Eagles Draft Preview - Offensive Tackle

We started our look at the Eagles draft at defensive  end, so I thought it would make sense to jump over to their offensive counterparts... Offensive Tackles.

On the roster

The Eagles' starters at OT are the same guys that have been starting for almost the entire Andy Reid era. Jon Runyan & Williams Thomas, two multiple time pro bowlers and the anchors of the offensive line. The problem is that they're 35 & 34 years old respectively and both in the final year of their contracts. It's likely, if not certain, that we'll have two brand new starting OTs next year.

Who will they be? Option #1 is 2006 2nd round pick Winston Justice. His first NFL action was last year against the Giants when he was abused by Osi Umenyoria to the tune of 6 sacks. Maybe only 4 were directly his fault, but that hardly makes it okay. Justice had a chance to redeem himself in the final week of the season against the Bills when Jon Runyan went down during the game with an injury. This time at right tackle, where he played at USC, he fared much better. Still, it's fair to say most fans don't harbor a whole lot of confidence in Justice, although at least one Eagles blogger does...

The way I see it, Justice is still an unknown. I'm not going to make an entire judgment on a player's career after one game. As bad as it was, it was just one game and we're too quick to forget how awful the rest of the Eagles' O-line was that night. This is a big year for Winston though. He's likely to get a ton of playing time in preseason, and now that he's in year 3 it's certainly time for him to step up.

The other options for the future at OT are names you know pretty well. Shawn Andrews was a tackle in college and has been converted to one of the better guards in the game. Still, tackle is the more premier position and it's certainly possible that the Eagles would move Andrews out to RT to replace Runyan. Same deal with Todd Herremans, who was also a tackle in college. Many people still say that the 6'6" Herremans would do better on the outside as a Tackle where he could better use his height to an advantage. On the Eagles website, both Andrews and Herremans are listed as "Guard/Tackle." With the emergence of Max Jean Gilles at OG, it almost seems to easy to move one of those two out to OT and slide Max Jean right in at guard...

In the draft

So, after reading that if you're saying "We could really use a big time offensive tackle in this draft" you're in luck! Experts say that this projects to be one of the best offensive tackle classes in recent memory. Rivals.com gives the class an "A" grade and Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said  he thinks he's looking at the best class of offensive tackles in an NFL draft in years, or maybe even decades.

It's the best group I've seen in 24 years collectively, and it was a good group before the juniors were added to it," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "Those guys enhanced what we really think is a strong group. The majority of them can play on the left side or play both sides. It's unusual to have that many guys that big and that athletic and that productive. I think for the ones that are on the right (side) some of them have actually played on the left before and they probably have that flexibility. Just to be able to play the left (side) is such a premium. I think you can get a tackle in (the first) three rounds."

Mock drafts have as many as 5 or 6 OTs going in the first round. The top names are Jake Long - Michigan, Ryan Clady - Boise St., Jeff Otah - Pittsburgh, and Chris Williams - Vanderbilt, who the Eagles are reportedly interested in and interviewed at the senior bowl. Long & Clady seem to be the consensus top 2, but the other 3 will almost certainly be first round picks as well. Other possible first round picks are Sam Baker - USC & Gosder Cherilus - Boston College.

Guys like Cherilus and Baker could also drop into the second round along side solid OTs like Carl Nicks - Nebraska, Oniel Cousins - UTEP(met with at senior bowl), & Tony Hills - Texas. If teams start snapping up OTs early and often there could be very well be a run on the position that sees all or most of these guys gone by the end of round two.

Whether the Eagles decide to use a first day pick on a OT depends mostly on how they evaluate their own roster and what if any long term plans they've already made. It could very well have been their plan all along to move Andrews or Herremans out to OT, and if they still see Winston Justice as a future starter... then the OT position is set. If they've lost faith in Justice or at least have some serious doubts and if a guy like Chris Williams was still sitting there at #19 and Andy really loved the kid... would he pass him up? That said, if this is such a deep draft at OT, do you need to spend a first round to get a quality guy? Perhaps the Eagles could go after a more top heavy position in round one and still grab a quality OT later on? This is going to very interesting to watch come draft weekend.

What do you guys think? Do we need an OT?

Update [2008-3-21 6:33:32 by JasonB]: Updating some guys the Eagles have spoken with or worked out. They met with Oneil Cousins & Chris Williams who I previously mentioned, but also had a private workout Heath Benedict from Newberry who they also met at the senior bowl. Benedict is a giant at 6'5 326, but went to a small school in Newberry after transferring from Tennessee. They've also had a private workout with Devin Clark - New Mexico, who is projected to go somewhere in the middle rounds.

Update [2008-3-26 23:27:57 by JasonB]: Pretty shocking and sad update. Heath Benedict, one of these players the Eagles interviewed, was found dead.

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