2011 NFL Draft Preview: Tyron Smith, Derek Sherrod Making Waves In Weak OT Class

MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans flanked by Tyron Smith #70 and Ronald Johnson #83 runs off the field after the Trojans scored a touchdown during the first half of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on September 18 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Only once since 2000 has an NFL Draft proceeded without an offensive tackle selected in the Top 10. Despite the best efforts of prospects such as Tyron Smith and Derek Sherrod, an OT-less Top 10 is a distinct possibility in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Only once since the 2000 season have we watched an NFL Draft in which an offensive tackle was not selected within the first 10 picks. That year was 2005, and despite the best efforts of two solid collegiate pass blockers, we may be headed for a repeat in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Long regarded as the weakest class of offensive tackles since that 2005 draft class which featured Jammal Brown and Alex Barron - yes, Alex Barron - as first-round picks, not even buzz-worthy underclassmen such as USC's Tyron Smith can juice up the excitement at the position. Smith, a 6'5", 280-pound junior who more closely resembles an NBA power forward than an NFL-caliber offensive tackle, has been touted by experts such as Wes Bunting (National Football Post) as worthy of being the first tackle off the board next April.

Tyron Smith is a 19-year-old, 280-pound right tackle. This is a guy that NFL teams will consider with a Top 10 pick? Talent aside, isn't this another Aaron Maybin situation? Dan Kadar, who runs SB Nation's NFL Draft community, Mocking the Draft, is already openly campaigning for Smith to return to USC for his senior season. The talent is there, but in an NFL era hell-bent on quick turnaround from Top 10 picks, it's hard to imagine a developmental prospect getting selected that early at this juncture. [Tyron Smith scouting report]

Many more talent evaluators view Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod as the best tackle prospect available this year. Sherrod, a 6'6", 305-pound senior, has started for four seasons in the SEC, including the last three at left tackle. A much more polished prospect than the aforementioned Smith, Sherrod nonetheless isn't a snug fit for every NFL offensive system, and considering the depth of positions like receiver and cornerback, many agree that taking a prospect like Sherrod that early would be a reach. [Derek Sherrod scouting report]

There is some depth an intrigue to this class of offensive tackles; Smith and Sherrod are good prospects, clearly, and others, such as Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Marcus Cannon (TCU) and DeMarcus Love (Arkansas), to name a few, will be selected quite early. The lack of a blue-chip prospect is what sets this group apart from most groups that we've seen over the past decade.

In 2005, Brown - a two-time Pro Bowl performer that now plays right tackle in Washington - was the first tackle off the board, selected No. 13 overall by New Orleans. Barron, who went six picks later to St. Louis, is now a reserve in Dallas. The 2005 NFL Draft featured some excellent tackles, including Brown and Tennessee's Michael Roos (second round), as well as several more serviceable players (Adam Terry, David Stewart, Todd Herremans and Rob Petitti, as examples).

The same may very well be the case for the tackle prospects coming out this year - obviously, only time will tell on whether or not serviceable NFL starters can be found in this group. Chances are good that a few good players will emerge. Just don't be shocked if the teams that hold Top 10 picks next April look to different positional groups when they make their selections. It's not out of the realm of possibility that either Smith or Sherrod sneak into the top ten, but there are much better prospects elsewhere - and while it's rare that a tackle isn't taken early, it's certainly not unprecedented.

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