One could argue that TCU is O-Line U.
After all, nearly 1/5th of the Horned Frogs drafted in the Gary Patterson era play somewhere along the trenches on the offensive side of the ball. Guys like Marcus Cannon and Marshall Newshouse paved the way for recent stars such as Joey Hunt, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Joseph Noteboom, Aviante Collins, and more.
Will the next great TCU offensive lineman be drafted this weekend? It’s a strong possibility, with Lucas Niang eligible for selection.
After quietly putting together one of the best individual seasons by an offensive lineman in 2018, Niang returned for a senior season that promised to vault him into the first round. But injuries cut his final collegiate campaign short, and he played his last game in TCU purple against Texas last October. Now with NFL teams unable to conduct their own in-person medical evaluations, a player that had few questions a few months ago seems to have nothing but, now.
6’6”, 315 pounds, and with 34” arms, Niang certainly LOOKS the part of a long-term NFL starter. He went two plus seasons without allowing a sack in college, even while playing hurt as a senior. In fact, in well over 1,000 pass blocking drop backs, he surrendered only 32 pressures. And, again, zero sacks. That’s good.
With a pass-blocking grade in the upper-80’s and a steadily improving grade in the run game, Niang profiles as a can’t-miss prospect. But then there’s that pesky hip labrum, for which surgery sidelined him for the latter half of the 2019 campaign. That could mean he’s a first round pick, or slides down to day three. It’s nearly impossible to predict.
While medical teams may have questions about the tackle, his opponents certainly don’t; just listen to what top prospect, and likely second over pick, Chase Young had to say when asked who the best player he faced was. “The TCU tackle my sophomore year, he was pretty good. I was a younger guy, that’s when I was really figuring out technique. Playing that game I definitely had to find out that I needed technique to win beyond my physical skills.” NFL Draft Network’s Tony Pauline agrees, saying of Niang that he is an “athletic offensive tackle with tremendous size and upside. Bends his knees, plays with terrific pad level and stays square. Fires off the snap into blocks, works his hands throughout the action and keeps his feet moving.” He sees the prospect of a second year starter and potential star down the line. Lance Zierlein of the NFL gave him a starter grade, and said the “dancing bear” is a “help-now right tackle prospect who should be a long-time starter.”
Niang has been linked to the Eagles, where he could replace former Frog Big V, who left for Minnesota. New England seems to have a thing for TCU offensive linemen, and could swoop him up as well. The Titans, Bills, and Bears also seem to be willing to use a day two pick on their potential right tackle of the future.
Whatever happens, Niang has proven that he has the size, the strength, and the toughness to make it for a long time in the NFL. It’s just a matter of which team selects him when and starts him on that journey.
The NFL Draft begins Thursday evening at 7:00 pm with round one. Rounds two and three will take place Friday, and the final four rounds Saturday. All will take place virtually due to Coronavirus precautions. It will be simulcast on ESPN, ABC, and the NFL Network.