Kentucky’s “Big Blue Wall” has been a bit of an NFL factory recently, with an offensive lineman selected in each of the last three drafts. Luke Fortner and teammate Darian Kinnard are the next in line in the 2022 NFL Draft. But it’s Fortner’s scouting report that shows promise as a long-term contributor at the next level.
Luke Fortner NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Guard/Center
- School: Kentucky
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’3 7/8″
- Weight: 307 pounds
- Wingspan: 80 3/4″
- Arm: 33 1/8″
- Hand: 10″
Luke Fortner Scouting Report
The NFL Draft can be a bit of a crapshoot, with so many variables going into each and every draft pick. As such, many teams prioritize “safe” prospects over those who may have higher “ceilings” than others. One such safe prospect is the Kentucky Wildcats’ Fortner. From his on-field production to his off-field character, Fortner ticks every box in my scouting checklist.
Sure, he may not ever be an All-Pro or even Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman, but he should enjoy an extensive and lucrative NFL career. His leadership, intelligence, and positional flexibility will be sought-after by nearly every NFL franchise. Additionally, Fortner has solid length for his frame with the possibility to gain more muscle mass in the league.
The Kentucky lineman will be a 24-year-old rookie, which is a bit on the older side, but he also brings three years of starting experience. He didn’t necessarily light up the NFL Combine, but he put up some decent numbers for the position: 5.21 40-yard dash, 24″ vertical, 8’6″ broad, 7.75 three-cone, 4.95 short shuttle.
I truly believe Fortner can start at any interior offensive line position as a high-floor, average-ceiling projection. Nevertheless, center offers him the ability to work in space more, which plays to his strengths. He won’t wow in many regards, but his game also lacks glaring holes. Overall, Fortner can play in both gap and zone systems and should hear his name called in the late-Day 2/early-Day 3 range.
Where Fortner wins
Versatility is a coveted trait at the NFL level, and it’s safe to say Fortner meets the definition. He played in 55 career games at Kentucky, including 36 consecutive starts the last three seasons, and saw 600+ snaps at each interior alignment.
Fortner owns impressive body control, balance, and hand usage/placement. His consistency in all three allows him to maintain leverage at the point of attack each snap. Additionally, he sports a wide base with stout grip strength to anchor against larger defenders. Said grip strength and some lateral spryness lead to turn-and-seal ability along the interior.
The Kentucky center also possesses recovery ability in both his hands and lower half. He can replace his hands swiftly and reset his base after losing leverage. In pass protection, Fortner’s arm extensions on initial punches can knock defenders off balance, and he brings an aggressive attitude to a “passive” phase of the position. He constantly seeks work and keeps his head on a swivel while maintaining tight, locked-and-loaded arms.
As is seemingly a prerequisite to play on the Kentucky offensive line, Fortner plays through the whistle and displays a road-grading attitude that OL coaches will love. Furthermore, he owns the movements skills to operate in space, attack the second level, and reach proper angles to spring runners loose. He also has flexible hips to lift and drive after using his above-average upper body torque to move smaller defenders off-balance.
Areas for improvement
Although I have spoken glowing of Fortner, there are, of course, some areas to improve upon. He can get overmatched by larger nose tackles at the pivot, and sealing lateral blocks could be a bit of a challenge at the next level. On pass-blocking reps, there were times when Fortner overextended, causing his head to dip and leaving him susceptible to pull moves.
The Kentucky OL can also overset, leading to overbending/improper weight distribution when he tries to make up for it. While his hands are a strong suit, there are times when they land wide or high. Moreover, this can cause him to raise his pads, erasing his leverage.
Fortner can pull when required, but his athleticism can be a hindrance. In space, linebackers can juke around a bit to set him up and get around. He doesn’t have the foot speed to mirror quicker pass rushers, relying on his hand placement to win from the jump.
Fortner’s Player Profile
Splitting his time between the basketball court and football field for Sylvania Northview High School in Sylvania, Ohio, Fortner enjoyed success. He was a four-year starter along the offensive line and saw time on the defensive side as well.
