NFL draft preview: Offensive line
01:49 AM CDT on Saturday, April 18, 2009
By RICK GOSSELIN / The Dallas Morning News
The tackle and center boards are very good at the top. But those two positions will thin out quickly. Conversely, the guard board will be better in the later rounds where three- and four-year major college starters abound.
THE TOP 15
Rk. Pos., Player School Ht. Wt. Noteworthy
1. T Jason Smith Baylor 6-5 309 4-year starter
2. T Eugene Monroe Virginia 6-5 309 Biggest hands in draft
3. T Andre Smith Alabama 6-4 325 Outland Trophy winner
4. T Michael Oher Miss. 6-4 ½ 309 4-year starter
5. T Eben Britton Arizona 6-6 309 2-year captain
6. T Phil Loadholt Okla 6-7 ½ 332 Junior college transfer
7. C Alex Mack California 6-3 ½ 311 3-time All-Pac 10
8. C Eric Wood Louisville 6-3 ½ 310 2-time All-Big East
9. C Max Unger Oregon 6-4 ½ 309 Also started at OT
10. G Andy Levitre Oregon St 6-2 ½ 305 College left tackle
11. T Will Beatty Conn 6-6 307 4.82 speed in the 40
12. G Duke Robinson Okla 6-5 329 Two-time All-Big 12
13. T Jamon Meredith SoCar 6-4 ½ 304 2-time academic All-SEC
14. C Antoine Caldwell Alabama 6-3 309 2-year captain
15. G Herman Johnson LSU 6-7 364 400 pounds as a freshman
T-Tackle, G-Guard, C-Center
Potential first-round picks in bold
Spotlight on: Joel Bell, Furman
Furman offensive tackle Joel Bell took an interesting path to the NFL draft. He was born in Ohio but his parents were missionaries, so he grew up in Egypt and Croatia. He played soccer and basketball there but came to love football watching delayed television broadcasts of NFL games. He discovered the Cowboys were more than just America's Team.
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"My only impression of football was those tapes," Bell said, "and the only thing I saw was Cowboys tape. That was the only team I watched. I always followed them. They've been my team forever."
Bell left his parents and Croatia as a 10th-grader to return to the United States and play football. He moved in with a foster family in Spartanburg, S.C.
"I was skinny and tall," Bell said. "I didn't play and just got beaten up every day in practice. But I enjoyed having pads on. I couldn't see myself not doing that ever again. So I talked my parents into staying. I didn't know anything about college. I just wanted to play high school football."
Bell started putting on weight and became competitive, finishing his high school career at 250 pounds. He was lightly recruited and wound up at Furman, where he blossomed as a blocker. He filled out to 315 pounds, started three seasons and won the Jacobs Award as the best blocker in the Southern Conference in 2008.
Now Bell projects as a second-day NFL draft pick. He's come a long way from the television screens in Croatia.
The best: Jason Smith, Baylor
Smith went to Baylor as a tight end and played there as a freshman in 2005, starting eight games and catching a touchdown pass against Oklahoma. But he moved to right tackle in 2006 then flipped over to the left side for his final two seasons. He earned All-Big 12 honors as a senior and now projects as Baylor's first first-round NFL draft pick since DT Daryl Gardener in 1996. "Put on my film from Baylor and you'll see that I'm the best," Smith said.
Sleeper: Blake Schlueter, C, TCU
A three-year starter and All-Mountain West selection, Schlueter wasn't getting much love from the NFL in this draft process. He wasn't one of the 328 players or 13 centers invited to the NFL scouting combine at Indianapolis in March. But he ran himself into the draft with a 4.79 40-yard dash at TCU's pro day. Now he's the fastest center on the draft board.
Best of Texas: Jason Smith, Baylor
The W.T. White product started his high school career as an offensive tackle but finished up as a tight end. He started his college career as a tight end and finished up as an offensive tackle. Smith did not allow any sacks last season.
Draft projection: Top five
All in the family: North Carolina OT Garrett Reynolds is the nephew of former Los Angeles Rams LB Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, Texas G Cedric Dockery is the younger brother of Washington Redskins G Derrick Dockery, and BYU C Dallas Reynolds is the son of BYU's associate head coach Lance Reynolds.
The Uninvited: A two-time all-state selection in basketball, Colin Brown was hoping for a scholarship coming out of high school in Braymer, Mo., but none came. So he walked on in football at Missouri and wound up starting at right offensive tackle his final two seasons. Stanley Bryant walked on at East Carolina after transferring from Elizabeth City College. He started two years for the Pirates at left tackle. Iowa C Rob Bruggeman also walked on and became a starter in his senior season. He also was a two-time academic All-Big Ten.
Durability plus: Max Unger wore a redshirt in his freshman season at the University of Oregon. He took the field in 2005 and didn't leave, starting all 51 games of his career with the Ducks. Central Michigan's Andrew Hartline and BYU's Dallas Reynolds also started 50-plus games in their careers. Here's a list of the most starts by offensive linemen in this draft:
Lineman Pos. School Starts
Andrew Hartline OT Cent Mich 52
Dallas Reynolds C BYU 51
Max Unger C Oregon 51
Jonathan Luigs C Arkansas 49
Kraig Urbik G Wisconsin 49
Eric Wood C Louisville 49
Roger Allen G Mo. Western 48
Antoine Caldwell C Alabama 48
Andrew Gardner OT Georgia Tech 48
Michael Oher OT Mississippi 47
Robert Brewster OT Ball St 46
Robby Felix C UTEP 46
Brandon Pearce OT Memphis 46
Alex Fletcher C Stanford 44
C.J. Davis G Pitt 43
Hardware: Alabama LT Andre Smith won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman. Penn State's A.Q. Shipley won the 2008 Rimington as the nation's best center, and Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs won it in 2007. Cal C Alex Mack won the Draddy Award as the nation's best student-athlete.
Leaving early: Of the 53 underclassmen who applied for early admission to the 2009 NFL draft, only three were offensive linemen: OT Andre Smith of Alabama, OT Eben Britton of Arizona and G Greg Isdaner of West Virginia.
Smarts: Syracuse G Ryan Durand was a four-time academic All-Big East selection. Penn State OT Gerald Cadogan was a four-time academic All-Big Ten choice.The tackle and center boards are very good at the top. But those two positions will thin out quickly. Conversely, the guard board will be better in the later rounds where three- and four-year major college starters abound.