The Buffalo Bills’ offense struggled mightily last year for a variety of reasons, but the offensive line was a major issue that needs to be addressed this offseason. General Manager Doug Whaley invested significantly into retooling the offensive line last year, signing Chris Williams to a $3 million per year deal in addition to selecting Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson in the draft.
It’s obviously still too early in the careers of the rookies to determine whether they’ll be contributors or not, but the Bills need to focus on bolstering the offensive line to a point where there’s competition for every job.
Heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, Duke’s right guard Laken Tomlinson could be a player that Doug Whaley and the Buffalo Bills’ scouting staff could have interest in.
After earning ACC Academic All-American honors twice, Tomlinson was a consensus national All-American following his 2014 season. Tomlinson stands 6’2” and weighs 320 pounds, possessing a stout, well-proportioned frame.
While Tomlinson’s size and aggressive nature will earn him the “road grader” label, he’s an underrated pass protector that wins with technique and sound assignment football over sheer athleticism when pass protecting.
In the following clip, Tomlinson is beaten off the ball by the Miami Hurricanes’ defensive tackle. However, he maintains his balance and is able to anchor against the rush while using his arms to create distance between the defender and himself.
One aspect that I find very appealing about Tomlinson’s game is his awareness of the several moving parts around him. For a player with limited football experience, Tomlinson’s ability to feel when to release his defender to his teammate in order to pick up another is impressive. Stunts and twists rarely fool him, as Tomlinson consistently maintains his positioning without biting on pass rush moves.
On the following play, Tomlinson appeared to have a miscommunication on the protection call. He engages with Miami’s defensive tackle off the snap, but releases him to the center in order to assist the right tackle. The center never picks the Hurricane up and Duke’s quarterback is sacked.
Tomlinson’s strength is in the run game, but he has shown an understanding of pass protection concepts that shouldn’t be that big of a concern to teams looking to select him.
Laken Tomlinson was a big part of why Duke’s offensive line surrendered just 13 sacks and 41 tackles for loss, while averaging 181.6 rushing yards-per-game in 2014. As a captain of Duke’s offense, Tomlinson created massive lanes for his running backs, showing the ability to drive defenders off the ball and get into the second level. When he keeps a low base and square shoulders, there’s not many defensive lineman that can hold their ground against Tomlinson. Once he gets his hands inside of a defender’s pads, Tomlinson shows a strong leg drive to move his man off the ball.
As good as Tomlinson can be when he uses proper technique, he can get a bit too aggressive at times and bad things happen. He can tend to drop his pad level and lunge at defenders, which causes him to lose balance and wind up on the ground. That’s what happens in the following clip against Florida State, as Tomlinson lowers his head to engage the defensive tackle, but his whiff results in a tackle for loss.
Final Thoughts/ Scheme-Fit
Greg Roman’s offense is a man/gap-blocking scheme that emphasizes powerful offensive linemen that move in a straightforward manner, blocking either their “man” or a specific gap. At Duke, Tomlinson played in a zone-blocking scheme that had him defending a zone or an “area” rather than a specific player or gap. Tomlinson’s size and skill set makes him an ideal fit for a gap-blocking system that Roman will likely install with the Bills. One of Roman’s many wrinkles in his gap system is the addition of traps, inside zone, and outside zone runs that will call for offensive lineman to move laterally when pulling, and Tomlinson has already proven he can fulfill the requirements.
Proj. Round- 2nd-3rd