Apr 182022
 
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Evan Neal, Alabama Crimson Tide (December 31, 2021)

Evan Neal – © USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

90+: All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

1: Evan Neal – Alabama – 6’7/337

Grade: 87

Summary: Junior entry from Okeechobee, Florida. Three-year starter at three different positions (LG, RT, LT). A 2019 Freshman All American that ended his career as a 2nd Team All American and 1st Team All SEC honoree. Neal, a team captain, is lauded by both the on-field coaches and support staff inside the walls. His attention to detail, intelligence, and work ethic have helped him deliver on his 5-star recruit profile out of high school. The fact he started right away as a true freshman for Nick Saban along the offensive line, a rarity, and progressed each season of his 3-year career while playing 3 different positions speaks volumes about his mental game. The obvious with Neal is the elite physical tools. His size is second to none, his power comes easy and natural, and the explosion within his blocking can put him in a rare tier of offensive line prospects. He did struggle with consistency throughout his career, as he showed low body awareness in several situations. He often oversets, leading to balance and control issues. Defenders were able to shake him off too many times. Neal’s upside is as high as it gets but the constant new-position he dealt with every year may have thrown off some important development. That versatility may help his outlook to some teams but once he is drafted, his true value will come when he settles into a position. Neal can eventually be one of the best linemen in the game.

*Prior to the start of the year, I had nearly no-doubt Neal was going to finish in the 90+ tier. But this is where you have to toss pre-conceived notions out the window when watching the tape. The truth is, Neal did not take a step forward. There are shortcomings within his skill set that arose weekly. The positive? These are all very correctable issues, and we see them corrected all the time. He has some of the same issues that Tristan Wirfs did coming out of Iowa in 2020. Wirfs was my OT1 in that class with a similar grade and is now an All-Pro. Neal can get on that path just as quickly, but I think he needs to settle into a position and remain there for a couple years. That hasn’t been the case since he was a high schooler. NYG would be an ideal destination for him. Insert him into the RT spot week 1 and they could have a top tier OT pair within a year or two. I would be excited to get this kid in blue.

2: Ikem Ekwonu – NC State – 6’4/310

Grade: 87

Summary: Junior entry from Charlotte, North Carolina. Three-year starter that has seen time at both left guard and left tackle. Two-time 1st Team All ACC and 2021 1st Team All American. The former wrestler was the also the anchor on his high school track team at 280+ pounds. Ekwonu will immediately be one of the best athletes along the offensive line in the league. His explosion, twitch from head to toe, and comfort in space as a lead blocker will be a viable weapon on an NFL offense early on. He is constantly putting defenders on the ground, as he can turn that speed into power at the snap of a finger. The issue with Ekwonu, however, is what we see out of homerun hitters in baseball. In between the highlights are far too many strikeouts. His lack of space-awareness and angles cause too many losses. His footwork is off, and his hands are often too late, which NFL defenders will eat for breakfast. The upside is through the roof, and he does carry credible inside-out versatility, but there is a lot of work to be done. He could start inside at guard in the NFL and will be most valuable in the running game when he can get out in space.

*For the record, Ekwonu graded out in the same tier at guard as tackle. It would be a hard call to pick between the two spots where he should start his career off. If the long-term plan is to put him at tackle, you might as well put him there right away. But if a team has 2 capable tackles and a hole at guard, I would not hesitate to put him inside. He has that kind of power, and he will make a bigger initial impact there. Ekwonu has holes in his game, just like Neal. Those issues, also like Neal, are very correctable. And lastly, like Neal, that is what kept him out of the 90+ tier. The upside is on that level at both guard and tackle. I do see a scenario where he is the guy I want NYG to go after at #5. It is pretty specific in terms of what happens 1-4, but it is possible. He would be a fun player to watch, and I would like the fit next to Glowinski for his mental progression. A part of me would wonder, however, if it would be a better idea to insert him at left guard and try to fill in RT next year. What a left side that would be.

