INDIANAPOLIS — Some people say that, aside from quarterbacks, offensive linemen are the smartest players in football.
So, how smart could a player be who started all 54 games in which they appeared in college? Watching former Wisconsin lineman Michael Deiter, you’ll come away saying, “pretty dang smart.”
There are numerous factors that make Deiter an enticing prospect at the NFL level. He’s your prototypical smart, experienced, tough, well-rounded Big Ten lineman.
At 6-5 and 309 pounds, he has decent size for any position and is evidenced by him starting 24 games at left guard, 16 at center and 14 at left tackle. Deiter earned All-American and All-Big Ten honors each of the last two seasons while starting at two different positions; left guard in 2018 and left tackle in 2017.
"It's huge. It gives me a lot of — just having versatility gives teams confidence that they're not getting just a guy who's gonna play one position,” Deiter told reporters Thursday about the importance of his versatility at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. “When you can only travel seven or eight guys, having someone who could potentially play three (positions) gives you a lot of value.
"That stuff is something I'm proud of that I'm able to do,” Deiter continued. “It's been a lot of fun, too, to play three positions. It's made me better at guard, it's made me better at center. Playing tackle definitely helps when you go back inside."
Deiter has plenty of power, getting his pads low and pushing defenders back and showing mauler qualities where he can drive them into the dirt if he catches them off-balance. In pass protection, he anchors in and keeps his base steady.
He is not just strong, however, as he can get out and move as well. Deiter is capable of pulling and having the runner follow his lead, also showing that he’s capable of getting to the second level of the defense.
(Above, Deiter is the left guard, No. 63.)
The 2018 Rimington-Pace Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year isn’t a picky blocker, either. If there’s no defender there for him to pick up as the play develops, he’s quick to help a teammate by doubling up on their defender.
Some things that Deiter can work on do appear to be very correctable with some coaching. While these aren’t consistent occurrences, he can get pushed back if he doesn’t get his feet planted and anchored in. He could also lock onto his block more and finish the play on a more consistent basis.
Moving forward, Deiter sees himself as strictly an interior O-lineman despite his experience at tackle.
"Guard and center,” Deiter responded when asked if he has an area of focus. “Tackle is definitely not my primary spot. Guard or center is definitely where I'll find a home, but still I have film at tackle, so it's something I can do."
As to what led to Deiter switching back to guard from tackle before the 2018 season, he said the NFL had a lot to do with it.
"It was kind of hearing back after junior year what NFL teams — they knew I really wasn't a tackle,” Deiter said. “A lot of teams wanted to see me play guard again, and I agreed that tackle was definitely not my primary spot.”
“It wouldn't hurt to go back in and have another year at guard, and we had another guy who could kick out and play tackle, so we were still getting our best five O-linemen on the field,” Deiter explained. “So it was kind of a no-brainer to just get me back in at guard if we could."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
Although the Colts had an outstanding offensive line in 2018 — ranking fourth in run blocking and second in pass blocking per Football Outsiders — and have all five starters returning in 2019, depth and competition are always needed.
The moment you become complacent in an area as critical as the offensive line, that's when you get caught unprepared when adversity strikes.
Deiter’s experience playing tackle, guard and center could also come in handy by providing relief where the Colts may lose talent in those areas from 2018.
The Colts have tackle J’Marcus Webb and center/guard Evan Boehm — who started five games between them in 2018 — due to hit free agency in a couple weeks. They did lose guard Matt Slauson to retirement, who also suffered a season-ending back injury in Week 5.
On top of that, Colts general manager Chris Ballard recently stated that Colts tackle/guard Le’Raven Clark is at a “prove-it point” of his career.
While the Colts’ top five looks good right now, it can change in the blink of an eye, and the depth behind them could thin out if it doesn’t continue to be addressed. Not only would a player like Deiter provide insurance, but he could potentially compete for a starting job on the line.
Another thing that he brings to the table is the ability to pick things up quickly and to likely be able to play right away as Big Ten linemen — particularly from Wisconsin — have a rich history in the NFL.
"I think they just kinda have an upper hand with the mental side of O-line in the NFL,” Deiter said about Wisconsin linemen. “Just because we do so much similarities, (and) we run the same offenses usually — some pro-style stuff. Talking with teams, (there are) a lot of the same techniques (and) even sometimes a lot of the same verbiage. It's just, we're already comfortable getting there.
“Obviously, you still have to perform and still have to play against the best competition, but you already kinda have a leg up,” Deiter continued. “There's a bunch of other teams that do it too, but it's just kind of our bread and butter is to run the pro-style offense. I think it helps just the mental side."
The Colts or any other team that may select Deiter in the upcoming draft will be getting a very experienced player who has seen just about everything that collegiate football has to offer. His blend of movement skills and strength makes him feel like a safe addition who should fit into most schemes quickly.