Every year for the NFL Draft, we get blinded by quarterbacks and wide receivers. Fans love the sexy pick and it’s the players that tend to score the touchdowns for your team. It’s nice to grab a receiver or running back that can make an impact but don’t forget that your teams offense is dependent on it’s offensive line.
We know that the premium position on the offensive line is offensive tackle. Teams want that blindside protector for their franchise quarterback and now we’re starting to figure out that a right tackle is just as valuable as a left tackle.
This year, there’s a lot of uncertainty around who the top wide receiver or quarterback is but there’s one thing for sure, the offensive tackle group for the 2022 NFL Draft is deep. Not only is it deep but it’s ridiculously talented. Before we get into the depth of the group, lets look at the numbers of the last five years across the NFL Draft.
The numbers were astounding to me and I was certainly surprised to see that many offensive tackles were selected over that time. When you run the averages on the numbers, it’s 21 offensive tackles selected per year and 4 selected in the first round per year. Where those tackles get selected in the first round is always a guessing game but for the 2022 NFL Draft, it seems like safe bet that we will see at least two offensive tackles selected in the top-10.
First Round Offensive Tackles for the 2022 NFL Draft
For starters, Evan Neal from Alabama and Ikem Ekwonu from North Carolina State are the two most discussed players for the top-10. Their draft projection into that range is warranted as they both have really separated themselves from the group.
Starting with Neal, he has three years of starting experience for the Crimson Tide. From left guard, right tackle, and left tackle, he’s played just about everywhere. He’s a freak athlete at 6-7 and 350 pounds and has shown that he can box jump at 48-inches. Aside from what Neal can do off the field, it’s even more impressive of what he can do on the field. Consistently, he imposes his will on defenders with his length, power, and ability to fire out with a consistent low pad level that throws defenders for a loop. You’ve probably seen Neal mentioned near the top of the offensive tackle for much of the past year and rightfully so, he belongs in that conversation.
Being added to that conversation is Ikem Ekwonu from North Carolina State. Listed at around 6-4 and 320 pounds, there’s already been speculation that he should move inside to guard. For those that think he should be my guest. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Let the man play tackle and go from there. Ekwonu is a grown man for the Wolfpack and has had some of the best tape for any college player in the country. He’s a strong finisher and is always looking to knock defenders into next week. Meanwhile, he’s got the desired footwork in pass protection, and in the Wolfpack’s zone-blocking scheme, he’s shown that he can excel his game to the next level. One of my favorite players in this class, Ekwonu should be in the running for the top offensive tackle in this class.
Watching Charles Cross (Mississippi State LT 67) today. Listed at 6-5 & 310. Plays w/good patience. Trusts his length.
His patience reminded me of the quote from the movie Goodfellas: "Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn't have to move for anybody." pic.twitter.com/cFk0fgRQdX
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) November 18, 2021
Lastly, I’ll talk about Charles Cross from Mississippi State. Recently, he just turned 21 over Thanksgiving weekend but his best football is yet to come. Cross is listed at 6-5 and 310 pounds and his arm length really pops off the screen. When watching him in pass protection or in the run game, he’s able to create separation and lockout defenders with ease. Showing good patience and good overall athleticism, there’s a lot of intrigue when watching him. I do wonder if teams will question the disappearance of his lower body flexibility from 2020 to 2021. Meanwhile, can teams tap into some type of mean streak where he’s able to finish better in the run game? We’ll see if those questions get answered but off what we’ve seen so far, there’s enough there to justify Cross in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Potential Sleepers and More!
Moving onto my favorite part of the offensive tackle class is what I consider the “meat and potatoes.” There might not be anything fancy about this group but they know how to get it done and I think there’s a ton of potential with all of them. Starting us off are the two players that could easily go in the first round. It just depends on how this off-season goes and how teams value their tape.
