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Offensive line is clearly the biggest need for the Giants – on the offensive side of the ball at least – heading into this year’s Draft. Today, we look at one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s offensive line class: Villanova offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, one of the top small-school prospects in the Draft. Ijalana draws comparisons to another fellow small-school lineman, UMass grad Vladimir Ducasse, who could find himself starting for the New York Jets next season after being taken in the second round of last year’s Draft.

Ben Ijalana
Senior, OT
Villanova
6-4, 320

Let’s take a look at some scouting reports.

From the National Football Post’s Scouting Department:

A gifted athlete for his size who displays good range off the edge in pass protection and has the kind of athleticism needed to play on the left side in the NFL. Does a nice job quickly changing directions and redirecting in space, displays a lateral burst when asked to mirror one-on-one and exhibits the range to reach the corner. Is still raw with his footwork and too often stands upright initially off the snap and will get overextended on his kick-slide. However, he’s a long-armed kid who sticks to blocks well once he gets a hold of defenders and is a really heavy-handed kid. Possesses a good first step off the snap and is able to consistently get around defenders and seal, and has improved getting off the snap count on time as a senior.

Has really improved his overall pad level as a run blocker as a senior. Does a much better job sitting into his stance, firing off the football low, extending his arms and keeping his feet under him through contact. A downright dominant in-line guy at the I-AA level who can routinely get under defenders, lock out and drive linemen off the ball. Is also very coordinated on the move, possesses good range when asked to pull, step and seal quickly inside and does a great job breaking down and eliminating a defender at the second level.

Impression: A downright dominant small-school blocker with a great physical/athletic skill set. Needs to continue to improve his footwork on his kick-slide, but he’s a gifted enough athlete to pick that up quickly. The biggest question for Ijalana is, where does he best fit? He’s long enough to play left tackle and physical enough to play guard. Either way he’s one of the better offensive line prospects at this stage and in my view you let him get comfortable at guard in year one and see if he can make the move to left tackle in year two.

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that college scouts will really overanalyze a player’s tangibles that can be out on paper. What difference does it make if Ijalana is 6’4″ instead of 6’5″? His arms are long enough for him to be good in pass protection. You can measure height on paper…you can’t measure productivity on paper.

Here’s another report, from CBS Sports

Pass blocking: Exceptional pass rusher at the FCS level, dominates defensive ends on most plays with great length with athleticism. Quick to set and get his hands on his opponent. Excellent foot quickness to mirror his man. Works to sustain even if his man backs off a bit. Latches his hands onto the opponent and extends his arms, very difficult for defenders to get off. Recoils and punch multiple times. Good anchor to hold up defensive ends and keep them safely out of the pocket. Inconsistent kick-slide, will cross his legs and be beaten outside when he loses focus off the snap. Lets up on hesitation moves and after initial contact at times, allowing his man to pressure the passer or get downfield to make a tackle. Must improve his awareness of end-tackle stunts and inside blitzers, as his quarterback takes too many direct hits. Carries a bit of extra weight in his mid-section.

Run blocking: Has the bulk, length and footwork to be a very effective run blocker. Crashes down to seal the edge for cutbacks on zone plays and bootlegs; FCS defensive linemen cannot stop him from taking them out of the play. Widens his base, goes out to meet the rush end on inside runs, controls them and pushes them back on most plays. Comes off the ball a hit high in short-yardage situations but drives off the snap well to move the line of scrimmage. Creates angles to wall off defenders from approaching the running lane.

Pulling/trapping: Excellent agility to get out of his stance, capable of moving behind the line and into the hole to negate linebackers. Once latched onto a defender, his strong hands and long arms make it difficult to disengage. Quick to cut block but must improve his effectiveness. Has a tough time adjusting to quick players in space, even if they are coming straight-on. Uses his long arms to get a hand on a defender but it is often not enough to take them out of the play.

Downfield: Athletic and nimble enough to make an impact downfield, capable of getting to the second level and beyond to drive back defenders and free up ballcarriers. Struggles to take out targets in space, does not bend his knees or get his hands up quickly enough to engage. Stands around too much as the play continues, should be looking to take out another defender.

Many scouts are projecting Ijalana to be more suited as a guard in the NFL – but as the NFP scouting report stated, where does he fit? The Giants depend a lot on their guards to pull into open space and into the second level. He’s not yet consistent enough to be relied on to get to the second level and block in space. In the Giants system I think he’d be best suited as a tackle, but he’s physical enough to play guard if needed. And that positional flexibility is something the Giants have come to value in their linemen of late.

Right tackle Kareem McKenzie is in the last year of his contract and will be 32 when training camp starts. Depending on what draft expert(s) you rely on, you undoubtedly have seen a ton of offensive tackles connected to the Giants round one. Many of those same draft experts have Ijalana ranked near Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Colorado’s Nate Solder as an offensive line prospect. In fact, NFP’s Wes Bunting has him ranked fourth among all tackle prospects in this year’s draft class — ahead of Solder and BC’s Anthony Castonzo, and barely behind Carimi. Athleticism and positional flexibility make Ijalana one of the most intriguing players to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month.