2007 NFL draft/Positional analysis: OTs

Would the 49ers take an offensive tackle with the No. 11 selection in the NFL draft? Sure they would, if a prospect such as Joe Thomas or Levi Brown still were on the board. Thomas won't be, but Brown might be. If he isn't, the Niners won't hesitate to look later on opening day among a strong crop at this position. Here, we take a detailed look with analysis of the top 10 tackles in the draft.

POSITION ANALYSIS: The 49ers still are waiting for the payoff on their big free-agent investment in Jonas Jennings two years ago, but that's not to say Jennings hasn't produced as the team's starting left tackle - when healthy. The problem is Jennings has trouble staying healthy, and he is not a player who's effective when playing hurt. But he is solid at one of the game's crucial positions when all is right, and the 49ers still are banking that, at age 29, he still can be a rock along a line of which the team places major importance. The 49ers have less confidence in starting right tackle Kwame Harris, the 2003 first-rounder who has proven to be durable - he has started San Francisco's past 37 games - but not always effective. Harris is a fine run blocker, but still has deficiences as a pass blocker and is not the all-around package the team would like at the position. Thus - since his contract is up after this season - the 49ers may look to move Harris via trade before or after the draft if they don't see him fitting into their long-term plans. Adam Snyder, a 2005 third-rounder, certainly fits into those plans after signing a $10.5 million contract extension that locks him up through the 2011 season. Many feel Snyder now is ready to assume the starting position from Harris, but Snyder also is versatile enough to move inside at guard if the team does decide to pull the trigger on a top prospect with its top pick or one of its other early first-day selections. Offensive tackle is always a position of need, but many of the college OTs move inside because of physical limitations, which greatly diminishes the number of quality tackles on the board. In an average year, about three tackles go off the board each round and this year should be no exception. While Wisconsin product Thomas is the only true blue-chip prospect, there are plenty of players who will go off the board early and could be of use to the 49ers and their plan of continually upgrading their roster - even at areas of strength.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP Joe Thomas, Wisconsin, 6-3¾, 311: Fourth-year senior…Tried out for the U.S. Olympic Team as a shot putter while still in high school…Competed on Wisconsin's track team and set a school record for the shot put (62 feet, ¼ inch)…Was recruited to play tight end, but played defensive end for the Music City Bowl vs. Auburn and had seven tackles…Moved to left tackle as a freshman and started his final 38 games there…Was planning to come out after the 2005 season, but tore his left ACL playing defense in the Capital One Bowl…Won the Outland Trophy in 2006, given to the top college lineman…First-Team All-America as a senior…Excellent footwork and can pull to take on linebackers with ease…A shut-down type tackle who can handle both strength pass rushers and speed rushers…Typically takes on a DE one-on-one for the entire game…Once he gets a hold on a defender, he's finished for that play…Can slide laterally without losing contact with a defender…Extremely mobile…Doesn't have a mean streak and will let opponents go when neutralized instead of finishing him off and dominating him…Doesn't have the classic wide body and thick lower body of many offensive tackles…Doesn't use his hands as much as he could and lets D-ends get into his body…Needs to work more on his hand punch to jolt defenders…Had a very productive Combine workout, running a 4.92 40, doing 28 reps with 225 pounds, posting a position-best 33-inch vertical jump and a third-best broad jump of 9-2.
Projection: He has all the intangibles coaches look for in a left tackle and, while he may be not be as overpowering as last year's top OT (the Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson), he is expected to be a bookend at left tackle for whomever drafts him for the next decade or more. He should be gone as early as No. 2, but the Cardinals would be drooling if he was still on the board at No. 5.

