*In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, it was the top three tackles. Here's a snapshot of the best of the rest in alphabetical order. *
Sam Baker, USC (6-foot-5, 309) - Even though Baker was slowed by a hamstring injury in 2007, he still managed to put together an All-American campaign, marking the third season he's earned that honor. He was a four-year starter at left tackle, anchoring the Trojans' offensive line for their explosive offense. As a senior, Baker sat out three games and missed parts of two others, while still piling up 88 knockdowns and 12 touchdown-resulting blocks, helping USC average a whopping 434.9 yards per game. The Tustin, Calif. native could have come out last year, but he decided return for his final season.
In his own words:(Baker on staying for his senior campaign) "I think it was definitely the right decision. Even if my draft stock is lower, if I get drafted lower, the things that I've learned from the adversity I've faced this year will serve me the rest of my life. I have no regrets about that."
Gosder Cherilus, Boston College (6-foot-7, 314) - After redshirting his freshman year, Cherilus went on to start every game in a BC uniform - at right tackle his first three seasons before moving to left tackle as a senior. He is known as an aggressive lineman that posted 156 knockdown blocks and 22 touchdown-resulting blocks his final two years at BC. But, some scouts have pointed to his lateral quickness at not being ideal for the demanding left tackle spot, perhaps making him a better fit on the right side.
In his own words:(Cherilus on playing both right and left tackle) "At the end of the day, each team needs a right tackle and a left tackle. I feel like I can play either. I played three years at right and one at left, and I was very successful at either. I've played right my whole life and if that's where they want me, that's what I'll do. If it's left, and that's what teams need, that's where I'll go."
Anthony Collins, Kansas (6-foot-5, 317) - Collins enrolled at Kansas as a high school basketball player and owning only one year of football experience. Still, he went on to start two out of his three years in Lawrence, his sophomore campaign at right tackle and at left tackle as a junior. The underclassman earned All-American and All-Big 12 Conference honors last season after only allowing six sacks and notching two penalties. Collins was truly the lynchpin in the line for a surprising Kansas squad that nearly competed for the national title.
In his own words:(Collins on focusing on basketball in high school) "I was a basketball player. I thought I could make it in basketball. I thought I could play basketball. It turns out I couldn't jump worth nothing."
King Dunlap, Auburn (6-foot-8, 310)- The former teammate of Ravens guard Ben Grubbs has the rare size and a huge reach that can make scouts drool. But, questions about his work ethic and consistency could have him flagged by some teams. After starting all 13 contests on the left side in 2006, he was actually benched in favor of a freshman three games into his senior campaign. Despite his size, Dunlap is mobile and athletic, which could make him a project pick.
In his own words:(Dunlap on Auburn's recent tradition of talented offensive linemen) "We just had a lot of guys leave. My junior year there was four seniors, and I was the only starter coming back. And I kind of had an injury. But those guys down there are great guys, young guys. They'll be playing together for a while."
Carl Nicks, Nebraska (6-foot-5, 340)- Nicks came out of virtually nowhere last season for the Cornhuskers. He spent time in junior college before coming to Nebraska as a backup tackle in 2006. He saw spot duty that year, but was promoted the following campaign to anchor the left tackle spot. Nicks then 11 of 12 games, helping Nebraska rank eighth nationally in passing offense and 13th in total offense. He showed surprising athleticism at the Combine, running a 5.18 40-yard dash (only one hundredth of a second behind Michigan standout Jake Long's time) and benching 225 pounds 31 times.
In his own words:(Nicks on struggling in his first year at Nebraska) "The only thing I really struggled with was the playbook. It wasn't really the physical part where I struggled, it was just the playbook. I just needed the opportunity and by week six I felt like I had a grasp of the playbook. Once I got an opportunity, I moved back and did fine. I just needed a chance."
Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh (6-foot-6, 338) -Otah is a relative newcomer to the game of football. He played mainly basketball at William Penn (New Castle, Penn.) High School, joining the football team his senior year. Even though he showed athleticism, he wasn't initially recruited, so he went on to Valley Forge Military Academy, where he played from 2004-05 before transferring to Pitt. In the following two years, Otah started all 24 contests, earning the school's Most Improved Player award his senior season. Teams seem to love his prototype size, but are wary of his consistency. Still, Otah could be molded into an outstanding tackle.
In his own words:(Otah on sticking with football) "When I was a senior in high school, that's when I realized football is something I could take to the next level. I went to Valley Forge, and made up for [inexperience] working two times harder than I did."
Jeremy Zuttah, Rutgers (6-foot-4, 303)- A versatile lineman that has started at guard and tackle, Zuttah really found his niche in 2006 at the Scarlet Knights' right tackle. He was an All-Big East selection his final two years at Rutgers. As a senior, Zuttah was key for an offense that posted four of the top 10 performances in school history. The Zuttah may lack the size of a dream NFL tackle, but he is quick and athletic, which he showed by running a 4.99-second 40 at the NFL Combine last month, fastest of all linemen in attendance.
In his own words:(Zuttah on the speed of the NFL game) "The only way to adjust is to just go out there and do it. It's going to take time. Just like from high school to college. It's just a whole different speed, and it's just going to take time."