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Monroe, Unger might be safest picks of OL class

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Updated Oct. 06, 2010 @ 7:26 p.m.
By Eric Edholm

Continuing in our unofficial look at the draft's "safest" players -- I use quotes because, as we know, there are no sure things -- we now take a look at an interesting group of offensive linemen.

Is it a great class? Likely no. But there are four highly-rated offensive tackles in what appears to be a top-heavy lot; three centers who could prove to be adequate; and a whole lot of questions at guard. In fact, the best guards from this class could end up being converted centers and tackles; there might be no true pure standouts here right now.

The Rams are debating Jason Smith vs. Eugene Monroe at No. 2, and the debate -- boiled way down -- is this: upside vs. insurance. Smith could be the next Walter Jones. Monroe might be more in the Jordan Gross-Chad Clifton realm, but he appears less of a projection than Smith. Scouts appear to think that Smith might not carry a huge downside, but there is some patience required for him to become an elite prospect, whereas Monroe might be further along in his development.

Michael Oher and Andre Smith might be as gifted, if not more, than both Jason Smith and Monroe. Of course, there's also that huge bust possibility for both. Just off my head, but I think Andre Smith will end up being like Shawn Andrews: a supremely talented power player with questionable instincts and conditioning. When Andy Reid drafted Andrews, a right tackle in college, he surprised many by playing Andrews at right guard -- often viewed as one of the least important spots on the O-line. But Andrews was well-shielded inside and has been able to unleash his power on smaller defensive tackles in close quarters. If some team can resist making Andre Smith a left tackle, as he was in college, it might have something special. But then again, it's hard to justify paying a left guard top-10 money and still not being sure if the guy will fulfill his potential. Hence the risk.

Of Max Unger, Eric Wood and Alex Mack, I think we'll end up with two strong centers (or guards) in the NFL. If I had to guess, it would be the street-tough Wood and the versatile Unger. Wood might end up being the better center, but if Unger isn't a great fit at one spot, I suspect he'll end up finding a home as a starter somewhere.

At guard, some people like Andy Levitre, but is he more than a third-round pick? Maybe because of the weakness of the class, he figures into the back half of the second. But again, you're projecting: he was a college left tackle, which isn't a huge jump to kick inside, so you have to see if he can handle it.

It's a strange OL class. My guess is that a player from the 4th-5th-round range, maybe a Kraig Urbik or Jason Watkins, could end up being a better tackle or guard than people think because they will play better at a pro position than they did at the one they played in college.

So much movement this year along the offensive line. Left tackles becoming guards, centers becoming guards, guards becoming right tackles ... that means so few sure things. 

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