Levi Brown, Penn State, 6-5½, 321: Fifth-year senior…Didn't play football until his freshman year of high school because he was banned from junior high leagues because he was too big…Four-year starter who started all 45 college games he played at left tackle…Got his college degree in three-and-a-half years…Has endured a couple of minor knee injuries, including a torn meniscus last year, but missed just one game…Big, wide lower body that allows him to anchor and steer defenders to the outside…Very good at position blocking in the running game and neutralizes his man on almost every snap…Has good punch off the snap and finishes his blocks consistently…A good knee bender who rarely plays straight-legged…Will struggle against pure speed rush specialists and doesn't catch up well when backing up…Will get caught off guard by swim moves…Doesn't play with a lot of intensity…Doesn't have good change-of-direction burst…Gets frustrated if things don't go his way…A mixed bag at the Combine, he ran a 5.42 40, his 31 reps were second-best among all tackles, but his vertical jump of 25½ inches tied for third-worst and his broad jump of 8-1 tied for worst.
Projection: Any player who has been a four-year starter at left tackle in the Big Ten is clearly ready for the pros. While he doesn't have the explosiveness to be lock for the Pro Bowl, he has many of the same positives as Bryant McKinnie, and some believe with the right coaching he could end up being the best OT from the Class of '07. The 49ers like this guy, and if he falls to 11 - which is possible - the team clearly could pounce on him despite its needs at receiver and on defense.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Tony Ugoh, Arkansas, 6-5¼, 301: Fifth-year senior who got a medical redshirt from 2002 almost three years after the fact…Three-year starter who started the last 35 games of his college career…Chose Arkansas because it was the only school that would allow him to compete on the track team as well as football…Set a school record in the discus with a throw of 60 feet, 4½ inches…Huge player with long 36-inch arms that allow him to get hold of defenders and push them where he wants them to go…Very quick into position for pass protection…Top-end upper body strength he showed at the Combine (see below)…Excellent on pulling to the second level on sweeps…Has plenty of strength but doesn't always use it, instead preferring to push players where he wants them to go…Looked a little stiff at the Senior Bowl practices…Doesn't react quickly when a blitzer is trying to come through his gap…Needs to refine footwork…Had an excellent Combine workout, running a 5.05 40, posting a position-best 32 reps with 225 pounds, had the second-best vertical jump (32½ inches) and the best broad jump by far (9-9).
Projection: He made himself a lot of money at the Combine. Thought to be a mid-second round pick, he has quite possibly bumped his way into the first round.

Joe Staley, Central Michigan, 6-5¼, 305: Fourth-year senior…Came to CMU as a 220-pound tight end and has added 85 pounds in the four years since…Was a track star in high school who set school records in the 200-meter dash and the 4x100 and 4x200 relays…Started 11 games at right tackle as a sophomore and started his final 25 games at left tackle…Extremely quick and agile…Uses his speed and athleticism to force speed rushers to the outside and out of plays…Can handle ends that have multiple pass rush moves…Good at blitz pickup and has good awareness of what is going on around him…Hard worker who puts in extra time on the practice field and the weight room…Helps out fellow linemen when he has his man contained…Is not a natural offensive tackle—adding 80-plus pounds isn't easy to do…Doesn't have top strength in his lower body…Allows defenders to get into his body too easily, especially bigger bull rushers…Allowed a couple of breakaway sacks at the Senior Bowl when he botched his assignment…Isn't a natural knee-bender…Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a position-best 4.78 40 and did 27 reps.
Projection: Some view him as a blown up tight end who has already reached his maximum size potential. But he turned some heads at the Senior Bowl practices. He likely will be a project, but has a lot of upside and could go off the board sometime late in the second round. If he's still around in the third round, the 49ers might be eager to use one of their multiple selections in that round on a player with upside at a premium position.

Ryan Harris, Notre Dame, 6-4½, 305: Fourth-year senior…First team USA Today High School All-American…Became a starter at left tackle four games into his freshman year and started the next 45 games…Adept at sliding with pass rushers and forcing them outside…At times can dominate opponents when he keeps his knee bend and shoots his hands…Good at pulling and getting to the second level to chip linebackers…Gets out of his stance and into defenders…Has as good a mobility skill set as any tackle other than Joe Thomas…Is not a dominant run blocker and doesn't knock college DEs off the ball, much less the big men he'll face in 3-4 NFL defenses…Doesn't have ideal bulk and isn't committed to being a weight room rat…Has trouble keeping weight on—has slipped down below 280 pounds during the season…Doesn't have a burning desire or passion for the game…Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine with 25 reps, a 25½-inch vertical jump (tied for third-worst among OTs) and a 8-1 broad jump.
Projection: A hard prospect to figure out because his good points are very good, but his inherent weaknesses even the scales too much. Will likely have to move to right tackle in the pros, but if coached up properly, could turn in to a solid NFL tackle. But his inconsistencies and apparent lack of drive will probably drop him into the third round. One of the bigger boom/bust prospects in this year's O-line class.

