NFL DRAFT: THE OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Former Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith is widely projected to be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2009 NFL Draft, and some analysts believe he could be the first overall selection. The draft is scheduled to be held April 25-26.

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Former Baylor OT Smith Could be First Player Selected in 2009 NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS – As Jason Smith sees it, it's best to let the facts speak for themselves.

And because in the world of professional football game tape is really the only fact that matters, the offensive tackle from Baylor University said that's what should answer the question.

The question?

Who's the best left tackle in the 2009 NFL Draft.

The facts, Smith said. The facts.

"I'd say, first of all, put on my film from Baylor and you'll see that I'm the best," said Smith, who is widely projected to be the first offensive tackle selected in the April 25-26 NFL Draft, which will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

"That's it."

Smith hardly is the only one to share his opinion, and many draft analysts believe that not only will Smith be the first offensive tackle selected later this month, he could be the first player selected overall.

Smith, who did not allow a sack this past season, is projected by many analysts to be the second overall selection to the St. Louis Rams, and while few mock drafts have him slipping past the Rams, some believe the Detroit Lions may pass on quarterback Matt Stafford of Georgia.

In that scenario, many have the Lions selecting Smith.

One reason is that offensive tackles selected early in the draft historically have a high success rate, with players such as Orlando Pace of St. Louis, Jonathan Ogden of Baltimore and Tony Boselli of Jacksonville having extended Pro Bowl careers after being selected in the Top 3 in the mid-1990s.

Another reason is that with or without history, Smith is a solid prospect.

"I think it would be an offensive tackle," ESPN Draft analyst Todd McShay said recently when outlining what might happen if the Lions do not take Stafford, "and I would lean towards Jason Smith from Baylor, simply because he has better feet and a greater upside."

Smith, one of nine prospects invited to attend the draft in New York, is one of at least four players who have visited the Lions, according to the team's website. The others are Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, Stafford and Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.

"Anybody would be excited to be the first pick," Smith told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "That's everybody's dream – to be the first overall pick of the draft. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what team you're going to play for, you're going to play football."

What enables Smith to do that at a high level is a rare combination of size and athleticism – not that he said he doesn't need improvement in some areas.

"My greatest strengths are my ability to play fast, physical and with a lot of effort for four quarters," he said. "Something I need to improve on is playing in a three-point stance. In the NFL they do that, and in college, we didn't do that much."

Smith (6-feet-5, 310 pounds) likely will be the earliest player selected ever from Baylor, and almost certainly will be the school's first first-round selection since defensive tackle Darryl Gardner in 1996.

"I'm fully aware of that," Smith said. "When I signed with Baylor, that was my goal. Before me there has been not that many, and after me there will be more. But playing in the Big 12, I've learned a lot. I've learned how to be physical, play fast, and show up every weekend ready to play, because the guy in front of you, he might be better than you."

Smith, who played right tackle as a sophomore before moving to the left side, also played tight end before moving to the line.

"The transition was different, but it was easy," he said. "It was coming from a three-point stance, running routes and being a decoy all the time, to actually having a dominant role where you're protecting the most valuable player on the field.

"It was different, difficult at first, but once I started getting the hang of it, it was clockwork."

Smith, who said he doesn't particularly miss his role as a receiver, said what he now takes pride in on the field is "physically assaulting somebody."

"As far as finishing them (blocks) off, that's just a part of the block, so you don't really think too much of it because that's what you go on the field to do," he said. "So it's just something I practice real hard at, and I practice real hard at practicing, and when its game time it just happens natural."

That approach has brought Smith to the cusp of a dream. He has arrived there a year later than he originally hoped, but he said that he realizes now that extra year has paid big benefits.

"I wanted to come out as a junior," Smith said. "I was set up to graduate -- I still would've graduated. And we (he and Baylor Head Coach Art Briles) had a long walk on the treadmill side-by-side and we kind of talked over the pros and cons and that was the last thing he said to me, 'There's a big difference between going to the ranch and owning the ranch. Make sure you own a ranch next year this time.'

"He also said, 'When we go to New York (for the draft), it's kind of one of those deals, you say something, you think about it, you dream about it. You make your fantasies become dreams, and your dreams become a vision, and all of a sudden your vision becomes a reality.'

"Right now, this is just reality."

BREAKING DOWN THE 2009 NFL DRAFT'S TOP OFFENSIVE TACKLES

As often is the case, offensive tackle is expected to be one of the dominant storylines early in the 2009 NFL Draft, with Jason Smith of Baylor widely expected to be the first player at the position selected. He also could be the No. 1 player selected overall, with at least one other tackle – Eugene Monroe of Virginia – a possibility to be selected in the Top 5, according to many draft analysts. Other tackles projected by some analysts to be selected in the first round include Michael Oher of Ole Miss, Andre Smith of Alabama and possibly Steven Beatty of Connecticut and Eben Britton of Arizona.

OTs ON THE COLTS' ROSTER

Ryan Diem, ninth season, Northern Illinois; Tony Ugoh, third season, Arkansas; Charlie Johnson, fourth season, Oklahoma State; Michael Toudouze, third season, Texas Christian; Daniel Federkeil, fourth season, Calgary; Corey Hilliard, third season, Oklahoma State.

THE LAST FIVE OFFENSIVE TACKLES

The last five offensive tackles drafted by the Colts . . .

2007: Tony Ugoh, second round, Arkansas.

2006: Charlie Johnson, sixth round, Oklahoma State.

2006: Michael Toudouze, fifth round, Texas Christian.

2004: Jake Scott, fifth round, Idaho.

2003: Makoa Freitas, sixth round, Arizona.

THIS YEAR'S OT DRAFT

An alphabetical list of 20 offensive tackles expected to be selected in the 2009 NFL Draft . . .

Steven Beatty, Connecticut, 6-6, 305

Joel Bell, Furman, 6-7, 315

Eben Britton, Arizona, 6-6, 310

Gerald Cadogan, Penn State, 6-5, 310

Xavier Fulton, Illinois, 6-4, 300

Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech, 6-7, 305

Troy Kropog, Tulane, 6-5, 310

T.J. Lang, Eastern Michigan, 6-4, 310

Cornelius Lewis, Tenn. State, 6-3, 330

Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma, 6-8, 330

Jamon Meredith, South Carolina, 6-5, 305

Eugene Monroe, Virginia, 6-5, 310

Michael Oher, Ole Miss, 6-4, 310

Augustus Parrish, Kent St., 6-4, 300

Garrett Reynolds, North Carolina, 6-8, 310

Andre Smith, Alabama, 6-4, 330

Jason Smith, Baylor, 6-5, 310

Fenuki Tupou, Oregon, 6-5, 315

Sebastian Vollmer, Houston, 6-8, 310

Jason Watkins, Florida, 6-5, 320

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