For the first time in 10 years, the Bears finally invested significant draft capital towards the offensive tackle position this year.
Granted, the likes of Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie and Jermon Bushrod all held the fort down as a late-round draft pick and two free agency additions, respectively. However, the selection of Teven Jenkins served as a much-needed youth infusion at a position of increasing importance in today’s NFL.
Though Jenkins would be a long-term stalwart of the offensive line in an ideal world, the Bears still have question marks at the right tackle position.
Germain Ifedi projects as the likely starter, and while the team re-signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal this offseason, he has yet to solidify himself as a player worth considering as a long-term starting option. The Bears also used a fifth-round pick on Missouri lineman Larry Borom, a player who showed promise but has some refining of his skill-set to do.
There remains a possibility that one of the two tackles breaks out and proves themselves worthy of long-term investment. The most likely scenario, however, sees Chicago looking for an answer at the position in the near future.
The Bears don’t have a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft due to their trading up for Justin Fields, but they still have enough draft capital to acquire a talented lineman for their unit up front next year.
Should they need an offensive tackle to pair up with Jenkins for the long haul, here’s an early look at some of the top offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Out of Bears’ reach
1. Evan Neal, Alabama
If you’re a fan of mammoth offensive linemen with high physical potential, Evan Neal is your guy in the 2022 class.
A 6-foot-7, 360-pound behemoth, Neal possesses fantastic length and impressive grip strength that allows him to lock defenders out of his frame and physically overwhelm them. He’s far from a poor athlete, too, as he takes good angles with quick feet in pass protection and has upside in his diversity in his pass sets. He has starting experience as both a tackle and guard at Alabama, and his size and burst make him a reliable down blocker. Though a bit raw technically, his combination of power, size and athletic ability should see Neal selected in the first round.
2. Charles Cross, Mississippi State
As a redshirt freshman in 2020, Charles Cross broke onto the scene with an impressive first year in the Bulldogs’ starting lineup.
Cross has long arms and a 6-foot-5 frame that has seen him pack on roughly 35 pounds since his arrival on campus two years ago. He is a natural athlete who changes direction well laterally and has very good acceleration climbing to the second level. His processing in pass protection is consistent, allowing him to find work through stunts and blitzes quickly. His strike location is reliable, and his body control in rolling his hips through contact makes it easy for him to seal off defenders in the run game. He’ll have to add some more muscle to his frame, but Cross’ value in pass protection is palpable.
3. Zion Nelson, Miami (FL)
The physical upside Zion Nelson brings should see him taken early in the 2022 draft.
He is a 6-foot-5, 316-pound tackle with super long limbs whose length is complemented by athletic ability. His lateral quickness and his precision in his pass sets allow him to effectively eliminate the outside as an option for speedy edge rushers. His patience and intelligence make it easy for him to find work in the run game, and he excels at sealing off defenders in the run game by rolling his hips. Nelson’s pad level and hand placement are both pretty inconsistent, but his high ceiling will likely make him a highly-demanded prospect next year.
Round 2 targets
4. Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
Some pundits have Ikem Ekwonu projected at guard instead of tackle, but wherever he ends up at the next level, he should be able to make an impact.
Ekwonu will be a three-year starter by the end of 2021 and has starting experience at both guard and tackle. He essentially has meathooks for hands, latching onto the opposition with overwhelming force at the point of attack. He plays with a nasty demeanor and has more than enough drive in his lower half to generate movement in the run game. The big man takes precise angles and offers solid hand placement as a down blocker, too. He’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have great length, but teams in need of a mauler could look Ekwonu’s way early.
5. Jaxson Kirkland, Washington
With four years of starting experience and time at both guard and tackle by the time his 2021 season concludes, Jaxson Kirkland has a larger sample size than just about any offensive lineman in this class.
Kirkland has a long frame at 6-foot-7 with incredibly long arms and, at 310 pounds, room to add more muscle if need be. His long arms make it easy for him to lock out edge rushers at the point of attack, but he’s not just a generic big lineman. Rather, his lateral mobility in pass protection and his acceleration climbing to the second level are impressive for any blocker, let alone someone as tall as he is. His anchor is a bit light and his pads a bit high, but Kirkland’s physical gifts stand out on tape.
6. Sean Rhyan, UCLA
A recent riser up draft boards among those doing early draft work, Sean Rhyan has plenty of raw potential to tap into.
Rhyan combines power and heavy hands with precise footwork in pass protection. The 6-foot-5, 318-pounder packs a mean punch and excels when he gets the chance to get his hands onto a defender right out of the gate. His power sees him generate movement at the point of attack, and as a jump-set pass protector, he does a great job of accelerating out of his stance to engage with an edge rusher. Rhyan takes smart angles as a down blocker, and he has flashed good footwork moving laterally. His hips appear to be a bit stiff and his strikes delayed, but with a breakout third season in UCLA’s starting lineup, he could rise up into Round 1 territory.
