Today we’re going to look at the big men, the guys in the trenches, we’ll have two installments of our big board covering the offensive tackles and the interior linemen in this year’s draft. If you need a tackle, this is a good year for that. The draft is deep with book-ends, including potentially five first-round caliber players at the top of the list.
The Bucs aren’t exactly looking for a tackle, but there is some uncertainty at the position. Donald Penn has the left side held down and after signing him to a nice extension a year ago the Bucs won’t be looking to replace him. On the right side things are less clear, Jeremy Trueblood fell out of favor as a result of injuries and penalties last season and James Lee played very well in his place. Lee is not a player the Bucs probably envisioned as their starting right tackle, the knock on him going into last year was he lacked upper-body strength (and reminded people a little too much of Kenyatta Walker). That spot on the line will probably be open to competition next season, but I doubt the Bucs look to add an offensive tackle unless it’s late in the draft.
Here are the top Offensive Tackles in the 2011 Draft:
1.) Tyron Smith, USC - Standing in at 6’5, 307 lbs, Smith is the top tackle in this year’s draft class. He combines prototype speed with tremendous athleticism and should be capable of playing at a high level for a while in the NFL. Smith is probably the best pass-blocker in the draft, his run-blocking is solid but he needs to learn to finish blocks more consistently and he has a tendency to get lazy at points coming off the line. Smith predominantly played right tackle in college and a lot of teams are discussing flipping him to left tackle, a position he’s capable of playing but will need some time to adjust to. Other concerns are his lack of football experience, at 20 he is just three years removed from high school and still very green. But make no doubt about it, this kid will be very good.
2.) Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin - Gabe Carimi is a man-child standing at 6’7 314 lbs. At this point he is a more complete tackle than Tyron Smith, however his athleticism and potential don’t measure up which is why he finds himself second on this list. Carimi is well above average as pass-blocker but his forte is run-blocking. Following in the foot-steps of other great Wisconsin tackles (like Joe Thomas), Carimi is a road grater with the kind of mean-streak that NFL offensive line coaches dream of. Factor in his work ethic, intelligence and pedigree and I’d go out on a limb and say that Carimi is the safest pick at offensive tackle in the 2011 draft.
3.) Anthony Castonzo, Boston College - Another 6’7 monster, Castonzo could just as easily be in one of the top two spots on the list. I mentioned earlier there may be as many as five first-round quality tackles in this draft, there are definitely at least three and Castonzo rounds out the bunch. Effort and durability are never going to be issues with Castonzo, while he may not have the high-end athleticism of Tyron Smith or the technical prowess of Gabe Carimi, Castonzo is a nice mixture of both and has all the tools to be a solid player at the next level. At BC, Anthony never missed a game, starting 53 in total. He combines above average pass-blocking with very strong run-blocking and he is better at pulling than either of the previous two. I personally think Castonzo is better suited to be an NFL right tackle. He doesn’t have elite quickness but is well equipped to handle the right side of the field.
4.) Nate Solder, Colorado – Solder is a big, hulking left tackle. He’s not the guy you’re going to ask to pull or do anything too fancy, his agility and athleticism are not top-end, but he’s also not a guy that defenders have a good time getting around either. At 6’8, nearly 320 lbs he’s got all the size and strength you look for in an NFL tackle. He can be a bit slow at times, but he’s got a deceptive quickness where it counts. What really separates Solder from the rest of the tackles in this class is his mind. Solder is arguably the brightest tackle in the class, displaying a high football IQ and a high aptitude away from the field. Solder graduated Colorado with honors and was one of 16 National Football Foundations Scholars for 2010. Couple that with a tremendous work ethic and Solder factors as a late first or early second round pick.
5.) Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State - Sherrod is another player with good potential and intelligence, but more than a few fundamental issues to work on before he’s ready to be a really good tackle. Namely, he has a tendency to get too high when blocking (specifically run-blocking) which causes him to lose leverage and makes him ineffective against good defenders. In the NFL everyone is a good defender, so where as in college Derek could get by on athleticism and strength, in the NFL he will need to improve his technique. But, the capability is there. Sherrod, may never be top-tier, but he can be a serviceable NFL starter with some good coaching. He’s smart too, graduating with a 3.54 from the business school at MSU and earning NFF and College Hall of Fame post-graduate scholarships for his academic prowess. He has the reputation as a very coachable, smart, hard-working kid with good character. He’s going to surprise somebody.
Best of the Rest:
6.) James Carpenter, Alabama – Carpenter could be higher, comes from a pro-style Nick Saban offense and has very good athleticism in some regards but tends to play stiff and doesn’t have great footwork. Will get abused by better ends and linebackers until his technique improves with pass blocking.
7.) Marcus Cannon, TCU – At 6’5, 350 Cannon may be better suited to be a guard in the NFL. Despite his size he has some of the quicker feet in the draft and can be quite effective, but still struggles with speed off the edge.
8.) Orlando Franklin, Miami (FL) - Franklin came to Miami as a heralded prospect and four years and 35 starts later didn’t really develop all that much. Has a very high ceiling but has had his football IQ questioned in the past.
9.) James Brewer, Indiana - Has the tools but lacks the kind of aggressiveness you want out of an NFL tackle. Tends to block outside the numbers and lacks great strength.
10.) DeMarcus Love, Arkansas - Love is not an elite athlete but gets the most out of what he has. He is a smart guy though with great durability, starting 37 games in his career for the Razorbacks.