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Players from one of the league’s most treasured position groups flew off the board at a record pace in the first round of the 2008 draft.
There had never been more than five offensive tackles selected in the first round prior to that year. Then ’08 came, and eight of the first 26 picks were spent on players teams hoped would become top-level long-term anchors at the position.
That year more than any other serves as a sign of the times in the NFL. It was an unsubtle example of the demand for talent at the OT position and the lengths teams are willing to go to land a player at that spot. Both the Falcons and Panthers traded back into Round One that year after already making their first picks in order to draft an offensive tackle.
Take a quick look around the league — of the 32 players that would start at left tackle if the season started today, 75 percent (24 out of 32) of those players were drafted in the first (18) or second round (six). One is a third-rounder, two came out of the fourth round, one was picked in the fifth round and another in the seventh. Three were not drafted.
Only two offensive tackles entering this year’s draft received first-round grades from PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki — USC’s Matt Kalil and Iowa’s Riley Reiff —but, given the demand for help at the position, it would be no surprise if at least four tackles were drafted in the first round. In his most recent mock draft, Nawrocki has Georgia’s Cordy Glenn and Stanford’s Jonathan Martin also being plucked in the opening round.
The ’08 class of tackles was regarded as one of the best groups the college ranks had ever produced at the position. Three of the eight rookie tackles — Jake Long (No. 1 pick/Dolphins), Ryan Clady (No. 12 pick/Broncos) and Duane Brown (No. 26 pick/Texans) — started every game in ’08. The ability to quickly earn a starting spot and keep it in Year One was indicative of what the future would hold for each of those players.
Long and Clady are among the league’s top left tackles. Long has made the Pro Bowl every season he has been in the league and Clady has been to two Pro Bowls. Brown was a second-team All-Pro last season and has started all 60 NFL games in which he has played.
The 20 offensive tackles that have been drafted in the first round since Long and Clady were selected (four in ’09, four in ’10, six in ’11) have a grand total of zero Pro Bowl bids between them.
The five tackles that were lumped between Clady and Brown in picks 14-21 in ’08 have shown promise at times, but each is of them is still trying to prove himself, to varying degrees, entering season No. 5.
• Chris Williams (No. 14 pick/Bears) was the only member of the group that didn’t become a regular starter in his rookie year, as Williams missed the first seven games with an injury. He was moved from left tackle to left guard in favor of a seventh-round rookie (J’Marcus Webb) during the 2010 season and missed the final seven games of last season with a wrist injury.
• Branden Albert (No. 15 pick/Chiefs) has been solid after transitioning from playing guard in college to manning the left tackle spot, although we hear the Chiefs aren’t overly thrilled with him. His 26 1/4 sacks allowed and 28 penalties in four seasons are two big reasons why.
• Gosder Cherilus (No. 17 pick/Lions) has been the starting right tackle in Detroit since early in his rookie season, but he has not put it all together yet.
• Jeff Otah (No. 19 pick/Panthers) has had his career fall off the tracks because of injuries, and Carolina is hoping he can stay healthy and return to his spot at right tackle, where he excelled as a mauler and a key piece in the team’s power running attack early in his career. He has played only 29 games in four seasons, four the past two campaigns.
• In Atlanta, all signs point to Sam Baker (No. 21 pick/Falcons), who has also been hampered by injuries for much of his career, getting another shot at left tackle, much to the chagrin of a large segment of the team’s fans.
The one thing those eight players have in common other than the round and year in which they were drafted is they all have contracts due to expire after the 2012 season.
The Palm Beach Post reported Long’s rookie deal will void after next season, and his next long-term contract stands to make him one of the richest offensive linemen in league history. The seven-year, $84 million deal with $44 million guaranteed that the Browns' Joe Thomas signed in August 2011 helped set the market for Long. Clady and Brown figure to have big paydays ahead, too. With strong, and healthy, 2012 performances, the rest of the ’08 OT pack will position themselves nicely ahead of free agency.
It’s getting late for them, though, and the majority of the ’08 first-round class of offensive tackles may never quite live up to its billing.