- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Offensive linemen.
The Gators are represented by a player who never reached his potential (offensive tackle Xavier Nixon) and another who is just scratching the surface of what he could become (tight end Jordan Reed). Nixon started the last five games at left tackle as a freshman in 2009 and appeared ready to become a mainstay at that spot, but he spent time at right tackle in 2010 and then suffered through a mysterious illness after the season that caused him to lose about 55 pounds. Doctors were unable to diagnose his problem and he recovered before the 2011 season and was able to gain back most of the weight but was never quite the player he was as a freshman. Reed came to UF as a quarterback, starred in a wildcat role in 2010, but was moved to tight end in 2011. He's still learning the position but caught 73 passes for 866 yards and five touchdowns in the past two seasons.
OT Xavier Nixon (Position ranking: No. 8)
Strengths: Nixon has good upper body strength and is a pretty good run blocker. He’s got a decent first step and is powerful when he brings his feet and keeps his pad level low. He's also pretty mobile laterally as a pass blocker and at times showed the ability to handle elite pass rushers.
Weaknesses: Nixon isn't the most fundamentally sound player, especially in pass protection. He doesn't always bring his feet and as a result got beat around the edge despite his good mobility. He also is inconsistent with his effort (he got benched against Kentucky in 2012) and pad level, and there are concerns about his durability because he seems to constantly be nursing knee and shoulder issues.
Comparison: Like former third-round draft pick Max Starks, Nixon is heavy in his lower body. But he’s not as mobile as Starks, a third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2004 who was a starter on two Super Bowl championship teams. Nixon is closer to Marcus Gilbert, who was a second-round pick of the Steelers in 2011. He needed to clean up his fundamentals as well, and he has started 18 games over the past two seasons.
TE Jordan Reed (Position rank: No. 3)
Strengths: The 6-3, 243-pound Reed is a matchup problem for defenses: Too big for defensive backs and too fast and elusive for linebackers. Reed has very good hands and runs well after the catch. He's very athletic and is able to adjust to the ball and make tough catches. He has shown the ability to be a downfield threat, as well, although most of his work came on short routes.
Weaknesses: Reed is still learning the position, so his blocking needs work. He also has a tendency to jump when making a catch -- whether the ball is high or not -- and carries the ball loosely.
Comparison: Reed compares favorably with Aaron Hernandez and Cornelius Ingram, both of whom were drafted. Ingram also was a former quarterback who transitioned to tight end pretty well and against whom opponents found it hard to develop a game plan. He lost his final season to a torn ACL and was drafted in the fifth round by Philadelphia in 2009. However, he re-injured that knee, never played for the Eagles and has migrated to the Denver Broncos’ practice squad. Hernandez, on the other hand, wasn't as physical as Reed is -- but he was able to run the ball out of the backfield and the Gators lined him up in various spots to try and get him matched up on a linebacker. He led the Gators in receiving in 2009 with 68 catches for 850 yards. New England drafted Hernandez in the fourth round in 2010 and he has 175 catches in three seasons.
It's only fitting that the best offensive line in college football would produce some of the most intriguing prospects in the NFL draft. Alabama will likely have three offensive linemen taken in the first few rounds in April, further proof of the talent that resided in Tuscaloosa this past season.
OG Chance Warmack (Scouts Inc. position rank: No. 1)
Strengths: Warmack's game is complete. He's physically impressive (6-3, 325), strong at the point of attack and quick on his feet. He's the No. 4 overall prospect in the draft for a reason. As Todd McShay put it, Warmack might be the best offensive guard prospect in decades.
Weaknesses: If you're looking for a knock on Warmack, it's going to take some time. On tape, he's as good as it gets. But when you hold up a measuring stick, you might come away less than impressed. At 6-foot-3, his height isn't ideal and he's slightly heavier than your average interior lineman.
Comparable: The name most regularly associated with Warmack is Tampa Bay guard Carl Nicks. Both possess an abundance of athleticism and heart in the running game.
OT D.J. Fluker (Position rank: No. 4)
Strengths: Fluker is your prototypical diamond in the rough. He weighed 400 pounds in the eighth grade and developed into the lean tackle his is today. He's got the ideal height, wingspan and hands to play on the outside. He looks the part in every sense.
