The top prospects available to the Green Bay Packers with the ninth pick of the draft on Saturday will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which being whether the top two quarterbacks go in the top eight picks and the fate of B.J. Raji and Michael Crabtree.
The Packers badly need a top-flight offensive tackle.
Longtime starting left tackle Chad Clifton will be 33 by the start of training camp. He's coming off of operations to both knees. Those creaky knees and several other ailments took the starch out of his game last season. Once one of the best pass blockers in the NFL, Clifton yielded 6.5 sacks in 14 games last season, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn.
Clifton is under contract through the upcoming season, and there's no reason to believe he won't be the starter again. So, with Clifton in the lineup in 2009, the Packers could put Smith/Oher at right tackle — where longtime starter Mark Tauscher is a free agent and coming off of a torn ACL in his left knee — or have him watch and learn behind the crafty Clifton.
So, who's your pick? Smith or Oher?
Andre Smith, Alabama
From the moment he walked onto campus as one of the nation's top recruits, Smith was the starter at left tackle. He was a dominant performer all three seasons, including last year as a junior, when he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman.
He's a menacing run blocker with surprising agility for a 348-pounder (or whatever he weighs). But there are major questions that cloud his major talent.
He was ruled ineligible for Alabama's bowl game against Utah because he had met with an agent. That showed selfishness. Then there was his infamous Scouting Combine disappearance, when he vanished without working out while apparently rubbing some teams the wrong way. That showed immaturity in basically blowing off his job interview.
If that's how Smith acts now, how will he be once he becomes extremely wealthy? If Smith couldn't watch his weight then, how much fast food will he consume once he's got a $10 million signing bonus in the bank?
Nonetheless, as Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told the Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register recently: "Can you recover from a bad decision? Yes, because at the end of the day, we've got to put the tape on. And when you put the tape on, you see Andre Smith."
Michael Oher, Mississippi
Oher's life story was chronicled in "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. The best-seller details Oher's dysfunctional life on the mean streets of Memphis. Without a caring parent — his mom was a drug addict — Oher was abysmal in the classroom and could barely read or write until being taken in by a wealthy white family.
From there, Oher started playing football and landed at Ole Miss, where he blossomed into an All-American on the field (he didn't allow a sack as a senior) and a Dean's List student off of it.
Scouts, however, question how he'll do without the support system that made him thrive in college. Green Bay is a long way from Oxford, Miss., after all. Despite his rags-to-riches academic story, there are questions about his ability to digest the playbook and weekly game plans.
On the field, Oher is a remarkable athlete at 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds. He needs some polish on his game, and he relies too often on his athletic ability to get the job done. Scouts wonder why a player of Oher's ability didn't dominate every week, and question how he'll fare when he faces an elite talent practically every week.
If the Packers have the choice of Oher and Smith, they should take Oher. If Oher is gone and Smith is on the board, they should steer clear of him and hope Connecticut's William Beatty or South Carolina's Jamon Meredith are on the board in the second round, or gamble on the potential of Illinois' Xavier Fulton in the third.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport