A Look at This Year's NFL Draft Offensive Tackle Prospects
It starts with Gabe Carimi, the most recent standout to come from Wisconsin's production line of NFL-type offensive linemen. Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner, confidently says the Badgers' difficult schedule and his performances against some of the best defensive players in the country make him a "draft-ready tackle."
From the opposite end of the experience spectrum comes Ben Ijalana, who is the son of Nigerian-born parents and played at Div. I-AA Villanova. If Ijalana is selected in the first two rounds of the draft, as expected, he will be the first Villanova player to go that high since Howie Long in 1981.
And there is Anthony Castonzo, who played at Boston College and made as big of an impression in the classroom as he did on the football field. He majored in biochemistry, won National Scholar Athlete honors and was a Rhodes Scholar nominee.
It's a disparate threesome, to be sure. But Carimi, Ijalana and Castonzo share a distinction, too. All three rank among the top tackles expected to go in the April 28-30 NFL Draft. And that's no small distinction, given that many observers list tackle as one of this year's stronger draft positions.
Carimi is 6-7, 314 and was a consensus All-American. He possesses strong lateral movement and footwork, which helped him win a black belt in karate and made him a formidable pass blocker. His brute strength and 83.25-inch wing span is an asset in run blocking.
His confidence jumps out.
"I know I can play right away," Carimi said during an interview at the recent NFL Scouting Combine. "That's my best asset. I'm a draft-ready tackle."
When asked to elaborate on his NFL readiness, Carimi pointed to players he faced in the college ranks, the likes of Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and his teammate, Wisconsin's J.J. Watt.
"Because of the players I've gone against, four potential first-round players I've gone against this year, I have a better resume of going against better talent than anyone else. So that makes me more (pro) ready," Carimi said.
Ijalana could be more of a project. But the 6-4, 317-pounder, who didn't play football until age 14, appears to be loaded with talent. He thrives on his athletic ability, is strong at the point of attack and possesses experience as a New Jersey district high school champion in wrestling.
Ijalana, who played the last month of his Villanova senior season with a bilateral sports hernia, said wrestling gave him toughness.
"It was vital," he said at the Combine. "Wrestling is probably the hardest physical activity I've ever been involved with. It's intense. It's insane. You're moving around. A match is 6 minutes. It's about movement and staying up. It's a matter of what you do after you get tired.
"You're going to get exhausted. And you still have to move and fight through it."
Villanova was the only school to offer Ijalana a football scholarship. But his Villanova coaches quickly discerned something special in their recruit. Mark Ferrante, Ijalana's offensive line coach, made the decision to start the freshman in a game against Maryland.
"He said then, 'I believe you can play in the NFL. You show glimpses of really good things,'' Ijalana recalled. "He said, 'You're (a) small-school (guy). But what he said then has stuck with me to this day: 'If you can play, they'll find you.' I truly believe that. It's why I'm here now. There might be knocks on my level of competition. But it's what you do out on the football field that matters."
Castonzo has been on NFL observers' radar for some time. He started 53 games at Boston College, tying a school record, and made the starting lineup as a 270-pound freshman blocker for former Eagles standout and current Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.
Castonzo is now 6-7 and 311 pounds, with the quickness and balance to be a strong pass protector.
His intelligence, too, could be a factor in whatever success he enjoys at the NFL level.
"I think it's huge because you've got to be able to understand not just what you're doing on the play but kind of how the play works out as a scheme, because defenses aren't stationary," he said at the Combine. "They're constantly moving around, so you've got to know how you're going to react to how they're going to react. It's almost like a chess game, just trying to stay one step ahead."
Four years ago, Castonzo attended a prep school after playing at his Chicago-area high school as what he described as a "6-7, 220-pound drink of water." But as he gained strength and bulk through his college career, his skills began to grab attention.
"Growing up, I heard from a lot of people: 'Don't set your sights on the NFL because you might be heartbroken,'' Castonzo said. "I've always thought: Why not shoot for the stars? It's just something I've always desired – to be the best, and regardless of what anyone says, it's what I'm going to try and do."
BREAKING DOWN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT'S OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Offensive tackles are highly coveted in the NFL, and this year's crop appears to be strong. As many as five tackles could find their way into the first round. Gabe Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner from Wisconsin, has the credentials and swagger to perhaps lead the group. USC's Tyron Smith is a superb athlete and can run block as adeptly as pass protect. Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, by most accounts, will be a steady hand in the NFL and will have no trouble understanding the nuances of offensive line play.
THE LAST FIVEThe last five offensive tackles drafted by the Colts ...
2007: Tony Ugoh, second round, Arkansas.
2006: Michael Toudouze, fifth round, TCU.
Charlie Johnson, sixth round, Oklahoma State.
2004: Jake Scott, fifth round, Idaho.
2003: Makoa Freitas, sixth round, Arizona.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFTAn alphabetical list of 10 offensive tackles expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft ...
Marcus Cannon, TCU, 6-5, 358
Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin, 6-7, 314
James Carpenter, Alabama, 6-4, 308
Anthony Castonzo, Boston College, 6-7, 311
Ben Ijalana, Villanova, 6-4, 317
DeMarcus Love, Arkansas, 6-4, 315
Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh, 6-3, 217
Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State, 6-5, 321
Tyron Smith, USC, 6-5, 307
Nate Solder, Colorado, 6-7, 307
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.