I noticed a mock draft today by John Morgan at Field Gulls that had the suggestion... Seattle taking a left tackle with the fourth overall pick and plugging them in at left guard as a rookie. It's something I hear and read quite often amongst fans who want the team to draft an offensive lineman. The thinking behind this is obvious - finding a way to get the new guy involved immediately to justify what could be a $60m contract whilst maintaining Walter Jones as the blind side blocker. In theory it sounds perfect, but just how logical is it? John Morgan has Seattle taking Eugene Monroe in his aforementioned mock draft...
"He's athletic, with great feet; a great fit in a classic zone blocking scheme, and is an already polished, even dominant pass blocker. Sean Locklear stays left tackle. Ray Willis sticks at right guard. Walter Jones, if he can play, sticks at left tackle and Monroe develops under one of the all time greats while playing left guard."
Undoubtedly Monroe has excellent footwork and has easily the best pass protection amongst offensive linemen in this year's class. He played some guard for Virginia before eventually switching over to left tackle, where he was a dominant force in the college ranks.
Having said that, I have reservations as to whether he can play guard in the NFL. My main concern with Monroe has always been his lack of a nasty streak and unwillingness to move into the second level. Often he'll block one man, do his job but then call it a play. This arguably makes him an awkward fit in a zone blocking scheme and perhaps more tellingly, makes a transition to guard quite difficult. I refer to College Talent Scouts' Kyle Rota for his scouting report on Eugene Monroe:
"He will ride his man out of the play if he is able to, but he has no interest in blocking anyone other than his man on most plays. If a DE didn’t line up on him, he’d go and take out the linebacker with glee, but if he was asked to block a DE and for whatever reason stopped blocking the DE (end disengaged, knocked down, whatever), he rarely went after a 2nd man to block. That puts a zone team like Seattle in a real conundrum." - Kyle Rota
So perhaps there are some question marks raised about Monroe's ability to play guard in the immanency of his drafting, but what about the other highly rated offensive lineman in this draft class - Jason Smith? He may not be athletically on the same plateau as Monroe, but he certainly has the nasty streak required to play some stop-gap interior and has the desire to get into the second level. He's a little less polished but arguably has bigger upside.
"Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe are clearly the two best tackles in this class. Both have the natural tools needed to become elite left tackles. Monroe is much more ready to contribute right away at tackle, Smith has more value at guard (especially if the added weight helps him anchor against the bull rush). What separates Smith and Monroe the most is that Smith definitely wants it more than Monroe does, he has a much nastier attitude that shows up on the field. Monroe has more natural ability, but if I am choosing to invest tens of millions of dollars I would choose Smith because he has the intelligence and the desire to become a great player."
Kyle Rota (for full report click here)
In conclusion, it could be argued that Jason Smith offers the flexibility required to play as a part-time guard but question marks remain about Monroe's ability to move inside. Could this affect Seattle decision on draft day? Would the team consider such a move? Finances will surely dictate some part of their thinking. Mike Wahle signed a five year, $16m contract in 2008 that could eventually escalate closer to $20m. He is due to earn $3.1m in base salary during 2009 and 2010. Not as expensive as a Steve Hutchinson or Alan Faneca, but certainly too much to play backup duties.
Indeed the rookie's salary could also play a part in this thinking. It might seem a stretch considering he needed micro-fracture surgery recently, but if Walter Jones came back and played another two or three years at left tackle would you be happy paying a rookie half of his large contract to play out of position? Certainly something to think about but if Seattle want to find that instant impact from their first round pick, they may have to be creative with some prospects.