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Is Sean Harlow The Beavers' Best NFL Prospect?

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After missing the end of the 2015 season with an ankle injury, offensive tackle Sean Harlow enters the 2016 season as Beavers' best NFL prospect.

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

With the start of the 2016 Oregon State football season just under two months away, the early itch to analyze the second year version of Gary Andersen's team is beginning to sink in. The Spring Game showed flashes of brilliance, mostly on the offensive side of the ball, for a team working under a new quarterback. It also displayed some of the old reliable pieces that are hoping to lead the Beavers out of the Pac-12 cellar.

One of those immovable veteran clogs who is in search of brighter days is offensive tackle, Sean Harlow. Harlow, a multi-year starter, is slated to be the anchor of an Oregon State offensive line that has the potential to be one of the surest in recent memory. He's also still working his way back from a microcosmic season-ending ankle injury that he suffered in the second half a 17-13 loss to Colorado in late October of last season. Harlow's experience will be much needed to try and transform a Beavers' offense that was held under 20 points in six different games a season ago.

Harlow's game may be comparable to most great lineman, in the sense that his work-rate is mostly unheralded on a day-to-day basis, but make no mistake about it, Sean Harlow is arguably the best football player and NFL prospect on this 2016 Oregon State team. So just what is it about this California native that makes him so special?

The Skinny

At 6' 4", 300 pounds, Harlow has solid size for an offensive tackle at the college level and is likely due for an All-Pac 12 type of season. However, at the next level, scouts have made it clear that Harlow will have to move to the guard spot, if he wants to have NFL teams take a chance on him. A usual circumstance for most "undersized" lineman, the one luxury that Harlow won't have is being able to switch to the interior part of the line for his senior campaign, like some other prospects tend to do. With depth issues plaguing Oregon State's line, Harlow's services will much better suit his team at the left tackle spot.

Harlow may not have the chance to learn his next-level position for a year but already, he's strongly in the mix on NFL Draft boards. In CBS Sports' rankings of the top 2017 NFL Draft prospects by position, Harlow is ranked as the 5th best offensive guard in the country, behind Dan Feeney (Indiana), Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh), Johnny Caspers (Stanford) and Nico Siragusa (San Diego State). The top ten positional chart is shown below.

PLAYER

SCHOOL

CLASS

HT

WT

(1) Dan Feeney

Indiana

RS Sr.

6' 4"

305

(2) Dorian Johnson

Pittsburgh

Sr.

6' 5"

305

(3) Johnny Caspers

Stanford

RS Sr.

6' 3"

298

(4) Nico Siragusa

San Diego State

RS Sr.

6' 4"

335

(5) Sean Harlow

Oregon State

Sr.

6' 4"

298

(6) Caleb Peterson

North Carolina

RS Sr.

6' 5"

300

(7) Jessamen Dunker

Tennessee State

RS Sr.

6' 4"

300

(8) Isaac Asiata

Utah

RS Sr.

6' 3"

323

(9) Kyle Kalis

Michigan

RS Sr.

6' 4"

305

(10) Danny Isidora

Miami (FL)

RS Sr.

6' 4"

325

From the list of potential prospects, Harlow's height and weight ranks right around the middle of the pack, a positive or negative trait, depending on how it's viewed. Most NFL teams use an average of starting offensive guards in the league to gauge a healthy barometer of size for a potential prospect. In Pro Football Weekly's 2011 Draft Guide, the average NFL guard was projected at around 6' 3" and 300 pounds, right in line with Harlow's measurements. Now, they key will be how Harlow grades out size-wise at the NFL Combine and after what should be a remarkable senior season.

The Scouting Report

One of the largest reasons that Harlow is seemingly shooting up draft boards by the day is due to the belief that his skill-set will nicely translate to the next level. Harlow is a standout pass blocker, who has been noted with as having a high-level football IQ and an extremely strong motor. Scouts have also been impressed with the quickness of Harlow's hands and his interior movement. In the clip below from Top Pick Scouting, Harlow's physicality at the point of the attack and ability to finish a play is also on full display.

Like most offensive lineman, Harlow's foot speed remains a viable concern. At times, Harlow tries to make up for his lack of natural speed with his strength and reach, creating a perfect storm for holding situations. However, if Harlow is moved to the interior of the line, some scouts think he has more than enough speed and physicality to be an everyday competitor at the next level. The biggest knock on Harlow's talents at the moment is his ability to block in run protection, a skill he won't be able to show off or improve on in what is expected to be a pass-heavy Beavers offense.

The Next Best Thing

While offensive lineman usually remain fairly consistent in their position on NFL Draft boards, the potential for another breakout player from a somewhat unproven Oregon State roster is always there. While it's pretty safe to say that Harlow will remain the top NFL prospect on this year's team, it's hard to ignore the impact that junior wide receiver Jordan Villamin is expected to have with his new quarterback connection, Darell Garretson.

Garretson, a transfer from Utah State, completed 21 of his 32 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the Oregon State Spring Game, connecting with Villamin four times, for 108 yards and two scores. While everything done in these pre-season exhibitions needs to be taken with a grain of salt, there's no denying that Villamin is in prime position to have one of the strongest breakthrough seasons in the Pac-12.

At 6' 4", 240 pounds, Villamin already has NFL-ready size and the development of this team offensively should only help to further showcase his potential. Villamin is a large target with soft hands, who for his size, does a remarkable job of adjusting his body to make some tough catches. It's now time for NFL scouts to take notice. Improvements to his route-running and generally quicker get-off from the line of scrimmage could only help Villamin's case going forward but it's not farfetched to think that the junior could improve on his 43 catches for 660 yards and 5 touchdown campaign from his sophomore year. If it's not Harlow, Villamin might be the best future pro on this Beavers depth chart.