MOBILE, Ala. — Joshua Garnett found himself searching for answers after his junior season at Stanford.
A three-year starter, Garnett had played every game on one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-12 and failed to earn any kind of recognition. Garnett had to know why.
He pored over his film, peppered Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren with questions, begged him to tell Garnett what scouts were saying.
“It meant a lot to me, to kind of put it all together,” Garnett said. “Being a guy who after junior year wasn’t even honorable mention All-Pac 12, really wasn’t on anyone’s radar, kind of sitting back and reflecting on what I needed to do, how I could take my game to the next level.”
Garnett found out he was falling victim to a sort of Stanford curse.
“Overanalyzing things, not playing fast enough,” Garnett said. “Obviously, I’m a big guy. I have the strength, athleticism, but I was thinking too much. I was a step behind, thinking about using the proper technique. Once I kind of shut that brain off and just went out there and flew around, I was pretty successful.”
Garnett turned into one of the best offensive linemen in the country. A brutal, overpowering player at the point of attack for the Cardinal, Garnett won the Outland Trophy, handed out annually to the nation’s best interior lineman, and instantly vaulted into the top two or three guards available in the 2016 NFL draft.
New Orleans might be in the market for a guard like Garnett this spring. After deciding to part ways with legendary guard Jahri Evans the day after the Super Bowl, the Saints have a hole that needs to be filled through either free agency or the draft.
And the Saints already have one of Garnett’s best friends in the fold in Andrus Peat.
“I learned a lot from Andrus,” Garnett, who is picking Peat’s brain for advice on the draft process, said. “Understand that you’re not in college anymore. Understand that you’re a professional. Your body is your job, everything you do is your job, really. A private contractor for yourself. You’ve got to do things, and you have to make sure you’re in tip-top shape and just know that everywhere you go, someone might be watching you.”
Like Peat, Garnett has an intellectual advantage. Beyond the obvious academic abilities needed to get into Stanford, Garnett played in a Cardinal offense that asked him to handle almost any blocking scheme he might see at the next level.
“We ran everything,” Garnett said. “Inside zone, outside zone, perimeter schemes, iso schemes, isolation plays, gap schemes. We ran it all. Pretty much any offense you can think of, we’ve done it all. A lot of people think Stanford, gap scheme, but this year we ran a lot more zone. When you have Christian McCaffrey, you run a little bit more zone, so doing that this year, being able to elevate my game, going from gap blocks and pulling to zone, getting on linebackers in the second level, it’s big.”
Garnett, who measured in at 6-4, 317 pounds at the Senior Bowl, is a prototypical road-grader at guard. During Senior Bowl week, his North teammates on the defensive line kept walking away from one-on-ones marveling at the strength of Garnett’s hands.
His task in this draft cycle is proving he can be just as effective as a pass protector.
“I feel like a lot of times people see the Stanford offensive line and think of this powerful run-blocker archetype, and I like to get out in space, I like to dance in space with other guys,” Garnett said. “As far as pass pro goes, I’ve got quick feet, good hands, good punch and all of that stuff. A lot of times, I felt like the good run blocking and the good finishing you see kind of overshadowed the other stuff. That’s fine with me. If the right people are looking for it, at the Combine, they’ll see the fast feet.”
Garnett, who played next to Peat for three years in Palo Alto, still talks to the Saints’ tackle once a week.
But his playing style is different from his former teammate’s approach.
“He’s a nasty player,” former Stanford tackle Kyle Murphy said. “He’s been labeled as a brawler, and that’s really what he is. ... One of the strongest dudes I’ve met, and that kind of mindset makes him a dominant run blocker.”
Especially once he got out of his own way.