With just a little over two months until the annual NFL draft, the college scouting and evaluation process is in full swing. The NFL combine event will be held Thursday, Feb. 24 through March 1st at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

More than 300 top prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft will be invited to participate at the event. Hopefully, these evaluations will give all fans some ideas of who to focus on at each position of need. Be sure to comment and let me know who you might be interested in.

Position: Offensive Line

Need Ranking: 2nd

Top 5 Prospects –

  1. Nate Solder: 6’9 – 315, Tackle (Colorado) – Solder is an absolute monster. He has a superior frame with great footwork and agility to take on defenders. While he won’t overpower many defenders, he uses his hands and positions himself well against opposing players. He is very sound fundamentally and does a great job in space. There was not much separation between lineman coming into the draft evaluation process but, Soldier’s terrific Senior Bowl moved him to the head of the pack.
  2. Anthony Castonzo: 6’7 – 292, Tackle (Boston College) - A very strong and talented tackle. From my evaluation of Castonzo, he can play on both sides of the offensive line (LT or RT). I feel the strongest part of his game is run blocking. He is a mauler in the run game and great at the point of attack. Castonzo started 41 games at tackle while at Boston College and proved he could do everything the coaching staff asked of him. I really like his attitude and work ethic. He was noticed during the Senior Bowl (along with Nate Soldier) which may have moved his stock into the mid – late first round range. A strong combine should confirm or deny that thought. A very promising prospect and could be a franchise left tackle when the evaluation process is complete.
  3. Gabe Carimi: 6’7 – 327, Tackle (Wisconsin) - Carimi is another big collegiate left tackle. He is excellent in the run game and has a physical mentality that reminds me of Logan Mankins. However, I am not sure he can continue to play left tackle in the NFL based on his athleticism and footwork. He is a little raw in his technique and could use some coaching but has superior potential. I feel he could step into an offensive line unit on the right side immediately but he will need time to develop into a pro left tackle.
  4. Tyron Smith: 6’5 – 285, Tackle (USC) – A physical specimen and a solid tackle. Smith is one prospect who could rocket up the draft boards during the workout process. He is an athletic, chiseled beast that is a strong pass blocker. He has the agility to block defensive rushers and the long arms to hold them off. Sometimes he relies on his agility too much, but he keeps good balance and has great footwork. Only real concern for Smith, is he has only played on the right side. He seems to have all the tools to develop into a left tackle, but that may take some time. In any case, he is a starting quality right tackle from day one.

  5. Rodney Hudson: 6’2 – 282, Guard (Florida State) – I will start off with Hudson’s biggest liability, his size. NFL teams want their lineman around 300 pounds, so he will need to gain some weight in order to do so. However, this young man should have no problem adding the weight while keeping is agility. He has great feet, works well with his hands, and is the only guard prospect that is a potential first rounder. Technically and fundamentally, he is NFL ready in my opinion. People assume Mike Pouncey is just as good as his brother Maurkice, but in fact, Hudson is the top prospect and has a very bright future.

My Favorite Prospect: Nate Solder: 6’9 – 315 (Colorado) – I believe Solder could be a great addition to the Patriots line. The team needs another young stud besides Sebastian Vollmer. He is best suited at left tackle but could potentially be a right tackle if Vollmer moves to the left side. He could be there when the Patriots pick at the 28th spot and would be a steal. Soldier and Vollmer could be two monster pillars of the Patriots offensive line for many years to come.

Sleeper Prospect: Stefen Wisniewski: 6’3 – 302 (Penn State) – Wisniewski has a high football IQ and is very versatile. He can play all interior-line positions and is a sturdy blocker. If he was stronger, he could be drafted higher, but for now he is cast as a late second round talent. He reminds me of Dan Connelly and if the Patriots decide to move Connelly into a starting role for 2011, Wisniewski could add depth for the future.

Analysis: This might not be the “sexy” pick fans will want, but it is a necessary one. Yes, the Patriots offensive line was voted the best in football in 2010 and has been a top three unit for many seasons but, age is starting to become a factor. One could make the argument defensive line is the second biggest need. But with the uncertain future of over half of the starting unit, I believe this should be a draft weekend priority. Matt Light (34), Logan Mankins (contract dispute), Dan Koppen (31), Stephen Neal (34). The only bright spot of the future is Sebastian Vollmer. If Logan Mankins leaves the team, the offensive line has all the ingredients for a recipe of disaster. This team needs to build in the trenches and protect their most prized possession, Tom Brady. This is a very “deep” class for offensive lineman, so the Pats could have an opportunity to add quality players to their roster well into the second round. And while there is not a real clear cut number one lineman, there are many players with great skill.

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