Oregon OL Max Unger (AP Photo)
As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, the editorial staff at Buffalo Rumblings will begin profiling draft prospects that may end up being potential targets of the Buffalo Bills. We're back on the offensive side of the ball this morning, profiling Oregon C/G Max Unger.
When the Buffalo Bills released offensive guard Derrick Dockery just prior to the start of the free agent signing period, they opened up a gaping hole along the interior of their offensive line. Though they've entertained the idea of filling the hole with a veteran - most notably former Steelers guard Kendall Simmons - as each day passes, it's looking more like a rookie will fill the void at guard this coming season. Hence this breakdown of Oregon offensive lineman Max Unger.
One of college football's better offensive tackles as a sophomore, Unger enters the 2009 NFL Draft as a primary center prospect, but with the smarts and versatility to play virtually any line position, dependent on situation and scheme. As I'm sure you're well aware, the Bills have generally shown a preference towards offensive linemen with versatility, particularly on the inside of their line. Naturally, Unger has piqued their interest. I spoke recently with Dan Kadar, who heads up SB Nation's NFL Draft blog, Mocking the Draft, about Unger - a lineman that our very own scout is very familiar with.
Max Unger - Center/Guard, Oregon
6'5", 309 pounds, 5.35-second 40 yard dash
Strengths: Versatility - has the ability to play all five line positions... good upper body strength and power... sudden hand punch... very intelligent with a high football IQ and top-notch awareness... durable and steady... plenty of experience... can move in space and reach the second level... competitive with a mean streak... great character; is very much a "team player" and leader.
Weaknesses: Not as athletic as advertised... has struggled with speed rushers... too often lets defenders get into his pads... played in a wide-open offense very dissimilar to most NFL offenses... lower body strength can be improved... can he excel at just one position?
Here's what Dan had to say in response to five questions I sent him:
Rumblings: The Bills have their starting center in place, having signed Geoff Hangartner in free agency. They're looking at Unger as a guard, at least initially. Can he play guard at the NFL level, or do you believe he'd be a better center?
Dan Kadar: Unger would be a much better center or tackle in the NFL. At this point, he's just not powerful enough to play guard.
Rumblings: Buffalo values versatility in its linemen, so clearly, Unger would pique their interest, as he's capable of playing pretty much any line position. Do you believe Mike Bellotti's decision to move him around stunted his development in any way? Does he have the potential to keep getting better?
Dan Kadar: Moving him around didn't stunt Unger, I don't think. What may have was that wide spread offense. That forced him into being more of a finesse blocker and not a mauler.
Much more after the jump.
Rumblings: I've heard mixed reports on Unger's athleticism. His short-area Combine times weren't great. Does he have the hand punch, intelligence, et al to make up for his apparent lack of quickness, or do you believe his times are misleading?
Dan Kadar: I think his times are slightly misleading. It's kind of like Knowshon Moreno. Clearly he plays faster than his timed speed would lead you to believe. Unger showed at Oregon he has that short-area quickness that allows him to get into position and adjust.
Rumblings: Buffalo fielded one of the league's biggest offensive lines last year. Were the 310-pound Unger to join the team, the overall size of the line would go down. Is Unger strong enough at the point of attack to consistently open up holes in the run game, even if he's considered "light" by NFL guard standards?
Dan Kadar: For Buffalo, this issue has to be the biggest area of concern about Unger. In Buffalo's scheme, he might not be strong enough at this point in his development. His lower body especially needs to get much stronger. I also wonder a bit about his footwork at the next level. He had a lot of room to work in at Oregon and might need to tighten up his stance.
Rumblings: The Bills play in an AFC East division featuring three 3-4 defenses. Unger would therefore spend a lot of time helping out on big nose tackles and picking up inside blitzers as a Bill. What's his intelligence like? Is he smart enough to pick up on these things quickly enough to start at OG right out of the gate?
Dan Kadar: Unger is very intelligent. He made the pre-snap calls and always seemed to pick up the blitz. I read somewhere that he did not get a penalty called against him during his entire senior year. That's crazy. He's definitely smart enough to play guard; that's not the issue at all. I just think he'd be poorly utilized there.
NFL Comparison: Nick Mangold, New York Jets
- Unger is an athletic lineman, but not the athletic marvel that some make him out to be. When he locks onto a defender, he's stout enough and polished enough to keep them out of the play. His intelligence and versatility are his major selling points right now, and a good NFL team will polish his technique and turn him into a very steady interior lineman. Like Mangold, he's more about intelligence and technique than simply mauling a guy. Ironically, Kadar likens him to both Mangold and current Bill Geoff Hangartner over at New Era Scouting.
Other Notes: Two-time first team All-Pac 10... third fastest time (7.39 seconds) among linemen in the 3-cone drill at the Combine... fourth fastest time (4.5 seconds) among linemen in the 20-yard shuttle at the Combine... 22 bench press reps, 5.35-second 40 yard dash, 7'9" broad jump at the Combine... currently ranked by NFL Network's Mike Mayock as the best center available... born in Hawaii.
Does he "Fit the Bill"? Absolutely. After letting go of Derrick Dockery, the Bills are far more likely to target smart, gritty interior linemen that do everything by the book (and can play) than ultra-talented players whose effort may be lacking. I have believed for some time that Unger would be the team's top-rated interior lineman; considering our hole at guard, it's not inconceivable to think that Unger could start from day one at either left or right guard (depending, of course, on who is starting at left tackle).
As for Kadar's concerns about Unger's ability to play guard, I'll just say this - Brad Butler had the same concerns (lower body strength) entering the NFL. It took him a year, but he's developed into a fine guard in Buffalo's system, even at 6'7" and 315 pounds. Unger is a better pro prospect than Butler ever was. I'd much rather have a tough, nasty interior lineman that may be lacking but can be worked with. Unger fits that mold - and once he gets stronger in the lower body, he'll be just fine as a starting NFL guard in my book.
Many thanks to Dan for sharing his take on Unger with us - and I have sincere hopes that he'll drop by to answer questions as well. Be sure to check out Mocking the Draft for all of your league-wide NFL Draft news, including the 2009 SB Nation NFL Mock Draft.