly touted group of linemen as anyone, with a higher floor and understanding for the game that doesn’t make him a complete ground-up project (he’s more on like the fourth level of a 10-story building). Mims is a very good athlete in an excellent frame. He has already shown strong stretches of play in high-level games. His lack of experience makes him a bit scarier of a prospect, which also makes teams’ risk tolerance and his potential landing spot hard to predict. I could see a team taking a home run swing on Mims early in the draft, but I could also see him in the back-half of the first round going to a Super Bowl contender. I would love to see a team like the Philadelphia Eagles nab Mims as a Lane Johnson succession plan under resident offensive line coach/maestro Jeff Stoutland, or the Cincinnati Bengals looking to find a true tackle to build around for the future. Really any team outside of the top 10 that wants to bet that they could help Mims achieve his All-Pro ceiling would be ideal. Instead of taking him in the top 10, it requires more of a leap of faith.

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BYU’s Kingsley Suamataia is a tackle who can be maddeningly inconsistent but has the length and light feet of a starting NFL tackle. He has length and big hands, and consistently stays square with the ability to recover if he loses right away. Suamataia’s eyes and awareness are all over the place right now, but when he is able to narrow his focus you can see his movement ability shine. There is some need to grade to the flash for Suamataia and he will need to be in a good situation to stick in the league, either with a good line coach or not having to be the starting left tackle right away (or both).

Houston’s Patrick Paul is another tackle with excellent length in this class, along with dozens of starts under his belt. Paul doesn’t always show off that length and experience with his play; Paul’s hands will often be too wide and put him in an early losing position (there is a positive with this in seeing Paul getting to recover often), which will have to be cleaned up quickly at the next level. Even with the technique and consistency issues, Paul’s length, strength and ability to bend is a fun package for a contending team looking for a potential starter at left tackle on Day 2 (or even very late in Round 1).

Tyler Guyton from Oklahoma is another great athlete with length at the tackle position, but another player who requires a bit of projection because of his lack of experience and inconsistent film. There just aren’t a ton of big bodies who can move in space like Guyton, even if his pass protection technique is a big work in progress. When pointed in the right direction, it doesn’t require much squinting to see Guyton’s high-level starting quality traits.

Spots like the Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers or Chiefs are all landing spots that would make sense for Suamataia, Paul and Guyton.

A heaping of guard with a dash of tackle to them

Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga and Arizona’s Jordan Morgan were both offensive tackles in college, with Fuaga on the right side and Morgan on the left. Each have a path of sticking on the outside (Morgan has a better chance because he is a bendier athlete than Fuaga), but both also project they could be better served by bumping into the inside (there’s that phrase again!) where they have the potential to be good starting guards. Fuaga brings some wallop in the run game, which has me salivating about the potential double-teams he can form with whatever right guard (or tackle) he’s paired with. He has some stiffness that makes me hesitate with his ability to stick at right tackle in the NFL, but his potential three-spot versatility has value.

Morgan has below-average length, but is a good athlete with clean feet that can keep up with the better athletes on the outside. He should get a chance to play right tackle, but his strength and movement ability project to make him a good starting guard, who perhaps could be unlocked by a team that values its linemen moving in space, like the Miami Dolphins or 49ers. A potential starter at three spots (with emergency left tackle ability) is going to give him plenty of fans.

The high-end Swiss Army Hogs

Washington’s Troy Fautanu and Duke’s Graham Barton are two of my favorite players in this entire draft, at any position. Both played left tackle in their respective final seasons in college and both have experience at other spots along the offensive line. They project as being able to start at four, perhaps at even all five spots on the offensive line. While Fautanu and Barton aren’t the typical height of NFL tackles, they both play with such advanced hands, athletic bend and tight footwork that it allows them to overcome any deficiencies, and Fautanu has more than enough arm length that allows him to play longer than expected.

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Fautanu and Barton each have the combination of technique, strength, smarts and movement traits that it’s easy to comfortably project them at any spot along the line (I even think both have the perfect rear ends to play center). Really any team that needs a starter, at any spot perhaps other than left tackle, would love to drop in either of these two players to not only contribute early in their careers, but to also have Pro Bowl-type upside at multiple spots. Jets, Broncos, Raiders, Saints, Seahawks, Jaguars, Steelers, Dolphins, Eagles, I could basically say every team in the draft would be a good fit for Fautanu or Barton.

Duke's Graham Barton is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in this class. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)Duke's Graham Barton is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in this class. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Duke’s Graham Barton is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in this class. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

The interior guys

Last, we have a group of linemen that project as interior players in different ways. Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson played center his last year in Eugene, but he is fairly new to the position, and his size and athleticism could give him a path to start at any of the three interior spots. I like Powers-Johnson best early as a guard with a team that has a starting center he can learn from in the short-term. After that, he can bump inside as a needle-moving center with size, athleticism and nastiness to be a tone setter in the long-term as he learns more tricks of the trade. Anywhere at the turn from Round 1 to 2 would make sense for Powers-Johnson, as teams like the Cardinals or 49ers could be spots for him in the first round.

Connecticut’s Christian Haynes is another favorite of mine in this draft. Haynes has a ton of experience in college and it shows up with his eyes and awareness when reacting to moving defenders after the snap. He can get pushed back in pass protection because of his lack of overwhelming size, but he is a very good athlete who is fantastic in creating advantages in tough spots because of his bend and hand usage as a pass protector and in the run game. I like Haynes best as a guard, and I think he can be a dang good one, but he is working at center which unlocks a bit more value for him. He can go sneakily higher in the draft than people are expecting, but it will likely not be until Day 2.

Zach Frazier is a center from West Virginia who plays with tenacity, and quick and violent hands that he is relentless with. His wrestling background constantly shows up with his play, as he will constantly move and fight to get himself into a winning position. Frazier’s lack of size and length has me projecting him as a center-only prospect without any positional versatility, but his technique and intelligent play will let him be an instant starter at the pivot spot, even if he doesn’t go until Day 2 in the draft.

The last lineman in my top 50 is Kansas State’s Cooper Beebe, whose film is littered with bodies that he put into the ground in the run game. Beebe is a good athlete who stays balanced and consistently adjusts to moving targets in pass protection and on the second level in the run game. Beebe’s big blemish is his sub 32-inch arm length, which would make him a true outlier at guard. He has the size, smarts and ability to be an NFL starter, but his lack of length will make him a bit of a test case to see if he can stay at guard. If he can, then Beebe can be a Year 1 starter because of all the aspects of his game. If that length is too much of a hindrance, then Beebe might have to bump inside to center. Again, Beebe can be a good starter at center, but a potential limit of versatility will limit how high he can go.

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