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NFL Draft Preview: Offensive Tackles

NFL General Managers beware: D'Brickashaw is coming over for dinner, and he's hungry.

Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the highest rated OT in the upcoming draft, continued to meet with NFL camps this week.  Don't be surprised if Ferguson, whom scouts' only concern is his playing weight, orders a third, fourth, or fifth helping at the dinner table.

Ferguson is listed at 6'5 7/8", 305, which for today's NFL tackle standards, is below weight (The average weight of the 17 offensive tackles chosen in the first rounds from 2000-2005 was 328 pounds).  Don't let the scale cause concern, as Ferguson's athleticism and foot speed tend to exceed the importance of an extra 15-25 pounds.  Among his extremely impressive arsenal of talents, Ferguson ran the 40 in 5.07 during his first pro day workout, has a wingspan of 7'3", and has disciplined his balance and technique through countless hours of taekwondo and shodokan (a type of karate). 

If Ferguson's history of gaining weight is any indication of whether he can pack on those necessary pounds, then he has a flourishing future ahead.  Ferguson came to UVA as a lanky 245-pound freshman in 2002.  Since then, he has been on various successful diets, even gaining 30 pounds between his junior and senior seasons alone.  Part of his diet that year included drinking a six-pack of Ensure Plus protein drinks per day.

Also at Virginia, Ferguson gained freshman All-America honors, put together a sack-less sophomore season, earned All-ACC honors as a junior, and topped off his career with an All-America senior season.

Much of the gridiron world agrees that Ferguson is the 2006 draft's best offensive tackle, but there's nothing better for bragging rights – and ratings – than to have someone disagree.  That someone is Southern California's offensive tackle Winston Justice.  While on a visit to the Eagles camp (ironically, Ferguson was there as an invited prospect as well), Justice, backed by his dazzling Pro Day workout numbers, told the *Daily News, *that he considered himself better than the highly touted Virginia Cavalier OT. 

Is Justice simply causing a stir to enhance his draft position?  That's up for others to decide.  Enhancing his draft status, are indeed, those April 2nd Pro Day numbers:  Justice put up 38 lifts on the 225-pound bench press (compared to Ferguson's 26), ran his short shuttle drill in 4.42 seconds (Ferguson's: 4.89), ran the three-cone drill in 7.27 (Ferguson's: 7.64), and jumped a 39" vertical (nine inches over Ferguson's 30").  Add these figures into an already impressive three-year resume of protecting and blocking for two Heisman trophy winners in QB Matt Leinart and RB Reggie Bush, and Justice makes a pretty good argument for himself.

Unfortunately for the redshirt junior from Long Beach, California, some of his off-field performances haven't been very appealing.  Winston's student conduct violations in 2004 grounded him for the entire season. Although he has shown no ill-effects from it, he had arthroscopic surgery on a dislocated right shoulder following a tremendous freshman year, in which he started in 12 games.  We can anticipate the 6'6 1/8", 319-pound Justice to don a cap and jersey before the 15th pick.

Marcus McNeill, the mountain of man from Auburn, stands tall at 6'7 3/8" and remains unyielding at 334 pounds.  McNeill's size numbers immediately impress scouts only to become overwhelmed by his astounding quickness and speed, which he proved at the Combine, running a 5.07 in the 40.  The big fella's ability to quickly set his feet when taking on speedy pass rushers is perhaps his most significant attribute.  Not many tackles with this size can keep this amazing quickness. This, unfortunately, appears to ring true with McNeill at times. His technique tends to become sloppy, including his explosiveness and his upright leverage. Many experts agree that his ability to control his weight may be a factor.  These critics could eat these words as McNeill demonstrates to have a strong desire to improve, especially with a strict NFL dieting regime.

Mr. Consistency, Andrew Whitworth, spent his last four years mangling the line of scrimmage with a nasty attitude.  This trench terror may be the top run-blocker in the draft not just due to his prototype 6'7", 334-pound body, but also because of his malicious demeanor. During his collegiate career, he started in all 52 games, setting an LSU record, while also ranking him second in NCAA history for games started.  Whitworth never missed a game or practice due to injury in his five years on campus.  Whitworth owns some hardware too, earning third-team All-American honors by the AP after his senior season, while getting first-team All-SEC for his masterful junior and senior year seasons.  His March 16th Pro Day workout was limited to just the three-cone drill in which he finished with a 7.68, comparable to D'Brickashaw Ferguson's 7.64.  Clocking in with a 40 time of 5.15 earlier this year, Whitworth appears to have average speed, but his tenacity and coachabilty shouldn't be overlooked.

Other notable tackles…

  • *Eric Winston, Miami: *6'6 5/8", 310 pounds.  Ran very good 40 at 4.94.  Gifted athlete (went to college as a TE), has great frame with potential to add weight.  Smart and competitive with amazing feet, can pull and block with the best.  Completed just 22 lifts at his Pro Day. Knee injury in 2004 proves to still affect some play. 
  • Jonathan Scott, Texas: 6'6 3/8", 322 pounds.  Paved the way for one of the best offenses in the nation last year.  Ran a 5.31 in the 40 earlier this year. With more work in the weight room (17 lifts at pro day), Scott will greatly improve his already athletic dominance on the line. 
  • Jeremy Trueblood, Boston College:6'8", 316 pounds. Comes from a very rich BC tradition of great linemen.  Clocked a 5.25 in the 40 earlier this year.  Very smart working defenders, leads, pulls, and blocks well. Not a very gifted natural athlete; can have sloppy leverage control. 
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