The best left tackle in the NFC West

June, 14, 2011
6/14/11
2:01
PM ET
NFC West teams have drafted a league-high 10 offensive linemen in the first two rounds since 2007.

Seven of the 10 were tackles.

Four of the seven tackles play on the left side.

One of the four left tackles, Russell Okung of the Seattle Seahawks, showed up in voting when ESPN.com's power rankings for the position went live Tuesday.

I ranked Okung 10th as a projection for 2011 even though the St. Louis Rams' Rodger Saffold was arguably the best left tackle in the NFC West last season.

My thinking on Okung: There are not 10 complete, elite left tackles in the NFL. Okung belongs on a very short list of players with the talent and makeup to be elite at that position. He hasn't played enough to this point, but I think he'll join that group. Listing someone with less ability was the alternative.

"Okung would be in my top five a year from now," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said, "but to say he is as good as, say, D'Brickashaw Ferguson is hard to do right now."

My rankings took into account a range of factors: what players have accomplished to this point, what they are likely to accomplish in 2011 and whether they are one-dimensional or more complete. Some left tackles would have a harder time flourishing in run-oriented offenses. Others aren't as good protecting the passer. The best ones could do either well.

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonSome scouts believe Seattle left tackle Russell Okung has that talent to develop into an elite player at the position.
Speaking with Williamson and other evaluators helped to supplement my own impressions of players, including some players I have not seen regularly.

One NFC scout ranked Joe Thomas and Jake Long in the top two spots even though he thought Ryan Clady and Jason Peters were more talented. Consistency and dependability were what gave Thomas and Long the edge. This scout also thought Michael Roos had played at a high level despite being less impressive physically. He liked Donald Penn and also thought Okung would work his way into the top few spots.

Saffold and the Arizona Cardinals' Levi Brown started every game at left tackle last season. Okung missed six starts to injury. San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley missed seven, also to injury.

Saffold's ability to start 16 games and hold up relatively well made him one of the more impressive rookies in the NFL last season. Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian even suggested his team might have erred in passing on Saffold.

Polian thought Saffold would project as a right tackle. The NFC scout I referenced above thought Saffold could be better at guard. Staley and Brown have played both tackle spots.

There is no debate as to where Okung should line up. His physical skills make him a natural left tackle. He also seems to have the right mindset. How well he avoids injuries will likely determine whether my No. 10 projection was on target.

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