There’s a good number of ascending prospects in this class who will be in the Round 1 conversation if they continue their upward trajectory. But as it stands now, the top three players on this list are the only ones I’d put firmly in that first-round mix.
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1. T Evan Neal, Alabama (Junior)
The good lord only made so many humans Neal’s size, and even fewer were created with that size and the ability to move as though they’re 100 pounds lighter. Standing a hulking 6-foot-7, 360 pounds, Neal blocks out the sun on the Alabama offensive line.
He was starting at guard as a true freshman before moving to right tackle this past season and will move to left tackle in 2021. Unsurprisingly, the rising junior packs a punch in that massive frame.
I do not recommend spinning back into Evan Neal. pic.twitter.com/HiyVtG03MJ
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) December 9, 2020
It’s hard to get past how easy the game comes to him despite being a size few offensive linemen in NFL history have been capable of playing at, whether it’s in pass protection where he’s allowed all of 21 pressures in his career or in the run game where he earned an 86.4 PFF grade last season.
2. C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (Redshirt Junior)
Linderbaum is a different type of player entirely at the center position. He could have come out after his redshirt sophomore season in 2020 and arguably been a first-rounder, but he returned to Iowa in the hope of pushing his stock into the upper half of Round 1. His ability to get out and move is nothing short of special for the center position.
This touchdown run from Tyler Goodson is impressive but what’s really impressive is 289lbs offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum (65) chasing him all the way home.
— Oliver Hodgkinson (@ojhodgkinson) June 9, 2021
That showed often at the second level. His 91.5 overall grade in 2020 made him the highest-graded center in the country, narrowly edging out Alabama’s Landon Dickerson. That’s not bad for a player who started his Iowa career as a defensive lineman.
Linderbaum hails from a wrestling background that shows routinely. Anyone capable of doing this to the NFL’s best rookie offensive lineman from 2020 — Tristan Wirfs — gets a bump up of their draft stock in my book.
Linderbaum vs Wirfs high school wrestling ????
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) June 4, 2021
3. T Jaxson Kirkland, Washington (Redshirt Senior)
Kirkland has only made four career starts at tackle, but they were impressive enough to earn this spot in PFF’s rankings. Before that, Kirkland started for two years at right guard, but at 6-foot-7 and barely 300 pounds, he was always a bit out of place. He flourished at tackle in 2020, allowing no sacks, no hits and only two hurries in four games for the Huskies.
WA LT Jaxson Kirkland is a solid LT who plays strong. Not elite athlete but doesn't give up edge easily, putting hands on #, using 6'6" frame to move DL around pocket. Latches on 2nd-level targets, finish plays. Gets out of stance well to crash the edge in run game. #SnapScout22 pic.twitter.com/8NMvn8sVBx
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) June 2, 2021
He’s no special athlete by any means, but he’s got outstanding feet and balance to mirror the quickest of edge defenders. He plays an under-control brand of football and should profile well in pass protection at the NFL level.
4. T Kenyon Green, Texas A&M (Junior)
Green is a specimen for the offensive line. Athletes who move the way he does at his size are on the opposite side of the ball 99% of the time. He glides with such ease that it’s easy to forget he’s a hefty 325 pounds.
Early 2022 NFL Draft crush: Kenyon Green (@K_Green_01), IOL, Texas A&M
????Listed at 6-4 325 pounds
????2020 All-SEC and All-American selection
????22 game starter in two seasons
????Former Five Star recruit out of Atascocita HS
????May move to OT as a true junior
Young man is SPECIAL!!! pic.twitter.com/i1da7WumJ9
— Ryan Roberts (@RiseNDraft) March 29, 2021
The former five-star recruit has been starting since he was a true freshman but has only made starts at guard in his career. He’ll get his shot at tackle in 2021, though, where his physical tools profile to the best.
It could be a bit of a rocky transition if he doesn’t improve his hands in pass protection, as he only earned a 63.0 pass-blocking grade last season. Still, with his physical ability, he doesn’t have too far to go.
