Throughout the week of practices down in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl, my eyes were fixated on the wide receiver group. However, when it came time to go back and watch the rest of the film from each practice, I ended up turning my attention towards the offensive and defensive lines. Let’s just say the Senior Bowl offensive linemen had a very strong week of practices.
The one-on-one periods between the trench players are always some of the best drills to take in, and the same could be said for team periods. Over the course of the three days of practice, I started to form the opinion that the group of interior offensive lineman competing in Mobile was one of the strongest I had ever seen. When you take into account the underclassmen who declared at center and guard, the overall interior offensive line class is deep with talent.
I detailed the interior offensive linemen who stood out during the Senior Bowl and why they did, as it’s clear that it’s become a good year to have a need at offensive center or guard.
Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU, Center
Early on in the week, Cushenberry was the opposing offensive lineman who had the most success against South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw. Once the third day of practice came and Kinlaw was sitting out, Cushenberry was legitimately dominant.
Coming from LSU, we knew that Cushenberry was well-coached and talented. He showed impressive chemistry with Clemson guard John Simpson, and the duo figure to be targets for the same NFL franchise looking to bolster their interior offensive line. With Cushenberry’s physical and athletic profile, he could end up as the highest drafted center in the class.
John Simpson, Clemson, Guard
John Simpson has the best physical profile among all of the interior offensive linemen that were at the Senior Bowl, and arguably the entire NFL Draft class.
6’4 ½ (68th percentile)
330 pounds (91st percentile)
11 inch hand size (98th percentile)
33 ¾ inch arm length (72nd percentile)
82 ¾ inch wingspan (6 foot, 10 ¾ inches)
With his size and length, Simpson even took snaps at left tackle during the week. He has excellent mobility for his size, able to reach interior techniques or climb to the next level on zone schemes. During team periods, Simpson showed how versatile his game is both in the run and pass game. The consensus first-team All-American should be one of the first offensive guards taken in the NFL Draft, making him a potential option in the later stages of the first round.
Jonah Jackson, Ohio State, Guard
As far as the technical aspect of the game goes, Jonah Jackson was arguably the most impressive offensive lineman in Mobile this week. During team periods throughout the week, it was hard to find a true rep lost by Jackson. He showed the traits necessary to project into both a zone and gap scheme offense, a key evaluation point for offensive guards.
In pass protection, Jackson consistently dropped his hips to anchor against bull rushes and fix his hands to regain inside leverage. On one particular rep during the third day of practices, Jackson found work when not initially rushed, and ended up sending Kenny Willekes head over heels. Jackson should be in contention with John Simpson to be the highest drafted senior offensive guard in the NFL Draft.
Damien Lewis, LSU, Guard
If John Simpson was the most physically imposing interior offensive lineman in Mobile, then LSU’s Damien Lewis was a close second. Lewis showed incredible power in his upper body during the Senior Bowl practices, able to fully knock even some of the strongest defensive linemen off balance. When he was able to climb to the second level, he completely engulfed some linebackers before putting them firmly on their backside.
On the third day of practice, Lewis continually used his squatty, wide frame to get underneath the pads of opposing defensive linemen during the team periods. He undoubtedly made himself some money with his performance this week.
Matt Hennessy, Temple, Center
Matt Hennessy started off the week with a strong practice on Tuesday, winning his one-on-one pass rushing reps. Then there was a stretch during the full-team periods on the second day of practice where Hennessy looked like the best player on the entire field. Whether he was showing off impressive footwork and power on zone blocking, or being able to read and pick up pass rush stunts with ease, Hennessy looked the part of a plug-and-play center prospect throughout the first two days. While Hennessy regressed a bit at points during Thursday’s practice, overall he had one of the strongest weeks among the offensive linemen.
Keith Ishmael, San Diego State, Center
On the first day of Senior Bowl practice, San Diego State center Keith Ishmael was already locked in. Being responsible to set the protections and communicate with his fellow offensive linemen, despite it being the first time working with them, is no small feat, and Ishamael did so with ease. On top of that, he showed quick feet for an interior offensive lineman, working his frame into position on each rep.
On a few pass reps against even fronts, Ishmael picked up for his guards after they were initially beaten. Doing this isn’t easy so early in the week, and speaks to Ishmael’s potential as an immediate starter in the NFL.
Ben Bredeson, Michigan, Guard
Throughout all of the time I spent during the week watching film of the offensive line, I must have said the words, “Ben Bredeson is just so solid,” nearly 100 times. Sound, strong, and mobile, Bredeson will rarely get beaten clean in run or pass blocking.
Bredeson is athletic enough to recover when he’s initially beaten, something he showed early on during Tuesday’s one-on-one periods. On top of that, Bredeson showed an impressive recoil when he stonewalls blitzers from depth. He figures to be a candidate on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, and has plug-and-play potential for teams searching for a new starting left guard.
I really can’t say enough about the interior offensive line group that competed in Mobile. Beyond these standouts, Logan Sternberg from Kentucky had a strong showing and Mississippi State offensive tackle Tyre Phillips looked impressive taking reps at guard.
While the wide receiver group deservedly received praise for their performance over the week, the interior linemen may have actually been the most impressive position unit top-to-bottom at the event. For those NFL teams in the market for these positions come draft time, that is music to their ears.