Weaknesses: The early-entry junior is still developing and maturing, though. His conditioning and footwork have improved, but he still struggles in pass protection at times. By trimming a few more pounds, he could better his quickness and appeal to more NFL scouts.
Comparable: Because of his raw potential and upside, he reminds many of former Alabama tackle Andre Smith, who was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 6 overall pick in 2009.
C Barrett Jones (Position rank: No. 2)
Strengths: Intelligence and versatility are Jones' biggest weapons. He can play all five positions on the offensive line and possesses the kind of intangibles general managers and coaches crave. Injuries have been a concern throughout his career, though none have been serious enough to require extensive time away from the game.
Weaknesses: Compared to the elite offensive line prospects, Jones lacks the same type of strength and tenacity. He gets himself in good position but short arms and adequate quickness limit what he can do in pass protection.
Comparable: It's an easy comparison because his coach Nick Saban has already drawn it for us. Jones looks and plays like ex-Titan Bruce Matthews, who like Jones, played all five positions.
-- Alex Scarborough, TideNation
The biggest question mark among the 13 players LSU has headed to the combine is left tackle Chris Faulk who, despite missing all but the season opener with a torn ACL, opted to forgo his senior season at LSU and try for the NFL. He's one of two offensive linemen the Tigers have attending the NFL combine, along with center P.J. Lonergan.
OT Chris Faulk (Position rank: No. 13)
Strengths: At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, he has that prototype long, bulky body that made many think of him as a potential first-round pick coming into the season before a knee injury disrupted his season after just one game. He also moves well and plays with a bit of a mean streak. The straight-ahead speed allows him to come off the ball hard and makes him a particularly effective run blocker.
Weaknesses: There's the issue of the bad knee. Already an average prospect in terms of lateral movement, he's going to have to regain that movement for the NFL. He played left tackle for LSU, but might be better suited for the right side in the NFL.
Comparison: LSU has two NFL offensive tackles in Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth and journeyman Joe Barksdale. Faulk's future could go either way, much of it depending on his ability to recovery from his knee injury. A healthy Faulk can have a long, productive NFL career.
C P.J. Lonergan (Position rank: No. 8)
Strengths: At 6-foot-4, 302 pounds, Lonergan has turned himself from a high school tackle and college guard prospect to an accomplished center. He did a nice job handling center responsibilities while at LSU (including calling out blocking assignments) and he beat out older linemen (T-Bob Hebert) for the job. He has good length for the position.
Weaknesses: He was never an all-SEC player, often getting overshadowed by bigger names. He missed a couple of games his junior season with a high ankle sprain and sometimes looked stiff in 2012 battling a sore back.
Comparison: With LSU's most famous NFL center, Kevin Mawae, off in retirement, aging Todd McClure is the lone LSU alum playing center in the NFL. Could Lonergan be ready to carry the torch once the 36-year-old McClure hangs up the cleats? A good combine will go a long way in making that happen.
-- Gary Laney, GeauxTigerNation
Texas A&M could have sent two tackles into the draft and both would have probably ended up as first-round picks. Luke Joeckel chose to declare, but Jake Matthews chose to return to Aggieland for another year. Joeckel, the Outland Trophy winner this year, will be rewarded as a possible top-five selection -- and possibly No.1 overall.
OT Luke Joeckel (Position rank: No. 1)
Strengths: Size and durability. Joeckel started every game the last two seasons for Texas A&M. At 6-foot-5, 306 pounds, he is built like a prototypical NFL tackle. he performed at an elite level for the Aggies, anchoring one of college football's best offensive lines for one of the country's top-producing offenses.
Weaknesses: There aren't many. He could probably stand to get a little stronger and show more power at times, but otherwise, Joeckel is pretty sound all around.
Comparison: Players who have been thrown around as comparisons to Joeckel include Denver's Ryan Clady and Miami's Jake Long.Both have similar frames to Joeckel. Long was chosen No. 1 overall in 2008; Clady was 12th overall.
-- Sam Khan Jr., GigEmNation
Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps.