NFL Draft Daily: Takeaways from Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 106 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Georgia and Alabama put a bow on the 2021 college football season with Monday’s national championship game. The Bulldogs snapped a 41-year title drought as Kirby Smart finally beat his former boss and mentor Nick Saban.

If you’ve been paying attention to college football or tracking draft prospects this year, you know there were a ton of future NFL players on the field in Indianapolis. Some won’t be eligible for this season, but my goodness, Saban and Smart continue to prove that they are among the elites when it comes to attracting and developing NFL-caliber talent. Saban has a better history than Smart on both sides of the ball, but there is no denying Smart’s prowess on defense.

Having had a chance to watch the game and work back through the film again, there was a lot to like when it comes to spotting future NFL players. Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday night.

Smart has landed a top-five recruiting class each of the past four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia’s defense is on another level

The Dawgs were led by their incredible defense all year long, not allowing more than 14 points against any opponent the entire regular season. They allowed 9.5 points per game, including the SEC Championship game where Alabama dropped 41 on them. That is 6.5 points per game less than Clemson, who allowed 15 points and finished with the second-best scoring defense.

As I mentioned above, Smart is the best recruiter and developer of defensive talent in the country right now. Georgia has future top-50 picks at every level of their defense and a handful of guys who will go in the mid to late rounds backing them up. By now, you likely know names like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Derion Kendrick. However, guys like Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Lewis Cine (more on him later) are all potential top-50 selections as well. Then there are Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Neither one was a featured player or even really a full-time starter for Georgia, and yet, it would not be a surprise to see both of them go later on Day 2. Robert Beal Jr., who had 6.5 sacks this season, doesn’t even get mentioned when talking about this defense most of the time.

The next wave of talent is exciting as well. Jalen Carter could be a future first-rounder. Kelee Ringo, who had the game-sealing pick-six, will be eligible next season and will certainly have opportunities to work his way into the top 50. He had a really strong performance that makes me excited to watch more of him in the future. Smael Mondon Jr., Nazir Stackhouse and MJ Sherman should all see more action next year as this next wave of talent heads to the NFL. The pipeline from Athens to the NFL is only growing stronger.

I was wrong about Stetson Bennett

I told coworkers, friends and my very patient wife who probably tuned me out because she was not quite as invested in Georgia’s starting quarterback situation as I was, that I really thought the Bulldogs needed to turn their offense over to J.T. Daniels for the College Football Playoff. Georgia was finally tested in the SEC title game and forced to play from behind. It seemed like Bennett was not cut out to keep up with Alabama if the Tide built an early lead again. He attempted just 287 passes across 13 games. That ranked 79th among quarterbacks in FBS this season. Bennett was never asked to be the guy, and I assumed that it meant he couldn’t fill that role.

Turns out, he was more than ready to lead the team when they desperately needed someone to step up, this time on an even bigger stage. Bennett went over 300 yards passing and had three touchdowns against a good Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl, securing a rematch with ‘Bama.

With Georgia’s run game looking incredibly sluggish in the first half. Then, Bennett was strip-sacked and Alabama took an 18-13 lead, and the pressure was really on. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, the former walk-on quarterback was flawless. He tossed two touchdowns to build a lead and the defense closed it out with a pick-six. Bennett had plenty of help, but he also showed that he was capable of leading this team at a time when it needed leading.

I don’t think this makes him an elite quarterback prospect or anything, but maybe this puts him on the radar as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent, if he is even interested in going pro. He has the makings of a player who could succeed as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers or Bills, who could all be in the market for a backup quarterback this year, make sense as potential landing spots for the championship-winning quarterback.

Harris had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Christian Harris and Lewis Cine made themselves some money

Every year, there are a few players that cement their status or really capitalize on the increased attention on them to shoot up draft boards. If there are two players that I think did that better than anyone else on Monday, I would pick Alabama’s Christian Harris and Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

Let’s start with Harris. He started the year as a player many thought could go in the first round and possibly even be the first linebacker off the board. While far from an exact science and not at all indicative of how the league views him, the website NFL Mock Draft Database shows Harris dropping from the 20th ranked player overall in early October to 55th in the middle of December. He had an up and down season, struggling to sort through traffic and failing to read his keys. It was unfortunate to watch for such an instinctive and dynamic defensive playmaker.