3: Charles Cross – Mississippi State – 6’5/307

Grade: 85

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Laurel, Mississippi. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors in 2021. Cross has all the tools and on-field intelligence to be a starting tackle in the league. His size and athletic ability look natural and easy. He has a calmness about him in pass protection that is hard to find. Rarely does he seem off balance or out of control even when he needs to adjust his weight and intentions at the final moment. There are some brute strength and power issues that show up in the running game, but if he continues on the track we have seen with his body development over the last three years, he should bridge the gap in that department soon enough to potentially be considered one of the top tackles in the league. He can already do things against speed, quickness, and scheme-complexity that many pros cannot. His upside us as high as any offensive lineman in the draft.

*If you are looking for a tackle solely for pass protection, a strong case can be made for Cross being the top dog. His body control is what stands out the most to me. When you watch the top pass blocking tackles in the league, you rarely see their numbers facing the ground. You rarely see them overextending or bending from the hip. This is what I see in Cross every time I watch him play. He does have losses on tape which stem from a weak initial punch and lack of grip strength. That needs to be enhanced, no question. Hand fighting is an essential part of blocking and while I think he has the skill set down, he just needs to get stronger. The build is there, and he has done a nice job adding some weight since being recruited. I do think he is in play for #7 if NYG goes elsewhere at #5.

4: Trevor Penning – Northern Iowa – 6’7/325

Grade: 83

Summary: Fifth year senior from Clear Lake, IA. Three-year starter that did not play in 2020 because the program cancelled the season. He played in both a shortened spring and full fall season respectively in 2021. Capped off his career with first team All-MVFC and All-American honors in addition to being named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the Offensive Player of the Year in FCS. Penning brings immense size, power, and attitude to the trenches. He is the kind of player that gets slid into a starting offensive line and all the sudden the personality up front is changed. To say he plays nasty and physical would be an understatement. Penning does have a few athletic shortcomings, as he doesn’t have the ever-present agility and bend below the waist. However, the capabilities are there to be just good enough at minimum and his overall power and mass should be able to hide most of the issues. There is a possibility his best fit would be inside, but he should get a shot to man a starting tackle spot early in his career.

*Penning was barely recruited out of high school. He spent just a year-plus on the offensive line. And he played at the lowest level of Iowa high school football. Now? He is a 325-pound freak that some can rightfully argue brings the best blend of talent to the table of all linemen in this class. I have a feeling we are going to see Penning go a lot earlier than where some are projecting him. He is a dream come true for some offensive line coaches. Still relatively raw when it comes to playing offensive line, elite burst and power, a pro-ready body, a love for the weight room, and a tenacity that can change the personality of an entire offense. Penning is a bit of a gamble because even from a lower level of college football, he was out-quicked far too often for my liking. But after seeing him workout, a case can be made he just doesn’t fully know what he is doing yet. And if/when he does, he can be a Pro Bowl talent.

5: Abraham Lucas – Washington State – 6’6/315

Grade: 79

Summary: Fifth year senior from Everett, WA. Four-year starter that earned All-Pac 12 honors all four seasons, first team in both 2020 and 2021. Lucas is a highly experienced and accomplished right tackle that checks all the boxes when it comes to the tools and physical skill set. He is a superb pass blocker that does a lot of the little things right on a repeated basis. His footwork and body control, both in space and while engaged with the defender, are consistent. He is not the best natural athlete, and it does show up on occasion, but he rarely abandons his techniques and there is a presence of denseness to him. He plays strong and heavy when things are lined up. His issues, which center around consistent bend and hand-timing, are very correctable. Lucas will be a starting right tackle in the league by his second year and should have a long career in the league.

*Lucas may need a little more time than most guys with a 79 grade. He did not play in anything close to a pro-blocking scheme and was rarely ever asked to run block. There is a level of weakness to his game as well. He is like a JV version of Charles Cross. Really smooth and reliable pass blocker but does not get enough push yet in the running game. His frame is there, though, and he does have some attitude to him that showed up at the Senior Bowl. I liked him there. If NYG does not get an OT early, he is on my short list overall for day 2.

6: Tyler Smith – Tulsa – 6’5/324

Grade: 79

Third year sophomore entry from Forth Worth, TX. Two-year full-time starter that also started two games in his redshirt season. Earned All-AAC honors in both 2020 and 2021. Smith is an explosive bruiser that plays the game with some extra attitude and violence. He plays with the kind of untamed mean streak that, when lined up properly, can be a true difference maker for an offensive line. His size and foot speed give him a high ceiling, but it will take some time to get there. He got away with poor techniques across the board in college that will not fly in the NFL. He needs to completely refine his hand work, get more comfortable with knee bend, and improve his body overall. Smith may need to make a move inside but even there, his ability to anchor will need time to build up. Look for him to be steady contributor within two years with a high upside.

*Look for Smith as another candidate for NYG to move inside if they can get their hands on him day 2. He plays the game like a violent guard. The lack of consistency in his bend and hand placement will cause issues on the outside early on. Inside, however, there is more margin for error in that department because he wouldn’t be as responsible for as much space. That said, most teams will see a potential tackle here that likely needs to sit a year. He has a high enough upside to warrant round 2.

7: Nicholas Petit-Frere – Ohio State – 6’5/316

Grade: 79

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Tampa, Florida. Two-year starter that transitioned to left tackle in 2021, finishing as a 2nd Team All American and earned 1st Team All Big 10 honors. Petit-Frere was an elite, top-rated high school recruit at the tackle position coming out. It took him a little extra time before he was ready to contribute on the field, but he put forth two solid seasons at both right and left tackle respectively. The body, athletic ability, and overall upside are enough to forecast a starting job in his future, however it may not be right away. There are a lot of inconsistencies in his game that need to be hammered out before can be fully trusted. He carries tightness in his lower half that translates into poor initial movement, delayed reactions, and a lack of sustainable power. When he does have all his techniques lined up, he has shown flashes of being a dominant player. The plays in between those positive stretches are what can cause some worry and delay his impact on a quality offense. Boom or bust type that would be best suited as a backup early on.

*There are stretches of play where Petit-Frere looks like a definite first rounder. He looks the part both pre and post snap. He has starting experience on both sides of the ball. He put a lot of quality work into the offseasons throughout his career. My glaring negative when breaking down his grade is the fact that his performances against arguably his two toughest opponents were poor. Hutchinson from Michigan and Ebikitie from Penn State, two pro-caliber edge guys, nearly destroyed him. I’ve said this before, but I will repeat it. How these guys respond to those matchups will always mean a lot to my final grades. Petit-Frere was a first rounder in my eyes until those game tapes. He has the ability, but it needs to come together on a more reliable basis.

8: Bernhard Raimann – Central Michigan – 6’6/307

Grade: 77

Senior from Steinbrunn, Austria. Two-year starter at left tackle after starting 11 games over the previous two seasons at tight end. Earned first team All-MAC honors in 2021. Raimann played tight end until 2020 and it took just 18 games at his new position to become a credible pro prospect. His quick feet and overall twitch carry over well. He can stay under control against speed but also shows advanced knowledge and understanding of hand-techniques. He usually gets them inside while staying square and the ability to constantly stop and re-direct complements that well. Raimann is still rough around the edges and does not have the prototype-frame for the position. He lacks ample reach and struggles to keep his outside shoulder strong in pass protection, and it could cause a move inside. However, his skill set and lack of push off the ball could hinder his ability at guard. The athleticism and rawness do leave the door open for more obtainable upside than most prospects at the position, but there is a lot of development needed, which will take extra time.

*Raimann will turn 25 early in the 2022 season. He has a lot of big-time supporters around the league. It sounds like he will be a 2nd rounder. My initial read on him was 3rd or 4th round and after seeing the entire package, I did cement him into day two. That said, I don’t see a way to move him higher than where I have. There are too many unprovens when it comes to his skill set. Now, if he fixes the outside shoulder issues and gets a little more consistent with his lower body overall, and the actual ability is there I’ll admit, then we are looking at a starter. But the lack of length, lack of consistency, and core-based issues are too much for me to consider him any higher.

