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Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, and more: Breaking down the analytics of the New York Jets’ top tackle targets in the 2022 NFL draft

It’s time to continue our series that compares some of the top 2022 NFL draft prospects at each position in a few different advanced metrics.

After looking at edge rusherswide receivers, cornerbacks, and safeties, it’s time to do the same for the offensive tackle position, which is another spot where the New York Jets could possibly look for help early in the draft.

Here are the 11 prospects we’ll be comparing today:

  • Ikem Ekwonu, NC State, age 20.4 (#2 overall prospect on NFL Mock Draft Database’s consensus big board)
  • Evan Neal, Alabama, age 21.5 (#4)
  • Charles Cross, Mississippi State, age 21.3 (#8)
  • Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa, age 22.9 (#19)
  • Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan, age 24.5 (#43)
  • Tyler Smith, Tulsa, age 21.0 (#59)
  • Daniel Faalele, Minnesota, age 22.4 (#62)
  • Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State, age 22.5 (#64)
  • Darian Kinnard, Kentucky, age 22.3 (#69)
  • Rasheed Walker, Penn State, age 22.1 (#88)
  • Abraham Lucas, Washington State, redshirt senior (age unknown) (#92)

These are the 11 tackles who rank among the top 100 overall players on the consensus big board at NFL Mock Draft Database.

All of the rankings seen below are among 278 qualified FBS tackles (400+ snaps). Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning did not qualify, as his team competes in the FCS, so his rankings showcase where his statistics would have ranked among qualified FBS tackles.

Pressure rate

Pass protection is a paramount skill for offensive tackle prospects as they prepare to enter the pass-happy NFL.

Pressure rate is a statistic that showcases the percentage of a player’s pass-blocking snaps in which they allowed pressure of any type (sack, hit, or hurry). It is a great way to get an estimate of how consistently a player wins his battles in pass protection.

Here is a look at how the group fared when it came to pressure rate:

  1. Darian Kinnard: 1.69% (97th percentile) – 7 pressures on 414 pass-block snaps
  2. Abraham Lucas: 1.89% (95th) – 9 on 477
  3. Tyler Smith: 2.02% (94th) – 9 on 446
  4. Bernhard Raimann: 2.11% (93rd) – 10 on 475
  5. Charles Cross: 2.23% (93rd) – 16 on 719
  6. Evan Neal: 2.31% (91st) – 15 on 650
  7. Trevor Penning: 2.53% (88th*) – 11 on 435
  8. Ikem Ekwonu: 2.60% (88th) – 13 on 500
  9. Daniel Faalele: 2.67% (86th) – 8 on 300
  10. Rasheed Walker: 5.68% (32nd) – 26 on 458
  11. Nicholas Petit-Frere: 5.74% (31st) – 26 on 453

2021 FBS tackle average: 4.99%

Most of the group performed very well in pass protection, although some of the underdog prospects, like Kinnard, Lucas, Smith, and Raimann, outperformed the projected high-first-round picks: Cross, Neal, and Ekwonu.

Walker and Petit-Frere were the only players in this bunch who did not play impressive football in the passing game last year.

True pass sets

Pro Football Focus’ “true pass set” statistic is a good way to contextualize players’ pass-blocking stats. Generally speaking, true pass sets are any plays in which the player engages in a true one-on-one battle, meaning that they were unassisted by quick releases, rollouts, bootlegs, RPOs, or any other outside factors that make the pass-blocker’s job easier.

By looking solely at true pass sets, we get a better idea of how well the player pass-blocked in situations where he had to win one-on-one during a long-lasting rep. It’s an effective method for evaluating different players on the same plane, removing the effects of players’ offensive schemes and other variables.

Firstly, let’s take a look at how often each player was asked to drop into a true pass set. This gives us some context on how difficult each player’s job in pass protection was.

Players with higher rates played in schemes that asked their linemen to handle a lot of tough assignments, while players with lower rates played in schemes that frequently found ways to minimize the importance of pass protection.

  1. Trevor Penning: 50.8% of pass-blocking snaps were true pass sets (99th percentile*)
  2. Nicholas Petit-Frere: 41.1% (86th)
  3. Abraham Lucas: 40.9% (86th)
  4. Rasheed Walker: 38.6% (77th)
  5. Ikem Ekwonu: 38.0% (75th)
  6. Evan Neal: 36.1% (66th)
  7. Darian Kinnard: 32.3% (51st)
  8. Tyler Smith: 32.3% (51st)
  9. Daniel Faalele: 30.2% (40th)
  10. Bernhard Raimann: 28.7% (32nd)
  11. Charles Cross: 17.5% (4th)

2021 FBS tackle average: 30.5%

Penning may have played against FCS competition, but he still had a tough job. He was asked to take on an extreme amount of true pass sets – over half of his pass-blocking reps. Yet, he still allowed a very good pressure rate, so this stat is a great stock-booster for him.

