Home Steelers DraftProspect Profiles SCB 2022 Draft Profiles: Offensive Tackles

SCB 2022 Draft Profiles: Offensive Tackles

by Ian

The NFL Draft is less than a month away. Our SCB Steelers Draft Previews are rolling along. Check out our breakdowns of the Quarterback, Running Back, and Wide Receiver groups. Today we stay on the offensive side of the ball and look at offensive tackles. The Steelers used a fourth round pick on Dan Moore last year and he was thrust into the starting lineup due to preseason injuries. Moore has some upside as a young player but there were certainly growing pains last season. The Steelers also re-signed RT Chuks Okorafor to a multi-year deal this offseason. They don’t have a massive need for a starting tackle, but depth at the position is certainly always valuable.

This year’s tackle class has three studs in Alabama’s Evan Neal, NC State’s Ickey Ekwonu, and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. All three players should go in the top 15 picks of the draft. After that, the next tier of tackles is primarily smaller school (or at least, non-power conference) players, an area the Steelers typically don’t dip into in the early rounds. This includes Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning, Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, and Tulsa’s Tyler Smith. Given the need for tackles around the league those guys could sneak into the end of the first round or be taken in the early second.

Offensive line coach Pat Meyer attended just two Pro Days this year, according to reports. Those pro days were at Minnesota (with hulking tackle Daniel Faalele) and Texas A&M (where Kenyon Green is considered one of the top guards in the draft). Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada attended Pro Days at Liberty, Ole Miss, Cincinnati and North Carolina. General Manager Kevin Colbert’s tour included those four schools plus Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, NC State, Alabama, and LSU.

Top Tier

Evan Neal – Alabama

Neal is a prototypical left tackle with great size (6’7″!!) and length. He was a three-year starter at Alabama and won accolades as a Freshman All-American in 2019 and a consensus first-team All-American in 2021. This past season was his first year at left tackle after playing right tackle and guard the prior two seasons. If he has a weakness, it’s that he can get caught with his upper body leaning away from his base which can throw him off balance. Overall, Neal will be a Top 10 pick in this draft.

Ikem Ekwonu – NC State

“Ickey” is also a true junior who has been a three-year starter. Like Evan Neal, he was named to the Freshman All-American team in 2019 and was a first team All-American in 2021. While he doesn’t have the size of Neal, he makes up for it in sheer nastiness. He meets defenders with bad intentions and wants to leave them in a pile on the ground. This can cause him to over-extend or to lunge to the outside against edge rushers, leaving him susceptible to counter moves on the inside. Ekwonu played in a zone blocking scheme and does have the nimbleness to get out on the edge and carry his man down the line. Ickey is another Top 10 prospect in the draft and could be the first tackle off the board.

Charles Cross – Mississippi State

Cross is a redshirt sophomore with just two years of playing time but first named first-team All-American in 2021. Cross might have some of the widest variance in current draft projections among the top tackles. Some mocks have him going in the Top 10 while others have him falling into the late-teens.  Cross’ best trait is in his hand usage and his technique, making him one of the best pass blockers in this draft. He will need to continue to add some weight to his frame and build up his strength, as he could get overpowered by bull rushers or in the run game. Cross is a Top 20 player in this class and can be an anchor of any offensive line.

Second Tier

Small Schools

Trevor Penning – Northern Iowa

Penning has a chance to be taken in the tail end of the first round. As a redshirt senior he has garnered plenty of collegiate experience on a Northern Iowa team that went on some deep runs in the FCS playoffs. He has the size (6’7″ 325) of a prototypical NFL left tackle and tested very well athletically at the Combine. Penning’s agility drills and speed will make him an ideal fit in a zone blocking scheme that utilizes athletic linemen who can move. He will need to refine his pass blocking technique and work on his hands to be a truly dominant NFL tackle.

Bernhard Raimann – Central Michigan

Raimann grew up in Austria and didn’t start playing football until high school. He came to Central Michigan as a tight end and switched to left tackle in the spring of 2020. He started all 6 games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and all 12 in 2021 when he was first-team All-MAC. Raimann is still very raw in his technique and is developing as an offensive tackle. He tested very well athletically and should have the ability to contribute as either a swing tackle or potentially slide inside to guard as he continues to develop. Raimann is a fringe first round prospect, depending on how much teams are willing to gamble on his athletic potential vs his lack of overall experience.

Tyler Smith – Tulsa

Smith is a redshirt sophomore who was a freshman All-American in 2020 and second-team All-AAC in 2021. He started 21 games over his final two seasons at left tackle. He had solid testing at the combine, including a 40-yard dash just a shade over 5 seconds. Smith was an offensive guard recruit out of high school but solely played tackle at Tulsa. He still needs work on his fundamentals and was flagged for 12 holding penalties this past season alone. Smith is very raw but has the size, athleticism, and age (he just turned 21) to have the upside that NFL teams will gamble on. Smith is likely a second-round player and may be better suited as a guard than a tackle.

Big Schools

Daniel Faalele – Minnesota

Faalele is an absolute mountain of a human being at 6’8″ 384 pounds. Unsurprisingly, he did not test very well athletically with that kind of size. Faalele was born in Australia to a Tongan mother and Samoan father. He grew up playing rugby and was recruited to IMG Academy in Florida for football. He came to America in his junior year of high school and did not play until his senior year. Faalele was a 3-year starter at Minnesota, opting out of 2020 but returning last year to be a first-team All-Big Ten selection. Given his late introduction to the game, Faalele still has some learning and developing to do, but his rugby background provided him with good footwork and his overall size and strength make him suited for a right tackle position in the pros.

Nicholas Petit-Frere – Ohio State

Petit-Frere is a redshirt junior who started the last two seasons for the Buckeyes. He started 7 games at right tackle in 2020 and 12 games at left tackle in 2021. With just two seasons under his belt, he would need some development before being plugged into a starting role in the NFL. His athletic testing was middle-of-the-road but he has the size and showed good footwork in his time in Columbus. At times, his play strength did get exposed and he will need to work on his technique. Overall, he has the upside of a Day 2 pick but will need some developmental work from an engaged line coach at the next level.

Rasheed Walker – Penn State

Walker is a redshirt junior who started 32 games for the Nittany Lions over the last three seasons. Walker has displayed strong leadership abilities as a team captain but is coming off a knee injury (bone bruise) that ended his 2021 campaign. He checked in at 6’5″ 313 pounds at the Combine but didn’t do any of the athletic drills as he continued to rehab his knee. On tape, Walker has the power and short-area mobility to have upside at the next level. That said, he can get caught reaching and overextend his upper body which throws him off balance. Walker will need work at the next level to develop into a full-time starter but should hear his name called in the second day of the draft.

Abraham Lucas – Washington State

Another player with a massive frame is Abe Lucas. Checking in at 6’6″ 315, he was a four-year starter at right tackle for the Cougars and tested very well athletically at the Combine. His speed and agility drills were off the charts for an offensive lineman, but he doesn’t use his size with the power one might expect. Coming from Washington State’s pass-happy offense he is a solid pass blocker but needs more work in his run blocking.

Others to Watch

This is not an extremely deep class of offensive linemen. After the top two tiers of players, who will likely all go in the first two days of the draft, there are slim pickings on Day Three. Names to keep an eye on include UTSA’s Spencer Burford, Louisiana’s Max Mitchell, and Arizona State’s Kellen Diesch who is one of the top athletes in the draft.

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