What started as four-person race at the NFL scouting combine in February dwindled down to two heading into Saturday’s draft. Virginia’s Eugene Monroe and Baylor’s Jason Smith are widely considered by draft experts as the top two offensive tackle prospects in the draft, and one may be available when Seattle selects at No. 4.
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Seattle could use an offensive tackle to groom for the future, with Pro Bowler Walter Jones returning from season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee. Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell recently said Jones is expected to make a full recovery and will be ready for the beginning of training camp in July.
Ruskell also said he believes the Seahawks have decent depth at offensive line, and that this year’s draft class is filled with talented lineman who can be had for less money later in the draft.
Translation? Ruskell might pass on taking an offensive lineman in the first round and look to mine a hidden gem in the later rounds, a trend he has had success with in the past.
The youngest of 16 children, Monroe is considered the better technician, and more versatile of the two, having played guard and tackle for the Cavaliers. So talented was Monroe that he started at left tackle instead of Branden Albert, a first-round draft selection by Kansas City last season who started at left tackle as a rookie for the Chiefs.
Albert played left guard next to Monroe while at Virginia.
However, Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, said Monroe is not in the same league as Seattle’s Jones, whom the Seahawks selected No. 6 overall in the 1997 draft.
“He’s a very good left tackle, but I don’t know if he’s a great left tackle,” Rang said. “And so that’s the thing. He has very good feet and very good hands. But he can get himself in trouble because he doesn’t have elite balance. … Seattle fans are a bit spoiled. They’ve had Walter Jones for awhile. Eugene Monroe is a heck of a football player, but he’s not Walter Jones.”
Monroe said Jones is someone he’s tried to emulate during his time at Virginia.
“I wouldn’t say I compare my game to his but I would try to learn from him,” Monroe said about Jones during the combine in Indianapolis. “It’s because of how consistent he is with his footwork. He’s a really good player.”
A converted tight end, Smith is considered one of the best athletes in a talented offensive line class, with great feet and a nasty attitude.
Smith didn’t give up any sacks last season at Baylor, but played mostly in a two-point stance in his team’s spread offense, so he’ll have to transition to a more traditional, three-point stance in the NFL.
“When I’m on the field, I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody,” Smith said about his surly nature on the field. “As far as finishing them off, that’s just a part of the block, so you don’t really think too much of it because that’s what you go on the field to do.”
Rang said he believes Smith will easily make the transition to the NFL, and that he has the talent to develop into a top offensive tackle.
“He has explosiveness to him that I think few tackles in this class have,” Rang said. “Especially at the second level. He will pop guys and de-cleat them. I mean, he’s throwing guys three yards down the field. And you rarely see that physicality and nastiness that he plays with anymore.”
Both Monroe and Smith could help Seattle, but with the salary either would command as a No. 4 pick, and the fact that Seattle’s brass might not believe neither is a franchise offensive tackle, the Seahawks could pass if one slips to No. 4.
Further, with the Seahawks switching to more of a zone-blocking scheme, Seattle will lean toward more fleet-footed lineman, so Smith would probably get the nod over Monroe.
“A good lineman is a good lineman, and we’ll always go with that philosophy,” Ruskell said. “But when you incorporate more zone blocking, you want a little more athletic guy. You want a guy who is a little more flexible and nimble to be able to contact players in space.
“If you’re just a big, refrigerator guy that can’t move but is a power guy, you’re not going to be as successful. So yeah, we’ll lean a little bit more toward that type of athlete.”
However, Ruskell also said left tackle is something that transcends your blocking scheme.
“Left tackle has to have certain skills, and I don’t care what your scheme is,” he said. “He has to be able to pass-pro (pass protect) right off the bat. And that takes a certain level of athleticism. So zone, straight man, it doesn’t matter. So for that position I don’t know if it changes so much. Everybody else I think you want a more nimble guy – a guy who can pull and a guy who can move around in space a little better.”
The Seahawks could also use depth in their interior line. With center Chris Spencer (back) and guards Mike Whale (shoulder) and Rob Sims (torn pectoral muscle) all coming off season-ending injuries, Seattle probably will look to draft a center or guard later in the draft.
Prospects they could consider include California center Alex Mack, Oklahoma guard Duke Robinson and Oregon center/guard Max Unger.
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OFFENSIVE LINEMEN TO CONSIDER
Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, reviews offensive linemen who might be available to the Seahawks during each round of this weekend's draft:
Round 1, fourth pick
Eugene Monroe, 6-5, 309, Virginia
Robs rationale: Safer, more versatile pick than Baylors Jason Smith.
Round 2, 37th pick
William Beatty, 6-6, 307, Connecticut
Robs rationale: Rare athleticism. Lacks strength, but can get to next level of defense and block down field.
Round 3, 68th pick
Jamon Meredith, 6-5, 304, South Carolina
Robs rationale: Versatile swing player could take the place of Pork Chop Womack./
Round 4, 105th pick
Xavier Fulton, 6-4, 302, Illinois
Robs rationale: Struggled with shoulder injuries, but flashes Top 100 ability.
Round 5, 137th pick
A.Q. Shipley, 6-1, 304, Penn State
Robs rationale: Two inches taller (and arms longer) and hed be a 2nd round pick.
Round 6, 178th pick
Augustus Parrish, 6-4, 303, Kent State
Robs rationale: Not as strong as youd like, but aggressive and athletic.
Round 7, 213th pick
Garrett Reynolds, 6-8, 309, North Carolina
Robs rationale: Over-achiever best suited to the right side.