This year's crop of potential left tackles features Joe Thomas, an extremely talented, athletic, big man with good bend, body control, and playing strength. In my opinion his only shortcoming was that he tended to play with short arms.
As talented, smart, experienced, and consistent as Thomas is, it is my belief
the real diamond at the position may well be Central Michigan's Joe Staley.
Staley is not only an exceptional athlete, but he also is strong, has excellent
footwork and is a natural knee bender with good blocking range.
Now don't get me wrong. Thomas has performed at a high level for quite some time and will play at a championship level for a very long time, but by the same token I truly believe the multi-talented Staley is at the very least his playing equal and is no way near his full playing potential.
Penn State's Levi Brown is a very physical individual who may be the best overall run blocker of the group, but I have some questions regarding his kick/slide (depth and width) for the left offensive tackle position. I also felt he had some problems with the hard inside counters when players crossed his face. My plan with Brown would be to ultimately play him on the left side, but until he develops more overall consistency on his set, I believe I would start him on the right side.
Many scouts who visited Boston College last fall, primarily to evaluate offensive guard/center Josh Beekman, came away talking about a little known former guard, playing the left tackle position for the first time in James Marten. I loved his tenacity, movement and feet, and I was impressed with his ability to bend his knees. Again, I don't think he is near his full playing potential and feel confident with further physical development, he has a real chance to play and contribute.
Keep your eye on Missouri Southern tackle Alan Barbre in this year's player draft. I expect his name to be called somewhere from the mid to late third to the top of the fourth rounds. A knee bender with quickness and lower body strength, he too could be playing this game for a very long time.
Marshal Yanda from Iowa is, in my mind, one tough sucker. He's not particularly nifty and/or fluid, but if he gets the opportunity, he will rub your nose in the dirt. Has played both tackle positions since transferring from Northern Iowa CC, but he is strictly a right tackle in the professional ranks.
Ryan Harris from Notre Dame quite frankly did not play to the standards that was expected during the 2006 season. He took a further dive with a less-than-stellar Senior bowl week practice performance. Based on his play as a junior, I know he has the athletic ability to do the things that coaches want from the boys up front, but he is going to have to come a very long way in a very short period of time to factor at the professional level. A right tackle only, based on my exposure in 2006.
Anthony Ugoh from Arkansas is a two sport performer (football and Track & Field) who has both size and impressive athletic ability, but first and foremost, he is a high-hipped individual who played with a narrow base. As a run blocker, he was unable to fit on or finish his blocks inline. I also didn't see a player who appeared to play with much passion for the game.
At the Guard position Ben Grubbs from Auburn and Tennessee's Arron Sears lead the way. Both have impressive skills, are highly intelligent, experienced, and have an excellent chance of factoring in their first season within the league. Although both athletes are evenly matched as top professional prospects, their playing styles are distinctly different.
While Grubbs is the athletic big man who comes off the football flat-backed with good explosion and blocking speed (Steelers and Broncos type), the versatile wide-bodied Sears plays more effectively in a power blocking scheme or a "mass kicks ass" philosophy.
While Grubbs is more effective pulling, trapping, working to the second level, and reaching playside, Sears in my opinion got the edge when zone blocking, short setting for the pass, picking up stunts, and handling the strong bull rush inside.
Both show good awareness and consistency in their play, are durable (only one missed game (Sears) between the two of them over the last three seasons), and both used their hands extremely well for both the run and the pass. Ultimately, I believe team playing philosophy will be the deciding factor as to which of these two athletic big men come off the board first. Either way, I see a great deal of what the pros are looking for in each of these players.
Akron's Andy Alleman is the type of individual playing in the NFL. Tough, physical, smart, durable and efficient. A blue collar, lunch box guy all the way, he will likely never be a star, but will play for a very long time.
Keep your eye on Georgia Tech's Mansfield Wrotto (no, I'm not making that name up). A former defensive tackle in his first season playing, I really liked his feet, bend and body movement, but he is going to have improve on his ability to keep his hands inside a defenders frame.
The center position starts everything in motion. In many ways, it is a thankless but essential position for the overall success of a club. An effective center must have body quickness, intelligence, and a great feel for blocking scheme.
This year's center position featured four individuals that I liked a great deal, headed by USC's Ryan Kalil. Kalil has all the things one looks for at the position other than natural size or girth. He may well be the smallest 300-pounder I have ever seen. I liken his skills to that of former Saints long time fixture, Joel Hilgenberg. He is a serious-minded individual who I see anchoring a club at the pivot position for a very long time.
Hawaii's Samson Satele is another individual who should factor quickly in the pro ranks. During his career, he has swung effectively at both the center and offensive guard position. I really liked his temperament, ability to bend his knees, and feel for the passing game. He will get sloppy and engage with his hands outside a defender's frame, but this is a good football player with starter skills.
Another somewhat undersized player is NC State's Leroy Harris. I like his experience, maturity, work habits, playing intelligence and approach to the game. He is in my opinion a pro's pro. Like the aforementioned Kalil and Satele, he is going to have some problems with big physical nose tackles (who doesn't), but in the end, I see him as a positive contributor at the professional level.
The aforementioned Josh Beekman from Boston College is another experienced
hand with "blacksmith" type upper body strength. I initially was
disappointed in his range, feet, and movement, but the more I watched him, the
more he started to grow on me. He would project to a center position where his
strength (ability to anchor), smarts, and leverage will give him a distinct
Tom Marino is a veteran of 35 years in the player personnel field, most recently with the St. Louis Rams. He has worked in three professional leagues (NFL, USFL, and WFL), and among his many accomplishments, is credited with the discovery of Eric Swann, the first non-collegiate player since 1946 to be selected in the 1st round of the NFL college draft.