Philadelphia, PA – When it comes to offensive tackles, NFL teams prefer to do their shopping in the upscale district as opposed to rummaging through the bargain bin.
There have been 22 offensive tackles snared in the first round of the draft since 2008, the most of any single position over that time span, and at least one has come off the board in the top 10 picks in 11 of the last 12 years.
That run appears certain to continue this season, with University of Southern California standout Matt Kalil unanimously considered one of the surest bets among the 2012 eligibles.
And for the most part, teams have gotten their money's worth when targeting that spot early in the draft. Of the seven offensive tackles named to the most recent Pro Bowl, five were former first-round choices and four (Miami's Jake Long, Cleveland's Joe Thomas, the New York Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Denver's Ryan Clady) were taken among the initial 12 picks.
That strong return on investment is one of the reasons why the Minnesota Vikings will have the low-risk Kalil at or near the top of their wish list if the club opts to stay in the No. 3 overall slot once Indianapolis and Washington likely fill their cavernous quarterback voids with the first two selections. Though critics of such a move can point to the lack of sustained success by the Browns and Dolphins after spending premium picks on Thomas and Long in 2007 and 2008, respectively, the nine Pro Bowl citations that duo has garnered over a combined nine professional seasons insist their teams' failures have been no fault of their own.
Last year's draft saw six offensive tackles find homes on the draft's first day, and the 2012 edition could easily see a similar layout unfold due to the immense value placed at the position. Five prospects have realistic hopes of being plucked in the opening round if you count Georgia's Cordy Glenn, a more natural guard who showed the footwork and athleticism to possibly handle right tackle during the scouting process.
Here's a more detailed synopsis of this year's offensive tackle group, the second in The Sports Network's 2012 NFL Draft preview series (you can view a breakdown of the quarterback class at http://bit.ly/H8AORg):
1) MATT KALIL, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Height: 6-foot-7; Weight: 306; Age (as of Sept. 1): 23
The son of a former USFL offensive lineman and the younger brother of Ryan Kalil, a three-time Pro Bowl center with Carolina, Kalil possesses excellent bloodlines in addition to his outstanding individual traits. The 2011 Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Year has the agility and change-of-direction skills needed to shadow NFL speed rushers as a blind-side bodyguard, and can easily get to the second level when run blocking as well. Though not a mauler, he alleviated concerns about a perceived absence of great functional strength with an impressive bench-press performance at the NFL Combine, further solidifying his status as a likely top-five pick. Kalil could stand to add more weight to better anchor himself against more powerful opponents, but has the frame to do so without losing any of his elite quickness.
PROJECTION: How good is Kalil? Good enough to force ex-USC teammate Tyron Smith, the ninth overall pick in last year's draft who had a very solid rookie year in Dallas, to the right side when both were with the Trojans. He'll be an immediate starter and a top candidate for Minnesota with the No. 3 selection, and shouldn't last past St. Louis at No. 6 if the Vikings pass.
2) JONATHAN MARTIN, STANFORD
Height: 6-5; Weight: 312; Age (as of Sept. 1): 22
Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh received the most credit for Stanford's rise to national prominence over the past two seasons, but Martin did his part by ably protecting Luck's backside as a dependable three-year starter. Highly intelligent and assignment-sound, he's also long and athletic enough to handle left tackle in the pros and knows how to use leverage to his advantage. He wasn't quite the dominant player that his skill set warranted, and his lack of physicality and a so-so showing at the Cardinal's recent Pro Day could cause his stock to slip some. He played in a zone-blocking scheme at Stanford and probably fits best in a corresponding system at the next level, where his technical ability would be accentuated and his strength deficiencies won't be as exposed.
PROJECTION: He has all the tools to become a top-notch NFL left tackle in the right offense, which is why Martin will hear his name called on the first day of the draft despite some questions about his game.
3) RILEY REIFF, IOWA
Height: 6-6; Weight: 313; Age (as of Sept. 1): 23
As the latest product of an Iowa program that has produced a number of quality NFL linemen under Kirk Ferentz, Reiff's durability and knowledge of fundamentals have made him one of this draft's most highly regarded offensive tackle prospects. A tight end in high school who began his collegiate career as a defensive end before bulking up, he's an accomplished run blocker adept at sealing off defenders by firing off the snap and using proper positioning. He also has exhibited the lateral movement and flexibility to combat speed off the edge when pass protecting. The biggest knock on Reiff has been his less-than-ideal arm length, which could cause some prospective suitors to view him as more of a right-side option or even a guard.
