Every Tuesday, the Big Ten Blog will rank the top players at each position for each team in the Big Ten. Today, we're going for the road graders: right tackle. This list is subject to change as not every depth chart is public at this point, and changes are often made as late as August, but here's how the races stand in June.
12. Peyton Eckert, Indiana
Peyton Eckert started six games in a season-long positional battle with departing senior Justin Pagan, and really, neither were particularly good. At the very least, Eckert was a true freshman last season, so some improvement is expected, but he needs to show that he's reliable at tackle in 2012 before he can make any noise on this list.
11. Paul Jorgensen, Northwestern
Northwestern likes Jorgensen's long-term future, and there are certainly no red flags about being Patrick Ward's backup at right tackle as a redshirt freshman last season, but the fact is that Jorgensen is the least-established player on this entire list, and that's going to take time. He'll probably be much higher on the list next season, at the very least.
10. Justin Kitchens, Purdue
Kitchens is a converted defensive lineman who logged four starts at right tackle before losing time to injury; when he came back, Trevor Foy had established himself as the starter there. Foy is off to the left side of the ball, so Kitchens is the natural starter here. If he stays healthy, he should be serviceable, but his size at 6'4" and 275 pounds is disconcertingly small.
9. Michael Heitz, Illinois
Which mid-tier tackle will make a run at All-Big Ten in 2012?
Heitz split time with Simon Cvijanovic at right tackle last season; Cvijanovic is off to the left side of the ball, and now Heitz is firmly installed at RT. Heitz was still coming into his own last year as a redshirt freshman, and it's not going to help to go through a complete coaching overhaul halfway into his collegiate career. But assuming a normal maturation curve as a blocker, he should be fine this year.
8. Brett Van Sloten, Iowa
Van Sloten is a mammoth at right tackle, coming in at 6'7" and a well-proportioned 292 pounds. He's still developing as a blocker, but he is strong enough to make a difference right off the bat for the retooling Iowa offensive line.
7. Reid Fragel, Ohio State
Fragel, a senior, takes over at right tackle after being converted from tight end, and the move makes sense; he's 6'8" and played at 280 pounds as a tight end, mainly being used for blocking purposes. He'll help shore up an offensive line that looks capable of taking a massive step forward from last year.
6. Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska
Sirles' career took a bit of a detour after being a starter at right tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2010; he was demoted to the top backup last year. But with tackles Marcel Jones and Yoshi Hardwick graduating, and with Tyler Moore moving to the left side, Sirles is pretty well set here. He's big at 6'6" and 310 pounds, and he could be the masher Nebraska needs to improve the right side of the line.
5. Jimmy Gjere, Minnesota
Gjere is a former four-star Army All-American recruit who started from Week 1 as a redshirt freshman for the Gophers, and he has the size and strength to dominate. Minnesota's taking his recovery from concussion symptoms extremely slowly, but there's been no indication that his 2012 season is in danger.
4. Adam Gress, Penn State
Adam Gress worked at both tackle spots during the spring before finding himself at right tackle in Penn State's final depth chart of the spring. Coaches raved about his work ethic in the weight room and during practices, and it showed in the spring game when Gress looked like the best lineman on the field at times.
3. Michael Schofield, Michigan
Schofield spent time at left guard last season starting 10 games and generally doing a good job, but his natural position is right tackle. He moves back here after Elliot Mealer established himself during the spring; this is a better fit for Michigan as a whole, and there should be a commensurate uptick in offensive production from the Wolverines.
2. Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
Wisconsin is an offensive lineman machine, and first-year starter Havenstein is proof. Havenstein came into Wisconsin at 6'8" and 340 pounds, but not all of those 340 pounds were "good." He's up to 343 now, looks better and has the strength and technique to be dominant from the first snap. Wisconsin's always going to be good as long as it excels at creating top-tier offensive linemen; Havenstein is just the latest in a long line of such players.
1. Fou Fonoti, Michigan State
Michigan State's offensive line struggled after the loss of two starters last season, but one replacement junior college transfer Fou Fonoti, established himself as a major strength. He gave up no sacks in 2011 after stepping in on the fly, and he's so firmly entrenched at right tackle that Skyler Burkland just switched positions after coming back healthy. If Fonoti, a 6'4", 300 pound crusher, has another season like 2011, he'll be getting a call from the NFL very, very early.