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Cowboys 2012 Draft Prospects: Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler

Kevin Zeitler runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine
Kevin Zeitler runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine

Today, we continue our look at the collegians in whom the Cowboys have expressed interest with a long, lingering look at Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, who was a three year starter for the Badgers. For the last 2-3 years, the Badgers have boasted indisputably the deepest and most talented offensive line in the nation. In the past two seasons, Zeitler has racked up a great deal of recognition; in 2011, he garnered first-team All-American honors, was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten and (Jason Garrett will assuredly like this) was Academic All-Big Ten.

As befits an Academic honoree, Zeitler is known as a bit of a perfectionist - in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field. In short, he's a coach's dream; scouts report that he does just about everything in his life "by the book" and to the best of his ability. And he has a lot of ability: Zeitler has an almost perfect NFL guard's body: 6'3", 314 pounds, with huge 10" hands. Moreover, he's thick and durable, with good agility, lateral mobility and quick feet. This combo was lethal at the college level; according NFL Draft Report statistics, he led college football with 142 knockdown blocks and had 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns, obviously a major reason Wisconsin had a per-game average of 44.62 points and 467 total yards, including 237 on the ground.

But a (moving) picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at him in action against Big Ten rivals Nebraska and Penn State. Zeitler's evident strength and athleticism was on display at the Combine (here's some video of his workout), here he benched 225 pounds 32 times, showed off a 29" vertical jump and impressive 20-yard shuttle (4.61) and 3 cone drill (7.77) times. Although its hard to find evidence of pre-draft visits (Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan worked him out privately, for example), its equally hard not to believe that he'll draw a lot of interest from NFL front offices.

Wanna know why? See what scouts have to say about Zeitler after the jump...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 5th-rated OG; 49th overall

A good looking guard prospect with a thick trunk and natural girth through his base. Sits into his stance well, displays natural bend, can keep his base under him off the football and create an initial snap into contact. Isn't overly powerful as an in-line guy, but creates good initial movement, works his legs hard through the play and extends his arms well into defenders. Displays very good hand placement, consistently is able to gain inside leverage and stick to blocks well through the play. Demonstrates above-average balance as well through the play making him tough to disengage from. Is also coordinated on the move. Possesses good short area quickness for his size when asked to pull from the backside, displaying solid range. Breaks down well and can hit a target off his frame and eliminate on contact.

Needs to do a better job getting off the ball consistently in the pass game. Too often is one of the last lineman moving and will allow defenders to threaten gaps off his frame or get into his body. Possesses natural anchor strength when he can get his hands on you, but when he's late off the ball will get rocked on contact and doesn't display the type of athleticism to quickly recover. Possesses average lateral quickness when asked to mirror. At his best when engaged and showcases some shuffle and slide ability through contact with good hand placement. However, isn't' overly laterally gifted in space and will lose balance into blocks trying to get his hands on defenders and will overextend. Works well in tandem, sits into his stance well and can keep the pocket clean when picking up the blitz. Displays good awareness and keeps his head on a swivel.

Impression: A tough, strong in-line guy who you can run behind and also has some coordination on the move. Not as effective in the pass game, but can mature into an average NFL pass blocker if he learns to get off the ball more consistently. Looks like a gritty type starter early on in his NFL career to me.

Drafttek (Long Ball): 4th-rated OG; 48th overall

Kevin Zeitler (6'4", 314 lbs) comes from one of my favorite offensive line factories in Madison, Wisconsin. Now while I might be tempted to compare Kevin to one of my 2011 pet cats (former teammate and 3rd round pick John Moffitt), and quite frankly they should both have a nice NFL career, the native of Waukesha (although not quite as big as Moffitt) may be a better interior OL prospect for the following 3 reasons: 1) lower center of gravity (strong lower body definition), 2) agility in pass protection, and 3) consistency hitting his targets on the move.

Zeitler's results at the Combine were a 5.39 forty (1.75 for 10 yard split), 4.61 shuttle, 7.77 3-cone, 29" vertical, 8'05" broad jump and 32 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 70 and a lateral agility factor of 0.78. His 32-3/4" arms promote a wingspan of 80-1/2".

