The League


The Five Linemen

For the second straight year, the NFL draft class is full of talented linemen. Maybe not to the level it was last year, when eight were taken in the first round and Denver's Ryan Clady had one of the better rookie seasons in recent memory, but pretty darned close. On Thursday, at the NFL Combine, all the top linemen spoke to the assembled media at the three podiums inside Lucas Oil Stadium. And given the constant need among most NFL teams (certainly including the Redskins) for quality linemen, it's a good time to introduce you, dear reader, to our Top Five along the line. Four tackles and a guard; here are the Five Linemen -- who they are, what they said at the Combine, along with the opinions of Rob Rang, Senior Draft Analyst with

Michael Oher, Left Tackle, Mississippi

What He Can Do: Known primarily as the subject of Michael Lewis' book, The Blind Side, Oher has the physical potential to be one of the best tackles of the last decade. With only three years at his current position, Oher has the potential to get even better, though there may be a slight hangup at the pro level due to that inexperience. Still, his physical characteristics are not the issue. Oher has that rarest combination of tackle skills -- the ability to dance in perfect time with ballerina's feet and still subdue the strongest defender. Where evaluators are divided about Oher is in his ability to take hold of the more sophisticated blocking schemes he'll be required to master in the NFL. There's also a small debit related to his mellow, passive personality, though being a sweetheart won't stop Orlando Pace from going to the Hall of Fame.

What He Said: "I grew up poor, and was homeless a lot growing up. I just worked hard and came through a lot of adversity. I just kept working. I was taken in by a family that helped me get to college and pushed me. That's why I think I'm here today at this level."

The Expert's Take: "Viewed by many scouts as the most physically gifted of an extraordinary class of offensive tackles, Oher possesses the size, strength, agility, and flexibility to man the position at a Pro-Bowl caliber level for a decade or more. Teams, however, have to come to grips with questions about Oher's consistency and willingness to put in the time and effort to maximize his immense talents."

Jason Smith, Left Tackle, Baylor

What He Can Do: A converted tight end, Smith is the most agile of the 2009 tackle class. While he has the potential to fit in any zone blocking scheme that requires movement from lineman, there are two questions about his future. First, that he's seen limited time at the position in the NCAA. Second, that the two-point stance he used at Baylor is more conducive to spread offense sets and less to the power blocking needed at the next level. The upside, however, is scary.

What He Said: "When I'm on the field, I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody. As far as finishing them off, that's just a part of the block, so you don't really think too much of it because that's what you go on the field to do. So it's just something I practice real hard at, and I practice real hard at practicing, and when its game time it just happens naturally."

The Expert's Take: "Smith has the quick feet and balance to match the immediate success as a pass blocker that Ryan Clady enjoyed with the Denver Broncos in 2008 in his rookie season. Scouts are concerned that Smith lacks polish as a run blocker due to the fact that he predominately played out of the two point stance at Baylor, but the aggressiveness and physicality he plays could ultimately translate into his being the best all-around tackle of the bunch."

Eugene Monroe, Left Tackle, Virginia

What He Can Do: At 6'5" and 315 pounds, Monroe has a tough-to beat combination of toughness and agility -- in fact, has Monroe as their top-ranked pre-Combine workout tackle.

What He Said: "I think over my career at Virginia I've proven I can block anybody. I have the determination to improve my game and the ambition to succeed and I never stop. I continue to set goals. When one step is completed, I set another goal. I make sure i do everything in my power to achieve that. If I can't, I'll re-set everything and I'll go back to the drawing board and just continue to grind."

The Expert's Take:
"Monroe replaced former #4 overall selection D'Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle and kept #15 overall selection Branden Albert inside at left guard due to his spectacular play outside, Monroe has the size and athleticism to scouts are looking for in a prototypical left tackle prospect, but may need to play with more consistent physicality and nastiness for some teams' taste."

Andre Smith, Left Tackle, Alabama

What He Can Do: Smith can decimate his opponent with his 6'4", 340-pound frame, or he can surprise with surprising short-area speed. In a power-zone team where physical dominance matches schematic mastery, Smith could be a rare asset.

What He Said: "I'm not a waist-bender. I bend my knees. I have a pretty good kick slide. Probably the only thing I need to work on is making sure I stay inside and out instead of out leveraging the defensive end and letting him beat me inside."

The Expert's Take:
"Arguably the most critical player in Alabama's rise to prominence over the past two seasons, Smith is massive and a dominant drive blocker. While stunningly agile for his size, he may lack the balance and quick feet needed to remain at left tackle in the NFL -- factors that could lead to a bit of drop on draft day."

Duke Robinson, Guard, Oklahoma

What He Can Do: Robinson was a key cog in the Sooner's 2008 offensive line, one of the greatest in many years. He's as dominant as his position requires him to be, but he's also aware that he'll be asked to do more specific technical things at the next level. In the NFL, Robinson could be good right away and seriously great later.

What He Said: "At any position on the o-line, you need to be able to have agility, foot quickness and technique. Foot quickness is a strength at the guard position because you've got a guy lined right up on you. You don't have time to kick back. It's usually only one step. That's probably why [in some respects] that a guard would have more agility than a tackle because he doesn't kick back as far or kick back as wide because the guy is right there on you already."

The Expert's Take:
"A consensus All-American who turned down a potential first day selection last year to return for his senior campaign, Robinson is viewed by many as the elite guard prospect of the 2009 draft. While impressive as a drive blocker, his marginal lateral agility may have been exposed by Florida in the BCS Championship Game."

By Doug Farrar  |  February 19, 2009; 11:38 PM ET  | Category:  Combine , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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