If NFL teams are looking for an offensive lineman with experience and durability, they need look no further than Kent State University's Brian Winters. After all, you cannot do better than start every game your team plays during your collegiate career.
For four years, Winters has toiled away in virtual anonymity. He received little press outside of the Mid-American Conference and would be an unknown to anyone but the most die-hard fan. Even when Winters became just the second Kent State player to ever participate in the Senior Bowl and the third to be invited to the NFL Combine, he was overshadowed by the presence of Eric Fisher, the Central Michigan lineman that some believe will be the first overall pick when the NFL Draft begins on Thursday night.
Do not be fooled by the lack of press. Winters has built an impressive body of work at offensive tackle at Kent State. Although he projects as an offensive guard at the next level, that resume has lifted Winters to high stature among his draft class peers. ESPN ranks Winters as the fifth-best offensive guard in the draft. If NFL teams agree, that should propel Winters to a selection on Friday night in the draft's second or third round. Both ESPN and NFL.com have compiled complete seven-round mock drafts, and Winters is taken in the middle of the third round in each. One sends him to the St. Louis Rams at pick #78. The other places him as the 81st overall selection, by the New York Giants.
Winters career culminated in 2012 with a dream season at Kent State. He earned first-team All-MAC honors as he anchored an offensive line that produced one of the top offenses in the conference. KSU was third in scoring with 33.1 points per game. They were also second overall in rushing offense and averaged 225.8 yards per game. The Flashes had two of the top eight rushers in the league. Dri Archer and Trayon Durham went over 1,000 yards for the season, and they combined for 2,745 yards.
As a team, Kent State won 11 of its first 12 games, including a road win over then-unbeaten Rutgers. As a result, the Flashes earned a berth in the MAC Championship and ultimately the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
The question now is simple. What does Brian Winters bring to an NFL team?
Much of the buzz among scouts and draft experts is about Winters' toughness and physicality, and his background as a high school wrestler has given him the tools to out-maneuver defensive lineman. He has a wide base and is generally very quick to get on his opponent after the snap. He also drives well and can be very aggressive. It would appear that getting to a team that plays a run-heavy game would be beneficial Winters, and the move to the interior (where he had limited experience at KSU) is also a plus, given his strengths.
The biggest complaints about Winters appear to be about his technique and consistency. Partly because of his wrestling background, he tends to latch onto defenders high, which can mean a leverage disadvantage. This would be especially evident against stronger, quicker linemen. This also hurts if he has to adjust to blitzing linebackers. Some evaluators say that he has difficulty finding his assignments in space and occasionally takes poor angles where he eventually ends up on the ground. Winters' effort is also sometimes viewed as inconsistent, and he needs to work on finding players to block and playing to the whistle on every play.
However, if inconsistency and technique are the biggest questions, Winters has an opportunity to become a long-term starter in the NFL if he works hard and cleans up his game. He is 6'4" and 200 pounds, and his experience and physical tools make him a very appealing prospect.
The mid-third-round projection seems to be at the low end of where he will be drafted. If there is an early run on offensive linemen (which is certainly possible, given the available talent), Winters could rise to the top of the third round or perhaps even the latter part of the second round. In any event, the most interested teams will be ones with physical mind-sets. The Steelers, Giants and Ravens all sent their offensive line coaches to Winters' pro day at Kent State, so they are possibilities. Teams like the Redskins and Eagles cannot be ruled out, either.