Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
39. UTEP OG Will Hernandez
6-foot, 210 pounds
Key stats: Started all 49 games played at left guard and became the first UTEP student-athlete in any sport to receive back-to-back AP All-America honors (2016 and 2017).
The skinny: Las Vegas-area prep competed in football, wrestling and track & field but said he was ready to give up football as sophomore to work construction before being convinced to play again as a junior. Signed with the Miners as late qualifier (grades) and redshirted his freshman year in 2013. Hernandez earned a starting spot on the offensive line at left guard in 2014 — and never relinquished it. He started 13 games as a redshirt freshman on a line that allowed a mere 13 sacks (eighth in FBS) and started 12 more there as a sophomore in 2015 (All-C-USA honorable mention) on a line that allowed only 12 sacks.
In 2016, Hernandez was named Conference USA first team and AP All-America second team as he helped lead the way for one of the best rushing attacks in the country, behind eventual 2017 Green Bay Packers fifth-round pick Aaron Jones. Hernandez briefly considered entering the draft last year, but he returned to start his final 12 games as a senior in 2017 and was named AP All-America second team again. Hernandez competed in the Senior Bowl, turning in a mostly dominant week there, and turned in the second-best bench-press number (37 reps) at the NFL scouting combine.
Upside: Exceptional testing numbers for a 327-pound guard — 40-yard dash (5.15 seconds), 3-cone drill (7.59 seconds) and broad jump (104 inches) all considered terrific for player of his dimensions. Disciplined — called for one penalty in 2017 season and did not allow a sack as senior. Pitched a lot of shutouts despite inferior offensive talent around him. Put on a show in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl, drills that typically favor defensive players (10 wins, three losses by one team’s count). Watch him corral 6-foot-4, 283-pound Jayln Holmes (and his 34-inch arms) from Ohio State in a Senior Bowl one-on-one:
Handled speed and power equally well. Versed in pro-style offense at UTEP. Experience running zone- (more during 2016 season) and gap-blocking (more in 2017) schemes. Adept at leading way on power plays, counters and on pulls. Flashes dominant run-blocking ability. Technically sound, machine-like pass blocker. Well-schooled and reliable. Athletic traits are obvious on film. Plays with great mix of power and balance. Hand work (wrestling background) is excellent — can shock opponents with his punch. Keeps a nice wide base and slides well.
Consistently strong effort despite team’s lack of success — Miners lost all 12 games last season and went 16-33 in his four seasons — even late in blowout losses. Respected, workmanlike team leader.
Downside: Extremely short arms (fifth percentile for offensive guards), small hands and squatty frame. Has had to work hard to keep weight up at times. Strictly a guard — only played left guard at UTEP. Didn’t face banner competition in individual matchups prior to Senior Bowl. Might not have tremendous upside — “what you see is what you get,” as one area scout told us in January.
As PFW’s Greg Gabriel noted in his PFW 2018 Draft Guide, Hernandez has a tendency to stop and restart his footwork on contact, which is something an NFL OL coach will have to work with him on. Can lunge off snap and miss and lose head-to-head battles. Got beat more than once by N.C. State’s Justin Jones (mid-round prospect) at Senior Bowl in both individual and team work.
Occasional lunger and grabber. Can still do a better job of operating in space and working up to the second level against quicker defenders. Longer-armed defenders appear to have success working against him. Watch as Hernandez (No. 76) appears distracted by the wide rush of Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who is singled up with the left tackle, and fails on the double team to control the hands of DT Neville Gallimore, who bats down the pass:
Best-suited destination: Hernandez could fit as a left or right guard (he looked natural there at the Senior Bowl, too) in just about any type of offensive system. He might need a little time to digest pro pass-protection schemes, but there’s little doubting he can compete for a Day 1 starting role and be a fixture for years as a safe, high-floor prospect.
Teams that could use some ready-made interior help include the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Quotable: “He was one of the better offensive linemen [at the Senior Bowl]. … People talk about defensive linemen being two-gappers … [Hernandez is] a two-gapper on the offensive side. He’s such a wide body. I thought he showed enough maneuverability for people to like him as probably a late first-round, but probably a second-round pick.” — Senior Bowl director and former NFL GM Phil Savage
Player comp: Ben Grubbs
Expected draft range: Could go off the board as high as the Cowboys’ No. 19 pick and likely won’t fall beyond mid-second round
50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
40. Maryland WR D.J. Moore