We don't know yet whether this will turn out to be the best OT draft class ever, but it definitely is in the running for the draft with the best personal stories ever. There is the unlikely rise of former 3rd string Division III tight end Ben Bartch to NFL tackle prospect. Bartch has a cool story, but he has nothing on Prince Tega Wanogho. Prince's life is like a Disney movie and the best part could still be to come.
The Nigerian Dream
Christian Okoye's goal was never to be a football player. He wanted to go to the Olympics in the discus. By the time he decided to give football a try, he was 23 years old. To compare, Prince turns 23 in November. Okoye knew nothing about football when he started playing. That didn't stop him from becoming a 2nd round draft pick by the Chiefs in 1987.
In 1989, Okoye led the NFL in rushing. While he didn't have the longest career, only playing 6 seasons and hampered by injuries, Okoye had one of the coolest nicknames in sports, "The Nigerian Nightmare" and left a tremendous legacy both with explosive running ability on the field and with the class that he displayed off the field.
Like Okoye, Prince's dream when he first came to the United States wasn't to play football or to be in the NFL. His dream was to be a basketball player. In 2014, at the age of 16, Prince arrived in Alabama from Nigeria to play basketball in high school, hoping to earn a college scholarship. All he had with him was a backpack with one set of clothes, some family photos, a bible and $20 in cash. He lived with the coach of the basketball team.
Before basketball season could start, the football coach saw him and asked him to join the football team. Prince knew nothing about football. They put him at defensive end and tried to teach him the basics of the game. Prince was 6'7'' and 225 pounds and reportedly ran 4.62 seconds in the 40. Despite being a complete novice, he burst on the scene and was so impressive that he immediately became a highly sought after recruit. Only a few months after arriving in America intending to play basketball, he suddenly had SEC schools offering him football scholarships.
While this might not have been exactly Prince's original dream, things were looking bright. Then, suddenly his athletic future looked like it might come crashing down in a nightmare. Playing in a high school basketball game in early 2015, he suffered a horrific broken leg (sounds like a Paul George type injury). He broke both his tibia and fibula and had to have a rod inserted in his leg.
Fortunately, schools honored the football scholarship offers. Prince told his mother back in Nigeria that he was giving up basketball after his injury and that he was going to play football in college. She was confused, thinking that he was talking about rugby. When he arrived at Auburn, Prince weighed about 240 pounds.
After a redshirt season, he got some playing time in 2016. Once again, things were looking up. Then, more adversity struck. His mom suddenly died early in 2017. Having already lost his father as a child, Prince and his siblings back in Nigeria now only had each other. Depressed, Prince wanted to quit football.
Coaches convinced him to change his mind and he became the starting left tackle to begin 2017, but was benched in the middle of the season for inconsistent performances. Eventually, he got his job back and showed enough promise that entering the 2019 season, Todd McShay had Prince projected to be the 31st overall pick in this year's NFL draft.
Prince started out with hoop dreams. Now he has NFL dreams. He also wants to bring his siblings to the U.S. where they will be safer. Whether success for him comes in pro football or if that dream shifts once more to another arena, I wish happiness and prosperity for both Prince and his family, because right now he's living the American dream.
Background and Combine measurements
Something that adds to the drama with Prince is that dichotomy between his early draft projections and his medical status. Most draft boards have him as around a 2nd to early 3rd round pick.
ESPN 81st overall (3rd rd). Lance Zierlein 6.30 grade, 63rd overall prospect (late 2nd). Drafttek 7th OT, 60th overall (2nd rd). Matt Miller 4th round pick in mock, 113th overall. CBSSports 50th overall (2nd rd). Sports Illustrated 9th OT (normally about late 2nd to 3rd). PFF not ranked top 10 OT. Kyle Crabbs 6th OT (notably, this is higher than both Jones and Jackson), 42nd overall. Walterfootball 7th OT, round 1 to 2. Chad Reuter not drafted 3 round mock.
