While it would be difficult to match the record eight offensive tackles selected in the first round in 2008, this year's NFL Draft will have plenty of talent available for teams in need of men up front.
Starting with Baylor's talented Jason Smith, as many as five offensive tackles are expected to be taken in the first round, including four of the top 15 picks, according to ratings by NFLDraftScout.com.
Smith is a former tight end with great athletic ability and tremendous upside. On the other hand, Virginia's Eugene Monroe has been playing tackle since he first put on a high school uniform and will continue to do so next year with somebody's NFL uniform.
|Jason Smith got the nickname 'Smooth' for a reason. (AP)|
A mediocre group of guards is topped by Oklahoma's massive Duke Robinson, a road-grading-type blocker who should be especially helpful with some team's running game.
Here is a closer look at the offensive line prospects (*-early entry):
1. Jason Smith, Baylor, 6-5, 309
He is just coming into his own as an offensive lineman after converting from tight end to offensive tackle in 2006. NFL teams love his combination of athletic ability and hustle. Teammates nicknamed him Smooth for the way he moves. He has excellent speed and can pull, trap and track down a defender in space. Smith missed some time in 2007 with a knee injury but seemed fine in 2008 and finished his career with 39 starts in 42 games, playing 24 at left tackle, seven at right. According to coaching stats, he allowed only three quarterback pressures and 4.5 sacks in his 24 games at left tackle the past two years. At the combine, his best time in 40 yards was 5.09 and he had 33 reps with 225 pounds on the bench.
2. Eugene Monroe, Virginia, 6-5, 309
A top-rated prospect since high school, Monroe is still not a finished product but is always improving. He battled back from a 2007 knee injury and showed impressive durability in 2008. Monroe learned how to compete while growing up in a family of 16 that included 10 brothers. He has a prototype build to play tackle and comes complete with excellent footwork, balance and the ability to maintain his position against active defenders in pass protection. On running plays, he is nimble and tough, which often gets him into the second level where he can take on a linebacker. In fact, he was flopped to the tight end side when Virginia wanted to take advantage of his blocking on strong-side runs.
3. Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi, 6-5, 309
There seems to be no consensus on this naturally athletic man. Oher (pronounced "oar") is naturally quiet and reserved but speaks loudly on the field, where he has demonstrated the ability to absolutely out-quick, outmuscle and totally manhandle opponents. Interestingly, that athleticism didn't seem to show up in his rather average combine workouts. Team and media interviews did not dispel concerns that he will struggle to grasp sophisticated concepts in the NFL. Some scouts say he is so physically gifted that he will be a standout, while others are concerned that he may not understand the complexities of his position, which could endanger the quarterback. Oher was highly visible coming out of high school as a USA Today All-America selection and a subject in the book Blind Side.
4. * Andre Smith , Alabama, 6-4, 332
Controversy follows this huge athlete, who was dominant when he played and conspicuous by his absence (for interaction with an agent) in the 2009 Sugar Bowl when Alabama shockingly lost to Utah. His latest dramatic episode came even as he was trying to quiet controversy with a Pro Day workout. His weight was down a few pounds from the combine, to 325, but he looked bad as he ran 40 yards shirtless, his midsection jiggling for 5.25 seconds. He also had a disappointing 19 reps on the bench with 225 pounds. But on the field, his play was outstanding, and he won the Outland Trophy as the top lineman in the country. Until his suspension, Smith started and excelled in every game since his freshman season. He is a dominant run blocker who has surprising agility as a pass protector.
5. * Eben Britton, Arizona, 6-6, 309
Although he was able to use sheer size, strength and athleticism to be a force, Britton could have used another college season to hone his game. He started all 37 games he appeared in at Arizona, lining up at right tackle for the first 24 before shifting to left tackle in 2008. Britton is a very bright, high character type who was a team captain and is expected to work hard to get ever closer to his significant potential. His work ethic is reflected in his getting only four penalties in 2,461 snaps, according to coaches stats. His made 17 blocks that led directly to touchdowns in 2008.
6. William, Beatty, Connecticut, 6-6, 307
Still growing into his body and his role, Beatty began his college career as a 265-pounder and has maintained quick feet, agility and strength required to play the all-important left tackle spot in the NFL. He was impressive at combine workouts with a best time in 40 yards of 5.06 seconds and 27 reps on the bench with 225 pounds. He was the Huskies' anchor at left tackle the past two years after making a comeback from a broken leg that ended his 2006 season. Beatty originally started four games at left tackle as a freshman, and overall started 35 of the 39 games he played at Connecticut. He allowed 6.5 sacks in 689 plays over the past two years, according to coaches stats.
7. Jamon Meredith, South Carolina, 6-5 304
Meredith has the natural strength and athletic ability to play guard or tackle. He is a quiet, thoughtful person who might be more effective if he played with a little more aggression. He has a thick body and natural strength and was impressive during East-West Shrine practices, where he showed strong initial punch and excellent footwork. Meredith started 38 games, including eight at right guard, 11 at right tackle and 19 at left tackle. In the past two seasons, coaches stats credit him with 17 blocks that resulted in touchdowns while allowing seven pressures and seven sacks on 753 pass plays. Meredith graduated in May 2008 with a 3.7 GPA.
8. Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma, 6-8, 332
|Sooners Outland Trophy finalist Duke Robinson specializes in knockdowns. (Getty Images)|
1. Duke Robinson, Oklahoma, 6-5, 329
A massive blocker who creates freeway-type access for runners, Robinson was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman in the nation last year and is a two-time All-American. During his last two seasons, Robinson had 229 knockdown blocks and had a key block on 29 touchdowns. He is exceptional at getting into the second level and bullying linebackers and defensive backs, often to the point where he gets the attention of officials. He was penalized a dozen times the past two seasons. His birth name is George, and he is the great nephew of singer Smokey Robinson.
2. Herman Johnson, LSU, 6-7, 364
Even after dropping almost 20 pounds in the past year, Johnson is the biggest man in this draft. Still, he appeared to be in acceptable condition during Senior Bowl practices. He ran and lifted (21 reps in the 225-pound bench press), but didn't jump at the combine because of a groin injury. He did post a 26½-inch vertical at his Pro Day last week. He relies on his massive size to obliterate everything, including more than his share of sunlight. If he locks onto a defender, Johnson usually has an easy time controlling the situation. But he often plays too high and is susceptible to being pushed back by a good, low-based bull rush. He is alert to twists, stunts and blitzes and has decent footwork in a small area. But he is unable to go any distance to get into position against a moving target.
3. Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin, 6-5, 328
When his streak of 45 consecutive starts came to an end against Penn State in 2008, the Badgers' offensive line struggled and the team lost five of six games. Urbik is not an elite athlete, but he is big enough and works hard enough to be a force that is difficult to handle. He is best rolling forward in a power running game and is not effective seeking out prey in open space. Urbik started 50 games at Wisconsin, lining up at right guard 34 times and 16 more at right tackle. According to coaches stats, in his final two seasons Urbik had 26 blocks that resulted in touchdowns and allowed only three sacks and two pressures on 680 pass plays.
4. Andy Levitre, Oregon State, 6-3, 305
Although he played both tackle positions during his college career, Levitre will need to move inside at the NFL level to maximize his aggressiveness and minimize his lack of height, arm length and foot speed. Levitre finished college with 35 consecutive starts and 39 overall. In his last two seasons, he started 17 times at left tackle and nine times at right tackle, had 23 blocks that led to touchdowns and allowed 10.5 sacks and six pressures in 863 pass plays, according to coaches stats. He also was penalized nine times, including seven false starts.
5. Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati, 6-5, 307
A mauler, Canfield is as subtle as a punch in the mouth -- and just as effective. He has a good combination of height, long arms, agility and a downright nasty disposition between the snap and the whistle. He not only blocks defenders, he blocks through them. He started 39 consecutive games and coaches credit him with 300 knockdown blocks in that time. He also had 37 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. He was by far the most effective pass blocker on a team that gave up 134 sacks and 80 quarterback pressures while he was starting. He was responsible for only seven sacks and three pressures in his career and as a senior gave up three sacks and one pressure on 472 pass plays.
1. Alex Mack, California, 6-4, 311
|It's hard to dispute that Alex Mack is smart enough to be a crack NFL center. (Getty Images)|
2. Max Unger, Oregon, 6-5, 309
Versatility will add to Unger's value. He started 51 consecutive games and earned all-conference honors in every season -- at left tackle in 2005 and 2006 and center in 2007 and 2008. During his two seasons at center, coaches stats credit him with 180 knockdowns and 29 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. In his last 786 plays he was not penalized and allowed only 6.5 sacks and no pressures. Although he is adept at the shotgun snap, Unger needs experience with the quarterback under center and might need more bulk to hold his ground at the next level.
3. Eric Wood, Louisville, 6-4, 310
Although taller than most centers, Wood is able to make the cut block. He gets off the ball and into his man in a blink and can drive back smaller tackles. Wood was team captain in 2008 and took pride in making all the line calls. He started 49 consecutive games at center. In the last two seasons, coaches stats credit Wood with 27 blocks that resulted in touchdowns and 164 knockdowns. On his last 992 pass plays he allowed only two quarterback pressures.
4. Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas, 6-4, 301
He has great initial explosion off the snap that gets him into the defender with startling quickness, but he needs to improve his lower body strength to be consistently successful with the NFL's big boys. Luigs might be tried at guard to utilize his speed and quickness. Despite great competition, he won the Rimington Trophy in 2007 as top center in the nation and shared the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy with Alabama's Andre Smith as the conference's top offensive lineman. Luigs started all 49 games he played in at Arkansas, lining up at center in 42 and at right guard in seven. In his final two seasons at center, Luigs allowed only 4.5 sacks and one pressure on 756 pass plays.
Frank Cooney is the Publisher of NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.