I’d not watched any Nevada games live during the 2013 season and my access to the Senior Bowl was somewhere between non existent and limited this year.
After the combine, I felt obliged to make Joel Bitonio one of the first players I studied.
He’d gained a little momentum in Mobile as the only tackle who had success against Dee Ford. He followed it up by making a major statement at the combine on Saturday.
Here’s what he achieved:
— An official 4.97 forty yard dash, trailing only Taylor Lewan (4.87), Greg Robinson (4.92) and Trai Turner (4.93).
— The second best vertical jump (32 inches) by an offensive lineman. That topped Jake Matthews (30), Lewan (30) and Robinson (28.5).
— A 9.6 broad jump — again ranking second. Only Lewan beat him with a 9.9. Robinson managed a 9.5.
— The third highest three cone drill at 7.37 seconds. Gabe Ikard (7.30) and Matthews (7.34) were the only two to beat him. Lewan had a 7.39 and Robinson a 7.80.
— The third highest short shuttle at 4.44 seconds. Ikard had a 4.37 while Charles Leno Jr had a 4.40. Matthews had the 7th best shuttle and Lewan the 9th. Robinson was way down at #32.
The only area he didn’t grade in the top five was the bench press — managing 22 reps. In comparison Robinson had 32, Lewan 29 and Matthews 24. So he was still in touching distance.
Last years #1 pick Eric Fisher had 27 reps on the bench. Luke Joeckel also managed 27, while Lane Johnson had 28. Nate Solder had 21 reps in 2011
Bitonio’s 22 reps is hardly a cause for criticism.
He measured at 6-4 and 302lbs with 33 and 7/8 inch arms. He’s not freakishly long like Robinson or Morgan Moses, but his arm length compares favourably to Lewan (33 and 7/8’s) and Matthews (33 and 3/8’s).
Essentially, he stands up to all of the top offensive tackles in this class on a physical level. He doesn’t just match up in a couple of categories, we’re talking every single one.
How can we ignore that?
Think of all the praise heaped on Robinson and Lewan for their performance at the combine. Bitonio’s right up there with them.
Of course, it doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily play as well those guys — even if he’s a carbon copy athlete.
So I put on the tape.
Nevada played Florida State and UCLA in 2013 — perfect opponents for a critique.
The BCS Champs with a collection of top recruits on the defensive line.
The Bruins — one of the PAC-12’s best and with a prospective first round pass rusher in Anthony Barr.
How did he do? Judge for yourself:
I kept waiting for the moment where he’d be exposed. The play that showed him up as just a physical specimen without the skills to stand up to 2014’s top tackles.
That moment never arrived.
At one point in the UCLA video, he got beat by Barr and basically tried to tackle him to the ground in desperation. A couple of plays later (around the 5:10 mark in the video above) he drives him deep into the end zone from the 5-yard line. The rest of the offensive line was stuffed at the LOS.
Talk about a comeback.
Here’s what I think he showed on tape…
— Finishes blocks with attitude. Never oversteps the mark but makes his presence felt when going 1v1. Plays through the whistle. Shows plenty of tenacity.
— An ability to mirror and ride off speed rushers. Knows how to use a DE’s speed to his advantage, and will let them run themselves out of the play.
— When he gets his hands on a pass rusher, he’s able to contain and not give up too much ground. Maintains the pocket even when he loses a couple of steps.
— Takes any opportunity to advance to the second level. At times he might be a little too quick to progress and could play with more control, but it’s difficult not to respect any offensive lineman with this level of determination to get to the next level.
— Impressive lateral quickness. Bodes well if he ends up in a ZBS.
— Technique has room for improvement. Looks a bit grabby. Russell Okung had the same issues. He’ll be even better when he gets his hands straight on and into the right areas. Not the lankiest tackle, so he can make leverage work to his advantage with better hand placement.
— Good leg drive. Can push the pile in short yardage situations and also open up gaps for longer runs.
There’s a ton to work with here.
A lot of the talk is he could convert to guard at the next level. I’d love to see him get a shot at tackle, left or right.
To quote Mike Mayock from the combine, “I’d make him prove he couldn’t play on the left side first”.