James Marten, Boston College, 6-7½, 310:Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who was moved to left guard for 24 starts in 2004-05 because BC had Jeremy Trueblood (a second-round pick of the Buccaneers last year) at OLT…Moved to left tackle last year and started all 13 games…Moves very well for a man so big…Uses his hands effectively…Has the size to move the pile on short-yardage and goal-line plays…Is always fighting until the whistle…Intelligent player who is very coachable…Durability is a plus, having never missed a game in 38 starts…Has long arms to direct and move pass-rushing DEs…May actually be a little too tall and gets beat around the corner or by ends with strong counter-pass rush moves…Doesn't have a strong lower body to anchor…Is not at his best when asked to pull and take on defenders at the second level…Ran a 5.08 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 8-4 broad jump.
Projection: He provides flexibility in that he has the skill to play any of the five positions. He'll likely have to be moved to the right side, where his fighting style can be better used. He looks the part of a road grader offensive tackle, but his height can hurt him as well as help him.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Adam Koets, Oregon State, 6-5¼, 302: Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made 37 straight starts at left tackle…Plays with good leverage and knee bend…Has good suddenness at the snap and can use his feet to eliminate pass rushers by sliding with him around the outside…Picks up blitzes very well and has football smarts…Has the ability to work through the slop on sweeps and get to the linebackers to spring long gainers…Is not overly fleet of foot or huge at the point of attack, which will likely force him to move to right tackle…Doesn't play with a mean streak…Got schooled often during Hula Bowl week…Needs to work a lot on his upper-body strength (see below)…Doesn't look to knock people over as a run blocker; instead tends to grab on and simply try to direct them where he wants them go…Ran a 5.08 40 at the Combine with a 8-10 broad jump and a 32-inch vertical jump (which tied for third among OTs), but did just 20 reps with 225 pounds, the second-lowest total among offensive tackles and the most for anyone expected to be taken in the draft.
Projection: He's thinner than most offensive tackles, but makes up for his lack of brawn by being extremely intelligent and learning from his mistakes. He'll have to move to the right side and some teams will dismiss him, but he has a decent chance of going late on the first day of the draft.

Doug Free, Northern Illinois, 6-6¼, 318:Fifth-year senior…Came to Northern Illinois as 242-pound tight end and has added 75 pounds since…Four-year starter who finished his career with 49 starts—the last 47 at left tackle…Has the prototypes that scouts look for—long arms, good upper body strength, big hands and solid technique…Has the speed to neutralize edge rushers and push them beyond the pocket…Durability isn't a concern—he started every game he played, despite playing all of the 2006 season with a stress fracture in his right foot…Has been used as a tight end/tackle-eligible in short-yardage and goal-line situations…Doesn't have a dominant hand punch and allows too many defenders to get on him quickly...Has never been asked to face consistently tough competition in the Mid-American Conference…Had adequate upper-body strength, but needs to improve both upper- and lower-body strength to be a factor at the next level…Ran a 5.21 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 30-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump—second among all offensive tackles that tested.
Projection: Perhaps no player has as big a difference of opinion from one scout to the next as Free. He has so many of the measurables that scouts look for, but has never shown the signs of being a dominant player. A team might take a run at him in the third round, but more likely, he'll be one of the targeted prospects after the first day when teams re-assess their draft boards and see he's still available.

Julius Wilson, Alabama-Birmingham, 6-4½, 327: Fourth-year senior…Played his freshman season at Southwest Mississippi Community College…A three-year starter who made 29 starts at both tackle spots…Has good upper body strength, but didn't help his cause by not lifting at the Combine despite doing all the other drills…Plays with good leverage in pass protections…Drives through players while run blocking and can push them down the line to open running lanes…Has a strong hand punch and once he locks on a defender, he tries to run him into the ground…Is too short to be an NFL left tackle, according to many scouts…Arms are short and it allows defenders to get into his body and take away his quick first step…Doesn't have good sustaining speed (see below) and isn't adept at taking on linebackers at the second level when pulling or trapping…Needs a lot of work on his play-to-play technique…His 5.48 40 at the Combine was the third-worst for his position and, while he didn't lift, he did show a 27-inch vertical jump and a 8-7 broad jump—pedestrian numbers all.
Projection: A player who, at first look, seems like a more logical fit to play guard even though he never did in college. He's going to be a project that might be tried initially at right tackle, but eventually may have to move inside to be useful. Those types of players require time, which means he'll likely be another Day Two selection who will be given a year or two to blossom.

Mario Henderson, Florida State, 6-6½, 302: Fourth-year senior…Only a one-year starter who made all 13 starts at the left tackle spot as a senior…Has very long arms that he uses effectively to re-direct pass rushers…Intelligent player who makes quick reads on blitzes and reacts well…Has the type of frame to add 10 pounds of bulk without losing too much in terms of speed…Has good foot agility to get to the garbage and to linebackers on running plays…Is a little too straight-line in his blocking and doesn't change directions well…Needs a lot of work on his upper body strength (see below)…Plays too upright and struggles against ends who can have counter moves inside…Doesn't have a good burst off the line to shock defenders; if anyone gets jolted, it's usually him…Ran a 5.11 40 at the Combine with a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump, but his 20 reps with 225 pounds tied for second-worst among tackles who lifted.
Projection: The jury is out as to whether Henderson can be a solid pro because scouts only have one season of film on him. He's very raw and, while he has the intelligence and long arms coaches love, he is still an unknown—never good on draft weekend—and that should drive him well into the second day before his name gets called.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Allen Barbe, Missouri Southern, 6-4, 293
Elliot Vallejo, Cal-Davis, 6-7, 327
Dane Uperesa, Hawaii, 6-4½, 309
Chris Denman, Fresno State, 6-6¾, 315
Andrew Carnahan, Arizona State, 6-7¼, 306


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