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    Wagoner's NFL Draft Preview: Offensive Line

    NFL Draft Preview: Offensive Line
    Wednesday, April 8, 2009
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    The Rams made no secret of their desire to get bigger and better on the offensive line entering this offseason.

    And they quickly backed it up with swift action, signing Baltimore center Jason Brown to a lucrative contract that makes him the league’s highest paid player at his position.

    In addition, the team parted ways with left tackle Orlando Pace, tendered guard Richie Incognito and re-signed Adam Goldberg and Mark Setterstrom.

    Those moves have helped solidify the unit but they haven’t done anything to eliminate the need for the Rams to find help on the line, particularly at the offensive tackle position.

    That’s why, heading in to this year’s NFL Draft, tackle is one of, if not the, team’s top need.

    Fortunately for the Rams, this year’s crop of prospects provides a talented group of players capable of filling that void.

    As it stands, Alex Barron is penciled in as the team’s left tackle. During last week’s minicamp, Goldberg handled right tackle duties and it appears a potential move for Jacob Bell to tackle from left guard has been put on hold if not canceled completely.

    Barron remains the only true tackle with extensive experience on the roster though Goldberg provides a versatile and solid option as a backup. Barron is entering the final year of his contract, though, meaning the Rams must find some young options at some point in the draft.

    After the combine and all of the pro days, it’s become clear that two prospects have separated from the pack. Baylor’s Jason Smith and Virginia’s Eugene Monroe are the most gifted and well-rounded of this crop and both could go in the top five of the draft.

    Fortunately for the Rams, they own the No. 2 pick in the draft and could, at worst, end up taking the one that the Lions don’t select with the first pick.

    The Rams have long been fans of Monroe and he did nothing to change that during his draft preparation. Monroe put on a show in position drills at the scouting combine and was impressive at his pro day last month.

    Smith elbowed his way into the race with a strong senior season and a stunning display of strength at the combine. His charismatic personality has also helped him fly up draft boards.

    Both Monroe and Smith are expected to visit the Russell Training Center next week and should either or both be available when the Rams make their pick at No. 2, it’s a very real possibility that one will be a Ram.

    If not and the Rams opt to grab a tackle in the second or third round, some names that would come under consideration include Connecticut’s Williams Beatty, Arizona’s Eben Britton, South Carolina’s Jamon Meredith and Oklahoma’s Phil Loadholt.

    Tulane’s Troy Kropog and Oregon’s Fenuku Tupou would also be intriguing in the middle rounds.

    On the interior, the Rams could be in the market for a center to backup Brown and perhaps some developmental depth at guard. Bell, John Greco and Incognito are expected to compete to flank Brown in the middle with Setterstrom, Goldberg and Roy Schuening around for depth.

    There is no true center behind Brown and the draft class is pretty strong though don’t expect the Rams to use a high pick on a pivot.

    Regardless, expect the Rams to grab a tackle or two before the draft is done and expect one of those tackles to be taken within the first two rounds, if not No. 2 overall.

    The Top Five Offensive Tackles

    1. Eugene Monroe, Virginia – The most polished of the tackle prospects. He’s a better pass blocker than run blocker but that doesn’t mean he’s poor as a run blocker. Could be a premiere tackle for years.

    2. Jason Smith, Baylor – Tremendous athlete who only recently began playing the position. Scratching the surface on his potential but some question his ability to play in a three-point stance and his skills as a run blocker.

    3. Michael Oher, Ole Miss – His desire has been questioned and that could drop him some but nobody doubts his combination of size, strength and agility. A natural as a pass blocker and an improving run blocker. Might be a steal for some team if he falls.

    4. Andre Smith, Alabama – Weight and maturity issues have dropped Smith down many boards but he is still the most dominant run blocker in the draft and some team will roll the dice that Smith’s physical tools will outweigh any other issues he might have.

    5. William Beatty, Connecticut – Excellent athlete who bolstered his reputation at the Senior Bowl and has loads of potential. Remains to be seen whether he can be a powerful drive run blocker but he’d be great in a zone scheme because of his athleticism.

    The Top Five Guards

    1. Duke Robinson, Oklahoma – An absolute monster at 6-5, 335 pounds with drive blocking ability that can move even the largest defender. Adequate in pass blocking but it’s the run blocking skills that will make him the first guard off the board.

    2. Andy Levitre, Oregon State – Like Roy Schuening a year ago, possesses good punch and effort. Not big enough and doesn’t have the reach to be a tackle in the NFL so he’ll move inside and do well at the next level.

    3. Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin – The next in a long line of solid, massive Badgers’ offensive linemen. Can kick out to tackle as well, reminds some scouts of Rams’ John Greco.

    4. Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati – Very quick off the ball and loves the collisions that go with his position. Doesn’t have a ton of punch when he does make contact but is good at getting to the second level.

    5. Anthony Parker, Tennessee – Powerful drive blocker with plenty of strength. Not terribly quick and can be beaten in the pass rush. Has had some weight issues.

    The Top Five Centers

    1. Alex Mack, California – Best of a talented lot of centers. Mack is extremely intelligent with good athleticism and strength. Not the quickest moving laterally but is perhaps the best center prospect since Nick Mangold.

    2. Max Unger, Oregon – Versatile and durable, he could also move outside to tackle if needed. At 6’5, 299 pounds, is a good athlete with toughness and technique in abundance.

    3. Eric Wood, Louisville – Wildly competitive player who refuses to give up. Not a great athlete but his durability and production in college make him a safe choice.

    4. Antoine Caldwell, Alabama – Gets off the ball and engages defenders better than any center in the draft and is tough to get away from when he gets his hands on a defender. Not terribly quick and doesn’t get to the second level as well as some scouts would prefer but he’s steady and would be a good fit for a power running team.

    5. A.Q. Shipley, Penn State – A converted nose guard who is tough at the point of attack. Won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2008 and is one of the smartest members of this crop of pivots. Lacks strength and reach but makes up for it in intangibles.

  2. #2
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    Re: Wagoner's NFL Draft Preview: Offensive Line

    I wouldn't mind taking a guard or center in the later rounds to help with our interior.

    I would really consider taking Duke Robinson in the second round to boost our interior running game, and him and Jason Brown and Cogs will just plow through d-linemen. Scary.

    If we didn't release Pace, I think that we would have a lot more manueverability going into the draft. We could have selected an OT later, and upgrade our other positional needs.

    A line with Pace - Robinson - Brown - Greco/Cogs - Bell/Barron
    sounds very very good to me.

    But Pace is gone, and we are probably in track to pick an OT in the first.

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