Thu, Nov 22, 2018
By Jim Nagy
Beau Benzschawel and Michael Dieter
Certain college programs have reputations for cranking out quality NFL players at specific positions and one of the best OL-producing schools of the past decade is the University of Wisconsin. In addition to likely future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas and perennial Pro Bowlers like Cowboys C Travis Frederick and Brown G Kevin Zeitler, there are numerous other former Badgers like Rams RT Rob Havenstein, Lions RT Ricky Wagner, and Saints RT Ryan Ramczyk that have become, at minimum, solid starter level players.
While it is mostly done subconsciously, that list of names gives scouts a sense of reassurance as they evaluate Wisconsin offensive lineman and that should help current senior guards Michael Dieter and Beau Bentzschawel as they go through the draft process in the coming months.
In last week’s 47-44 triple overtime shootout over Purdue, the Wisconsin offense needed all the offense it could muster and the senior guard duo of Dieter and Bentzschawel helped pave the way for 385 rushing yards, including a hefty 7.5 yards per carry. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the fact that the Badgers were playing without starting QB Alex Hornibrook. The Boilermaker defense consistently inserted a safety to take away super sophomore RB Jonathan Tayler (321 yards and 3 TD) so the offensive line rarely had the box numbers in their favor. It’s difficult to run the ball effectively when everyone in the stadium knows you want to run it and that’s exactly what the Badgers did last Saturday. Despite an unusually lopsided 51:24 run/pass ratio, they still managed to gash and grind down the Purdue defense.
The NFL scouts we have spoken with like Dieter at guard but they also would like to see how quickly he can learn a playbook and make calls at the center position. Dieter could get that opportunity at this year’s Senior Bowl. Every OL coach in the league will be hanging around the fence line at Ladd-Peebles Stadium listening to how the centers take command pre-snap and based on what we are hearing from our sources in the league Dieter would quickly win over the assembly of men that he needs to impress the most.
The unique thing about Benzschawel for the guard position is just his sheer size. On average, most NFL guards measure in the 6-3 to 6-4 range and Benzschawel has a verified height of over 6-6. It takes impressive knee bend and ankle flexion to function inside with good enough pad level and Benzschawel has that kind of flexibility. Last week’s win over Purdue was his 47thstraight start, including the last 41 at right guard, and our network of scouts wants to see him play some right tackle at the Senior Bowl so they can confidently project him having two-position versatility as a pro.
The only other offensive line group we have singled-out with “Seniors of the Week” honors this year is Oklahoma’s, whose unit is also led by a pair of Reese’s Senior Bowl invitees at guard—Ben Powers and Dru Samia—so it makes sense that both the Badgers and Sooners -lines are finalists for this year’s Joe Moore, which is presented annually to the nation’s best offensive line.
In contrast to the accomplished Wisconsin offensive line lineage helping guys like Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel, the history of underperforming Clemson defensive ends at the next level will unfortunately be working against Clelin Ferrell. NFL personnel departments always self-scout their evaluations from past drafts and names like Gaines Adams, Phillip Merling, Da’Quan Bowers, Kevin Dodd, and Shaq Lawson will give smart teams pause when they grade Ferrell.
All of those past players were productive enough for the Tigers to be taken in the first two rounds of the draft and none of them produced anywhere near the to the level of expectations. The best of the bunch is Andre Branch, who was selected No. 38 overall in the 2012 draft, and his production has been, at best, ordinary (25 sacks in 7 NFL seasons). Nothing haunts a conscientious scout more than having a player fall way short of where they had them graded so there are plenty of evaluators in the league that might be gun-shy pulling the trigger on another big grade for a Clemson edge player.
The one outlier has been Atlanta Falcons Vic Beasley, whose production spiked three years ago with 15.5 sacks, and he was an elite fast-twitched athlete. His ability to win with speed as a wide space rusher simply jumped off the tape so he was an easy first-round grade.
One thing that Ferrell has going for him is that he has the opportunity to come to Senior Bowl and prove he is closer to Beasley than the rest of the aforementioned group. While he is technically a redshirt junior with another year of eligibility remaining, Ferrell was honored with the outgoing senior group at last week’s game and he is eligible to play in our game because he will get his diploma in December.
Like most of his predecessors, production is not an issue for Ferrell, who posted 2.5 TFL and 2 sacks in last Saturday’s 35-6 win over Duke, and now has 46.5 TFL and 26.0 sacks over the past three seasons. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables’ defense is structured to let his defensive ends get upfield and make plays behind the line-of-scrimmage but the one thing Ferrell has that transcends the scheme and differentiates him from those that came before him is his non-stop motor.
In terms of pure tools (body type, athleticism), the player Ferrell compares most favorably to is Lawson, who was the No. 19 overall pick of the Buffalo Bills three years ago. Lawson had the leverage and upper body strength to simply overpower people at the point-of-attack but he did not make nearly the amount of chase plays that Ferrell does. Ferrell also wins with heavy hands but his combativeness and relentlessness is what will make him a good pro.
Aside from having the opportunity to showcase his pass rush talent in one-on-one drills, Ferrell could also benefit from the Senior Bowl by simply being around NFL decision-makers for a week. We have been going into Clemson for almost two decades and the staff has rarely spoken as highly about a player as they do Ferrell. Interviews with scouts and coaches are a critical part of the pre-draft process and, based on everything we have heard, Ferrell will be very impressive in those kinds of settings.
|Jim Nagy is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He spent 18 years in the National Football League. In his time in the NFL, Nagy worked as an area scout in the West, Midwest, and Southeast regions, as well as in a national scouting capacity for four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a part of six Super Bowl teams and four Lombardi Trophy winning clubs (Green Bay Packers XXXI, New England Patriots XXXVIII and XXXIX and Seattle Seahawks XLVIII).|