Path to the draft: Offensive tackles

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It's hard to be convinced that the Texans are in the market for an offensive tackle, considering they drafted Duane Brown last year with the No. 26 pick. The fact that Brown started all 16 games at left tackle and got better as the season went on makes the position seem like it will an afterthought for the Texans on draft day.

But not so fast. The Texans may not go after an offensive tackle early in the draft, but their scouts appreciate the talent pool that is available. Several Texans scouts have said that offensive tackle is the deepest position group coming out this year, and many observers believe that Baylor's Jason Smith could be selected with the first overall pick.

In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Michael Lombardi of The National Football Post offers his Top 5 offensive tackle prospects in the 2009 draft class. A 23-year veteran of NFL personnel departments, Lombardi is sizing up each position group with us in our "Path to the Draft" series.

Michael Lombardi's Top 5 Offensive Tackles

1. Eugene Monroe: Virginia (6-5, 309) Lombardi: A natural bender with good body control and re-direction skills in space. Displays a natural first step out of his stance and has the ability to consistently reach the corner vs. edge rushers. He possesses vines for arms and does a nice job getting hands inside and anchoring against the bull rush. Natural in space and has the athleticism to reach-block and seal at the second level. However, he needs to add a bit more girth and power to his base.

2. Jason Smith: Baylor (6-5, 309)
Lombardi:A former tight end who displays excellent overall athleticism and quickness in pass protection. Has an explosive first step out of his stance and displays the feet to consistently mirror defensive ends in space. A long-armed tackle who has the foot speed to reach the corner. However, he isn't used to putting his hand on the ground as he consistently lined up in a two-point stance. Is still a bit raw in all aspects of his game and needs to polish his footwork and overall technique.

3. Andre Smith: Alabama (6-4, 332)
Lombardi:A powerful, stocky tackle prospect who has the base strength to consistently open up run lanes and move linemen off the ball. Plays with natural leverage and does a good job getting under defenders and driving them down the field. However, he isn't the most athletic tackle and will struggle reaching the corner against speed rushers. May be best suited for the right side.

4. Michael Oher: Mississippi (6-5, 309)
Lombardi:The total physical package at tackle. Possesses a big, strong-looking frame with long arms and a well-built upper and lower body. Displays an explosive first step and can consistently get outside and reach speed rushers. Excellent lateral mobility and feet. However, he has had some well-documented learning disabilities and may need his fair share of reps at the next level.

5. Eben Britton: Arizona (6-6, 309)
Lombardi:A tall, well-built tackle with a smooth, coordinated first step out of his stance. Does a nice job setting quickly and has the technique to consistently stay on defenders. Britton is very balanced tackle who is patient in his punch and rarely overextends in pass protection. However, he isn't a great athlete and lacks ideal explosion and foot quickness for the position. May be best suited for the right side.

Brooke Bentley's Top 5

1. Jason Smith, Baylor
Bentley: Smith is considered the safest pick in the draft and could end up going No. 1 overall to the Lions. He's a converted tight end, which speaks to his athleticism and quickness. And at 6-5, 309, he is physical and powerful as a run blocker and in pass protection. Plus, scouts rave about his work ethic and football IQ.

2. Eugene Monroe, Virginia
Bentley:Monroe excels in pass protection. Like Smith, he has quick feet and good speed for his size. Scouts say he is fundamentally sound and will start right away, but he will have to step up his play against the run to be a premier tackle.

3. Andre Smith, Alabama Bentley:Before the combine, Smith was considered one of the best players in the draft. But he left Indy early without telling anyone and looked out of shape at his pro day. Still, in terms of pure left tackle skill, he has a lot of upside. On tape, Smith looks agile and plays with explosive strength.

4. Michael Oher, Mississippi
Bentley:Oher was a late-comer to the game of football because of the family obstacles he endured as a youth. He was quick to catch up in high school and college. The left tackle prospect is explosive off the line and gets to the second level quickly. He also endears scouts with his focus and attitude.

5. Eben Britton, Arizona Bentley:Britton has been a first-round sleeper in this year's draft, but a lot of teams with late first-round picks are interested in him because he can play both right and left tackle. Plus, he possesses good footwork and he plays tough.

Michael Lombardi* spent 23 years as a high-level executive in NFL personnel departments, working with the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. He has spent 26 years evaluating college and pro football talent. He currently serves as one of the main contributors of The National Football Post.*

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