INDIANAPOLIS – It's the quarterbacks who come to define a particular draft class, but it's the offensive linemen who get picked early. Always picked early.
As the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine kicked itself into high gear on Thursday with workouts beginning at Lucas Oil Field, the buzz in the media center was over the quarterbacks who were brought in to face the cameras. When Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota entered the area, for example, his every move was recorded by a moving hoard of cameras while his every word was chronicled by a gaggle of microphones.
That's what always happens with the glamour position, but the players who allow the glamour guys to do their jobs passed through the same area the day before virtually unnoticed by comparison. If the NFL Combine is a first taste of professional football for the prospects taking part, the offensive linemen here got some initial exposure to the anonymity that will be a part of their daily professional lives. Unless of course, they're allowing the glamour guys to get sacked, and then they will be reviled by the fans of the team that drafted them.
And while there is nothing glamorous about drafting an offensive lineman on the first round, the number of teams doing just that every year proves their worth. In fact, there have been 32 offensive linemen picked in the first round in the five drafts between 2010-14.
"The offensive tackles group, as we stand here today, it looks pretty strong," said Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert. "Are there any specifics that you want in a tackle? Everybody wants big, strong, fast, mean, tough, smart."
Steelers fans might rise up in revolt should the team spend its No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft on an offensive tackle, particularly because of the perceived needs on defense. But in the Wild Card Round loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field, the Steelers tackles had a tough time of it with Baltimore's outside pass rushers – Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil – and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times.
A look behind the scenes at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Steelers have three tackles on their roster with starting experience in the NFL – Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, and Mike Adams – but if they were to determine that there was a tackle with Pro Bowl potential in this draft, and he was available to them in the first round, could they afford not to pick him?
"There's no really cookie-cutter for an offensive tackle, not only in the NFL, but in the AFC North as well," said Colbert. "We think it's the most competitive division in the National Football League. We know it's a very, very tough, physical division, and we think it's the toughest. So you want to get as many good players as you can who can compete in that division."
Mike Mayock, who analyzes the draft for NFL Network and is a huge part of the league's telecast of the Scouting Combine every year, lists his top offensive tackles in this order: Pitt's T.J. Clemmings, Stanford's Andrus Peat, LSU's La'el Collins, Miami's Ereck Flowers, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, and Florida's D.J. Humphries.
Mayock sees Iowa's Brandon Scherff as the top interior offensive lineman, but he admits the team picking him might decide he's a tackle as well.
"I'll tell you, to me it's intriguing because Brandon Scherff is going to be whatever he's going to be by whatever team picks him," said Mayock, "but then there are like five or six guys who all are kind of prototypical left tackles who are really gifted athletes but have holes in their games for some reason or another.
"There are five of those guys, and then there's La'el Collins from LSU, who's a first-round right tackle, or he could be like Scherff, either a right tackle or an inside guy, and I really like him because of his power."
In the upcoming days of this Combine, players will emerge as workout stars, and while their accomplishments here will be replayed over and over and over again, maybe the workout doesn't quite match the game video. But just today Flowers attracted some positive attention to himself by doing 37 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press.
Mayock's assessment of this position preceded Flowers' performance during the bench press, and two of the other prospects he is most excited about are Clemmings and Peat.
"When you take Collins out of the equation, Clemmings is so gifted, a former high school basketball player who only played two years of high school football," said Mayock. "He was a defensive lineman when he got to Pitt, and he only got to the offensive line his last two years. I thought his tape was phenomenal, given all that. Now, he got to the Senior Bowl, and because he's raw, he was exposed a little bit, but that didn't hurt him. We all know his talent, and people respected the fact that he came out and competed. I think Clemmings is going to get drafted, I think somewhere in that 15-to-25 range.
"Andrus Peat from Stanford is gifted, he looks like a right tackle or guard, but he's got left tackle feet, he's got length. He's not 21 years old yet, and he needs to get much stronger up top. Two years from now he's going to be a completely different kid just because of body type and strength, but he's a first-round pick, and in a similar 15-to-25 range."
And remember, Steelers fans, your favorite team has the No. 22 overall pick.