Lack of elite tackles will affect Cards
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.
The most important person on the football field is the quarterback. Naturally, that makes the second most important person the guy who is in charge of protecting him. If you were a team looking for an elite left tackle early in the first round, you might have missed your chance. The past two Aprils have produced five top-10 selections at offensive tackle. While just one figures to have a chance to be chosen that high in 2011, this class could produce as many as five first-round picks at the position – the most since 2008, when a whopping eight tackles came off the board in the opening stanza.
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.
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