August 8, 2022

College Football’s 15 best returning offensive linemen

College Football's best offensive linemen

Texas offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi (52) and teammates give a final farewell to the crowd after a 23-21 loss to Iowa State Saturday November 16, 2019 at Jack Trice Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

All of those fancy flea flickers, game-changing reverses and smash mouth rushing plays don’t happen without effective blocking up front.

The entire defensive front seven will try to rip off the quarterback’s head, so it’s the big boys up front jobs to keep their signal-caller upright. Great offensive line play dictates the rhythm of an offense and controls time of possession. There’s nothing like mammoth individuals opening up gaping holes, being that brick wall that can’t be penetrated or just pancaking a defender on his back.

These players have demonstrated what it takes to effectively run-block, pass protect and claw their way in the trenches. They all are expected to capitalize on their stellar performances from last season in 2020.

15. Drew Dalman, Center/Guard, Stanford: The former three-star prospect was recruited as a center and started two games at guard in 2018. Dalman was later moved to center where he started 12 games at the position and earned second-team All-Pac-12 last season. The California native has 16 career starts under his belt and will anchor the Cardinal offensive line in 2020. David Shaw has had seven of his offensive linemen drafted, including three in the first round. If Dalman keeps up his production this fall, he can be the next one in line.

14. Blaise Andries, Guard/Tackle, Minnesota: He started all 13 games last season, including 10 at tackle and two at guard. As a matter of fact Andries started every game for the Golden Gophers the last two seasons. The former three-star prospect earned third-team All Big Ten honors in 2019. Andries also helped Minnesota finish No. 4 in the Big Ten in total offense after averaging 432 yards per game. The six-foot-six, 325-pounder was also solid in pass protection as the Golden Gophers finished with the league’s fourth-best passing attack.

13. Alex Palczewski, Guard/Tackle, Illinois: The Illinois native started 11 games as a freshman and the last 25 at tackle. Palczewski has a total of 36 career starts under his belt and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors last season. The former three-star recruit is massive in size, standing six-foot-six and weighs 300 pounds. Palczewski’s strength is run-blocking and he’s very effective at opening holes for Fighting Illini running backs to plow through. His production will be needed this fall in order for Illinois to improve from being the ninth-best rush offense in the Big Ten.

12. Robert Hainsey, Tackle, Notre Dame: The Pittsburgh native started eight games last year and didn’t allow a sack in 423 snaps. That was before Hainsey suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the win over Virginia Tech that required surgery. Still, the former four-star prospect is a team captain and was named Notre Dame’s Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2019. Hainsey has 22 career starts at tackle for the Fighting Irish. Brian Kelly limited the six-foot-four, 295-pounder in early spring practice and Hainsey is close to being back fully healthy.

11. Alaric Jackson, Tackle, Iowa: Despite missing three games last season due to injuries, the former three-star prospect still earned third-team All-Big Ten. Jackson also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2018. The Detroit native has started 22 career games and was a great tag team duo with Tristan Wirfs over the last two years. With Wrifs now on the Buccaneers roster, Jackson will anchor the big boys up front for the Hawkeyes this fall. This fall the six-foot-six, 320-pounder will be needed for his experience, leadership and production with Iowa breaking in a new starter at quarterback for the first time in three seasons.

10. Josh Meyers, Center, Ohio State: In his first season as a full-time starter for the Buckeyes the former four-star prospect made the most out of his opportunity. Meyers played 951 offensive snaps and earned second-team All-Big Ten. The six-foot-five, 312-pounder helped pave the way for Ohio State to lead the Big Ten in scoring, total and rushing offense last season. The Ohio native is expected to be one of the top centers in the league this upcoming season and the Buckeyes will likely have the best offensive line in the Big Ten also.

9. Samuel Cosmi, Tackle, Texas: He has started the last 25 games for the Longhorns and is an immovable object off the edge. Cosmi has 26 career starts and earned second-team All-Big 12 last season. The former three-star prospect is a big reason why quarterback Sam Ehlinger finished No. 2 in the league in total offense. Which means Cosmi is successful at run-blocking and pass protection. The Texas native is a mountain, standing six-foot-seven and weighing 310 pounds. Cosmi will anchor the Longhorns’ offensive line this season and will definitely be on the Outland Trophy watch list once fall camp begins.

