Gazing Into Crystal Ball: Offensive Tackles

NFL Draft Report's Dave-Te' Thomas presents his Cream of the Crop, Best of the Rest, Most Underrated and Overrated, and Super Sleeper. Thomas' "Overrated" player is a Big Ten star with "a lot of quit in his game." Read on for Thomas' pull-no-punches breakdown.

Cream of the Crop

Matt Kalil, USC

Playing in the trenches seems to be the "family business" for the Kalils,

Kalil's father, Frank, was a center at Arkansas and Arizona and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1982, before playing for the United States Football League's Arizona Wranglers in 1983 and Houston Gamblers in 1984. His brother, Ryan, was an All-American at Southern California and is the starting center with the Carolina Panthers.

Matt Kalil
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
The younger Kalil is the consensus choice to be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, according to professional scouts and talent evaluators. Based on his stellar performance at the Scouting Combine in February, he has solidified his status as a top-five selection. Some analysts feel he might be the best offensive lineman that the Trojans have produced since Tony Boselli was a three-time All-American selection during his four seasons at the university (1991-94).

As a junior, Kalil was a consensus All-American, joining Ryan in giving USC the third All-American first-team family in school history. Other sets of brothers to receive that lofty postseason honor were Marlin and Mike McKeever and the renowned Matthews brothers, Clay and Bruce.

Manning the trenches with Heisman Trophy hopeful Matt Barkley at quarterback, Kalil made sure his teammate had one of the cleanest uniforms on the team, as no defender would get past Kalil on 447 pass plays. In fact, with Kalil leading the front wall, the Trojans allowed a league-low eight sacks for the season. Continuing to excel on special teams, he blocked two extra point tries and a pair of field goals, including a potential game-winner in the Utah contest.

The All-Pac 12 Conference first-team choice was named the winner of the 32nd annual Morris Trophy, which is awarded annually to the league's top offensive lineman as selected by the league's starting defensive linemen.

Compares to: Tony Boselli, ex-Jacksonville Jaguars — Kalil plays with great awareness, knowing how to use his size to engulf and his quickness to get in front and lead on sweeps. He needs minimal reps to retain and has a firm grasp of the playbook. He is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line and knows all of his other linemates' assignments. He is quick to pick up the game plan and it is rare to see him make a mental error. He appears destined to wear a Vikings uniform, despite smoke screens being bandied about by their coach and general manager that they feel the third pick in the draft needs to be a playmaker. Look for the Vikes to possibly trade with Tampa Bay (fifth) or the Rams (sixth), as both covet tailback Trent Richardson. With either of those choices, Kalil should still be on the draft board for Minnesota.

Best of the Rest

Riley Reiff, Iowa

Reiff is a former tight end who made the move to defensive tackle, then to offensive guard before stepping in for former All-American Bryan Bulaga at left offensive tackle when Bulaga was injured for several games in 2009. With Bulaga off to the National Football League as a first-round selection by the Green Bay Packers, the Hawkeyes have enjoyed the same dominating presence at the left tackle position, which has been handled capably by Reiff the last two seasons.

After struggling to match up with the top pass rushers he faced when thrust into the demanding left tackle position as a sophomore, Reiff worked hard that offseason and has developed into a highly competitive blocker for a program with a recent history of producing NFL linemen. With his big frame, long arms and strong hand punch, he has more than enough ability to keep pass rushers at bay, along with the quick feet to get out on the edge and clear rush lanes for the ground game.

Along with right tackle Markus Zusevics, the Hawkeyes proudly laid claim to the title of having the best bookend blockers in the Big Ten Conference last season, as Iowa totaled 43 touchdowns by their offense. The previous season, with that pair adjusting to life as starters, the Hawkeyes managed 42 drives that produced touchdowns.

Compares to: Eugene Monroe, Jackonsville Jaguars — Reiff plays on his feet well, thanks to superb balance, and shows the body control to play and adjust in space and pick up blocks on the move down field. He can slide and readjust to mirror edge rushers in pass protection. He also displays the lower-body flexibility to drop his pads and anchor firmly vs. stunts and the bull rush. He shows ease of movement accelerating into the second level and excellent change-of-direction agility to make plays working down the line. He plays with a strong base, keeping his feet wide and pad level low to generate enough explosion coming off the snap. Most draft value boards have the Hawkeye becoming a Buffalo Bill with the draft's 10th pick, but if they pass, he could still be around at No. 13 (Cardinals) or No. 19 (Bears).

