Fifth in a series
PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki previews the top prospects for the 2011 NFL draft, by position. In cases where a listed prospect is playing in a bowl game, we identify that upcoming matchup.
While there is no surefire left tackle prospect in this year's draft class and the overall depth may not be as strong as it has been in recent years, there are a good number of functional blockers with starter-quality traits. Many who line up at left tackle in college will project inside in the pros. On paper, Colorado's Nate Solder stands out as the top prospect and figures to work out and test as well as any in this year's draft. Georgia features the top guard prospects, with two who figure to plug and play in the pros. (Editor's note: Juniors are denoted by an asterisk.)
Previous position: 2011 TE prospects
1. Nate Solder, Colorado
6-8, 302, 4.92
A converted tight end who needed time to fill out his frame, Solder is long-armed, quick-footed and athletic. He has shown improvement in pass protection, can set and slide his feet and has really honed his pass-protection technique. He is still relatively raw, however, especially in the run game. He has a tendency to play upright and lacks the ideal base and anchor strength to handle NFL power. A three-year starter at left tackle, he has been very durable, hardworking and trustworthy. He simply lacks lower-body explosion and power and would be best in a zone-slide protection scheme where he could play angles.
2. Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
6-7, 297, 5.10e
Castonzo has shown improvement as the season progressed. He fared well against Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, who leads the nation in sacks, and understands leverage and positioning. He lacks lower-body mass and finishing strength and may never be a great run blocker. That said, he has the foot quickness, agility and balance to excel protecting the blind side in pass protection and has clear starter-quality traits, having started four years in a competitive program and played on both right and left sides. Despite a number of injuries, he has not missed any time and has the toughness to play through pain. With a more proven track record but less upside than Solder, he will contend to be the top tackle drafted in the spring.
Don't miss: Castonzo's Eagles play Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at 9 p.m. ET Jan. 9.
3. Marcus Cannon, TCU
6-5 3/8, 363, 5.36
A lightning rod for debate in the scouting community, Cannon can be criticized for his inability to sort out protection and raw positional instincts. Evaluators say he pitches too many no-hitters and will require significant development in the pros. Nonetheless, he has rare size, ridiculous weight-room strength and is very athletic for as big as he is. His size may be ripe for a move inside, but whether inside or outside, he must show that he can do a better job of sinking his hips and playing with more consistent knee bend. Late in the season, he began to show more aggression in his play, but there are times it appears the light bulb is flickering. It may take a year or two for him to feel comfortable in the pros, but coaches and scouts will salivate when he finishes testing. He does possess first-round physical talent.
Don't miss: Cannon's Horned Frogs play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. ET Jan. 1.
4. Orlando Franklin, Miami (Fla.)
6-6½e, 315e, 5.25e
Franklin's technique will need more work, as he tends to shoot his hands wide of his target and play wide-based, but he is so big, long and strong that he is able to get away with average technique at the college level and still be very effective. His work ethic and character will need to be evaluated and could affect his draft stock, but from a physical standpoint, he is somewhat similar to Bryant McKinnie and could readily start on a mashing offensive line. Since shifting to left tackle this fall from the guard position he previously occupied, he has shown he can handle the edge. He has an aggressive football temperament and is capable of playing either the left or right side, perhaps being even more natural on the right.
Don't miss: Franklin's Hurricanes play Notre Dame in the Hyundai Sun Bowl at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 31.
5. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
6-6 7/8, 320, 5.30e
Given the immense need for left tackles, NFL executives would not be shocked if Carimi winds up climbing into the back end of the first round, especially after he turned up the intensity dial against Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Carimi can be tossed and torqued and tends to lean too much. Having too much stiffness in his body, he often overextends and does not finish blocks. He grades out like a third-rounder and would most ideally fit as a swing tackle, but he is functional enough to start in the NFL, as he did four years for Wisconsin, and likely will be overdrafted somewhere in the second round, potentially even at the back of the first if there is a run on big men.
