This is the fourth in a series of position-by-position stories on the 2011 NFL Draft bynewyorkjets.com.
Now it seems like a distant memory, but it was just last spring when many people wondered aloud if the Jets offensive line was headed for trouble due to uncertainty at left guard. The Green & White released Alan Faneca, a perennial Pro Bowl player, and thus opened up a starting vacancy for either second-year backup Matt Slauson or rookie Vladimir Ducasse to claim.
While there were some shaky moments in the training camp for both, Slauson did enough to step into the LG role and he went on to make 16 regular-season and three postseason starts in a solid campaign. Ducasse, the second-round pick out of Massachusetts who spent most of his first season as a spectator, could be in the trenches a lot more in 2011.
The Jets continued to get younger up front when they released 33-year-old RT Damien Woody after his third year in green and white. That creates an opportunity for Ducasse, a 6'5", 325-pounder who finished his collegiate career with the Minutemen protecting quarterbacks at LT.
But New York's AFC representative is set at left tackle — and center, right guard and left guard for that matter. General manager Mike Tannenbaum and company have assembled arguably the best offensive line in football and it's a young fortress that is not about to crumble.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a two-time Pro Bowler selected No. 4 overall in 2006, is 27 and figures to have Mark Sanchez covered for the foreseeable future. Center Nick Mangold, a starter since being drafted No. 29 overall out of Ohio State in '06, is also 27 and has been selected to appear in the last three Pro Bowls. Then you have one of the most undervalued O-linemen in the league over at right guard when you talk about elder statesmen Brandon Moore, and he's not exactly a graybeard at 30.
It's almost an embarrassment of riches considering Bill Callahan, a masterful technician, mentors the group. But you can never have enough depth on either line and the Jets may elect to add some for Callahan later in the draft.
Four Tackles for Round 1?
A quartet of tackles all could come off the board in the first round.
Tyron Smith (6'5", 307) was a two-year starter at right tackle for USC and he most recently captured the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10's top offensive lineman following his junior season. He is projected by many as a left tackle on the next level even though all of his 24 starts for the Trojans came on the opposite side. Smith has long arms and good feet and is considered an accomplished pass protector with a huge upside.
Anthony Castonzo has come a long way since blocking for Matt Ryan as a 260-pound freshman right tackle. But the 6'7", 311-pounder has filled out over time and became a mainstay for the Boston College Eagles on the left side his final three seasons. The consensus is Castonzo still can add more weight to his frame and he will give an honest effort every time out.
Nate Solder was a rock throughout his tenure at Colorado. A monster at 6'8" and 319, Solder was the first offensive tackle at CU to earn All-America honors since 1979 and the first-ever Buff to garner consensus All-America honors at the position. Over the last three years, Colorado called 1,400 passing plays and he was charged with just five sacks over that time.
How fortunate have Wisconsin Badgers fans been recently? Joe Thomas gets selected No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2007 and then Gabe Carimi comes on board at tackle, develops into a fine player and eventually wins the Outland Trophy as a senior. Scouts like Carimi's toughness and the 6'7", 314-pounder likes to get after it in the run game.
Another Pouncey Front and Center
Quality centers don't grow on trees, so expect Florida's Mike Pouncey to be gone before the second round commences. Twin brother Maurkice excelled in his first pro season with the AFC-champion Steelers and was headed to the Pro Bowl before injuring his ankle against the Jets in January. Mike Pouncey (6'5", 303) shifted over from RG to C this past season for the Gators and can play any of the interior positions.
The guard action should heat up in the second round. Danny Watkins took a road less traveled to the pros. He didn't start playing organized football until 2007 at Butte (Calif.) Junior College, a school he selected because of its firefighting academy. But after earning JUCO All-America status as a sophomore, the 6'3", 310-pounder transferred to Baylor and started all 25 games at left tackle. The 26-year-old was selected No. 4 overall in the CFL Draft by the British Columbia Lions in May 2010, but he's likely to earn more coin in American as he transitions to the interior.
There is a good chance that Miami product Orlando Franklin will help an NFL team's rush attack. Although Franklin made 21 of his 22 starts at left guard for the 'Canes, the 6'6", 316-pounder is promoting his versatility as the draft approaches.
"If you ask me what position I'm more comfortable at, I'm definitely more comfortable at guard because I played it for the last three years," he told the Miami Herald. "But I can play tackle and I definitely showed people that I can get better at any position I play because I definitely improved towards the end of the year."
After his team celebrated a historic Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, TCU lineman Marcus Cannon should celebrate again later this month when he gets drafted by an NFL team. Cannon (6'5", 358) is an enormous prospect who has surprised people with his decent footwork. He was a three-time All-Mountain West Conference selection and an All-America third-teamer in 2010.
Georgia OL Clint Bolinghas some position versatility, but the 6'5", 308-pounder isn't overly athletic or powerful. Last season Boling started six times at LT, four at RG and was named to the watch list for the Outland Trophy.
Ijalana Stepping Up
It will be interesting to see how Benjamin Ijalana's game will transition to the NFL. Ijalana (6'4", 317) dominated at the FCS level for Villanova. Last season he helped a balanced offensive attack total 119.5 rushing yards on the ground and 181.3 through the air. A Hainesport, N.J., native, Ijalana started 53 contests in his career as the Wildcats captured a national championship in 2009 and advanced to the semifinals in 2010. He was a three-time All-CAA selection and a two-time consensus All-America first-teamer. While he played tackle in school, many believe he's best suited for guard.
Mississippi State T Derek Sherrod may have earned a degree in business with a 3.54 GPA, but he has immediate plans for a blue-collar job that requires hand-to-hand contact with the big uglies up front. Sherrod (6'5", 321) helped the Bulldogs average more than 200 yards per game on the ground the past two seasons. In 47 career games, he started 35 times. It would not be a shock if he snuck into the first round and some team would be very pleased to find him on their board in Round 2.
Rodney Hudson leaves Florida State as one of the most decorated players in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was just the seventh player in league history to earn all-ACC honors all four years and was a two-time recipient of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy. Hudson (6'2", 291) started 47 times at guard for the 'Noles, but his NFL future is likely at center.
"Hudson is not big, strong or fast, and he doesn't have the build to add much bulk," wrote Real Football, draft and personnel contributor to newyorkjets.com. "But playing on the interior, he plays with near-perfect technique and excellent footwork. "He can play guard or center and will make an impact sooner than people think."
James Carpenter, T, Alabama; Marcus Gilbert, T, Florida; John Moffitt,G, Wisconsin; Will Rackley, G, Lehigh, Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State; Lee Ziemba, T, Auburn.
Friday, March 25 —Defensive Linemen
Tuesday, March 29 —Linebackers
Friday, April 1 — Defensive Backs