Against Georgia, Harris showcased the incredible upside that makes him such an eye-catching prospect. He racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss and looked downright explosive. He still has a long way to go when it comes to gap discipline, but he should be in the mix in the late first round or early second round.

On the other side, Cine was seemingly everywhere for Georgia’s defense. He had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass break up. Those counting stats are far from outstanding, but his play went well beyond the numbers. He made a number of key stops for the Bulldogs, which was something they could not do against the Tide in the SEC championship game. It was the type of game that I think will propel him into the top 50 conversation. With a number of teams picking at the backend of the first round or early in the second round, Cine could be in the running to be the second safety selected, following Kyle Hamilton.

Will Anderson Jr. will start the 2023 draft cycle as the No. 1 player on my big board

This guy is incredible. He showcased his full range of skills on Monday night. He batted a pass at the line, made opposing offensive linemen look silly in pass protection and set the edge against the run with authority. In my estimation, he should have won the Heisman this year. He had 34 tackles for loss in 15 games this season. That is 2.3 tackles for loss per game. Leo Chenal and Devin Lloyd tied for the second best average at 1.6. That came on top of 17.5 sacks, which was tops in the country, and trailed only Andre Carter II in terms of sacks per game. Reminder: this was playing in the SEC against some of the best college offensive linemen in the country.

His length, physicality and athleticism at one of the most coveted positions in college football make him one of the most exciting prospects in recent years. Put him in the same air as Chase Young and Myles Garrett. I am so excited to break down his film this summer.

Jameson Williams and John Metchie III should consider returning to school

This was the worst part of the game by far. Williams emerged as a legitimate contender to be the first receiver taken in the 2022 draft with his electric playmaking and field-stretching ability. The Ohio State transfer stepped into the void left by Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and flourished. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter and will now miss the entire pre-draft process and potentially the beginning of the 2022 season.

While I don’t think any team will look at him as damaged goods or take him off their board because of the injury, it will almost definitely hurt his stock. He was someone who likely would have ran well at the combine and boosted his stock even further. Williams could very reasonably still go in the first round. There is something to be said for getting paid while you rehab your surgically repaired knee.

However, he will likely be losing out on some money in the process. I could realistically have seen him coming off the board as early as No. 10 to the Jets (hard to see any receivers going before that point, barring trades) before the injury. He will likely slide some. Even falling 11 spots to the Patriots (projected) at No. 21 would cost him $7.3 million over the course of his rookie deal. If he potentially drops further to the Chiefs (projected) at No. 29, it would be about $9.3 million less.

In the end, Williams will have to do whatever works best for him and his family. If he, God forbid, got hurt again after returning to school, he could cost himself a lot more money than that. There is certainly still a good amount of risk. That being said, there are worse situations than returning to Alabama to play with Bryce Young and potentially John Metchie III again. Metchie also suffered a torn ACL playing in the SEC title game. He was not projected to go quite as high as Williams and his injury could set up a return to Tuscaloosa. Those two back at school would only bolster a team that is already the favorite to win the national title in 2022. Williams could erase any doubt about the injury and find himself in the mix to go in the top 10 in 2023. Injuries are one of the harsh realities of football and will set up one of the most interesting decisions to watch when the deadline comes up Monday, January 17th.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

NFL Draft Daily: The NFL’s tight end revolution

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 116 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Kelce has the highest receiving yards per game average by a tight end in NFL history. (Wikimedia Commons)

The tight end position has drastically changed in the NFL over the past 10 years. As the league has leaned into its passing revolution, tight ends have become legitimate receivers in just about every offense. Honestly, the NFL might be in the midst of its tight end heyday, at least so far. With Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews and (somehow) Rob Gronkowski leading the charge, we could be watching several future Hall of Famers right now.

That being said, the league still seems to be adjusting to the concept of receiving-specific tight ends. In the past, blocking has been a requirement. The best tight ends in the league are still excellent blockers. Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski are all known for their receiving prowess, but what sets them apart is their blocking ability. They are well-rounded superstars. That prototypical player is still going to be the most coveted for the position.

However, we’ve seen a more recent rise of these wide receiver/tight end hybrid players. Waller, Andrews, Mike Gesicki and Kyle Pitts all headline this group. Waller is a converted receiver who lines up all over the place on offense. Andrews leads all tight ends in receiving yards this season and has been Baltimore’s top target for the past three seasons. He is not quite in the same tier as Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski as a run blocker, but he is better than most of these receiver-only guys. Gesicki is basically a big slot receiver in Miami. He is almost always flexed out or lining up on the perimeter. Then, there is Pitts, who many expect to be one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He has basically been the opposite of the traditional tight end. He dominates as a receiver between the 20s, but his one touchdown so far this season points to some struggles in the red zone.

