NFL DRAFT: Spotlight on the offensive line
After rehab, there's no doubting Thomas
By CHAREAN WILLIAMS
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Joe Thomas from Wisconsin is the top-rated offensive lineman.
SPOTLIGHT: OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas might have declared for the draft last year if not for the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Thomas was playing defensive end in the Capital One Bowl when he banged his knee on the turf while chasing Auburn's Kenny Irons.
"You've heard about how bad it is [when] you tear your ACL," Thomas said. "... It was a tough process, and it was tough to go through because the worst-case scenario kept going through your mind."
Thomas had volunteered to play on the defensive line in the bowl game after injuries left the Badgers thin at the position.
"I had started at defensive end as a true freshman for one game, and I just raised my hand and said, 'I'd like to step in and help the team win,' " Thomas said. "We won, so who cares about the injury."
NFL scouts no longer are concerned. Thomas, who underwent surgery Jan. 19, 2006, won the 61st Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman, led the nation with a 92 percent grade for blocking consistency and produced 127 key blocks/knockdowns with 27 touchdown-resulting blocks.
"I got a kick out of watching him block the end from Arkansas in the [Capital One] Bowl game [this year],"
Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "... I think of him as a dancing-bear type of guy. He has the ability to move his feet and stay with you. He can change the line of scrimmage by coming off the ball if he doesn't want to dance with you. He plays with a bright-eyed look. He knows what he wants to accomplish."
In high school, Thomas was as well-known as a tight end and defensive end as he was known as an offensive lineman.
He was a 6-foot high jumper in junior high school, and he holds the University of Wisconsin's indoor record in the shot put (62 feet, 1/4 inch) and ranks fourth all-time outdoors in the shot put (62-5 1/4 ).
Thomas is the top-rated lineman, the best Badgers line prospect since Tampa Bay drafter Paul Gruber drafted fourth in 1988. The Bucs, who need a tackle, have the No. 4 pick again.
The tackle position -- with Joe Thomas, Levi Brown and Joe Staley -- is solid. Thomas will be a top-10 pick, and Brown could be. Scouts call this class of guards the best in a few years. Auburn's Ben Grubbs heads the field. Southern Cal's Ryan Kalil is the top prospect in a so-so class of centers. There could be nine or fewer centers drafted this year.
The Cowboys have remade their offensive line -- again. After signing guard Marco Rivera in 2005, they signed left guard Kyle Kosier and resurrected the career of right tackle Marc Colombo last season. This year, with Rivera having undergone more back surgery that is expected to force his retirement, the Cowboys signed Cardinals guard/tackle Leonard Davis to a seven-year, $49.6 million contract. They also were able to re-sign Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode and Colombo. Owner Jerry Jones calls this Dallas' best offensive line since their last Super Bowl. But with Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams in the final year of his contract, the Cowboys will have to start planning ahead. They likely will draft an offensive lineman or two, possibly taking one on the first day.
1Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin, 6-7, 311, 4.92
He had 311 knockdown blocks and 56 downfield blocks in 47 career games.
2Levi Brown, OT, Penn State, 6-6, 323, 5.40
Brown started all 45 games in his career, 44 at left tackle.
3Joe Staley, OT, Central Michigan, 6-6, 306, 4.78
He had only one penalty last season while making 100 knockdown/key blocks.
4Ben Grubbs, OG, Auburn, 6-3, 311, 5.18
Grubbs graded out at 90.57 for blocking consistency last season.
5Ryan Kalil, C, Southern Cal, 6-3, 299, 4.96
Kalil could be a first-round pick after not allowing a sack or pressure in his past 26 games.
Alan Barbre, OT/OG, Missouri So. St., 6-4, 300, 4.84
Scouts love Barbre, who allowed 2.5 sacks and one pressure the past two seasons.
Justin Blalock, OG/OT, Texas, 6-3, 320, 5.10
The Plano East product did not allow a sack in his final 27 games. He could go in the first round.
Tony Ugoh, OG/OT, Arkansas, 6-5, 301, 5.06
The Spring Westfield product, a first- or second-round choice, was part of an offensive line that allowed only nine sacks last season.
Manuel Ramirez, OG, Texas Tech, 6-3, 326, 5.24
The Houston Willowridge product, a possible first-day selection, holds the Red Raiders' school record with a 550-pound bench.
Gabe Hall, OT, Texas Tech, 6-4, 313, 4.91
After starting two seasons at right tackle, Hall could be a second-day pick.
Herb Taylor, OT, TCU, 6-4, 296, 5.19
The possible sixth-round choice helped himself during practices for the East-West Shrine Game.
Uche Nwaneri, OG, Purdue, 6-3, 325, 5.37
The Garland Naaman Forest product started 26 games at left guard in his career.
Kasey Studdard, OG, Texas, 6-3, 303, 5.18,
Studdard, expected to be a late pick, follows his father, who played 10 seasons for the Broncos.
Lyle Sendlein, C, Texas, 6-5, 285, 5.23
Sendlein, who might be drafted, follows his father, Robin, who played eight seasons.
Bob Morton, C/OG, Notre Dame, 6-4, 302, 5.28
The McKinney product, a likely free agent, logged 1,100 minutes of playing time.
Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from NFL Draft Scout.
2007 NFL DRAFT
Radio City Music Hall, New York
April 28 (Rounds 1-3), ESPN 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; ESPN2 7-9 p.m.; NFL Network 9-10 p.m.
April 29 (Rounds 4-7), ESPN 10 a.m.-5 p.m., NFL Network 11 a.m.-6 p.m.