2006 Draft Preview: Offensive Tackles

While the media focuses on glamour positions like quarterback, running back or even the elusive impact defensive player come draft time, offensive tackle ranks just as high on the priority lists of NFL teams every April.

Consider the impact players such as Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace have had for their respective teams, just to name a few. Except for a trio of prospects, last April's draft was void of talent at the tackle position, something that won't be a problem in 2006.

The top offensive tackle prospects in the nation bypassed the 2005 draft in favor of one final season on the college field. As a result, the crop of edge protectors and run blockers from this area will be rich and plentiful next April. Five seniors presently hold first-round grades and all could end up being selected during the initial 20 selections next year.

Many prognosticators tabbed Virginia's D'Brickshaw Ferguson as a top-three pick last April had the monster blocker opted for the draft. And while we feel that was a bit overly optimistic, the fact remains Ferguson is a gifted athlete and talented football player. Possessing outstanding size, the quick-footed left tackle has the skills necessary to protect the quarterback at the next level. Standing out in pass protection as well as run blocking, the best part of Ferguson's game could be his incredible upside potential. Expect him to be a top-five choice in '06.

Eric Winston of Miami made overtures towards entering the draft last April and looked like a top-12 selection before a serious knee injury shelved him in early October. Winston is another terrific athlete who stands out in pass protection. Possessing terrific size, the Hurricanes lineman needs to improve his run-blocking skills a smidgen, and if back to health will easily break into the first half of round one next year.

LSU Tiger Andrew Whitworth is not the athlete of Ferguson or Winston, yet still a top tackle prospect. Offering great size and football intelligence, Whitworth is a talented technician who rarely gives up sacks on the college level. Many will debate his ability to man the blind side at the next level, but there is no questioning his skills or the fact that Whitworth is another first-round prospect.

The largest of the elite tackles is Auburn's Marcus McNeill. Standing almost 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, the massive McNeil is a solid athlete who displays footwork in space as well as skills in motion. A dominant force, McNeill engulfs defenders or easily controls them once engaged in a block. His size could pose a problem for some NFL teams as the large blocker does not present himself as a well-conditioned player who dedicates himself to off-season workouts. McNeill is one of those prospects who could go early in the first round or experience a draft-day slide. The "weighty" decisions will be based on his interviewing process just prior to the draft.

The Texas Longhorns have had a recent tradition of putting talented tackles into the early reaches of the draft and Jon Scott hopes to be the next in line. Standing close to 6-6 and just over 300pounds, the athletic Scott moves more like a tight end than a big, bulky blocker. Owning first-round natural skills, the inconsistent Scott must take his game to the another level and prove to NFL scouts he is willing to pay the price as a senior.

Georgia's Max Jean-Gilles and Jami Hightower of Texas A&M are both a pair of dominant linemen productive on the college level. Each wide-bodied blocker overpowers opponents, opening large holes for running backs as well as keeping pass rushers away from their quarterback. Coming up a bit short on the measuring tape (both are barely 6-4) Jean-Gilles and Hightower will project to guard by some teams yet can be used at tackle in the right system.

Next April will offer a solid group of second-tier offensive tackles from the senior class who will be available in the middle rounds.

Adam Stenavich is like many of his predecessors from the University of Michigan -- big, powerful and best on the right side. Similar in playing style is another Big Ten blocker, Zach Strief of Northwestern. A dominant force opening holes for the running game, Strief is another best in confined quarters.

If there are a pair of tackles who could make a big rise up draft boards, they would be Jabari Levey of South Carolina and Taitusi Lutui of USC.

Levey is a terrific athlete with good size and excellent blocking range. Needing to fine tune his game and dedicate himself to year-round conditioning, Levey has the skills to develop into an early draft selection and starting tackle in the NFL.

Lutui did well in his first year in Troy after transferring from junior college. A steady force all season, he was part-n-parcel to the Trojans' potent offense last season. A top strong-side blocking prospect, Lutui could slide into guard this season as USC awaits the return of Winston Justice (the nation's top underclassmen prospect) to the offensive line.

Two more tackle prospects to mention, and possibly the most underrated pair in the nation are Boise State's Daryn Colledge and Travis Leffew from Louisville.

Top 25 Offensive Tackles
Rank Prospect School
1 D'Brickashaw Ferguson Virginia
2 Eric Winston Miami-Fl
3 Marcus McNeill Auburn
4 Andrew Whitworth LSU
5 Jonathan Scott Texas
6 Winston Justice* USC
7 Daryn Colledge Boise State
8 Joe Thomas* Wisconsin
9 Travis Leffew Louisville
10 Jabari Levey South Carolina
11 Rob Sims Ohio State
12 Taitusi Lutui USC
13 Sam Baker* USC
14 Herbert Taylor* TCU
15 Max Jean-Gilles Georgia
16 Adam Stenavich Michigan
17 Jake Long* Michigan
18 Ed Blanton UCLA
19 Stefon Wheeler Michigan State
20 Brad Butler Virginia
21 Levi Brown* Penn State
22 Jeremy Trueblood Boston College
23 Grant Preston Connecticut
24 Andrew Cameron* California
25 Tre' Stallings Mississippi

* Denotes Underclassmen

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