There could be concerning medical flags that could substantially drop Prince's draft position. He ignored doctor recommendations and went down to the Senior Bowl, thinking he had to get ready for the draft. At Mobile, however, the staff flagged him, because of swelling in his knee and wouldn't let him practice. He had his knee scoped and didn't participate in any drills at the Combine. The same knee (I believe it is his right knee) reportedly bothered him the entire 2019 season.
Prince had that serious broken leg in high school in 2015. He had a left leg injury in 2018.
It will be very interesting to see what happens at the Draft. We don't know the details of his medical flag. If it is really bad, Prince might fall all the way to the back part of the draft or might not even be drafted at all. If teams are comfortable with his condition and like his upside, he might be a 2nd round pick.
6'5'' tall, 308 pounds, 33 1/2'' arms, 10 3/8'' hands
Played basketball and also was swimmer. Played soccer in Nigeria. Auburn coaches say that he can still run a sub 5 second 40, despite gaining weight to become offensive lineman.
Good natured, friendly and intelligent in interviews. Pokes fun at stereotypes people have about Nigeria, by talking about having a fictional pet giraffe named "Bobo". Graduating with two degrees.
Starting LT most of last 3 seasons at Auburn. Sometimes used in unbalanced formation as extra RT.
To see the full potential for Prince, you have to watch games both from 2018 and 2019. In 2018, he was more inconsistent, but he also moved better and was more explosive and powerful. In 2019, he had advanced technically and was a more consistent player, but his knee seemed to clearly limit him and he physically couldn't do some things as well as he did the previous season. This made him more challenging to evaluate, because you have to imagine what he might look like as a player if you took the athlete from 2018 and combined it with the more experienced 2019 version.
Also, I don't really see Prince as a OT in the NFL. All the boards have him listed at OT, but I think he could be a very good LG in the NFL. Likely, an NFL team will try him at OT first, but one reason I like Prince is I believe he could be a better prospect inside than many of the conventional guards in this draft. Previously, I've given a number of guards 4th round area grades. Prince has a number of traits that could ultimately make him better than many of those guys.
Good aggression and play strength. Drives LBs at second level. Knocks LBs to the ground. Able to generate movement with both double teams and solo blocks. Good pad level. Understands footwork and how to engage hips into run blocks. Good footwork to get inside angle to seal defenders on runs. Able to work hips around defender to seal. Great technique on combo blocks. Pushes the first defender on the hip and moves him, then works up and gets into the LB with hands inside. Recognizes when he should go directly to the LB on a combo.
Makes impact in short yardage situations. Stays low and drives defenders out of their gap to create space for the RB. Quality footwork and hip snap to generate power into defensive lineman.
Very solid awareness for someone with so little football experience. Understands how to adjust assignment for blitzes and twists. Doesn't see everything and makes some mistakes, but overall he's smart on the field.
Fast runner in space on screens. Delivers blows to defenders as pull blocker. Climbs quickly to LB at second level.
Made multiple very athletic blocks in space where he had to turn, change direction then dive fully extended to pick off defender.
Plays hard, competitive spirit. One play I liked, a small and quick LB tries to crease inside on a run. He slides over, engages the LB and pancakes him to the ground. The ball carrier is trying to break tackles and run around. Prince gets back up off the ground, sees the play is still going on, chases the same LB, dives and knocks him to the ground a second time. He essentially pancakes the same guy twice on one play. That's effort, that's want to.
Sustains run blocks, moves laterally well to stay engaged, fights hard to defend blocking angle and not let defender slip by. On the backside of a wide zone run, he sees a LB blitz and is quick enough to adjust and get a hand out to impede the LB, prevent the quick penetration. On the front side of an outside zone run, he does a good job swallowing up a smaller and quicker OLB and opening up the edge for a huge run by the RB.
Good change of direction as pass blocker. Takes short, measured steps and has decent lateral movement, but questionable range to stay at LT. Looks for work as help blocker in pass pro and athletic enough to get back into position if he gets out of phase with the LG.
Good size and bulk, though shoulders maybe slightly narrow.
On one play, it looked like he used a fake jump set to try to keep the DE off balance. I thought that was interesting, because you don't see that much in college.
