Two weeks into my positional draft rankings, we have arrived at the big boys! Today we’re looking at the best offensive tackles, before we get into the guys coming off the edge later this week. If you enjoyed reading my detailed analysis of this class, feel free to always read up my top running backs, linebackers, wide receivers and cornerbacks.
Back to this group – I believe there is clear top three, which at this point all seem like top-ten locks – and deservedly so. After that, there’s a significant drop-off, before we get to four other names, that I have graded in the late first to late second-round range. Rounding out my top ten, I believe the three remaining prospects are worthy of later day two picks, before we get into a bunch of guys, where either they can give you quality snaps early or have the talent to develop into starters down the road, but they all have certain limitations or questions.
And as a quick side note, there may be a few names that you feel like are missing here, because they qualified as interior offensive linemen for me, which I’ll break down next week. Some notable players that pertains to: Tyler Smith (Tulsa), Sean Rhyan (UCLA), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), Andrew Stueber (Michigan) and Zach Tom (Wake Forest).
Let’s get into these tackles:
1. Evan Neal, Alabama
6’7” ½, 340 pounds; JR
The top offensive and a top-ten overall recruit in 2019, Neal started 13 games in each of his first two seasons with the Crimson Tide at left guard and right tackle respectively, earning Freshman All-American honors along the way. He transitioned to the left side in 2021 and looked like he became a man through the offseason, leading to first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American recognition.
Ever since I first laid my eyes on Neal, I thought he would be the next great Bama offensive tackle and when he switched over from right to the left side, he established himself as one of the top draft picks. This monster of a man routinely hits box jumps at 48 inches, benches nearly 500 pounds and hit 19 MPH last summer on the GPS despite weighing 337 pounds – which if you look at that picture of Neal that came out during the combine and see that he almost has no fat on him, you almost can’t believe it. That ability to get low and be explosive show sup constantly as he comes off the ball in the run game, where he sets the tone at first contact basically every single time with jolt in his hands. He takes edge defenders for a ride on the front-side of most run schemes, as his feet don’t stop moving. Neal creates some gaping holes behind him for a pulling guard to lead up into, as he places the inside hand in the middle of the chest and the outside hand on the near-hip of the D-tackle, to get that horizontal movement going. He’s a guy you want to run behind in goal-line and short-yardage situations. On the backside of zone runs, he can provide attractive cutback lanes with the way he can drive combos with his guard, but also even when he’s in unfavorable positions trying to scoop-block 3/4i-techniques who have leverage on the gap, he has the strong hands and flexible lower body to not allow them to pursue. And you see him fluidly transition up to linebackers, where he’s not just looking to catch guys, but rather does strike inside their chest. His speed on crack-toss and tunnel screens, to put DBs on the turf, is highly impressive.
Compared to 2020, Neal played under much better control as a pass-protector last year, trusting his technique and keeping his shoulders square. He immediately went viral in Alabama’s blowout win over Miami, when he helped on an interior rusher, as he was looking for work, and flattened that guy from the side. However, otherwise things were pretty quiet for him, as he surrendered just four sacks and 24 additional pressures on 1073 combined pass-blocking snaps over these last two seasons, despite facing some of the toughest competition in the country and playing a maximum of 28 games. Neal gains good deep in his kick-slide initially and jump out to cut off angles for wide-nine alignments, but he can absorb the force of guys trying to take advantage of that runway by trying to go through him, and he will quickly get his feet closer to parallel if his man hesitates or could potentially loop inside. When he lands that punch with the outside hand, he can really take rushers off track, while getting the inside hand up, if guys try to take transition inside. And he maximizes his length to counter long-arm moves with that one arm being longer than two principle. However, if that reach gets swatted down, he can flip those hips and push the man past the arc. Neal is so smooth in his lateral movement, as guys widen their rush or try to hit inside counters. Spin moves were useless against him for the most part. He has an impeccable ability to directly transition from that first kick to shuffle up to his guard as the end drops out or sets up a twist, so he can pick up the interior rusher.
On the negative side, Neal dips his head a bit and gets his weight way out in front of numerous occasions in the run game, which he can be pulled off for. His hands may be ready to punch in the pass game, but Neal is fairly conservative in that area and you see guys be able to attack his pads multiple times per game, which hurts his balance. And he gets caught leaning into guys rushing up the arc on a few occasions. Neal missed quite a few delayed wrap-around blitzes from the second level, once he was engaged along with the guard on a B-gap defender and his eyes aren’t up anymore. And he certainly didn’t finish his career on a high note, as Georgia’s Nolan Smith beat him for a sack on an up-and-under on the final play of the National Championship game.
Other than his flaw of playing too far over his skies in the run game and forgetting that linebackers are allowed to come around the edge in the pass game a few times, Neal offers one of the cleanest evaluations you will find for an offensive tackle. His lower body mobility and explosiveness are elite, he has high-level starting experience on both sides of the line, he is a very easy mover altogether and has been dominant against some of the best edge rushers in the country. He should be a lock for the top-five.
2. Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State
6’4”, 320 pounds; JR
A three-star offensive tackle recruit in 2019, Ekwonu started the final seven games of his true freshman season at left tackle and then started four of the ten games in ’20 at left guard (with the rest at his usual LT spot), earning second-team All-ACC honors at BOTH spots. As a junior, he played left tackle full-time and took his game to the next level, earning first-team All-American honors.