Lucas, Ekwonu, and Neal are also winners here. They allowed low pressure rates while taking on an above-average workload of true pass sets.

Now, let’s take a look at how well each of these prospects performed in true pass set situations. Here is a look at each player’s pressure rate on true pass sets:

  1. Trevor Penning: 2.38% (99th percentile*) – 5 pressures on 210 true pass set snaps
  2. Bernhard Raimann: 3.05% (95th) – 4 on 131
  3. Darian Kinnard: 3.85% (92nd) – 5 on 130
  4. Abraham Lucas: 4.21% (88th) – 8 on 190
  5. Evan Neal: 4.42% (87th) – 10 on 226
  6. Charles Cross: 5.04% (84th) – 6 on 119
  7. Ikem Ekwonu: 5.52% (81st) – 10 on 181
  8. Tyler Smith: 6.02% (75th) – 8 on 133
  9. Daniel Faalele: 7.23% (65th) – 6 on 83
  10. Nicholas Petit-Frere: 7.82% (59th) – 14 on 179
  11. Rasheed Walker: 10.12% (38th) – 17 on 168

2021 FBS tackle average: 9.41%

Not only did Penning play a ton of true pass sets, but he was dominant on them, too. He’s got the unstoppable profile that you want to see from an FCS prospect.

Lucas, Kinnard, and Raimann validated their overall pressure rates by continuing to perform at an elite level on true pass sets. Neal, Cross, and Ekwonu were each solid in this area. It’s particularly notable that Cross fared well, as he was asked to drop into a true pass set at an extremely low frequency.

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Run blocking grade

Here is a look at how each prospect fared when it came to Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grade:

  1. Trevor Penning: 99.9 (100th percentile*)
  2. Bernhard Raimann: 94.6 (100th)
  3. Tyler Smith: 93.9 (99th)
  4. Ikem Ekwonu: 93.8 (99th)
  5. Darian Kinnard: 91.8 (98th)
  6. Charles Cross: 87.2 (95th)
  7. Nicholas Petit-Frere: 84.3 (92nd)
  8. Evan Neal: 80.4 (87th)
  9. Daniel Faalele: 78.9 (83rd)
  10. Abraham Lucas: 68.3 (56th)
  11. Rasheed Walker: 59.4 (25th)

2021 FBS tackle average: 67.4

With seven guys ranking in the top-10% of this statistic, it’s a loaded class for run-blocking tackles.

Penning obliterated his weak competition to the tune of a perfect 99.9 run-blocking grade. Among FBS qualifiers, Raimann’s 94.6 grade ranked second-best. Smith placed fourth and Ekwonu placed fifth.

Nine of the 11 players ranked in the top-17% of this statistic, save for Lucas (56th percentile) and Walker (25th percentile). Lucas’ profile seems to heavily favor the passing game. Walker offers poor numbers in both phases despite his status as a possible third-round pick.

Run blocking scheme

PFF tracks how often each player blocks on gap-blocking concepts and zone-blocking concepts. This helps us get an idea of what type of scheme they’re most familiar with.

Here is a look at the percentage of each player’s run-blocking snaps that were considered zone-blocking snaps (the Jets’ preference):

  1. Charles Cross: 81.0% (98th percentile)
  2. Evan Neal: 71.2% (87th)
  3. Ikem Ekwonu: 70.2% (85th)
  4. Nicholas Petit-Frefre: 68.6% (83rd)
  5. Rasheed Walker: 59.0% (63rd)
  6. Trevor Penning: 55.6% (52nd*)
  7. Darian Kinnard: 53.5% (47th)
  8. Bernhard Raimann: 49.0% (39th)
  9. Tyler Smith: 49.0% (39th)
  10. Daniel Faalele: 44.1% (28th)
  11. Abraham Lucas: 43.5% (26th)

2021 FBS tackle average: 52.1%

There’s a pretty good balance in this group when it comes to scheme. We’ve got some players coming from zone-heavy schemes, some from gap-favoring schemes, and some from balanced schemes.

If the Jets are targeting one of the elite tackle prospects at the top of the first round, they’re in luck. Cross, Neal, and Ekwonu each participated in a zone-running play on over 70% of their run-blocking snaps last year.

