PULLMAN – Cole Madison and Cody O’Connell leave Washington State as a couple of the best pass protectors the school has seen under Mike Leach, and thus have an opportunity to do something unique in April’s NFL Draft.
Not since 1989 have multiple Cougars offensive linemen been selected in the same draft – Mike Utley and Chris Dyko pulled off the feat 29 years ago – and plenty of prognosticators think that Madison, a four-year starter at right tackle, and O’Connell, a two-year starter at left guard, can find their way into the NFL before teams begin picking from the free-agent branches.
But now might also be a good time for Madison to learn O’Connell’s position, and vice versa.
“What could be kind of ironic about this,” said Rob Rang, an analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, “we might see Madison slide inside to guard and O’Connell slide outside to tackle.”
For the time being, Rang projects both will wind up playing on the interior at the next level, meaning only Madison would be making a switch. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound native of Burien, Washington, is the 10th-rated player on Rang’s offensive guard draft board; NFL.com projects he’ll be a late selection, in either the fifth or sixth round.
According to Rang, Madison plays with exceptional knee bend and quickness – traits that aren’t always typical of Air Raid O-linemen who generally have to hold their block for a second or two.
“With (Madison) especially, I had previously kind of underrated his ability to bend his knees and his quickness, and I think he has gotten better every year of his career,” Rang said. “So I’m intrigued by that, especially in today’s modern era of football where most of the quarterbacks are being asked to get rid of the ball quickly.”
In his week at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Madison repped mostly at guard, briefly taking center out for a spin. The pro career of former teammate Joe Dahl could be a source of optimism for Madison, who’s likely to make a transition similar to the one Dahl did when he was selected by the Detroit Lions. The Spokane native and ex-WSU lineman finished his collegiate career as a tackle, but Dahl, whose 6-4, 300-pound frame is comparable to Madison’s build, has been a jack-of-all-trades type in Detroit, playing largely on the inside while also venturing out to tackle.
“(Madison) had shown the intelligence that leads you to believe that he possibly could play that center position,” Rang said. “He does have the athletic ability, the strength and the knee bend I look for at guard.
“Entering the year, I did not have Cole Madison as a draftable player. I thought he was an undrafted free-agent type. Now, I think that he is more in that fourth-, fifth-round kind of range.”
On the flip side, O’Connell is a mountain whose 6-9, 368-pound body might be more of an obstacle than an asset at the guard position. Rang still projects O’Connell as the draft’s 11th-rated guard – and a seventh-round draft pick – but a move outside could better suit “The Continent.”
“For a big guy he bends his knees pretty well, too,” Rang said. “I can say this, I think I was higher on O’Connell than the scouts that I’ve spoken to have been. I personally think he bends those knees enough, and is powerful enough, that he might be able to play at that next level. I wonder if he’s just so darn tall that he might have to move to tackle instead of guard, because there’s just not enough quarterbacks who’ll be able to see over the top of him.”
Luke Falk, the 6-4 WSU starter who threw behind O’Connell for two years, didn’t spend much time bouncing football off his left guard’s helmet, “but you’re going to have to have a quarterback who’s very tall,” Rang said, “a Joe Flacco type or somebody like that.”
O’Connell’s mass makes him an obstacle for any defender, though a move outside might expose him to quicker, more agile edge rushers. Footwork and speed aren’t assets for the giant from Wenatchee, and a video of the WSU O-lineman performing drills at the East-West Shrine Game combine shows O’Connell struggling to get through a field of tackling dummies.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about him as well, because I thought early on that because he bends so well and the NFL loves big guys, I think he’s going to get a chance,” Rang said. “But I think, with all the All-American accolades and things like that, some thought that he was a possible first- or second-round pick. I think we’re talking about more of a Day 3 guy.”
Rang anticipates that’s also when Madison will also hear his phone buzz.
“Rounds 4-7 for both of Washington State’s offensive linemen, rather than the early rounds that maybe their hype might lead people to believe,” he said.