|Andrew Luck has had deluxe bodyguards in David DeCastro (52) and Jonathan Martin (55). (Getty Images)|
Not since 2001, when Seattle chose Michigan guard Steve Hutchinson with the 17th overall pick and Detroit immediately followed by nabbing tackle Jeff Backus, has a school had two offensive linemen selected in the first round.
That will change in three months.
The announcements last week from Stanford right guard David DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin, that they will forfeit their final season of eligibility and enter the 2012 draft, all but assures that The Cardinal will have a couple first-round linemen chosen in April.
The Andrew Luck bodyguards are both well thought of by league scouts.
DeCastro is certainly regarded as the top guard prospect. And even though the guard position was somewhat devalued in the first round for a number of years, it has taken on increased profile the last few drafts. And, in the evaluation of most scouts, DeCastro is an in-line mauler, who is a better pass-blocker than many of the premier guard prospects in the last several drafts. Martin is, at least at this point of the evaluation process, arguably the No. 2-rated tackle prospect, behind only Matt Kalil of USC.
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"I just think my game fits well (into the NFL), and I was ready to accept the next challenge on the horizon," Martin told The Sports Xchange. "As much as I enjoyed the (college) experience, it was time."
Martin could be a top 10 pick at a position that has averaged five first-round choices the past five years. Even though guards still aren't seen as a premium, DeCastro figures to go off the board in the first half of the round. In the eyes of scouts, both benefitted from the great balance that the Stanford offense demonstrated, the tough, physical running game the team highlighted, despite the presence of Luck.
Said DeCastro: "I definitely think it helped prepare us (for the NFL). We certainly aren't one-dimensional guys."
Stanford has produced 13 first-round picks since 1970, and three times had a pair of top-round selections, the last time in 1992 (tackle Bob Whitfield and running back Tommy Vardell), but this will be the first time the school will have had three players chosen in the first round.
• There's no doubt that Oregon tailback LaMichael James, who announced last week that he will bypass his final season of college eligibility to enter the 2012 draft, is a big-time playmaker. But the question scouts have about James: At what position in the NFL will he make plays, and will he have an opportunity to make enough of them, to justify selecting him as anything but perhaps a high middle-round choice? A few scouts told The Sports Xchange that James might be able to make a transition to slot receiver because he is so good in space, but the consensus is that he hasn't yet demonstrated enough skills as an up-the-field receiver. "He's going to have to show (at the combine) that he can catch the ball as more than a back," said one AFC area scout. "Anyone that tells you he can do it just doesn't know yet." In a perfect bit of symmetry, James registered 17 catches in each of his three college seasons, but mostly on screen passes. He had three receptions of more than 50 yards, including an 84-yarder, but James still averaged only 11.5 yards per catch. In a league increasingly featuring change-of-pace backs, the versatile James may have a place because he can probably return kicks, although he had just 13 punt returns and three kickoff runbacks in college. But the 185-pounder might have some trouble as a slot receiver.
• Ol' buddy Hugh Millen -- who played quarterback for 10 seasons in the NFL, co-hosts a sports-talk show for KJR in Seattle, and remains one of the most insightful NFL experts we know -- recently attended the Alamo Bowl shootout, was on the field for pregame activities, and able to eyeball Robert Griffin III up close and personal. The word from Millen, whom we trust just about implicitly, is that those with some doubts about the size of RG3 needn't worry. "I stood next to him and the guy is all of 6-2," Millen, who is 6-feet-5, told The Sports Xchange "I watched him in warmups without pads, and he's better built than people give him credit for. From a size standpoint, I really didn't feel there were any concerns." The Heisman Trophy winner is listed by Baylor at 6-feet-2, but there had been a few questions about how Griffin would measure up at the combine. According to Millen, such worries are misplaced. Of course, as of this writing, Griffin had yet to officially declare for the draft, but the matter is considered academic. Just by way of reminder, underclass prospects have until Sunday to submit their names for the draft, and until Jan. 18 to withdraw from the NFL lottery.
• One NFC scout who attended Monday night's national championship game told The Sports Xchange early Tuesday that, while he considers the versatility of the Alabama linebackers the key to coach Nick Saban's defense, he feels that all four Crimson Tide secondary starters will be drafted. That includes cornerback DeQuan Menzie, who is probably the least heralded of the bunch. "They all play with such great recognition and football smarts," the scout said of a quartet that also includes cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, free safety Mark Barron and strong safety Robert Lester. "There's so little hesitation in the bunch and they play so well together, it's like they're joined at the hip. That is (Saban's area of expertise), and it shows."
• League scouts probably pay more attention than some might think to the annual coaching shuffle, and one situation some talent evaluators told The Sports Xchange they are watching closely is how the University of Wisconsin responds to the departure of offensive line coach Bob Bostad to become the offensive coordinator at Pitt. Bostad's linemen, several scouts agreed, were among the best-schooled and most NFL-ready in the country. The Badgers had three Bostad-coached linemen chosen in the 2001 draft, including first-round tackle Gabe Carimi (Chicago, 29th overall pick), and figure to have three more prospects for the '12 lottery, led by Peter Konz, arguably the top-rated center in the talent pool. It looks like left tackle Ricky Wagner, who would have been a fourth line prospect, will stay in school.
• On the subject of Wisconsin, several scouts this week noted that the comparisons of Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson to Drew Brees are dramatically overstated. But most also agreed that Wilson will be drafted, and that his overall stock probably has benefitted from the decisions of some underclass quarterback prospects, most notably Matt Barkley of USC and Oklahoma's Landry Jones, to return to campus for the 2012 season, rather than enter the draft.
• Another quarterback expected to benefit from the decisions of Barkley and Landry is Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State. Weeden turned 28 in October, having played five seasons of minor league baseball before he gave up the game after being a second-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2002, and his advanced age will blunt his draft stock, for sure. But a lot of quarterbacks are late-bloomers, and the consensus is that Weeden has a stronger arm and better overall tools than another former over-aged prospect, Chris Weinke, who was drafted by Carolina in the fourth round in 2001 at age 28.
• Quick kicks: The league has mandated that scouts not attend the inaugural AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game, Jan. 21 in Carson, Calif., because the contest will include underclass players. So far, the NFLPA has announced just one underclass player for the contest, Miami offensive lineman Brandon Washington, but the union has invited over three dozen juniors and has said that it will have a good contingent of underclass prospects ... The staff of the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings will coach in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28. ... Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is an inside defender on the rise, even among early first-round prospects, according to scouts ... Montana typically doesn't have many players drafted, but scouts like the size, speed, and instincts of cornerback Trumaine Johnson ... Kalil allowed that he counseled with his older brother, Carolina three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, before making his decision to enter the draft.
• The last word: "He's like Dez Bryant with all his brain cells ... he has all the skills Dez Bryant has, but he's not the knucklehead that Dez Bryant turned out to be in Dallas." - Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, per Seattle radio station KIRO on the difference between top-ranked wide receiver Justin Blackmon, and Bryant, a fellow Oklahoma State product.