The Athletic called him “the most feared lineman in the ACC” for the way he blows defenders off the ball in the run game, thanks to how well his hands and feet are synced. The dude accelerates his feet through contact and is looking to embarrass you in front of your friends and family. He can really widen the B-gap on the front-side of zone runs, by turning the backside of defenders towards the sideline and then riding them that way. He also creates a lot of movement coming in on an angle for combo-blocks and then covers up linebackers on the second level. Overall, you often see him grab underneath the side of shoulder pads or arm-pit and create torque that way, to control the defender’s momentum, routinely throwing guys to the play-side shoulder, who try to stay square against zone-blocking and limit the flow. Ekwonu has improved his ability to work across the face of interior defenders and seal them on the backside of runs, often times basically using a rip-move, in order to get that far hip out in front. There are instances on tape, where he absolutely buries some linebackers, keeping those tree-stumps of his churning. N.C. State has used him to toss end-man out of the club on kickouts and as lead-blocker pulling around, where he just becomes a freight-train. While Alabama OT Evan Neal’s impact run-block percentage of 17.4% of snaps is impressive (especially in the SEC), Ekwonu blows that out of the water at 25.9%. The Wolfpack had him peel off and get out on the corner on some backside slip screens off the run-action and he actually throw dudes through the air.
In the pass game, Ekwonu’s long arms and strong lower body are major benefits in forcing edge rushers to run a rounder arc, to get to the quarterback, and once he gets a hold of those guys, they have a tough time getting away from him. I already discussed this player on my article about the “biggest risers midway through the college football season”, thanks to the strides he’s made in that area. He now gets a lot more depth with his kicks and he has really improved his technique overall, especially his weight distribution, keeping that post-leg ready to mirror inside slants/counters and getting his base in position to pick up loopers, where he consistently takes guys off their path. And I just haven’t seen any snaps, where guys were able to actually go through him. His awareness for twists and just when to make up space to his guard in order to help out against B-gap rushers is super-impressive for a man of his stature. You see this guy dish out some devastating shots, if he’s passed off his man or that guy drops out and he gets a chance to level somebody from the side. He has that force in his hands that even when he’s late to recognize somebody, to deliver serious pop at them. And what I really like is how he can counter the hands of rushers, often times lifting them high, to take them off balance for a moment and now he can re-place him paws. After consecutive grades just above 80 by PFF, Ekwonu had his best season as a pass-protector as the N.C. State blindside protector last season, surrendering just three sacks and ten hurries on 500 pass-blocking snaps.
The only real negative about Ekwonu as a run-blocker is the fact he wants to bury defenders so much, that he can’t keep the landmarks for his hands centered and slips off blocks late. However, while he has improved a lot compared to 2020, Ekwonu does still play with high and wide hands in pass-pro, and his strikes down from the hips have a longer wind-up, which will help opponents time their hand-swipes accordingly. There remains room to grow with his ability to sustain that half-man relationship and forcing edge rushers to run themselves past the quarterback so to speak. He almost exclusively took angular sets in that Wolfpack offense and his weight shifts too far to the outside foot a lot of times, leaving the B-gap wide open. I believe we’ll see him have some issues against up-and-under maneuvers – which we saw signs of in the ’21 Clemson game – just because he doesn’t have the easy movement skills like the two other guys among that trio at the top.
“Ass-kicker” is the word that comes to mind when I watch Ekwonu get after people in the run game. I don’t think any lineman overall is quite at that level in terms of explosiveness into contact. At the combine he ran a 4.97 in the 40 and moved incredibly easily during the field workouts, reiterating what an impressive athlete he is along with that power. So I don’t really have any doubt that he can be a great on the edge. However, as great a tackle prospect as Ekwonu as, I believe his potential at guard may even be higher because he has that lower center of gravity compared to most guys at that position, to create that force from the bottom. Either way, he has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
3. Charles Cross, Mississippi State
6’5”, 310 pounds; RS SO
A top-five offensive tackle recruit in a loaded 2019 class, Cross redshirted his first year on campus, having seen action as a backup in just three games, before starting 10 contests the year after and being named a Freshman All-SEC selection. This past season he improved to first-team All-SEC starting all 12 regularly scheduled games, before sitting out the Liberty Bowl.
Cross generally always keeps defenders tight to his chest in the run game. He does a good job of rolling his hips into contact and walling off bodies, to deny them pursuit angles. Cross shows smarts with his angles and approach off the snap, especially when making it easy for himself with keeping the backside D-end from chasing. Scoop-blocking B-gap defenders looks almost effortless to him most of the time, as he puts his body in the way and keeps them trapped on the backside with no path to flow with those wide zone runs. On plenty of occasions, he will literally show those guys his backside as if he was trying to post them up in basketball. He can also pin edge defenders inside sufficiently by getting his outside hand underneath the far arm-pit, to deny them the ability to work over the top. Cross displays light feet when transitioning off combos and working up to the second level, where he has no issues with breaking down in space and actually attaching to bodies. Watching him fly around the field on screen passes is a joy to watch.
What has NFL scouts really excited about Cross however is how truly graceful his movement in pass-protection is. He made massive improvements in that area this past season, as he allowed just two sacks and 14 additional hurries on an absurdly high 719 pass-blocking snaps. He displays good rhythm and patience in his sets, with the naturally athletic feet to kind of stay neutral against hesitation moves or having to figure out where the rush is going. He lives by the fundamentals of “head back, hands up, get depth and stay square”, plus he swallows power with his hands to not prompt any lunging. You routinely see him push his man into the pile in the middle. Plus, even when the edge rusher gains half a step on him, he has the long arms to make that guy overrun the loop. Despite being two-and-a-half inches shorter than Evan Neal for example, his arms are actually half an inch longer (34.5 inches) and his hands are just a quarter of an inch short of hitting 11 inches. He uses that length extremely well when defenders do get their hands inside his chest and he’s able to take steam off them by lifting them up at their shoulder-pads and he grabs a lot of cloth with those hands, without getting called for it. This guy has absurd ability to recover, the few times is caught totally on the wrong foot and can redirect laterally to save himself – and the quarterback. Cross beautifully transitions on twists, where his feet are already in position for picking up the looper, whilst passing on the first guy. And he feels so confident in himself that he can shuffle over to his guard initially if the picture if muddy, yet still get in front of whoever’s coming off the edge, with incredible hip mobility. Cross does not panic when having to pick off nickels rushing off the edge, has the footwork to cut off angles and push that defender past the quarterback.
