This year's draft class is loaded with offensive tackle talent at the top. Here are five to know for the first round.
If you're a team looking for offensive tackle talent, this is the draft class for you. All throughout the first round there are players that have the floors to be solid starters from day one and the upside to become second-contract starters for the teams that draft them.
The overall star power of the 2022 NFL Draft might not match previous years, but it's a great class to find some offensive line help, starting with the most expensive starters on the offensive line. As NFL edge rushers continue to develop into post-human cyborgs, quality tackle play is becoming a premium with a whole lot of teams needing help along the edges of their offensive line.
Here are the five names that are likely to hear their name called on the first day of the 2022 NFL Draft. (All athleticism data courtesy of Kent Lee Platte.)
Evan Neal's tape is so good that he doesn't even need to workout this offseason to lock in his status as a top-5 pick. Neal measured in at 6'7", 337 pounds and let the tape speak for itself during the draft circuit.
And for good reason. If you want to know what Neal's game is all about, just watch these three plays in a row from Alabama's destruction of Miami.
Neal is as about clean as offensive tackle prospects come. He has good technique in pass protection, mauls people in the run game and has the athleticism to get to the second level and make blocks down the field. Easy peasy evaluation.
Cross has the pass protection skills to thrive at left tackle from Day 1. He gained a lot of pass protection reps in Mike Leach's offense last season and he's already extremely comfortable in that area of his game.
Cross didn't blow up the NFL Combine like other players on this list, but his top athletic comparison according to Relative Athletic Scores is Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf.
Projecting Cross to be as good as Roaf is asinine, but he's got high upside as a younger draft prospect (doesn't turn 22 until November) and is polished from a young age. He'd be a nice fit in schemes that run zone and let him use his speed to get out in front of defenders.
His power at the point of attack would let him shine in any scheme, however. He's a really complete tackle prospect.
Cross should hear his name called within the first 15 picks of the draft.
It's easy to see why NFL scouts and executives are high on Ekwonu. He just moves and looks like an NFL left tackle, even with some of the warts in his game. That was apparent at the NFL Combine, where he posted one of the top Combines for tackles in this draft class.
Ekwonu is a terror is space, hitting blocks against linebackers and secondary players in the open field with ease.
It's just hard to find guys at that size that can move like that. There are times in the run game where the game moves a little fast for him, but he has the natural ability with his feet to mirror and get in front of guys.
Ekwonu is a little bit of a project, but his upside is through the roof if a team can clean up some of is technical errors in pass protection and the run game.
Penning blew the doors off the of the NFL Combine, testing like one of the great athletes to ever play tackle in the NFL.
Penning spent the majority of his time at Northern Iowa just bulldozing his competition that had the misfortune of being in his way. He's clearly the biggest, most athletic person on every field that he stepped on in college.
Watch the movement on the double team from the left tackle and left guard. Penning is the tackle that stops the second level defender right in his tracks after blowing the defensive tackle off the ball.
Penning has some work to clean up in pass protection, but his athleticism and enthusiasm in the run game will get him selected early in the draft.
Smith is somewhat of a late riser in the draft process, but he has the skills and athleticism to be a starter early in his career. Like Penning, the 320-pounder performed well at the NFL Combine and that athleticism shows up on the field.
Smith isn't the most polished player with his hands, but he has great feet and a strong lower base that allow him to redirect and anchor in pass protection routinely. Smith is usually a much better physical talent than the players that he faces in pass protection, which is where you see the best and worst parts of his game.
Smith (#56, left tackle) lets the rusher get into his chest, but then his natural athleticism takes over and he anchors down to stonewall him.
The base for a good tackle is already here, he just needs the right team and coach to take him to the next level.