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Senior Bowl preview: Offensive linemen to watch for the Seahawks

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Miami v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Senior Bowl was decimated by dropouts and injuries this year, from Royce Freeman to Maurice Hurst, but no single group was hit harder than the offensive line. Chukwuma Okorafor (T, Western Michigan), Martinas Rankin (T, Mississippi State) and Timon Parris (T, Stony Brook) are all noteworthy prospects who weren’t on the roster after accepting an invitation earlier in the season. For the first time in several seasons, it’s unlikely the Seattle Seahawks spend a high pick on the offensive line, having already traded a second round selection to the Houston Texans for Duane Brown. There are however several prospects in Mobile who fit Seattle’s mold - raw and athletic - and should be available on day three.

Brian O’Neill (T, Pittsburgh)

Height: 6064

Weight: 298

Arm Length: 34 ⅛”

Playing as a left tackle for the first time in 2017, Brian O’Neill had a strong season, being named to the All-ACC first team, a year after being named All-ACC second team as a right tackle. He even added two touchdowns in 2016, including a 24-yarder. A former tight end, O’Neill is an excellent athlete who is expected to be one of the best performers at his position at the Combine.

As you would expect from a former tight end, O’Neill is a fluid mover and terrific in space. He is at his best pulling, where he can use his quick feet to get in front of the play and gain position on defenders. He’s equally as impressive on combo blocks, where again, he is able to get into space at the second level and successfully block over-matched defenders. But with just two years experience on the line, he is raw.

In pass protection, O’Neill does a few things well. His head doesn’t drop when engaging defenders, and he has the quickness, reach and strength to recover against any edge defender if they begin to turn the corner on him. However, he has the corner turned on him an awful lot. He can be slow in setting, despite his athletic ability. His hand placement is that of an offensive linemen with two years experience, and will need a lot of refining in the NFL. He misses his target often, and will rarely strike first. He was able to recover more often than not in the ACC, but against NFL edge defenders, he would be getting his quarterback hit more often than he would recover. Despite his raw game, there are flashes of a legitimately great pass protector, when he is able to land his hands and anchor, he will lock down anyone.

In the run game, O’Neill has a tendency to look lost moving forward, looking for a defender to block. It’s tough to properly place blame without knowing exactly what the blocking scheme called for, but there were several instances of him being five-plus yards downfield not blocking anyone while his ‘back is tackled in the backfield. When he does engage in the run game, he doesn’t get much push up-front. His biggest strength in the run game is pulling and moving laterally. He’s a developmental prospect with great athletic traits, something the Seahawks have been drawn to in the past. Don’t be surprised if O’Neill’s buzz builds after he tests at the Combine.

Brandon Parker (T, North Carolina A&T)

Height: 6072

Weight: 323

Arm Length: 35 ⅜”

Playing at the FCS level, left tackle Brandon Parker enjoyed an excellent career with the Aggies, being named first team All-MEAC three times, the MEAC lineman of the year three times and winning two Black college national football championships. He is a massive 6-7 and 323 pounds with a build that closely resembles Duane Brown’s. There will be of course questions about his level of play, but Parker was consistently dominant at North Carolina A&T.

As a pass blocker, Parker is technically sound. He gets set and into his stance quickly, and his head remains up while waiting to engage. He’s a patient blocker and won’t reach for defensive linemen. Unlike the raw O’Neill, Parker constantly hits his target with great hand placement, and is extremely difficult to disengage. One issue he does have in pass pro - which could be amplified against elite athletes - is a tendency to set wide, opening himself up to inside counter moves.

In the run game, Parker engages violently and aggressively. He has outstanding strength and can move forward for days when run blocking. Although I didn’t see much pulling, he looked quick-footed on a couple power run concepts moving laterally.

The Senior Bowl will be a tremendous opportunity for Parker to show he can hang with the bigger school prospects. If the level of competition isn’t an issue, his stock should begin to rise as a legitimate offensive line prospect with outstanding strength and strong pedigree.

Alex Cappa (T, Humboldt State)

Height: 6055

Weight: 299

Arm Length: 33 ⅛”

Another small school prospect, Alex Cappa will be faced with answering the level of competition question all week in Mobile. Like Parker, he comes away from a smaller school with terrific accolades. He was named GNAC Offensive Lineman of the Year four years in a row, as well as being a unanimous All-GNAC selection for all four years. There’s a lot to like from Cappa’s game. He has great size in an athletic frame, with vines for arms, and plays aggressively.

Among all offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, Cappa is one of the most technically sound and clean prospects. He has the ability to recover really well when defenders get underneath him. His arm length and functional strength are a big reason for that, but again it will come back to the level of competition and whether he was just the best player at a low level, or truly a good player. He plays aggressively in both the run and pass game, looking for work and finishing his blocks.

Cappa has gotten day two buzz from NFL Draft Godfather Gil Brandt, and will be training with renowned offensive line coach LeCharles Bentley at Offensive Line Performance in the lead up to the draft. If Cappa can answer the questions surrounding his level of play, and not look out of place in Mobile, his day two buzz could become very real.

