INDIANAPOLIS — Standing behind the blocking drills during last month's Senior Bowl, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith watched Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin closely as he manhandled pass rushers.
Whether it was because Martin was the only lineman to consistently handle Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or because he stonewalled Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, Martin forged a lasting impression.
"I think Zack Martin did an outstanding job," Smith said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. "I think he had the flexibility to play multiple positions on the offensive line."
Martin has proved capable of lining up at either tackle or guard spot, a quality reminiscent of Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda, who began his NFL career as an offensive tackle. Both Yanda and Martin have faced questions about their size, but feisty mindsets and textbook blocking skills have helped both.
"When I watch Martin, he reminds me a lot of Yanda, as far as being able to play both guard and tackle, having a nasty streak and being a technician," former NFL scout and current draft analyst Russ Lande said. "I think he would make a lot of sense for the Ravens, and they could use a lot of help on the offensive line."
That became obvious last year. The Ravens allowed 48 sacks during the 2013season, second most in the NFL. They rarely created much push up front, either, finishing with the 30th-ranked running game.
The Ravens are trying to lock up left tackle Eugene Monroe to a long-term contract after trading for him last October from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and both Monroe and right tackle Michael Oher are pending unrestricted free agents. Kelechi Osemele is coming off back surgery, and it's unclear whether he'll line up at right tackle or left guard next season.
So a player like Martin could be a strong fit for arguably the Ravens' greatest area of need. He could also prove adept at the Ravens' new zone-stretch blocking schemes under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
"Martin is very athletic, kind of a sticky blocker who showed very well in the Senior Bowl," said former NFL scout Bucky Brooks, an NFL Network draft analyst. "He did well against the edge rushers. He surprised me with the way he played against some of the elite rushers. Everybody knows he's a really good tackle, but he could be a Pro Bowl guard."
Alabama junior offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, a former DeMatha standout, is one of the only other offensive tackles mentioned as a first-round prospect. Kouandjio has excellent size and is athletic, but struggled to contain Oklahoma pass rushers in a Sugar Bowl loss last month.
"He's a good player, but he struggled a bit against the edge rushers," Brooks said. "He's a strong and stout presence against the run. He can possibly play right tackle. I don't think there's a pure guard that you would feel good about taking at No. 17.
"There's a substantial drop-off at tackle by the second round, so I think the Ravens would be better off going offensive line early and then look for a wide receiver in the second round. There are more talented receivers in the second round and third round category than offensive linemen."
One of the few question marks surrounding Martin is about his size: He measures in at a less-than-ideal 6 feet 4 and 308 pounds, with a relatively short reach of 32 7/8 inches.
Some draft analysts have compared him favorably to New York Giants offensive tackle Justin Pugh, the 19th overall pick of last year's draft.
"He's very similar to Justin Pugh, but I think Martin's a better prospect," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.
Martin started a school-record 51 games for Notre Dame as a four-year starter, being named second-team All-American as a senior. He ultimately could wind up at guard in the NFL, but he's determined to play tackle.
"I obviously want to prove to people that I can play there," Martin said. "I've played there my entire career. I had a pretty successful career, so, yeah, I want to prove to everyone I can be out there. But at the same time, if a team takes me and their plan is to put me at guard, I'm willing and happy to do that for him."
By the time the Ravens are put on the clock for their first-round pick in May, the top three offensive tackles — Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan — are expected to be gone.
"I believe it's very deep in the offensive line, specifically at the offensive tackle position," Smith said. "But it seems like there are a number of guys that are projected to go high at that offensive tackle position.
Although Martin isn't nearly as big as those players, his mobility, hand punch and technique are considered major strengths, especially for a system like Kubiak's that emphasizes offensive linemen being able to get to the second level and block downfield.
"You have a change of philosophy in Baltimore with Gary Kubiak, which require more athletic offensive linemen," Brooks said. "When you think about a guy who could be available, they can go and get a guy like Zack Martin who can play inside or outside. He's athletic enough to do the kind of things they want to do. He fits. They will change the composition of their offensive line and how it looks up front based on this offense. You need players like Zack Martin."
Martin decided to remain in school for his senior year when an NFL draft advisory committee last year told him he would go somewhere between the second and fourth round. Now he's projected to go anywhere from the middle to the end of the first round.
It's a testament to his ability to line up at several positions.
"I think one of my biggest strengths is my versatility," Martin said. "I want teams to know I can play any position. They agree with me from the versatility standpoint. I take pride in doing a lot of technique to make up for a little lack of size. I've become a more complete player. I saw solid growth in my technique. From a consistency standpoint, 2013 was my best year."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun