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How top college football programs evaluate offensive line recruits

Welcome to The Crootletter (sign up to get this in your inbox every morning!). I'm Bud Elliott, SB Nation's National Recruiting Analyst, and in this space I'll be sharing news, rumors and musings on the world of college football recruiting.

I have this lasting image in my mind of Alabama steamrolling Georgia. It did not happen in the 2012 SEC Championship, but I simply cannot shake what happened in 2008 or 2015. Judging from how he is recruiting, new coach Kirby Smart can't, either. Watching the offers coming out of Athens, specifically along the lines of scrimmage, it feels like I am back in 2010 watching Jimbo Fisher change the types of bodies recruited in Tallahassee. Throw in the parallel that both Saban disciples took over for Bobby Bowden himself or a former top lieutenant, and it fits even better.

The Saban coaches have a saying: "They don't let lightweights fight heavyweights." A significant number of short yardage and red zone plays are won by pushing people, and if technique and leverage are equal, the big man often wins. While Fisher had to do it mostly on defense, Smart's offers on the offensive line clearly indicate that the head man believes the Bulldogs need it on offense. Add in Sam Pittman, the offensive line coach who crafted one of the biggest offensive lines in college football at Arkansas, and it's not hard to predict Georgia's linemen are going to get bigger.

Monday, UGA flipped three-star guard Justin Shaffer from Louisville, a 335-pounder from Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove. Shaffer is not a national recruit at this point, but he is the sort of body the Bulldogs are offering, five of whom are already over 315 pounds.

Georgia also added a highly coveted transfer from Rhode Island, who checks in at 300 pounds.

Lineman recruiting at the highest level falls into three categories:

1) Players who are college-ready,

2) Players who can become college-ready within a year or two in the strength program by losing some weight and unlocking athleticism or by gaining some muscle while retaining athleticism, and

3) Players who coaches hope can unlock a lot of athleticism by losing considerable bad weight, or who coaches hope can keep their athleticism and add a ton of muscle.

I made this into a graphic:

As you might expect, players in the first category are rare and highly coveted, and most schools are not going to land more than one per year. It's all about projecting and seeing what the player can be. College programs take a ton of measurements when a player gets into camp -- hand side, hip width, neck size, shoulder width, shoe size, reach, etc., and compare it to years of data they have on what a starter often measures in high school. And they eyeball the parents and any siblings or relatives if possible, too.

As you might expect, players further down the scale are much higher variance projects.

Players without the frame to eventually profile as an upper-tier Power 5 lineman don't really fit into any of the three groups, and aren't really recruited by those programs very often, though it is important to balance ceiling and floor.

This is to say nothing of technique, which matters, but does not override physical talent in the evaluation process.

Georgia appears to be going the route of grabbing big, strong guards who need to drop some, but not a crazy amount of weight to unlock more flexibility and quickness.

This works well at guard, but is sometimes tougher to do at tackle due to the athleticism requirements, which is why we see that half of the Bulldogs' offers at tackle are to players who are actually under 300 pounds (as juniors in high school). If a program signs one of those players, it likely knows that it has to put 20-30 pounds of good weight on him within the first two years to see a positive return in the prospect's last two or three in the program.


Christian McCaffrey's brother Dylan, a top quarterback recruit out of Colorado, committed to Michigan Monday.

I don't believe the Louisiana political scene and budget crisis will impact LSU's recruiting, but it was enough to cause a recruit to decommit from Louisiana Tech Monday.


If you're a recent signup or missed a day, that's OK. I link my previous Crootletters in this section.

LSU stole Auburn's best recruiter, who also happens to be one of the most beloved AU players of all time.

This read on the challenges of recruiting at Penn State and how James Franklin and his staff are trying to overcome is well worth your time.

I discussed how winning early in a head coaching tenure can hurt recruiting due to perception of trajectory.

2016's running back recruit crop was not very good. 2017's is very promising.

I ranked the Power 5 conferences by how many blue-chippers they signed per team.