The Wisconsin Badgers have been producing offensive linemen for many years now and this year is no different, as they will be sending two interior offensive linemen that will likely go in the top 75 picks in April’s draft. The one that grabs the most attention of the two is center Peter Konz, who’s a quality center, but right guard Kevin Zeitler is another name of interest for NFL scouts.
A homegrown talent, Zeitler comes in as one of the higher ranked players at a position that typically slides in the draft. However, times are changing in the NFL, with teams looking to shore up the A and B gaps of the offensive line to deal with deadly blitzes such as the Double A Gap and Fire Zone. Is Zeitler the right player to combat the pressure packages of aggressive defensive coordinators?
He’s certainly no David DeCastro of Stanford, whose ranked as the top guard, but Zeitler’s no slouch either, as he’s done a very good job of protecting quarterback Russell Wilson and creating running lanes for running back Montee Ball. He demonstrates good intelligence by constantly keeping his head on a swivel, seeking defenders to block, and he’s fundamentally strong.
The size preferences of an offensive guard can vary among NFL teams, but when Zeitler showed off his height and weight at the Combine, which was nearly 6’4″ and 314 pounds, he turned out at just about ideal size. He’s not top heavy, which is typically associated with waist-benders at the position, and he’s not too tall for the interior, which is tied in with pad level issues.
However, Zeitler’s arms measured in at just over 32″, which isn’t ideal. They are not short where a scout can apply the “t-rex” syndrome label on him, but they’re not lengthy either. They are slightly above average, and luckily when evaluating the tape he doesn’t appear to have issues with longer-armed pass rushers.
Footwork is the key to success in football, and is a vital characteristic for all 22 players on the field. Zeitler is strong in this department because he displays quick feet that enable him to slide left and right while mirroring defensive linemen.
Zeitler also shows the ability to not only anchor but re-anchor when dealing with power rushers. He does a good job of locking out his elbows to extend his arms and get his hands on the defensive lineman. He bends at the knees instead of the waist, which is desired in all offensive linemen because it shows their flexibility and balance, and he stands firm with a strong base. He’s able to sit in his stance and handle power.
If there’s one area in which I would like to see Zeitler improve his game, it’s his hand quickness. While he is not slow in getting his hands off his hips, he needs to display quicker hands when dealing with interior defensive linemen. This is noticeable when he’s facing quality rushers that have a quick first step and have go-to moves, such as an inside-spin, which will sometimes give Zeitler trouble. This is an interesting issue in his game because he’s a former wrestler, which would usually suggest that he would be better in this department.
Like most high-level players coming out of Wisconsin, Zeitler is fundamentally sound and displays good pad level when coming off the snap of the ball. This quality pad level keeps him from falling off-balance, a non-issue in his game, and always gives him a chance to get the leverage advantage against the defensive lineman.
Wisconsin is well known for their quality running game, producing dozens of 1,000-yard rushers over the years, and Zeitler was a big part of it during his stay. He is a very good in-line blocker, as he’s able to consistently fire off the line of scrimmage and move defenders backwards. He is constantly winning at the point of attack with proper hand placement and sinking his hips to utilize his lower body power. I am a big fan of this aspect of his game, and it will take him a long way in the NFL.
Second Level Blocking
While his blocking is very good in-line, it is not of the same quality at the second level. He shows the ability to pull and trap defenders when asked to, often utilizing quality angles to cut a defender’s path off to the ball carrier. While he does take tight angles when wrapping around the play, he sometimes has issues administering blocks at the second level where linebackers play.
From what I see, when approaching linebackers, he tends to have issues hitting his target because of a lack of great foot quickness and agility. However, he does exert great effort and will get his hands on the defender, hoping to redirect them and spring the ball carrier down the field.
Zeitler is one of the top players at a position that has become more valuable in recent years. While he doesn’t have elite foot quickness or arm length, he is strong fundamentally, a quality run blocker, intelligent, and he’s an improving pass blocker.
He should look to improve his hand quickness, as he sometimes plays passively, but overall he’s a very good player at his position, and I expect him to start at the next level and become a quality talent.