PACKER DRAFT 2009 OFFENSIVE TACKLE Jerry Gilbert 4/9/2009
The last time the Green Bay Packers were unusually successful in drafting offensive linemen was in 2000, the year they drafted tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Each man started and played well as a rookie, and they have been fixtures on the line till now. In second place would be 2006, which brought Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll. The latter three players have all started, Colledge and Spitz from year one, but none have brought the every week consistency that have made Tauscher and Clifton so valuable to the franchise. Inconsistent play in the middles of the line has resulted in the addition of a contender or two in every draft, the most recent being guard and possible right tackle Josh Sitton and tackle Breno Giacomini who were drafted last year. Although both Allen Barbre in 2007 and Colledge the year before were drafted as potential left tackles, neither now appears to be the heir apparent to Chad Clifton. Given his age and gimpy knees, a candidate to replace Clifton at some point is a focus of this draft.
Free Agent guard and center Duke Preston was added this off-season. He will join the competition for the three interior positions, which makes it quite unlikely that the Packers will be looking for a center or guard in the 2009 Draft. On the other hand, right tackle will be a position of concern because Mark Tauscher is injured, aging and not under contract. The injury and contact status are related because it is hard to judge his value until the quality of his recovery is known. A few seasons ago, the Packers gave Tauscher a new contract while he was on injured reserve, but that was a different injury and he was 3 years younger. There is a danger that contract negotiation could suddenly break down, and the veteran tackle would sign with another team simply because his and their opinion of this recovery differs from the opinion held by the Packer coaches. It would be shame to lose the popular Wisconsin native, but draft strategy will have to include the possibility of needing a new starting right tackle on day one.
Happily this draft is considered to be very strong at the position of offensive tackle. Two outstanding performers, Jason Smith of Baylor and Eugene Monroe of Virginia, are almost certain to be drafted in the first 8 picks of the opening round Two other highly rated but more risky talents will probably be picked between 8 and 16. Michael Oher, 6-5 330 Mississippi, was a consensus top ten pick until the Senior Bowl where his reputation of being a player who does not try hard on every play was confirmed on the practice field. Oher was badly beaten by very ordinary pass rushers. The other candidate is Alabama Junior Andre Smith 6-4 332, although he played at over 340 in 2008, the year he received the Outland Trophy as the best lineman in the country. Smith has played at over 370 in his career, and the ability to control his weight is an issue in drafting him so high. Amateur draft experts have downgraded Smith for his immature approach to the Combine, but no one really knows what general managers are thinking. Smith showed up out of shape, and left without participating in any of the physical tests He has been compared to Leonard Davis of the Cowboys the all-pro pass protector who is also a devastating run blocker. It would be a risk to select Andre Smith at number nine, but if he applies himself, he could replace Tauscher as a rookie and probably move to the left side in the future. Smith could be the player to run behind on third and one as well as a best friend for Aaron Rogers for years to come. He could also eat himself out of the league. Look for Mel Kiper to devote a lot of time to Andre Smith on draft day. He will be worth talking about, and he might also be a Green Bay Packer.
Assuming the Packers do not select a tackle with the first choice, there will still be candidates in the later rounds. Jamon Meredith, 6-5 302 South Carolina, played left tackle for one and a half seasons at South Carolina before helping his team start the five best players by moving to left guard as a Senior. At the East West Shrine game they tried him at right tackle, which he had played as a freshman and sophomore, and in the game itself, Meredith and his teammates opened hole after gaping hole as they manhandled a pretty good group of defenders. Meredith also impressed the scouts all week at practice. He was solid at the combine and Gil Brandt reports excellent position drills at his pro-day. He is also an academic all-star and smart offensive linemen are in demand. Meredith is another player who could begin as a rookie on the right side and later move over to the left tackle. He may be gone before pick 41.
In rounds three or four, the sure fire left tackles are harder to find, but some will recall that many scouts thought Chad Clifton was not right for the position. The Green Bay scouting staff has not been successful in the past few years unearthing a second day left tackle, but it is likely that they are emphasizing such a search right now. There have been reports that Green Bay is looking at Gerald Cadogan, 6-5 310 Penn State. Cadogan is another academic all America type who should have little difficulty learning a system. A fine technician through out his career, he is reported to have added some attitude in a very successful final season. Some observers think he cannot handle left tackle at the next level; others say he can. We may get a chance to see what Ted Thompson thinks if Cadogan is available when Green Bay is on the clock.
Troy Kropog, 6-6 309 Tulane, is another technician with good size who was an effective left tackle in college. Again there is a difference of opinion as to his ability to play the difficult position on the next level. An effective run blocker in college, Kropog led current Bears running back Matt Forte into the end zone about 6 times as a junior, and after bulking up before his last season, Kropog added 14 touchdown resulting blocks in 2008. If the Packers rate him as a left tackle, Kropog could be selected in rounds three or four. But for the recurrence of an old injury at the Combine, Illinois left tackle Xavier Fulton 6-4 302 would be another third round offensive tackle prospect. Fulton began his college career on defense before becoming an All Big Ten fixture at left tackle for a prolific offense. Scouts got a good look at him at the Senior Bowl, and someone will draft the big tackle; the question is when. Green Bay probably has too many holes to fill to take such a player this season.
Kent State of the Mid America Conference produced left tackle Augustus Parrish 6-4 303. Parrish was on the other side of the line with Jamon Meredith as they led running backs down the field in the Shrine game. A three-year starter at left tackle, Parrish may not have the quick feet needed to play that position in the NFL. On the other hand, his skills as a cut blocker along with long arms and good experience may help him overcome some limitations in order to be a functional left or right tackle at the next level. He was pretty effective against good college speed rushers in the Shrine event. Down the road at Ball State is another experienced left tackle. Robert Brewster 6-5 319 was a four-year starter in a spread offense in which he began each play standing up. It will be an adjustment to learn the techniques of operating from a three-point stance. He is likely to be available in the late rounds.
I always like to find at least one small school candidate. Nick Collins, Al Harris, Jason Hunter and several other players remind us that football players can come from any size program. Sam Allen 6-5 296 played offensive tackle for Grand Valley State. A three-year starter at left tackle, Allen was chosen to play in the Cactus Bowl. Noteworthy about Allen is that, at his pro day, he ran a 40 below 4.9, and he seems to generally cover the distance in about 4.9 seconds. His ten-yard split of 1.67 compares favorably with much smaller players. He also totaled 24 on the bench press, which is about average for offensive linemen. Fans may remember an offensive tackle that stayed around for at least one season in Green Bay. Josh Bourke was signed as a free agent from Grand Valley State.
Offensive tackle is one position the Packers are likely to target in the upcoming draft. They may end up with a pure right tackle to cover the possible loss of Mark Tauscher. I think it would make more sense to draft a tackle who has the skills to play on either side. With all the available talent in this draft, Ted Thompson is likely to find such a player.