With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing, I'll be unveiling my picks for the safest prospects at each position.
Interior offensive linemen are becoming more valued as the strength and athleticism of defensive tackles make it difficult for running backs to find holes and quarterbacks to step up in the pocket to throw downfield. Coaches often say plays succeed from the inside out, so bringing in reliable guards and centers makes great sense.
These three interior offensive linemen are my safe bets in the 2016 draft class. As with every position group in this series, there is a mix of top-rated prospects and others for whom I project a long NFL career without the early-round hype.
1. Cody Whitehair, Kansas State: He's as technically sound as they come, and has the versatility to play anywhere on the offensive line. Whitehair's best NFL fit is at guard or center, rather than the left tackle spot in which he earned all-conference honors the past two seasons, because of his relatively small frame and short arms. But that doesn't mean he's any less important to his new team than any tackle taken in the first round. I'll be surprised if he's available outside the top 25 selections.
2. Nick Martin, Notre Dame: With his brother, Zack, excelling with the Cowboys, there's no reason to believe Nick won't be around for quite a while whether in the pivot or at guard. He might not be selected as early as Zack, the sixteenth overall pick in 2014, but that doesn't really matter. Just line him up inside so he can use his strong anchor and fair short-area quickness, and forget about that spot for the next seven or eight years.
3. Vadal Alexander, LSU: At tackle, I wouldn't say that Alexander is a "safe pick," even though he might wind up there on Sundays. But if he's working in close quarters, where he can use his girth and length to move the line of scrimmage for a team valuing power over movement, I believe Alexander will lock down a starting spot as a rookie and keep it for a couple of contracts.