2011 draft watch: Arkansas’ Love stands at the head of offensive linemen class

Offensive tackles always are a hot commodity on draft day, but the 2011 class features more high-end centers and guards than in the past. As in, there should be as many interior linemen selected in the first two rounds as offensive tackles next April.

College football fans will be surprised by our rankings heading into the 2010 season because they won’t see Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi or USC’s Kristofer O’Dowd, two guys whose hype is far greater than their performance on film.

DeMarcus Love, if he stays healthy, will most likely be a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
DeMarcus Love, if he stays healthy, will most likely be a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

After breaking down game film all summer, here is our scouts’ rankings for the top offensive linemen entering the college season:

1. DeMarcus Love, OT, Arkansas, 6-5/316
He is big and athletic and just jumps off the game film. He shows the rare athleticism to make NFL line coaches drool, capable of protecting the blind side against even the best speed rushers. He also is strong enough to neutralize bull rushers inside, too. He is not a finished product, but he is so gifted and has improved so much in college that he projects as an elite NFL left tackle. In ’09, he performed better than Trent Williams and Russell Okung, the fourth- and sixth-overall picks last April. Projection: First-round pick.

2. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College, 6-7/298
He is tall with a long, lean build and good athleticism. A three-year starter, he has experience at right and left tackle. He shows the quickness and athleticism to protect the corner from speed rushers and continues to work hard to keep his man from disrupting the play. He does need to bulk up to better hold his ground against bull rushers and more consistently block with knees bent to maintain good leverage. Projection: First-round pick.

3. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado, 6-8/303
He is a raw prospect who came to Colorado as a tight end. The transition to tackle has gone well because of his great athleticism and fluid hip movements. He shows decent knee bend but must improve his blocking technique to create better leverage against bull rushers and on in-line run blocks. He must learn to better use his hands in pass protection, but he is at his best setting the edge and creating a nice pocket for his QB. When sealing the corner, he will get his shoulders turned too early and get beaten by quick moves back to the inside. Solder could fly up draft boards this fall. Projection: Second-round pick.

4. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State, 6-3/296
He is slightly undersized with limited growth potential but is an outstanding athlete. He shows excellent quickness, flexibility, body control and balance after the snap. He shows good lateral range with a natural ability to sustain blocks on the move. He is more of a tough/position run blocker than a mauler. He must get stronger to become more of a drive blocker in the running game. He is adept at sustaining "reach" blocks and reaching backside linebackers on the second level. He shows quick, strong hands with a vice grip to sustain blocks well past the whistle. In pass protection, he sustains blocks thanks to a quick hand punch and quick footwork to mirror and slide. He is smart and handles blitzes and stunts with ease. He should start as a rookie. Projection: Second-round pick.

5. Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State, 6-5/306
He is big, thick and strong, capable of dominating defenders in the running game when using good technique. He has the strength to move the pile at the point of attack. In pass protection, he will eliminate his man once he locks up on him. He must prove he has the quickness and athleticism to protect the corner against explosive NFL speed rushers. Projection: Second- or third-round pick.

6. Rodney Hudson, C/G, Florida State, 6-2/280
He is tough, competitive and strong with surprising athleticism. He also played guard and tackle in college, but he is an ideal NFL center. He has the quickness to get out of his stance and set in a blink, enabling him to play strong against bigger defensive tackles. He can pull and trap effectively and is surprisingly nimble adjusting to moving targets in the open field. His game film should merit a first-round pick, but general managers don’t draft 280-pound offensive linemen that high. Projection: Second- or third-round pick.

7. James Brewer, OT, Indiana, 6-6/333
He is a tall and well built prospect who finally got on the field in ’09 after being limited the previous two seasons by injuries. He is a powerful tackle who can dominate once locked up on defenders. He is surprisingly nimble and agile, able to handle quick pass rushers. Brewer is flying under the radar right now, but big and athletic tackles always rocket up draft boards with good senior seasons. Projection: Third-round pick.

8. Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU (junior), 6-4/329
He is only a junior, eligibility wise, but did serve on a two-year Mormon mission before he began playing at BYU and is expected to enter the ’11 draft with a solid season. He already is married and turns 23 this year. He is thickly built and shows the quick footwork to slide outside to cutoff explosive edge rushers. He shows the flexibility to pass block with good leverage, maintaining good balance to sustain blocks with ease. He is not a physical run blocker and does not move the pile at the point of attack. Projection: Third-round pick.

9. Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida, 6-6/317
If he improves as much as a senior as he did in ’09, he could move up draft boards big time. He is thick with ideal size for an NFL right tackle, but he must be more consistent. He has long arms and good strength to eliminate his man once he locks up on him. He has not shown the quickness to consistently protect the corner vs. explosive edge rushers, which could force him to move inside to guard. Projection: Third- or fourth-round pick.

10. Ben Ijalana, G, Villanova, 6-4/320
He is the best small-school lineman who could move into the second round if able to play well at the Senior Bowl against elite competition. He is a well built and athletic prospect who plays tackle in college but projects as an NFL guard. Still, some NFL coaches might give him a shot first at tackle because of his rare athleticism. He shows the strength to physically control his man and move the pile at the point of attack. Projection: Third- or fourth-round pick.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

Offensive tackles always are a hot commodity on draft day, but the 2011 class features more high-end centers and guards than in the past. As in, there should be as many interior linemen selected in the first two rounds as offensive tackles next April.

