Now to my favorite position, the offensive tackle! You will have heard most experts say this year’s class is lacking in top talent, which I agree and disagree with. While there is not that top five type talent like a Jake Long or a Joe Thomas, I think most are missing the fact that there are some very good prospects in this class that can be quality starting tackles at the next level. What that means is that players will more than likely be selected where their value fits well, so the return on investment in this position this year should be very good.
The one thing that strikes me the most with this position is how every draft expert in the media will talk about the ‘potential’, ‘upside’, or ‘ceiling’ of the guys in this draft and are potentially overrating players who haven’t shown me yet that they will ever do anything with that great potential. To me, with this position, it has to be about the floor and not the ceiling. That means it’s all about what you are getting at the very least from this player. This is also a position that has some solid players in the top four to five, but it really falls off in talent and depth after that point.
That is why I think that Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin is the best OT in this draft. Too many people are saying he can’t play LT in the NFL, but they said the same thing about Jake Long, and look how that’s gone (Long has been to the Pro Bowl in every season he has been in the league I believe…at LT). now, I’m not saying Carimi is as good as Long is or was, but what I am saying is I think he is the most polished pro prospect at this position. I think that people assume you have to be a Pro Bowl LT if taken in the top 15 picks, but I think most teams (especially the Beats) would take just a quality starter at the position that you don’t have to worry about. Carimi, at the very least, does this for you. Worst case scenario, he can play RT and be a potential pro Bowler on that side. But to me, I would take Carimi anywhere from the 9th pick onward in the first round. Carimi is the best run blocking tackle of this first round group, and he’s very underrated as a pass blocker. His form is absolutely impeccable, and he can start at either tackle or guard position immediately regardless if there is a lockout.
Along those same lines is USC OT Tyron Smith. Smith actually has a very high ceiling, but it’s his floor that interest me most. He made some solid strides this season after standing out at RT last season when I watched a lot of USC games. He has the potential to play LT because of his feet and long arms, but worst case scenario he’s a very good RT. Smith has a finisher’s attitude as well, but he needs to continue to work on keeping a wide base while blocking the second level as this is a bad habit I continued to see this year.
Anthony Castonzo of Boston College is a favorite of some people, and I want to like him more because he’s a local IL kid (from Lake Zurich high school I believe?), but there are just some small things there that make me rank him slightly below the above two. He may have as high of a ceiling as Smith, which may be higher than Carimi, but I still see some fundamental mistakes in his game that give me a slight concern about how that potential will translate. One of the big things I saw was that he is a bit soft on his post leg to the inside, which allowed the more complete DE prospects to go outside-in on him and get past him. He’s also not as much of a finisher as the other two. He still is definitely a first round pick and I think he can be a solid left or right tackle in the NFL, but I would not expect big things from him right away.
I’m sure most of you are wondering when I will get to Colorado’s Nate Solder, who seems to be the consensus favorite after a good athletic performance at the combine. I think Solder is the one guy who is labeled with the ‘upside’ or ‘potential’ claim that I just don’t know if he will ever see this. Solder is very big and very athletic, but he is strictly an OT and cannot play OG like I believe the rest of these first round caliber guys can. He has good feet and can definitely keep up with speed rushers, but he absolutely has to learn how to post harder with his inside leg. More so than Castonzo, I have seen Solder get beat countless times with the simple outside-in rush move by quick DEs. It’s something that I saw happen far too often, which really concerns me, as this is something he can easily fix with some hard work and coaching. He’s gotten that at the Senior Bowl and throughout his career, so I just have concerns he’s not going to be able to figure that out. And if he can’t, he’s a liability in the NFL. I would be willing to bank on him figuring this out though as the kid is a great athlete, so if he works hard, I would agree that he definitely has the highest ceiling of any of these prospects. Bears fans, I think it’s a realistic possibility he could slip to the end of the first and go to the bears, and if that’s the case, don’t expect big things right away. But some time with Mike Tice, and I think he could be very good.
The only other OT with a first round grad in my book is Derrick Sherrod of Mississippi St. Sherrod isn’t quite as polished as the above guys, and I don’t think he has the ceiling that any of them do either, but he’s definitely worthy of a late round selection. His long arms alone, and the fact that he’s held up well against top competition, means he can come right in and start at RT at the worst and be a solid player for a team like the Bears, Steelers, or Packers near the end of the first round.
The only other tackle I will bother mentioning is James Carpenter of Alabama. I do not think Carpenter has the feet to play on the left side, but he should be able to play on the right side and can also play some guard due to this size and ability to push the pile in the run game. I really like the value you can get with a versatile guy like him in the second round, and wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him move up in that round due to the lack of depth at this position in the draft, and the fact that almost every team in the league seems to need help on the OL.