Draft Talk: The Great Offensive Tackle Debate

T.R. TaylorCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2009

Going in to most NFL drafts, there is usually a clear cut No. 1 offensive tackle. Last year it was Jake Long, the year before it was Joe Thomas, and before that it was D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

However this year there are four prospects people just can't seem to agree on. Is it Alabama's big man, Andre Smith? Or is it the Virginia Cavalier, Eugene Monroe? Maybe Baylor's low-hype riser, Jason Smith? Or could it be Mississippi's Cinderella story, Michael Oher?

All four are very gifted players whose talents can translate well into the NFL but there are qualities that each player has that sets himself apart from the others.

When it comes to selecting a left tackle, teams look for a player who can not only create room to run but also pass block with exceptional skill. After all, the left tackle usually protects the blind-side of the quarterback since most of them are right handed.

So let's start by talking about each player individually:

Andre Smith draws a lot of attention due to his amazing size. At 6'4" and 332 pounds, he can easily overpower most defenders. He developed a reputation for creating holes in the running game at the University of Alabama.

Despite his size, he is actually pretty nimble. He does well keeping his balance and shuffling in pass protection. However, having such a huge frame does have its drawbacks.

Having a huge body like that also means he has to carry it. Despite being agile for his size, he still doesn't move as well as teams would like in a left tackle. He would be much better suited to play right tackle where he can probably have a long career with a few Pro Bowl invites.

The last thing one should know about Smith is that he has had some off-field problems lately. He was suspended from the Sugar Bowl this year for dealing with an agent. He also left the NFL combine early without warning, before doing any drills or workouts.

Eugene Monroe is the latest of the University of Virginia's great offensive line prospects. After taking over for D'Brickashaw Ferguson when he declared for the NFL draft, Monroe played well enough to keep last year's first round pick, Brandon Albert, from taking his left tackle position.

Last year Albert started 15 games for the Kansas City Chiefs at left tackle. Monroe is a good athlete with great technique. When it comes to smoothly sliding in pass protection, he is unmatched by the other three.

His great technique also applies to run blocking where he understands leverage and driving with his feet very well. The only thing Eugene lacks is a mean streak. He often doesn't finish blocks and plays passively at times.

Jason Smith comes from Baylor University, a school typically not mentioned among the top of college football programs. Smith has great athleticism and uses it to his advantage well.

In pass protection, he smoothly slides with rushing defenders and keeps them at bay with ease. In run blocking he uses leverage well and plays with a nasty demeanor.

Unfortunately he has one major drawback that will be exploited in the NFL. Jason Smith can have trouble with balance. In pass protection, he often has trouble with defenders when they cut back inside and while run blocking he sometimes shifts his weight off balance causing him to lose control of his blocks.

Michael Oher from the University of Mississippi has a life story worthy of the big screen. The son of a father who was murdered at an early age and a mother with a drug addiction, Michael didn't have an easy childhood. He often lived in foster homes and sometimes on the street as a kid.

Growing up, he struggled in school and had to repeat the first and second grade. When he was 16 years old, he was taken in by a couple to live with them and their kids while they helped him with his difficult personal circumstances. Eventually all the hard work on both sides paid off and Oher got into Ole Miss.

Oher has absolutely tremendous natural athletic ability for the offensive tackle position. He has the strength to take on anyone unfortunate enough to lineup across from him. In pass protection he has the lateral quickness to ward off incoming defenders from the pocket and should have no trouble with pass protection in the NFL on an athletic level.

The main concern with Michael Oher is that due to his past, he hasn't played much football and is still learning the game. Also, his footwork often times gets sloppy and he sometimes stands too high while blocking.

When it comes to deciding who the best offensive tackle in this draft is, it really depends what each team is looking for: the massive size of Andre Smith, the technique and finesse of Eugene Monroe, the nasty demeanor of Jason Smith, or the tremendous upside of Michael Oher.