I sat down and watched Joel Bitonio’s tape vs Fresno State today — and once again came away thoroughly impressed.
One thought stuck in my head…
‘This guy reminds me of someone’
Logan Mankins is 32 on Monday. He’s had a terrific career with the Patriots.
He’s been to six Pro Bowls. He’s a five-time All-Pro. He had the franchise tag in 2011 and he’s been to two Super Bowls.
There haven’t been many better left guards in the NFL in the last nine years.
And when I watch Bitonio for Nevada, I see Mankins.
I did a bit more digging and some of the comparisons are crazy:
Mankins — Left Tackle for Fresno State in the MWC
Bitonio — Left Tackle for Nevada in the MWC
Height: Mankins (6-4) — Bitonio (6-4)
Weight: Mankins (307lbs) — Bitonio (302lbs)
Arm length: Mankins (33 3/8) — Bitonio (33 7/8)
Forty yard dash: Mankins (5.06) — Bitonio (4.97)
Short shuttle: Mankins (4.45) — Bitonio (4.44)
Three cone: Mankins (7.54) — Bitonio (7.37)
Bench press: Mankins (21) — Bitonio (22)
Vertical jump: Mankins (31.5) — Bitonio (32)
Broad jump: Mankins (7.11) — Bitonio (9.6)
Look how similar those numbers are. An almost identical vertical, bench press and short shuttle. Bitonio actually grades higher in the broad jump and forty. He also has slightly longer arms.
Mankins was drafted with the #32 pick by the Super Bowl Champions with the intention of converting to left guard in the NFL.
Could Bitonio also be drafted by the reigning Champions with the intention of switching to left guard?
Mankins is a great finisher, capable of getting a defender off balance — driving open a running lane and completing the block. He was also an excellent pass-protector during his peak years.
You see so many similar traits with Bitonio.
He’s a slightly better athlete. And while he has the core strength, leg drive and technique you want to see — he’s also adept at pulling out of position and getting to the second level. He’s also a finisher who plays with a real edge.
Mankins has been one of the toughest players on the Pats roster over the last few years.
Bitonio is cut from the same cloth. He never backs down. He looks for people to punish.
He’s a coaches dream.
Every time you put on the tape, you can’t help but come away impressed with this guy.
Why is nobody talking about him?
Right now I’d be willing to give him a top-20 grade. I can’t think of 20 players in this draft I’d want ahead of Joel Bitonio.
Regular visitors to this blog know I’ve argued again and again about the obsession NFL fans have with offensive linemen.
‘Games are won in the trenches’ is the cliché. Games are actually won in many different ways. And several of the recent Super Bowl Champions (Seattle included) have not won because of an elite, dominating offensive line.
In fact I’ve been anti Seattle taking a guard in round one. I think there’s better value elsewhere and the likes of David Yankey are so overrated, he’ll probably still be around late into day two of the draft.
Forget all that.
Draft this guy.
If he’s there at #32, I’d run to the podium.
Bitonio has the potential to be great. And for whatever reason he continues to fly under the radar while other, weaker players get so much publicity.
I believe he can play tackle. Sure. But I want to kick him inside to guard. I want to see if he really is going to be the next Mankins.
He’s great in pass protection at left tackle. He can kick slide, mirror and defend against speed. He can deliver a nice solid punch to the chest of a D-end and win with power. There’s no reason why those skills can’t be translated to guard.
But it’s his work in the run game that has me most excited. He knows how to turn a defensive lineman to take him out of the play and free up running lanes. He’ll drive a guy backwards and dump him on his ass. He’ll pull around to the right and deliver a key block to turn a decent gain into a good gain.
I’ll say it again. He’s being hugely underrated.
Judge for yourself, here’s the Fresno State tape. I made some notes underneath.
1:35 — quick to recognise the blitz and pick it up. He’s got his eyes on the edge rusher who sits, he spots the interior blitzer and stops him getting to the quarterback. Excellent awareness, speed and power to execute. Not many college tackles can do this.
1:51 — drives his defender off the spot to the right hand side, dumps him on his backside and creates a running lane. Good defense in the secondary to react to the situation and limit the damage.
3:47 — gets to the second level, drives forward.
4:17 — finishes the block. Drives his guy downfield and keeps fighting, doesn’t back down. Edgy.
4:26 — kick slide, gives the edge rusher no chance to beat him. Quick feet at all times. Body position is ideal and always in control. Good hand use once engaging in the block. Can’t be beaten by power at this level.
4:39 — drives his man off the spot. Watch the replay. This is why he can play guard. Power at the point of attack, drives his man sideways and finishes the block by dumping the defender on his back side.
5:06 — great pull and then finishes the block for extra yardage.
5:28 — perfect kick slide on third down. Allows time in the pocket and the quarterback converts on third and six with a developing route down the seam.
5:39 — blocks and dominates his guy at the line of scrimmage while two other defensive linemen penetrate up the middle. Nice example of the difference in quality on that Nevada line.
6:20 — his guy (#31) doesn’t rush, so he goes and finds someone else to hit (#27). The pressure from the right side gets to the quarterback, but you can’t help but notice Bitonio’s determination to get involved and find someone to hammer.
6:57 — drives his man to the right and opens up a big hole on the left side for a strong run for a first down. Watch the replay to see just how much he moves the defender off his spot.
8:10 — great initial punch to win the block. Ends the contest with his first move. The protection is good enough to complete a touchdown pass.
8:59 — quick feet, good mirror on the pass rush.
There are very few players I’d draft ahead of Bitonio if he’s on the board at #32.
On a physical and athletic level he compares to the best tackles in this class — Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews. Check out my article from last week for more on that.
Move him to left guard and make him the backup left tackle if Russell Okung gets another injury. I think you’d finally tie up that position for the long term, with a player good enough to warrant the long term investment.
Whether he ends up being the next Logan Mankins or not — I’ll guess we’ll find out in time. He has a good shot.
Either way, I suspect he’s going to be a quality player at the next level.