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. To kick things off, we cover the offensive tackles, starting with Michigan's Jake Long.
Jake Long's mantle must be reinforced, considering the staggering amount of awards the Michigan left tackle earned during his decorated collegiate career.
In his junior and senior seasons alone, Long was voted a consensus first-team All-American, named to the All-Big Ten Conference first-team and cited the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year in 2006 and 2007.
But, the honor he says he is proudest to receive doesn't necessarily come with a trophy or a plaque. That designation is one of only 11 players in the Wolverines' storied history to be elected captain at least twice.
"That's the greatest honor that I could ever receive coming out of Michigan," he said at the NFL Combine. "To just get captain once and then get it twice was a great honor. To know you have that respect from your teammates. I try to live up to it every day and live by example."
The other accolades are certainly deserved, however. Long's steady performance over the years has him leading a class of talented offensive linemen—and one of the top overall prospects—in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Over 40 career starts, the 6-foot-7, 313-pounder was only cited for one holding penalty when wearing the maize and blue. That flag, which came as a redshirt freshman, wasn't duplicated until Long was caught for a false start as a senior.
He prides himself on the way he's been able to avoid penalties with discipline and some crafty techniques.
"I think it is a skill if you can get away with it and not get caught," Long said with a laugh. "I try to make sure I get my hands inside every single play, so that if I do hold a little bit, the refs will not be able to see it."
In addition, he only allowed one sack the entire 2007 campaign, and that came against Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston, who is regarded as one of the best pass rushers in the draft.
Long will likely be gone when the Ravens pick at the No. 8 spot, but he projects to be a cornerstone left tackle for whatever franchise selects him.
After benching 225 pounds an eye-popping 37 times (best among offensive linemen) and showing favorably in all other drills at the NFL Combine last month, many analysts project the Lapeer, Michigan native to go in the top three picks.
"[The team that drafts me] would get a hard-working, passionate player," he said. "Someone that comes to work and gives 100 percent every single day. Someone that has a true passion and love for the game."
One member of the Ravens' new coaching staff would love to see Long in purple and black. Assistant offensive line coach Andy Moeller deserves much of the credit for developing the blue-chip tackle, having arrived in Baltimore after six years coaching the line in Ann Arbor.
"I'm obviously a little biased, but I can tell you that Jake doesn't have any weaknesses," Moeller explained. "He's going to really excel in this league, because he's willing to work as hard as possible to make himself and his team better."
While Long doesn't necessarily have the size of the Ravens' 340-pound cornerstone in Jonathan Ogden, an 11-time Pro Bowler, he compares to Joe Thomas, last year's third-overall pick out of Wisconsin.
Thomas anchored the explosive Cleveland Browns offense, earning a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie.
Long, who beat out Thomas for his first Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award, hopes to have similar success.
"I'm going to have to follow in his footsteps and represent for the Big Ten," he said. "He showed me and all the other rookies that you can come in and make a huge impact, have a great season. That's encouraging to me and to other players."