While the 2008 draft class may have been the best in NFL history for offensive linemen – an amazing eight first-round picks were spent on tackles and guards – the two most recent groups measure up very well. In 2009, three of the first eight picks were tackles, and that could happen again in 2010. Russell Okung is seen by many as the surest thing at his position in this draft, while Trent Williams has elite physical potential and really impressed over the 2009 season with his move from right to left tackle.
Do Okung and Williams measure up to past draft greats? Let's see what the tape tells us:
Pros: In pass-blocking, which is Okung's primary strength, he takes a consistent first step and fans out very well against ends trying to get around him. He's got a great kick-slide outside, which he will use to take pass rushers out of the play, and also to create outside rushing lanes. Drive-blocks decently – this is an underrated part of his game, and he's also good at pinching guards inside when asked to do so. Okung is very persistent when he gets his hands engaged – he doesn't take plays off even when the play goes away from him. He chips well when he has to take on double teams; he's very adept at pushing one defender back and engaging another without losing position or leverage. When he backpedals to take a bull rush, he's very good at establishing a foundation from which he can strike out. Nice footwork in short spaces. Not an especially convincing downfield blocker, but he has impressive power when heading up a couple yards and pushing a defender out of the play. Plays with a wide base, which allows him to better counter spin moves and other trickery. Allowed just one sack and two quarterback pressures in the Cowboys' 2009 season. He ended his collegiate career in the Cotton Bowl – his 47th straight start.
Pros: Very athletic tackle with quick feet; Williams can execute short outside tackle pulls like a prototypical zone blocker. Does not have the "fanning" motion common to the best pass-blocking left tackles (imagine the arc of an opening door), but he has developed a shuffle that keeps him on pace with quick edge rushers. Had his rough moments as a blindside protector early on after moving to left tackle, but adjusted admirably through the 2009 season. Outstanding drive-blocker who takes away an opponent's momentum from the point at which he gets locked in with the defender. Can drive a defender straight back, or maul him outside. Williams is quick enough to pick up twists and stunts on sheer foot speed alone, and he'll be even better as he gets more experience reading odd fronts and other deceptions. Keeps his head on a swivel after the snap. Good balance on the run and at the second level.
Cons: When defenders come inside after he's walled them off outside against the pass, he frequently gets pushed back into the quarterback. Not especially agile on pulls and will whiff in space at times. Footwork is decent for a tackle noted more for agility than power, but he could keep better balance when heading to the second level. This causes him to lose a lot of power on the run. As sure as he is at the line, he plays like he's on a tile floor downfield. More vulnerable to inside moves than outside rushes, but usually has the quickness to recover in time. Did not do shuttles and jumps at the NFL scouting combine due to a groin injury.
Cons: Williams is still learning to eye defenders on the left side – then-quarterback Sam Bradford's shoulder injury against BYU came about because Oklahoma's left side line was overwhelmed by an overload blitz and didn't pick up the protection (though it was Williams' first game at left tackle). Getting better at picking up inside moves after false outside steps, but this is still a weakness. Edge rushers who shade him wider outside or in a nine-tech angle (think Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes)) can get around him before he sets his feet. Lacks elite quickness in downfield blocking.
Conclusion: He doesn't blow you away with his power, but teams would be hard-pressed to do better than Okung as an immediate pass-protection solution. If he can add in-line power and upfield balance to his toolkit in the NFL, he has Pro Bowl potential. He'll help any team that takes him, and he's got the work ethic to take it all the way.
Conclusion: While Okung is the sure thing (if such a thing exists in the draft), Williams becomes even more intriguing the more you watch him. The improvement in his ability to protect the blind side over the season was very impressive, and he's got the physical tools to top out as an elite left tackle in the long run. An optimal fit for any zone-blocking team, Williams might start out at right tackle in the NFL and move over to the glamour side as he gets acclimated to the finer points of the position.
Doug Farrar is a regular contributor to Yahoo! Sports' Shutdown Corner