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NFL draft preview: offensive linemen

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • April 19, 2012 - 6:37 AM

How important is a left tackle in a team's long-term success?

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has gone out of his way on several occasions to suggest that left tackle might be a lower priority than offensive playmaker when the team selects third overall in next week's NFL draft.

It goes against conventional thinking and raises the suspicion that Spielman is simply trying to drum up trade partners by keeping the teams behind him guessing. The truth will be revealed soon enough, but most people aren't buying it because, well, most people still think the Vikings will select Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil.

Considered the best non-quarterback prospect in the draft, Kalil is a perfect fit at a perfect time in Minnesota. The Vikings pulled the trigger on a young franchise quarterback when they selected Christian Ponder 12th overall a year ago. But then they jettisoned veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the ninth overall pick in 2002, and turned his vital job over to Charlie Johnson, a free agent that the Colts didn't even try to re-sign.

Pairing Ponder and Kalil together now could allow them a decade or more to grow together. It would also enable the Vikings to further strengthen a rebuilt offensive line by sliding Johnson to guard, where he's better suited to play.

The Vikings' level of success in the near future depends on Ponder's development. It doesn't take an expert to figure out how Kalil could help in that process.

"Give him time to throw," Kalil told the Star Tribune on Sunday. "Honestly. It's that simple. It's about making that quarterback feel more comfortable in the pocket, that he can trust that he can get that extra read and get that extra second knowing he's not going to be getting hit from behind or speared in the back. I think a quarterback's confidence is everything."

Spielman has said a "functional" left tackle might have the same value. But will he prove it by passing on Kalil?

THE FRONTRUNNER

Matt Kalil, OT, USC

He's 6-7, 306 pounds and is already considered to have the strength and agility of an NFL- caliber left tackle. Universally considered to be the best available player after quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

THE CONTENDERS

Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Could be an option at left tackle if the Vikings opt to trade down. But don't go too far, Vikes. Reiff won't stay on the board for long. He's a 6-6, 313-pounder who also has the technique and look of a bona fide NFL left tackle.

David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Could be the third Cardinal to go in the first round after Luck and left tackle Jonathan Martin. DeCastro (6-5, 316) is considered a punishing run blocker with a nasty side. And he went to Stanford, so he can pass block, too.

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

The Badgers' 6-5, 314-pounder is considered the top center available. He's a probable second-round pick, but might slip into the first round. The Ravens (No. 29) could use him at guard until Matt Birk retires.

THE SLEEPER

Tom Compton, South Dakota

A graduate of Rosemount High School, Compton started all four years at South Dakota. The 6-5, 314-pounder, a first-team All-America in the Football Championship Subdivision, is considered a late-round project.

Today is Day 4 of the Star Tribune's position-by-position preview of the NFL draft April 26-28 in New York City.

Today: offensive linemen

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