Can Amini Silatolu be another Mike Iupati?
Today, our tour through the best interior linemen in the 2012 draft stops in Wichita Falls, TX. Here, at little Midwestern State, we find Amini Silatolu, a big man with an even bigger game. The Story of Silatolu's journey to Division II MSU is a long and circuitous one: He was a prep star in Northern California who enrolled at San Joaquin Delta College with the intent to work on his grades and facilitate a transfer to Boise State. After earning JuCo All-American honors in 2008, Silatolu had to sit out the 2009 season due to academic ineligibility. Unable to enroll at either Boise or at his second choice, Nevada, he settled on Midwestern State.
At MSU, he has dominated the competition. Unlike most rival players, Silatolu stands 6'4" and weighs in at 311, boasting a thick, powerful body. And he loves to use it - with the intent to punish. On tape, Silatolu can be seen attacking defenders and finishing blocks. He plays with "violent hands" and tallies a lot of pancakes. You can see him in action here, in a highlight reel from Pro Football Weekly. Want more? Here he is in extended action, in the weight room and on the field. Silatolu lines up at left tackle (he's number 57) and just destroys his competition.
In no small part because of his size and strength advantages. Silatolu was a consensus D-II All-American, finished second in the voting for the prestigious Gene Upshaw Award (given to the top D-II lineman), and was the first player from Midwestern state ever to be invited to the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, he pulled a hamstring and was unable to show his skills against the big boys from BCS schools. At the Combine, he acquitted himself well, demonstrating good explosion scores, as Long Ball notes below (his Combine workout can be seen here). Since then scouts, armed with good tape against inferior opponents and strong Combine scores, must try to figure him out.
After the break, let's see what our estimable cadre of scouts think of Silatolu's game
National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 3rd-rated OG; 35th overall
A thick, wide-bodied offensive lineman who plays left tackle at Midwestern State. Possesses a powerful lower half, natural flexibility into contact and exhibits the physical make-up to be ideally suited to play guard at the next level. Showcases the flexibility to bend and sit into his stance, and initially does a nice job keeping his base down on his initial kick-step. Looks balanced off the edge, but has a tendency to get upright into contact. Extends his arms well and is a balanced/powerful puncher who can rock lineman on contact. Therefore, despite getting upright into contact can still stick, but will struggle with balance when engaged and doesn't play as quick laterally, giving up some penetration because of it. However, when he does sink his hips on contact, showcases very good foot quickness for his size, displays some natural mirror ability and can slide his feet through contact. Just needs to do a better job of playing lower. Exhibits solid range toward the edge in pass protection vs. speed, but lacks ideal NFL range, will open up his hips and routinely lunge into contact to push rushers past the play.
Is a dominant run blocker. Not only can he coil up into his stance and really snap through his hips into contact, extending his arms and gaining leverage, but he also loves to finish. Showcases a strong set of legs and can run through contact and routinely get a good push. However, at times just throws himself at defenders, will lose balance at the point and can be side stepped. Needs to improve his initial balance on his second step into contact, but the body control and explosion is certainly there for him to win inside in-line at the next level. He's very impressive on the move. Showcases "plus" range for his size when asked to pull as a backside tackle, lead the power play and reach defenders in space. Plays with a nasty streak, loves to finish and his combination of range/athleticism and balance makes him dominant when trying to kick out defenders. Loves to block down field as well, routinely plays till the whistle and his range in space is very impressive, especially the way he covers ground and breaks down so quickly, dropping his pad level and/or cutting defenders in the process.
Impression: He has some technique flaws that needs to be fixed and will need to kick inside at the next level. However, he's a wide-bodied athlete with a powerful/explosive frame, good foot quickness and can really pull from the backside. Might need some time, but is one of the top guards in the class with as much upside as any.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 3rd-rated OG; 20th overall
Positives: Plays with aggression. Very heavy-handed with power in his punch. Has a nasty on-field playing temperament and seeks to bury defenders in the run game. Has a strong base, plays with power and relishes finishing blocks. Climbs defenders and can run the field and pick off multiple defenders. Likes to play and it shows—outstanding on-field energy and tempo. Street-tough and does not back down from a challenge. Good athlete—carries his weight well. Outstanding Combine positional drill performance and movement skill in agility drills. Has a 31 ½-inch vertical jump.
Negatives: Shows some small-school rawness in his play and can improve kick slide and hand use. Footwork is undisciplined. Will fall off blocks overaggressively attacking. Character will have to be evaluated closely. Academics have been an issue throughout career and some mental lapses show in his play—is not always quick to sort out the blitz or anticipate where pressure is coming.
