Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft.
First-Team Offensive Tackles:
D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Alabama has fielded an offensive line for the past few seasons that has been among the best in the nation. This year could be the team's best unit yet, and Fluker is a one of the Tide's most dominant blockers.
Fluker took over as the starting right tackle during his redshirt freshman season in 2010. He played very well in his first season and was even better as a sophomore. Over the past two seasons, Fluker has been a superb run-blocker for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
The 6-foot-6, 335-pounder is a physically-imposing blocker who forces his will on defensive linemen. He pushes them around at the point of attack and routinely rides them back off the line of scrimmage. Fluker also has enough quickness and athleticism to fire out of his stance and get to blocks on the second level. He is a pure road grader as a run-blocker who can pancake defenders with ease.
Fluker is very reliable in pass-protection. He is too big and strong to be bull-rushed, but retains the athleticism to mirror edge-rushers. Fluker has seen some excellent speed rushers already in his two years of experience, and there is no reason to think that he won't be even better as an upperclassmen. Fluker has also practiced against elite talent on a daily basis. The junior could be one of the most overwhelming blockers in college football in 2012.
Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
The Badgers always showcase some of the best offensive linemen in college football. Year after year, Wisconsin churns out blockers who are forces at the line of scrimmage. The 2012 season should be more of the same, and Wagner will be a featured linemen in the Badgers' ground game. He was the starter at right tackle in 2010 before moving to left tackle last year.
Wagner could be the best run-blocking left tackle in college football. He was absolutely dominant in the ground game last season, opening up holes for Montee Ball and James White. Wagner was an integral blocker for Ball, who had one of the most productive seasons ever in the history of college football.
In the passing attack, Wagner did well as the blind-side protector for Russell Wilson. The only games where Wagner had some issues were against Illinois and defensive end Whitney Mercilus, and the second battle against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship. In the latter contest, Wagner and his line were dominating early before a rough second half.
With Ball returning, Wagner should have another strong season showcasing his run-blocking ability. The Heisman candidate Ball gets plenty of attention, so Wagner shouldn't go unnoticed. He may be the most effective at right tackle in the NFL. Wagner needs to show the quickness and athleticism to be a blind-side protector at the next level.
Second-Team Offensive Tackles:
Chris Faulk, LSU
Faulk was one of the breakout players in the SEC last year. In a competition before the 2011 season, he won the starting left tackle position. Faulk made two starts at right tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
Faulk had an excellent sophomore season. He was a powerful run-blocker and showed good power to move defenders off the line of scrimmage. Faulk had some issues with Alabama's edge-rushers, but, overall, he did a quality job as a blind-side pass-protector. The tackle a Second-Team ALL SEC selection due to the success of his first full season as a starter.
The Tigers have a lot of talent in the backfield, so Faulk should have another strong season opening up running lanes. As he gains experience and refines his technique, Faulk should continue to improve as a pass-blocker; he will certainly be tested as a one. Faulk will see good pass-rushers when LSU takes on Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama.
If Faulk excels in those games, he could easily be a First-Team All American. Helping Faulk to prepare for taking on those rushers is his practice competition. He goes up against two excellent edge-rushers in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo on a daily basis. Both of them are projected to be future first-round picks.
At 6-foot-6, 325-pounds, Faulk has ideal size with a strong base and athletic ability. He is a better run-blocker than many left tackle prospects. Faulk has the length that NFL teams like to see in their offensive tackles, too. He is just scratching the surface of his talent and has a lot of upside to develop. Faulk could easily be a First-Team pick in 2012 or 2013.
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Since breaking into the starting lineup as a freshman, Matthews has been an excellent blocker for the Aggies. He was a very consistent protector for quarterback Ryan Tannehill over the past two seasons. Matthews is a natural edge-protector. He is very quick in his drops and has well-developed technique.
Matthews has been a tough run-blocker in the ground game for backs Cyrus Gray and Christian Michael. At 6-foot-5, 305-pounds, Matthews has the frame to add weight for the next level. He figures to take on a tougher slate of pass-rushers in 2012 as Texas A&M moves to the SEC. Matthews will face challenging pass-rushers when Texas A&M plays LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Florida.
There is the possibility that Matthews could move to left tackle in the NFL. The Aggies have a good left tackle in junior Luke Joeckel, but Matthews would probably be a left tackle if he played at almost any other school. Matthews looks like he has the skill set with the length, quickness and athleticism to play left tackle in college and the NFL.
Jake Matthews is the son of Bruce Matthews, so the blood lines are there for a standout NFL offensive linemen. Jake Matthews should only improve with experience and body development.
Third-Team Offensive Tackles:
Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Joeckel was one of the best blind-side protectors in the Big XII as a sophomore last year. He did a tremendous job of protecting Ryan Tannehill. Against some of the elite pass-rushers who Joeckel faced, he gave up some pressures, but, overall, Joeckel was effective in matching up against opposing team's best speed-rushers.
Joeckel broke into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2010. After some early struggles, he proved to be up to the task and finished the season strong. Joeckel improved a lot as a sophomore, and NFL scouts would love to see him keep that trend going as a junior and senior.
Joeckel's length and athleticism make him a natural left tackle. The same as teammate Jake Matthews, Joeckel (6-6, 310) will face a tougher schedule of pass-rushers this season. If Joeckel locks down his assignments against LSU, Auburn, Florida and Alabama, it should push him toward the top of the All-American lists. He also should put himself in position to be a first-round pick in 2013 or 2014.
Oday Aboushi, Virginia
Along with Wisconsin and Alabama, Virginia has been a program that has produced some quality offensive linemen over the past decade. Aboushi is the latest in the line of Cavaliers who are talented blockers. He is very athletic. Aboushi is quick and agile on the edge. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder looks comfortable in space and seems very adept at shuffling his feet to mirror edge rushers.
Aboushi is a natural left tackle. He might need a little more power for his game at the NFL level, especially if he lands in a man-blocking scheme. Aboushi could be a great fit in a zone-blocking system. He could have entered the 2012 draft after a strong junior season, and had a shot to be a top-50 pick, but he returned for his senior season.
If Aboushi has a standout year, he could definitely warrant first-round consideration. In the passing-driven NFL, there should be a lot of teams that are interested in bringing in Aboushi.
Honorable Mentions: LSU offensive tackle Alex Hurst, Baylor offensive tackle Cyril Richardson, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh, Florida offensive tackle Xavier Nixon, Stanford offensive tackle David Yankey and Kansas offensive tackle Tanner Hawkinson.