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Jets and Giants will have high offensive lineman picks in NFL Draft


On the one hand, it’s the same. On the other, it’s very different.

Much like 2020, the 2022 draft class includes four selectable offensive tackles in the top half of the first round. Just like in 2020, the Jets and Giants are in a position to strike. Just like in 2020, both New York teams are trying to figure out how to protect young quarterbacks.

“Where it’s different is that that year, nobody knew who was the best tackler. There was an argument for all four,” ESPN project analyst Matt Miller said. “This year there is a clearer picture of, we know who the two best tackles are. A big part of that is, what do you need in the job? »

Want a mauling run blocker? How about the versatility to play tackle or guard? Look no further than North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu.

Want a sound password blocker? How about better body control and quickness in the short area? Alabama’s Evan Neal is the target.

The scouting community is divided on whether Ekwonu (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) or Neal (6-7, 337) should be OT1 on the draft boards, but the consensus is that those two belong to Charles Cross of Mississippi State (6-5, 307) and Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa (6-7, 325).

Evan Neal
Freddie Beckwith/Marinmedia Or/C
Jets and Giants will have high offensive lineman picks in NFL Draft
Ikem Ekwonu
PA

Given six superlatives by The Post to award to any of the four players, Miller picked Ekwonu for three (best run blocker, most versatile, best finisher) and Neal for three (best pass blocker, most impact fast, highest ceiling).

So it would be a surprise to see a repeat of when Tristan Wirfs slipped to the Buccaneers at No. 13 – after Andrew Thomas at the Giants at No. 4, Jedrick Wills at the Browns at No. 10 and Mekhi Becton at the Jets at No. 11 – but became the first (and only, so far) to be named First-Team All-Pro.

“I prefer Neal, but it’s really close between the top two,” said Miller, who publishes thedraftscout.com. “Neal is well balanced and more athletic. It’s such a big difference in the passing game – and that’s partly down to his length and being 6-foot-7 versus 6-foot-4. But Ekwonu is so powerful in the running game that he reminds you of Tristan Wirfs where it’s like, “This guy is a bad guy.” ”

There are various conceivable ways for the top four picks to break that could leave the Giants at No. 5 with a choice between Ekwonu and Neal, with one or the other available, or none available. The Jets’ intentions at No. 4 are the key variable, but their free-will moves and public commitment to Becton after a lost year suggest looking elsewhere.

The Giants also did a “ton of work” on Cross, a league source said. It may be preparation for the No. 7 pick, having filled a different need at No. 5. Penning impressed scouts as a finisher with ‘tree trunks for legs’ in the Senior Bowl , while on a mission to prove he could stand up to a higher level of competition than the FCS offered.

“If you’re looking for the best pure left tackles, it’s Neal and Cross to the core,” a scouting source said. “They can all play the right tackle, but Ekwonu is an elite level guard. It’s not that he can’t play left tackle, it’s just that you’re going to lose stuff. If you pick him up before the other two, you’ve fallen in love with his A-plus persona.

Some teams will rule out signing such a high guard based on positional value, but the Colts bet on Quenton Nelson’s talent and character mix with the No. 6 pick in 2018. Any regrets? Nelson is a three-time first-team All-Pro, anchoring the NFL’s No. 2-ranked rushing offense.

Run blocking is the issue with Cross, coming off coach Mike Leach’s unique Air-Raid attack, in which he allowed just 16 pressures on 719 pass blocking snaps as a “big athletic monster” in 2021. Leach’s latest first round offensive tackle (Andre Dillard of the Eagles in 2019) looks like a bust.

“Cross doesn’t even look like an offensive lineman in person,” Miller said after seeing Cross, Neal and Penning practice in person. “They were shuttling and he was going past tight ends. I was like, ‘This is one of the craziest things I’ve seen.’ His explosiveness from 10 meters is so good. Get this guy around a good offensive line coach and he’ll take off.

Maybe the 2020 class will have competition at the top after all.

New York Post

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