Summary: Tough, physical, nasty small-college left tackle who projects to guard in the pros. Stands out on the field and dominates lesser competition, but did not play in any all-star games to prove himself and has some off-field issues and intelligence concerns that could push down his draft status. Grades out like a first-round talent and should be able to step into a starting lineup readily on the inside and develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber performer with simple assignments. Scouts have compared him to New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl OG Jahri Evans, but he is much more athletic pulling and playing in space and tape will draw instant man-crushes from good evaluators. Can win with power or quickness and fit any type of blocking scheme.
Draftek (Long Ball): 7th-rated OG; 70th overall
The game tapes I graded showed "a man among boys" at the small college level, as Silatolu dominated and clearly stood out. He has not backed down as the competition increased at all-star games . . . and his combine results were spectacular, including a 5.43 forty (1.89 ten yard split), 4.87 shuttle, 7.95 3-cone, 31.5" vertical, 8'11" broad jump and 28 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 69 and a lateral agility factor of 0.56. His 33" arms promote a wingspan of 79".
In pass blocking, Amini shows better lateral agility than expected for his short, stocky build. He's quick out of his stance, has a strong punch on initial contact, then resets his hands to maintain distance while extending his arms to finish plays. Silatolu sets a wide stance to anchor with low center of gravity and natural bend. He is quick enough to help left guard with a punch on the tackle after the snap, and still make it outside to stop the end from reaching the pocket . . . this trait will allow him to help both the center and tackle when he plays OG at the next level.
Silatolu is an attacking run-blocker, playing with violent hands at the point of attack and finishes his blocks with a "bad attitude". He is not passive and will crash down the edge while taking multiple defenders to the ground. This aggression can work against him, as he will overextend trying to sustain or dominate blocks instead of simply walling off quicker defenders. Despite his mass, his hustle and agility allows him to get in front of bubble screens, and he's agile and quick enough to trap inside or even pull around to the strong-side of the formation from his left tackle spot. Amini is a terror against small college linebackers and gets to the 2nd level and into move blocks very quickly for his size. His lack of long foot speed limits his range, but his effort in hitting multiple defenders, whether following or leading his back down the field, is impressive and he plays with the tenacity to push piles downfield for extra yardage.
You want intangibles? He passes the "Long Ball Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" in on-the-field nastiness and hustle . . . trust me, you will be watching this young man on Sundays next year!
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 3rd-rated OG; 50th overall
Pass Protection: May not be long enough to stay at offensive tackle where he played in college. Footwork is inconsistent but an above average athlete with good initial quickness and balance. Ability to redirect is a notch below elite. Ability to sink hips and absorb power rushers is above average. Upper body strength appears above average and flashes the ability to knock defenders off balance with punch.
Run Blocking: Doesn't have to play with sound technique to dominate Division II level and has developed some bad habits. Inconsistent first step and overextends at times. But he has the physical tools and mean streak to become a very good run blocker at guard in the NFL. He's quick and agile for his size. Drives legs and generates adequate push when stays low. Adequate angles to second level blocks. Above average body control and flashes the ability to adjust to moving targets. Smooth pivot and above average range when asked to pull.
Awareness: Late picking up some blitzes in pass protection and as a run blocker struggles to adjust on the fly when defensive front shifts at the snap of the ball. However, keeps head on a swivel and looks to help out when no one comes to him in pass protection. Plays under control and picks up line stunts. Above average job of locating and getting to second level assignments when asked to pull.
Toughness: Flashes mean streak and the ability to finish one-on-one. Lowers shoulder and delivers blow when asked to kick out defensive ends. Flashes the ability to flat back linebackers. Blocks through the whistle on most plays and doesn't back down but doesn't play every snap with the same level of tenacity.
Intangibles: 2011 team captain based on votes from teammates. Missed the 2009 season when did not qualify academically. Spent last two seasons at Division II school and first two seasons at a community college so the jump in level of competition is a concern. Mental capacity and maturity level need to be extensively studied.
The above scouts may not be in complete agreement, but a consensus does emerge: he's a big, mean, nasty load who loves to pound the opponent and plays with real aggression. Three of four hold Silatolu to be the third best guard in the draft, and slot him in the 20-50 range, which is the late first through the middle of the second round.
Here's the rub: I can't fathom him being selected as early as #14, nor can I see him lasting to the Cowboys' second pick, at # 45. Look at the teams that have expressed interest in Silatolu--Minnesota, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Tampa Bay have all scheduled visits--and where they draft: 23 (Lions); 24 (Steelers); 35 (Vikings); 36 (Buccaneers) and 40 (Panthers). He'll become a Cowboy only if he survives that gauntlet. I'm going to slot Silatolu in the second round on my Cowboys "little board," but I'm not going to hold out much hope that he makes it that far.
Next up: Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler