This year’s guard class is not overwhelming and there is certainly no one likely to go in the top 10 like last year, but there are a few players with substantial talent that could come in and contribute immediately. With players for virtually every scheme, there is something for everyone. Here are this year’s guard rankings, which again, only include players I broke down this year.
1. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State – Jackson is the ultimate gap scheme guard in this class. For a team that wants to just impose their will and maul the opponent, Jackson should be able to step right in to right guard for the next decade or more. Jackson is extremely powerful and a bulldozer in the running game, but he is also an effective pass blocker. He has been durable and has four years of experience in the SEC as one of the best in the country.
2. Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA - Su’a-Filo is built like a sumo wrestler with a huge, bubble butt that allows him to get a ton of push from his lower half. He is also incredibly light on his feet and able to pull or get to the second level to continue pushing the play. Su’a-Filo is probably ideally suited to play right guard in a zone scheme, but he certainly has the potential to play left guard in a gap or zone scheme and there have been some that suggested he could play tackle.
3. Trai Turner, LSU - Turner is still largely a projection. He is a remarkable athlete who is light on his feet and demonstrates impressive functional strength and power, allowing him to be a productive run blocker. Like with Jackson, he is suited to play right guard in a power scheme, but teams could look for him elsewhere because he has tested so athletically. Turner needs to clean up his body, especially in the midsection, but given how much potential he has shown looking the way he does, there could be a lot more to come from Turner. The other issue with Turner is he really lacks experience, having played 18 games in Baton Rouge.
4. Chris Watt, Notre Dame - Along with Zack Martin, these two formed a formidable left side to the Fighting Irish line. The place where Watt stood out from Martin is the mean streak he played with and his road grading style. Watt really gets after the run and working to help extend plays down the field. He is not overly flashy but just fights his butt off and gets the job done. Watt is not quite as effective as a pass blocker, but he has the tools to do it.
5. David Yankey, Stanford - Yankey was a great fit in the Stanford scheme, playing with a good amount of functional strength and power. The smaller splits allowed Yankey to really fire out with a lot of power as the opponent was limited in how far they could move to avoid it. Yankey has a habit of ending up on the ground far too often that needs to be corrected and eliminated. His experience at left tackle have helped him to be a better left guard in pass protection, making it almost easy for him in covering his ground.
6. Cyril Richardson, Baylor – Richardson is enormous, but more nimble than some might expect. He was somewhat raw in terms of his hand use and was somewhat of a grabber. Despite his size, Richardson was more of a finesse player than a drive blocker, able to get in position to make blocks but needs to improve getting behind his pads as well as simply demonstrating the mean streak to knock down and finish opponents. The draft process has been a bumpy ride as he struggled in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, looking heavy and beaten in drills and did not help himself much in workouts. Nevertheless, for a team that is patient with him, there is a lot of potential for Richardson to help a team.
7. Jon Halapio, Florida - Halapio played through a torn pec muscle this year, but still showed a remarkable amount of strength. He is a pure, gap scheme right guard that is best suited to maul opponents and presumably healthy, he will be able to show even more power in that part of his game. Halapio is a good pass blocker, occasionally showing trouble with balance when opponents can set him up one way and go across him, but he handles power extremely well and is virtually immovable when anchored. It is possible that Halapio could go much higher based on workouts for teams while at full strength.
8. Dakota Dozier, Furman - Dozier played both tackle and guard this past season for the Paladins. He is more comfortable at guard, especially when it comes to pass blocking. Being able to play in a phone booth works to his strengths and his power. Dozier is not terribly comfortable in space, which causes him problems at tackle. He is a powerful run blocker that could still get stronger at the next level.
9. Anthony Steen, Alabama - If his health was guaranteed, Steen would finish higher, but Steen was one of the many Tide players that had to get surgery after the season; in his case, for a torn labrum. On the field, Steen was a technician at right guard that managed to avoid getting called for a penalty his entire junior year. While he does not look it, he is able to hold up against power and anchor effectively. He appears better suited to play left guard in the NFL, especially in a power scheme, but his value is enhanced by the fact that he could play both. If he can fully recover and there is no lingering damage from his time in Tuscaloosa, he could start and enjoy a long career in the NFL.
10. Brandon Linder, Miami(FL) - Linder played with all of the attitude and heart that Seantrel Henderson did not. With experience at both guard and tackle, moving around during the game, he is accustomed to adjusting on the fly. He is not the most gifted athlete in terms of agility and body control, but he shows a good amount of burst in a straight line. He has also shown he can play with a good amount of technique. Linder also comes with a good build for the position and could continue to get stronger going to the next level. At the very least, he should be a valuable depth but he could certainly start as well.
11. Zach Fulton, Tennessee - Fulton is a mammoth of a man with tremendous physical tools, but needs a significant amount of development and refinement as far as technique goes. From his leverage to hand placement, Fulton has operated mostly as a bully that could win with his size and strength against opponents. He is a little bit better in pass protection, but if he gets drafted, it will be as a project.