Big 12's Best Interior O-Line Prospect: Richardson Or Ikard?
By Bill Lund
Every year, NFL general managers and scouts are continually looking for protection for their franchise quarterbacks. The Big 12 this season has two of the best interior offensive lineman prospects for the 2014 draft.
In 2013, the Baylor offense has exploded, averaging 69.7 points per game. Much of its success starts with the leadership of guard Cyril Richardson.
Oklahoma has a new signal caller at its helm, and Blake Bell’s ability to spark the Sooners offense to 43 points per game his past two starts can be attributed to the protection provided by center Gabe Ikard.
Richardson and Ikard were recognized for their play both at a conference and national level prior to the start of their senior seasons. Either one of these prospects could be drafted in second or third round, but which player is the better prospect? And who has the best chance to be a long-term solution for the protection of a team's "franchise"?
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Richardson is a massive prospect for the Bears. In 2012, he was named second-team AP All-American, as well as the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of Year, but his size (6-foot-5, 340 pounds) will be the first thing scouts salivate over. Richardson overall is very athletic for his size, showing good agility and explosion out of his stance. He has tremendous strength at the point of attack, driving defenders off the ball with his power and mass. Richardson possesses long arms and a powerful punch capable of neutralizing bull rushers and clearing a path for fellow draft prospect, running back Lache Seastrunk.
Richardson’s size and strength will elicit some first-round consideration, but he does have some flaws in his play. Last year versus Kansas State, Richardson was challenged by an average defensive front which was able to get underneath Richardson and neutralize him at the line of scrimmage. Against Texas, Richardson again allowed the defensive lineman to get under him and limit his power. The biggest issue for Richardson is his lack of consistency in playing with a low pad level. As games wear on, he tends to bend at the waist, negating his power and strength. His lack of pad level doesn’t bode well on the second level either when trying to block linebackers in space.
As a pass protector, Richardson does use his size to his advantage, but has trouble with defenders who can keep separation getting underneath him and preventing him from using his long arms to latch on.
Richardson has played tackle, but it is not his natural position, and his lack of pad level and lackadaisical play makes him a bit of a liability on the edge. Richardson is an intriguing prospect with his size and measurables, but he needs to become more consistent with his every-down play during this final season at Baylor.
Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma
Ikard has decent size by NFL standards (6-3, 298). He is an athletic lineman who was originally recruited to Oklahoma as a tight end. Ikard started all 12 games in 2012, on his way to being named first team All-Big 12, along with being honored as a Capital One Academic All-American. Playing both center and guard for the Sooners, Ikard has performed at a high level, giving NFL teams a potentially versatile cog in the protection of their "franchise."
What stands out in watching Ikard is his athleticism. Against Kansas State and Texas, Ikard showed an ability to adjust on second-level defenders in space, as well as the ability to utilize his quickness to get under defenders at the line of scrimmage. Ikard possess great footwork and coordination for an offensive lineman. His punch is explosive and quick, offsetting his lack of size and bulk.
In pass protection, he displays a good base along with an ability to adjust to counter moves from rushers. In last year’s showdown with Notre Dame, Ikard was matched up against Louis Nix III. At the start of the game, Ikard was over powered by Nix but was able to re-establish himself over the course of the game and stalemate the Irish standout. His competitive nature showed through in this matchup against a top flight defensive line prospect. In last week’s rematch with the Irish, Ikard more than handled himself against Nix.
Ikard is intriguing in that he doesn’t possess the ideal size scouts look for, but he plays with the leverage and technique needed to be successful in the NFL. Ikard is a potential second- or third-round prospect who has the ability to become a quality NFL starter. Ikard would fit well in a zone-blocking scheme like the Redskins, Texans and Broncos employ.
The Better Prospect Is . . .
Richardson has a rare combination of size and athletic ability that will undoubtedly intrigue NFL scouts. He has first-round measurables but has not shown enough consistency in his play that former first rounders Jonathan Cooper and Chance Womack displayed during their evaluation process. Ikard doesn’t have the measureables but his athleticism and functional strength make him a safer prospect for the long term. Both players have the potential to provide teams with an insurance policy in the protection of their “franchise.” In the end, Ikard may be drafted after Richardson, but don’t be surprised if Ikard has a long career like Jeff Saturday or Matt Birk when it’s all said and done.