We’ve all heard endless stories about Quenton Nelson. We’ve heard how he’s a generational talent, a future hall-of-famer. However, as always seems to happen, that hype is preventing some players from getting their fair share of coverage.
This year, that player is UTEP’s Will Hernandez.
It’s gone under-the-radar to most fans, but Hernandez also has the potential to be that elite offensive guard. There’s a pretty obvious reason that he hasn’t gotten the national limelight he deserves. Do you even know what UTEP stands for? I didn’t think so.
Hernandez was graded as the second highest player in the FBS by Pro Football Focus this season, and it isn’t exactly difficult to see why.
Will Hernandez has the ‘finish’ gene pic.twitter.com/XDxV1YDrnv
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 27, 2018
Take a guess as to what number Will Hernandez is. It is plays like these which excite scouts and executives about the possibility of getting the most decorated lineman in UTEP’s history.
Hernandez finally got to show his talents on the national stage at last month’s Senior Bowl, and he thrived. While he didn’t win the Senior Bowl’s “Practice Award”, Hernandez more than showed his value in Mobile.
Pass Pro Rep of the Week? Our analysts like this one where Will Hernandez of UTEP decided to take the defensive player out of the rep! pic.twitter.com/92552KZaH0
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 26, 2018
Watch as Hernandez completely wipes Ohio State defensive end Jayln Holmes off the map with this block. Even on Holmes’s second effort, when he was already virtually eliminated from the play, Hernandez makes a block look easy.
Hernandez is a bit undersized, only standing 6’3″. While this is a concern, it may not be as dire of one as one may think. Hernandez excels getting to the second level and pull blocking, things that are becoming increasingly vital in today’s NFL.
Will Hernandez pull! Huge Ballage run pic.twitter.com/Bd8HtHYVm6
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) January 27, 2018
On this pull block, watch Hernandez perfectly seal off the hole for Kalen Ballage to run through. If Hernandez even gives Tre’ Williams a chance to get to Ballage here, this play gets blown up. However, with perfect placement on the block, Hernandez springboards Ballage for at least an extra 10 yards.
As the announcers mentioned in the background of that clip, Hernandez moves incredibly well for a 340-pound guard. In a West Coast scheme like Matt Nagy is bringing to Chicago, this lateral movement is key to allow Jordan Howard, who isn’t the prototypical spread-type running back, to get some big gains.
Kemoko Turay has been one of the strongest rushers here, but Will Hernandez is on a different level pic.twitter.com/qs8hINfjid
— Blue Chip Scouting (@BlueChipScout) January 25, 2018
Hernandez, an undersized guard, makes plays like this seem so easy. Watch how violent these pass rush moves are from Kemoko Turay, and Hernandez seals him off easily. Even better, look at how fast Hernandez is able to move his feet, staying ahead of Turay at every turn.
Can we talk about Will Hernandez's game speed for a dude who's 6-2 3-freaking-40? LG #76, gets his pop and leads Wadley. pic.twitter.com/OyEiwcNWHd
— Zach Goodall (@zach_goodall) January 25, 2018
As mentioned before, Hernandez is rapid for a guy his size. I’m not exactly sure how often the Bears will run a concept similar to this, but it is nice to see that, in Hernandez, Matt Nagy will have a guy he knows can lead block effectively.
Hernandez is most effective as a run blocker, as he still has plenty of work to do on the other end. It’s very likely that, if forced onto a faster or more agile defensive lineman, Hernandez is going to get burned at the next level.
Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes with a nice spin move on UTEPs Will Hernandez. Hernandez has work to do in pass pro. pic.twitter.com/maJcZzIDvy
— patrick (@PatDStat) January 24, 2018
While this is an incredible move by Jayln Holmes, this is the type of play Hernandez will be dealing with in the NFL. If Hernandez is put up against a defender like Everson Griffen or Danielle Hunter, he may be a liability in pass protection.
Shepherd vs. Will Hernandez 👍 pic.twitter.com/q6xAC9qmrt
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 30, 2018
This is by far the biggest red flag on Will Hernandez. This is an incredible play by Nathan Shepherd, but this is one that Hernandez should at least slow down. Hernandez is way too slow getting across on Shepherd, and he burns him.
It is this which is why Hernandez is not an early first-round pick. He’s likely not a first round pick at all. While he has all the tools to be an exceptional offensive lineman in the NFL, he has plenty of work to do before he is even in that conversation.
That being said, Chicago is an ideal landing spot for Hernandez. Given the spread concept that Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are synonymous with, there likely aren’t going to be many situations in which Hernandez is going to be able to be burned like he was by Holmes or by Shepherd.
Like is talked about with any offensive lineman linked to Chicago, Harry Hiestand could do wonders for Hernandez. Hiestand has experience coaching Zach Martin, who is only an inch taller than Hernandez. Martin, who worked under Hiestand at Notre Dame, has developed from that high-level prospect to one of the NFL’s elite guards.
While Martin isn’t exactly the same player as Hernandez, he does have some similar traits.
Key blocks here from Zack Martin and Noah Brown pic.twitter.com/hac9qp4CKt
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 24, 2017
Does this block look familiar? Martin, like Hernandez, has incredible mobility which makes up for his size. He may be stronger than Hernandez is, but that is something Hernandez can improve on.
The most common comparison for Hernandez is Richie Incognito, the four-time Pro Bowl guard for the Buffalo Bills. Incognito is also listed at 6’3″, but has made it work for an incredible past three seasons in Buffalo. As long as Hernandez has a better personality than Incognito, a comparison to him is a great thing for an offensive guard.
A common wrinkle in this system with the FB wide and then motions into the backfield. Not sure what Lee is doing but this play is blocked up rather well. Kick out by Dimarco, Incognito clearing the way for Murphy..Murphy helps set up the block w his eyes. pic.twitter.com/iHTNn99xe1
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) January 2, 2018
Much like Hernandez, Incognito is the perfect mobile guard. This play is exactly the type of play design that Hernandez thrived in at UTEP, pull blocks and getting into the second level to run block.
Many of Hernandez’s strengths could be exemplified in Matt Nagy’s system. These pull blocks and second level blocks are crucial in a scheme relatively devoid of extra protection. However, this where that pass protection problem has to be heavily scrutinized. The Bears must be completely confident that Hernandez is going to be able to become a solid pass protector if they are going to select him in the draft.
If Hernandez cannot improve in that area, he is a horrible fit in this system. Very rarely do spread offenses pull tight ends in for protection, meaning the pressure is on the offensive guards to be able to defend both phases. If Hernandez can do that, he is a slam dunk day two pick for the Bears. If he can’t, he could be in for a long rookie season.