5. G Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State (Junior)
Even though he got kicked out to tackle midway through 2020, Ekwonu profiles best as a guard at the next level. What he’s capable of in the running game is unlike anything you typically see from a true sophomore. At 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, Ekwonu simply doesn’t go backward. In two years as a starter, he’s earned run-blocking grades of 85.0 as a freshman and 91.2 as a sophomore.
.@PackFootball #79 Ikem Ekwonu (@BigIck79) is a very talented guard in the 2022 class. Big with good arm length. He has good lateral agility with very quick feet and I love his finish. Big fan!#NFLDraft #NFL #DraftTwitter #NFLTwitter pic.twitter.com/TqqjWhEsLA
— Selyan (@selyan_fb) May 5, 2021
However, he’s still a massive work in progress in pass protection, as he allowed seven sacks and 25 total pressures in 2020. Some of that is obviously due to him kicking out to tackle, but he still allowed eight pressures in four games at guard.
Wild card: T Daniel Faalele, Minnesota (Senior)
While it’s hard not to ogle at the size of Evan Neal, Faalele makes him look small at a mountainous 6-foot-9, 400 pounds.
He’s the wild card in this class for a number of reasons, the first is obviously his size: While he last played at 400 pounds, he’s reportedly down into the 370s with 11 ⅛-inch hands and an 86-inch wingspan. Then, there’s the fact that he only started playing football in 2017 when he came to IMG academy from Australia. Finally, Faalele missed all of 2020 after starting his first two seasons for the Golden Gophers and making massive strides over that span. He went from a 60.4 overall grade as a freshman to 72.3 as a sophomore. With that kind of improvement, there’s no telling where Faalele’s ability could end up.
Minnesota right tackle Daniel Faalele is going to be an interesting case study next season. At 6’9” and 400 pounds, we’ve never seen a player this size. He has easy power, as you would expect. He also moves very well for a player that size. Not sure how to feel about his weight. pic.twitter.com/HZ8TTO5vqb
— Ryan Roberts (@RiseNDraft) March 9, 2020
Names to Watch
T ZION NELSON, MIAMI FL. (Junior)
Nelson is maybe the fastest-ascending offensive line prospect in the class. He was thrown to the wolves in Week 0 as a true freshman against Florida and earned a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. After taking his lumps that season and allowing 38 pressures, Nelson chopped that number down to only 12 in 2020. He’s one heck of an athlete, and we can’t wait to see where he takes his game in 2021.
T THAYER MUNFORD, OHIO STATE (Redshirt senior)
Munford enjoyed a breakout 2020 campaign that could have made him a Day 2 pick had he declared for the draft. He’s been starting for three years at left tackle for the Buckeyes and seen his grade improve by leaps and bounds each year. Munford’s grade has gone from 67.5 in 2018 to 76.9 in 2019 to 91.8 this past season. He still has issues playing on balance, and it showed against the athletic edge duo from Penn State last year.
T CHARLES CROSS, MISSISSIPPI STATE (redshirt sophomore)
It was trial by fire for the athletic sophomore in his first season as a starter and first season in Mike Leach’s offense. He allowed an unsightly 44 pressures in 2020, but that was on a healthy 574 pass-blocking snaps. He quite easily has the athleticism of a tackle but needs to add strength to his 6-foot-5, 290-pound frame. He looks like a strong candidate to return in 2022 unless he takes a massive step forward.
T/G DARIAN KINNARD, KENTUCKY (senior)
Kinnard is a hefty boy at 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, and he’s not quite carrying it the same way that Evan Neal and Daniel Faalele do. Kinnard lacks the foot speed to project to tackle in the NFL but can take defenders off the ball consistently. He’s earned run-blocking grades of 89.1 and 91.9 the past two seasons in the Wildcats' run-heavy offense.
T ABRAHAM LUCAS, WASHINGTON STATE (redshirt senior)
Washington State offensive linemen got a reputation for being soft under Mike Leach’s tenure. It doesn’t take long watching Lucas’ tape to realize he isn't that. The 6-foot-7, 328-pounder is easily the best run-blocker they’ve produced in recent memory and cedes almost no ground against bull rushers in the Pac-12.
