Analyzing The 2009 Drafts Top Offensive Tackle Prospects

Published on April 20, 2009 by     

jason-smith-draftAndre Smith, who once was considered the top offensive tackle and maybe the best player in this year’s draft, only to lose that projection — and likely millions of dollars — with a series of questionable decisions, is expected to work out for the Detroit Lions next week.

The fit seemed perfect a month or so ago, but the thought is that the Lions are doing their due diligence in case they miraculously trade back from the No. 1 overall pick or if Smith somehow slides to the 20th selection that Detroit also possesses — another long shot.

The Lions still might take a Smith with the first pick, but it could be Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, who has shown to be worth the regarded selection on and off the field. Should Detroit bypass Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and opt for Jason Smith — or Virginia’s Eugene Monroe — it would make an offensive tackle the top overall pick for the second straight season (Michigan’s Jake Long was taken No. 1 overall by the Miami Dolphins last year).

The desire for premium offensive tackles was thought to have peaked last season, when eight were selected in the first round. Yet, unlike most things in the NFL — or even in the everyday world — the demand remains abundant in 2009. As many as seven offensive tackles could be taken in the first round of this year’s draft.

There are trends in the NFL, and there are trends in the NFL.

Finding a solid offensive tackle, especially on the left side, is now almost as prestigious as landing a franchise quarterback. Without the tackles to keep pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, Mario Williams and Joey Porter off quarterbacks, star passers such as Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler or Donovan McNabb wouldn’t have much to offer.

Even more impressive than last season’s first-round tackle class is that four offensive tackles could be tabbed in the top 10 this year. Last year, the run on the position came between picks 12 and 21, when six offensive tackles — Ryan Clady (No. 12 by Denver), Chris Williams (No. 14 by Chicago), Branden Albert (No. 15 by Kansas City), Gosder Cherilus (No. 17 by Detroit), Jeff Otah (No. 19 by Carolina) and Sam Baker (No. 21 by Atlanta) — came off the board. Clady, who had a stellar season for the Broncos, was the first offensive tackle selected after Long.

This year, Jason Smith and Monroe could be the top two picks overall or among the first four. Andre Smith potentially factors in beginning with the Cleveland Browns at No. 5. Mississippi’s Michael Oher might be a good fit for the Green Bay Packers (No. 9) or San Francisco 49ers (No. 10). The Philadelphia Eagles, who badly need an offensive tackle, could try to trade into the upper half of the draft with one of their two first-round selections (Nos. 21 or 28) to address the position.

Then again, the Eagles might be able to grab an offensive tackle by staying put. Arizona’s Eben Britton and Connecticut’s William Beatty could be available later in the first round and might be adequate for what the team wants to accomplish in its offensive scheme.

Unlike running backs, cornerbacks and even quarterbacks, linchpin offensive tackles are hard to find, which is why teams try so hard to get them when they become available. Anchor tackles such as Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are either retired or near the end of stellar careers, and now is the time to find their replacements.

Offensive tackles weren’t nearly in such high demand two years ago, when just three were drafted in the first round. In 2006, D’Brickashaw Ferguson (by the New York Jets) was the only offensive tackle selected in the first round.

With offensive tackles now at such a premium, it seems hard to believe that only one was taken in the entire first round just three drafts ago. Now we’re looking at the possibility that 15 of the 63 first-round picks in 2008 and 2009 will have been used on offensive tackles.

Top 10 offensive tackles
Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
1.
Baylor
6-5
309
1
Analysis: This former tight end is an excellent athlete who has good enough feet to handle edge pass rushers. Smith also has developed the strength and technique to succeed in a variety of run-blocking sets, and he has the requisite nastiness to thrive. Smith not only opens holes, but if he gets a player on the ground, he doesn’t let him up until he decides.

NFL landing spot: The Lions are a serious possibility at No. 1, as are the St. Louis Rams, who have a glaring need at left tackle and owns the No. 2 pick. In a worst-case scenario, Smith drops to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 6.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
2.
Virginia
6-5
309
1
Analysis: Monroe is held in the same regard as Smith, except he could be more NFL ready. Monroe is versed in any type of blocking technique, from inline grinding to disciplined zone/cut schemes. He was good enough to keep last year’s first-round pick from Virginia, Branden Albert, at guard. Monroe has all the tangibles to be a great player for a long time.

