Draft preview
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. previews this year's top offensive and defensive linemen.
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Purdue OL Matt Light is hoping to hear his name called on Saturday.
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Kiper: Vick at head of QB class

Kiper: Draft needs of NFC teams

Kiper: Draft needs of AFC teams

Mel Kiper's story archive

Sunday, April 22

Top offensive linemen in draft

My analysis of the offensive linemen available in the 2001 NFL draft (please note there are separate lists for tackles, guards and centers):

1. Kenyatta Walker, Florida -- With his 6-foot-4, 313-pound frame, athleticism, smarts and veteran approach, Walker has the exciting upside potential to eventually rank as one of the top LTs in the NFL. Ironically, he made his mark at RT with the Gators, although he did operate at left tackle during fall practice prior to the start of last season. Definite early first-rounder, with New England or San Francisco figuring to be ideal fits. Drafted by Tampa Bay, first round (14th)

2. Leonard Davis, Texas -- Huge bookend at 6-foot-5, 370 pounds, moving from the defensive line to LT with excellent success. Davis can dominate as a run-blocker and showed steady improvement in his pass-protection skills during the 2000 season. Could go as early as pick No. 4 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Drafted by Arizona, first round (2nd)

3. Jeff Backus, Michigan -- Started an incredible 49 straight games to wind up his college career in Ann Arbor, operating at the critical LT spot the entire way. While he does have shorter arms than you would prefer, there are definitely no complaints about the way he neutralizes the outside pass rushers he goes up against. He has a keen understanding of the position, shows above average feet and maintained a level of consistency that was unmatched at the collegiate level. Backus would be a great fit in Tampa Bay where the Bucs are looking to solidify the LT spot. Drafted by Detroit, first round (18th)

4. Maurice Williams, Michigan -- After opening his career at DE, Williams moved to RG before settling in at a RT spot with the Wolverines. While he's still learning the tricks of the trade, Williams has the feet, athleticism and upside potential that have to excite the NFL brass. He's not yet a finished product, never redshirting at Michigan and having to adapt to the change from the defensive line to RT. Would be an excellent late first- or early second-round choice. Drafted by Jacksonville, second round (43rd)

5. Kareem McKenzie, Penn State -- Enjoyed an outstanding junior campaign that saw McKenzie establish himself as one of the top bookends in college football. That's why going into the 2000 season he looked like a sure-fire early to mid first-rounder. However, he didn't seem to be at the top of his game when the bell rang last season. To his credit though, McKenzie regrouped, putting together a solid close to the 2000 campaign. With his prior starting experience at guard and the potential he's displayed at LT, McKenzie could turn out to be an excellent selection in round two. Drafted by NY Jets, third round (79th)

6. Matt Light, Purdue -- The former TE has steadily added the weight and strength necessary to get the job done at the pro level. And when you combine that with his natural pass-blocking skills and the experience he gained protecting Drew Brees, it's easy to see why Light has been able to enjoy a nice rise up the draft board over the last month or so. Drafted by New England, second round (48th)

7. Marques Sullivan, Illinois -- Experienced bookend, starting at both RT and LT the last four years with the Illini. The 6-foot-5, 338-pounder definitely looks the part and is sound technically, but I didn't see Sullivan take his game to a new level; he didn't always jump out at you as a dominator. Even so, with his experience and knowledge of the position, Sullivan will be expected to push for a starting job fairly early in his pro career. That's why he could end up going a bit higher in the draft than my rating indicates. Drafted by Buffalo, fifth round (144th)

8. Brandon Winey, LSU -- While the former TE still grades out better in pass protection than run blocking, he made strides of late under Nick Saban. With his physical and athletic skills, Winey appears to be more ideally suited for LT at the pro level. While he made strides in 2000, I still view the 6-foot-6, 303-pounder as a roll-of-the-dice choice in the early rounds. Drafted by Miami, sixth round (164th)

9. Kenyatta Jones, South Florida -- Worked at LT with the Bulls, but the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder has the athleticism, quickness and weight-room strength (31 bench-press reps at 225 pounds) to make the successful transition inside to a guard spot in the NFL. This dual potential could make Jones an intriguing third- or fourth-round choice. Drafted by New England, fourth round (96th)

10. Alex Sulfsted, Miami (Ohio) -- Developed into a solid LT in the Mid-American Conference, after first coming to the RedHawks as a tight end. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder is light on his feet and has the ability to handle super-quick DEs, but at the pro level he'll need to work on firing off the ball with the necessary explosion. Would figure as a solid choice in the early portion of day two.

