Draft's top offensive tackles: Quite a talent show

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Andre Smith, who once was considered the top offensive tackle and maybe the best player in this year's draft, only to lose that projection -- and likely millions of dollars -- with a series of questionable decisions, is expected to work out for the Detroit Lions next week.

The fit seemed perfect a month or so ago, but the thought is that the Lions are doing their due diligence in case they miraculously trade back from the No. 1 overall pick or if Smith somehow slides to the 20th selection that Detroit also possesses -- another long shot.

Draft series: Offensive tackles

NFL.com's 10-part series looks at each position in the draft.

The Lions still might take a Smith with the first pick, but it could be Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, who has shown to be worth the regarded selection on and off the field. Should Detroit bypass Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and opt for Jason Smith -- or Virginia's Eugene Monroe -- it would make an offensive tackle the top overall pick for the second straight season (Michigan's Jake Long was taken No. 1 overall by the Miami Dolphins last year).

The desire for premium offensive tackles was thought to have peaked last season, when eight were selected in the first round. Yet, unlike most things in the NFL -- or even in the everyday world -- the demand remains abundant in 2009. As many as seven offensive tackles could be taken in the first round of this year's draft.

There are trends in the NFL, and there are trends in the NFL.

Finding a solid offensive tackle, especially on the left side, is now almost as prestigious as landing a franchise quarterback. Without the tackles to keep pass rushers such as DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, Mario Williams and Joey Porter off quarterbacks, star passers such as Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler or Donovan McNabb wouldn't have much to offer.

Even more impressive than last season's first-round tackle class is that four offensive tackles could be tabbed in the top 10 this year. Last year, the run on the position came between picks 12 and 21, when six offensive tackles -- Ryan Clady (No. 12 by Denver), Chris Williams (No. 14 by Chicago), Branden Albert (No. 15 by Kansas City), Gosder Cherilus (No. 17 by Detroit), Jeff Otah (No. 19 by Carolina) and Sam Baker (No. 21 by Atlanta) -- came off the board. Clady, who had a stellar season for the Broncos, was the first offensive tackle selected after Long.

This year, Jason Smith and Monroe could be the top two picks overall or among the first four. Andre Smith potentially factors in beginning with the Cleveland Browns at No. 5. Mississippi's Michael Oher might be a good fit for the Green Bay Packers (No. 9) or San Francisco 49ers (No. 10). The Philadelphia Eagles, who badly need an offensive tackle, could try to trade into the upper half of the draft with one of their two first-round selections (Nos. 21 or 28) to address the position.

Then again, the Eagles might be able to grab an offensive tackle by staying put. Arizona's Eben Britton and Connecticut's William Beatty could be available later in the first round and might be adequate for what the team wants to accomplish in its offensive scheme.

Unlike running backs, cornerbacks and even quarterbacks, linchpin offensive tackles are hard to find, which is why teams try so hard to get them when they become available. Anchor tackles such as Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are either retired or near the end of stellar careers, and now is the time to find their replacements.

Offensive tackles weren't nearly in such high demand two years ago, when just three were drafted in the first round. In 2006, D'Brickashaw Ferguson (by the New York Jets) was the only offensive tackle selected in the first round.

With offensive tackles now at such a premium, it seems hard to believe that only one was taken in the entire first round just three drafts ago. Now we're looking at the possibility that 15 of the 63 first-round picks in 2008 and 2009 will have been used on offensive tackles.

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