The 2014 draft has been touted as one of the deepest and most talented collection of prospects that NFL scouts have seen in some time. Naturally, most of the attention has focused on a group of quarterbacks that show the potential to develop into franchise playmakers, but I believe the depth in this year's draft could come at offensive tackle.
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Surveying the collegiate landscape throughout the fall, I believe there are as many as eight offensive tackles that could carry first-round grades when the process is complete. That doesn't mean eight edge blockers will be selected on Day 1, but I believe eight or nine prospects could carry first-year starter grades on various draft boards across the league.
While most college football fans are familiar with the headliners at the position -- Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, Taylor Lewan of Michigan, Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama and Antonio "Tiny" Richardson of Tennessee -- a handful of intriguing prospects have entered the conversation as early-round possibilities. In recent weeks, I've heard buzz in the NFL scouting community about the long-term potential of Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, Florida State's Cameron Erving and LSU's La'el Collins.
Of course, I must clarify that each of the aforementioned prospects are underclassmen, with the exception of Matthews and Lewan, so scouts haven't fully dug into the tape, nor have they conducted extensive background reviews on the players, which will ultimately determine their final grade. However, college scouting directors and national scouts entered the season well aware of the talented group because of the athleticism and potential displayed early in their respective careers.
Before the season, an NFC South college scouting director told me he believed the 2014 draft was "loaded" with an impressive collection of offensive tackles. He was particularly impressed with the talent in the SEC, pointing out a few notable guys to watch throughout the season.
Looking at the list of names I've cited above, it is apparent that the buzz about the talent along the offensive line was legit. Six of the eight candidates hail from the SEC, with only Lewan and Erving playing outside of the conference. Given the reputation of the SEC and the history of players from the conference advancing to the NFL, the fact that each player excelled against quality competition bodes well for the pro prospects. Additionally, the experience facing strong pass rushers such as Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford and Michael Sam will give scouts a feel for how they will handle some talented rushers at the next level.
Factoring the solid play of Lewan and Erving against a handful of notable pass rushers, scouts will have a tough time sorting out a group of offensive tackles that could challenge the 2008 class with eight prospects taken on Day 1.