Southern California's Tyron Smith definitely passes the eye test and is one of few 300-plus pound people on this earth that can be described as "ripped." With 36 3/8-inch long arms and 11-inch hands, it's as if he came off an assembly line at a left tackle factory. That's why it may come as a surprise to learn every game Smith started for the Trojans came on the right side, and he's just three years removed from high school. Smith still has prototype size and athletic ability to protect the blind side and is the only tackle in 2011 that could warrant a top-10 selection.
Behind Smith is Anthony Castonzo of Boston College. Castonzo started every game of his four-year career at a school known to churn out great NFL blockers. He has the athletic ability and length to succeed as a left tackle, but he lacks the "sand in his pants" to anchor against strength and generate power in the running game. Still, he should be the next off the board in the middle portion of the first round.
Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi is the cream of the right tackle crop in 2011. It's no wonder Wisconsin has had success running the football, as Carimi is an absolute mauler in the trenches. The former Badger can blow open running lanes by driving defenders off the ball and plays with the toughness you love to see in an offensive lineman. However, he is not without flaw, and lacks the quick feet to handle the speed of NFL rushers. He's a relatively safe pick if you're in the market for a right tackle and should be a longtime starter on that side in the pros.
Colorado's Nate Solder is a converted tight end blessed with a rare combination of size and athletic ability. He's a "dancing bear" on the field and owns the long arms and quick feet to be a stellar player on the left side. Unfortunately, Solder's gift of size comes with an asterisk. The former Buff has trouble consistently bending his knees and plays too high. Leverage may always be an issue in pass protection and hinders his natural ability. Then again, Solder displays surprising leverage to generate strength in the running game. Ultimately his upside will entice a team to select him in the mid-to-late first round.
Last but not least for the potential first-rounders is the underrated Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State. Sherrod possesses ideal length and is one of the most talented pass protectors available. He displays great feet, quickness and agility to neutralize speed off the edge. He also possesses ideal length and a big pair of mitts, which he uses quite well. The rest of his build is what scouts are concerned with. Sherrod is top-heavy due to his wide shoulders and narrow hips. He lacks the lower body strength to plow open running lanes and is more of a positional blocker. He doesn't show much of a mean streak either, but still should earn consideration late in the first round or early in the second.
POSITION REPORT CARD: This draft is without the "elite" offensive tackle prospect we are used to seeing and will likely mark the first time since 2005 an offensive tackle has failed to be selected in the top five. Even the five first-round contenders have significant question marks and the top left tackle prospect has never started a college game on that side. There are quality players to be had here in the latter portions, but overall this class is just a touch above average. For that reason, I'm assigning it a C-plus grade.
TYRON SMITH, Southern California
Good News: Prototypical combination of size and skill for a left tackle…Exceptional athletic ability ideal for the position…Extremely long arms and huge, strong hands…Effectively neutralizes defenders when he locks on…Very good foot quickness to handle speed off the edge and mirror defenders in pass protection…Exceptional agility in his lateral movement…Keeps a great base with very good balance and bend in his knees.
Bad News: Flashes initial quickness but is inconsistent getting off the ball and can be late…Lacks elite strength as a run blocker…Playing weight was a light at around 285 pounds and it showed on the field…Stood up too often and can be rocked on his heels with a strong punch…Can be a little susceptible to swim/spin moves and needs to be more aggressive with his hands.
Prediction: Smith eased concerns about his size by showing up to the combine at a svelte 307 pounds – nearly 25 pounds heavier that his typical playing weight. He's a gifted athlete with the size and skill to handle the speed of NFL pass rushers as a left tackle. However, Smith is just three years removed from high school and only started on the right side during his tenure at USC. He's a bit raw, but his outstanding physical talent will warrant a first-round selection and could see him chosen as high as the top 10.
ANTHONY CASTONZO, Boston College
Good News: Good athlete and has the talent to handle NFL speed as a left tackle…Possesses the measurables with height, long arms and big hands…Good initial quickness and gets good depth in his kick-slide…Quick feet and lateral agility to mirror defenders and protect the edge…Uses length to his advantage and can ride ends around the pocket…Outstanding resume and intangibles – has started every game in his four-year career.
Bad News: Lacks elite strength and too often allows the defender to get under his pads in pass protection…Can lose the edge to the speed rush at times when defenders come too low for him to grasp… Has a tendency to over-extend in pass protection…Far from a driving run blocker…Lacks lower-body strength and struggles to sustain…Lacks size through his lower half and has questionable ability to anchor…Needs to do a better job of keeping his head up.
Prediction: Castonzo has a fantastic pedigree having been a four-year starter at a school known for producing quality offensive linemen. He possesses ideal size, length and athleticism for an NFL left tackle, yet he still scares me a bit. Castonzo lacks "sand in his pants" and doesn't have the lower body strength to anchor. He has good height, but too often he loses the leverage battle. Bull rushers get under his pads and walk him into the backfield. On the other hand, he carries his 311 pounds very well and has room to add more weight to continue developing his strength. He's a solid prospect and should be off the board in the middle portion of the first round.
GABE CARIMI, Wisconsin
Good News: Fantastic strength…Great height but does a good job of coming out of his stance low to maintain leverage…Mauler in the run game and looks to finish blocks…Drives defenders off the ball to blow open holes…Very strong in the hands and upper body – tough to beat in pass protection when he gets a hold of the defender…Long arms and good enough lateral agility to force edge rusher to take wide angles…Very smart player that knows his assignment and can adjust to the blitz/stunt…Outstanding resume – has started all 49 games he's played in at left tackle.
