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NFL Draft: Pass Protectors Could Go Early

Ekwonu, Neal Top Offensive Tackles Available

Clock Ticking on Picks of Top O-Line Prospects

There was a time when it looked like the Jacksonville Jaguars would pair quarterback Trevor Lawrence, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, with an offensive tackle with the first selection of the 2022 NFL draft.

NFL Draft: Pass Protectors Could Go Early
The Athletic

With each passing day and week, the NFL betting odds are favoring former Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson to be the top selection in the upcoming draft.

The top three picks could all be edge rushers, so where does that leave the top offensive tackles?

Either North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal of Alabama figure to be gone within the top five picks. At +1100, they are tied for the third-best odds to be the top overall pick. Mississippi State’s Charles Cross has a chance to be a top-10 pick.

This is considered to be a pretty solid draft for offensive tackles both in terms of high-end talent and depth. Here’s a look at the top offensive tackle prospects for the NFL draft which runs from April 28-30.

NC State’s Ekwonu Rising Fast

A year ago at this time, there were those who considered North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu as a player who was projected to be a guard at the next level and his draft prospects weren’t anything to get too worked up about. Now, there is a pretty good chance that he will be the first offensive player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The question for Ekwonu, who has the best odds according to the sportsbook at -160 to be the first offensive lineman selected, is whether the Houston Texans will take him with the third overall pick.

The Detroit Lions, who pick second, used a top-10 selection in the 2022 draft to take offensive tackle Penei Sewell so it is highly unlikely that the Lions go offensive line at No. 2.

The New York Giants have the fourth selection and unless they trade away Mekhi Becton, it doesn’t seem like the offensive line would be the way to go with the first of their two first-round picks. The New York Giants hold the fifth and seventh selections, and offensive tackle help is most certainly one of the many needs for them.

Wherever Ekwonu goes, it will be quite the story considering that he was the No. 612 rated player nationally in his recruiting class. There were 48 offensive tackles and 35 offensive guards rated ahead of him.

Alabama’s Neal Living Up to Hype

The top-rated players coming out of high school don’t always turn into the elite NFL draft prospects. However, the 360-pound Neal is an exception. The top-rated offensive tackle and No. 7 player nationally in the 247sports list of the top players in the Class of 2019, he has a chance to become the first tackle off the board.

It could come down to which of the top tackles a particular team prefers. There is also a possibility of one of the top pass protectors slipping in the draft as teams go after other needs.

There has been chatter about playing Neal at right tackle at the NFL level, and if teams feel that way, that could impact his draft position.

Mississippi State’s Cross Flying Under Radar

In many drafts, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross would be the top offensive lineman available. With five games against ranked opponents in 2021, Cross was tested against some top-notch competition. He could be a pretty nice consolation prize for a team not willing to use a premium pick on an offensive lineman.

Ultimately, where he lands on draft night will be determined by how quickly teams scoop up Ekwonu and Neal.

Cross tested well at the NFL scouting combine, including a 4.95 time in the 40-yard dash. Only two tackles had better broad jumps at the combine than Cross’ mark of 9 feet, 4 inches.

The Las Vegas odds list Cross at +1200 to be the top offensive lineman chosen.

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