As a junior, Fortner earned second-team All-Northwest Ohio honors, playing both tackle spots and center. Kentucky immediately took an interest in the rising star and offered him that season. He committed to the Wildcats in March of 2015 and prepared for his senior campaign.
Fortner became a captain as a senior, and he finished the year with District Lineman of the Year, third-team All-State, and second-team All-Northwest Ohio recognition. 247Sports Composite rated him as a three-star recruit and the No. 115 offensive tackle in the nation.
Despite further scholarship offers coming from Cincinnati, Maryland, Marshall, and Toledo, Fortner never reneged on his commitment to Kentucky.
Fortner’s career at Kentucky
Fortner’s Kentucky career began the way it does for many true freshmen — a redshirt. He spent the year bulking up and soaking in all the coaching he could. 2017 was much of the same, as Fortner saw limited action. As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, he played in 11 games, gearing up for what was to come.
2019 was the first season Fortner started a game — all 13, in fact. Although each start was at right guard, he did slide to the left side here and there throughout the year. According to the school site, Fortner allowed just 1 sack all year, flashing his skill set. When 2020 rolled around, more and more fans and analysts started to recognize Fortner’s game, as he received preseason All-SEC nods from multiple outlets.
This time, Fortner split his time more evenly between left and right guard, starting multiple games at both. More than that, he would swap between positions midgame routinely. That versatility once again took center stage in 2021, as Fortner kicked inside to center for the entire year. Despite it being his first time playing the position at Kentucky, he was named to the Rimington Watch List, given to the country’s top center.
Due to his play, Fortner accepted an invite to the 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl before accepting a later invite to the prestigious Senior Bowl. While Fortner enjoyed his success on the gridiron, he was arguably even more successful off of it.
Academic success and volunteer work
Fortner finished his collegiate career as a five-time member of the SEC Acamedic Honor Roll and earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-District honors in his final two years. He received his Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2019, his Master’s in aerospace engineering in 2021, and will acquire another Master’s in business administration in May of 2022.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Fortner also spent whatever time he had leftover volunteering at multiple programs over the years:
- Urban Impact at the Woodhill Community Center (2020)
- Reader at Athens-Chilesburg Elementary (2020)
- Read Across America at Fayette County public schools (2020)
- Habitat for Humanity (2016)
Moreover, Fortner has volunteered at Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) weekly since September of 2019 as part of the “Tuesdays with the Wildcats” program. During the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season, he would make Zoom calls with patients to “offer words of encouragement” and would tape videos with teammate Max Duffy answering questions from kids at KCH.
What they’re saying about Fortner
“I really like Luke Fortner from Kentucky. I think he is going to be starting center/guard, either one. He is 6’4″, 300 pounds. He was good on tape, was good at the Senior Bowl.” — NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah
Fortner’s NFL Draft ascension
As previously mentioned, Fortner has all the intangibles, physical tools, and football IQ to stick in the league. As a result, he should be drafted somewhere between Rounds 3-5, specifically to a zone-blocking team.
Fortner’s game showed shades of former Ohio State guard Pat Elflein. Elflein ultimately went in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft and shares similar physical measurements to Fortner.
- Elflein (2017 Combine): 6’3″, 303 pounds, 33 1/4″ arms, 9 3/4″ hands, 5.32 40-yard dash, 23.5″ vertical, 8’3″ broad
- Fortner (2022 Combine): 6’3 7/8″, 307 pounds, 33 1/8″ arms, 10″ hands, 5.21 40-yard dash, 24″ vertical, 8’6″ broad
Elflein has bounced around a bit, but he has maintained a starting job throughout his NFL career — both at guard and center. I believe Fortner can enjoy a similar, if not better, NFL career. Whatever team selects the Kentucky alum will get a versatile, intelligent, and passionate prospect that can be a mainstay up front with some added mass and improved/consistent technique.