By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) It’s rare for a prospect with only a handful of collegiate starts to end up as the 20th overall selection in the NFL draft, yet that’s exactly where Kyle Long found himself this past April 25th. When your father is an NFL Hall-of-Famer and your brother is a standout defensive end, opportunities arise that wouldn’t have if Long’s last name was something else.
That’s not to say his draft status was purely nepotic. Long possesses rare movement skills and unteachable athleticism for a man his size (6’6”, 313). Those traits are a perfect match for Bears general manager Phil Emery, who has no aversion to going against the grain.
Having two draft classes to analyze, it’s clear that Emery likes to draft athletes. He pulled a similar stunner in 2012, selecting defensive end Shea McClellin 19th overall. But can these athletes become difference makers on the field? That’s the $8.3M question with Long.
Bloodlines aren’t an assurance of success, as there’s far too much data to the contrary, I trust game tape. So, after digging up and reviewing Long’s small sample size at Oregon and his performance in the Senior Bowl, here’s my summary of what impressed me, what didn’t impress me, areas for improvement, and what his prospects are for the 2013 season.
Athleticism. Long’s combine measurables showed up on film, and he looks like an ideal fit in a zone-blocking scheme. He is a natural knee-bender with nimble feet and moves like a much smaller man.
Lateral mobility/agility. Long’s footwork allowed him to get proper angles and leverage on inside runs, and on pulls, he flowed with ease to the second level. His ability to mirror defenders and keep a strong base in pass protection stood out.
Pad level in the run game. Long showed a tendency to come out of his stance too high at times, allowing defenders to get under his pads and gain leverage. The Bears schedule is loaded with premier defensive tackles, so Long must learn to sink his hips when firing out of his stance.
Slow to reset his anchor when stalemated with defenders in the inside run game. Instead of chopping his feet to re-engage his lower body, Long often continued to press with his upper body and get out over his toes, becoming unbalanced, which allowed defenders to slide by with counter moves and win gap control.
Areas for improvement
Hand placement. Long needs to work on latching on and controlling defenders instead of punching at them with his hands. He often missed to the outside of a defender’s frame, which allowed them to get to his pads first and control the engagement. Long is plenty strong, so this is a matter of fine-tuning his technique.
Playing under control. Long needs to harness his aggression and play with more patience. Several times he appeared so anxious to make contact with his blocking assignment, he would lead with his pads instead of his hands. On pulls he would get in proper position, but whiff by committing too early to a chop block.
Prospects for 2013
Despite having only four collegiate starts at left guard and missing 13 offseason practices (10 OTA sessions and three days of minicamp), barring injury, Long will be the opening day starter at right guard.
Physically, he will be able to compete immediately, his biggest hurdle will be the mental aspect of becoming a pro. Learning West Coast terminology, blocking assignments, audibles, and protection schemes – and not be a limiting factor on what plays can be called – in one training camp is asking a lot of a very green rookie.
Typically, offensive line prospects are drafted from the outside-in, meaning they played tackle in college, but don’t possess the footwork to play outside in the NFL, so they’re kicked inside to guard. For Long, it’s just the opposite.
The more tape I watched, the more I became convinced that Long’s future in the NFL is at tackle. His length, his ability to change direction and mirror defenders would be best utilized on the edge.
Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is a key figure in Long’s development. Considering what Kromer has been able to do with lesser athletes – like Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, and Jermon Bushrod – he has a potential star pupil in Long.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.