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2023 NFL Draft: Guards projected for rounds 3-4

Should the Rams take a top-rated interior player, or wait?

NC State v Syracuse
Chandler Zavala primed to unhinge his hips
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

In the past few years, a lot of guards that I like fall into this area, Dylan Parham, Cordell Volson, Kendrick Green, Jonah Jackson, and Hjalte Froholdt, Their on field results have, so far, been mixed, but In my own defense, they are all quite young yet.

It’s a tough area to project. Players who were solid, even stellar college players. but lack the easy to read elite skills of top-rated prospects and have some holes in their game, are now in the headlights of teams beginning to fill needs instead of grabbing that best player available. Occasionally, talented prospects will fall back into this area, but more often, over drafting is more prevalent.

Previously, we projected guards for the 1st-2nd round area. Now onto the next two rounds.

Tier #2, Rounds 3 & 4

Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame - 6’ 5” / 304 lbs. / 10” hands / 31 5/8” arms / 77 5/8” wingspan @ Senior Bowl

Came to Notre Dame as a tackle, spent three years and 34 starts as an All-ACC center and then moved to guard as a senior. Patterson probably projects best in the pivot and is a versatile, high-floor prospect.

Plays smoothly, confident, and under control. Not a bully, he uses good positioning, technique and sustains blocks well. Patterson is not a plus athlete and wasn’t called on pull often, mostly short gap stuff. He does though, work well from chip combo’s to the next level and although not a dancer appears to get to his reach blocks.

Overcomes short arms and wingspan by alternately using a two-hand and independent-hand punch. With his big, strong lower half and good knee bend/pad level, Patterson stays square and balanced, able to react and set anchor against the bullrush. His composure allows him to ride pass rushers past the quarterback when they get an edge on him.

Could the Rams use a smart, experienced interior lineman with good technique and football IQ? Personally, I like him better at center. He had a tough Senior Bowl week and it could affect his draft stock. A good selection at #136 or anywhere after.

Chandler Zavala, North Carolina St. - 6’ 3” / 322 lbs. / 10 3/8” hands / 33” arms / 80 5/8” wingspan @ East-West Shrine Bowl

Played his first two seasons, 20 starts and all-American accolades, at D2 Fairmont State. Zavala won a starting guard role after transferring to NCSU in 2021 and played five games before back surgery shelved him for the season, he returned to start all 11 games in ‘22. Was having a strong Shrine Bowl week until tweaking a muscle and sitting out the last workout and game.

Stocky build with powerful trunk, he uses good knee bend and squatty profile to create plus balance and leverage. In pass pro, he is patient and punches well when charged. He sets anchor with a wide base and is able to unhinge his hips out of that squat and not give up ground. He looks to stay aware of stunts/blitzes/loops and helps out when not engaged.

Intense, hot-motored run blocker and plays to the whistle, with numerous pancakes throughout his film. Not an athletic specimen, efficient is probably a better description, but is nimble enough. NCSU ran a lot of quick screens and pulls, Zavala was adept in space.

Zavala didn’t really play football (soccer player) until he was a high school senior and entered college at 260 lbs. He put on 70 in first year and has been sculpting his frame since. On film, you can really see his NCSU improvement from 2021. I like this prospect and think that he would be natural in the Rams schemes. Certainly take him at #156, but if L.A. doesn’t get a higher rated lineman earlier, consider him at #136.

Atonio Mafi, UCLA - 6’ 3” / 338 lbs. / 10 3/8” hands / 32 5/8” arms / 79 3/4” wingspan @ East-West shrine Bowl

Its been a long road for Mafi, he was too heavy to play youth football, so he had to wait until high school to get on the field. He entered UCLA as a 400 lb. defensive lineman and in 2020 he finally got into action on the offensive line. His inexperience and need od technique work paints him up as a development project.

Every draft profile mentions his size and lack of speed. Importantly, he is an NFL prospect to do battle with another 300+ lb. snot-slinging brahma bull, not dance the lead for the Kirov ballet. And while power is his game, he navigated in one of college football’s most frenetic, wide-open offenses and shows an ability to hit what he gets to. Inside, he generates knock-down power with leverage created by a wide, compact frame and good upper body strength. He has good grip strength and sustains well.

That wide body helps in pass pro as well, just going around him creates lanes. He does well in keeping his feet moving to mirror/react rushers. He uses both the two-hand and independent hand punch, not elite length good for his frame. If he misses that punch, he struggles to recover vs. speed.

Mafi hustles, has good get-off and plays with a mean streak. He is raw and needs grooming. As many ooh’s and ahh’s as mauling and torquing a guy to the ground gets, as a pro, that double-team chip and climb or getting to the next level to seal off show’s growth.

It would easy to pigeon-hole Mafi as a bulldozer who thrives in a power game, because he does, but he actually has some decent footwork and enough athleticism to win in a variety of blocking schemes. Although the future is hazy about how the Rams run game will shake out after replacing the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Previous L.A. OC, Liam Coen, liked to use a mid/inside/split zone game with some gap mixed in or the Rams could go back to the outside zone attack. Mafi would fit both styles. At a mid/late Round 4 selection.

Should the Rams be interested in these prospects?

I like the edgy play of Zavala the best. After a late start getting to football, he is still learning the game and growing into his body. He played in a college multiple offense, a strange hybrid of gap run schemes and the “Air Raid’ pass concepts of spreading the field horizontally pre-snap and attacking horizontally post-snap.

Patterson would be the safe conservative choice, a competent player with good technique, football IQ, and sufficient athleticism. His versatility at guard and center makes him a solid addition. Coming out of Notre Dame, you know he can run block.

I may be reaching a little on Mafi, but he is fun to watch on tape. An ex-rugby player who understands leverage and playing low. He not only needs the most technique work of the three, but his body is a work in progress. I believe he has the the athleticism and attitude to play on special teams, not just blocking on extra points, but coverage teams as well. Wouldn’t it be a gas to see a 340 lb. fire plug running down on punts and kickoffs?

Round 5 and 6 are in the next installment.