For many months now, the discussion surrounding the NFL draft and Stanford University started and ended with Andrew Luck, who will almost surely be the first overall pick. However, he’s not the only Cardinal worth talking about, as David DeCastro has quite a bit of talent that will also likely land him in the first round.

But he plays a position that’s not as popular as his teammates. He’s a guard. Just a boring old guard, the position that’s typically known to feature “heavy-legged waist-benders”  that can’t make the cut at tackle. Despite this, the guard position has become very valuable in recent years because of the constant interior gap pressures from defenses, and now teams are looking for their own version of Carl Nicks without having to shell out the money that Nicks received in free agency (a five-year contact worth $47.5 million, $31 million of which is guaranteed).

Luckily for teams seeking a guard, they may have their chance at getting that type of quality in the trenches next week during the draft when DeCastro is available.

Size

DeCastro checked in at a tall 6’4 5/8″ and well proportioned 316 pounds at the Combine. He also had 32 3/8″ arm length, which is above average and enabled him to bench press 225 pounds an impressive 34 times. DeCastro’s overall size is ideal for the guard position are many other qualities, such as his hand use.

Hand Use

The former Cardinal does a very good job of getting his hands inside of the breast pads of defenders and gaining control of them. His ability to control defenders is impressive, and is not only done through the previously mentioned hand use, but also with his extended arms. He does a good job of locking out his elbows and utilizing his entire arm length to keep defenders away from his chest.

Foot quickness

One of the parts of the Bellevue High School product’s game that I grew to like while watching him is his foot quickness. He does an exceptional job of sliding his feet around from the right guard position, and he’s shown the ability to mirror a pass rushers’ every move. He appears to be very light on his feet and this shows up when he’s asked to move away from the line of scrimmage and pull.

Pulling/Trapping

DeCastro’s ability to pull and wrap around from the guard position is one of the reasons why he’s so highly rated by draftniks and NFL personnel men. He does an excellent job of opening his hips and quickly getting to get defenders laterally who are crashing down hard from the outside.

One important part of watching offensive linemen pull is seeing what kind of angle they take when pulling. Are they too wide, or too tight? With DeCastro, there are no concerns, as he shows an understanding of when he should tighten up his pull or take a wider angle to hit a defensive back or linebacker that’s scraping over.

While he does an excellent job of pulling, he is also very good at executing inside traps that require less lateral movement than pulling. They are similar in the set-up, but pulls are wider, and they wrap around the offensive line whereas inside traps are done to the near gap.  Pulling is something that DeCastro does well because of his aforementioned foot quickness, but there are two minor issues that I’d like to see cleaned up: his head, and his hips.

He has a tendency to drop his head on inside traps, which can result in a missed block, while also not always sinking his hips. Instead, he tends to take forward steps to drive the defender back, which is fine, but he needs to sink his hips more to make the steps even more effective.

Second Level blocking

Another important aspect of evaluating offensive linemen is seeing how well they do in space, or as it’s often called, the second level. Second level blocking has become a crucial aspect of running games because these are the blocks that create the big plays and the “chunk yardage” as coaches like to call it.

While watching DeCastro, I was not only impressed with how well he got the second level, but how he executed his assignments. As an uncovered guard in zone blocking, he’s required to help his play-side teammate block the nearest defensive lineman to execute a “combination” block and then identify the linebacker at the second level, “slip” (some coaches call it “slip-blocking,” hence the term) or peel off and get to the linebacker. This is something he does very well in my opinion.

Change of direction

Changing directions or “redirecting” can be a difficult job for a lineman because of their size. However, DeCastro has shown on numerous occasions that he can open his hips up and slide his feet to deal with a speed rusher or blitzing defender. There is no tightness in his hips from what I see and he is very fluid in his movements.

Flexibility and Balance

DeCastro also exhibits the necessary flexibility and balance to play offensive lineman at the next level. He does a very good job of bending at the knees instead of the waist, which keeps him balanced, and allows him to avoid lunging at defenders. He’s also able to keep his balance when he engages with defenders, subsequently sitting in his stance and anchoring.

Strength

Anchoring is another word for strength in a blocker, and it’s something that DeCastro can do well. He has shown on several occasions that he has the requisite strength to deal with a powerful defensive lineman and it’s something that he has very little trouble with.

There are instances in which he’ll get knocked back at the snap because he was beaten to the punch (his lacks great power, but is sufficient), but he regains control by getting his hands on the defender and sinking his hips. Once he gets his hands on the defender, it’s usually over.

Overall

Stanford University is producing a lot of quality players nowadays despite much of the attention given to Luck. DeCastro has good size and elite quickness that enables him to deal with defenders in the trenches. He’s likely to be a top 20 pick because of the position he plays, but his talent suggests he should go higher.

As more and more defenses slide their defensive ends to tackle, the value of guards gets higher and they will be given more attention, which is why a player like DeCastro is an integral part of the offense.