2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Guards)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the ninth in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks available in this year’s upcoming draft. He has also taken a look at the top kicking and punting prospects. On offense, there’s a look at the top centers available.

Part 9: Guards

Overview: Like centers, guard’s value has only increased in this era of wide open attacks in the NFL.

In this year’s draft, two Pac-12 juniors lead the way.  UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo and Stanford’s David Yankey should be the first guards drafted. In fact, Su’a-Filo could go in the latter portion of the first round.

Others that will be on top of team’s boards are Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, who has boom or bust potential. Fast-rising, versatile Joel Bitonio of Nevada has moved up draft boards with a strong postseason. Baylor’s Cyril Richardson has watched his stock tumble after struggling in the Senior Bowl. The breakdown:

1. Xavier Su’a-Filo, 6-4 1/8, 307 lbs., UCLA

Su’a-Filo started all 40 games as a Bruin. Last season, Su’a-Filo was a Second-team All-American pick and First-team All-Pac-12 selection. He started six games at left tackle and another six at left guard.

Strengths: Has good lateral quickness, versatility and athleticism.  Explodes off the ball and can bullrush. Can get out and pull. Handles pass rush well as an anchor.

Weaknesses: Most improve awareness inside. Can lose leverage and fail to finish blocks. Has had issues moving bigger defensive lineman in the run game

Projection:  Second-round pick

2. David Yankey, 6-5 5/8, 315 lbs., Stanford

Yankey was the Cardinal’s first two-time All-American since Bob Whitfield (1990-91). He was a semifinalist for the Outland and Lombardi Awards in 2013. Yankey has played tackle, guard and tight end during career.

Strengths: Plays with good instincts. Uses hands well. Doesn’t miss target in space. Has impressive power and leverage.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal athleticism. Has issues with keeping feet in traffic on pulls. Will drop hands in pass protection at times.

Projection:  Second-round to third-round pick

3. Gabe Jackson, 6-3 1/4, 336 lbs., Mississippi State

Jackson did not give up a sack in his last two seasons in Starkville. He started all 52 games of his career at left guard. Jackson was a two-time team captain. He earned Second-team All-American honors from multiple outlets.

Strengths: Has long arms, size and overall length. Gives a good punch and nasty. Anchors well as a pass protector. Has good balance and can get out and pull.

Weaknesses: Gives inconsistent effort. Has never dominated as size would suggest. Needs to improve mental part of game and ability to change of direction.

Projection:  Third-round pick

4. Joel Bitonio, 6-4 1/4, 304 lbs., Nevada

Bitonio started 38 games at left tackle for Nevada. He also served as a team captain. Bitonio was named All-Mountain West Conference his senior year. He starred at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.

Strengths: Can drive defenders back as a run blocker. Will mirror pass rushers and deal out a powerful initial punch. Has athleticism and grit to be a guard.

Weaknesses: Lack of length will prevent him from playing tackle, no experience playing inside. He too often lets defenders slip off blocks.

Projection: Third-round pick

5. Cyril Richardson, 6-4 3/4,  329 lbs., Baylor

Richardson was named by Big 12 coaches as the conference’s offensive lineman of the year the past two season. He was an Outland Trophy finalist in 2013. Richardson struggled at the Senior Bowl against top competition.

Strengths: Has great size, power and runs well. Explodes into players and can manhandle target.

Weaknesses:  Doesn’t change directions well. Will drop hands and head in pass protection. Doesn’t change directions well. Struggles when asked to pull or work in space. Can be overpowered.

Projection:  Third-round pick

Others to Watch: Jon Halapio, Florida; Brandon Linder, Miami (FL); Brandon Thomas, Clemson; Trai Turner; LSU; John Urschel; Penn State

Small-School Sleepers: Dakota Dozier, Furman; Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State

Next up: Tackles

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.