Positional Analysis: Offensive tackles

With left tackles being such a premier asset in the NFL, the 2009 draft class could see several tackles taken in the first 10 selections. It could leave the position thin by pick 22 or one of the better right tackles might still be available. John Holler summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of the top dozen available.

Vikings Offensive Tackles – Bryant McKinnie, Ryan Cook, Artis Hicks, Drew Radovich.

Vikings Draft Outlook – Right tackle has been a sore spot in the Vikings offense and there is plenty of speculation that the team will move in that direction early in the draft – as in Day One. Cook has been a disappointment and combined with the free-agent loss of backup Marcus Johnson, more help is needed here. There is growing speculation that if there is another run on offensive tackles like there was last year when eight went in the first round, that the Vikings may be one of the teams involved in the run.

The Class of 2009 – There are almost assuredly going to be two offensive tackles coming off the board in the first four to six picks – Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe. But the first round could see a half-dozen OTs come off the board because of the importance of the position. That being said, teams tend to hold onto left tackles as long as possible, so anything past the first round is viewed as more of a project player than an immediate contributing starter.


CREAM OF THE CROP

Jason Smith, Baylor, 6-5, 309 –
Fifth-year senior … Came to the Bears as a tight end and spent his redshirt freshman season playing there before shifting to the offensive line … Started 12 games as a sophomore at right tackle before moving to the left side as a junior … Missed five starts his junior season with a sprained right MCL … Started all 12 games at left tackle last year … Has a big body with the kind of frame that can put on additional 20 pounds without much trouble … Is extremely competitive and is a good finisher who plays to the whistle … Has good pulling agility and seeks out people to hit at the second level … Has an explosive hand punch that can derail pass rushers … Has good anchor strength to push defenders on running plays and force them wide on pass plays … Needs work to refine his technique … Will have problems with pure speed rushers … Played in a spread offenses that limited his responsibilities from play to play … Will come out of his stance high at times and has never had to play in a three-point stance … Ran a 5.09 40 at the Combine with 33 reps of 225 pounds, a 24-inch vertical jump and an 8-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: No offensive tackle in the draft has as much upside as Smith. His work ethic has shown through and he could be a Pro Bowl type player. If the Lions don't take him No. 1, he almost surely won't make it past the Rams at No. 2 since they're looking to replace veteran Orlando Pace.

Eugene Monroe, Virginia, 6-5¾, 312 – Fourth-year senior … Both a Parade and USA Today All-American in high school … Spent his freshman season backing up top draft pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who went early to the Jets and has been a standout ever since … Dislocated a kneecap prior to his sophomore season and started just six of 12 games … Started 23 games at left tackle the last two seasons … Won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 2008, given annually by the ACC to the best blocker in the conference … Is ideally built to play left tackle … He is still growing and has room to add 20 pounds … Has excellent feet and is hard to beat around the edge … A dominating run blocker at the point of attack … Is very good at picking up the extra man on blitzes … Has a good pop out of his stance and is quick to get in position to block … Does not have ideal upper body strength … Will struggle at times if asked to maintain contact with a defender in the running game … Some question his leadership ability since his teammates never voted him as a team captain despite his high level of play … Needs to put in more time in the weight room … Ran a 5.24 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is a very good run blocker and good in the passing game. With his experience in a pro-style offense and all of his deficiencies being pretty easily correctable, he has the potential of going as high as No. 2, but likely won't be on the board after either Seattle at No. 4 or Cincinnati at No. 6 – both of whom are looking for replacements for their own star left tackles.


