NFL Draft Buzz: OL Branden Albert

OL Branden Albert (Ed Thompson/Scout.com)

One of the hottest names heading into the NFL Draft is Virginia offensive lineman Branden Albert. Even though he played guard in college, he's been telling anyone and everyone that he can also play tackle and might be a better fit there in the pros. Should the Bears take a shot at him in Round 1?

In the game of baseball, a utility bench player that can get the job done defensively at multiple positions is considered a luxury in the major leagues.

Unheralded contributors like Craig Grebeck and Tony Graffanino were both incredibly valuable and wildly popular for the Chicago White Sox, able to line up anywhere in the infield and even play some outfield from time to time when every-day starters needed a rest. On the other side of town, Mark DeRosa played first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and right field for the Chicago Cubs in 2007.

However, even though the ability to be versatile is a good thing no matter what you do for a living, aren't guys like Grebeck, Graffanino, and DeRosa forced to become the proverbial jack-of-all-trades because they're not especially good at any one position?

The same question can be asked of Virginia offensive lineman Branden Albert, who is rocketing up draft boards all over the NFL and could end up being a top-10 pick if his stock continues its mercurial rise.


OL Branden Albert
Michael Conroy/AP Images

Albert (6-5 5/8, 309) played guard almost exclusively for the Cavaliers, but he told anyone within shouting distance at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that he can also play tackle. Why would he say such a thing? Obviously, it has to do with the fact that tackles are always considered more valuable than guards, as the position is more difficult to play and good ones are harder to find. Quite often, players who fail at tackle are moved inside to play guard in order to extend their careers. Believe it or not, Albert stands a better chance of being drafted higher if he can convince team scouts that he's the No. 4 or 5 tackle available as opposed to the No. 1 guard.

In the 2007 draft, three tackles were taken off the board in Round 1 – Joe Thomas to Cleveland at No. 3, Levi Brown to Arizona at No. 5, and Joe Staley to San Francisco at No. 28 – before the first guard – Ben Grubbs to Baltimore at No. 29 – heard his name called. This year, tackles Jake Long of Michigan, Ryan Clady of Boise State, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt, and Jeff Otah of Pittsburgh could all be selected in the top half of the first round, while a highly-rated pure guard like Chilo Rachal of USC most likely won't go until some time in Round 2.

The Monsters of the Midway have obvious and immediate needs along the offensive line, both at tackle and guard. Right tackle Fred Miller was released Feb. 18 after a lackluster performance this past season, and left guard Ruben Brown will not be back after a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve. John St. Clair is currently penciled in as a starter at tackle while Terrence Metcalf is atop the depth chart at guard, although both are considered career backups at this point.

Albert could be a possibility for the Bears at No. 14, and the team could then give him a shot at either right tackle or left guard in training camp and see where he fits. Maybe he does project best at left tackle one day, as some insiders suggest, which would allow John Tait to be moved back to his natural home on the right side. Or perhaps he is just a guard after all, meaning general manager Jerry Angelo might have to bring in another tackle for insurance.

While the flexibility to play both tackle and guard will only help Albert's draft status, it remains to be seen if he can truly excel at just one position – Grebeck, Graffanino, and DeRosa never did.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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