Brett Toth (T, Army)

Height: 6056

Weight: 304

Arm Length: 33 ⅝”

Fresh off an appearance at the East-West Shrine Game last week, Brett Toth will now get another opportunity in Mobile to show off his raw athleticism and prove to teams that he is a worthwhile developmental prospect. I wrote about Toth here, prior to the Shrine Game. He has a long way to go before he could start in the NFL, but similar to Alejandro Villanueva, he is a long, lean athlete who could develop into a good starting tackle. After a senior season in which he only pass blocked 65 times, Toth impressed both during Shrine Game practices and the game itself in pass protection. Another promising week, this time in Mobile, could see Toth begin to get day three buzz.

Isaiah Wynn (G, Georgia)

Height: 6024

Weight: 308

Arm Length: 33 ⅛”

A testament to the quality of Isaiah Wynn’s game, the two-year starter at guard was moved to left tackle in 2017, and performed admirably. At 6-2 and with just 33 ⅛” arms, Wynn was able to survive on an island one-on-one against SEC pass rushers. Not only did he hold his own against future productive NFL starters, but he was named first team All-SEC in his first and only season as a tackle.

In the NFL (and at the Senior Bowl), Wynn will be moving back inside to his natural guard position. He’s exactly the kind of prototypical guard to combat the quick-footed, smaller interior rushers that are storming the league in recent years, like Aaron Donald. Wynn has great footwork both at tackle and guard, and would be able to handle Donald crossing his face and darting through gaps. Against larger, more powerful defensive tackles, he may get overpowered. He’s at his best matching short-area quickness with short-area quickness.

Wynn will be another fascinating player to follow at the Senior Bowl. If he can surprise people in one-on-one drills against some of the more physically dominant defensive linemen in Mobile, he becomes a much more complete, attractive prospect. Regardless, I believe Wynn gets selected before the end of day two. With the slew of agile, undersized defensive linemen coming into the NFL and dominating at times, Wynn could potentially be a great match, and answer, to them.

Taylor Hearn (G, Clemson)

Height: 6045

Weight: 319

Arm Length: 33 ⅜”

Much like Wynn, Taylor Hearn is simply a clean prospect, with good pedigree and a great career in college. He was a two-year starter, playing at both guard and tackle, winning a national championship and being named third team All-ACC this past season.

Hearn is more of a physical, road-grading guard than Wynn. He’s at his best moving forward as a run blocker and really is a ‘bully’ up-front, averaging a knockdown every 28 snaps with the Tigers. He was also used in space a considerable amount with Clemson, pulling out and lead blocking on run plays. I never thought of Hearn as a particularly special athlete, but he looks fluid moving in space and could test surprisingly well at the Combine.

There are a surprising amount of offensive linemen in this year’s draft class who appear to be plug-and-play players that should be available in the middle of the draft. For a team with less draft capital than usual and holes along the offensive line, Seattle would be smart to take advantage of the talent available. A player like Hearn, Wynn (or Tony Adams) - assuming they test well - could play immediately at guard for the Seahawks.

Skyler Phillips (G, Idaho State)

Height: 6024

Weight: 314

Arm Length: 35 ⅜”

After missing almost all of 2016 with an injury, Skyler Phillips returned in 2017 for his senior season and played well, earning All-Big Sky Conference honors, as well as being named third team All-American. Phillips is an outstanding athlete, posting a class-best SPARQ score of 98.58 at Nike’s The Opening in his junior year of high school. He began his time at Idaho State as a center, before transitioning to left tackle and suffering an injury just four games into 2016. He returned to guard in 2017, and that’s where he will play in the NFL at 6-2.

With good functional strength, Phillips plays with an edge to his game, always looking to finish blocks and will play right up to the whistle — sometimes finishing his blocks after the whistle, too. His frame doesn’t completely resemble his athletic profile. He has a thick lower half and looks more like a squatty guard than a lean tackle.

As a run blocker, Phillips will drop his head from time to time and lunge forward, whiffing on his block. Playing on the inside at the next level should alleviate some of that issue, and it should be corrected through coaching, too. As you would expect from a good athlete, Phillips is quick moving into space and getting out in-front when pulling. As a pass blocker, he’s more patient than he is in the run game — the luxury of having a reach like Phillips’. He does a good job keeping his hands inside and hitting his target. With his length and strength, he could lock down most EDGE rushers at his level.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how Phillips tests this spring, five years after his outstanding showing at The Opening. With great length and a move inside in the works, Phillips checks a lot of boxes for Seattle.

Scott Quessenberry (C, UCLA)

Height: 6036

Weight: 314

Arm Length: 32 ¾”

Playing the last two years as a center for the Bruins, Scott Quessenberry figures to play either guard or center in the NFL. He has 17 starts under his belt at guard and 26 at center, the last two seasons having been at center. Quessenberry lettered in both track and basketball in high school, and carries similar athletic traits to the football field.

As a prospect, Quessenberry most closely resembles Justin Britt, among Seahawks. He moves well in space and fundamentally is clean. However, he lacks functional strength and will get completely overpowered at times. Like Wynn, his agile play could be a boost against undersized, quick-footed defensive linemen. Against a player such as DeForest Buckner, however, it could be an issue.

The brother of David Quessenberry, a Houston Texans offensive lineman and cancer survivor, Scott Quessenberry is of high character and will be a captain and leader for whichever offensive line he ends up on for years. If he were to end up with in Seattle, a move back to guard is likely.