2011 NFL Draft: Is Derek Sherrod the Top Offensive Tackle Prospect?

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2011 NFL Draft: Is Derek Sherrod the Top Offensive Tackle Prospect?
Photo Courtesy of mstateathletics.com

There may be no other position in all of football that’s so valuable—yet also so thankless—as the offensive tackle position. While it’s NFL quarterbacks who get all the glory and media face time, it’s the offensive tackles that are the ones making sure their signal callers stay upright and secure.

No NFL coach in the game today will ever underestimate the value of a great tackle. The teams that have the good ones are thankful they do, and the ones that lack them are left searching for answers.

In the 2010 NFL Draft, franchises were treated to three young tackles—Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams and Rutgers’ Anthony Davis—who were Top-15 caliber prospects. This year though, it would be surprising if even one tackle from this crop gets selected within the first 15 picks.

This senior class seems to lack a true standout, franchise tackle prospect like some of the players we’ve seen in the recent years such as Jake Long, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Joe Thomas, all top five picks.

Instead what we have is a more jumbled group of very solid prospects with no clear-cut No. 1 player at this point. The class looks relatively deep, with about 20 to 25 players who are a worthy of a draft selection. But it won’t be until the postseason evaluations and workouts when we’ll finally be able to figure out who the top tackles really are.

A name that has been gaining the most steam as the season goes on has been Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod. Right now the 6'6", 305-pound senior would be the most likely candidate out of the all the tackles to come off the board first.

Sherrod, a former 4-star recruit coming out of Mississippi’s Caledonia High School, is in his third year as a starter for the Bulldogs. This season, he’s been the main blocker up front for a Mississippi State rushing attack that ranks second in the SEC with 220 yards per game.

With good agility and footwork for his size and great run-blocking skills, Sherrod has basically everything you would look for in a complete offensive tackle prospect. While he may not be elite, he’s shown he has what it takes to be a solid starting tackle in the NFL.

Sherrod looks like the only tackle prospect worthy of first-round selection at this time, but that could change depending on how many teams end up looking for a starting tackle early on in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, two players who were given a good amount of publicity in the preseason, have shown glimpses of great ability during their careers. But they may lack the superior physical traits necessary to be deemed worthy of a first-round selection.

Carimi, who replaced current Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas at Wisconsin, has been a standout since his freshman season and is one of the top run blockers in the class. At 6'7" and 320 pounds, there’s no doubt he has the desired size scouts are looking for, but there are times when his overall athleticism has come into question.

Castonzo, a four-year starter at Boston College, looks like he could be the best potential tackle for a zone running scheme this season. The 6'7", 300-pound senior is a little lighter than a lot of the other members of this class, but he also moves better in space.

Sherrod, Carimi and Castonzo look to be the big names of this class, but there’s a host of other players that could make some noise in the months leading up to the draft.

Two tackles who could make great guard prospects are Marcus Cannon of TCU and DeMarcus Love of Arkansas. The 6'5", 360-pound Cannon and the 6'5", 315-pound Love are two big, physical players who both excel at run blocking.

Other tackles such as LSU’s Joseph Barksdale, Colorado’s Nate Solder, Alabama’s James Carpenter, Pittsburgh’s Jason Pinkson and Indiana’s James Brewer seem like intriguing prospects.

Barksdale and Solder are two players who fit the physical and athletic mold of what an offensive tackle prospect should be, but both have had their toughness speculated about this season.

Barksdale, who switched to the offensive side of the trenches when he arrived in Baton Rouge, might be the biggest enigma of the class. If you were going strictly by an eye-ball test, the 6'5", 320-pound senior would probably grade the highest out of any of his peers. But then you watch the LSU lineman, and you see all the inconsistencies like getting beat on speed rushes or falling off of blocks in the run game.

It will be interesting to watch how the stock of tackles like Barksdale and Solder fluctuate over the next few months.

There are so many other tackles NFL teams could take a liking to, like Auburn’s Lee Ziemba, Arizona’s Adam Grant, Florida’s Marcus Gilbert, Clemson’s Chris Hairston and Michigan State’s D.J. Young, which makes this one of the more interesting and deep lineman classes we’ve seen in years.

Derek Sherrod has a grasp on the No. 1 spot right now, but he’ll get a lot of competition as the process unfolds leading up the 2011 NFL Draft in April.

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