The one bad thing that stands out about Cross is that he’s just not the quickest off the ball, plus then he can get caught oversetting to the outside in the process. He needs to understand when facing guys with speed that don’t bring their hands prematurely, to actively make them widen the arc at times, instead of waiting on them. In the run game, he’s more so somebody who you want riding guys on zone plays, rather than create movement at the point of attack. If you ask your tackles to blow D-linemen off the ball on gap schemes, this is not your man. Cross was beat multiple times by Ole Miss’ Sam Williams in their 2021 in-state rivalry game, by showing speed first and then attacking the inside shoulder to open up that direct path for himself, before Cross coul set his base, plus then jabbing inside and going around off that. As much as Mississippi State threw the ball, 600(!) of those snaps don’t qualify as “true pass-sets” according to PFF because of all the RPOs. And that also affects his experience in the run game, where almost all of it was basic zone concepts.
Cross was above the 90th percentile in the two most important testing numbers for a tackle – a 4.95 in the 40 and a 9’4” broad jump. He has plenty of experience taking pass-sets in that Mike Leach Air Raid-based system over these last two years – even though a hefty portion of them weren’t true vertical sets like I mentioned – and he kept his QB very clean this past season. If you go out on Sundays expecting Cross to move people against their way in the run game, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you need a left tackle, who can be top-tier pass-protector from day one, I don’t believe there’s a name who can do it at a higher level than him – and that’s as a redshirt sophomore.
4. Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
6’6”, 305 pounds; SR
Picking up a football for the first team when he was 14 years old, this Austrian started his athletic career as a wide receiver for his local Vienna Vikings. After coming over to the US as an exchange student for a small high school program, he developed himself into a two-star recruit at tight-end and was offered a scholarship by Central Michigan. Raimann didn’t play in 2017, due to being required to fly back to his home country and fulfill his six-month military service, required of all male Austrian citizens. Coming back to Mount Pleasant, he caught ten passes in each of his first two seasons with the Chippewas, before making the smart transition to left tackle, where he started the following 18 games and quickly showed major growth, as he earned first-team All-MAC honors in 2021.
Raimann’s hand-placement and understanding for body-positioning in the run game are already outstanding. He consistently creates space between him and the guard on the frontside of interior run schemes, getting the inside hand underneath the near arm-pit and a landing a powerful second step, along with arching his body through. He creates good horizontal and vertical movement on combo-blocks with his guard in the inside zone game, and you see a bunch of cutbacks right behind Raimann when the play is originally drawn up away from him. He also understands when to just seal off his man on the backside, by establishing positioning right away with the inside foot and bringing the far-hip around almost simultaneously. And the ability to just “stay in the way” of defenders wanting to pursue the ball is helpful in general, while showing excellent body-control all-around. Central Michigan put Raimann at tight-end on the right side in their heavy sets a few times, when they wanted to run off-tackle behind him. When he realizes the B-gap is clear, after providing a help-hand on the backside, he flies up to the backer in a hurry and shields him away from the action to great effect. And he seems very comfortable getting on the move, as they pull him around the corner on toss and sweep plays, just finding targets in space and opening up creases for the ball-carriers to hit, as he often times gets a piece of multiple defenders. Plus, he has the awareness for when to peel back on a linebacker pursuing from the interior.
Despite having spent very limited time in the O-line room and certainly having some catching up to day technically, Raimann has already been an effective blindside protector in the pass game. He surrendered only one sack and 14 additional pressures on 690 combined pass-blocking snaps across his two years on the O-line. The Austrian operates from a wide base in the pass game and has the athletic lower body to get to his landmarks consistently, against nine-techniques in particularly impressive fashion. He’s fleet-footed enough to stick with true speed rushers and guide them around the loop, and he displays good dexterity through his frame, to adjust as edge rushers don’t allow them to get his hands in their frame and he has to keep them off the quarterback whilst they lean into him. When he can latch his paws onto the numbers of defenders, he keeps his elbows in tight and doesn’t allow opponents to disengage anymore usually. Plus, you rarely see him lunge or overextend into his man. Raimann shuffles well sideways when having to counter games up front and he knocks the set-up man over towards the A-gap before getting to his spot when picking up loopers on T-E twists.
While there isn’t much to critique about Raimann’s run-blocking, I wouldn’t call him a real people-mover and he didn’t face many physical edge-setters in the MAC necessarily. More importantly, bis hands get outside the frame in pass-pro, with the left arm around the far shoulder-pad a lot of times, which obviously exposes his chest for bull-rush and long-arm moves. While he does cover ground effectively, it often comes with opening his hips a little prematurely on the up-kick, where his outside foot is already pointing at a 45-degree angle. Those issues showed up on multiple occasions during the one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl, where he took way too many blows and also got beat on a quick up-and-under when forced to overset by upfield burst being shown. Along with that, Raimann can get a little antsy with his hands at times and elongate his wind-up on the punch. That makes inside counters – particularly a well-executed spin moves – challenging at times, even if his feet are good enough to mirror theoretically. Raimann has already added 60 pounds over the last two years, but could still benefit from building a firmer base. And he will already turn 25 years old by the end of this upcoming season.
I was very encouraged by seeing Raimann put up 30 reps at the bench press during the combine (two off the best mark among the OL) – along with a 9’9” broad jump (third-best among the OL) – to show his commitment to the weight-room, which will continue to be key to his positional transformation. Raimann’s rapid improvement through his only two years of playing on the offensive line make him an attractive option at the back-end of round one. While he may lack optimal length and mass, he is clearly a plus athlete, he’s already an excellent run-blocker and most of his issues technically as a pass-protector are fixable. The big question will be which teams are ready to make that kind of commitment with a top draft pick, if he may only be a quality starter in his age 25/26 season.
5. Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
6’7”, 330 pounds; RS SR
Once a lightly recruited tight-end out of high school in 2017, Penning earned 33 career starts between both tackle spots for UNI, while all but one of them came on the left side over these last three years. In 2021, he was the only offensive lineman to be a finalist for the Walter Payton award, given to the best FCS player in the country, and making first-team (FCS) All-American.
