They don't receive the publicity that's reserved for the so-called skilled-position players, but that could change on the first day of the NFL draft for the elite offensive linemen.
This appears to be one of the best groups of linemen to enter the draft in several years. Tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State is a certain top-10 pick. It's possible two other tackles could be selected in the top 10, including Bryan Bulaga of Iowa and Trent Williams of Oklahoma.
Okung (6-5, 307) seems like a perfect fit for the Washington Redskins, who have the fourth overall pick. Okung is a powerful run blocker, but he's shown the footwork needed to be an effective blind-side pass blocker.
Players of Okung's ability are often referred to as franchise left tackles because of the long-term stability they give an offense.
"You talk about anyone being a franchise, they're obviously going to be a cornerstone for the team and for the franchise," Okung said at the NFL combine. "It's a compliment just to be considered that. But right now I've got to get to work. That's not for me to decide."
That decision will be made by the Redskins or perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs with the fifth pick. Okung is talented enough to be considered the first overall pick, but that's usually reserved for a quarterback.
"I've always been the quote unquote unsung hero," Okung said. "I'm definitely fine with that. It's not my dream to be the No. 1 of anything. I'm fine with just getting in the door."
Bulaga (6-5, 313) comes from a college system that produces outstanding linemen every year under the direction of Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz. Linemen that attend Iowa are expected to excel.
"The way we run our offense at Iowa is something a lot of NFL teams like to see," Bulaga said. "We're in a three-point stance a lot. We're getting after guys a lot. That's kind of just our mentality and our style. It can be third and medium and we'll probably run the ball rather than throw it. I like that style of football."
The only concern and it's minor about Bulaga is less-than-desirable arm length. He makes up for any perceived weakness with superior athleticism and technique, which means he could move inside to play guard.
Bulaga missed three games last season with a thyroid condition, but that's not considered a problem.
"It's called Thyroiditis," he said. "It's a viral infection that lands in your thyroid and causes your thyroid
to overproduce that hormone, which causes loss of stamina, fatigue, increased heart rate, all of the above."
Williams (6-5, 315) has an excellent combination of size and athleticism, but he's been criticized for what some scouts consider the lack of a good work ethic. He could be picked by the Buffalo Bills, who have the ninth pick, or he could slide farther through the first round.
The criticisms are a source of motivation for Williams.
"Just prove them wrong," he said. "The day I get in camp is where I'll start proving them wrong."
Teams looking for an upgrade at guard need look no further than Mike Iupati of Idaho. Iupati (6-5, 331) is a classic road-grader on the inside. He played guard and center in college and showed the agility to pull as a lead blocker.
Iupati was criticized for the number of times he was caught holding during the Senior Bowl. He admits he could have performed better.
"I don't know why I did that," he said. "I have a short punch, and I come off the ball very physical, sometimes too aggressive. I didn't want to get beat, so I didn't want to just try to tackle them. Them using my body with me sort of made me look real bad."
Another strong interior lineman is Maurkice Pouncey of Florida, who won the Rimington Award, which is symbolic of the nation's best center, last season. Pouncey (6-4, 304) started all 14 games for the national champion Gators in 2008. He missed spring practices last year because of shoulder surgery, but he was healthy and played in all 14 games in 2009.