||04-20-2005 03:49 PM
OT position thin in this year's draft?
Draft preview: Thin tackle crop has some thinking ahead
April 17, 2005
By Pete Prisco
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Pete your opinion!
Where are all the quality tackles in this year's NFL Draft? For two months we have heard the scouting chatter about how thin this draft is when it comes to premier offensive linemen, which usually means tackles.
So where are they? How can most draft projections not include a tackle in the top 10?
Here's where they are: Still in school.
While NFL teams bemoan the lack of premier tackles in this year's draft, they do so with an eye on the 2006 draft. That one should be tackle loaded, with as many as four going in the top 15.
Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Jonathan Scott of Texas would have likely been top 10 to top 15 picks in this year's draft had they opted to enter it. Instead, they stayed in school and the scouts and personnel people are now lamenting the fact there are not enough quality tackles in this draft. Ferguson could be the first or second player taken next year.
"You know we all grade the line by how many good tackles there are in a draft," said one AFC scout. "This one isn't so good. But next year's is outstanding."
In addition to Ferguson and Scott, Miami's Eric Winston and Marcus McNeil of Auburn are potential high first-round picks.
They are all in the same class with Alex Barron of Florida State, the player generally regarded by most as the top tackle in this year's draft. That means four as good as this draft's top guy.
Barron is not considered in the same class as Robert Gallery, who the Raiders took with the second pick in last year's draft.
"There are questions about his toughness," said the AFC scout. "He's got great athletic ability, but you don't always see the toughness. That's a worry."
Barron should still be the first lineman off the board, but the big question is when will he go. If he does not go in the top 10, it would be the first time since 1999 that a lineman has not been selected that high.
At 6-feet-7 and 312 pounds, Barron is a wonderful athlete. He excels in pass protection, his dancing feet enabling him to keep up with the speed rushers, while his power allows him to handle the bulk players. He had a special workout for the scouts at Florida State, a workout that impressed a lot of them. He was timed in the 40 at 4.83 and had a 38-inch vertical jump. That's the athleticism you'd expect from a tight end, which is why he is so intriguing. That means the toughness issue is what might keep Barron out of the top 10. In fact, some scouts say Ray Willis, the tackle who played opposite Barron, is a much tougher player.
If they listen to Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, NFL teams might reconsider the possibility of passing on Barron. Bowden has hinted that Barron is the best offensive tackle he has coached.
That's saying something considering Seattle's Walter Jones and Tra Thomas of the Eagles, both Pro Bowl players last year, came out of Florida State. Jones was the sixth pick in the 1997 draft, while Thomas went 11th in 1998.
Both have been better NFL players than they were at FSU. Some scouts say there is a reason for that.
"They've had some of the worst-coached lines I've seen," one NFC scout said. "We all know that the kids who come out of Florida State are better in the league than they are there. Barron's a great athlete. Some think he's a little soft, but they said that about Walter Jones when he came out. And look how he turned out."
After Barron, Oklahoma's Jammal Brown is considered the second-rated lineman on most team's boards, with Khalif Barnes of Washington third.
Brown (6-5, 315) played right tackle at Oklahoma, but some teams think he's athletic enough to move to the left side. Right tackles are considered maulers or run-blockers, while the more-valuable left tackles are usually the best pass protectors. Brown is a solid drive-blocking tackle for the run, but he's smooth enough to move over to the left side and do well in pass protection. He excelled at it at Oklahoma.
Barnes, like Brown, opened his college career as a defensive player. He was moved to left tackle in 2001 and developed into a quality pass protector. The knock on him is that he is coming off a season in which he missed six games because of a broken wrist.
Barnes did bounce back to impress scouts with a good Senior Bowl week, and has done a good job in his workouts. At 6-5, 305 pounds, he has good size, although he might be asked to add a few pounds.
"Brown and Barnes are not up there with Barron now, but they have a chance to develop into potential Pro Bowl players," said the NFC scout. "But after that, it really falls off."
That's why we might have just three linemen taken in the first round. Guards and centers usually don't go until late in the first round, and there are no sure-thing first-round players at those positions.
So expect a lean day for offensive linemen in the first round Saturday. Three, maybe four, will be taken in the first 32 picks -- likely none in the top 10.
Teams in need should not fret. There's help coming next year in a class loaded with big-bodied tackles who can play.
You just have to be patient.
And hope like heck your quarterback doesn't get killed.
Top Prospects: Offensive Linemen
1. Alex Barron (T), Florida State
The skinny: The best overall lineman in the entire draft. He's a great pass protector, but his run blocking needs improving.
2. Jammal Brown (T), Oklahoma
The skinny: A powerful right tackle who can manhandle an opponent. Some teams think he can move to the left side.
3. Khalif Barnes (T), Washington
The skinny: Here's a player who is moving up a lot of team's boards. Barnes missed time with a wrist injury last season, but he's healthy now.
4. David Baas (G/C), Michigan
The skinny: He played guard at Michigan, but a lot of teams like him as a center. He's a tough, physical player.
5. Chris Spencer (C), Mississippi
The skinny: Here's a guy rising up a lot of boards. He's a power player in the middle who also has good athleticism.
Spencer. He has an outside chance to go at the end of the first round. He's an athletic center who can be tough in the run game.
Rob Petiti, Pittsburgh. Once considered a potential fourth-round pick, he'll be lucky to go that high.
Michael Roos, Eastern Washington. He is from Estonia, so he played just one year of high school football. But at 6-5, 300, he is intriguing to a lot of teams.
Barron is a little overrated in part because teams are so desperate to get left tackles. He isn't in the same class as former FSU tackle Walter Jones, that's for sure.
Ray Willis, T, Florida State. Willis is a going to be a heck of a right tackle. He is powerful and excels at blocking for the run game.
Linemen classes are usually measured by how many premier tackles there are, and this one doesn't have more than three. That's why it's considered a down year for linemen. But the center position is better than in recent years, which helps. Overall, there is depth at a lot of postions. You might not be getting a Jonathan Ogden at tackle, but a Barron and Brown are a notch below that level.
Maybe we should wait until next year to get a tackle, instead of reaching for one this year that will be another Stinch. If we get Barron at 16, great. IF only Brown is there and we want him, trade down. Definitely trade down on Barnes, if we are determined to go OT. Maybe reports are true and Stinch is ready to be our RT, Mayberry can stay at LG, Holland at RG, Bentley at C, and one year of Gandy at LT with better tackles in next year's draft.