NFL landing spot: Monroe also is a possibility to go to the Lions at No. 1, the Rams at No. 2,
the Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 or the Bengals at No. 6.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
3.
Alabama
6-4
332
1
Analysis: The most dominant player at his position, the Outland Trophy winner could make whatever team selects him look very good. Then again, he could make them look bad if he doesn’t keep his occupational priorities in order. Smith is a strong run blocker, a solid pass protector and very coachable. There are some projections for him to play right tackle. He doesn’t have the greatest body, but that’s why teams have strength coaches.

NFL landing spot: Smith shouldn’t fall past the 49ers at No. 10. He seems too valuable to a team such as the Bengals at No. 6, but a team like the Eagles could trade up to take him.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
4.
Mississippi
6-5
309
1
Analysis: Oher is on par talent-wise with all of the top offensive tackles in this select group. If not for the elite level of offensive tackles in the draft, he could be projected as a top-five pick. Incredibly gifted, Oher wasn’t as dominant as projections coming out of high school suggested he would be, but he is a very good player who faced rugged competition weekly in college.

NFL landing spot: The 49ers could add Oher at No. 10, but it seems as if the Lions, possibly
at No. 20, or the Eagles (at No. 21 or 28) could get to him.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
5.
Arizona
6-6
309
1-2
Analysis: Britton’s postseason workouts have made him one of the risers on draft boards. He operated mainly in a spread offense, which some coaches have said makes it easy to evaluate linemen because they are forced to play in space. Britton is a strong run blocker and possible right tackle in the NFL. However, he has shown better-than-expected feet in workouts, and there is little doubt that he’d be a better-than-adequate left tackle.

NFL landing spot: The Eagles at No. 28 or maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 32 could use a reliable tough guy such as Britton.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
6.
Connecticut
6-6
307
1-2
Analysis: Beatty is a main reason why Connecticut RB Donald Brown gained more than 2,000 yards last season. Beatty has excellent size and potential. He is being put through the mental grinder from teams who wondered why he was so ordinary for three years before turning into a force as a senior.

NFL landing spot: If Beatty is selected in the first round, it most likely will be by the Eagles. Should the Rams opt not to select an offensive tackle at No. 2, Beatty could be an option for them with the third pick of the second round (35th overall).


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
7.
Oklahoma
6-8
332
2-3
Analysis: Loadholt is a massive force whose size is a major asset in the running game, but he has been a detriment in pass protection. A left tackle in college, Loadholt and equally huge guard Duke Robinson formed a formidable tandem at Oklahoma. Loadholt probably will be moved to right tackle in the NFL to play to his strengths.

NFL landing spot: The Falcons (55th overall) like Tyson Clabo at right tackle, but they wouldn’t mind adding some size and toughness to challenge the former backup who has made the most of the opportunities.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
8.
Florida
6-6
318
2-3
Analysis: Watkins has played both tackle spots, but he might be best suited for the right side because of his ability to move the initial defender before getting to a secondary target with force while maintaining body control. Watkins has enough athleticism to play in wide-open offensive schemes like those used at Florida but enough fundamental skill to project into a solid NFL player. He might be best suited for a run-first team.

NFL landing spot: Watkins could go in the top 15 of the second round, with the Jacksonville Jaguars (39th overall), Oakland Raiders (40th) and Packers (41st) looking like potential suitors.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
9.
South Carolina
6-5
304
3
Analysis: Meredith has played guard, where he might end up in the NFL. However, he is fairly athletic and also could develop into a starting left tackle. Meredith’s ability to play multiple positions -– and his willingness to do so -– adds to his appeal. He uses his length well and is solid in pass protection.

NFL landing spot: If the Bills haven’t addressed this earlier in the draft, Meredith could be their guy in the third round.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
10.
Tulane
6-6
309
3-7
Analysis: Kropog is a solid player who once cleared paths for current Bears RB Matt Forte at Tulane. Kropog is more of a fundamental player than a dominant mauler, but he has the tools to be effective in the NFL. There is some thought that he might be better suited at guard because of his footwork.

NFL landing spot: Kropog might best fit in a quasi-spread offensive scheme like that run by the Houston Texans, whose offensive line guru, Alex Gibbs, loves tough, later-round picks with attitude.

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