Daniel Jeremiah: Teams Split on Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal as the Best ahead of NFL Draft

Adam WellsApril 22, 2022

North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) during an NCAA college football game against North Carolina Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
AP Photo/Chris Seward

Six days away from the start of the 2022 NFL draft, there appears to be a divide among teams over who the top offensive tackle in this class is. 

In a conference call with reporters (h/t NFL.com's Nick Shook), NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said teams are split over North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu and Alabama's Evan Neal as the No. 1 tackle: 

"I know teams around the league are a little split on (Ekwonu) because he's kind of raw in pass pro, but it's all there. It's all in his body. He's a dominant run blocker who I think has some inside-outside ability.

"The interesting thing with him and with Evan Neal—and teams are split on who the best guy is—they both have played inside and they've both played tackle. So, they allow you to get your best five on the field. I would go Ekwonu first, then I would go Evan Neal and then I would go (Mississippi State's Charles) Cross."

Both players seem likely to be taken early in the first round of the draft on April 28. The biggest concern that scouts have cited for Ekwonu is his lack of refinement in pass protection because of the scheme he played in at N.C. State. 

B/R's Brandon Thorn noted in his scouting report that Ekwonu "has a recurring issue of oversetting that leaves him susceptible to losing inside."

Ekwonu is still ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in this class by B/R's NFL scouting department. 

Neal is the second-best prospect overall on B/R's big board. Thorn was effusive with praise for the Alabama star's skill set in run- and pass-protection, comparing his skill set to former Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert. 

Ekwonu and Neal are the only offensive linemen ranked in the top 10 by B/R. Their landing spots will likely depend on what type of offense the team making the pick runs. 

An offense that uses a zone scheme and run-first approach will likely favor Ekwonu. A team that runs a more spread-open offense might be more inclined to take Neal. 

Teams could also take them to play at guard as rookies if they don't feel the players are ready to handle either tackle spot. 

The versatility of their skill sets does make for an interesting debate over whether Ekwonu or Neal is the best offensive lineman in this class. We will find out what teams think when the draft begins.