Will the mauler from UTEP end up as a first round selection?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series is back! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top prospects at each position.
This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today, we’ll take a look at Will Hernandez from Univesity of Texas at El Paso.
After a redshirt freshman season, Hernandez took over at LG for UTEP and never missed a start over the next three years. He saw steady improvement during his time in El Paso, and by his final season, he had earned first-team All-C-USA and second-team AP All-American honors. Despite UTEP’s 0-12 record that year, Hernandez remained loyal to the program and continued to lead his team by example.
Hernandez is as well-rounded as it gets at the guard position. Blending elite strength with surprisingly quick feet, he dominates opposing defenses. His base is incredibly wide and thick, and with 37 bench press reps at the combine, the same can be said for his upper body. On pull blocks, Hernandez shows rare agility for someone his size:
Not only does he maneuver well in the open field, but here he wisely takes out the legs of the smaller, quicker player, allowing the quarterback to stroll into the end zone.
Hernandez operates just as well in tighter spaces, too. He has phenomenal hands and uses them to snatch defenders, often taking them out of the play entirely:
Even against top tier competition like Oklahoma, Hernandez shines. On this play, he springs a big gain by sealing off the defensive tackle from the hole. This inside zone run also shows Hernandez’s ability to handle different blocking schemes, meaning he can immediately jump in regardless of which team takes him.
Hernandez isn’t just a mauler in the run game. He shows the same type of nastiness in pass protection, stonewalling rushers and keeping them right where he wants them:
Watch as Hernandez toys with the defensive lineman, sticking his right arm under the defender’s chin without allowing an inch of ground. Hernandez embodies physicality and consistently showed it regardless of opponent.
The most eye-popping aspect of Hernandez’s game is the power and aggression he finishes blocks. He plays through the whistle on every down, and coaches will fall in love with his “no plays off” mentality. Often times, the play will be well past Hernandez, yet he can still be spotted mercilessly driving his man into the ground:
In other instances, he’ll pancake pass rushers with authority, showing again how he excels no matter what is asked of him:
The main flaw scouts point to with Hernandez is his size. At 6’2” with 32” arms, Hernandez is a bit shorter than the prototypical NFL guard. His short arms sometimes allow longer defenders to get into his chest before he can reach them. His aggressive nature can also be a negative at times, as he tends to lunge at defenders too soon instead of waiting another half-second to engage, particularly in pass protection.
None of these perceived downfalls held Hernandez back from dominating at the college level, and with all of the positives he brings to the table, they shouldn’t be a huge concern in the pros either.
Hernandez’s high ceiling and ability to play in any scheme would surely be welcome on any NFL roster. However, there are several teams that desperately need an offensive line upgrade and would be foolish not to give Hernandez a long look. The most obvious option is Seattle at pick 18, a franchise that has failed to provide Russell Wilson adequate protection throughout his career and had no running game to speak of in ’17.
Another logical landing spot could be with the Bengals at pick 21. Cincinnati boasted a strong offensive line just a couple years back, but now must rebuild the unit for the offense to take off. Hernandez could anchor the line for years to come and be the road grader Joe Mixon badly needs.
Hernandez is the full package. If not for the freakish Quenton Nelson, he might be the best guard in this year’s class. His small school background might concern some, but his tape and measurables are too good for that to matter. Hernandez will almost certainly be a starter from the first day of camp and could develop into a top 10 NFL guard in a few years’ time.
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