G/C DOHNOVAN WEST, ARIZONA STATE (junior)
West has been starting since his true freshman season for the Sun Devils and really put his name on the map in only four games in his sophomore season, earning a 76.7 overall grade. He lacks ideal length and may ultimately end up at center, but he plays with consistent leverage and has an ideal mirror in pass protection. He allowed only two pressures last season.
C JARRETT PATTERSON, NOTRE DAME (senior)
Patterson is the only returning starter on the vaunted Notre Dame line from a season ago. He more than held his own among the multiple others drafted last year, as his 81.7 overall grade narrowly edged out that of second-rounder Aaron Banks.
C ALEC LINDSTROM, BOSTON COLLEGE (redshirt senior)
Lindstrom is the younger brother of current Atlanta Falcon and former Boston College Eagle Chris Lindstrom. The athletic genes didn’t fall far from the tree, as he’s an easy mover at 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds. It’s shown in pass protection, where he’s earned an 85.6 grade in his career.
G KYLER SCHOTT, IOWA (senior)
When we interviewed Tristan Wirfs on episode 203 of 2 for 1 Drafts, he spoke about Schott in a similar manner to Linderbaum. Schott is also an undersized interior player who gets by on his nastiness and only allowed one pressure on 170 pass-blocking snaps last season.
G DYLAN PARHAM, MEMPHIS (redshirt senior)
Parham heads into the 2021 season as easily the top Group of Five offensive line prospect on the PFF board. He’s a svelte 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, and has been starting for three seasons already for the Tigers, earning a 90.6 overall grade this past season. He’ll be a guard again next season and in the NFL, where he’d be an ideal fit in an outside-zone-heavy scheme.
Best Athlete: KENYON GREEN, TEXAS A&M
Green may very well put up an all-time combine performance if his tape is any indication. The sheer explosiveness he plays with is unlike any other in this class. While the consistency may not be there, the “wow” certainly is.
…when you're trying to watch some DL against solid OL competition.
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green pic.twitter.com/Tu296tef4x
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) June 9, 2021
Most Physical: IKEM EKWONU, N.C. STATE
You won’t find a player with more pancakes on his tape where he doesn’t even engage the defender. He’s more than capable of throwing 230-plus-pound linebackers with a forearm shiver. Just flip on the tape and you’d be hard-pressed to argue this one.
Highest percentage of positively graded run blocks among Power 5 OTs in 2020, per @PFF:
???? Ikem Ekwonu, NC Statepic.twitter.com/1psERHU0o1
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) June 9, 2021
Best pass-protector: JAXSON KIRKLAND, WASHINGTON
Kirkland has allowed a grand total of 10 pressures across 456 pass-blocking snaps over the past two years between left tackle and right guard. While others may have better physical tools for the position, Kirkland already possesses a good deal of the nuance required to get the job done in pass protection at the next level.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) June 4, 2021
Best run-blocker: TYLER LINDERBAUM, IOWA
As a redshirt freshman, Linderbaum looked more like a tight end playing center at around 270 pounds. He still earned an 80.0 run-blocking grade. This past season, with a bit more heft at 289, he didn’t lose a step out in space and added the ability to move the line of scrimmage. Hailing from Iowa’s pro-style running scheme is just icing on the cake.
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum.
-Elite Power at the POA
-Hands constantly fight for inside leverage
-Down to down consistency
His upside is insane, but he’s still learning the position. He came to Iowa as a defensive tackle. First round talent. pic.twitter.com/b5j3VfKukH
— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) May 27, 2020
Most experienced: AIRON SERVAIS, SYRACUSE
While he’s not much of a prospect, Servais is worth highlighting because he’s about to play more snaps than maybe any offensive lineman in college football history. He’s already started for the Orange for four seasons between center and tackle. Due to the COVID rules, he’s running it back for Year 5. With 3,712 snaps to his name already, 200 more than any other returning lineman in the country, Servais will leave a lot of film for evaluators.