Every time you put on the tape, you will fall in love with the physicality from Darian Kinnard (Kentucky RT 70) pic.twitter.com/9xDymkgSI9
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) November 23, 2021
Starting us off is a player that reminds me some of Cody Ford when he came out of Oklahoma. That player is Darrian Kinnard from Kentucky. Listed at 6-5 and 342 pounds, Kinnard has played both left and right tackle for the Wildcats. There’s the belief that he could move inside and whatever the case may be, he should find success. This success is due to his size, strength and ability to operate in space. It’s surprising to see him move as well as he does for a player of his size. If he gets his grip on you, it’s game over. At the Senior Bowl, Kinnard has an opportunity to prove himself and climb up draft boards.
One player that has already gotten some first-round hype for the 2022 NFL Draft is Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa. Clearly, he’s a natural athlete when you put on the tape. His feet are quick and he’s able to mirror speed rushers with ease. Aside from his athleticism, Penning has impressive length and should have no issues playing either left or right tackle at the next level. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up in the 2022 NFL Draft but it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets projected similar to Dillon Radunz (Second-round pick by Tennessee Titans in 2020) or Garret Bolles (First-round pick by Denver Broncos in 2017).
Aaron Frost (Nevada RT 65) with the vicious chop! pic.twitter.com/zLWXjsGnGY
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) November 22, 2021
The last two players could be put into the top-100 or might just be on the outside looking in. For starters, I am so intrigued by Aaron Frost from Nevada. He’s got experience at right tackle and right guard and wins with a phenomenal snatch-trap technique. He operates well in space but needs to get stronger as he struggles against true power rushers. Meanwhile, he’ll need to clean up his game from a technical perspective as he’s been penalized over 30 times these last two seasons. He has cleaned up his footwork in pass protection so it looks promising for an NFL team and should be worth the risk.
Lastly, I’ll talk about one of my favorite players and he could be the true sleeper of the bunch. That player is Tyler Smith from Tulsa. He immediately stands out on film with his massive frame at 6-6 and 335 pounds. His grip strength is impressive and once he grabs hold, it’s game over for defenders. He moves defenders with ease due to his strength and ability to torque and redirect them. On tape, he’s shown consistent success as a reach blocker and is able to create rushing lanes with ease. Some will prefer him at guard but it wouldn’t be surprising if he found a home at right tackle similar to the way that Andre Smith did after the 2009 NFL Draft.
2022 NFL Draft Predictions
While we’re so far out from the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s hard to project what players will declare or where they’ll ultimately end up. That being said, I think the names above have already started to separate themselves from the rest of the class. The first-rounders seem evident and even the sleepers have loads of potential.
Most importantly, it’s all about scheme fit and role for any player drafted. Especially with the offensive lineman. The reason being is that some NFL teams only have their offensive linemen use primarily vertical pass sets in pass protection. While it’s okay for a team to do that, it might not be okay if the college athlete they draft has never done it in their career because his college coach only has him working on jump sets or a 45-degree set.
There’s plenty of instances where we all project an offensive lineman to play guard in the NFL and they end up working out just fine at offensive tackle. Take me for example with Dion Dawkins. When he was coming out of Temple, I was so sure that he was a guard and the Buffalo Bills have turned him into a pretty darn good left tackle. Sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose some.
With the offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft, I think there will be plenty of winners from this group. From the names I’ve listed already to some of these players I’ve already scouted. That list includes:
- Cade Mays, Tennessee
- Braxton Jones, Southern Utah
- Abraham Lucas, Washington State
- Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
- Sean Rhyan, UCLA
- Jaxon Kirkland, Washington
- Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan
- Andrew Stueber, Michigan
- Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
If you haven’t started watching the offensive tackles yet, I’d suggest doing so. It’s a long list of talented players and it could continue to grow with more time for players to declare. Last year we saw 25 offensive tackles selected, how many do we see get selected for the 2022 NFL Draft? Whatever that number ends up being, I love this offensive tackle class and the 2022 NFL Draft is the year to grab one!