It’s no secret that the Titans are likely to address the interior of the offensive line early in the upcoming NFL Draft. After letting Quinton Spain walk to the Bills in free agency and releasing Josh Kline, the team guaranteed that they would be starting new guards this coming season for the first time since 2016. We know that free agent addition Rodger Saffold will be manning one of those spots — presumably left guard where he excelled for the Rams the last few seasons — but we don’t yet know who will take the other spot.
Current options on the roster include an experienced, versatile lineman in Kevin Pamphile and a couple young developmental prospects in Corey Levin and Aaron Stinnie. None of those options are particularly inspiring on paper, and even if they were, the Titans still face the prospect of replacing center Ben Jones who is playing on the final year of his four year contract in 2019. The team needs an infusion of young talent in the middle of their offensive line and it would be ideal if that talent was ready to start right away in 2019.
While it’s certainly possible to find instant starters later in the draft — or even among undrafted players — the odds are stacked against you the later you wait. There have been 141 rookie offensive linemen to start at least 14 games over the past 20 seasons. Out of that group, 51 (36.2%) were drafted in the first round, 41 (29.1%) were drafted in the second round, and 14 (9.9%) were drafted in the third round. That leaves just 35 (24.8%) rookie offensive linemen from the last 20 years that have been drafted in the fourth round or later that started at least 14 games in their first season.
If you want that starter to not just be on the field but be good, things get even more heavily weighted towards the early rounds. Using Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Approximate Value stat — not a perfect offensive line metric, but better than nothing — I separated out the top 40 rookie seasons for offensive linemen in the last 20 years. (Fun Fact: Jack Conklin’s 2016 ranks first). The first round of the draft produced 21 of the 40 top performers (52.5%).
For that reason I would be shocked if the Titans left the interior offensive line unaddressed beyond the third round of the draft at the very latest, and frankly, I would be disappointed if they didn’t have one selected before the end of round two.
There are a little more than a handful of guys that seem to make a lot of sense for the Titans that could go in the top 51 picks. Guys like Garrett Bradbury, Jonah Williams, and Cody Ford seem likely to be first round picks while Erik McCoy, Dalton Risner, and Chris Lindstrom appear to be slotted somewhere in the second round. We’ve all seen plenty of Bradbury — who has (rightfully) become a draft crush for many Titans fans — but I think Lindstrom could be just as good a fit.
The connections between the Titans and Lindstrom are glaring. First, he was molded from a lightly recruited 235-pound lineman to a 308-pound potential first round pick with elite movement skills by Frank Piraino who just left Boston College to become the Titans new strength coach this offseason.
In college programs, the strength coach is often considered the second most important coaching position behind head coach due to the fact that they are with the players constantly during both the offseason (when head coaches, coordinators, and position coaches are allowed only limited access to players by NCAA rule) and regular season. Piraino has spent countless hours with Lindstrom over the past four years so it’s fair to assume that he’ll know him as a person and a competitor quite well.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s son, Tyler, also plays football at Boston College. He was a freshman offensive tackle in 2018 for the Eagles so he would have shared a meeting room and practice field with Lindstrom over the past year.
Finally, you have Titans 2018 second round pick Harold Landry who would have competed against Lindstrom — who was a tackle for BC during Landry’s final season — in practice for much of his career.
No NFL team will know more about Chris Lindstrom both on and off the field than the Tennessee Titans. However, familiarity isn’t necessarily a reason to draft a player by itself. The guy also needs to be talented enough to be worthy of the pick used to acquire him. Based on my review, Lindstrom certainly qualifies.
Lindstrom registered a 91.8% win rate as a run blocker per PFF charting in 2018, good for 21st among all college guards. He’s not a mauler by any means, but he’s got enough power to get some push at the line of scrimmage as he shows here working against soon-to-be first round pick Christian Wilkins. He also shows off his excellent awareness here as he recognizes the linebacker trying to shoot the gap and is able to peel off to stonewall him before he can knife into the backfield.
One advantage that Lindstrom will have over other rookie guards — particularly when it comes to playing right away — is his experience in an offense that runs a lot of the same concepts that he will see if he does end up in two tone blue. Boston College ran a lot of outside and inside zone, crack toss, duo, and split zone from under center.
Here, Lindstrom again moves his defender off the spot and washes him all the way down to the other side of the field and out of the play. Again, he doesn’t have massive power, but he’s very effective at using the defender’s momentum against him which is quite useful in a zone scheme.
Lindstrom is quick out of his stance — another trait that’s useful in a zone scheme — and here he uses that quickness to reach and pin the playside 3-technique. This is a perfect example of a block he would be asked to execute regularly in Tennessee.