Most Overrated

Mike Adams, Ohio State

Bruce Thorson/US Presswire

It's not just the positive drug test that has me putting him here. It's the fact that he all but disappears for long stretches in the game. It's as if he just lacks the fire in his belly to play this game. Adams has just adequate instincts on the field, thanks to a lack of effort in the film room and practices. He shows some ability to learn, but will need some reps, as he is not quick to take plays from the chalkboard to the playing field (still lacks high football intelligence).

Adams is a player who needs to be monitored in the training room (poor work habits) and lacks the maturity needed to handle the mental aspect of playing on an island at left tackle (might be a better fit on the right side). He moves adequately for his size, but lacks the quick feet to recover if he gets beat off the snap.

He struggles quite a bit in space, as he lacks the balance to reach and cut off in the second level. He shows adequate foot quickness to get off the ball, but can be late at times (will get lazy playing on his feet and struggles to bounce back up when cut). When he keeps his pads down, he is quick to gain advantage, but he does not do this on an every-down basis.

Compares to: Jason Smith, St. Louis Rams — From first eye contact, I can see why teams love his frame, with that excellent wingspan and big "paws," but there is a lot of "quit" in his game and that concerns me, especially if I am a general manager needing to find an offensive tackle in the first round.

Most Underrated

Zebrie Sanders, Florida State

More comfortable at his natural position on the right side of the line, Sanders filled in capably for an injured Andrew Danko at the demanding left tackle position for the final eight games of the 2011 campaign. A starter ever arriving on campus as a freshman, his 50 starting assignments (36 consecutive) is tied for second-best in school history. During his career, he was credited with 139 knockdown blocks.

Under the guidance of renowned position coach Rick Trickett, Sanders developed and refined excellent zone blocking skills. A student of the game who has served as a mentor in the offseason for FSU's younger linemen, he has the long limbs, fluid footwork and outstanding reach to get out on the edge and mirror pass rushers.

What separates Sanders from most tall tackles is his ability to play at a low pad level. With his loose hips, he can easily cut off the second-level defenders when turning the corner and leading on sweeps. He needs to show confidence in his hands and develop a stronger punch, but with his tenacity and experience, the Atlantic Coast Conference's runner-up the Jacobs Blocking Award in 2011 has the frame to add the needed bulk and power to compete effectively at the next level.

Compares to: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets — Sanders' initial quickness lets him gain position, and on contact, he has the hand punch, long reach and strength to adjust, sustain and finish. He uses his size and upper-body strength well to absorb smaller defenders. He works hard to stay on his feet, but must maintain a low pad level to be effective. He is rarely on the ground, doing a solid job of using his hands to tie up his opponent. With his ability to play both tackle positions, look for a team like Pittsburgh or New England to get serious about drafting him by the third or fourth round.

Super Sleeper

Tom Compton, South Dakota

Tom Compton
Phil Sears/US Presswire
In his last 32 games, Compton produced 270 knockdowns/key blocks (8.44 per game), along with 30 downfield blocks. The Coyotes have produced 51 scoring drives by their ground game during that span, with their versatile tackle accounting for 40 of those touchdown-resulting blocks (78.43 percent). The front wall allowed a total of 68 quarterback sacks during those contests, but just 1.5 sacks have come over the senior's assigned area, spanning 870 passing plays.

Compton's blocking consistency grade of 89.00 percent is the highest among active blockers in the Football Championship Subdivision, impressing talent evaluators with his all-around skills. He further cemented his elite status by running 5.08 in the 40-yard dash during USD's pro day, and the tackle has boasted times as low as 4.92, along with showing a well-built frame that lost no quickness, despite adding close to 60 pounds of bulk since enrolling at South Dakota prior to the 2007 season. That speed has allowed the coaches to utilize him much like the Chicago Bears did with William "Refrigerator" Perry, as a lead-blocking fullback out of the backfield in short-yardage situations.

Compares to: Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams — Compton has good timed speed and footwork, along with the ability to quickly recover when out on an island with an edge rusher, but might find a quicker route to an NFL starting job on the right side of the line. When he gets out of position, he is quick to redirect, thanks to good hip snap. He shows good strength and good explosion out of his stance, as he consistently plays with a good base. He doesn't bend too much at the waist and is a solid second level blocker, thanks to his foot speed and good agility in the open field. Look for the Chiefs and Bears to strongly consider him in the fourth round.

Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

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