9: Rasheed Walker – Penn State – 6’6/313

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior from Waldorf, Maryland. Three-year starter that earned third team All-Big 10 honors in 2020. Walker has all the tools and traits to be a quality starting tackle in the NFL. His size and athleticism are hard to find together in one player. When his techniques are lined up, they come together and create quality blocking. He has the suddenness and explosive hands to re-direct defenders while keeping the lower half active and fast. His issues revolve around inconsistent spacing between his feet. It causes him to lose balance and power, notably in pass protection when he needs to move to his outside shoulder. In time, Walker can be a high-end player but he will need quality coaching, patience, and an unwavering work ethic.

*Walker is getting over a minor knee injury that prevented him from working out at both his pro day and the scouting combine. There are also some maturity question marks with him that will cause teams to hesitate in a deep group day three linemen. With that said, Walker’s best tape rivals several of the guys in the day two group. He has the goods. The lack of consistency and questions noted above will likely cause NYG to steer clear, however.

10: Luke Goedeke – Central Michigan – 6’5/312

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Whitelaw, WI. Two-year starter that missed all of 2020 after a knee injury that required surgery. First team All-MAC in 2021. Goedeke played right tackle all but one snap over his career. He shows dominant traits in the running game that stem from a combination of mentality and hand strength. He locks on with active feet and uses all his mass to get movement off the line. He plays with solid top to bottom cohesion and understands the angle-battle well. His size and lack pure athletic ability may force a move inside, but he should at least get a look at tackle. He is a fighter, one that relishes the role of being a security guard. Goedeke can be the important sixth lineman that can man different spots when injuries arise with the upside of being a starter down the road.

*After a career at tackle, he may have to make a shift inside due to length concerns. Goedeke is also a solid, but not great, mover in pass protection. He is one of the handful of guys you could project to either spot but I kept him out here because he never played inside at Central Michigan. Goedeke is not far off from Raimann, who gets much more attention it seems. Watch the two snap to snap (easy to do since they are on the same film) and you’ll see they trade back and forth positive/negative plays. I see Goedeke as the career backup type that you don’t want to head into the season as your starter, but OK with him coming in when an injury pops up.

11: Kellen Diesch – Arizona State – 6’7/301

Grade: 75

Fifth year senior from Trophy Club, TX. Two-year starter for Arizona State after transferring from Texas A& M where he spent three seasons as a backup. Earned second team All-Pac 12 honors in 2021. Diesch is a natural, easy-looking pass protector on the edge with smooth and repeatable footwork. His techniques are near-flawless, and it led to an incredibly high success rate on an island against pass rushers. He falls well below the prototype size for the tackle position, however, and may not have the anchor-strength for inside right away. There is a lot of weight room work to be done here but there is no denying how good he is at blocking, simply put. Diesch knows how to get the job done and could project as a valuable backup that could overcome a size deficiency in time and evolve into a quality starter.

*Diesch is a guy that falls below the size requirements on multiple levels but has such quality tape that you get reminded how much of an art this is. There are teams that will not even look at Diesch. But then there are teams that will look at the movement in pass protection, the easy and calm hands, and the ability to stay square will want to roll the dice. Diesch was one of my favorite guys to watch tape early in the year (and in 2020). But you must be careful knowing that the lack of anchor and length can, quite easily, be eaten alive by quality pass rushers. I would want this kid on my depth chart for a year or two to see if something can be made of him.

12: Max Mitchell – Louisiana – 6’6/307

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Monroe, LA. Three-year starter that earned All-Sun Belt honors in both 2020 and 2021, first team in his final season. A well-balanced technician, Mitchell brings a very nice base-level skill set to work with. He has a natural and ever-present sense of body control and balance that can set him up well in pass protection. The sudden hand work and mobile hips will get him a lot of initial wins up the edge. He is not big or strong enough yet. He will need a redshirt for his initial pro season with a personal key to the weight room. If he can gain quality weight while maintaining his developed skill set, Mitchell has starter-capability at either tackle spot. A move to guard could be in the works as well, but the lower body mass and anchor need to vastly improve.