7. Rasheed Walker, Penn State
Continuing the trend of athletic and lengthy offensive tackles, Rasheed Walker has the tools and the football IQ needed to be a long-term starter up front.
His 6-foot-6, 312-pound frame sees him bring a combination of long arms and raw power that is complemented well by a nasty demeanor. He showcases accurate strike placement and excels taking on twists and shifts as a pass protector. Walker is quick out of his stance in his vertical pass sets, as well as when he climbs up to the second level. He can stand to improve his anchor strength and his pad level, but with some polishing, he can be a quality starter at the NFL level.
Round 3 and beyond
8. Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
Remember this name? I talked quite a bit about Daniel Faalele heading into the 2021 draft, but not playing in the 2020 season has seen his draft stock fall in the eyes of national scouts.
Don’t get it twisted, though; Faalele is still an intriguing talent. He is an absolute behemoth at 6-foot-9 and 400 pounds, packing tremendous power proportioned well throughout his frame and possesses long and strong arms to dominate the opposition upon contact. His massive frame makes it difficult for defenders to push the pocket against him, and for someone as big as he is, he is pretty light on his feet. Though he’s a raw prospect from a technical perspective and has long-term conditioning concerns at his weight, Faalele’s rare physical talent should have him make his way back into the limelight once he steps back onto the field.
9. Myron Cunningham, Arkansas
Myron Cunningham is a name who caught my eye near the end of the 2020 season, but he decided to stay in school for another year.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound tackle will be a three-year starter by the time the 2021 season comes to a close. He is a quality athlete for the position, showcasing very good lateral quickness in pass protection and the footwork needed to seal off angles against edge defenders and maintain a square base in his pass sets. Cunningham fights hard to maintain proper hand placement, as well. His play strength and lack of a true mauler mentality could limit his draft stock, but he offers solid starting upside with some development in an NFL weight training program.
10. Obinna Eze, TCU
As Obinna Eze prepares to start for TCU after two seasons starting for Memphis, he has the chance to showcase his attributes on a grander scale.
Eze moved to the United States from Nigeria as a basketball recruit in 2015, and his basketball background is apparent from length and athleticism. He has incredible length at 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds with very long arms and legs that allow him to cover a considerable amount of space when moving laterally. His explosiveness out of his stance and his ability to change direction gives him a high ceiling in pass protection, and he also offers nice power in his upper body. Eze is raw in terms of his pad level, anchor strength, balance and instincts, but his physical talent is certainly intriguing,
11. Abraham Lucas, Washington State
Abraham Lucas stood out to me from his stellar pass-heavy 2019 tape, and with another season in a more balanced offense, he has the potential to rise up my board very soon.
Lucas has a massive frame at 6-foot-7 and 324 pounds with long limbs that are packed with plenty of raw power. He has the raw anchor strength to neutralize bull rushes as a pass protector, and he has pretty nice force behind his strikes. For his size, he also does a good job accelerating entering his kick slide and utilizing that burst in a jump-set pass set. He appears a bit stiff in his lower half in terms of his agility and pad level, but his combination of power, size and short-area burst gives him some upside to work with.
12. Logan Brown, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has produced some quality offensive linemen in years past, and Logan Brown could be the next man up in their long line of beefy blockers.
Brown offers a lot of physical attributes that look the part of an NFL offensive tackle. He has a lengthy, 6-foot-6 frame and complements his size with very good athletic ability. He accelerates well climbing to the second level and is a coordinated lateral mover. He does a good job of keeping his legs churning at the point of attack to generate movement in the run game, too. He’s unproven, having not been a starter in 2020 and possessing raw pad level and a thin frame. However, Brown’s length, motor and athletic potential gives him NFL starting upside if he can break out this coming year.
13. Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa produced a gifted offensive tackle in Spencer Brown in this year’s draft, and his running mate could very well garner Day 2 looks from NFL teams, too.
Trevor Penning has prototypical length at 6-foot-7 and 312 pounds, and like Brown, he uses that length well. He plays with a polished use of his hands, locating and timing his strikes accurately and using his length and grip strength to lock out defenders from his frame. His raw power and nasty edge makes it difficult for FCS defenders to disengage from his grip or outmuscle him in the run game. His height makes it a bit tougher for him to get his pads low, and his coordination in space can improve a bit. With a 2021 season to further showcase his skills, though, Penning could shoot up boards quickly given his upside.