Touted brutes show NFL scouts they have brain power, too

Three of top tackle prospects in the draft also excelled in the classroom

February 26, 2011|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS — — The first clue that this offensive line draft class is more than beef and brawn came when someone asked Boston College's Anthony Castonzo what he'll do after football.

"I'd like to open up a foundation, pursue my biochemistry degree and use it to do cancer medical research," said Castonzo, giving an answer that seemed more fitting for a graduate school interview, not a scouting combine one.

Three of the top offensive tackle prospects — Castonzo, Colorado's Nate Solder and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod — have distinguished themselves as much in the classroom as on the football field. All three finished with 3.5 grade-point averages and were among the 16 finalists for the NCAA's William V. Campbell Trophy, which is commonly referred to as the "Academic Heisman."

It's like "The Blind Side" has turned into "The Mind Side" at this year's NFL scouting combine.

The Ravens could be looking for a left tackle or a right one, depending on where they decide to put Michael Oher. And drafting a smart offensive lineman is probably a wise move considering the competition.

"There's a lot of moving parts in there, particularly when you play teams like the Steelers and their zone blitzes," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "Honestly, it's important for offensive linemen because those guys really do work together. Five guys have to be on the same page. If one guy is on a different page than the others, there's going to be a breakdown. We place a big emphasis on football intelligence."

Castonzo is considered by some draft analysts as the top tackle in the draft and probably won't be available when the Ravens pick at No. 26 (although many didn't predict Oher would slide as far as he did). Most mock drafts have him going somewhere between picks Nos. 13 and 22.

Being at the head of the class has been status quo for Castonzo, who skipped first grade. He went on to score 35 on the ACT, which is equivalent to a 1,580 on the SAT. By the time his college football career was complete, Castonzo had become the 12th player to be named four straight times to the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Academic football team, which has a 57-year history.

So, is Castonzo prouder of what he did on the field or off of it?

"I think I put probably more work into what happened on the field," said Castonzo, whose only sack last season came on a safety blitz against Maryland. "Academics has always come pretty easy to me. Football is something I love so I pour everything I have into it."

Solder is rated among the top four offensive tackles in the draft and could get selected as early as 13th or as late as the Ravens' spot. He allowed two sacks and three quarterback pressures this season.

Not only was he voted Colorado's Most Valuable Player, he also received the award for academic achievement.

Interested in veterinary medicine, Solder has already earned his degree in biology and took pre-vet courses in the fall. If there's a lockout, he wants to start working as a game warden.

"[Being intelligent] is going to help you because you can be out there thinking about a couple of different things at once," Solder said, "and be able to react and adapt and change and make plays."

Sherrod is rated among the top six tackles and likely will be picked late in the first round or early in the second. There are questions whether he has the desired athletic ability to play left tackle.

He graduated in August 2010 with a degree in business with a focus on financial risk management, insurance and financial planning. He then received an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation.

Intelligence will help him adapt to the game and allow him to start immediately, Sherrod said.

"Football is mostly mental most of the time," Sherrod said. "If you do your homework and study and know the ins and outs of the game, you're going to be well prepared."

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock predicts four offensive tackles — Castonzo, Solder, Sherrod and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi — will be taken in the first round. Last year, four were selected in the opening round.

"All of those guys, I think, will be, ultimately, solid left tackles," Mayock said. "You just have to figure out how high you want to go for a Solder or Castonzo when there are technical flaws that have to be fixed."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

HEAD OF THE CLASS

ANTHONY CASTONZO

College: Boston College

Size: 6-7, 305

Major: Biochemistry (3.5 GPA)

NATE SOLDER

College: Colorado

Size: 6-8, 314

Major: Biology (3.5 GPA)

DEREK SHERROD

College: Mississippi State

Size: 6-5, 312

Major: Business (3.54 GPA)

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