Despite battling through injuries and previously retiring, Gronk is still one of the league’s elite tight ends. (Wikimedia Commons)

What’s significant about this is that these players are rarely if ever asked to block. Teams are essentially just using them as a mismatch option in the passing game. That’s why these players are successful. Arthur Smith is not keeping Pitts in to block on running plays or to chip edge rushers on third down. He’s using Pitts as the receiver he is.

However, there have been far too many cases of teams simply not knowing how to use these uber-athletic receiving tight ends. Prominent ones that come to mind are David Njoku in Cleveland, Irv Smith Jr. in Minnesota and Evan Engram in New York. Maybe even O.J. Howard should be in this conversation. None of these players have been able to get off the ground. Some of it is due to injuries, but a lot of it is the schemes they play in.

Engram, who is a huge liability as a blocker, has struggled to transition to the NFL. People will point to a 2020 Pro Bowl appearance, but that was a questionable selection. His talent is undeniable, but it feels like the Giants simply have not found a way to maximize his potential. An anemic pass offense and archaic play calling under Jason Garrett didn’t help matters, but it is time for him to join a different offensive system. It will be interesting to see if he lands in a more pass-happy offense that is willing to let him play as a big receiver on the outside.

Meanwhile, Smith Jr. and Njoku were buried on the depth chart by much less athletic tight ends. Kyle Rudolph was the incumbent in Minnesota and Smith Jr. could not unseat him for the starting job. He likely would’ve had a chance to be the featured target at the position, but injuries cost him the entire 2021 season. Njoku struggled with consistency and eventually lost his starting job to Austin Hooper. He also plays in a run-heavy scheme that does not put him in a position to succeed.

Engram has not topped 700 receiving yards in a season since his rookie year in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

The book is still largely unwritten on Smith Jr.’s time in Minnesota, but time is up for Njoku and Engram. They will be looking for new homes in 2022. Howard is done in Tampa Bay after this season, too. There is a chance he simply isn’t cut out for the NFL either. Howard’s inconsistency and lack of durability has him as the third tight end in Tampa Bay.

All of these players struggling to transition definitely begs the question: is the NFL using these players properly, or are we in the media overvaluing these athletic move tight ends? We are enamored by the athleticism, speed and receiving ability by these players on the college stage. All of them were top-50 selections though, with three of them going in the first round. Clearly, the NFL believed in their playmaking ability translating as well.

So what went wrong? Players bust in the NFL all the time. Perhaps, these are three (maybe four, jury is still out on Smith Jr.) players that just could not live up to the hype. However, I think it might also be that these teams misused all of these players. Gesicki and Pitts are great examples of how to deploy this type of player. You can flex them out and play them out wide on the boundary to create mismatches.

I wonder if we could see a second-half renaissance for any of these players if they land in better situations. The Chargers, Titans, Bengals, Saints, Panthers and Packers all could use an upgrade at tight end this year. Each has a good history of utilizing receiving tight ends. Imagine Engram hauling in passes from Aaron Rodgers or O.J. Howard toasting a linebacker to catch a score from Justin Herbert. This is all speculation, but it is something I will be watching closely this offseason.

Bottom line, the NFL is still figuring out how to best deploy these hybrid players. The same can be said on defense, with players like Isaiah Simmons, Derwin James and the upcoming Kyle Hamilton challenging a lot of traditional positional tropes. It will be interesting to see if receiving tight ends like Jahleel Billingsley, Jalen Wydermyer and Isaiah Likely will fare as the latest group of prospects to arrive in the NFL. In the right system, any one of them could have a Waller or Gesicki-like impact on an offense. The league is still just scratching the surface on how it utilizes tight ends.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

NFL Draft Daily: Should teams consider waiting on quarterbacks in 2022?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

I cannot remember a time where this many teams had a need at quarterback at the same time in the NFL. The list of teams that could potentially have a new starter or spend a premium draft pick on a quarterback is long. The Steelers, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Eagles, Giants, Broncos, Texans, Lions, Seahawks and Washington are all facing questions about the future at the position. Maybe even the Raiders and Vikings belong in that conversation. Some have aging veterans to replace, some have recent draft picks that have not worked out and some have disgruntled stars who could be on the move.