College football fans will be surprised by our rankings heading into the 2010 season because they won’t see Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi or USC’s Kristofer O’Dowd, two guys whose hype is far greater than their performance on film.

DeMarcus Love, if he stays healthy, will most likely be a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
DeMarcus Love, if he stays healthy, will most likely be a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

After breaking down game film all summer, here is our scouts’ rankings for the top offensive linemen entering the college season:

1. DeMarcus Love, OT, Arkansas, 6-5/316
He is big and athletic and just jumps off the game film. He shows the rare athleticism to make NFL line coaches drool, capable of protecting the blind side against even the best speed rushers. He also is strong enough to neutralize bull rushers inside, too. He is not a finished product, but he is so gifted and has improved so much in college that he projects as an elite NFL left tackle. In ’09, he performed better than Trent Williams and Russell Okung, the fourth- and sixth-overall picks last April. Projection: First-round pick.

2. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College, 6-7/298
He is tall with a long, lean build and good athleticism. A three-year starter, he has experience at right and left tackle. He shows the quickness and athleticism to protect the corner from speed rushers and continues to work hard to keep his man from disrupting the play. He does need to bulk up to better hold his ground against bull rushers and more consistently block with knees bent to maintain good leverage. Projection: First-round pick.

3. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado, 6-8/303
He is a raw prospect who came to Colorado as a tight end. The transition to tackle has gone well because of his great athleticism and fluid hip movements. He shows decent knee bend but must improve his blocking technique to create better leverage against bull rushers and on in-line run blocks. He must learn to better use his hands in pass protection, but he is at his best setting the edge and creating a nice pocket for his QB. When sealing the corner, he will get his shoulders turned too early and get beaten by quick moves back to the inside. Solder could fly up draft boards this fall. Projection: Second-round pick.

4. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State, 6-3/296
He is slightly undersized with limited growth potential but is an outstanding athlete. He shows excellent quickness, flexibility, body control and balance after the snap. He shows good lateral range with a natural ability to sustain blocks on the move. He is more of a tough/position run blocker than a mauler. He must get stronger to become more of a drive blocker in the running game. He is adept at sustaining "reach" blocks and reaching backside linebackers on the second level. He shows quick, strong hands with a vice grip to sustain blocks well past the whistle. In pass protection, he sustains blocks thanks to a quick hand punch and quick footwork to mirror and slide. He is smart and handles blitzes and stunts with ease. He should start as a rookie. Projection: Second-round pick.

5. Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State, 6-5/306
He is big, thick and strong, capable of dominating defenders in the running game when using good technique. He has the strength to move the pile at the point of attack. In pass protection, he will eliminate his man once he locks up on him. He must prove he has the quickness and athleticism to protect the corner against explosive NFL speed rushers. Projection: Second- or third-round pick.

6. Rodney Hudson, C/G, Florida State, 6-2/280
He is tough, competitive and strong with surprising athleticism. He also played guard and tackle in college, but he is an ideal NFL center. He has the quickness to get out of his stance and set in a blink, enabling him to play strong against bigger defensive tackles. He can pull and trap effectively and is surprisingly nimble adjusting to moving targets in the open field. His game film should merit a first-round pick, but general managers don’t draft 280-pound offensive linemen that high. Projection: Second- or third-round pick.

7. James Brewer, OT, Indiana, 6-6/333
He is a tall and well built prospect who finally got on the field in ’09 after being limited the previous two seasons by injuries. He is a powerful tackle who can dominate once locked up on defenders. He is surprisingly nimble and agile, able to handle quick pass rushers. Brewer is flying under the radar right now, but big and athletic tackles always rocket up draft boards with good senior seasons. Projection: Third-round pick.

8. Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU (junior), 6-4/329
He is only a junior, eligibility wise, but did serve on a two-year Mormon mission before he began playing at BYU and is expected to enter the ’11 draft with a solid season. He already is married and turns 23 this year. He is thickly built and shows the quick footwork to slide outside to cutoff explosive edge rushers. He shows the flexibility to pass block with good leverage, maintaining good balance to sustain blocks with ease. He is not a physical run blocker and does not move the pile at the point of attack. Projection: Third-round pick.

9. Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida, 6-6/317
If he improves as much as a senior as he did in ’09, he could move up draft boards big time. He is thick with ideal size for an NFL right tackle, but he must be more consistent. He has long arms and good strength to eliminate his man once he locks up on him. He has not shown the quickness to consistently protect the corner vs. explosive edge rushers, which could force him to move inside to guard. Projection: Third- or fourth-round pick.

10. Ben Ijalana, G, Villanova, 6-4/320
He is the best small-school lineman who could move into the second round if able to play well at the Senior Bowl against elite competition. He is a well built and athletic prospect who plays tackle in college but projects as an NFL guard. Still, some NFL coaches might give him a shot first at tackle because of his rare athleticism. He shows the strength to physically control his man and move the pile at the point of attack. Projection: Third- or fourth-round pick.

Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.

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