I ran a Google search to find out more about his character and kept reading the same things. He’s a leader. Outstanding character and work ethic. Responsible individual.
I searched Youtube for an interview. Notice the Russell Wilson style quote early on about “improving every day”…
I’m not sure what else we need to see here to take this guy very seriously.
“I’ve learned two things about Bitonio since Saturday; 1) the feeling is he’s cemented himself as a second round pick and 2) he’s going to be drafted at offensive guard and not a tackle. The latter surprised me a bit. Though I initially graded Bitonio as a guard I thought his performance at the Senior Bowl, primarily the fact he was the only one able to stop Dee Ford, would’ve given him more consideration at left tackle.”
So according to Pauline, he’s likely a second round pick at worst.
I’m starting to wonder if he could be an option for the Seahawks at #32…
— Outstanding physical talent as we discussed earlier in the piece. He has as much athletic upside as any tackle in this class, with the possible exception of Greg Robinson.
— He has the required athleticism to work in the ZBS. His desire to reach the second level and good lateral mobility are a big positive here.
— Tom Cable, like most offensive line coaches, loves a player who finishes and plays with attitude. He also likes players that perhaps aren’t quite the finished article. In the past that’s meant drafting for potential later in the draft or during UDFA. This year, the latest project might be a first or second round pick.
— Bitonio’s versatility should also be taken seriously. Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey have both been praised for their ability to play guard and tackle. While other teams want to define roles and limit versatility on the OL — rotation and being able to play multiple spots appears to be a positive thing when it comes to the Seahawks.
If Pauline’s right and he’s receiving a firm grade in the second round, is it such a stretch to think Seattle would be prepared to take him with the last pick in round one?
It’s possible. Let’s not get too carried away here, but nobody can argue he doesn’t tick a lot of boxes. It’s certainly worth further tape study over the next few weeks. It’s a legit talking point.
There are enough teams in this draft that need a tackle or guard and Bitonio could get caught up in the first round rush. It’s not just within the top ten this year, Miami (#19), Arizona (#20) and Carolina (#28) are all expected to target the offensive line.
Who knows — he might not be there for the Seahawks.
But if they are open to going OL early, I think he could be a serious candidate for that first pick.
Examples of ‘Seahawky’ prospects
(including players who only have a slim shot of lasting into the 20-32 range)
Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Fiercely competitive, X-factor playmaker as a return man and receiver. High points the football better than anyone in this class. Impeccable character. Terrific athlete with strong bloodlines. Big hands.
Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Relentless pass rusher who consistently has an impact. Plays with an edge. Leads by example and the heartbeat of everything Pittsburgh did in 2013. Blew up the combine with his athleticism.
Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Unbelievable physical skills — amazing athlete who compares to the top offensive tackles in this class. Gritty offensive lineman you just know Tom Cable will appreciate. Versatile.
Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
Massive defensive lineman. Freakish size but when healthy still moves well. Can line up inside or out. Capable of commanding blockers on one side, helping to shut down the run.
Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
In terms of SPARQ, you have to respect Moncrief’s numbers. Not everyone’s ideal pick but in a way that alone makes him kind of ‘Seahawky’. Ran a 4.40, had a 39.5 vertical and a 1.50 10 yard split. Managed 11-0 on the broad jump.
Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Length and ball skils. The end. Seahawks style corner. Only 6-3 Keith McGill had longer arms among the defensive backs. Ran a 4.37 and had a cluster of interceptions in 2013. Also an accomplished return man.
Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Long defensive tackle (6-6, 310lbs with +34 inch arms). Former basketball player and it showed with a 35.5 inch vertical. Needs coaching but that wouldn’t bother Seattle.
Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
It’s just a shame he couldn’t run the forty. He had a 42 vertical and 10.10 broad jump. That’s insane. Also managed a 6.91 three cone and benched 25 reps at 6-1 and 237lbs. It’s not a stretch to predict he has 4.4 speed.
Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Pete Carroll likes size at receiver — and he doesn’t have ‘his guy’ right now. He entertains the concept of winning when you get off the bus. Benjamin doesn’t have Megatron athleticism, but he’s enormous and physical. You can win with a guy like this in the red zone.