A quick look at the top three offensive tackles on Bob McGinn's board for the 2017 NFL draft. Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Second in position-by-position series previewing the 2017 NFL draft.
GREEN BAY - At first glance, NFL evaluators were enamored with the big new kid with the atypical background as he handled all-comers playing left tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers.
“LSU has edge guys and I was saying, ‘Who the heck is the left tackle?’” an NFC personnel man said in early December. “I was shocked when I heard that was his first major-college game. If he comes back next year he’s going to be rated as high as any of these guys that have come out of Wisconsin.”
It was Ryan Ramczyk, who toiled anonymously at UW-Stevens Point’s Goerke Field for two seasons before leaping to Camp Randall Stadium last fall.
Then, just like that, Ramczyk was gone. In early January, he renounced his final season of eligibility to enter the draft. At about the same time, he was undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.
What one scout labeled in February as “really a fascinating story” isn’t really that anymore. It’s all business now, with teams making hard decisions on just how good Ramczyk can be and what he could do for them.
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PACKERS CHAT: Tom Silverstein April 21 transcript
Just about every team in the league needs at least one starting offensive linemen. It’s possible more teams have expended more man hours scrutinizing offensive linemen in free agency and the draft than ever before.
“Offensive linemen, man, it’s a dying breed,” said an executive in personnel for an NFC team. “Tom Brady won the Super Bowl but they’re just guys (on the offensive line) in New England.
“Look at free agency. Just kind of some normal guys got paid a lot of money. I think the same thing will happen with the draft.”
One evaluator for an AFC team said it was the thinnest line class in 10 years. Another longtime scout who steadfastly refused ever to make excuses for not finding capable players indicated this group might rank as the challenge of a lifetime.
It’s really going down,” an experienced AFC personnel man said in reference to offensive linemen in general. “This year is really disappointing.”
General managers want their people to tell them what these offensive linemen can do, not what they can’t do. It’s the philosophy Ron Wolf always lived by in Green Bay.
Which leads back to Ramczyk, whose decision to leave a year early together with his operation and inability to do anything on the field before the draft has left teams in a quandary.
“He just comes out of nowhere, he plays, now he’s hurt and he can’t work,” said an NFC executive. “You’re just betting a lot on this guy. Just a lot of unknowns.”
The other leading tackles, Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Utah’s Garett Bolles, aren’t safe picks, either. Robinson is an inconsistent third-year junior and Bolles played just one season at the major-college level like Ramczyk before declaring a year early.
“The first three tackles could start (as rookies) potentially but they’re going to take time,” said an NFC executive. “The Alabama guy might be a better right tackle. Bolles is a nutty dude. Ramczyk is quiet and (played at) Stevens Point two years ago.
“You don’t feel great about any of these guys.”
Several months ago, it appeared Ramczyk would be the first lineman selected. As the Journal Sentinel poll at the position revealed, it’s a crapshoot now.
Seventeen evaluators agreed this month to rank their five best offensive linemen on a 1-to-5 basis. Five points were awarded for a first-place vote, four for a second and so on.
It was a tight race for the top, with Robinson (59 points, two firsts) edging Bolles (57, nine) and Ramczyk (53, five).
Following, in order, were Forrest Lamp, 38 (one); Dion Dawkins, 14 ½; Dan Feeney, 14; Ethan Pocic, 11; Pat Elflein, Dorian Johnson and Taylor Moton, two; Antonio Garcia, 1 ½, and Ben Braden, one.
For the most part, scouts are paid by teams to come down on one side or the other. You either like a player or you don’t.
On Ramczyk, conversations with 14 evaluators indicated a 7-7 split.
The highest praise came from an AFC personnel man who said the comparison between Ramczyk and left tackle Paul Gruber, the former Badger who was the fourth pick in 1988 and had an exceptional 12-year career in Tampa Bay, actually held water.
“Ramczyk is solid, and that’s what Gruber was,” said the executive. “He’s just a solid, functional left and right tackle. Will never overwhelm you with his athleticism or strength or feet but just be a solid player for a number of years.”
Ramczyk, 6 feet 5 ½ inches and 309 pounds, never has run a 40-yard dash for pro evaluators and probably never will.
Some scouts find comfort in UW’s track record for producing offensive linemen for the NFL. Over the last 15 drafts, however, for every standout like Joe Thomas (6-6 ½, 311, 4.92) there’s a bust like Gabe Carimi (6-7, 315, 5.20); for every Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 312, 5.35) there’s a Peter Konz (6-5, 313, 5.2); for every Travis Frederick (6-3 ½, 316, 5.56) there’s an Al Johnson (6-3 ½, 305, 5.01), and for every Ricky Wagner (6-6, 309, 5.17) there’s a John Moffitt (6-4, 317, 5.52).
Perhaps the most apt comparison to Ramczyk is Riley Reiff (6-5 ½, 313, 5.20), the 23rd pick from Iowa in 2012 who was an adequate starter for 4 ½ of his five seasons in Detroit before signing with Minnesota in March.
“They’re very, very similar,” said one scout. “Ramczyk is stronger anchoring vs. bull rush. Reiff is probably a slightly better athlete. I’d go with Reiff.”
Reiff’s arm length of 33 ¼ inches certainly has been a negative in his play. Of the top 10 tackles this year, Ramczyk’s arms (33 ¾) ranked second shortest.
Ramczyk improved technically as the season progressed but his performance slipped noticeably late in big games against Ohio State and Penn State. After strong starts, his tendency was to tail off late.
Some evaluators seem OK with his quiet demeanor.
“It’s not quarterback,” said one. “Loves to hunt and fish. Well-liked. Humble. Man of few words.”
Another executive worried about Ramczyk after his team’s session with him at the combine.
“We interviewed him and it was like the guy had no life, no energy,” said the personnel man. “He’s not dim. I just think maybe he’s shy. He can slide a little bit.”
If this were a more typical year for tackles, two personnel people said Ramczyk would be worth a second-round pick. It most certainly is not, however, so look for Ramczyk to be a first-round selection and then start clearing up many of his unknowns as a prospect.
COMING NEXT: Wide receivers, tight ends