Understands how to drop anchor and maintain wide base to slow bull rush. This impressed me, because quite a few college players don't effectively grasp how to use their feet to reestablish anchor against power. To me, this is a sign of Prince's intelligence from a football IQ standpoint how quickly he has progressed with fundamental techniques even though he didn't start playing offensive line until he got to college.
Should be scheme versatile, able to block both for zone blocking teams and for power schemes.
Solid hand speed, but could improve more as hand fighter.
If you add up many of the elements listed above, he has very good potential as a run blocker. Athletic movement, strength and power, technique, aggression and effort, intelligence, scheme versatility. This is a reason I think he could be a good NFL guard.
After his knee issue, was beaten by push pull moves at an alarming rate. I don't know if I've ever seen a lineman lose so frequently to the same move. I think this was a physical problem, because against a push pull in the first game of the season in 2019 he did just fine and he didn't show this vulnerability in 2018. I don't understand why this happened to him in 2019, but in general he needs to improve using his hands, because that is an area of his game where he isn't yet up to speed.
Plays at times like he has shorter arms. I wonder if he had some type of hand injury in 2019 that wasn't disclosed, because he would miss grabs or his hand would slide off the defender. This led to a wide variety of problems. He'd loses to club and swim moves. Defenders would get into his chest and his anchor would get compromised. He wasn't able to torque defenders consistently, because if you can't grab them in the first place, you can't turn them.
Lacks quickness to kick slide without opening up his hips very early perpendicular to the LOS. To try to compensate, he oversets. So, he loses both types of ways. He either ends up with a weak outside shoulder that becomes a swinging gate or he opens his inside shoulder to counters. Even has to cross over at times. This issue was likely exacerbated by his knee problem, but even back in 2018 he was leaky in the same manner.
Often has his hands wide at waist level in pass protection. This can lead to potential holding penalties, it leaves his chest exposed and leads to passive hand placements. He tries to grab the shoulder pad and can't consistently latch on. Every now and then he does displays a very good punch, so I know he has it in him, but he either wasn't taught or hasn't yet learned how to make this a more reliable part of his pass blocking arsenal. Sometimes tries to punch too early.
Inconsistent coming off the ball. Some snaps he's very quick. Other times, he's slow to react to the snap.
Moved better in 2018, but later in 2019 he looked stiff whenever he had to bend over then come back up. I think this is his knee and a very telling sign was he could move very quickly laterally on runs going in one direction, but was slower going in the opposite direction. Probably, that is because he could push off much better with one leg, but not the other.
4th round grade. His medical status is concerning. If he can't get his body right, he might not be able to play or he'll be limited just the way he was in 2019 and it will negatively impact his ability to perform well.
I'm not sure how to factor that into his draft grade, because possibly he'll be just fine long term, he just needed surgery to correct a nagging issue. We don't know, it is kind of a mystery. If Prince had a clean bill of health, he might get a 2nd or 3rd round grade. Austin Corbett was a tackle in college who was an early 2nd round player who easily could have been a 1st round pick, but in terms of ceiling and potential, I believe Prince is a much better prospect. I would go so far to say that if Prince never had any prior injuries and we limited it to guard and you gave me Tristan Wirfs, Josh Jones and Prince Tega Wanogho and asked me which of those 3 players I wanted, it probably would be Prince.
What worries me is that his career could be over before it even begins. Maybe Auburn made a mistake converting him to offensive line. Not that long ago, this was a player who weighed 240 pounds and was fast. If things had been different, we might have be talking about whether to draft him as an inside linebacker today.
Muti, the Fresno State guard, also has a bad injury history. Just for consistency, I'll put Prince there as well, but really I like Prince as a player and I think he has very good upside. It is just tough to know how the medicals look, he might get flagged and end up on the Do Not Draft list on a team's board. I hope that doesn't happen, because he's come so far in such a short period of time and worked so hard to get to this point. His story shouldn't end like this. He's overcome adversity in his life before and this is minor compared to what he's already faced in life. Plus, the NFL could use some Bobo the giraffe.