As Josh Alper of NBC Dallas-Ft. Worth stated when talking about potential offensive linemen for the Cowboys to draft, "Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for a movie about how special left tackles are in the NFL and they haven't gotten any less important in the couple of years since 'The Blind Side' hit theatres."
With teams like the New England Patriots perhaps losing Matt Light this year, the Steelers and Cowboys needing to add depth, and various other teams looking to add depth, Michael Oher-wannabes will certainly be getting a lot of attention this 2011 NFL Draft season.
While watching film, nobody has jumped off the screen more than 20-year old USC left tackle Tyron Smith. We were watching for guys like WR Ronald Johnson and OC Kristofer O'Dowd, but that 6-5/290 tackle kept impressing us.
Some teams are going to have some concern based on his slight build, but he has already added over 25 pounds of muscle since arriving at USC a in 2008. He carries his current weight well and could easily add another 10-15 pounds, allaying most of our fears about his frame.
Experience is going to be another issue, with Smith starting only two seasons for the Trojans. He predominantly has played out of a two-point stance in a zone-blocking scheme, so teams that don't employ that sort of system may have difficulty projecting him to their club.
Smith excels at pass-blocking, with his incredible agility, balance, and quick feet, proving to be a huge asset in protecting Matt Barkley's backside. He is able to mirror defenders well, while still anchoring against the bull-rush.
In summary, Smith's potential is out of this world. He could easily become a Pro Bowl left tackle for years to come, but he still has a lot to learn. We feel that he could start right away for most teams in the NFL. However, in order for him to be successful right away, him being on a team with a decent offensive line already is key. As he learns and grows, they might need to give some help.
If you're looking for guys that might not have a ceiling as high as Smith's, but might be more ready to contribute in 2011, here are four more OT prospects that could be picked in the mid-late 1st Round.
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
This Badger is an absolute monster, coming in at 6'8" and 320 pounds. He performed well at LT in college, but might be better suited for the right side in the NFL due to his below-average footwork. His run-blocking is absolutely nasty though, having pushed back quite a few Big 10 defenders over the last couple of years due to his size and strength.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
On paper, the 6'8" and 310 pound Solder might look like Carimi, but they are very different players. Solder has much better feet and uses his long arms to effectively ward off defenders. He doesn't run-block as well as Carimi, but is truly a guy you could stick in at LT tomorrow for an NFL team.
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Castonzo is a very experienced player, starting 40+ games in college. He is a hard-worker that has improved every year for BC, both on and off the field. He will need to add some bulk, strength and fine-tune some of his techniques, specifically his balance against combo moves. If he can, Castonzo will be a solid starter in the NFL for a decade.
Ben Ijalana, OL, Villanova
A prospect that can play both guard and tackle, Ijalana has been difficult to scout playing against lesser competition. He has the physical makeup, strength, and agility to be an elite lineman at the next level, but his technique really needs cleaned up. He takes a lot of false steps and will sometimes get too high in his blocks. A good offensive-line coach like the Patriots Dante Scarnecchia or the Titans Mike Munchak may be able to turn Ijalana into a star.
James Christensen's scouting updates will appear here on PatriotsInsider.com throughout the year. James is the publisher of NEPatriotsDraft.com, an independent website dedicated to covering the NFL Draft and college prospects with professional potential.