Ben Roethlisberger is expected to retire at the end of the season. (Wikimedia Commons)

That puts a ton of focus on the upcoming NFL draft. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst quarterback classes in some time. That doesn’t mean none of these quarterbacks will be good. In fact, there is a surprising amount of depth to this quarterback class. However, there are no slam dunk picks in this draft class as of right now. Maybe someone will separate themselves during the pre-draft process, but we don’t have a Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence or Kyler Murray level prospect. Honestly, none of them even come close.

So that begs the question, should teams punt on this year’s quarterback class? There is not a one-size fits all answer, even though I am tempted to just say yes. For a team like the Lions, using the first-round pick they have from the Rams on a quarterback could make some sense, especially if it is someone like Malik Willis, who definitely needs some time on the bench to develop, but brings rare physical traits. Jared Goff is still under contract for 2022 and that team is nowhere near competing for a wildcard spot, much less a title. Taking Willis or grabbing someone like Sam Howell or Desmond Ridder at the top of the second round should not prevent Detroit from taking a top quarterback prospect if they end up in the top five again next season. Suddenly, those other players become valuable trade chips. Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen both netted second-round picks and they both looked awful leading up to that point.

On the other hand, for teams like the Texans or Giants. I don’t like the idea of drafting a quarterback in this class. Reaching to take Matt Corral or Kenny Pickett in the first round does not raise that team’s ceiling all that much. At this point, I would rather spend another year with Davis Mills or Daniel Jones while continuing to amass talent around the quarterback position.

Lawrence has thrown just one touchdown pass since the start of November. (Wikimedia Commons)

And this is the real crux of why I think it makes sense to wait on a quarterback: situation matters. Mac Jones is thriving in New England right now and may even win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Does that mean he is a better quarterback than Trevor Lawrence or that the Jaguars should have taken him No. 1 overall? Probably not. I have a feeling Lawrence would be crushing it in New England as well. The Patriots have a top-flight defense, the best coaching staff in the league and a strong running game to help Jones. Lawrence has none of those things in Jacksonville.

At this point, for teams that are not ready to challenge for division titles and playoff spots, it just doesn’t make sense to grab a quarterback and figure everything else out later. If one of the quarterbacks in this class slides to the Steelers and goes on to have a great career, will people point out that other teams could have drafted him? Yes, absolutely. However, it is incredibly unlikely that these players would find the same success because the support cast around them is so much worse.

The Giants will have to decide this offseason if they want to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option. (Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s use the Giants as an example. Fans are fed up with Daniel Jones, and for good reason. He has not shown much progress since his rookie season and is frustratingly inconsistent. However, if you put Corral behind that offensive line next season and expect him to fare much better, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you. New York has never been able to surround Jones with the right talent to succeed. Even when the front office has spent big, it has been on injury-prone stars who cannot stay on the field. At full strength, the Giants offense should be great, but we rarely ever see Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley on the field together. And even when they are, Jones rarely has enough time to get them the ball. Not to mention Jones has not had the best coaching in his career either.

If you’ve read this site long enough, you know I am a big proponent of investing in the offensive line. It is the key to being a successful football team. So if I am the Giants, Steelers, Texans, Panthers or Washington, I am investing in the offensive line in this draft class and waiting until 2023 to find my long-term answer at quarterback. Plus, veteran options like Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater will likely be available to help bridge the gap. I would rather wait until 2023, when players like Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud will headline the draft class. What’s more, this is a great draft for offensive linemen and defensive talent. Teams will regret reaching for quarterbacks and missing out on those elite prospects.

Rookie quarterbacks are one of the hottest commodities in all sports, especially first-rounders. When you have a young quarterback on a controlled salary, you create a five-year window where you can compete for a title and spend whatever money is needed to build a successful roster around that player. I would rather spend the money and draft capital ahead of time to create a situation where a rookie quarterback is capable of thriving. For those who are going to say any team built like that would be too good to draft a top quarterback, may I remind you that the Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes, the Texans traded up for Deshaun Watson, the Ravens traded back into the first round to grab Lamar Jackson at No. 32 and that Mac Jones fell into the Patriots’ laps at No. 15. You don’t always need to tank to find your quarterback of the future.

