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There's talent at tackle


Ed. note—The following is the fifth installment in a nine-part series previewing the 2006 NFL draft. This installment features offensive linemen.

An impressive group of tackles tops a solid crop of offensive linemen in this year's NFL draft. What interest will the Jaguars have in an offensive lineman after having signed veterans Mike Williams and Stockar McDougle in free agency?

"Except for the center position, it's a good crop," draft analyst Tony Pauline said of this year's offensive linemen. "You could have six or seven starters come from the tackle class. It has a lot of potential."

The top offensive line prospect is Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a 6-6, 312-pound hulk who is blessed with top athletic skills and footwork. Ferguson is a natural left tackle and projects as a top blind-side pass-protector who can also pull along the line of scrimmage. Ferguson has been compared to Jonathan Ogden and needs to improve his run-blocking, as Ogden did coming out of college. Pauline believes Ferguson will be drafted in the top five picks and will be an immediate starter.

Reggie Bush has run behind a dominant offensive line the past couple of years and the top blocker at USC is Winston Justice, 6-6, 320, who's decided to enter the draft as a junior. Justice is a tremendous athlete; maybe the most athletic of all the linemen. He did 38 reps at 225 pounds and posted a 39-inch vertical jump at the USC pro day. Justice played right and left tackle equally well at USC and that versatility is pushing him up boards. The only knock on Justice is a one-year suspension for an incident involving a pellet gun. Pauline thinks Justice could move into the top dozen picks.

Miami's Eric Winston, OT, 6-6, 310, offers a lot of upside. Winston suffered a major knee injury in his junior season and underwent ACL surgery. It was thought he would've been a top 12 pick in the 2005 draft had he not been injured. He did not appear to be fully recovered from the surgery last season but made gains late in the season. He's a good athlete and a former tight end. Winston has the skills to be a terrific left tackle and some team is likely to pick him on the promise of what he'll become when he's completely recovered. Pauline thinks Winston is a late-first round, early-second round candidate.

No offensive lineman has climbed boards more dramatically than Ohio State center Nick Mangold, 6-3, 300. Mangold is efficient, durable and intelligent. He was underrated coming into his senior season, then turned in a solid performance during the season and followed that with a sensational postseason. He's a late-first round candidate.

Auburn offensive tackle Marcus McNeill might be the most dominant blocker of them all. At 6-8, 336, McNeill annihilated the opposition last season. If he gets his hands on you, it's over. McNeill is a surprisingly good athlete for a guy his size. He can play left or right tackle. The problem is that McNeill has a bad back and could be a major medical risk. He rarely practiced last season. Any team drafting McNeill will have to be convinced the problem can be fixed and that it's not degenerative. He could go in the latter part of the first round, the early part of the second round or even later.

Max Jean-Gilles, 6-4, 350, of Georgia is this draft's top guard. He's effective in space and can be dominant in straight-ahead blocking. Jean-Gilles is a solid athlete who's also played left tackle. He opened huge holes for the Georgia running game and will be a solid pick for some team in the second round.

Oklahoma's Davin Joseph, 6-2, 311, is perfect for a team that doesn't pull or trap. Joseph is an accomplished drive-blocking guard who offers no potential to be anything more than he is, which will be just fine for a team that wants a permanent fixture inside. He's a mid-second round guy.

Daryn Colledge, 6-4, 299, did it all at Boise State since his freshman year. He excelled in every facet of the game. Colledge has good footwork in pass-blocking and a nasty attitude as a run-blocker. The only knock is that he's undersized. He'll probably have to move from tackle to guard. The latter part of the second round is his spot.

Pitt's Charles Spencer, 6-5, 352, has risen sharply on the strength of an excellent performance at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine. Spencer is a former defensive lineman who is still learning to be a blocker. He moved to left tackle last season and wasn't great, but he clearly can be a dominant force at guard and offers great upside as a second-round prospect. He needs to improve his conditioning.

Deuce Lutui, 6-3, 335, is another of those road-grader USC linemen. Lutui is a dominant force who drives defenders into the ground. He rarely gives up an inch of room, but he's heavy-legged and not effective in space. He's likely to be a late-second round pick.

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