Quarterbacks, left tackles are premium positions in the NFL draft

Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, above, or Oklahoma's Trent Williams could be an option for the Redskins, who pick fourth.
Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, above, or Oklahoma's Trent Williams could be an option for the Redskins, who pick fourth. (Scott Boehm/getty Images)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2010

This week's NFL draft will be about many things, from its new three-day format to Tim Tebow intrigue to debates about whether defensive tackles, like Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Okalahoma's Gerald McCoy, and a safety, like Tennessee's Eric Berry, are worthy of top-five picks.

But it also will be, in large part, about the players at the two positions that perhaps have become the most valued in the most passing-friendly era in NFL history, quarterback and left tackle.

Front-office executives have become increasingly convinced that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford will be the top overall selection -- either by the St. Louis Rams or by a team that trades up for the Rams' pick -- when the draft begins Thursday night, with the opening round having been moved to prime time under the revised setup. Two of the major story lines as the rest of the first round unfolds will be quarterback-related -- when Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen is taken and whether Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, comes off the board in the opening round at all.

"I think Sam Bradford is the best quarterback in this draft and deserves to go first in this draft," said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. "He's comparable to an Eli Manning and a Carson Palmer, those kinds of guys. Clausen has the ability to go in the first half of the first round. He's a productive player. A lot is being made about the guy's personality. Teams are going to have to make that decision for themselves. I've talked to some teams that met with him and liked him. We'll have to see."

There has been considerable public debate among draft observers about whether Clausen will go, as the likely second quarterback taken, in the top 10, or plummet through the first-round order as other quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn did in previous drafts.

"This guy is not going to be overwhelmed when he gets to the NFL," former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said, mentioning that Clausen played in a pro-style offensive system in college. "Somebody is going to take comfort in that. But I don't think Jimmy Clausen is worthy of a first-round pick. Early second? I'm okay with that. But when there was talk about the Redskins, before the [Donovan] McNabb trade, taking him with the fourth pick, I didn't see that at all."

Another leading story line will be whether there is a first-round run on left tackles similar to what happened in the 2008 draft, when eight offensive tackles were taken in that draft's first 26 selections. Not all of those tackles had been projected as first-round choices going into that draft. But once the offensive tackles started coming off the board early and often, teams that needed a left tackle figured that they'd better get one before they all were gone. That possibly could happen again.

"I do think it's a tackle-dominated first round," Casserly said.

The Redskins, if they're unable to trade down for more picks, could get it going with the fourth overall choice by taking Oklahoma State's Russell Okung or Oklahoma's Trent Williams to protect McNabb's blind side. The Redskins' pick, if not for the McNabb trade, might have served as a case study on whether a team needs to get a young franchise quarterback or a reliable left tackle first, but many in the league say they think the trade makes it a virtual certainty that the club will have to address its left tackle void with its top selection.

Okung and Williams are projected as likely top-10 selections. Bryan Bulaga of Iowa and Anthony Davis of Rutgers also are considered probable first-rounders, although Casserly said they could end up playing either right tackle or left tackle in the NFL. Maryland's Bruce Campbell intrigued scouts as well after his eye-catching performance in the workouts at the NFL scouting combine. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declared Campbell a likely top-10 choice, while other projections have him going later in the opening round.

It is a good time, after all, to be a left tackle, with the movie about the Baltimore Ravens' Michael Oher, "The Blind Side," having been highly successful. But it's also the aftermath of a Super Bowl in which two-high powered offenses with standout quarterbacks, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, faced off on the sport's biggest stage without a celebrated left tackle in either lineup. The starting left tackles in the Super Bowl were the Saints' Jermon Bushrod, who filled in all season for injured Pro Bowler Jammal Brown, and the Colts' Charlie Johnson. Was that an indication that the value of a star-quality left tackle has become overstated in recent years?

Several analysts said no.

"How many quarterbacks like that are there?" former NFL coach Dan Reeves said. "If you don't have a Peyton Manning or a Drew Brees or a left-handed quarterback, you'd better put emphasis on your left tackle. You'd better have that position because that's still the quickest way to get the quarterback, on that blind side."

Casserly expressed similar sentiments.

"You have two exceptional quarterbacks there," Casserly said. "They don't necessarily have to play with a premier left tackle. But if you have a premier left tackle, you can take the edge there and help the other guys on the offensive line. It's always been a critical position. When you look at the Redskins and those Super Bowl teams, everyone talks about the three different quarterbacks to win Super Bowls. But we only had two left tackles -- Joe Jacoby and Jim Lachey, both Pro Bowl players. It's rare what we've seen in the last few years, with all the left tackles good enough to go in the first round."

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