8. Landon Dickerson, Center/Guard, Alabama: He was a graduate transfer from Florida State, who had a breakout season with the Crimson Tide in 2019. The former four-star prospect was originally recruited as a guard. However, Dickerson started all 13 games last season, including four at right guard and nine at center. Not to mention the North Carolina native earned second-team All SEC. Because of his versatility the six-foot-six, 308-pounder can play every position on the offensive line. Dickerson will help set the tone for the big boys up front this fall and Alabama will arguably have the best offensive line in the SEC.

7. Alijah Vera-Tucker, Guard, USC: The big fella has so much talent that he flirted with entering the NFL Draft after a successful redshirt sophomore campaign. Tucker went from being a backup to having 13 starts under his belt. Not to mention the former four-star prospect earned second-team All-Pac-12. Tucker was also named USC’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. The six-foot-four, 315-pounder is as versatile as they come and excels at more than one position along the line. He’s arguably one of the best offensive linemen in the Pac-12. The Oakland native will start at either guard or tackle this fall for the Trojans.

6. Trey Smith, Guard, Tennessee: He’s one of the most seasoned offensive linemen in the SEC, with 31 career starts. The former five-star prospect played tackle in his first season and earned freshman All-America and second-team All-SEC honors. Smith even recovered from a blood clot riddled sophomore year, which jeopardized his playing career. The six-foot-six, 335-pounder started 12 games at guard last season and earned first-team All-SEC. The fact that Smith overcame those challenging health conditions, he was awarded with the Fritz Pollard Trophy. Don’t be surprised if you see Smith on the short list for the Outland Trophy come December.

5. Alex Leatherwood, Guard/Tackle, Alabama: The former five-star prospect has lived up to his billing and it’s like pick your poison because he’s a monster at guard or tackle. Leatherwood started 15 games at right guard in 2018 and all 13 games last season at left tackle. The six-foot-six, 310-pounder only allowed a mere two sacks the past two seasons for the Crimson Tide. The Florida native is coming off his best season yet and earned first-team All-SEC. Alabama always has a dominant rushing attack and will be equipped with two of the best offensive linemen in the league. Leatherwood will be the heart and soul of the big boys up front and he’s poised for an All-America caliber season this fall.

4. Jimmy Morrissey, Center, Pittsburgh: He’s one of the most experienced offensive linemen in the country, with 36 career starts under his belt. Morrissey has had an incredible journey to the top and began his career as a walk-on. However, he made a name for himself as one of the best centers in the ACC last season. Not to mention the Pennsylvania native is one of three team captains for the Panthers. Morrissey did not surrender a single sack all of last season and earned first-team All ACC honors. Quarterback Kenny Pickett was able to throw for over 3,000 yards, but he wouldn’t have accomplished that without Morrissey’s pass protection.

3. Wyatt Davis, Guard, Ohio State: The California native had a breakout redshirt sophomore season and started all 14 games last season for the Big Ten Champs. Davis is another former five-star prospect who proved to be the real deal for his respective team. The six-foot-four, 315-pounder earned first-team All-America, first-team All-Big Ten and helped pave the way for the Buckeyes prolific offense in 2019. He’s one of the reasons why J.K. Dobbins was able to surpass the 2,000-yard mark in rushing. Davis is another embarrassment of riches Ohio State will boast up front for opposing Big Ten defenses this fall. It’s no mystery that he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

2. Creed Humphrey, Center, Oklahoma: The former four star prospect earned second-team All-Big 12 in 2018 as a freshman. Humphrey followed that up with first-team All-Big 12 and second team All-America in 2019. The Oklahoma native was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy and was named the Big 12’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. Humphrey registered 93 knockdowns and didn’t allow a sack last season, which was a duration of 799 plays. Standing at six-foot-five, makes him one of the tallest players on the field and Humphrey has started the last 25 games for the Sooners. Oklahoma finished No. 1 in the FBS in total offense for 2018 and No. 3 last season with plays that were all initiated by Humphrey.

1. Penei Sewell, Tackle, Oregon: He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2018 and that was just the start of what has been an amazing career thus far. Sewell was named AP’s Pac-12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, earned first-team All-Pac-12 and first-team All-American last season. The former four-star prospect became the first Polynesian, sophomore offensive lineman and Duck player to ever win the Outland Trophy. Sewell has only allowed a sack over the last two seasons with Oregon, which was a span of 1,376 snaps. The six-foot-six, 330-pounder will once again anchor the big boys up front for the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl Champs.

Honorable Mention

Walker Little, Tackle, Stanford: He earned first-team All-Pac-12 in 2018 and was projected by many to be a top-10 pick had he declared that year. However, Little returned to school and suffered a season-ending injury in last year’s opener against Northwestern.