*Mitchell has one of the key traits I want in a lineman, more specifically at tackle. He maintains excellent body control and balance while he is engaged with his man. Even though he does not have the plus-speed or size, he stays in phase and rarely gets caught oversetting or losing his anchor. Simply put, he showed he knows how to block. I liken him to a poor man’s version of Dillon Radunz from last year, a 2nd rounder for TEN that had to sit most of the year while he beefed up. I see Mitchell being a similar guy, just a hair lower when it comes to talent and upside. Always have room for this guy on a depth chart.

14: Vederian Lowe – Illinois – 6’5/314

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Rockford, IL. Started all five years because of receiving extra eligibility because of Covid-19. Honorable Mention All-Big 10 in both 2020 and 2021. Lowe, a father of two, is highly lauded by coaches and teammates. He also plays with a sense of maturity on the field. The techniques are repeated snap after snap, and it translates to superb body control and reliability. The feet and hands are in complete cohesion with one another, and it is rare to see him abandoning his base. Lowe does not bring a high end of speed or power to the table, but he is a blocker that simply gets the job done. His body type is unique. Lowe does not project to a top-tier status, but he will outplay and outlast players drafted ahead of him. He has things put together so well and his skill set will continue to improve in time.

*Lowe reminds me of a slightly lesser version, also slightly bigger version of Isaiah Wynn. The way he moves, the way he absorbs contact, and the ever-present sense of control. This is a dark horse guy worth trying to remember. I do have some concerns with him against top tier NFL speed and quickness, but if I can get him in round 5, I would be pumped. I think NYG will like the dependable traits he has. Highly respected by coaches, was impressive in interviews at the combine, has 2 kids, and set the Illinois record for starts (52).

14: Daniel Faalele – Minnesota – 6’8/384

Grade: 73

Senior entry from Melbourne, Australia. Three-year started that opted out in 2020 because of Covid-19. Faalele is going to stand out because of his rare size for obvious reasons. He will immediately be one of the largest humans in the league full of giants. What makes him even more intriguing, however, is the fact he started playing football for the first time in 2016 with his first game action occurring a year later. Faalele moves off the ball exceptionally well for a player of his size. The baseline athletic ability is good enough but where he struggles is when unplanned adjustment and lateral shifts of weight are needed. That, along with the likelihood of eventual injury playing at such a heavy weight, is why he will need to shed a few pounds before being depended on. He can win a lot of battles because of his mass and natural power, but the speed and complexity of the NFL will expose movement issues too often if he stays on his current path. He has upside and potential as a power blocker that others simply do not, but there is a lot that needs to be lined up prior to getting there.

*I can see where kid can come across as a unicorn. You just don’t see 400 pounders that can move their feet the way he does. But for my money, I’ll let someone else take the chance. I don’t trust the long term of health of someone that weighs this much and to be frank, there are some defenders he may not even be able to get his hands on. In a league where the low, bendy, fast pass rushers are becoming more and more prevalent, Faalele may simply be coming into the league at the wrong time.

15: Austin Deculus – LSU – 6’5/321

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from Mamou, LA. Four-year starter that saw all his snaps at right tackle. Deculus has been a mainstay on an offensive line that has been one of the best performing groups in the nation over the past three years. He does not have standout talent or a dominating skill set, but it is hard to find a lot of bad beats on tape. He is just big enough and just powerful enough to hide the significant agility issues. He has heavy feet and stiff ankles, however his upper body strength and overall mass is hard to cleanly get by. There is a strong athletic base here, thus the notion there is some untapped potential lives on. Deculus has work to do, but there is a lot of pro-readiness to his game already. He can be a multiple year project that could end up being a quality starter in the league.

*Another guy well known for his durability (school record 61 games). Deculus is a better athlete than what we see on tape. He is a prime candidate for a draft and stash scenario (although I’m not sure how safe he is on the practice squad) for a year or two. Have him hammer away work at his agility and lower body mobility and see what he can develop into. Deculus has the man-power already and, most importantly, he knows how to win against better athletes. He can recover, an often overlook component to a quality lineman.

