Wolverines in the NFL Draft: A Pre-Draft Look at Jake Long
This is one of the few positions in the NFL draft that a school's opinion of their alumni is actually on par with the football world's perception as a whole. Jake Long is without a doubt the best offensive linemen in this year's NFL draft, and depending on how the cards fall could well end up being this year's Number 1 pick.
Oddly, Long was arguably the best offensive linemen in last year's NFL Draft. However, after a year where Michigan fell a game short of playing for a National Championship, Long decided to return to Michigan for his senior season in the hopes of closing out his career with a degree and a Championship ring. As a Result Levi Brown got to roll around in money that otherwise would've been Long's. At least that's what Mike Hart thinks.
Despite a year of disappointment for the Wolverines, Long's season was just another showcase of just how good he is. Pancake blocks. Old fashioned beat downs of overmatched, undersized Defensive ends. Rolling into the secondary to lay a hurtin' on linebackers and corners.
Long was nearly flawless this year and was the only consistent performer on an offensive line that couldn't find its ass with both hands. Over the course of Michigan's rollercoaster ride of a season Long gave up only a single sack to Vernon Gholston during Michigan's end of the regular season debacle against Ohio State. He quickly made up for that by steamrolling Florida's defensive line in a final win to close out his career and a final beatdown to add to his lengthy list.
He's huge. He's nasty. He could easily be the first pick in the draft. Not bad for a kid for Lapeer East High School, is it? Simply put, he's a franchise tackle in the mold of a Jonathan Ogden and the type of player quarterbacks will give their groupies to secure and GM's get fired for passing over.
Tracking stats for offensive linemen is a difficult business. You find numbers in odd places and it's tough to track their reliability. That being said the USA Today (via the Free Press) reports that Long registered 119 knockdowns of opposing players and 18 touchdown resulting blocks. In 2007 Long gave up one sack and he was never called for a penalty.
Add to that the all important stats of a 6'7" frame, a matching arm span, and weight that checks in at 315 pounds.
In lieu of other statistics, he's a glance at Long's trophy case.
- 2004 Freshman All-American
- 2006 Outland Trophy watchlist
- 2006 Consensus First-Team All-American
- 2007 Outland Trophy finalist
- 2007 Consensus First-Team All-American
- 2004 All-Big Ten Conference Second Team (coaches) and Honorable Mention (media)
- 2006 & 2007 All-Big Ten Conference First Team (coaches and media)
- 2006 & 2007 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year
A Little Background
After playing as a redshirt freshman in 2004, Long quickly became the most valuable player on Michigan's offensive line. For the past two years he's been the heart and soul of the Michigan offense. Usually you reserve such praise for a running back or quarterback, but Long was the bulldozer that let Hart and Henne operate and generated enough time for Manningham to get open down field. Without him, the magic of 2006 doesn't happen and 2007 goes down as the worst year in Michigan football since the Depression. He was that important to the team and offense.
Long plays with an edge and takes every setback personally. Watching him over the course of the last few years you could actually see the DE's and LB's shoulders slump further and further down as the game went on. He's the type of guy that seems to get madder the more time passes because he doesn't want anything blemishing his day. It was because of this determination that Long was named the first two-time captain at Michigan under Carr's tenure. He's a lockerroom leader, in part because he can break anyone else on the team in half, but also through a narrow minded focus on perfection. No where was that determination more evident than in the weight room. Despite the antiquated weight room and training techniques pushed by Michigan's staff, Long filled his 6'7" frame to a lean 315-325.
He's a pure athlete. He's determined. And he's mean as hell on the field.
Well. He's 6 foot 7 inches. He weighs over 300 lbs but moves like a soccer player. His arms are shaped like battleships and are just as long. He really enjoys dishing out pain. Honestly he's everything you want in a Tackle.
Long is as good a pass rush defender as you'll find in college football. He possesses excellent technique off the snap and never seems off balance. Once Long makes first contact with an opposing defender, its usually over. Hands are always up, or buried inside his opposition's chest protector. On every down this season and last, Long was on an island by himself against the Big Ten's best pass rushers so mental toughness is not something you have to worry about.
Long moves incredibly well for a man his size. His footwork is excellent, always the type of shorter steps and movements that allow him to maintain balance and leverage. He's also very, very fast for a big man, timing in at a 5.15 forty (about four tenths slower than Mike Hart, but that's another story for another day), so he is fully capable of getting out into an upfield blocking position before his running back does.
Michigan ran almost exclusively behind Long this past season. Student Body Left seemed to be Michigan's only play at times, but for good reason. If you went left, you gained yards. It was that simple. It's even more impressive when you realize that Long's 18 touchdown producing blocks were 2 short of being ALL of Michigan's rushing touchdown blocks. Long consistently manhandled his opposite, getting leverage and sometimes simply lifting them off their feet and pile driving them backwards into the turf. I'd like to believe if he'd had even a little help from his linemates that at least one or two of Michigan's embarrassing losses might not have occurred.
A final note needs to be paid to Long's durability and consistency. Despite being the main guy on nearly every running play Michigan ran this year, and being on the field for almost every offensive snap, Long didn't miss a game. No matter the game, no matter the situation, Long was always on the field giving everything he had.
There's not a lot to fill this space. Realistically, Offensive Linemen translate fairly well from college to the pro game. Some will take a year or two to adjust, but if you were dominant in college, you're probably going to be dominant in the pro game. Long wasn't particularly strong in the zone running game, but then again, no one on Michigan was. Where he was stronger last year off the bat it seemed like he, and the rest of the team, needed three games to wake up. I'm willing to blame the Zone blocking issues on coaching, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on if your team runs that type of offense.
Another issue may be that Long readily admits he held in College. And held a lot. That's usually not a good thing to admit. Ever. But he did, so NFL refs will keep an eye on him.
Oh yeah, and that Vernon Gholston guy beat him once. Once.
Honestly, that's all I've got after watching him for four years and watching him under a microscope for two.
Thoughts On The Future
NFL All-Pro. Simple as that. Long excelled at Michigan and was the next great lineman in a seemingly endless string of dominant college players who (should) excel that the next level. He has every physical tool you want in a lineman, but he brings so much more to the table than his physical capabilities. Long was one of the players that shamed/threatened the rest of the team to stay on campus the summer after [The Season That Shall Remain Nameless] for additional workouts and strength training. Long bulked himself up despite Michigan's antiquated fitness regimen. Long never questioned his commitment to come back to school, even when everything was going wrong and Michigan was the laughing stock of college football. He was always there as a model of consistency and excellence, even when everything around him looked like it was crumbling.
He was Michigan's best player just about every game this season and on top of that he was a leader. That's what you need out of franchise left tackle. And that's what you'll get every game out of Jake Long.