2011 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Ben Ijalana, OT, Villanova

Every so often when we do our 2011 NFL Draft prospect profiles we need to reach beyond the borders of the big-school, big-name guys you hear about all the time when you study the draft. That is what we are going to do today, as we take a look at Villanova offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, one of the top small-school prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Ijalana, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive lineman, draws comparisons to UMass grad Vladimir Ducasse, who could find himself starting for the New York Jets next season after being taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Here is CBS Sports discussing Ijalana:

UMass left tackle Vladimir Ducasse impressed scouts enough through his career and in Mobile for the 2010 Senior Bowl to earn a second-round draft slot. Ijalana, who joined Ducasse on the All-Colonial Athletic Association first team in 2009 but beat out the Minuteman for a spot on the Walter Camp FCS All-American squad while helping his team win the FCS national title, is a very similar prospect with great potential as an NFL lineman.

Ijalana has started every game in his three-year career with the Wildcats, all at left tackle. No redshirt season was needed for the southern New Jersey product. He stepped in to start in all 11 games of his true freshman season. Another 13 starts piled up in 2008 before the Wildcats' 15-game title run in Ijalana's junior season, where he helped create huge lanes for the team's fourth-ranked FCS rushing game.

Ducasse is projected as a guard by his new team, the New York Jets, and Ijalana could make the same move because of his durability, athleticism and strong hands (his background as a high school wrestler is apparent). No matter where teams project him to play, Ijalana is likely to be among the top small school prospects selected in the 2011 draft.

Ijalana will get a chance to show his skills against top-flight competition during the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine

Ben Ijalana
OT, Villanova (Sr.)
6-foot-4, 320 pounds
Projection: Round 2 or 3

Scouting Reports

From Draft Countdown:

Strengths:
- Excellent bulk w/ long arms and large hands
- Superb athleticism, quickness and agility
- Fantastic strength and extremely powerful
- Stout at the point of attack and can anchor
- Gets an outstanding push in the run game
- Nimble feet to slide laterally and mirror
- Displays the ability to recover when beat
- Stuns opponents with violent initial punch
- Capable of locking on and sustaining blocks
- Range to work in space and at second level
- Tough and will play through pain / injuries
- Hard worker and still has considerable upside
- Extremely durable with a ton of experience

Weaknesses:
- Lacks the ideal height that you'd prefer
- Struggles with speed rushers off the edge
- Instincts and awareness are questionable
- Must refine technique, hand use, footwork
- Inconsistent pad level, leverage, knee bend
- Trouble hitting moving targets in space
- Not a finisher and lacks a killer instinct
- Might be a bit of a positional 'tweener
- Didn't always face top-notch competition

Overall:
Played left tackle entire college career but could also project to right tackle or perhaps move inside to offensive guard at the next level --- Similar in many ways to Vladimir Ducasse, who was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New York Jets out of Massachusetts --- Would arguably be in the first round conversation if he was an inch taller and hailed from a "big-time" program --- Still raw and will have to adjust to a leap in competition but is clearly the premier small school sleeper in this class and has the talent / physical tools to be a starter in the NFL.

From CBS Sports:

Pass blocking: Exceptional pass rusher at the FCS level, dominates defensive ends on most plays with great length with athleticism. Quick to set and get his hands on his opponent. Excellent foot quickness to mirror his man. Works to sustain even if his man backs off a bit. Latches his hands onto the opponent and extends his arms, very difficult for defenders to get off. Recoils and punch multiple times. Good anchor to hold up defensive ends and keep them safely out of the pocket. Inconsistent kick-slide, will cross his legs and be beaten outside when he loses focus off the snap. Lets up on hesitation moves and after initial contact at times, allowing his man to pressure the passer or get downfield to make a tackle. Must improve his awareness of end-tackle stunts and inside blitzers, as his quarterback takes too many direct hits. Carries a bit of extra weight in his mid-section.

Run blocking: Has the bulk, length and footwork to be a very effective run blocker. Crashes down to seal the edge for cutbacks on zone plays and bootlegs; FCS defensive linemen cannot stop him from taking them out of the play. Widens his base, goes out to meet the rush end on inside runs, controls them and pushes them back on most plays. Comes off the ball a hit high in short-yardage situations but drives off the snap well to move the line of scrimmage. Creates angles to wall off defenders from approaching the running lane.

Pulling/trapping: Excellent agility to get out of his stance, capable of moving behind the line and into the hole to negate linebackers. Once latched onto a defender, his strong hands and long arms make it difficult to disengage. Quick to cut block but must improve his effectiveness. Has a tough time adjusting to quick players in space, even if they are coming straight-on. Uses his long arms to get a hand on a defender but it is often not enough to take them out of the play.

Downfield: Athletic and nimble enough to make an impact downfield, capable of getting to the second level and beyond to drive back defenders and free up ballcarriers. Struggles to take out targets in space, does not bend his knees or get his hands up quickly enough to engage. Stands around too much as the play continues, should be looking to take out another defender.

From NFL.com:

Strengths:
Ijalana has adequate height with a thick build. Quick footed lineman that generates a good push when he gets his hands inside. Displays good awareness in pass protection identifying stunts and blitzes. Fierce competitor that shows a mean streak and fights to whistle. Dominant at the FCS level.

Weaknesses:
Does not have the prototypical height for the tackle position and will likely have to move to guard. Struggles to block more athletic defensive lineman in pass protection. Lacks the ability to consistently get to the second level and make blocks in space. Appears sluggish at times and there are concerns about his conditioning.
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