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2022 NFL Draft: Falcons top targets at OT

The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly here, and we’re wrapping up our coverage with our final positional rankings. Next up is offensive tackle, where the Falcons have two starters and a fair amount of depth but questions heading into 2023.

NC State v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft is almost here, and it’s finally time to wrap up all of our draft coverage with my final positional rankings. I’m proud to say I watched more than 100 players this offseason, far more than ever before. On the site, our team has compiled more than 20 full scouting reports on some of the top prospects in the class—with more to come over the next week! While you may not always agree with our rankings or analysis, we hope you’ve at least enjoyed the discussion and additional viewpoints.

For the positional rankings, these will be based on my personal rankings, not necessarily the rankings of our other writers. I watch players through the lens of the Atlanta Falcons: I prioritize and rank based on the perceived fit in Atlanta’s offense and defense. So keep that in mind, as these rankings may not line up with a generic big board.

I’d also like to note that while I watched a lot of players, I didn’t watch anywhere close to the nearly 300 who will be drafted. As a result, I’m only going to rank the players that I’ve seen at least 2-3 games of. There are tons of other prospects who I’ve seen limited tape of and discussed with other scouts, but I don’t feel comfortable ranking them without at least a few full games watched.

I hope you enjoy these rankings, and if you miss any position groups, you can find them all below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S | OFFENSE: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT

1: Ikem Ekwonu, NC State

RAS: 8.51 | Projection: Top-5

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 good frame (6’4, 310) 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.

2: Evan Neal, Alabama

RAS: N/A | Projection: Top-5

The other top OT prospect in the class, Evan Neal has carried on the legacy of top OL prospects from Alabama. Neal features prototypical size at 6’7.5, 337 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 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, as he seems like a top-5 lock.

3: Charles Cross, Mississippi State

RAS: 7.58 | Projection: 1st Round

Perhaps the best pure pass protector in the class, Charles 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.

4: Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

RAS: 9.95 | Projection: 1st Round

Northern Iowa’s Trevor 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. However, Penning needs a lot of technical improvement, most notably his use of leverage and hand placement, and will take time to adjust to the higher level of competition in the NFL.

5: Daniel Faalele, Minnesota

RAS: 2.41 | Projection: 2nd Round

Daniel Faalele’s stock has cooled a little after his Combine testing came in lower than expected, but the raw upside of his 6’8, 384 pound frame is undeniable. He’s never going to wow you with speed or agility in zone concepts, but he’s so long and overwhelmingly powerful that it almost doesn’t matter. Faalele opted out of the 2020 season and has limited experience playing football. As such his technique and football IQ both need considerable work before starting at the NFL level. But you simply can’t develop the type of length, size, and strength that Faalele offers. His All-Pro ceiling is well worth waiting for, particularly when it seems like Atlanta is just beginning a multi-year rebuild.

6: Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State

RAS: 6.26 | Projection: 2nd Round

Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere has a solid build for the position at 6’5, 315. He’s a polished pass protector and a pro-ready prospect 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 more comfortable on the left side. He’s still a very good right tackle, and could offer the Falcons flexibility in their future plans at the position and function as the swing tackle in 2022.

7: Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

RAS: 9.87 | Projection: 2nd Round

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. 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 elite 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.

8: Abraham Lucas, Washington State

RAS: 9.37 | Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Washington State’s Abraham Lucas measured in at an imposing 6’6, 315 with nearly 34” arms, giving him a good frame for the position. He also tested out as an elite athlete, with an incredible 1.69s 10-yard split and elite agility drills. Lucas is a good pass protector due to his mobility and hand usage, and he plays with an edge as a run blocker. The main thing Lucas must improve is his overall strength—he’s vulnerable to bull rushes, and doesn’t generate as much push at the point of attack as you’d like. He’d be well served by a year in an NFL strength program, where he could possibly add some good weight and continue to build up his power.

9: Rasheed Walker, Penn State

RAS: N/A | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

Penn State’s Rasheed 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.

10: Dare Rosenthal, Kentucky

RAS: 7.67 | Projection: 4th Round

One of the more intriguing—and polarizing—OT prospects in the 2022 class, Kentucky’s Dare Rosenthal possesses elite straight-line speed and explosiveness for a lineman. Rosenthal has a terrific frame at nearly 6’7, but weighed in at just 290 at the Combine. He reportedly played above 310, so perhaps he just slimmed down for the testing, but it is a concern. A DT convert with only a few years of OT experience, Rosenthal began his college career at LSU before transferring to Kentucky amid some off-field issues. He’s got some of the best flashes on tape of any OT in this class, but also some very poor stretches. Technically, Rosenthal is very raw and has a long way to go before becoming a reliable starter. Teams will also need to vet the off-field issues. But make no mistake: Rosenthal has a high NFL ceiling for a team patient enough to help him reach it.