Ranking the NFL Draft's offensive tackle prospects


Alabama's Smith has highest ceiling at OT (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, we here at Buffalo Rumblings will continue interviewing bloggers and consulting outside sources in putting together detailed scouting reports on some of the Draft's most noteworthy prospects - concentrating, of course, on prospects that could pique the interest of the Buffalo Bills. This post continues a series in which I'll rank prospects at each position; ultimately, this project will roll itself into the "Buffalo Rumblings Big Board", which is exactly what it sounds like - the same type of big board NFL teams keep handy on draft day.

We've already ranked the tight ends, linebackers, interior offensive linemen and defensive ends. Full rankings of those positions, as well as all positions, will be made available prior to the draft, which is about two and a half weeks away. What follows is a ranking of the draft's best offensive tackle prospects - an area that is not currently a big need area for the Bills, but very well could be by draft day if the team is serious about trading LT Jason Peters.

FIRST ROUND PROSPECTS
1.  Michael Oher, Mississippi:
He has seen his draft stock slide over the past couple of months after a so-so senior campaign and pedestrian off-season workouts.  Those issues have been compounded by questions about his motor, which reportedly runs hot and cold.  Looking past those issues, however, Oher is the most well-rounded tackle available this year.  He's big with long arms, highly athletic and equally talented as a pass blocker and a run blocker.  Questionable technique and motivational issues can be addressed by a competent coaching staff.  Coupled with his guard experience, Oher is one of the "safe" picks at tackle, and he makes a lot of sense for the Bills schematically as well.

2.  Andre Smith, Alabama: Smith is this year's Jason Peters - he's short by tackle standards, is huge with dominant potential in the run game, and has documented character issues (though, to be fair, Peters' issues did not appear until he was already a pro).  In terms of raw potential, Smith takes the cake at this position by a country mile.  If an NFL team is satisfied that his strange behavior at the Combine is an aberration as opposed to the start of a trend, Smith is going to make said franchise very happy.

3.  Eugene Monroe, Virginia: If you're looking for the tackle prospect that's least likely to let you down, Monroe is your man.  He may not have the highest ceiling of these prospects, but he does have the highest floor.  That's not to say Monroe isn't talented, though - he comes from a school in Virginia that routinely pumps out quality NFL linemen, and his footwork is the best in the draft class.  But he'll never be a dominant tackle - he'll be the dependable, steady type that gets the job done but doesn't transcend scheme or instantly improve an offense.  Safe?  Sure.  But that doesn't make him the best.

4.  Jason Smith, Baylor: Back in January, I laughed when I saw Smith projected to the Jaguars at No. 8 overall.  Now he's potentially the top overall pick in the draft - and I can't fathom it.  That's not to say that Smith isn't a good (and potentially great) player - he's a tremendous athlete with a killer work ethic, and he plays the game the right way.  But he's still highly one-dimensional as a blocker and has some work to do getting stronger and becoming a better run blocker.  I think Smith is starting-caliber as a rookie.  But there's no way I place him higher than this on the list of OT prospects.

5.  Eben Britton, Arizona: Set aside the notion that Britton is solely a right tackle prospect.  He deals with his average athleticism and range very well - he's a smart, sound blocker with good footwork, solid hand punch and knows how to finish.  He's never going to blow anyone away, because he's not as physically gifted as many of the tackle prospects in this draft class.  He's also got short arms, and yes, he'll need a bit of polish before he can play the left side in the NFL.  But he's the type of tackle that will get the job done and be completely underrated throughout his entire, likely lengthy NFL career.

These are obviously the big names.  There are five more tackle prospects, however, that warrant early-round consideration, and some might even be able to contribute as rookies.  Those names appear after the jump.

SECOND ROUND PROSPECTS
6.  William Beatty, Connecticut:
Outside of the top four names on the board, Beatty is the best pure left tackle prospect remaining in this class.  He's huge, has a great frame, and was blessed with tremendous athletic prowess.  He needs a lot of work, though, in the strength and polish departments.  He'll never be a dominant run blocker.  He'll need some time to develop, and it'd be risky to ask him to start as a rookie, but in terms of upside, Beatty ranks closely with some of the bigger names on the list.

7.  Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma: If you're a fan of gigantic, road-grading right tackles that are capable of making defenders look like rag dolls on run plays, Loadholt is your man.  Just don't expect much more than that out of him.  He's not terribly light on his feet, and he's simply not athletic enough to consider playing on the left side of the line.  It will take the right situation, but Loadholt could start right out of the gate at right tackle for a team that loves to run the football.  He's not a perfect fit for every franchise, and I'd include the Bills in that latter category.

THIRD ROUND PROSPECTS
8.  Troy Kropog, Tulane:
I consider Kropog to be one of the two or three best pass blockers in this tackle crop.  He's got great agility and a good frame for keeping the pocket clean, and he certainly got a lot of practice in pass pro coming from Tulane.  He's not a candidate to start as a rookie, however, because he stands a good chance at being overwhelmed on running plays.  He needs to do a lot of work to strengthen his core and become a more physical blocker; he's far too one-dimensional at this point.  There is upside, but he'll need some time to develop before tossing him into the starting lineup.

9.  Fenuki Tupou, Oregon: Tupou is the reason that top center prospect Max Unger played center in the first place - Tupou displaced Unger at left tackle.  He's big, physical, and a solid finisher, but he's limited athletically and struggles in space.  He's a far better run blocker than pass protector, though he's not necessarily a liability in the latter department.  There isn't a lot of upside with Tupou, and truth be told, he's a far more comfortable fit on the right side, or perhaps even at guard.  I like his versatility and his run-blocking prowess, but I don't think Tupou is a great fit for Buffalo's blocking scheme.  He'll surprise some folks, though - I think he can start for a power running team right out of the gate.

10.  Jamon Meredith, South Carolina: Meredith's stock has soared during pre-draft workouts, as he's put up some very solid numbers athletically, including one of the faster 40 times for offensive linemen.  Like Kropog, though - yet perhaps to a lesser extent - Meredith needs some work in the strength room before he can be considered an NFL starter.  He also needs a serious amount of technique work, particularly when it comes to using his hands.  He's another early-to-mid round left tackle prospect that some smart team will groom into a top-flight blind-side protector.

***

This is just my opinion, folks. These are the top ten tackles in the draft by my book.  If you think I've made a grievous error in these rankings, let me know. If you think I've got some sort of hidden agenda, I'd love to hear about it. If you're itching to re-shuffle my rankings, let it rip. Consider this an open forum on 2009 NFL Draft offensive tackle prospects. Go.

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