This guy set the school squat record at 625 pounds and was on Bruce Feldman’s freak list heading into 2021. He’s probably was one of those boys that parents asked to be banned at the youth level, because of the way he was going after those other kids and kicked their butts. He continued doing so at the FCS level, with a non-stop thirst for blood and you see him mix it up with guys after every other play. Penning has that grip strength in his hands to twist edge defenders all the way to his outside hip, before driving them towards the sideline. When coming in from the side on combos, you see him bump defensive tackles in front of the legs of the center a few times, before targeting the linebacker behind it. With how strong his hands are to snatch, sealing off five-techniques on the backside is no issue usually. Penning shows excellent awareness for gap-exchanges and stunts on run downs, using the momentum of defenders against them and taking them off track, putting his hand right at the side of shoulder-pad to ride them further away. Northern Iowa utilized Penning’s athleticism quite by when cracking back on the D-end and having him pull around the corner, where he’s looking to get bury people. I don’t know what it is, but Penning must have done a bunch of grip exercises and maybe some rock-climbing, looking at how often he manages to toss defenders to the floor.
Penning’s 210 true pass-blocking snaps last season were number one among all draft-eligible offensive tackles, and he still only surrendered 13 total pressures, including one actual sack. He displays an explosive first kick and makes up a lot of ground vertically, to counter wider alignments and guys trying to stress with speed off the edge altogether. He can get in from of slot blitzers without having to compromise his technique a whole lot. Yet, his lateral agility is plenty good considering how long his legs are, to mirror inside counters. And he has pretty good flexibility in his upper body to stay attached with guys when they were able to not offer their chest for his punch. Penning routinely finished pass plays with his chest on top of defenders on the ground. And he actively puts edge rushers there on many of those, as guys try to go underneath him and dip around the corner, but he pushes down at the top of their shoulder pads and pulling his base back, so they can’t lean into him. You also see him do that over and over again throughout Senior Bowl practices, when he won the rep. Of course, if he’s uncovered, he’s also looking for kill-shots on guys in his vicinity. When Penning sees his man put the outside foot in the turf in order to loop across to the A-gap, he actually pushes his guard that way as he picks up the D-tackle that his teammate was originally engaged with, to shut that twist down.
However, even though Penning’s nasty mindset and want to get after defenders in the run game hides it at times, his pad level and hand placement create real issue in both facets of the game. Particularly as a pass-protector, edge rushers are able get underneath him and make it tough to set the anchor. He has those waist-bending tendencies and you see defenders go through his chest at the FCS level a few times already. As much he was celebrated him for getting into it with defenders throughout the week down in Mobile – and he was even voted National OL of the week – he got stood up on several occasions and had serious issues holding his ground against power. Penning looks/gets top-heavy on multiple occasions every game, particularly when he has to put hands on defenders in space. And while his arms come in just above 34 inches, that’s not good enough to nearly equalize the challenges his height presents. The dude was a walking flag in college, with 34 penalties in his last 31 games, for personal fouls where he crosses the line with trying to intimidate, but also holding when he did gets in bad position and some false starts.
This guy is a real a-hole on the field and a lot of O-line coaches will love that. There are several redeeming qualities with Penning other than just his ferocious mindset to impose his will physically, such as the athletic profile he presents, which he showcased at the combine, when he ran a 4.89 in the 40 and was tied for the best three-cone drill among the OL (4.25) – which are both in the 97th percentile for OTs. He ended up with an elite RAS of 9.96 thanks to that combination of size and athleticism. I also believe he recognizes any sort of games up front well and is light on his feet to adjust mid-play. Due to my concerns that come with his height, I believe there’s a significant drop-off from the top-three and some tackle-greedy team may reach on him, but I’d have no problem with Penning going at the back-end of the first round.
6. Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
6’8”, 385 pounds; RS JR
Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Faalele was a rugby and basketball standout early on, before being invited to a satellite camp in the US and being recruited by IMG Academy Florida. Over the next two years, he developed himself into a top-20 tackle recruit in 2018 and chose Minnesota over several of the top college programs in the country. Faalele played ten and started in eight games as a true freshman at right tackle, and then started 11 contests the following season, when the Golden Gophers had one of the best offensive seasons in school history, making the honorable mention All-Big Ten team in both. He opted out of the 2020 COVID-delayed season and despite being expected to enter the ’21 draft, he came back to Minnesota and had his best season yet, improving to first-team all-conference.
Before we get into anything else, this guy is obviously a behemoth, measuring in at 6’8”, 387 pounds at the Senior Bowl, with a massive 86-inch wingspan and 11-inch hands. Those physical dimensions are unparalleled in this class. The funny part about Faalele in the run game is that if he just gets off his spot and the guard blocks down away from him, that already opens up a big lane. However, he does have the brute strength to widen the edge routinely, while if the end-man does try to stay more squarely against zone-blocking, Faalele’s frame limits that guy’s ability to actually see the ball when they’re closely together. That tendency of defenders to not allow angular blocks is helpful when Minnesota runs outside zone and the right tackle can pin his guy to the inside, as they try to peak that way. If you allow Faalele to block down on B-gap defenders, you don’t have to worry about your puller from the opposite side having room to come around and create that extra gap as he’s leading the way. This guy doesn’t have to accelerate into linebackers to keep them from getting to the ball, but rather you see him deliver a bump on the down-man to combo off and then just shuffle in the way of the backside backer usually. Considering what a mountain of a man this is, Faalele displays some pretty impressive lateral agility to reach-block or cut off defenders on the backside of zone runs, where he’s focused on just getting his base around and even if he has to raise his pads in the process, he’s sturdy enough to seal off against pursuit and not give up ground.
