Jump to content

Tackling the offensive tackle prospects


Recommended Posts

Tackling the offensive tackle prospects

Pat Kirwan By Pat Kirwan | NFL.com

Senior Analyst

Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com

A left tackle in college, Michigan's Jake Long could be headed to the right side in the NFL.

The sudden and very tragic death of Heath Benedict from Newberry College, a young man I interviewed at the Senior Bowl and had on my radio show a week prior to his death, got me thinking about the tackles in this draft. Benedict might have been switched to guard, but he demonstrated tackle skills at the bowl practices and he would have been selected with the hope he could play outside.

In preparation for this article, I had a chance over the past 10 days to talk with a number of the top OL prospects, the men who coached some of them, and the clubs looking for offensive linemen. I think I have a good feel for the situation.

Supply and demand at this all-important position is critical to understanding how the draft will take shape in less than a month. Getting a great left tackle in the mold of Joe Thomas -- who went to Cleveland in last year's draft, was immediately plugged in on the left side and finished the season in the Pro Bowl -- may be an unrealistic goal, but seeing six men drafted in the first round who can play tackle is a probability.

It's time to tackle the tackles.

Last year only three players who translated to NFL tackles were taken in the first round -- Thomas, Levi Brown in Arizona and Joe Staley in San Francisco. Ben Grubbs moved to guard for the Ravens.

In the second round, Arron Sears (Tampa Bay) and Justin Blaylock (Atlanta) were selected but they both moved to guard, and the Colts gave up a future first-round pick to draft Tony Ugoh, who did start at left tackle and had the normal growing pains. This year there is much more pressure to find men who can stay out on the edge at tackle and succeed.

I could make a case that 12 to 14 teams are hoping to come out of this draft with a starting offensive tackle. As rich as this class appears to be, there aren't enough solid players to fill that kind of demand, and that's why we will see an early run on the top candidates. There is far more pressure on those teams in desperate need of a left tackle.

Michigan's Jake long, the top tackle prospect in the draft, looks like he could be headed to the right side in a perfect world.

Jeff Otah, the massive kid from Pittsburgh who didn't even start playing football until his senior year of high school and only had 24 college starts, looks like he's better suited for the right side, according to offensive line coaches I spoke with this week.

Gosder Cherilus from Boston College was the most interesting prospect I spent time with, but he, too, looks better suited for the right side.

Ryan Clady of Boise State appears to be left tackle candidate, but he comes from a school that has never had a first-round selection, some of his test scores are yellow flags, he didn't always dominate the competition he faced, and he left school a year early, which most premier tackles in the draft don't do.

A quick view of the top 2008 candidates:

1. Jake Long, Michigan

6-7, 315, 40 starts

Some would argue he is the top pick in the draft. He and I talked about his transition to the left side two years ago. He dropped 20 pounds, from 335 to 315, when he made the move and recognizes he must improve his pass protection techniques. He prides himself in "playing to the whistle and beyond," and explained his occasional times on the ground as a function of over-aggressiveness. He is working to have a more effective punch. Talking with him reminded me so much of another former great Michigan tackle I had with the Jets, Jumbo Elliott. Long is all business and not much will rattle him. When I asked him which present NFL tackle he admires, he mentioned Matt Light in New England as a guy who plays with great technique. Long also spoke about his games against Vernon Gholston and Derrick Harvey this past season. He was impressed with Gholston's power and Harvey's speed. Those two games are must-watch tapes for the team thinking of taking Long at the top of this draft.

2. Ryan Clady, Boise State

6-6, 311, 37 college starts

His 24 reps on the bench might have been caused by a muscle strain during the test, but he wasn't going to get to the 37 reps Long had in his test. Clady is raw and young and might struggle like Joe Staley did last year in San Francisco, but the talent is in place. As one line coach said, "His feet and his long arms will save him early, but he needs work."

3. Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh

6-6, 322, 24 college starts

There is no doubt he has the physical tools but he needs time to adjust. His maturity may be a question, and the ideal situation is going to a place where he doesn't have to line up right away. A team that knows its right tackle is retiring in a year or two would be perfect, but when a guy goes in the top half of the first round, that luxury doesn't exist.

4. Gosder Cherilus, Boston College

6-6, 314, 51 college starts

Here is a nasty player with 26 more starts than Otah, who ran 5.0 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and absolutely impressed me when we sat down to talk the other day. He's a lunch-pail guy who looks like a perfect fit for the Steelers but may not get past the Chicago Bears. He's a better right tackle than a left, but he has lots of experience on the left side.

5. Chris Williams, Vanderbilt

6-6, 315, 33 college starts

My interview with Williams was the exact opposite of the one I had with Cherilus. Williams is a quiet, cerebral guy who views football from a more analytical approach. He admitted there were a number of coaches who have challenged him about being a better "finisher" of plays. He also said a few teams were concerned about developing a nasty streak. He didn't have a great Senior Bowl, but he has the skills and he kind of reminds me of Tony Ugoh at this time last year -- except he is scheduled to go in the first round.

6. Branden Albert, Virginia

6-5¾, 315, 37 college starts

Here's the wild card in the class. He entered the process as an underclassman guard prospect but is rising up draft boards as a left tackle candidate. Albert told me he was barely recruited in football coming out of high school and was a legitimate basketball prospect. He has power, athleticism, and a mean streak that could move him past a few of the men already listed. Virginia coach Al Groh told me that Albert still made the line calls when he moved out to left tackle -- not bad for an underclassman at a new position. He could be this year's Arron Sears at guard or Levi Brown at tackle.

7. Sam Baker, USC

6-4½, 309, 49 college starts

Baker looks like he is the top prospect in the second round, but his 49 starts in major competition, all at left tackle, take a lot of the risk out of selecting him even higher. I spent time with Baker this week and he is unfazed by what people are saying about him in the draft; he knows he can play and is emotionally and physically ready to play in the league. One GM told me he likes Baker better at guard. With all the teams looking for a left tackle and the number of top tackle candidates heading to the right side, someone late in Round 1 is going to have to really think about taking this guy knowing there will be no one left the next time they select. His pro day on April 2 is critical to his final evaluation.

8. Anthony Collins, Kansas

6-5, 317, 24 college starts

A raw talent with some waist-bend issues and may be more of a project than a candidate at this point -- but he will probably hear his named called on the first day.

9. Carl Nicks, Nebraska

6-5, 341, 13 college starts

No one is ready to start on an NFL offensive line with this limited experience.

10. Oniel Cousins, UTEP

6-3½, 308, 20 college starts

Not a great Senior Bowl, benched as a junior and not tall enough for tackle.

Teams are looking at a few players on the second day that might have a decent chance to develop into left tackles. A number of good pass rushers in this draft told me that Duane Brown from Virginia Tech, who ran 5.03 in his 40 and a 4.55 short shuttle, is a tough blocker, as is Breno Giacommi from Louisville, a former defensive lineman/tight end.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Cam.  If we could get 3 of this linemen to go with our young linemen , our offense would dominate up and down the feild . It might take a yr or two  to salitify as a solid unit and really know the offensive scheme and the speed of the NFL . I like Long , Cherilus , Albert , and Baker.   I really liked what some coaches  had to say about changing their positions around , like putting  Albert at LT and Baker at LG , that would be a great combination at left side . Powerfull !

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...