In pass blocking, Zeitler comes out of the snap and anchors well against larger DL in the middle, exhibits good initial hand position and resets hands in order to maintain distance. He's just athletic enough to help on nose tackle and then pick up a twist, cha-cha or late blitz. Footwork is good enough to mirror quick interior rushers and is observant of his teammates, looking to help the center or tackle if he is uncovered.

Kevin would be a good fit in a ZBS, as he uses mobility and strength to move defender down the line. He dips his shoulder and moves his feet to get outside leverage to provide cut-back lanes outside. Zeitler comes out of his stance strong and low, allowing him to maintain leverage in short-yardage situations. He gives the necessary effort to get to the 2nd level, locate defenders, and hit as many targets as possible. He could improve on keeping outside leverage when doubling on the nose, and might drop a few "belly pounds" to improve his agility on pulling and trapping.

Kevin Zeitler is not a quick-twitch, agile athlete; however, he is a technician, as well as a dependable, no-nonsense mauler who works hard in the weight room and on the field.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 4th-rated OG; 24th overall

Positives: Outstanding size and strength. Thick-bodies, wide-shouldered and carries an imposing physical presence. Plays under control with great balance and footwork. Very good functional football-playing strength. Can lock up, steer and control defenders. Strong finisher. Plays smart—quick to see pressure unfolding and react to stunts and games. Switches off blocks to help. Extremely tough, competitive and determined. Grounded—hardworking, Midwestern values are ingrained in him.

Negatives: Average arm length. Appears almost overly muscled. Not an elite athlete. Can be stressed by quickness and do a better job of guaging his power and striking with authority. More of a grabber than a puncher. Limited versatility—guard only. Durability needs to be evaluated—has a history of ankle problems.

Summary: Big, smart, steady, physical run blocker with the girth, strength and efficiency to plug-and-play in multiple schemes. Is a very safe pick and cold give decision makers comfort knowing exactly what they are getting.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 3rd-rated OG; 45th overall

Pass Protection: Initial quickness is just average and can get beat off the snap when footwork isn't sound. Flashes quick hands in sets and can get into defenders pads and lock on. Also shows ability to shuffle and mirror to stay in front of rushers once engaged. Can get caught lunging at times which can make him vulnerabl to quicker interior rusher. Does not panic when getting knocked off balance initially and flashes ability to recover and get back into position. Can sink and anchor to neutralize bull rush attempt.

Run Blocking: Sound initial fit more times than not and can wall off assignment. Displays quick and compact hands to lock on to defenders. Drives legs once in position and flashes ability to drive defenders when stays low and generating leverage. However can play too high on occasion and does not have an elite inline power base to overcome and get adequate movement when pad level raises up. Shuffles feet well upon contact to stay engaged with blocks. Plays under control and takes good angles in space or when climbing to the second level. Also displays ability to adjust on the move to cover up targets in space.

Awareness: Possesses above-average instincts and football I.Q. More instinctive as run blocker than in pass pro at this point. Generally assignment sound in the run game. Locates targets pre-snap and executes assignments. Also does a nice job of identifying targets at the second and third level on the move. Keeps head on a swivel in pass pro. Can be step late getting into position when picking up pressures from the second and third level.

Toughness: Flashes an edge and can deliver the big block when catches defenders off guard. Needs to become more of a finisher at this point. Does not back down from challenges but would like to see more of mean streak.

Intangibles: Hard worker that won the Badger Power Award for his dedication to the weight room in 2010. Has added substantial weight and gotten much stronger during collegiate career. Lost starting job because of an injury during 2010 camp but stayed positive and regained it in time for the Big Ten season opener. Has practiced at center. 2010-11 All Academic Big Ten.

These reports place Zeitler in a pretty tight range: he comes in as the 3rd-5th best guard in the 2012 class, and anywhere from 24th to 49th overall. So, although he could conceivably be selected at the end of the first round, its much more likely that Zeitler will be a second round pick. In fact, his drafting sweet spot appears to be right about the Cowboys' second round pick, at # 45 overall. That's where I'll slot him on my Cowboys "little board"--as serious contender when Dallas comes on the board in round two.

Next up: Illinois OT-OG Jeff Allen

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