As humongous as Faalele still is, he actually shed a good 20 pounds ahead of the 2021 season and that was certainly visible in his ability to cover ground in his kicks as a pass-protector. He can take those vertical sets and not be scared of allowing his opponents to drive him back into the quarterback’s lap, since he has the anchor strength to keep that distance upright. And Faleele’s hands can take off a lot of juice from power rushers altogether. Because of his massive frame, defenders have to take a wider arc to the QB anyway, and then with those 35-inch arms, two-handed shoves usually lead to pure vertical movement by the opponent, not being able to shorten their path at all. Faalele does a nice job of swatting down the inside hand of rushers, as they try to long-arm him, with some force behind the knock-down, to get guys off balance. When defender try to counter back inside, those hands can slow down their momentum significantly and you often see him just ride guys behind the center, indicating quarterbacks to slide or escape that way. Faalele will shove charging blitzes off the edge past the arc, and then because he is so widely built, defenders literally have to circle around him. Overall, he only gave up one sack and seven additional pressures on 300 pass-blocking snaps last season.
Unfortunately, Faalele doesn’t show the tenacity as a run-blocker of many other highly-regard offensive tackle prospects. I would just like to see some more urgency coming off the ball and taking advantage of his size, to overpower much smaller edge defenders. Instead, he allows his height to become more of detriment, as his pads rise and he presents a large surface area for opponents to stab at. And he doesn’t consistently target half the man on drive-blocks against end-men on the line, which limits his ability to create horizontal movement, along with allowing guys to slip late or even back-door his blocks altogether. Faalele also has a bad tendency at times of wanting to peak back at the ball and actually getting in the way of his own teammates, who try to shoot up that hole. As a pass-protector, Faalele’s physical dimensions certainly hid some of his hurtful habits. Even for his size, his base tends to get a little too wide at times and he shifts his weight over the outside foot, particularly trying to jump-set out to wide-nine techniques, making him vulnerable to quick inside moves, such as up-and-unders, where you saw a little bit of a delay trying to redirect. Overall, he alters his technique a lot when being facing guys who can really stress with speed and his length is what saved him on several occasions when he left the B-gap open.
There aren’t really any players in the NFL with the ability to overwhelm or even challenge Faalele physically. However, in terms of urgency off the ball and technique, he still has plenty of room to catch up. His aiming points and weight distribution are the biggest areas of improvement for him and I think he can master those, even though he will obviously never be the most light-footed athlete. That being said, his raw physical gifts should be good enough to help him survive a rookie season, even though there will certainly be some lessons being learnt along the way. I believe he has the potential to become a similar player to another former Aussie in Eagles Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Mailata and is worth a top-50 pick.
7. Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
6’6”, 315 pounds; JR
The consensus number one offensive tackle recruit in 2018, Petit-Frere redshirted his first year in Columbus, before playing in all 14 games of 2019. He earned the starting gig at right tackle the following season and started every single game, which he was named to the second-team All-Big Ten for. As a senior, he improved he flipped over to the blindside and improved to first-team all-conference and second-team All-American.
The first thing that is apparent when you watch Petit-Frere’s development for the Buckeyes is how much his quickness off the snap has improved. He has an explosive first step and consistently is the one to initiate contact. He can really cave in B-gap defenders and present cutback lanes, where the back doesn’t have to make those drastic plants with the outside foot. You see this guy mash defenders into the pile and keep churning his legs quite a bit. On the front-side of inside zone schemes, he does well to get underneath the near arm-pit and get the edge defender’s backside turned parallel to the sideline, which combined with the leg-drive he displays, that B-gap becomes wide open a couple times per game. An excellent adjustment you saw him make last year was adding a gather step in that regard when covering larger distances to his defender, so he would be able to redirect if needed. Petit-Frere’s first two steps are so cat-like quick that he can reach- or scoop-block three-techniques as well as seal D-ends inside, before they can even ID the run scheme (properly). Yet, he is also sudden with transitioning when the gap is unoccupied and cut off the angle for the backside linebacker or peel back on the pursuing edge defender, and he has impressive flexibility to pivot his base through contact.
Petit-Frere shows good rhythm to his kick-slide and patience overall in his pass-sets. His lengthy limbs certainly help him with his radius to contact rushers. He excels at squaring up his man and forcing that guy to go through him, while often baiting the hands and then opening up his hips to push guys into a wider arc. Plus, even when guys are able to slap down his reach and get him a little off balance momentarily, his lower body is loose enough to actually turn and ride guys past the quarterback. I like how active his hands are to re-position when defenders are able to knock them away for a split-second with their swipes and his ability to re-anchor simultaneously if guys are able to create vertical movement against him. Petit-Frere has absurdly light feet to cover ground laterally and help on B-gap rushers if his man drops out, as well as get in front of wrap-around defenders on delayed pressure looks. He’s very quick to recognize and get himself in position for picking up whoever he’s responsible for when the backer creeps up behind the D-end and they could go either way. Plus, he uses his long arms well to stand guys up before they can get to either hip, while often squeezing them into fellow defenders. The Buckeye standout has no issues whatsoever clearing the path on the frontside of rollouts and with the way he rides guys down the line on the backside of zone run looks, he opens up a ton of room to operate for the QB on bootlegs.
As quick as he may be, Petit-Frere does raise his pads a lot off the snap. While that was the big improvement I saw from him last year, he still overstrides with that first step in the run game on too many occasions and defenders, who know how to take advantage of that, can back-door him on the frontside or flatten down the line in pursuit when the action is going away from him. His hand-placement is also fairly high and his base can also get pretty narrow, resulting in him slipping off blocks late. Especially this past season as a pass-protector, you saw him set too far to the outside a few times and get beaten on inside moves, particularly as guys aim to loop outside, but he almost invites them to adjust their path and take the free lane. If he intends a full-time move to the left side, he certainly needs to clean up his footwork in pass-pro there, as his steps looked a lot choppier, he played too far on his toes and his post-leg was far less effective. I also saw him miss blitzers up the B-gap a few times, because his D-end stunted towards the center and the nickel showed pressure pre-snap. After surrendering just four total pressures (no sacks) on the right side in 2020, those numbers increased mightily to 26, even though only two of them ended in sacks and actual QB hits respectively.
