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November 12, 2008

NFL draft: Smith leads the way on O-line

The 2008 class of offensive lineman set the bar high. Seven tackles were selected in the first round, and 14 linemen overall were taken in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.

The offensive line always is a premium position. Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of Nationalfootballpost.com analyze this season's top offensive linemen.

1. T Andre Smith, Alabama
THE BUZZ: Smith is a physically imposing left tackle with a thick lower half and impressive overall girth for his frame. Smith, a junior, has great length for his 6-foot-4 frame as well as excellent body control and foot quickness on the edge. He displays a quick first step off the snap that allows him to get around on reach blocks and seal the edge. He possesses the length and power to lock out and drive defensive ends out of the picture on running plays. Smith shows good initial pop off the ball and can really jar defenders at the point of attack. He's a bit top-heavy, and his weight always will be a concern; he needs to make sure he doesn't eat himself out of the NFL. He plays low and with good leverage, consistently getting under defensive linemen and driving his legs through contact. Some think he is best suited for the right side because of his height, but he is so athletically gifted and has the footwork and lateral mobility to defend the NFL's top speed rushers.

2. T Michael Oher, Ole Miss
THE BUZZ: Oher is a naturally gifted senior with rare physical skills for a man of his dimensions. He does a great job in space. He plays low with good flexibility and leverage, has a powerful lower half and good overall base strength. Oher comes out of his stance low and can really jolt defenders with his strong initial punch. He does a nice job holding the point of attack when bull-rushed. Oher is blessed with huge hands and long arms, but he needs to work on his hand placement; he has a tendency to get impatient and will lunge at times. He has great feet and can slide laterally and mirror defenders with ease. He demonstrates elite explosion out of his stance and change-of-direction skills in pass protection, and has the feet to consistently reach the corner and cut off speed rushers. He needs to continue to work on his technique, but his overall athleticism, foot quickness, power and flexibility make him a first-round pick.

3. T Jason Smith, Baylor
THE BUZZ: Smith, a former tight end, still is learning the position, but as a senior, he is starting to play with better bend and technique in pass protection. All the athletic and physical tools are there. Smith possesses great straight-line speed and is natural out on the edge, pulling and trap blocking on the outside. He is fluid in the open field and does a great job getting downfield on screens and opening up holes at the second level. He's a gifted run blocker and might be best suited for a zone-blocking scheme. He shows a bit of a mean streak and isn't afraid to drive his man into the ground. Smith has the foot speed and quickness to reach the edge against speed rushers. He has come a long way in terms of pass protection from his junior year; he lacked patience last season, which caused him to lose his balance too often. He could still stand to add some more bulk and power in his upper and lower body, and he needs to do a better job working his hands to maintain position. But Smith has been flying up draft boards and has really developed as a technician in the past season.

4. T Eben Britton, Arizona
THE BUZZ: Britton is a big, long athlete who shows excellent body control and agility on slide-down blocks. He does a nice job staying engaged with linemen on the move and uses his length and feet to seal blockers to the outside. He has good athleticism and the straight-line speed to get downfield, but he seems to lumber a bit in space and struggles breaking down in the open field when trying to hit a moving target. Britton exhibits a powerful upper body and good punch, can really jolt defenders at the point of attack and demonstrates a good push as an in-line blocker. Britton is fluid sliding laterally in pass protection, with the ability to dip his hips and stay under linemen on the outside. Britton is a good athlete who plays with good bend in the pass game. He has the size and length to play left tackle in the pros.

5. T Eugene Monroe, Virginia
THE BUZZ: Monroe is a smooth, coordinated tackle with great feet and body control in pass protection. He has long arms, big hands and does a nice job engaging with defensive ends quickly and gaining inside position. He is natural out on an island and can reach the corner against speed rushers with ease. He has the feet and agility to mirror ends laterally. He has a long frame but needs to continue to add strength and bulk to his base. He lacks power and strength in his lower half and has trouble consistently holding the point of attack against a bull rush. He is a good run blocker because of his understanding of angles, but he doesn't show much pop at the point of attack and isn't going to get much push as an in-line guy. He is a natural left tackle who is confident in pass protection. Monroe looks like a clone of former Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who was a first-round pick by the New York Jets in 2006.

