Mired in the obscurity of a position where there is a dearth of statistics to provide measurables on which to judge them, offensive linemen are accustomed to spending their time on the edge of the spotlight. It's the paradox of their position that when they're doing their job the best - road grating through an opposing defense or keeping their quarterback on his feet and safe - is the time when they get the least recognition. Fans are up and celebrating the big first down, or touchdown that was a result of that yeoman's work, often completely ignorant of the feats of strength and skill that made it possible.
So maybe it's fitting that as WVU's most heralded NFL draft class in recent memory gets set to take the stage, it will happen once again with offensive lineman Jeff Braun looking on from the fringe of the spotlight. As a prospect on the bottom of most draft boards, Braun's selection at all is far from a certainty - it's just as likely that he'll become an undrafted free agent and need to earn a spot in training camp. But for a young man who's found success at every level thus far, you'd be silly to doubt that he'll eventually see the field on Sunday.
Strength. Seriously - dude is old-fashioned country strong. Put on a show at WVU's pro day in March, throwing 225 pounds up 29 times. Here's a link to what other offensive linemen did at the NFL combine - that number would fit right in. What would a man do with such strength you ask? How about knock you on your ass. He led the team as a sophomore with 49 knockdowns, was second as a junior with 51 and led the team again as a senior with 58.
Aside from the strength, Braun is amazingly consistent. He started every game as a sophomore, junior and senior; a total of 39 games. Add to that the 11 he saw action in as a freshman, and there were only 2 games for his entire 52 year career that Braun wasn't a contributor in.
Finally he has a bad-ass name. Jeff Braun. If that doesn't sound like an offensive linemen who will spend a decade plus in the NFL grinding defenders into dust, I don't know what does.
The biggest concern with Braun is his athleticism. He demonstrated solid speed for an offensive lineman with a 5.26 40 time and additionally posted a 24.5 inch vertical leap and 4.75 20 yard shuttle time (h/t to WVUPros.com for those). Those numbers seem pretty respectable when compared to what other prospects posted at the NFL combine, but whether or not that translates to the athleticism necessary to take on the NFL's best remains to be seen.
Braun gained experience both in Bill Stewart's more traditional pro-style attack during his first three years and then Dana Holgorsen's "Air Raid" attack with it's wider spreads. Aside from a diversity of systems, Braun was characterized for his ability to play in multiple places while in Morgantown, logging time at 4 of 5 positions along the offensive line.
The Oklahoma game and Orange Bowl....among many others. When the WVU offense was at it's breakneck best, it was usually because the O line was rolling downhill. I remember Braun opening up some massive holes for Tavon against the Sooner D (look at him seal the edge on Tavon's short 3rd quarter TD run) and giving Geno all the time he could ever want in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. Wanna see domination, go watch those YouTube clips everyone is so fond of, but then re-wind them and focus on #57 up front making it all possible.
Braun was an accomplished student in his time at WVU, racking up a host of academic honors (All-conference in both the Big East and Big 12) and was also a respected presence in the community, making numerous visits to the WVU Children's Hospital and volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club. His service was recognized when he was one of only 30 FBS players nation-wide to be nominated as a semi-finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.
Whichever NFL team signs Braun, they'll be getting a contributor both on and off the field.