Pittsburg State Guard Kory Woodruff highlights strong year for small-school offensive linemen
Reed Blankenship’s bio on the Middle Tennessee State website is more than 300 words long.
That only covers his final season with the Blue Raiders.
And yet, despite finishing as the school’s all-time leading tackler with 419 stops in 55 starts and armed with a slew of school and conference awards, Blankenship wasn’t even invited to the Combine. Then, to add insult to injury, Blankenship wasn’t drafted.
As it turns out, Blankenship probably should have been taken early on Day 3, if not sooner, in the 2022 draft. He wound up going from an undrafted free agent to starting four of Philadelphia’s final six games, then started in the team’s playoff win over the New York Giants.
Such is life for the small-school prospect.
Trivia question: Which Philadelphia rookie had the most snaps on offense or defense this past season?
The answer is Blankenship, who finished his rookie season with 347 snaps on defense between the regular season and playoffs. First-round defensive lineman Jordan Davis finished second after injuries limited him to just 259 snaps, which was just ahead of seventh-round tight end Grant Calcaterra, who finished third among Eagles rookies with 250 snaps.
However, Reed’s story isn’t unique.
Every year, at least half a dozen highly decorated draft prospects wind up as a Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Bowl or Combine snub and still hear their names called during the draft. And dozens more go undrafted but still wind up making a roster or at least a practice squad.
Pittsburg State guard Kory Woodruff hopes he’s next in line.
Versatile with a high football IQ
What the 6-foot-3, 335-pound fifth-year senior lacks in experience against big-time competition, Woodruff more than makes up for with his versatility, strength and football IQ. For example, Woodruff played left tackle, left guard and right tackle in the team’s 24-22 win over No. 9-ranked Northwest Missouri.
“I think that game alone shows my versatility,” Woodruff said in an interview with Fanspeak.
Overall, Woodruff has started at every position along the offensive line but center. And, in case you’re wondering, he said he’s been practicing that position, too.
A zero-star prospect out of Sioux City (Iowa) West High School, Woodruff started his collegiate career at nearby Briar Cliff University, where he was a three-time all-conference and NAIA selection as a left tackle.
Woodruff then transferred to Pittsburg State in Kansas, a Division II school.
Again, he flourished, but coaches there saw Woodruff as chess piece they could use all over the line. During his first season with the Gorillas, Woodruff would start at right guard, then move over to left guard later in the game. He then started the first five games this past season at left guard before starting at right tackle the final eight games.
You’d think all the back-and-forth would eventually lead to a few mental errors, right?
Not so with Woodruff. He estimates allowing just two sacks and one holding penalty over 54 collegiate starts. One of those sacks came against Caleb Murphy, the star pass rusher from Ferris State who’s ranked No. 137 in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board after racking up video-game-like numbers this past season with 87 tackles, 24.5 sacks and 36 tackles for loss.
Otherwise, Woodruff dominated the competition.
“Scouts have told me that my future is more likely at guard because of my size – I’ve got a big frame and a square body, so the majority of my time will probably be (inside),” said Woodruff, the third-oldest of 10 siblings. He’s also about to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
“But scouts have said they also like my athleticism … so I figure, if I can be elite at four different positions, then it’s going to give me my best shot to at least make a training camp and, God willing, an NFL roster.”
So, for now, Woodruff is focusing on his Pro Day, which will be held at the school on March 30. He expects a number of NFL teams to be in attendance. (Pittsburg State has another draftable prospect, receiver Bryce Murphy, who scouts will want to see.)
Woodruff said he hopes to put up at least 35 reps in the 225-pound bench press, which would rank high at the Combine in most years. He also bench presses 450 and squats up to 640 pounds. He credits his father, John, for introducing him to the weight room when he was young.
“From an early age, I was always down there (in my parents’ basemen), lifting. Growing up, I was just blessed with size, but I was still fast, agile and athletic,” Woodruff said. “But one of my earliest memories was just being in PE classes at, like, 13, 14, and I’m already benching 225 pounds, but the rest of the kids are, like, benching 10 or 15 pounds.”
Woodruff, though, knows his strength and size won’t necessarily be an advantage anymore. These days, he’s focusing on improving his technique while working out with Pittsburg State strength and conditioning coaches.
“I need to work on my ankle flexibility and sometimes my stance, or getting out,” he said. “I’m sometimes too high when I get out of my stance. At this level, it didn’t really hurt me because I could just throw guys around, but I know I can’t do that in the NFL.”
This year’s OL class
Woodruff has something else going for him: The 2023 offensive line class doesn’t have as many highly ranked prospects as in years past.
That means, more of the small school prospects are now in the spotlight.
The headliner is North Dakota State offensive tackle Cody Mauch, ranked No. 58 overall. The Rigdon big board includes 10 offensive tackles and five interior linemen ranked among the top 500 prospects who come from small schools. Woodruff is the No. 227 overall prospect, which puts him in the sixth- to seventh-round range.
Steve Shoup, co-owner of Fanspeak.com, said he wouldn’t be surprised this year to see teams look at more of the well-developed fifth- and sixth-year prospects from smaller schools who might be more mature and ready to compete for a roster spot.
“I think in general smaller school guys can be more easily found along the offensive line than some other positions,” Shoup said. “One of the primary reasons … is the position in general is one where there aren’t a lot of early declares. With the exception of a couple prospects every year, most OL drafted have at least four years of college experience.”
The reason that’s important for offensive linemen, Shoup said, is because “it takes time to build the necessary strength and conditioning for big men to play in the NFL, regardless of what school you play at.”
“At other positions, age can be more of a benefit, so a younger RB, WR, CB, etc. is going to be more appealing than a 22-, 24-year-old at those same positions.”
Another factor that works in Woodruff’s and other small school OL prospects’ favor is the emphasis placed on technique as opposed to other positions.
“If an offensive lineman has good strength, footwork and hands, that is going to convey pretty well versus NFL talent,” Shoup said. “At other positions, they could dominate simply because they are the best athlete on the field and so far above their competition.”
All of that bodes well for Woodruff, despite not getting an invite to the post-season all-star games or the Combine.
“It takes a lot of practice and football IQ to flip everything in your mind at the snap of a finger, but … (changing positions along the offensive line) was just something I expected, and I told (the coaches): I’ll do whatever you need me to do to make this team better,” he said.
“From an NFL standpoint, the fact you can plug me into four different positions should only help me.”