It’s kind of funny how Petit-Frere’s major issue on the right side showed up in the run game, when his first step got him in a trouble many times, while on left side he really struggled to “defend” the inside rush. The question is if he can put it all together and be a complete player on either side. Logic would tell you right tackle makes more sense, because NFL teams throw the ball more than they run it and issues in that area are typically tougher to fix. There will be a learning curve no matter what for Petit-Frere and you shouldn’t expect his best football coming during his rookie year, but I believe drafting him in the middle of day two could be an investment well worth making.
8. Abraham Lucas, Washington State
6’6”, 320 pounds; RS SR
A top-500 overall recruit in 2017, Lucas took a redshirt before immediately jumping into the starting right tackle spot for Wazzu and keeping it for four years. Over that period of time, he made second-time All-Pac-12 in each of the first three seasons and then first-team all-conference finally. Since the conclusion of the ’21 season, he has risen up draft boards thanks to what he’s shown during this process.
This guy presents a well-filled frame with no bad weight in his mid-section. Lucas is somebody who can help you get the ball out to the sideline, with how quickly he can work around edge defenders on wide zone runs or pin the play-side linebackers inside on speed option. On the back-side of zone runs, he helps push the D-tackle towards the inside of the guard before working up to the second level by putting his hand on the near-hip. He is smart with his angles and first steps when sealing off away from the action. On vertical combos, he gets his hips and elbows tight to the guard to create unified downfield movement and has the suddenness to peel off to the backer, once that guy commits to that side. Lucas was used on kick-outs and as a lead-puller up the opposite B-gap, covering that distance quickly and throwing his body into contact. If the original target wasn’t there, you didn’t see him hesitate for a moment, but rather he found somebody else in space to put hands on. He showed that in the screen game as well, working out to DBs in controlled fashion and actually getting his hands on them. To me, Lucas is far from another one of those large tackles the Cougars have had really over this last decade, whose numbers looked great simply because they were allowed to take short sets out of those wide the splits up front, to just force defenders to run a round loop, as the ball would come out in time. He just had one of the most athletic all-around performances at the combine for an offensive lineman, being tied for the fifth-best 40 time (4.92), along with leading the group in the three-cone (4.25) and 20-yard shuttle (4.4).
Lucas displays super patient feet in protection, playing very much within himself and not overreacting to moves. When he was asked to take true vertical sets, Lucas did a really good job of maintaining that half-man relationship as he gained depth and forced the edge rusher to condense the pocket through him, plus he lands well-timed punches just as the defender raises his inside arm for the swim-action. And then he can mirror inside counters with ease usually thanks to that tremendous lateral agility. Lucas recognizes loops and stunts up front tremendously well, keeping his head on a swivel and showcasing very calm feet, as he redirects horizontally to get in front of defenders, particularly having to take over guys who end up in the B-gap with favorable angles, as the end drops out. I was amazed with how swiftly he closed that gap to the guard when he set to the outside against wide-nine techniques and the rest of the O-line slid the other way, along with already having extra-wide splits, plus he then could jolt up those defenders pretty good. And when he passes on rushers to the guard next to him, he usually does so with an impactful shove. Watching him secure the backside on rollouts, where he almost looks like a DB back-pedaling is absolutely glorious. Overall, Lucas has spent an absurd 2195 career snaps as a pass-blocker and he didn’t give up a sack along with just nine total pressures on 477 of those this past season.
As much experience as Lucas has been able to collect in pass-pro, he was certainly helped by those wide splits on the Wazzu O-line and the fact he didn’t have to take very deep sets necessarily, being able to open his hips after that second step on Air Raid concepts outside of longer downs. Because of that to some degree probably, he’s developed a bad tendency of moving his feet too independently guiding rushers along the arc and well-schooled defenders will be able to punish him for it by stabbing at the inside shoulder as Lucas’ post foot is in the air, opening up the direct lane to the passer. He carries his hands low and when he has to gain depth against speed, and they come in late, which allows rushers to go through his chest, lift him up and drive him back into the quarterback’s lap at times. Making that transition, the former Cougar will have to prove that he can actually survive on an island. In the run game, Lucas doesn’t bring a lot of thump at first contact and he’s not necessarily somebody who you expect to create a ton of movement at the point of attack, as more of a positional blocker. Physical edge-setter could stun him on multiple occasions and he is not yet familiar with many pro-style run schemes.
So once again, I believe Lucas shouldn’t be labelled as just another one of those Washington State tackles, who won’t be able to transition to the next level, because he has a tremendous athletic profile and you saw flashes of him holding his own one-on-one in true dropback situations. Learning angles in tighter splits and setting a firmer anchor in pass-pro will be a challenge for him early on and the tendencies he’s created in college will make it even tougher for him to keep distance between him and the quarterback against rushers, who can convert speed to power. However, what I saw during Senior Bowl week was very encouraging, showing the ability to re-anchor, get that inside foot back down quickly against counter moves and “playing the man”, in terms of understanding who he’s facing. In terms of a run scheme fit, you want to get him on an offense that emphasizes getting the ball out to the perimeter, but Lucas is a guy I can envision going in the middle rounds and being a starter in the league for a decade, maybe after a season to figure it out.
9. Rasheed Walker, Penn State
6’6”, 325 pounds; RS JR
A top-100 overall recruit in 2018, Walker appeared in four games as a true freshman, which allowed to officially take a redshirt, before becoming the starter in year two and being in the lineup ever one of the ensuing 32 games, until the flu cost him his last couple of contests. He was voted third-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media respectively in the latter two seasons and decided to forgo his final year of eligibility as a redshirt junior.
