With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.
Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.
NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule
THURSDAY, March 2 at 3 PM ET: EDGE, IDL, LB
FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL
Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.
DEFENSE | EDGE | IDL | LB | CB | S | OFFENSE | WR | RB | TE | OT | IOL
Next up is a position group with one elite starter in right guard Chris Lindstrom, but question marks at the other two spots: the interior offensive line.
Interior offensive line
At first glance, this is a bit of a lackluster interior offensive line class. There’s no elite top-half of the first round talent, and the two top players on The Draft Network’s consensus rankings are centers. I do think the strength of this class is on Day 2, where a number of plus starters are likely to be available.
Steve Avila, TCU
I had watched a little of Steve Avila before the Senior Bowl, but what I saw during the week of practice impressed me. Avila is a big-bodied center (6’3, 330) who wins with overwhelming power at the point of attack. This is a man who is extremely difficult to move, and he’s got arguably the strongest anchor in the class. I do have concerns about his overall athleticism and his fit in a zone scheme attack, but he moved better than expected in Mobile. His Combine testing will likely determine if he meets the thresholds the Falcons are interested in, but if he does, Avila is a top center and/or guard option on Day 2.
Henry Bainivalu, Washington
If you like your interior offensive linemen to look like tackles, then Washington’s Henry Bainivalu is your prospect. At a massive 6’6, 340, Bainivalu moves much better than expected for his size and is more than capable of executing the zone blocking scheme. He’s a polished technician with quick feet who is rarely caught off guard by opponents. Bainivalu simply needs to get stronger, as he’s reliant on positioning and mobility as a run blocker and can be susceptible to power rushers at times. He’s an underrated guard target for Atlanta in the late-Day 2, early-Day 3 range.
Emil Ekiyor Jr., Alabama
Emil Ekiyor’s play at the Senior Bowl made his already simple projection even simpler: he’s a rock solid interior offensive lineman who offers center/guard versatility. He’s got a decent frame (6’2, 317) and good overall athleticism that makes him a scheme-versatile talent. Ekiyor is a fiery competitor and a nasty run blocker with an aggressive temperament. He’s also a capable pass protector with a stout anchor and plus lateral mobility. Ekiyor is frustratingly inconsistent with his hand usage at times, and his aggressiveness can often get him into trouble. Those are correctable issues, and I think Ekiyor could be a good value on Day 3.
Cody Mauch, North Dakota State
One of the biggest personalities in the class, North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch is unmistakable with his flowing hair and infectious energy. He got a lot of reps working at guard and center at the Senior Bowl, and I think guard is definitely his best fit for the near future. Here’s my writeup on Mauch from the Senior Bowl preview:
A former left tackle at North Dakota State, Cody Mauch is likely to transition inside to guard at the NFL level due to a lack of length. Nonetheless, Mauch is an impressive player with a good frame at 6’6, 300. There aren’t many flaws apparent in Mauch’s game. He’s an outstanding overall athlete with the skills and knowledge of positioning to excel in a zone blocking scheme. In pass protection, Mauch has a strong anchor, quick feet, and uses his hands well. His power at the point of attack doesn’t necessarily pop off the tape, and the transition to guard will bring some growing pains, but Mauch has the look of a high-end interior starter.
John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota
I love John Michael Schmitz and would celebrate if he wound up in Atlanta. Alas, Schmitz dominated the Senior Bowl and could now be the first interior offensive lineman taken. If he’s somehow still around for the Falcons in the second round, they should sprint to the podium. Here’s my writeup on Schmitz from an early mock draft:
A more perfect offensive line name does not exist. Schmitz is a dominating blocker with a ton of experience, including 23 starts at center. His run blocking is exceptional, with plus strength for power plays and sufficient athleticism for a zone scheme attack. His anchor and ability to identify and set protections make him a consistent and reliable pass protector, as well. Schmitz is a bigger center at 6’4, 320, which could also give him guard flexibility. The one concern here is a lack of high-end athleticism, though I believe he’s got more than enough to execute the concepts Atlanta likes to run.
