|Kalil's agility makes him the most complete tackle prospect in this year's draft. (US Presswire)|
Tradition runs deep with Matt Kalil, whose brother is a three-time Pro Bowl center and whose father was drafted in the NFL and played in the USFL, and who is a little more than a week shy of becoming the latest Southern Cal offensive linemen selected in the first round of the draft.
But bloodlines, USC offensive line coach James Cregg acknowledged, will only carry a player so far without the blood and sweat and tears that typically accompany the manner of sacrifice that merits greatness. And Matt Kalil has, during his tenure at USC, invested plenty of all them on his way to sure-fire status as a top five NFL pick.
"Some of it probably comes naturally," allowed Cregg, whose resume includes two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, and who has a solid background in what it takes to play in the league. "But most of it for an offensive lineman, no matter the level, is hard work. And (Kalil) has worked for what he's gotten and what he will be."
In the 45 lotteries conducted since the common draft was implemented in 1967, there has amazingly been 55 former Trojans blockers selected. Twenty-two of them were tabbed in the first round and seven were top-10 choices.
The consensus top lineman on the draft boards of every franchise to which The Sports Xchange has spoken, Kalil will bump up all those numbers. And be proud to do so.
"You're always aware of the [legacy]," Kalil said. "Some people think of Southern Cal, and they think of all the great [skill-position] players who have been at the school, and played in the NFL. But if you're a lineman at USC, you know what's expected of you, definitely. You want to live up to that." There is a pair of former USC linemen, Bruce Matthews and Ron Yary, in the Hall of Fame.
Although his sights are set to such lofty aspirations, Kalil isn't about to predict he will someday be in Canton, nor are the scouts who have evaluated him. But Kalil, NFLDraftScout.com's third-ranked player behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, possesses the kind of potential that could land him there.
And in a year in which the first round figures to approximate the average number of tackles selected in the past five lotteries, five, he has unabashedly proclaimed himself the best of the pack.
Cregg agrees. "He's the whole package," the USC assistant said.
The past six drafts have included a USC offensive lineman in either the first or second rounds in five of those seasons. Twice in that period, the program had tackles chosen in the opening round, including Tyron Smith last year, selected by Dallas in the ninth overall slot. Kalil's older brother, Ryan, was a second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2007, and became a full-time starter in his second year in the league.
Two of the five players were instant starters as rookies, and Matt Kalil figures to join that elite grouping. The left tackle spot in particular has become a draft priority in recent years, especially with so much emphasis on the passing game, and Kalil was a two-year starter at USC at the most conspicuous line spot. Most mock drafts have pegged him at the No. 3 spot, to Minnesota, but The Sports Xchange has reported several times that the Vikings will consider other options as well.
But no matter the Vikings' pick at the third slot, Kalil almost certainly won't slide out of the top five or six spots, certainly not out of the top 10, and will be the first lineman off the board.
Said Smith, who started all 16 games for the Cowboys in 2011: "He's that good. A guy who is not only big and strong, but knows about all the little things like leverage, and pays attention to the details." Kalil, 22, was good enough in college to have kept Smith, who will move to the left side for the Cowboys this season, in his more natural position, on the right side.
There are bigger tackles in the 2012 draft pool -- all but seven of the 33 other tackles at the NFL combine in February weighed more than Kalil -- but none better. Or with as complete a makeup as the USC standout.
Kalil checked in at 6-foot-6 5/8 and 306 pounds, but still clocked a 4.99 time, one of only two offensive line candidates to break the five-second barrier. Being fast is good, but being quick is better. Kalil gleaned that from his brother and his father (Frank, an 11th-round choice of Buffalo in 1982), and he has emphasized foot speed and the ability to mirror and shadow pass-rushers in preparing for the draft.
"You've got to be [nasty], but you have to slow the game down some, too," Kalil said. "The footwork is a lot more important than the size. I mean, I've learned that there is a certain amount of patience involved."
Kalil won't have to exercise much patience on the first night of the draft. Slated to attend the festivities, he won't in the Green Room for long.