Don't miss: Carimi's Badgers play TCU in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. ET Jan. 1.
1. OLG Cordy Glenn, Georgia*
6-5e, 335e, 5.00e
Possessing a big bone structure and exceptional girth, Glenn plays with power and strength and can plow running lanes. He is surprisingly light on his feet attacking the second level and consistently finishes blocks. In pass protection, he shows outstanding anchor strength, seldom getting knocked off the ball. Rarely do interior offensive linemen declare early for the NFL draft, but Glenn has some special skills that could push him into the draft early. Named the MVP in Georgia's spring game, few blockers can dominate at the point of attack and generate a second surge the way that he can, and if he decides to depart, he will warrant early interest and contend to be the first guard drafted.
Don't miss: Glenn's Bulldogs play UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 3:30 p.m. ET Dec. 31.
2. ORG Clint Boling, Georgia
6-4 3/8, 306, 5.20e
Boling has seen action at both tackle positions but has looked most comfortable inside at the ORG spot opposite Glenn, having the instincts and intelligence to handle movement coming from both sides and the patience to let action come to him. Once he gets his hands on defenders, he does a very good job of steering and controlling and gives little ground. He lacks ideal arm and body length to play outside but could help in a pinch and even be drafted to play right tackle. Whether inside or outside, his versatility is a plus, and he can be trusted to start readily.
Don't miss: Boling's Bulldogs play UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 3:30 p.m. ET Dec. 31.
3. OLG Danny Watkins, Baylor
6-3½, 308, 5.30e
For having never played football until he stepped on campus, the overaged ex-firefighter has done a solid job replacing Jason Smith as the Bears' left tackle the past two seasons. He is strong, brings an aggressive temperament to the field and can generate movement in the run game. He would be better-suited at guard or even right tackle than his current OLT position, not having great feet to protect the edge or ideal length to survive on an island. He has great intangibles and is loaded with upside and could thrive with good coaching.
Don't miss: Watkins' Bears play Illinois in the Texas Bowl at 6 p.m. ET Dec. 29.
4. ORG Mike Pouncey, Florida
6-5 3/8, 311, 5.25e
Pouncey stayed in school and slid inside to the center position as a senior, replacing his brother Maurkice, who was drafted in the middle of the first round by the Steelers. Given how well his brother has performed in the pros as a rookie, the Pouncey pedigree can be expected to creep into the minds of NFL decision makers come draft time. The reality, however, is that Mike is not the player his twin brother is, and has really struggled with snapping at center, wrist-snapping bad balls in every game. He needs to move back to guard in the pros. He is big, tough and has a passion for the game and likely will be drafted relatively early, but the converted defensive tackle is not as natural or NFL-ready as Maurkice and figures to be drafted a round or two later.
Don't miss: Pouncey's Gators play Penn State in the Outback Bowl at 1 p.m. ET Jan. 1.
5. C Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
6-3e, 295e, 5.30e
The top center in a very average senior class, Wisniewski is a bit undersized for the position and does not play with a lot of power, which noticeably showed up against a big, strong Alabama front. He has played out of position this season at guard and is most naturally suited for the pivot. He is a terrific technician, is very quick to the second level and has great instincts and a feel for the game. NFL executives will know exactly what they are getting with this smart, tough and hardworking athlete with a blue-collar approach. He is the type of player who will outperform his draft status wherever he is selected.
Don't miss: Wisniewski's Nittany Lions play Florida in the Outback Bowl at 1 p.m. ET Jan. 1.
Don't miss out on PFW's brand-new NFL Draft mobile app for iPhone, Blackberry and Android — coming soon. It will provide the very best in player analysis and inside draft info. Watch ProFootballWeekly.com for an announcement when it becomes available. Also, be sure to get your copy of PFW's 2011 Draft Guide magazine (on sale March 1) and PFW's 2011 Draft Preview book (on sale March 29). Both publications will be available at retail outlets and at PFWstore.com.