This is a widely built left tackle with plenty of junk in the trunk. Walker aggressively comes off the ball and has some heavy hands at first contact in the run game, to create impact. He forklifts defensive linemen and blows some holes open when he can take a couple of steps into the man. You routinely see him deliver like a sideway shove with the inside hand to the side of his man on the edge and open up the B-gap that way. Walker covers plenty of ground laterally from the backside of wide zone runs and attaches to the hip of his guard, before working upfield if his area is clear. He can deliver some significant blows coming in on an angle on combo-blocks, to accelerate the movement of the down-lineman. When you have him down-block on the D-tackle and pull somebody around on like toss plays, that cutback should be there. Walker shuffles up to the stack-backer in pretty controlled fashion, although he could come off a little earlier probably. I love the way he smacks by guys shooting upfield on draw and some screen plays, before finding work.
I thought Walker was under control a lot more in his pass-sets last season and he looked pretty patient against rushers who tried dance sideways against him. He has the massive lower body to anchor down in the pass game and when he lands his punch inside the chest of rusher, he can keep them right there. However, he also is light enough on his feet to shuffle along and take speed rushers past the quarterback. And you see him quickly swat down the hands of guys on bull-rush attempts. Walker sells run-fakes tremendously well and has his man jostling for position, rather to win his rushes. He really shoves the first man over to his guard, before getting in front of the looper on T-E twists, but is also sturdy enough to deal with the tackle crashing into him. There’s definitely some nasty to his game, pulling defenders to the turf late on their rushes and jumping on top of them. Walker had a tremendous showing against Michigan last season, keeping Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and company to zero sacks or pressures from my count.
Overall, Walker’s tape and technique is still pretty up-and-down. He will get his weight out in front a little too much and allow guys to pull him off later into the play. In pass-pro, he heavily relies on two-handed punches and can miss badly because of it, where you have guys hit the club and dip around too easily. You see him drastically overset to the outside when it’s not necessary a few times and leave the B-gap wide open. Walker simply has to do a better job of framing his man and keeping his weight centered, as well as understand how angles change depending on the depth of the pocket. He surrendered nearly twice as many total pressures last season compared to 2020 (14 vs. 26) on 75 additional pass-blocking snaps. And after reaching a 70.6 PFF grade as a junior, he hit that mark in just one game all of last season. Walker can get a little lazy when he’s not directly involved on the action and peaks back at the ball for no reason.
Looking at the advanced stats and the grades Pro Football Focus gave him, I didn’t not expect to come away as impressed with Walker as I ended up being. He may not be a day-one starter, because he needs to clean up his weight distribution and overall technique as a pass-protector in particular, but at the value I can get him at, I’d much rather work with Walker than some of these other projects at tackle. He has the potential by a powerful run-blocker and he’s already shown improvement in pass-pro, with an extremely sturdy lower body. He’s absolutely worth a top-100 selection in my opinion.
10. Spencer Burford, UTSA
6’5”, 300 pounds; SR
This local kid was the first four-star recruit in the history of the UTSA program back in 2018. Burford started primarily at left guard over his first couple of years with the Roadrunners, making the Conference-USA All-Freshman and then honorable mention all-conference team. Leading into 2020, he kicked out to tackle, where he remained over these last two seasons and continued to excel, improving to second- and finally first-team all-conference, while leading the way for one of the top rushing attacks in the country over that stretch.
This guy is explosive out of his stance and he routinely beats defenders to the spot or is the one to make up that distance to them on angular blocks. Burford can create plenty of power through his knees and hips, raising in consequence of blocks. At the point of attack, he can create serious movement on combos and seamlessly transition as linebackers try to shoot up the C-gap. With how good that first step is and the mobility of his hips, Burford can work around wider aligned edge defenders and pin them inside on stretch schemes his way. On the backside, he effectively rips across the body of three-techniques, completely kills their pursuit angle and once the ball gets out to the perimeter, he’s looking to even get hands on safeties. He consistently was able to scoop-block L.A. Tech’s Milton Williams, who had a historically great combine and was known for his ability to win off the snap, before the Eagles selected him in the top-75 a year ago, other than once when the tackle was actually too quick with wanting to progress upfield. Burford has tremendous reactive quickness, to adjust on the fly on combo-blocks, whether it’s how much he has to help out on the down-lineman – where he provides serious movement when attaching to the hip of his guard – or he can directly climb, as that guy has slanted to the A-gap. If he knows by pre-snap that he can work up to second level, Burford shows excellent urgency and acceleration to cut off angles and cover up bodies. This is certainly not somebody you want to get in front of him when he’s on the move, whether it’s taking out linebackers in the hole pulling around on GT power or looking for targets in the screen game. And in general, he wants to keep moving defenders against their will.
In pass-protection, Burford displays nice rhythm in his kick-slide and keeps his hands ready to strike. He maximizes his length by attacking the defender’s chest with his inside arms extended (at just under 35 inches) and you see him sort of lift up through it against speed attempts, forcing edge rushers to round their path, as well as connect with the outside hand to the far edge of the defender’s frame and allowing himself to center his opponent again. Plus, against guys that sell out for speed, he has the pop in his hands to literally toss them way past the quarterback, as they try to dip underneath his reach. Burford successfully steps back to brace against speed-to-power and re-set his base, to lay the anchor. There’s plenty of force behind his hands to stun defenders, who try to shoot inside of him. And the former Roadrunner clearly has a feel for when rushers get off balance, to pull or push them to the ground and then pin them there as he falls on top on them. He has no issues opening up room for the quarterback on rollouts towards him, as he covers up the end-man on the line. Burford made significant improvement in the pass game last season, cutting his sack total from four in half and remaining at 11 additional pressures despite 32 extra pass-blocking snaps and facing slightly tougher competition.
However, there’s some wasted movement off the ball in the run game for Burford, to not overstride, but he should learn to incorporate a gather step instead as he approaches his targets. He possesses only 9 ½-inch hands and you see those slip off blocks on several occasions, where he ends up chest-to-chest with defenders, and sees his pads rise. Plus, he does get a little top-heavy and lean into defenders at times, which leads to balance issues. As a pass-protector, he doesn’t cover a lot of grass with that initial kick and can’t cut off the angles for guys who can accelerate up the arc or have that secondary burst, which leads to him completely flipping his hips and making himself vulnerable against guys who understand how to time up their inside counters well. Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone clearly made him uncomfortable a few times that way in the Conference-USA Championship game last season. Burford doesn’t have a ton a ton of sand in his pants and gets bent backwards on speed-to-power a few times.
