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Offensive tackles to watch for the Falcons at the NFL Combine

With the 2022 NFL Combine coming soon, we’ll be breaking down the players to watch at every position. We continue with offensive tackle, a position of potential future need for the Falcons with Kaleb McGary’s contract expiring in 2023.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with workouts kicking off on Thursday, March 3. To prepare Atlanta Falcons fans and fellow draft enthusiasts for the “underwear olympics”, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch at every position heading into the event. In case you missed any of my previous entries, you can find them all listed below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

OFFENSE: QB | WR | TE | RB | OT | C/G

Today, we continue on offense with offensive tackle. The Falcons need at this position probably comes down to your opinion of Kaleb McGary, at least for 2022. But McGary’s rookie contract expires next season, and it’s unlikely Atlanta will pick up his fully-guaranteed fifth-year option (valued at over $12M). The team would be smart to add competition for McGary in the form of an early pick at tackle—and the strength of this class lines up nicely with Atlanta’s additional Day 2 picks.

Read on for some of the top offensive tackles to watch in Indianapolis.

Charles Cross, Mississippi State

If the Falcons are looking to upgrade their pass protection—which, of course they are—Mississippi State’s Charles Cross is one of the best in the draft. He also looks like a tremendous athlete on tape, and could see his stock boosted by a strong day at the Combine. Here’s what I wrote about Cross in a previous mock draft:

Perhaps the best pure pass protector in the class, Cross is a prototypically-sized tackle with very good athleticism and advanced technique. Atlanta offers an ideal situation for Cross as he still needs to add weight and get stronger as a run blocker—Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense rarely runs the football. With Kaleb McGary under contract for one more year, Cross can take his time to acclimate to the NFL (and a switch to the right side) before taking over the starting job during the season or in 2023. Cross could also be a potential long-term successor to Jake Matthews on the left side in future years.

Ikem Ekwonu, NC State

There are two OTs that clearly stand out as the top of the class, and one of them is NC State’s Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu. Ekwonu possesses a high-level frame (6’4, 320) and the nastiest demeanor of any OT in the class. He’s a nasty, determined run blocker and couples that with very good athleticism. As a pass protector, he’s shown high-level flashes but still has room to grow. Ekwonu also has experience at guard and could play there in a pinch, but obviously his value is greatest at tackle. While I’d absolutely love to get Ekwonu in Atlanta, he’ll almost certainly be gone by pick 8.

Daniel Faalele, Minnesota

I can’t think of a better project at OT than Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele, who possesses truly rare size and athleticism. He’s a legitimate 6’8, 380 and carries himself exceptionally well for that size. Faalele needs further development, particularly in pass protection, but his ceiling is among the highest in the class. Here’s how I described Faalele in a previous mock draft:

Faalele is 6’8, 380. No, that is not a typo. Faalele is one of the biggest players in all of college football, and he pairs that size with surprising athleticism. He’s a truly rare player who can utterly overwhelm defenders with his size, length, and incredible power. While he’s not winning many foot races, Faalele has plenty of athletic ability to play the position and is actually a great athlete relative to his size. He has only two seasons of starting experience, and will undoubtedly take time to adjust to playing in the NFL. But make no mistake: Faalele has All-Pro potential at tackle. With McGary around for one more season, this is the perfect time to bring in a player like Faalele to develop.

Abraham Lucas, Washington State

If the Falcons choose to wait until late-Day 2 or perhaps even early-Day 3 to take an OT, Washington State’s Abraham Lucas should be a top target. At 6’7, 324 and possessing over 34 inch arms, Lucas has a very good frame with terrific length for the position. He’s strong and uses his hands well as both a run and pass blocker. As an athlete, he’s nothing special but has enough mobility to fit a zone-blocking scheme. Lucas is a good all-around player and a natural right tackle—he just hasn’t shown the high-level flashes of some of the higher-rated OTs in the class.

Evan Neal, Alabama

The current consensus top offensive tackle for most scouts, Evan Neal has carried on the legacy of top OL prospects from Alabama. Neal features prototypical size at 6’6, 360 and is an absolute road-grader in the run game. He’s simply too big and powerful for most edge rushers to handle. Neal is also a good pass protector who uses his length and initial burst off the snap to overwhelm defenders. He’s not the most athletic OT, though I think he’s sufficient for a zone-blocking scheme. Neal also has experience at both left and right tackle, putting him in extremely high demand. The Falcons probably won’t have a chance to draft Neal, seeing as he’s the favorite to go #1 overall to Jacksonville.

Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

One of the nastiest offensive linemen in the class and a big riser from the Senior Bowl, Trevor Penning proved he belongs in the first-round conversation. He’s got a prototypical frame and showed he could handle some of the best pass rushers college football has to offer in Mobile. Here’s how I described Penning in a previous mock draft:

Penning is a prototypical OT at 6’7, 320. Big, long, and strong, Penning dominated his level of competition despite limited experience at tackle. He’s got plenty of athleticism to thrive in a zone blocking scheme, and enough physicality to succeed in power. Penning is a nasty, aggressive blocker in the run game and is a stone wall in pass protection. He’s also got experience at guard and could potentially play there in his rookie season if needed. Penning needs to improve his technique, most notably his use of leverage and hand placement, and will take time to adjust to the higher level of competition in the NFL. However, he’s got a Pro Bowl ceiling, and Atlanta offers an opportunity to ease into a starting role behind McGary.

Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State

Once a common sight in the first round of mock drafts, Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere has seen his stock cool a little bit in favor of some of the high-upside developmental tackles like Faalele and Penning. It’s no fault of Petit-Frere’s, however, and he’d be a tremendous pick if he falls into the second. Here’s how I described his game in a previous mock draft:

While Petit-Frere obviously lacks the ridiculous measurables of Faalele, he’s still plenty big at 6’5, 315. He’s also much more polished as a pass protector, and more pro-ready in terms of his ability to start Day 1. Petit-Frere offers enough athleticism for a zone blocking scheme, but there’s no reason to think he lacks the strength to thrive in power concepts. Petit-Frere has experience at both left and right tackle, but looked best on the left side. However, he’s still a very good right tackle and could offer the Falcons a potential long-term replacement for Jake Matthews after a year or two.

Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

2022 features a good offensive tackle class, particularly if you’re willing to take a chance on a developmental player. Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann is one of the most intriguing options on Day 2, particularly for a wide-zone blocking scheme like Atlanta’s. Here’s how I described Raimann in my latest mock draft:

Raimann has tremendous size at 6’6, 305 and terrific length with an over 80 inch wingspan. As a converted tight end, Raimann is an exceptional athlete—and it’s a testament to his work ethic that he’s been able to pack on over 70 good pounds over the past two seasons. As only a two-year starter at tackle, Raimann needs additional development and technical work before he’s ready to start. Atlanta offers the perfect situation for him, as he can sit behind Kaleb McGary for a year as the swing tackle before taking over in 2023.

Sean Rhyan, UCLA

UCLA’s Sean Rhyan is an interesting eval, as many scouts seem to prefer him at guard due to a perceived lack of length. At 6’5, 318, there doesn’t appear to be any big concerns about his size or frame—but his Combine measurements could go a long way to answering these questions. In terms of his tape, I thought he was a very good OT. Rhyan is a high-level athlete, capable of executing wide-zone concepts and hitting second-level blocks with ease. He’s also a good pass blocker with good hand usage and placement. I personally have him as an intriguing Day 2 tackle prospect for the Falcons, but we’ll see if things change after his performance in Indianapolis.

Rasheed Walker, Penn State

If the Falcons are looking for a more polished OT prospect late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, Penn State’s Rasheed Walker could be a good choice. Walker has a good frame at 6’6, 312 and pairs it with excellent length to keep defenders at bay. He’s a terrific athlete who would excel in a zone-blocking scheme like Atlanta’s. Walker’s best reps come in pass protection, where he uses his athleticism and impressive anchor ability to handle rushers. As a run blocker, he’s sufficient and is best used in zone concepts where his mobility can give him favorable angles. Walker is not a high-end power blocker and doesn’t generate a ton of push at the point of attack, but his NFL-ready skillset as a pass blocker and lower price tag could make him a tempting target for the Falcons.

I hope you enjoyed this NFL Combine prospect preview! Stay tuned for our next position group tomorrow.