In short, I think it is time the NFL changes its roster-building technique. Teams who are consistently successful draft the best players available and find value in veteran contracts when it comes to free agency. New England went 7-9 before turning things around with a 9-4 record so far and that was after losing the greatest quarterback of all time. Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in his tenure as the Steelers head coach. Even if he does have one this year, Pittsburgh should still be in the mix to reach the playoffs in 2022 because the rest of the roster is still pretty talented, with the exception of the offensive line. Even the Saints, who have started three different quarterbacks this season due to injury, are only one game under .500. They have a really strong core, a good coaching staff and a front-office who, mostly, invests well in the draft.

I’m not saying that teams should stop drafting quarterbacks in the first-round, but let’s not force it when it isn’t there. This isn’t a good quarterback class. It pales in comparison to the 2021 group, but most would. I am looking forward to ranking all the quarterbacks from recent class when I am done grading this current group. I think that will be really eye-opening regarding its relative strength.

Until then, just build in the trenches and everything will be fine.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

NFL Draft Daily: Does Bo Nix have a future in the NFL?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

In a somewhat surprising move, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix announced he is going to enter the transfer portal after graduating from the university. Nix had been a three-year starter and won SEC Freshman of the Year back in 2019.

After arriving in Auburn with a ton of fanfare, Nix is the son of former Auburn quarterback Pat Nix, it seemed like Bo was set to deliver on the hype. He helped take down No. 11 Oregon in his first collegiate game and capped off the regular season with a win over No. 5 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. NFL scouts were certainly paying attention, waiting to see if Nix could take the next step in his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, injuries, inconsistent play and questionable decision making all side tracked Nix over the past two seasons to the point where the NFL does not even seem to be an option at this point. There is zero draft buzz around him despite being a former five-star recruit who just started for three years in the SEC.

His level of play has not really merited much draft consideration, Nix has yet to top 16 passing touchdowns in a season and often struggles with accuracy, but he checks pretty much all of the physical boxes to be an NFL quarterback. At 6’3″ with a strong arm and plus athleticism, he has many of the things quarterbacks coaches crave. Don’t get me wrong, he needs a ton of work on his footwork, processing and decision making, but those are aspects of the game that often improve with repetition and good coaching.

However, Nix was already working with one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the country. Jordan Palmer works with a number of the top college and pro quarterbacks to help them improve their fundamentals and reach their potential. He’s worked with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and more in his role at EXOS. Palmer is a huge believer in Nix, saying he thought Nix would be the No. 1 overall pick in this upcoming draft back in March. That obviously won’t come true, but could a change of scenery and continued tutelage from Palmer finally lead Nix to realize his potential?

The NFL seems to have this fascination with the unknown. It’s what makes prospects like Trey Lance and Davis Mills so enticing. It’s why Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold can still net a second-round pick in a trade despite horrible play on the field. The idea of potential is addictive to NFL general managers, scouts and owners. The potential to hit on a prospect no one else saw, or to see a player finally reach their full potential makes them look like the smartest person in the room. They love that sensation.

With that in mind, Nix still has potential. He is only 21 years old and has rare physical gifts that you cannot teach. If he can find a new team and show some development in 2022, he will be worth a draft pick come the 2023 NFL draft. Maybe not in the first round, depending on just how much improvement we see in this hypothetical, but in the second or third round.

The question then becomes where could Nix go to take that next step and get himself on NFL draft boards. Notre Dame immediately comes to mind as Jack Coan will not be back next year. UCF also makes some sense with Nix’s former coach Gus Malzahn calling the shots down in Orlando. I don’t love this one because of Nix’s previous struggles in Malzahn’s system. Cincinnati could also make sense with Desmond Ridder in his final year with the program.

I would love to see Nix land somewhere with a good quarterback coach who can help simplify the game for him and help him grow as a passer. Pairing him with Lincoln Riley at USC feels like a dream, but I have a feeling Riley will stick with one of the young quarterbacks he already has in house. I like UNC as a potential fit with Mack Brown and Phil Longo turning Sam Howell into a solid draft prospect. Perhaps Pittsburgh could be a good fit as well given Kenny Pickett’s development this season. Mark Whipple definitely made a huge difference in his game. Maybe a move to LSU could work, but Brian Kelly does not have his full coaching staff in place yet, so it is hard to tell if that would really be a great fit for Nix.

