It isn't the glamour position, that of the offensive lineman, but it can provide a lucrative career in the NFL. There are big contracts these days, especially for tackles. And there are big needs. The following five players could be first-round picks - and will be first-day picks - and could have an impact this season:
Joe Thomas, tackle, 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, Wisconsin. This man is going to get paid. A likely top-five pick, Thomas is ready to start in the NFL - today. He was a blocking tight end and defensive end at Wisconsin before moving to left tackle, where he started 38 games over three seasons. Thomas tore a knee ligament during the Badgers' bowl game in 2005 while filling in along the defensive line. He's healthy, and last year won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top offensive lineman. But there is concern about his long-term durability.
Levi Brown, tackle, 6-4, 328 pounds, Penn State.
It looked for a while as if Brown and Tamba Hali would dominate Penn State's defensive line. But before the 2003 season, Brown switched to the offensive side of the ball, and ended up starting 44 games at left tackle for the Nittany Lions. Although slowed last season by torn cartilage in his left knee, Brown should be a mid-first-round pick.
Joe Staley, tackle, 6-5, 302 pounds, Central Michigan. A tight end in high school, Staley has put on more than 75 pounds since his freshman season at Central Michigan. He played tight end for one year in college before moving to right tackle in 2004, then left tackle in 2005. Although he played against mid-major competition, Staley is projected as a late first-round pick.
Ryan Kalil, center, 6-3, 291 pounds, Southern Cal. Kalil, a second-generation college center - his father, Frank, played at Arkansas and Arizona - is not the biggest guy on the line, but he's tough, smart, and has good hands. He was a finalist for the 2006 Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's top center, and started 39 games for the Trojans.
Ben Grubbs, guard, 6-3, 314 pounds, Auburn. Another peripatetic player, Grubbs was a defensive tackle and blocking tight end at Auburn before settling in at guard, where he ended up starting 38 games over three seasons. One of the best interior linemen in the country last year, Grubbs is considered the premier guard in the draft and is a possible late first-round pick.
Others: Aaron Sears, guard, Tennessee; Justin Blalock, guard, Texas; Samson Satele, center, Hawaii; Leroy Harris, center, North Carolina State.
- Ashley Fox