Other tackles of note:
Adam Haayer, Minnesota
Dennis Norman, Princeton
Tom Ashworth, Colorado
Char-ron Dorsey, Florida State
Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack, Mississippi State (Drafted by Seattle, fourth round (128th))
Jonas Jennings, Georgia (Drafted by Buffalo, third round (95th))
Jarvis Borum, N.C. State
Kendrick Rogers, Alabama A&M
Tarlos Thomas, Florida State
Michael Keathley, TCU
Chris Brown, Georgia Tech
Elliot Silvers, Washington (Drafted by San Diego, fifth round (132nd))

1. Steve Hutchinson, Michigan -- According to my ratings, Hutchinson has been in an elite group since early in the season, proving to be a model of consistency along the Wolverines' offensive line from his LG position. Along the way, he assisted QB Drew Henson and RB Anthony Thomas, both of whom posted huge numbers during the 2000 campaign. With the ability to operate at RT in the NFL, Hutchinson is a great deal more than just a pure guard. That's why he carries such an elite grade according to my ratings. Drafted by Seattle, first round (17th)

2. Mike Gandy, Notre Dame -- Late-developing standout, really coming into his own over the last two seasons in South Bend. Remember, at the prep level in Texas, he operated at TE and DE. When you combine his solid senior year with his impressive showing at the Senior Bowl practices, it shouldn't surprise anyone if Gandy ends up in the second round of the draft like I'm expecting. Drafted by Chicago, third round (68th)

3. Matt Lehr, Virginia Tech -- Underrated trenchman, operating at both guard spots while also seeing some action at LT in practice. The 6-foot-2, 289-pounder is quick, athletic and tough; in the NFL, he could ultimately land at the center position, showing the ability to anchor a line. Drafted by Dallas, fifth round (137th)

4. Bill Ferrario, Wisconsin -- Physical performer up front for the Badgers from his LG position, beginning his college career in Madison as a defensive lineman. And how about his experience: Ferrario earned a start in 50 games at Wisconsin, joining Chris McIntosh and Jon Jansen as the only players in Big Ten history to accomplish such a feat. Drafted by Green Bay, fourth round (105th)

5. Ryan Diem, Northern Illinois -- Proved to be a destroyer at RT with the Huskies, using his 6-foot-6, 338-pound frame to clear out the right side in run-blocking situations. At the pro level, though, Diem would figure to struggle some in pass protection against quicker DEs, so a move inside to guard figures to be a strong possibility. Drafted by Indianapolis, fourth round (118th)

Other guards of note:
Chad Ward, Washington (Drafted by Jacksonville, sixth round (170th))
Omar Smith, Kentucky
Shawn Draper, Alabama (Drafted by Miami, fifth round (156th))
Mathias Nkwenti, Temple (Drafted by Pittsburgh, fourth round (111th))
Kynan Forney, Hawaii
Lashaun Mack, Norfolk State
Rick DeMulling, Idaho
Paul Zukauskas, Boston College
Ray Redziniak, Illinois
Chris Valletta, Texas A&M
Albert Traylor, Northwestern State (La.)
Russ Hochstein, Nebraska (Drafted by Tampa Bay, fifth round (151st))

1. Dominic Raiola, Nebraska -- Ranks with Dave Rimington as one of the most highly regarded pivot men in Nebraska history, operating as a dominator within the framework of the Husker offense. In the NFL, though, he'll need to gain more pass-blocking experience, something that was obviously lacking with the run-oriented Huskers. You have to like his toughness, brute strength and hard-working approach, which is why Raiola should develop into a quality anchor once he upgrades his pro-style pass-protection skills. Drafted by Detroit, second round (50th)

2. Robert Garza, Texas A&M-Kingsville -- Top-drawer small-college prospect who proved at the Senior Bowl practices that he shouldn't have any problem making the successful transition to the NFL. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder is super strong (37 bench-press reps at the combine), extremely tenacious and has maintained a level of consistency that's allowed him to surface as a potential first-day selection. Drafted by Atlanta, fourth round (99th)

3. Casey Rabach, Wisconsin -- The Badgers' team captain and one of the more durable offensive linemen in the country, earning a start in 48 games during his college career. While he isn't a tremendously strong pivot man, Rabach has the necessary functional strength and is also extremely flexible. This allows him to get after the MLB or slide easily to assist on the double team or stand up to a blitzing LB from the inside. Would qualify as an excellent choice in the early portion of day two. Drafted by Baltimore, third round (92nd)

4. Ben Hamilton, Minnesota -- Veteran of the collegiate wars, ranking as one of the top overall offensive linemen to ever wear a Golden Gopher uniform. At 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, the question at the pro level will be how effectively he'll deal with physically gifted, collapse-the-pocket DTs who dominate along the interior. If he's up to the task, his experience and leadership ability should allow him to maintain a starting position fairly early in his pro career. Drafted by Denver, fourth round (113th)

5. Chukky Okobi, Purdue -- Feisty, hard-nosed performer, operating at both guard and center during his college career with the Boilermakers. While he lacks ideal height at just 6-foot-1, I wouldn't underestimate a proven warrior who battles and scraps on every snap the way Okobi does. Drafted by Pittsburgh, fifth round (146th)

6. Bernard Robertson, Tulane -- Quality OT with the Green Wave, but at 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds his best chance to earn a starting job in the NFL figures to be inside at either guard or center. Drafted by Chicago, fifth round (138th)

Other centers of note:
Bruce Wiggins, Arizona
Jeff McCurley, Pittsburgh
Paul Hogan, Alabama
David Brandt, Michigan
Rick Gilliam, West Virginia
Chris Lorenti, Central Florida
Sherwin Lacewell, East Carolina

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