6. T Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
THE BUZZ: Okung is an athletic and fluid tackle who has a great first step out of his stance and can consistently reach the corner against speed rushers. He is long and possesses a great wingspan, but he needs to add more girth and power to his overall frame, especially in his upper body. He lacks great power in his punch and struggles staying on blocks through contact. He doesn't consistently come off the snap count on time and will allow defensive ends to get into his body quickly and allow them to slash across his frame. But he has great feet and body control, and he can slide laterally in pass coverage. He has an explosive first step out of his stance in the run game. He understands angles well and shows the ability to anchor in and seal inside running lanes. He's not much of an in-line blocker and lacks great lower-body strength, but he has the length to turn defensive ends out of the play. He is at his best in space and out on the edge. Okung is a fluid lead blocker and looks comfortable pulling and getting downfield on plays toward the perimeter.

7. G Herman Johnson, LSU
THE BUZZ: To say this guy is massive is an understatement. At 6-7 and more than 350 pounds, Johnson possess great feet for his dimensions. Johnson exhibits a low stance and is flexible in the hips and isn't simply a hulking offensive lineman; this guy is agile and can dip and bend. He has a huge wingspan and does a nice job keeping defensive linemen away from his body. He is strong at the point of attack and can anchor against even the strongest bull rushers. His strong, wide stance and powerful punch make him nearly impossible to get around in pass protection. He does a nice job breaking down in space and has the body control to hit and seal a moving target. He's still a bit raw but has come a long way. We would like to see more leg drive from him through the block; he has a tendency to lean on people too much and does not consistently drive his legs through contact. He will lumber a bit downfield but is a force on screen passes. Johnson has a real chance to be something special; his size and athletic ability are unmatched at guard. He has unlimited potential in any power run scheme, and if put in the right situation, this guy could be scary.

8. C Alex Mack, California
THE BUZZ: Mack is an aggressive center who shows a nice blend of balance and foot quickness. He finishes his blocks with a strong leg drive and plays with a mean streak. Mack is good athlete who can pull and get to the second level. Once he gets out in space, he shows great body control and awareness to find and eliminate his man. He's a master of the cut block, and he really flies into a pile and can eliminate a bunch of defenders, opening up massive holes downfield. Mack lacks some pop in his punch, but he does a good job locking on and steering defensive tackles out of the picture. A mauler who is effective in tight areas and out in space, he shows good awareness in pass protection and keeps his head on a swivel. Mack needs to consistently play low and not get too upright when he is engaged.

9. G Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
THE BUZZ: Robinson is a physical guard with the body of a road grader, but he has the feet and athleticism to excel in any scheme. Robinson possesses strong, powerful legs and drives through blocks well at the point of attack. He keeps working hard through blocks. When he locks on, the battle is over. Robinson sits into his stance well and has an explosive first step, which allows him to really fire out and into a defensive lineman. He can really seal a moving target and is impressive in space. Robinson has a tendency to get lazy at times and will stop moving his feet and allow defenders to gain leverage. At times, he will lunge and lose his balance. But when he is playing focused and with good technique, he is tough to beat.

10. C Max Unger, Oregon
THE BUZZ: Unger possesses the body of a tackle, with a long wingspan, and could move back to tackle in the pros. He has light, agile feet and shows the ability to snap and step quickly. He does a nice job getting out of his stance and set before most defensive linemen even have a chance to get into his body. He isn't squatty and doesn't have the girth or power in his lower half that NFL teams would like to see from a center. He lacks power and struggles getting much push in-line against bigger defensive tackles. Still, he is nearly unbeatable in pass protection. He does a nice job firing out of his stance and pulling around the corner; while he lacks the power to jolt defenders at the point of attack, he has the technique and hand placement to get inside and turn linemen out of the play. Unger is capable on slide-down blocks and makes everything look easy in space. He is by far the best pass-blocking center in the class.

Nationalfootballpost.com is a new football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years - including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.

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