When it comes to offensive linemen, tackles get drafted first and receive the biggest contracts. That should definitely be the case again this season.
Many of the top tackles in college football from a year ago turned down the chance to enter the NFL Draft and returned for their senior year. The returning standouts mean the position is flooded with a tremendous amount of talent and experience.
The top four spots among the Rivals.com Preseason Offensive Lineman Rankings are filled by tackles. Six tackles made the top 10, meaning the position has three times as many representatives as centers and guards (two each).
Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Top Offensive Linemen
1. Justin Blalock, Texas, Tackle, Sr., 6-4, 335
The return of this two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection makes life much easier for whomever winds up being the Longhorns' next quarterback (Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead are
battling for the starting job). There is talk in the UT camp that Blalock might move to guard. He has shown he can shut down opposing defensive linemen or run over them - and then run over a
linebacker. Just ask Vince Young, whose dazzling runs were often ignited by one of Blalock's devastating blocks.
2. Sam Baker, USC, Tackle, Jr., 6-5, 305
The latest in the great line of tackles that have suited up for the Trojans will have a new job this fall ? protecting the quarterback's blind side. As a left tackle, he didn't have to worry about that with the
left-handed Matt Leinart. But possible replacements John David Booty and Mark Sanchez are both right-handed. Baker enters his third year as a starter.
3. Levi Brown, Penn State, Tackle, Sr., 6-5, 328
This veteran was a key part of Penn State's resurgence last season, helping the Nittany Lions give up just 14 sacks and average a 35.2 points a game. Like Blalock and Baker, Brown also passed
on the chance to be a high draft pick. A strong senior season would lock up a spot in the first round.
4. Joe Thomas, Wisconsin, Tackle, Sr., 6-8, 313
This towering lineman probably would have been a first-round pick if it wasn't for a torn ACL suffered in the Badgers' 24-10 win in the Capital One Bowl last season. Pro scouts love his size, mobility
and power. He has looked healthy in preseason practices and is expected to start the season opener at Bowling Green and quickly regain his dominating form.
5. Ben Grubbs, Auburn, Guard, Sr., 6-3, 318
A tremendous run blocker who moves very well, Grubbs is entering his third year as a starter. He is part of the best tandem of guards in college football along with senior Tim Duckworth (ranked No. 11). The duo opened up several big running lanes last season for Kenny Irons, who piled up an SEC-high 1,293 yards.
6. Josh Beekman, Boston College, Guard, Sr., 6-2, 335
Beekman emerged as one of the ACC's top blockers last season. He was a key part of a line that gave up just 15 sacks, the lowest amount in the league. Beekman helped power an offense that
averaged a league-high 387 yards a game. After making 24 starts, the Eagles will rely heavily on his experience and leadership.
7. Dan Mozes, West Virginia, Center, Sr., 6-4, 290
If Steve Slaton or Pat White gets an invite to the Heisman Trophy presentation, Mozes should be one of the first people to receive thanks. The three-year starter made the move from
guard to center early last season and immediately excelled. The Mountaineers went on to finish with the nation's fourth-best rushing offense and Mozes was selected first-team All-Big East for the
8. Arron Sears, Tennessee, Tackle, Sr., 6-4, 320 Phillip Fulmer didn't have many positives to take from last season's 5-6 campaign, but Sears was certainly one of the exceptions. He managed to garner first-team All-SEC honors and provide
problems for just about every defensive end in the league. He also has been very reliable, starting 23 of 24 games the last two seasons.
9. Ryan Harris, Notre Dame, Tackle, Sr., 6-5, 292
The return of this dependable veteran is another reason to believe Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn will give the Irish their first Heisman winner since Tim Brown in 1987. Harris has made
32 consecutive starts at left tackle; Quinn is the only Irish player who has played more minutes.
10. Ryan Kalil, USC, Center, Sr., 6-3, 285
The Trojans' next quarterback will be getting matched up with one of the nation's top centers. Kalil emerged as the leader of an O-line last season that produced a nation-high 580 yards a game. He
also has earned a reputation for having a high football I.Q. and exceptional footwork.