Ultimately, the chances Nix ends up being a high draft pick or NFL starter look pretty bleak right now. Every year though, we see a quarterback rise up the ranks that just hasn’t put it together yet. This year it looks like Pickett. The year before it was Zach Wilson and the year before that was Joe Burrow. The point is, the door is not closed on Nix’s NFL future. He just needs to get this next move right if he has hopes of playing pro football.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

NFL Draft Daily: What happens when O-line U meets DBU?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Kelly broke the record for most wins in Notre Dame program history in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Brian Kelly became the first coach to ever leave Notre Dame for a different college job when he decided to head to the SEC and join LSU. He brings with him an impressive track record of recruiting and developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen, turning South Bend into a pipeline to the next level.

I should admit now that I am a big proponent of building a strong offensive line. If you gave me control of an NFL roster or asked me to build an expansion team, I would focus on building up a rock solid offensive line before doing anything else. I definitely subscribe to the idea of building in the trenches. I would even argue that having an elite offensive line is more important to team success than an elite quarterback. That quarterback cannot do much if he does not have time to throw. Anyway, I digress.

Yesterday, I talked about the impact of a coach moving programs and the long-term implications when a coach is known for developing a specific position group. Lincoln Riley’s move to USC bodes well for future Trojan quarterbacks finding success at the next level. He has a strong track record for developing quarterbacks and preparing them for the pros. It is fair to wonder if Kelly could do the same thing with the Tigers.

It is important to separate school history from future success. We saw this year how harmful that can be when D.J. Uiagalelei attempted to replace Trevor Lawrence at Clemson. In short, just because Ohio State has a long history of producing successful NFL defensive backs, that does not mean that every Buckeye corner will be a Pro Bowler. It is important to individually evaluate each player independent of where they went to school, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at history to guide where we start looking.

With all that in mind, Kelly developed a ton of high-end NFL starters across the offensive line in his time at Notre Dame. Quenton Nelson and Zack Martin are arguably the two best guards in the league. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey, when healthy, are both quality starting tackles. Time will tell when it comes to the three offensive linemen drafted from Notre Dame in 2021. There could be another lineman or two selected in 2022, namely Jarrett Patterson.

Martin is a four-time First-Team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. (Wikimedia Commons)

This begs the question: Can Kelly replicate this success at LSU?

Fans will obviously hope so. The Tigers have produced some talented linemen, though not at the same level as the Irish. Lloyd Cushenberry and Damien Lewis are both young starters in the league. Ethan Pocic actually starts next to Lewis in Seattle. The most successful LSU alum on the offensive line in recent years has to be Trai Turner, who went to five straight Pro Bowls from 2015 to 2019. Some success, but far from Nelson and Martin caliber.

Kelly will look to bring that success recruiting and developing linemen for the pros while not jeopardizing LSU’s already existing moniker of DBU. I know there are challenges by Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and strangely Texas to that title, but I firmly believe the true defensive back U is located in Baton Rouge. Tre’Davious White, Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson are among the best in the league. Kristian Fulton might not be far behind. Derek Stingley Jr. will likely be the latest top-10 defensive back in 2022. Alabama has a legitimate case with Patrick Surtain II, Trevon Diggs and Marlon Humphrey, but I still give LSU the edge.

Kelly has deep recruiting ties in the midwest from his time spent at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As it turns out, there are a lot of talented offensive linemen that hail from that region. Ryan Ramcyzk, Terron Armstead, Tristan Wirfs, Taylor Moton, Jack Conklin, Taylor Decker, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff, Corey Linsley and Zack Martin hail from either Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan.

On top of that, Louisiana actually had the most active NFL players per capita at the start of the 2021 season. There will be talent for Kelly to work with. He needs to find a way to meld his midwest background with the recruiting hotbed in the Bayou. That is obviously easier said than done, but I think Kelly should be in position to accomplish it. He will need to fill out his staff with coaches who know the territory. While talent is important, having people who can help Kelly create inroads in a state that Kelly himself admitted he had never even been to prior to accepting the job will be vital in upping the program’s offensive linemen production while sustaining their success with developing elite defensive backs.

Much like Lincoln Riley’s move to USC, it will take several years to see the full impact on draft prospects. That being said, I will definitely be tracking LSU linemen a little more closely in the coming years, especially if Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn does in fact follow Kelly to Louisiana.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.