The Titans offense also frequently asks its guards to climb to the second level and pick off linebackers. Here you can really see that athleticism that shined at the combine. Lindstrom gets on the linebacker quick with a good angle and then puts him on the ground. Perfect execution here.
Boston College put Lindstrom on the move a lot to take advantage of his athleticism. Here he does a great job of adjusting on the fly as the edge defender shoots upfield instead of staying home. Lindstrom is able to get just enough of the defender to push him past and give his back a chance to make a play. Being able to redirect on the run like that at 308 pounds is tougher than he makes it look.
Boston College’s screen game was extremely disjointed in 2018, but Lindstrom’s traits tell me that he should be a plus blocker on screens downfield. Here he leaks out the backside, takes a great angle, and finishes the defensive back in space.
Lindstrom spent most of the 2017 season at right tackle before bumping inside to guard in 2018. Here is a clip from that season that shows Lindstrom’s “by any means necessary” approach to getting his job done. This isn’t pretty by any means as he gets a little off balance and ends up on the ground, but he continues to fight and lunges from his knees to finish his job. This isn’t the way you draw it up, but it’s ultimately effective because of his effort.
Here Lindstrom is on the move again, but this time he gets a chance to show off his ability to make blocks in space. I love the finish here as well, blocking through the whistle.
Lindstrom is a good run blocker and has excellent traits to translate to a zone scheme in particular, but where he really shines is pass protection. In four years as a starter he allowed just 7 sacks and 2 QB hits on 1,413 pass block snaps per PFF charting. He really came into his own during his final season this year, allowing 0 sacks, 0 hits, and 4 hurries over 363 pass block snaps. His pass block efficiency rate ranked second among all college guards.
Lindstrom is an elite pass protector at guard. His light feet give him the ability to slide and stay in front of pass rushers as he shows against Wilkins here.
Lindstrom shows great ability to recognize and handle stunts and twists on tape. Despite the result of this play, Lindstrom does his job well, passing off Wilkins to the right tackle and picking up the looping defensive end. His teammate lets him down here, but this is good work from Lindstrom.
Here, Lindstrom sees another stunt and again, he does a nice job passing off the slanting Clelin Ferrell before picking up the looping Dexter Lawrence.
Lindstrom aggressively looks for work when he’s not matched one on one in pass rush. Here he slides over and helps his center clean out the nose tackle.
Lindstrom really has no discernible weakness as a pass blocker. He has good feet and a strong anchor, almost never getting pushed back in the pocket. The only real question is how much Boston College’s abnormally tight splits might have helped with his pass protection effciency, but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t an above average pass blocker from day one in the NFL.
Where will Lindstrom be drafted?
So Lindstrom is a scheme fit, a need fit, and likely a personality fit, but where would the Titans need to draft him? Well, that depends on who you ask. Big boards have him rated from 23rd as a high to 63rd as a low, but there is a pretty wide consensus that he’s among the four or five best guards in the class and many have him as the top pure guard.
The Draft Network (Consensus): 23
Mock drafts generally see Lindstrom go off the board somewhere between the middle of the first round and the end of the second, giving him a pretty wide range of outcomes. Chad Reuter of NFL.com had him going 18th to the Vikings in his latest mock draft which is the highest I’ve seen him recently.
The Vikings being one pick ahead of the Titans is particularly problematic when it comes to Lindstrom. Minnesota has a massive need at guard (Josh Kline is currently the best guard on their roster) and they are likely to run a scheme that features a lot of outside zone after hiring Gary Kubiak as an offensive consultant during the offseason along with several of Kubiak’s hand picked assistants, including new offensive line coach and long time Kubiak disciple Rick Dennison. That’s a team that could really use a guy like Lindstrom. However, the Vikings also need defensive line help and could really use an upgrade at tackle as well so they could go with one of those spots at 18. I think it’s hard to see Minnesota passing on Lindstrom twice, but anything is possible in the draft.
So that leaves the Titans likely looking at either jumping on Lindstrom early at 19 if they really want him or at the very least probably trading ahead of Minnesota in the second round. Maybe the most plausible scenario to me would be trading back in the first and either grabbing him there or addressing another spot and then using the extra pick capital to jump back up for Lindstrom in the second. We all know how Jon Robinson likes to move around a draft board so I could see that being a possibility.
Lindstrom certainly isn’t the only option for the Titans. Bradbury, Risner, and McCoy also make plenty of sense. As does Jonah Williams if he somehow falls to 19, but from a fit standpoint it’s hard to get a whole lot better than Chris Lindstrom in my opinion.