This is another guy, who I maybe didn’t expect to end up liking as much as I now do. Obviously, we saw him be a pretty dominant run-blocker in Conference-USA, paving the way for Sincere McCormick rushing for nearly 3000 yards over these last two years combined. However, his hand usage and ability to create favorable angles for himself in pass-pro were what really impressed me along with that. At the Senior Bowl, Burford had a pretty rough first day, getting run through and losing on an inside move, but I really liked the competitive spirit and the improvement he showed, while his leg-drive in run drills was impressive. He may lack the lower body girth to consistently hold his ground inside, as many people have suggested a move to guard and even staying on the edge, he’ll need to add to his frame, but I believe he can be an excellent swing tackle right away thanks to his starting experience on both sides and earn a starting gig sooner rather than later.
Just missed the cut:
Kellen Diesch, Arizona State
6‘6”, 300 pounds; RS SR
Just outside the top-100 overall recruits back in 2016 for Texas A&M, Diesch increased his playing time every year with the Aggies but never cracked the starting lineup. So he joined the ASU program as a graduate transfer and had two excellent years, starting all 17 games at left tackle, as an honorable mention and then second-team All-Pac-12 selection.
+ Never seems to get caught oversetting in his run-blocks and approaches wider alignments under good control
+ Successfully reach-blocks frontside defensive ends or cuts off B-gap defenders on the backside of outside zone runs
+ Highly effective at working up to linebackers after making sure the down-block is secured by the guard, and overall his ability to latch onto targets in space seems easy
+ Showcases impressive pulling skills, kicking out edge defenders and bending all the way around the tight-end on the opposite side and leading the way
+ Really forces edge rushers to run the loop with that patient, rhythmic kick-slide
+ Does a great job of timing up his punch to only widening the arc of the rusher
+ Packs a tight punch and consistently lands it inside the chest of the defender
+ Redirects well against up-and-under moves and hits the near-half, to get the man off track
+ Surrendered just one sack and six additional hurries on over 400 pass-blocking snaps this past season, with multiple pressures in just one contest
– Has been working just to stay at that 300-pound mark and seems to not be able to add much more “good” weight
– Doesn’t have much power to speak of at contact, to really widen the B-gap
– Arms came in half an inch short of that 33-inch benchmark and the lack of length gives him problems, when you combine it with not being very pro-active with establishing contact – quality NFL power moves will give him issues
– There’s not a lot of light and short offensive tackles in the NFL – and it’s not like he really plays with some kind of mean streak
– Will already turn 25 just before his rookie season kicks off
Diesch had arguably the best overall showing at the combine, with 4.89 in the 40, being just one inch off the top mark in the vert (32.5 inches) and three hundredths of a second in the 20-yard shuttle, which got him an RAS of 9.8. You also saw that athleticism with the way he moved around with ease, redirecting laterally and delivering a tight punch. I believe he will have to add more muscle to his frame and being on the very old spectrum of NFL prospects, if you need a year to build that up, you won’t get much service from him until he’s 26. However, I love his feet and how consistent he is with landing his hands. The lack of length is what really hurts his draft stock, because people in the league want those types of athletic guys, who can be starters on the blind-side, but at worst Diesch should be an excellent swing-tackle, who can jump in for extended stretches and give you quality play.
Cordell Volson, North Dakota State
6’6”, 312 pounds; RS SR
Despite being an all-district selection at football and basketball, because he only played nine-man football, Volson was just a two-star recruit with very limited offers. Over the course of his career at North Dakota State, he appeared in 65 games and started the final 41, with all but ten coming at right tackle. Other than the COVID-delayed 2020/21 spring season, the Bison averaged 272+ rushing yards and won the FCS Championship in all of his four years there.
+ Coming from a pro-style rushing attack, he has experience with a variety run schemes
+ Tremendous understanding for how to take his initial steps and hit the right aiming points in the run game
+ Operates with a wide base and lets those massive thighs do the work, keeping them legs churning until the echo of the whistle
+ On combos with the guard on duo runs, they often drive the D-tackle into the lap of the linebacker
+ Showcases sufficient mobility to climb up to the second level and bury some guys there
+ Consistently keeps his feet underneath himself in protection and doesn’t overreact to pass-rush maneuvers
+ Offers a strong anchor and rides defenders past the arc when they try to really get that speed rush going
+ Keeps his hands steady at the mid-section and can use them independently, while actively looking to re-position
+ Displays tremendous awareness in protection, to recognize twists or slot blitzers and shuffle in front of them in controlled fashion
+ Never gave up a sack over 41 games as a starter for the Bison, along with only 14 total pressures on just over 1000 pass-blocking snaps these last three years
– Gets too far out in front of his toes at times and NFL defenders, who know how to pull cloth effectively, will make him slip off blocks in the run game
– Clearly not as fleet-footed as former teammate on the opposite end of the line last year’s second-round pick Dillon Radunz (Titans)
– Wasn’t asked to take a lot of vertical pass sets, with how heavily they relied on the run game and took play-action shots at NDSU
– Looks rather heavy-footed when getting out in space on screens and scrambles
There were worries about Volson’s lack of length, but with 34-inch arms that’s perfectly fine, and he has pretty large 10 ½-inch hands. He did kick in to guard during East-West Shrine practices and quickly acclimated himself to it, driving guys off the ball laterally to create cutbacks lanes and holding his ground in pass-pro. He doesn’t have ideal athleticism for playing on the edge and will be challenged with a lot more standard pass-sets, but I think he’ll be drafted on day three and could easily become a starter at guard or right tackle by his second season.
The names names up:
Matt Waletzko (North Dakota), Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan), Max Mitchell (Louisiana) & Braxton Jones (Southern Utah)