Bad News: Likely a right tackle/guard and doesn't possess the athletic ability of a blindside protector…Lacks the quick feet to protect the edge against NFL speed…Doesn't always get good depth in his kick-slide and can be beat to the corner…Can be late off the ball at times, forcing him to play "catch up" with the defensive end.
Prediction: In my opinion, Carimi is one of the safer picks available at offensive tackle, as long as you know what you're getting. He doesn't have the athletic ability of traditional NFL left tackles and is going to be a right tackle or possibly even guard. But, he's an absolute mauler in the running game and plays with the toughness and nastiness coaches love to see. He'll be a 10-year starter on the right side and should be off the board in the second half of the first round.
DEREK SHERROD, Mississippi State
Good News: Excellent feet and agility to mirror defenders off the edge…Good technique and tries to keep hands inside the frame in pass protection…Pretty good depth on his kick-slide with initial quickness…Has the long arms and big hands needed to man the blind side…Good hand usage…Lacks drive in the run game but has good position to wall off defenders and open holes.
Bad News: Wide shoulders but narrow in the hips, making him top-heavy with less balance…Lacks the anchor and leverage to drive defenders off the ball and is more of a seal guy…Can lean a bit too much and dip his head at times, struggling to sustain…Gets to the second level quick enough but needs to take better angles due to the fact that he struggles to change direction with moving targets…Needs to get better at sustaining blocks downfield…Doesn't really have that killer mentality to finish blocks.
Prediction: Sherrod doesn't have much of a mean streak and is far from a mauler in the running game. He has a top-heavy build with narrow hips that prevent him from generating enough power to plow defenders off the ball. However, he shows good feet and agility on the edge and his hand placement makes his length especially effective in pass protection. He's one of the more underrated left tackle prospects in my opinion and should be chosen late in the first round.
NATE SOLDER, Colorado
Good News: Rare combination of size and athletic ability…Owns the long arms and quick feet to protect the blindside at the next level…Generally keeps his hands inside while engaged…Flashes the ability to engage the defensive end and pass him off to the guard before redirecting to the blitzing linebacker…Maintains surprisingly good leverage as a run blocker…Possesses the strength to drive defenders off the ball and open holes in the running game.
Bad News: Leverage is going to be an issue in pass protection…Pops up high out of his stance too often and can struggle to bend at the knees, hindering agility as an edge protector…High start out of stance can get him into "chase" mode as he grabs ends turning the corner, likely resulting in penalties at the next level…Has a tendency to overset and give up the inside lane, especially when he starts to anticipate the outside rush…Stronger ends can walk him back into the pocket with leverage.
Prediction: As a converted tight end, Solder offers a rare combination of size and athletic ability. With long arms and great foot quickness, he definitely has the natural attributes franchises look for in a blindside protector. But at his height, Solder doesn't consistently bend at the knees and leverage is going to be a constant issue for him in pass protection. He comes out of his stance very high, negating some of his athletic ability. On the other hand, he plays with surprisingly good leverage in the running game and can drive lineman off the ball. I admit I'm not a big fan of Solder, but his upside will likely entice a team in the mid-to-late portions of the first round.
James Carpenter, Alabama
Good News: Good hand punch and placement…Plays with aggression and looks to finish blocks…Generally plays with leverage and a wide base with bend in his knees…Good anchor and can stalemate the bull-rush…Slides laterally well in pass protection and does a good job of locking onto defenders when he engages…Shows the ability to generate power as a run blocker and drive defenders off the ball.
Bad News: Susceptible to inside moves…Heavy-footed and gets in trouble when his feet get planted and the defender puts an inside move on him…Lacks elite quickness and can be late off the snap on occasion…Better than average ability to reach the second level but needs to take better angles…Lacks elite athleticism and measurables…Won't stay at left tackle in the NFL, will play right tackle or guard.
Prediction: Carpenter is highly underrated and could end up being a relative steal in the second or third round. After transferring from a junior college, he started both years at left tackle for the Crimson Tide. He lacks the quickness and athletic ability to be a blindside protector in the NFL, but he's good enough to play right tackle or even guard.
Orlando Franklin, Miami (FL)
Good News: Aggressive run blocker with a mean streak and looks to finish blocks…Drives defenders off the ball with good strength and surprising leverage…Keeps his legs driving in the running game and does a good job of locating and getting a block on a second target…Possesses long arms with huge hands ideal for the position…Displays pretty good agility to slide laterally in pass protection.
Bad News: Still a work in progress as a pass protector and technique needs refinement…Doesn't always play with leverage and allows defenders to get under his pads…Has a tendency to dip his head and needs to keep eyes up…Possesses enough quickness, yet is still slow off the ball at times…Can be a bit of a leaner in the running game…Right tackle only, if not guard.
Prediction: Franklin has enough skill to play on the right side in the NFL, but he's a work in progress. His technique is going to need some refinement if he's to stay at offensive tackle. But he's a mauler in the running game and also has experience playing guard. That versatility could entice a team in the second or third rounds.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Marcus Gilbert, Florida
Notes: A right tackle prospect with massive size with solid athletic ability, but lacks aggressiveness and is a bit soft.
Projection: 3rd-4th round.
James Brewer, Indiana
Notes: Will entice teams with great measurables and athletic ability, but comes with durability concerns and is a project after beginning his football career as a high school senior.
Projection: 3rd-4th round.
JOE BARKSDALE, Louisiana State
Notes: Right tackle prospect with very good length, but lacks the athleticism to stay on the left and plays off-balance due to too much waist bending.
Projection: 4th round.
LEE ZIEMBA, Auburn
Notes: Mauler in the running game but lack the foot speed and agility in pass protection and may have to move inside.
Projection: 4th round.
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