As a rookie, Jacksonville Jaguars right guard Brandon Linder placed himself among the list of top 10 guards in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
One dangerous consideration is that Linder might be the only sure thing within the Jaguars’ offensive line moving forward. It’s hazardous to project an efficacious future upon a foundation made up of rookie season flashes, of course. But Linder established himself as one of the only reliable pieces in pass protection last season, and there is no reason to think he'll fall off in 2015.
I wouldn’t say that Linder is an explosive player, though he certainly has the makeup of a trench warrior. Linder’s size and strength were the traits that helped propel him beyond his draft position last year, painting a portrait of an experienced guard with several seasons under his belt.
To visualize the success Brandon Linder enjoyed in his rookie season, all you have to do is rewind the tape.
In Week 14 against the Houston Texans, Linder found success against J.J. Watt – a feat not easily accomplished by other linemen around the league.
Even though I might want to, I’m not going to try and downplay Watt’s game in the first 2014 matchup against the Jaguars. That’s not the point of this article. Watt finished the game with three sacks, mostly from the edge, and placed himself in Blake Bortles’ grill on a few occasions.
I will say, however, that I think the Jaguars did a pretty good job transporting Bortles away from pressure and working to bottle up the Texans’ pass rush. Brandon Linder came up big when presented with challenges, successfully stopping J.J. Watt in his tracks at multiple points during the game.
Against Watt, Linder uncovered the opportunity to fight power with power. The dominance Linder displayed in this game is exactly what the Jaguars would like to see him build off of as he moves into his second season.
Below is a play taken from a Jaguars drive early in the game.
Throughout the day, J.J. Watt shifted positions within the Texans' defensive line as he searched for a point of attack. Several early plays found Watt being passed off to Linder. Above, Watt is circled in red and Linder is highlighted in yellow.
This is exactly what you want to see out of your right guard. Linder plants to establish his position as he seals the pocket for QB Blake Bortles. In his rookie season, Linder displayed an impressive ability to create leverage against bigger opponents. Being able to fight power with power consistently is a remarkable feat for a rookie.
A couple drives later, Linder met Watt face-to-face once again.
This time, Watt lines up directly over Sam Young. Young's responsibility, however, is containing the outside rusher. Watt is going to try and utilize his explosiveness to rip by Brandon Linder.
Linder, however, goes low. This breaks Watt's drive, using his momentum against him. Watt stumbles and goes down. The Texans blitz a linebacker, but Bortles identifies the rush and gets the pass off.
J.J. Watt still attempts to swat the pass from his knees, which is amusing.
Linder goes on to have a few more plays during this game where he stands tall against Watt. Of course, it’s hard to halt each facet of the Texans’ defensive line, and the Jaguars eventually fall to Houston 27-13 as the offense sputters. The Jaguars’ offensive line doesn’t necessarily hold up for four quarters, which stays true to the trend of the 2014 season.
Brandon Linder, however, has another steady game on his way to establishing himself as the most consistent Jags lineman of the 2014 season.
When the Jaguars travel west to face the Texans in Houston 3 weeks later, J.J. Watt finds himself lining up far away from contact with Brandon Linder.
I'll let you draw your own conclusions from this information.
The conclusion I came away with after the 2014 season is this: Brandon Linder is staring at a Pro Bowl future. And that could be huge for the Jaguars' offensive line as they continue pushing forward.