THE NEXT LEVEL

Andre Smith, Alabama, 6-4¼, 325 –
Third-year junior … Was the first offensive lineman to ever win Alabama's Mr. Football as a high school senior and was also named to the USA Today All-America team … Started all 38 games of his college career at left tackle … Was one of the co-honorees for the Jacobs Trophy, given to the SEC's top blocker, as a sophomore and was named the winner of the Outland Trophy in 2008 – given to college football's best interior lineman … Dropped 25 pounds between his freshman and sophomore season and kept the weight off … Had some nagging injuries the last two years … Caused a furor at the Combine by going A.W.O.L. after telling some scouts that he had started his workout program late and wasn't prepared for the Combine workouts … Has very long arms and good body mass to anchor … Has good lateral movement and agility and can slide out to ride off defenders and open holes for the running game … Has excellent leverage and rarely gets knocked off his feet … Keeps his legs moving after contact and can drive defenders … Has trouble picking up blitzes … Has a flabby body that doesn't look like he is in top condition … Has been able to get by on overpowering skills, but has never become a student of the game … Is often slow to react to the snap and will struggle with speed rushers like Jared Allen … Needs some refinement in his pass protection … Had a pretty dismal Combine showing before he left early, running a 5.30 40 with just 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 25-inch vertical jump and a 7-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has the ability to be the best of the Class of 2009, but his penchant for laziness and fluctuating weight may scare away some of the teams at the top of the draft. However, his talent is such that it would be a bit surprising if he falls out of the top 10. While some teams may project him more as a right tackle, his skill set is such that he will likely be drafted as a left tackle for a team in need.

Michael Oher, Mississippi, 6-4½, 309 – Fourth-year senior … Didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, but didn't allow a sack in his two prep seasons … Was the subject of the best-selling book "The Blind Side," which laid bare his horrible upbringing in the foster home system and his well-chronicled learning disabilities … Was named Mr. Football in Tennessee as a senior and was named to the USA Today All-America team … Was also a track star in high school who finished second in the state in the discus as a senior … Started 10 games at right guard as a freshman and the last 37 games of his career at left tackle … Won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 2008 as the SEC's best blocker … Has almost prototypical size and has the ability to add weight and bulk … Has very good agility and quick feet … Has long arms that he uses effectively to hook and direct defenders … Gets out of his stance quickly and has the strength to anchor the corner … He has the quickness and feet to get to the second level in a hurry and make blocks that can spring plays for additional yardage … Is not blessed with great upper-body strength … Has trouble reacting effectively to blitzes and will let defenders get too many clean shots at the QB … Has been treated like a diva in college and some question his work ethic … Had a sub-par 2008 season and seemed to regress from his junior year … Needs a bit of work on his technique because he will get sloppy … Ran a 5.34 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A hyped college athlete who has had three different offensive line coaches in four years, Oher is an enigma. Some believe he can be a star, while others fear that once he collects a big paycheck, things could go south. He is one of those first-round talents that a lot of people are assigning the "bust" tag to. He likely will be gone before the Vikings pick, but will make their decision difficult if he's still on the board.

Eben Britton, Arizona, 6-6½, 310 – Fourth-year junior … Started all 38 games of his college career – the first 25 at right tackle and 13 last year at left tackle … A team captain … He very good size and the frame to add an additional 20 pounds … He is very quick into blocking position off the snap and likes to mix it up … Is intelligent and can pick up blitzes and stunts and often neutralize them … Keeps himself with good leverage and positioning and is rarely knocked to the ground … Has an aggressive hand punch … Has short arms and defenders are able to get into his body … Is inconsistent in his effort and his technique and will get frustrated … Has difficulty being effective on sweeps at the second level and will often lunge and whiff on linebackers … Will stop his feet moving too often on first contact and lose his grip on a defender … Comes out high from his stance at times and will give a pass rusher an advantage to sink in under him … Ran a 5.16 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: He could have been a top 10 pick if he went back to AU for his senior season. His natural position in the NFL will likely be on the right side, which makes him a natural for the Vikings if they opt to use their first-round draft pick here.

William Beatty, Connecticut, 6-6, 307 – Fifth-year senior … An extremely versatile high school star athlete who competed in basketball and track, as well as playing offensive tackle, defensive end, defensive tackle and tight end on the football team … Comes from a religious family – both of his parents are pastors … Started four games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman and was set to be the full-time starter as a sophomore, but broke his right leg (requiring surgery) in the fifth game of the season … Came back to start all 26 games his final two seasons … Has very long arms and uses them well … Has good knee bend and doesn't lose his base and get off-balance … Has excellent athletic skills (see vertical jump below) … Is very light on his feet and is dangerous blocking at the second level … Is thin – gained 16 pounds between the end of the season just to get up to 307 at the Combine … Does not have the natural wide-body look of an NFL left tackle … Is much more of a finesse blocker than a punisher … Doesn't consistently use a good hand punch and doesn't drive his legs on contact … Can be pouty, as showed at the Combine when he struggled in one-on-one drills … Doesn't show a nasty streak that most great O-linemen have … Ran a 5.07 40 at the Combine with 27 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: If he can increase his strength and bulk, he can become a solid NFL left tackle. But until that happens, he could be a candidate to be pushed to the right side. He made himself some money with a strong performance during Senior Bowl week, but barring another unprecedented run on tackles in the first round this year, he likely will slip into the early stages of the second round.

Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma, 6-8, 332 – Fourth-year senior … An outstanding high school athlete who finished second in the voting for Mr. Basketball of Colorado and winning a state track title in the discus … Did not qualify academically out of high school and spent two years at Garden City Community College in Kansas … Intended to enroll at LSU, but didn't meet the community college transfer requirements and went to Oklahoma in 2007 … Arrested for DUI in June 2008 … Started all 27 games for OU at left tackle … Enormous size and very long arms (36½ inches) … Has good feet and can slide and mirror defenders … Can stymie defenders when he gets his body into them … Has a good hand punch and can jolt defenders and slow them down off the snap … Has good lower body strength and can anchor … Is a good finisher who likes to win one-on-one battles and frustrate his opposite number … Is not very agile at the second level or leading sweeps to the outside … Is inconsistent because he has gotten by so long on his physical abilities that he hasn't spent much time working on his technique … Has struggled with pure speed rushers because he tends to be slow coming out of his stance … Despite his size, he can get driven backward into his quarterback by strong defensive ends … Was surrounded by a very strong group of linemen and tight ends and was essentially only asked to take on one player during the majority of games … Ran a 5.45 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and an 8-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has all the prototype intangibles to be a dominating left tackle, but hasn't shown much in the way of consistency or the ability to handle speed rushers, which will not only drop him into the second round, but potentially have some teams viewing him as a right tackle only. If the Vikings don't go O-line in the first round, he could very well be their pick in the second round.

BEST OF THE REST

Gerald Cadogan, Penn State, 6-5¼, 309 –
Fifth-year senior … A versatile high school athlete who competed in football, basketball, track and swimming … Started five games at left guard as a redshirt sophomore before moving to left tackle when first-round draft pick Levi Brown graduated and went to the Cardinals … Started 25 games over the last two years at left tackle … Has a musical background and has released a pair of gospel albums … Was a two-time Academic All-American … Has a wide base and long arms (35 inches) … Has good agility and is light on his feet for a big man … Has a very stiff hand punch … Is quick out of his stance and into position … Has good lower-body strength and bulk to absorb hits and slow down defenders on speed rushes … Good at sealing off DEs on sweeps … Does not have a lot of pop coming out of his stance and will not keep him legs churning on contact … Needs considerable refinement on his technique … Has thinner legs than most offensive tackles in the NFL … Does not re-direct well and will get caught on double moves … Will get off-balance at times and knocked backward … Is not a glass-eater and tries to be a little too much of a finesse blocker than a mauler … Ran a 5.30 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is an enigma because he has all the tools to be an outstanding tackle, but doesn't show it on film consistently enough to warrant selection higher than late in the second round. Some teams may feel that they will have to move him inside, which could drop him into the third round.

Troy Kropog, Tulane, 6-5½, 309 – Fifth-year senior … A three-year starter who made two starts at right tackle as a redshirt freshman and 35 starts in his final three years at left tackle … Has very good footwork and rarely gets his feet tangled during blocking assignments … Has good lower-body strength and pushes defenders by keeping his legs moving … Has the ability to get out on sweeps and take on linebackers at the second level … Is very aware on the field and quick to recognize and react to stunts and blitzes … A leader on and off the field … Durability not a question … Does not have great upper-body strength and struggles against big, hard-charging defensive ends … Does not excel as a run blocker for the same reason … Tends to try to hold defenders in place in the run game rather than drive them off the ball … Isn't a great finisher and will lose contact with defenders on the move … Ran a 5.30 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Did not have a good week at the Senior Bowl and it likely will cost him dearly. He didn't show the kind of versatility most teams look for and may be best suited for a team that runs a zone blocking scheme like the Broncos or Packers. As a result, he will likely remain on the board into the third round.