Olusegun Oluwatimi, Michigan
Olusegun Oluwatimi didn’t wow me at the Senior Bowl, which was disappointing considering that his tape is pretty good. I’m not going to hold a lackluster week of practice against him, and he’s got a big opportunity to boost his stock with an impressive Combine. Here’s my blurb on Oluwatimi from the Senior Bowl preview:
Olusegun Oluwatimi is high up the list as a four-year starter who’s played well at both Virginia and Michigan. Oluwatimi has a good frame for the position at 6’3, 310 and his athleticism immediately stands out. He’s got the movement skills to thrive in a zone blocking scheme like Atlanta’s, and combines that ability with highly developed hand technique. Oluwatimi is a technically-refined pass protector who has an advanced understanding of protection calls and has been a consistent and effective leader on the offensive line. He does have some issues with power rushers, and I think his overall strength at the point of attack is average at best.
Joe Tippmann, Wisconsin
Boy, was Joe Tippmann a pleasant surprise while working on this interior line class. Tippmann is a big-bodied center (6’6, 317) with outstanding athleticism for the position. Whether it’s play strength, anchor ability, hand usage, lateral mobility...Tippmann checks all the boxes. He’s also quickly grown into a leader on the Wisconsin offensive line, showcasing impressive knowledge of protection calls and communicating pressure. This man deserves a lot more hype than he’s getting, because Tippmann absolutely looks the part of a high-end starting center in the NFL and could even sneak into the first round with John Michael Schmitz.
O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
O’Cyrus Torrence measured in every bit as big as expected at the Senior Bowl and was very difficult to get past in the 1-on-1s. He’s established himself as the top pure guard prospect in the class, although I think his biggest appeal is likely to be to gap-scheme oriented offenses. Here’s my writeup on Torrence from the Senior Bowl preview:
A massive riser after transferring from Louisiana-Lafayette to Florida prior to the 2022 season, O’Cyrus Torrence has vaulted himself into the conversation as the best interior offensive lineman in the class. A massive road grader at guard, Torrence comes in at an imposing 6’5, 347. He’s an absolute mauler in the run game and Torrence is a dominant force at the point of attack. All his best traits stem from his size and power, including in pass protection. That being said, Torrence’s size limits his functional athleticism, and his aggressive nature often leads to lapses in technique.
Andrew Vorhees, USC
Andrew Vorhees didn’t wind up coming to the Senior Bowl, which was disappointing. However, he’s still one of the top interior prospects in the class and would be a logical fit for Atlanta on Day 2. Here’s his blurb from the Senior Bowl preview:
One of the top interior prospects who has experience at both guard spots and at tackle, USC’s Andrew Vorhees just looks like a plug-and-play starter at the NFL level. With a name like Vorhees, you have high expectations for physicality and aggressiveness—and he more than answers the call. Vorhees is without a doubt one of the best run blockers in the class, and he’s got the athleticism to succeed in a zone blocking scheme. His power extends to pass protection, where his strong hands and anchor make him difficult to move. There are some issues with leverage and against elite speed rushers, but honestly, it’s hard to find too much to complain about in Vorhees game.
Luke Wypler, Ohio State
Another potential center target for the Falcons in the later half of Day 2, Luke Wypler is a clear and easy fit in Atlanta’s scheme. His athleticism is his calling card, and I’m eager to see how well he tests at the Combine. Here’s how I described Wypler in an early mock draft:
At first glance, Wypler might remind you a bit of Drew Dalman. They have a very similar size profile at 6’3, 300, and both are standout athletes for the position. Wypler is an excellent run blocker who excels when using his athleticism to achieve superior angles and positioning in a zone blocking scheme. He’s an experienced starter with highly-developed technique as both a run blocker and pass protector. I believe Wypler offers better overall pass protection and ability to pick up blitzes compared to Dalman.
Other players to watch:
Alex Forsyth, Oregon
Braeden Daniels, Utah
McClendon Curtis, Chattanooga
Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame
Juice Scruggs, Penn State
I hope you enjoyed the final entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Next up: the actual NFL Combine! Stay tuned for our coverage of the event and the results as they come in.