Top Returning Offensive Linemen For 2017

    Every potent offense needs the support of quality blockers. Here are the 10 best returning offensive linemen entering the 2017 season.

    February 24, 2017

    Every potent offense needs the support of quality blockers. Here are the 10 best returning offensive linemen entering the 2017 season.

    While they’re often faceless and nameless to the average college football fan, gifted offensive linemen make it possible for attacks to operate at peak performance. If you can’t hold blocks, even the best skill position talent and X’s and O’s masterminds will be neutralized and ground to a halt. Headlined by a pair of Big 12 left tackles, the following offensive linemen have All-American potential in 2017.

    Top Returning Offensive Linemen

    10. Frank Ragnow, Arkansas

    Ragnow is not a household name, unless that household includes NFL scouts or members of the Rimington Trophy selection committee. With or without the notoriety, he’s one of the premier centers in the country, moving over from right guard without many hitches. Ragnow will be even better in Year 2 at the position. He’s a heady and physical 6-foot-5, 319-pounder who consistently created daylight for Razorback runners Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley in 2016.

    9. Dalton Risner, Kansas State

    A Freshman All-American center in 2015. A First Team All-Big 12 right tackle in 2016. Evidently, Risner is going to excel wherever he lines up for the Wildcats. He’s unselfish and versatile, with the smarts and the light feet to quickly pick up the nuances of an entirely new blocking assignment. Risner is an assertive run blocker, vital in Kansas State’s ground-and-pound offense, and the importance of his magnetic leadership qualities cannot be overstated.

    8. Jonah Williams, Alabama

    Williams is well on his way to becoming the next great pass protector in Tuscaloosa, following the likes of Cam Robinson, Cyrus Kouandjio, James Carpenter and Andre Smith. Williams could wind up better than all of his recent predecessors, based on a table-setting true freshman season as a starter. He actually exceeded lofty expectations as a rookie, flashing the technique, athleticism and work ethic of a future All-American. Williams will take the next step in 2017, possibly as Robinson’s left tackle successor.

    7. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

    Despite projections he could be selected on one of the first two days of the NFL Draft, McGlinchey elected to return for his fifth year in South Bend. He has a bright future on Sundays, though there is some fine-tuning to be done in 2017, like improving his overall consistency and cutting down on unforced errors. McGlinchey is an imposing 6-foot-8, 310-pound left tackle who can bully opposing linemen off the ball with his strength and his surly demeanor.

    6. Braden Smith, Auburn

    When Auburn wants chunk yards on the ground, it runs behind Smith, the team’s starting right guard the past two seasons. And why not? He’s a pile driver at the point of attack, bullying his man away from the play, and he slides cleanly in pass protection. The 6-f00t-6, 300-pound Smith considered entering the NFL Draft after earning Second Team All-SEC as a junior, but will instead anchor the Tiger for one final year in 2017.

    5. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

    Nelson is going to play—and star—on Sundays. To the delight of Irish fans, that won’t happen until 2018. Nelson has remained in South Bend to finish what he started and solidify his standing as one of the nation’s most assertive run-blocking guards. He’s a 6-foot-5, 325-pound rock on the left side who revels in burying opposing D-linemen into the grass. Nelson’s nasty demeanor and overpowering strength help set the tone for the Notre Dame offense.

    4. Billy Price, Ohio State

    Price has been a model of consistency and a steadying force throughout his Buckeye career. He’s started every game at guard over the past three seasons, picking up a spate of All-American nods as a junior in 2016. Beyond the accolades, he sets the tone for younger teammates with the way he trains in the offseason and leads in the fall. This season, Price is sliding inside to center to replace Pat Elflein, injecting his toughness and steadiness into the most important spot along the front wall.

    3. Cody O’Connell, Washington State

    O’Connell’s ascent in 2016 was so shocking it even caught the Wazzu staff a little off guard. In 2015, he was a backup guard. A year ago, he somehow morphed into just the second unanimous All-American in Cougar history. At 6-foot-8 and 354 pounds, O’Connell is predictably tough to move or circumvent. However, it’s his shockingly light feet and quick hands that have helped elevate him into one of the game’s most dominant and complete blockers.

    2. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

    Brown checks off all of the boxes in an elite left tackle, and he’s only two full seasons into his Sooner career. He’s enormous, 6-8 and 340 pounds, physical and agile for a blocker of his size. And he hasn’t even hit his stride as a technician, particularly as a straight-line run blocker. Brown earned First Team All-Big 12 as a sophomore in 2016. In 2017, he’ll work to improve an NFL Draft grade that’s already pointing toward the opening round.

    1. Connor Williams, Texas

    Williams is unassuming away from the field, but dominating on it. Just two years removed from Coppell (Tex.) High School, he’s already blocking at an All-American caliber. The 6-foot-6, 288-pounder is still filling out his frame, yet he’s a road-grader in the ground game and a key reason D’Onta Foreman went for more than 2,000 yards last fall. Plus, Williams has the foot speed and agility to seal the edge from left tackle and continue punishing defenders at the second level.


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