This is the fifth in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.
This year's draft figures to uphold the status quo of recent first rounds when it comes to offensive tackles. *BleacherReport.com *points out that 11 OTs have been plucked in Round 1 the previous two drafts, an average of 5.5 each year.
And this year most independent draft gurus agree that five or six tackles will be ready-for-prime-time players when this year's Round 1 concludes late the night of April 22 or early the morning of the 23rd.
As for the order in which the first-round tackles will go off the board, that's as always subject to the value board of the team that's on the clock. But the sixpack seems to have separated into two groups of three.
Three Tackles in the Top Tier
At the top of many tackle lists is Oklahoma State's Russell Okung (6'5", 307), who some think could rise as high as Detroit at No. 2 and if not the Lions then perhaps Mike Shanahan and his penchant for finding top-notch O-linemen to block for his cavalcade of running backs.
Okung was a consensus All-American for the Cowboys, and while he's not as fast as recent early-drafted LTs, he's got athleticism aplenty and strength to boot — his 38 reps on the 225-pound bench at the combine was the most among tackles and second-best among all O-linemen behind Mitch Petrus' 45 reps.
But Trent Williams, Okung's statemate at Oklahoma, has his supporters to be the first tackle taken. Williams (6'5", 315) played both sides in his Sooners career, flipping back to LT to protect Sam Bradford's blind side in '09 and improving in his pass-blocking as a senior. He's not as strong as Okung but faster, and his 34.5" vertical jump was the best among O-linemen at the combine.
And Iowa's Bryan Bulaga(6'6", 314) is throwing his hat into the top-tackle ring as well. Bulaga bounced back quickly from a thyroid condition that cost him three early-season games last year, his junior season, to compile a strong season of blocking right on through the Hawkeyes' Orange Bowl win over George Tech to earn Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. As a super soph LT, he helped open holes for Shonn Greene to explode through en route to becoming the Jets' third-round pick a year ago.
Some team (the Bills at No. 9?) might like Bulaga more than Williams. For what it's worth, Okung, Bulaga and Williams are the three tackles among the 16 players the NFL has invited to attend the NFL draft in New York.
RU's Davis: Red Flags but Plenty of Punch
On to the second threesome tier. Rutgers' Anthony Davis(6'5", 323) appears to have patched up any damage he did by not working at the Scarlet Knights' pro day (due to a virus and a sore hamstring) with a strong private workout. He's being pegged as a mid-first-rounder by many, with some red flags attached but also with strong size/athleticism ratio and a hellacious hand punch.
Nos. 5A and 5B are Maryland's Bruce Campbelland Southern Cal's Charles Brown. Campbell (6'7", 314) has some experience issues but also had a rocking combine topped by his 4.85 time in the 40, the fastest speed by an O-lineman, just a chesthair ahead of Trent Williams' 4.88.
And Brown first gained recognition in 2008 stepping up as a first-time starter and protecting Mark Sanchez's blind side. Then his progress continued last season, one measure of which was his receiving of the Pac-10's Morris Trophy as the conference's best blocker, awarded by perhaps his toughest critics — opposing defensive linemen.
Iupati, Pouncey: Interior Impact
The interior line positions are thinner than the tackle horde but a few candidates are first-round-worthy after a perceived dropoff.
The top guard is clearly Mike Iupatiof Idaho. Born in American Samoa, he and his family moved to California for his high school career. Then it was on to the Vandals, for whom he started 34 games in three years and in '09 became only the second non-BCS-school player to be named an Outland Trophy finalist in the award's 64 years of existence.
Big, powerful and athletic, Iupati (6'5", 331) reminds some of Cowboys G-T Larry Allen, a 1990s NFL All-Decade Team selection, and others of Seahawk/Viking Steve Hutchinson, who's been to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
The consensus top center is Maurkice Pouncey(6'5", 304). He's the Rimington Award winner as the top center in college football and he made 40 starts in his three UF seasons. Most of those starts came in front of QB Tim Tebow, and most were right alongside Gators right guard Mike Pouncey, Maurkice's identical twin brother.
"I'd often say to one of them, 'Turn around. Which one are you?' " said a Florida teammate. "I still don't know."
We're pretty sure Maurkice will be the Pouncey drafted most likely in this year's first round. It'll be one of the few times he's been separated from Mike on the football field.
"This is one of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life," Maurkice told Gatorzone.com. "I'm glad my brother and I made the decision to be Gators. God gave us the knowledge, strength and ability to be great players. But it's now time for my brother and me to part ways."
A Few More Good Guards
One other interior lineman who could climb into the top 64 is Illinois guard Jon Asamoah (6'4", 305), who didn't work at the combine or at the Illini's pro day due to a shoulder blade hairline fracture before his private workout for NFL scouts last week. But NFL.com's Mike Mayock says, "I like him in the second round and he should start immediately. He's nasty and he finishes."
Two other O-linemen worth mentioning are Indiana's Rodger Saffoldand Massachusetts' Vladimir Ducasse. Saffold (6'5", 316) overcame injuries in '08 and penalties in '09 with a strong postseason of all-star games and workouts. "Ducasse from UMass" was born in Haiti and has excellent size (6'5", 332). Both are listed as tackles with strong possibilities to shift to guard in the pros.
Jared Veldheer, T, Hillsdale; John Jerry, G-T, Mississippi; Ed Wang, T, Virginia Tech; Matt Tennant, C, Boston College; J.D. Walton, C, Baylor; Selvish Capers, T, Mississippi State; Mike Johnson, G, Alabama; Mitch Petrus, G, Arkansas.