Seven of the 31 (23 percent) first-round picks in 2008 were offensive tackles, including Jake Long, whom Miami selected first overall. And that's not even factoring 15th overall pick Branden Albert, who started 15 games at left tackle for Kansas City last year, because he primarily lined up at guard in college.
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There isn't a prospect who stands out like Long did last year and this class isn't as top-heavy in terms of talent, so don't expect to see so many tackles getting drafted in the first round. On the other hand, Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith, Andre Smith and Michael Oher all project as first-round picks, so there is an excellent chance more offensive tackles come off the board in the first round this year than in 2006 and 2007.
Monroe, Jason Smith and Andrew Smith are the front-runners in the competition to become the first tackle off the board. While Monroe is the most polished pass-blocker among the three, Jason Smith is a former tight end who has a great deal of upside. He's shot up draft boards this year and could climb even higher with a strong showing at the combine.
Andre Smith, meanwhile, is trying to right the ship. His problems holding up against athletic and quick edge rushers (see Florida MLB Brandon Spikes in the SEC championship game) caused his stock to drop late in the season. Alabama's suspending him for the Sugar Bowl for improper dealings with an agent doesn't help either, so it's important that he makes a strong, positive impression on teams during the combine's interview process.
At this point, Oher is expected to come off the board after the top three because he is raw and may be a better fit at right tackle than left tackle. Still, there's no denying he has the physical tools to develop into an NFL starter on one side or the other.
There is a noticeable drop in talent after the top four, but there are still some interesting prospects in the middle to late rounds, including William Beatty and Andrew Gardner. Though he needs to bulk up and do a better job of sinking his hips in pass protection, Beatty has the length scouts look for at left tackle and he flashed above-average foot speed at the Senior Bowl. Gardner started the first 48 games of his career before a torn labrum in his left shoulder forced him to undergo season-ending surgery in 2008 and his stock has dipped accordingly. An excellent pass-blocker before the injury, Gardner could prove to be a steal in the later rounds if the shoulder is healthy.
Another tackle worth mentioning here is Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer turned some heads at the East-West Shrine game and he moves well for his size. In fact, we think a team could take him early on Day 2, so we were surprised to see his name left off the official invitation list.