Penalties

Penalties shouldn’t be overrated when evaluating an offensive lineman’s talent – they make up such a tiny portion of a player’s snaps – but they are still a facet of the game worth noting.

Here is a look at how often each player was called for a penalty, based on the number of offensive snaps played per penalty:

  1. Evan Neal: One penalty per 1,073.0 offensive snaps (96th percentile) – 1 penalty on 1,073 snaps
  2. Darian Kinnard: 275.0 (69th) – 3 on 825
  3. Nicholas Petit-Frere: 256.0 (66th) – 3 on 768
  4. Bernhard Raimann: 223.8 (60th) – 4 on 895
  5. Daniel Faalele: 209.0 (56th) – 4 on 836
  6. Ikem Ekwonu: 204.8 (55th) – 4 on 819
  7. Abraham Lucas: 160.2 (42nd) – 5 on 801
  8. Rasheed Walker: 121.5 (22nd) – 6 on 729
  9. Charles Cross: 102.1 (16th) – 9 on 919
  10. Tyler Smith: 56.8 (1st) – 16 on 909
  11. Trevor Penning: 48.3 (0th*) – 16 on 773

2021 FBS tackle average: 170.3

Neal is the only prospect in this bunch who was truly stellar when it came to avoiding penalties, committing just one while playing over 1,000 snaps. Most of the group was solid in this category, although not quite elite.

Smith and Penning each have a lot to prove in this department after committing 16 flags apiece. Penning’s rate of one penalty per 48.3 snaps would have been the worst among FBS tackles. At that rate, if he started a full 17-game schedule in the NFL, he would commit well over 20 penalties, which is completely unacceptable.

Cross also can improve greatly in this department after being called for nine flags.

Here’s a roundup of where each prospect ranked in all of the categories we analyzed today.

PlayerPressure %TPS Pressure %TPS FreqRun-Block GradeZone-Block FreqPenalties
Ikem Ekwonu888175998555
Evan Neal918766878796
Charles Cross93844959816
Trevor Penning*889999100520
Bernhard Raimann9395321003960
Tyler Smith94755199391
Daniel Faalele866540832856
Nicholas Petit-Frere315986928366
Darian Kinnard979251984769
Rasheed Walker323877256322
Abraham Lucas958886562642

2022 NFL Draft Analytical Comparisons:

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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Braden Bethwaite
Braden Bethwaite
7 months ago

Darian Kinnard please

dudizt
dudizt
7 months ago

I’m a big fan of taking Lucas on Day 2 as a developmental replacement for Fant. His penalties aren’t great. But I think the fact he ran zone and gap only 43% of the time, may be the reason his run block grade was so low. He was miscast with his movements skills. I think a year in a nfl strength program and the correct scheme fit, his running blocking will be fine to justify his pass protection numbers. Similar to Fant. Thoughts?

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
7 months ago
Reply to  dudizt

not sure who will be left. I feel with a full line we have the luxury of a day 2 pick for ol. If we can’t trade for Metcalf, I’d like to see edge wr cb s ol lb×2 rb wr with our 9 picks and of course it dosent need to be in that order depending on who is available.

Freedom1789
Freedom1789
7 months ago
Reply to  dudizt

I’m ok with Lucas. But I’d like to trade back in round 1 with the thought of picking up Penning. I’d also be ok with Raimann in the 2nd. We won’t have the most talented opening day roster, but we can have a good roster if we plan all positions with the idea of who is the next man up. That is, plan for some injuries as at the NFL level it is guaranteed. Also, as you imply with “developmental”, plan for the future openings based not just on injury, but on contracts.

dudizt
dudizt
7 months ago
Reply to  Freedom1789

Very good point in injury’s as well being a factor as well. To your point, I like Penning but that penalty rate at his level of competition is extremely high. I haven’t seen the breakdown if it’s just being over aggressive or actual playing fouls ex false starts and holding. That will not work in the NFL and something needs to change.

Freedom1789
Freedom1789
7 months ago
Reply to  dudizt

I agree with you on the penalties. As to the breakdown I haven’t seen anything either. I hope the Jets do their due diligence. I give a Mulligan on the first Douglas draft as he didn’t have much time and had the old poorly drafting staff mostly in place from previous administrations. Also read an article where he was drafting for a different “scheme fit”. Originally, I wanted Ekonwu at 4 — but after this article and a previous one — I’m more of a Sauce kind of guy right now (If we don’t\can’t trade back, which is my preference.)