GREEN BAY—Tackles at the top and a couple of guards for the ages headline the offensive linemen in this year's draft class.
Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel is ticketed for the first overall selection, and fast-rising Eric Fisher of Central Michigan is likely to go off the board quickly, as teams continue to seek blindside protection for their quarterbacks.
"Luke Joeckel is a terrific pass protector," draft guru Tony Pauline said. "He's not a great athlete but he's a fundamental, offensive lineman that understands the position. He's a little bit like Joe Thomas."
Fisher leaped up the board with a sensational week of practice at the Senior Bowl. At 6-7, 306, Fisher has the leanest of a basketball player, which offers the potential for Fisher to get bigger and stronger.
"Fisher is not as good a pass protector as Joeckel, but he's slightly more athletic and a slightly better run blocker. Huge upside," Pauline said.
Another fast-rising left tackle is Oklahoma's Lane Johnson, who turned in an eye-popping combine workout. He likely pushed himself into the top 10 selections. He's a former tight end who's in the advanced development stages of his switch to tackle. Pauline considers Johnson a "tremendous athlete with huge upside."
The fourth first-round prospect among the tackle class is Alabama's D.J. Fluker, a massive, road-grading right tackle. At 6-5, 340, Fluker is the biggest and most powerful of the tackles, and that makes him an easy fit for a right-handed team that wants to run the ball.
"Solely a right tackle; terrific run blocker. He can start right away," Pauline said of Fluker.
Teams low in the first round might have to wait another round to find a pass-blocking left tackle. Virginia's Oday Aboushi was a combine workout bust, and Terron Armstead of Arkansas Pine Bluff, though he climbed boards at the combine, might not have climbed quite that high.
The second half of the first round is when the guards begin to emerge and Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper are thought to be special players.
"Powerful run blocker, moves well on his feet," Pauline said of Warmack. "He's skilled in all areas of the game."
Warmack, 6-2, 317, is a masher. He's a powerful drive-blocker, whereas Cooper, 6-2, 311, is adept at getting out ahead of the ball. Cooper played in a zone-blocking scheme in college and is thought to be best-suited for that scheme in the NFL.
"I thought there was a chance Cooper would go ahead of Warmack, but what I'm hearing now is that Warmack will go ahead of Cooper because he's more of a sure thing. Cooper is not as dominant a run blocker, but he's perfect for a zone-blocking team," Pauline said.
Syracuse's Justin Pugh is a tackle/guard prospect whose size, 6-5, 307, might make him a better fit inside. Kentucky's Larry Warford, 6-3, 332, showed well at the Senior Bowl and figures to be a fixture at guard for a straight-ahead, ball-control, power-running offense. Both figure to be second-round prospects.
Pauline continues to rank Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, 6-4, 312, at the top of the center class, despite an unimpressive combine workout in which Frederick ran in the 5.6's. Frederick has played guard and is a powerful run blocker.
Alabama's Barrett Jones, 6-5, 306, is "ridiculously underrated," Pauline said. "He's not a mauler but he can play multiple positions."
Both are considered to be second-rounders.
A third center prospect, Khaled Holmes of USC, is beginning to move up boards. Holmes, 6-3, 302, limped through last season with an ankle injury that dropped his draft stock, but he's becoming too good to overlook. He has a well-rounded game and can be dominant at the point of attack.
Cal's Brian Schwenke, an undersized center at 6-3, 314, doesn't look the part but was impressive with his technique and feistiness at the Senior Bowl. Additional coverage