INDIANAPOLIS – And then there were three. Four players went to the NFL scouting combine this week expecting to compete for a coveted spot as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in April’s NFL draft. But with Alabama’s Andre Smith unexpectedly leaving the combine early Saturday without telling NFL officials, the position is down to a three-man race.
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Smith had told reporters on Friday he would not work out during the combine. However, he was supposed to stick around while the rest of his group went through drills the next day.
Instead, Smith moved his scheduled 4 p.m. flight up to 6 a.m. to get back to Atlanta earlier and begin working out with a personal trainer. Further, reports surfaced that Smith’s interviews with NFL teams did not go well.
So how bad was the mistake for Smith, the Outland Trophy winner who was projected in many mock drafts as the top tackle on the board?
“It could be monumental how far he slides now,” said Rob Rang, senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com. “In my conversations with scouts already, I mean they’re stunned that he was willing to do what he did basically.
“The words that I’m hearing are ‘dumb,’ are ‘inconsiderate,’ are ‘foolish,’ and those are the kinds of words people are using. And you obviously don’t want to have NFL scouts in the biggest audition of your life calling you things like that.”
While Smith appears to have flubbed his opportunity to impress NFL scouts, other contenders rose to the occasion.
Specifically, Baylor’s Jason Smith, Virginia’s Eugene Monroe and Mississippi’s Michael Oher did enough to remain in the hunt for that lucrative position as the top tackle protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blind side.
Of those three, Jason Smith has been the most impressive on and off the field.
A converted tight end, Smith has good footwork and is perhaps the best pass blocker in the bunch. He posted good marks at the combine, ranking among the offensive line leaders in 40-yard-dash time (5.22 seconds), bench press (benched 225 pounds 33 times) and three-cone drill (7.53 seconds).
“Jason Smith is the real deal,” said Rang, who thinks he will be an impact player at left tackle. “I think he’s a superstar.”
Jason Smith also was impressive during his interview with reporters, living up to his nickname J-Smooth by showing personality and exuding a confidence that seemed to help him perform better throughout the week.
“I’d say, first of all, put on my film from Baylor and you’ll see that I’m the best,” Jason Smith said when asked if he’s out to prove he’s the top tackle in the draft. “That’s it.”
Jason Smith said he did not give up a sack at Baylor last season.
Not to be outdone, Monroe was just as composed in his interview session, and also performed well during workouts, earning praise from several draft experts.
So talented is Monroe that he played left tackle at Virginia his junior season, forcing teammate Branden Albert to play left guard. Albert was drafted in the first round last year by Kansas City and started for the Chiefs at left tackle in his rookie season.
Considered a technician at his position, Monroe has the second biggest hands in the entire combine. And he is out to prove that he, not Jason Smith, is the top tackle.
“I think over my career at Virginia I’ve proven I can block anybody,” said Monroe, the youngest of 16 children. “I have the determination to improve my game and the ambition to succeed and I never stop. I continue to set goals. When one step is completed, I set another goal. I make sure I do everything in my power to achieve that.”
After recently falling in several draft boards because of a perceived lack of work ethic, Oher has rebounded after performing well in pass drills and workouts at the combine.
Oher is perhaps the most gifted athlete of the three. However, he needs to become more consistent in his technique and effort to move up to the same level with Jason Smith and Monroe.
“I’m a left tackle,” said Oher, when asked whether he preferred to play right or left tackle. “I like playing left tackle. That’s my position. I think I can do it better than anybody.”
One of these three players should be available when Seattle picks at No. 4. The Seahawks, who experienced a rash of injuries on the offensive line last season and have perennial All-Pro tackle Walter Jones coming back from microfracture knee surgery, will have to decide if this player can make the most impact for them at offensive tackle. Or, perhaps another player still left on the board fits that distinction.
“We’re going to draft the best player,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “(We’re going to draft) the player that can make an impact for the longest amount of time for the Seattle Seahawks. So that could be anybody.”