T.J. Lang, Eastern Michigan, 6-4¼, 312 – Fourth-year senior … Recruited to EMU as a defensive tackle and made one start as a true freshman … Moved to the offensive line as a sophomore and started his final 36 games – the first 10 at right tackle and the last 26 at left tackle … Has a big body and knows how to use it to his advantage … Has a nasty streak and finishes his blocks consistently … Is a willing student of the game who works hard in both practice and the weight room … An intelligent player who is quick to read and react to blitzes and stunts … Has good knee bend and is solid in pass protection … Has not faced top-level competition and may require more time to make the transition to the NFL … Is skinny by tackle standards and may have difficulty adding bulk weight while maintaining his agility … Needs to improve his skills as an anchor blocker … Was not invited to the Combine, to the surprise of him and his coaching staff. PROJECTION: Lang dominated his competition as a senior and has come a long way over the last two years, but his minuses outweigh his pluses in many regards. He likely will have to move away from left tackle in the pros, but could be an excellent utility man able to fill in at three or four positions on the line in the vein of Cory Withrow, formerly of the Vikings. He likely will come off the board somewhere in the third or fourth round and will have an NFL career, but there are some doubts as to whether it will ever be as a starter.

Jason Watkins, Florida, 6-5¾, 319 – Fifth-year senior … Didn't play football until his junior year of high school … A two-year starter who made 13 starts at left tackle as a junior and 14 starts at right tackle as a senior … A team captain … Has a good wide body and lower-body strength … Is tall and has long arms, making it difficult for defenders to immediately get around him … Has good foot agility and can get to the second level with ease … Has a good hand punch to jolt defenders before they can get started … Brings experience from both sides of the line … Is lazy at times and doesn't bring a consistent level of ferocity from play to play and game to game … Plays soft and will get frustrated against top-level rushers … Comes out of his stance too high and stiff-legged and will get himself out of position … Is slow to read and react to blitzes … Will get off-balance and lunge at targets too often … More a clutch-and-grab run blocker than one who tries to drive opponents off the line … Ran a 5.51 40 at the Combine with just 19 reps, a 24½-inch vertical jump and a 7-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: He didn't help his cause at the Combine with low numbers when compared to other players at his position. He has a soft body and doesn't exactly look the part, but on film he gets the job done. He will likely be viewed as a project since he has just one year of experience at both right and left tackle. He will likely remain on the board into the middle rounds and be taken by a team that has an entrenched veteran with two or three years left in his career.

Garrett Reynolds, North Carolina, 6-7¾, 309 – Fourth-year senior … A three-year starter who made six starts as a sophomore at right guard and 25 games at right tackle over the last two years … The nephew of NFL great Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, who played 15 NFL seasons with the Rams and 49ers … Is huge and has long arms to neutralize pass rushers almost immediately when he gets his hands on them … Is a good finisher who fights to the whistle … Has solid footwork and can get to the second level and make blocks on linebackers … Is quick to adjust to blitzes and has the ability to shuffle his feet and slide in a short area to eliminate them … Doesn't have a prototype tackle's body and is a little too long and thin in the middle of his body … Comes out of his stance too high and will struggle with speed rushers … Doesn't have great quickness … Does not possess good upper-body strength (see below) … Will get off-balance the farther away he gets from his natural position and will lunge to make blocks, ending up on the ground much too often … Doesn't have explosion in his hits … Ran a 5.40 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a brutal 22-inch vertical jump and a 7-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A high-energy player with NFL bloodlines, Reynolds may be best suited to play guard in the NFL. He doesn't have the high-end strength and agility needed to excel at the NFL level, so he will likely fall into the middle or later rounds before somebody takes a chance on him. But the team that gets him will get a high-energy player willing to give everything he has in practice and in games.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Alex Boone, Ohio State, 6-7¼, 315
Robert Brewster, Ball State, 6-4¼, 325
Colin Brown, Missouri, 6-7, 341
Ramon Foster, Tennessee, 6-5¼, 328
Xavier Fulton, Illinois, 6-4¼, 302
Bobby Lepori, Fresno State, 6-4½, 297
Lydon Murtha, Nebraska, 6-7, 306
Augustus Parrish, Kent State, 6-4, 302
Brandon Pearce, Memphis, 6-5¾, 281
Fenuki Tupou, Oregon, 6-5½, 314
Jose Valdez, Arkansas, 6-4½, 315

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