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 rushers, wide 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.
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:
- Darian Kinnard: 1.69% (97th percentile) – 7 pressures on 414 pass-block snaps
- Abraham Lucas: 1.89% (95th) – 9 on 477
- Tyler Smith: 2.02% (94th) – 9 on 446
- Bernhard Raimann: 2.11% (93rd) – 10 on 475
- Charles Cross: 2.23% (93rd) – 16 on 719
- Evan Neal: 2.31% (91st) – 15 on 650
- Trevor Penning: 2.53% (88th*) – 11 on 435
- Ikem Ekwonu: 2.60% (88th) – 13 on 500
- Daniel Faalele: 2.67% (86th) – 8 on 300
- Rasheed Walker: 5.68% (32nd) – 26 on 458
- 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.
- Trevor Penning: 50.8% of pass-blocking snaps were true pass sets (99th percentile*)
- Nicholas Petit-Frere: 41.1% (86th)
- Abraham Lucas: 40.9% (86th)
- Rasheed Walker: 38.6% (77th)
- Ikem Ekwonu: 38.0% (75th)
- Evan Neal: 36.1% (66th)
- Darian Kinnard: 32.3% (51st)
- Tyler Smith: 32.3% (51st)
- Daniel Faalele: 30.2% (40th)
- Bernhard Raimann: 28.7% (32nd)
- 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:
- Trevor Penning: 2.38% (99th percentile*) – 5 pressures on 210 true pass set snaps
- Bernhard Raimann: 3.05% (95th) – 4 on 131
- Darian Kinnard: 3.85% (92nd) – 5 on 130
- Abraham Lucas: 4.21% (88th) – 8 on 190
- Evan Neal: 4.42% (87th) – 10 on 226
- Charles Cross: 5.04% (84th) – 6 on 119
- Ikem Ekwonu: 5.52% (81st) – 10 on 181
- Tyler Smith: 6.02% (75th) – 8 on 133
- Daniel Faalele: 7.23% (65th) – 6 on 83
- Nicholas Petit-Frere: 7.82% (59th) – 14 on 179
- 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:
- Trevor Penning: 99.9 (100th percentile*)
- Bernhard Raimann: 94.6 (100th)
- Tyler Smith: 93.9 (99th)
- Ikem Ekwonu: 93.8 (99th)
- Darian Kinnard: 91.8 (98th)
- Charles Cross: 87.2 (95th)
- Nicholas Petit-Frere: 84.3 (92nd)
- Evan Neal: 80.4 (87th)
- Daniel Faalele: 78.9 (83rd)
- Abraham Lucas: 68.3 (56th)
- 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):
- Charles Cross: 81.0% (98th percentile)
- Evan Neal: 71.2% (87th)
- Ikem Ekwonu: 70.2% (85th)
- Nicholas Petit-Frefre: 68.6% (83rd)
- Rasheed Walker: 59.0% (63rd)
- Trevor Penning: 55.6% (52nd*)
- Darian Kinnard: 53.5% (47th)
- Bernhard Raimann: 49.0% (39th)
- Tyler Smith: 49.0% (39th)
- Daniel Faalele: 44.1% (28th)
- 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 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:
- Evan Neal: One penalty per 1,073.0 offensive snaps (96th percentile) – 1 penalty on 1,073 snaps
- Darian Kinnard: 275.0 (69th) – 3 on 825
- Nicholas Petit-Frere: 256.0 (66th) – 3 on 768
- Bernhard Raimann: 223.8 (60th) – 4 on 895
- Daniel Faalele: 209.0 (56th) – 4 on 836
- Ikem Ekwonu: 204.8 (55th) – 4 on 819
- Abraham Lucas: 160.2 (42nd) – 5 on 801
- Rasheed Walker: 121.5 (22nd) – 6 on 729
- Charles Cross: 102.1 (16th) – 9 on 919
- Tyler Smith: 56.8 (1st) – 16 on 909
- 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.
|Player||Pressure %||TPS Pressure %||TPS Freq||Run-Block Grade||Zone-Block Freq||Penalties|
2022 NFL Draft Analytical Comparisons:
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