BEST OF THE REST

16: Braxton Jones – Southern Utah – 6’5/310: 71
17: Zachary Thomas – San Diego State – 6’5/308: 71
18: Myron Cunningham – Arkansas – 6’5/320: 70
19: Obinna Eze – TCU – 6’6/321: 70
20: Cade Mays – Tennessee – 6’5/311: 69
21: Dare Rosenthal – Kentucky – 6’7/29: 69
22: Matt Waletzko – North Dakota – 6’8/312: 69
23: Alec Anderson – UCLA – 6’5/304: 69
24: Andrew Rupcich – Culver-Stockton – 6’6/318: 68
25: Caleb Jones – Indiana – 6’9/370: 68
26: Luke Tenuta – Virginia Tech – 6’8/319: 68
27: Tyler Vrabel – Boston College – 6’6/315: 68
28: Bamidele Olaseni – Utah – 6’7/339: 68
29: Greg Long – Purdue – 6’3/304: 67
30: Devin Cochran – Georgia Tech – 6’7/306: 67

NYG APPROACH

If I were a betting man, I would put a lot of money on NYG using #5 or #7 on one of the top four tackles. I say four because there is some love for Trevor Penning around the league that nobody is talking about, although I think the decision comes down to the obvious Ekwonu, Neal, or Cross trio. Let’s break this down, as I would put them all at equal odds to be the guy NYG goes for.

Ekwonu is the best athlete of the bunch and probably offers the most upside when it comes to handling speed and quickness. While his technique as a pass blocker is a step or two behind, his twitch and explosion (upper and lower body) is one of the best I have seen. I also think he brings the meanest personality to the table. Neal is the one with the biggest upside overall, but I also think he has the lowest floor. No, I am not hedging my bet here. My grade is above, and he is OT1 on my board. But what I mean here is, Neal’s biggest issue (balance) has ruined careers in this league. If you can’t stay on your feet, let alone stay solid and strong on them, you won’t be a reliable blocker against players that are just as fast east-west as they are north-south. Defensive schemes are also as complex as they’ve ever been. But his best tape rivals Hall of Famer Walter Jones, the top tackle of my lifetime in my opinion. While I would be surprised to see Cross go ahead of the two guys above, it has very little to do with his run blocking. My surprise would come from the fact that is there is a weakness to his pass blocking, it is the anchor and losing to the inside shoulder. This will very much depend on what Daboll wants out of the tackle. Does he want more body control and overall grace? Then, Cross makes sense. But I think he will lean more toward power for this vacant RT spot.

If NYG somehow ignores OT with the first two picks, they almost need to force a pick there at the top of round 2. There are quality linemen taken there in that window nearly every year, but more often than not it is an inside guy. Tackles in round 2 are not easy to find. Names like Abraham Lucas, Tyler Smith, Nicholas Petit-Frere may not present the best value at that point in the draft, but NYG would almost have to go in that direction. The OL is the biggest issue this team has had for years, right tackle in particular. Waiting and waiting and waiting is a recipe to create the same issues we have been forced to stress about.

My closing thought will not be a popular one. I am very much open to the idea of using BOTH #5 and #7 on two offensive linemen. I know some of the naysayers bring up the potential cap downfall of this in a few years, but I do not agree. NYG will not be paying a starting quarterback top-of-market price (unless Jones explodes and/or they trade for an established superstar, both good problems). When that is the case, you can be overly aggressive at a few different spots. Knowing how hard it is to find good offensive linemen (across the league), this is the spot I would invest in should a situation like this pop up. Remember, the offensive line is FIVE positions. In addition, it provides a hedge should one of the linemen not pan out and/or injuries arise. We will see what the decision and situation present draft weekend.

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David Syvertsen

David Syvertsen, aka Sy'56, has worked for Ourlads Scouting LLC since 2013, starting off as a college depth chart manager and now a lead scout for one the most-sold NFL draft guides year-in, year-out. He has been scouting for over 10 years and will compile anywhere from 400-600 scouting reports per season, with that number increasing year by year. He watches and studies game films 20-25 hours per week throughout the entire year with his main focus being NFL Draft prospects.

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