PROJECTION: The short-arm factor was the main issue that caused former Hawkeye Bryan Bulaga to fall to the 23rd overall pick of the 2010 draft, and Reiff could experience a similar slide for the same reasons. He still has a reasonable chance of cracking the top 10, however, provided a team is comfortable with his size limitations.
4) MIKE ADAMS, OHIO STATE
Height: 6-7; Weight: 323; Age (as of Sept. 1): 22
A terrific athlete with a huge wingspan and fluid movement skills, Adams has great upside and put himself on the first-round map by turning heads at the Senior Bowl. He also carries considerable baggage among his exceptional physical gifts, having twice been suspended at Ohio State and being implicated in the Buckeyes' memorabilia scandal prior to his final season. Questions still remain about Adams' overall strength and work ethic as well after a mediocre outing at the Combine, and his height also could be a negative when locked up against shorter and stouter opponents if he's not utilizing appropriate technique.
PROJECTION: How Adams fares in pre-draft interviews will have a large say in where he's taken, but a tackle class that isn't quite as deep as in years past should aid his cause for first-round consideration. At worst, he'll be a day- one starter on the right side with the promise to grow into a more prominent role.
5) CORDY GLENN, GEORGIA
Height: 6-6; Weight: 345; Age (as of Sept. 1): 22
After working mostly at left guard during his first three years at Georgia, Glenn shifted to left tackle as a senior and earned first-team All-SEC honors, though he's too big and stiff to play there in the pros. His long arms and tremendous natural strength make him an intriguing candidate for the right side, however, and Glenn displayed enough agility and foot speed on the workout circuit to possibly make the switch. He still may be best suited for the interior, where his combination of size, power and surprising quickness make him a potentially dominant guard.
PROJECTION: Regardless of what position he ends up at, Glenn's measurables and versatility will likely have him drafted somewhere in the second half of the first round.
6) ZEBRIE SANDERS, FLORIDA STATE
Height: 6-6; Weight: 320; Age (as of Sept. 1): 22
There are plenty of positives to take from Sanders. He's a good athlete with a prototype NFL frame, boasts significant playing experience on both sides, never missed a game during his four seasons at Florida State and is a high- character player who attained the rank of Eagle Scout as a youth. He isn't overly strong, however, having too often been pushed around by more powerful players in college, and didn't test well in agility drills at the Combine, casting doubt as to whether he'd be able to compete at left tackle in the pros.
PROJECTION: Though he needs to hit the weights, Sanders is a reliable player with room to develop physically into a starting-caliber NFL lineman on either side. A top-50 talent with a chance to sneak into the late first round if a team with a pressing tackle void feels the need to reach.
7) NATE POTTER, BOISE STATE
Height: 6-6; Weight: 303; Age (as of Sept. 1): 24
Potter has the label of a finesse player who lacks the firm base to stand his ground due to a somewhat slender build, but the second-team All-America honoree is one of the better pass blockers in this class. Well-coached and light on his feet, he's demonstrated the range and ability to swiftly get out of his stance necessary to deal with speed rushers at left tackle, but doesn't have the requisite bulk to be effective on the right side or as a pile-pusher in the running game. Those size and strength shortcomings also will limit Potter to zone-based systems in the NFL.
PROJECTION: Teams employing power schemes may not view Potter in high regard, but he should appeal to ones seeking an athletic left tackle on the draft's second day.
SLEEPER: TOM COMPTON, SOUTH DAKOTA
Height: 6-5; Weight: 314; Age (as of Sept. 1): 23
Compton was a third-team selection on The Sports Network/Fathead.com All- America squad and earned a Combine invite, then made the most of his opportunity to get on scouts' radar by testing very well in Indianapolis. He's an above-average run blocker with good first-step quickness and an NFL body, but plays too tight to adequately pass protect as a next-level left tackle. Compton's size and tenacity do make him an interesting developmental project on the right side, though he'll have to prove he can adjust to a step up in competition.
PROJECTION: Compton may not be quite ready to contribute right away, but earned himself a possible fourth- or fifth-round grade by showing he belonged at the Combine.