Year after year, we see the offensive line depth across the NFL stressed, which leads to discussions about the quality of blockers in today’s NFL and how the college game fails to prepare young offensive linemen for life in the NFL given the stylistic differences of offenses and the techniques the blockers are asked to execute.
While it’s going to take some time for the supply to meet the demand for offensive linemen in the NFL, there has been a notable influx of blocking talent entering the NFL in recent years. Among the first 100 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, 23 of them were offensive linemen. This comes one year after seven offensive linemen were picked in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The rising crop of offensive talent for the 2022 NFL Draft looks promising. In our latest mock draft, Kyle Crabbs had eight offensive linemen being selected in the first round while my most recent big board includes 21 offensive linemen ranked among the top 100 prospects.
An offensive lineman you should find in every mock draft and highly-ranked on every big board is North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, who caught my attention in 2020 before he was draft-eligible.
Ekwonu is impossible to miss when watching the Wolfpack offense. His block temperament and motor pop jump off the screen. His competitive toughness, physicality, power, and nasty demeanor command your attention.
Despite only starting seven games in 2019 as a true freshman, Ekwonu led the team in pancake blocks with 37 en route to earning the Philip Rivers Award for Rookie of the Year. As a full-time starter in 2020, Ekwonu again led the team with 50 pancake blocks and 22 knockdowns. In both seasons, Ekwonu was the recipient of NC State’s Jim Richter Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
Ekwonu was a standout in 2019 and 2020 for the Wolfpack and has taken his game to the next level in 2021. Firmly entrenched as NC State’s left tackle and among the best blockers in the country, Ekwonu is an imposing presence that features a stout anchor in pass protection to go with his elite run blocking ability. His growth as a pass blocker has been notable in 2021, where he appears more balanced and coordinated with better footwork and hand placement to pair with his length and power.
Ekwonu hails from a family of athletes. His father played college basketball in Nigeria while his mother starred in track. His fraternal twin brother is currently a linebacker at Notre Dame. Ekwonu also wrestled in high school, which is something that the NFL often values in linemen. That athletic pedigree earned Ekwonu a place on Bruce Feldman’s 2021 college football Freaks list:
The 6-4, 327-pound sophomore “is the epitome of a Freak,” according to the NC State staff. Ekwonu takes his freakish skills from the weight room and displays them on the football field. Strength coach Dantonio Burnette says Ekwonu, who has hit 18 MPH on the GPS at practice and vertical jumped 30 inches, will run as fast as former Wolfpack first-round offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury, who clocked a 4.92 40 at the NFL Combine.
While Ekwonu has an abundance of experience at left tackle for the Wolfpack, he’s also played more than 200 snaps at left guard, where he may actually project better in the NFL depending on scheme. He’s a clean projection to either a gap or zone blocking run scheme in the NFL. He’s currently thriving as a left tackle in NC State’s zone-heavy run scheme and he should fit almost every NFL offense with his positional versatility.
Given the abundance of need that exists for offensive line help in the NFL and the skill set Ekwonu brings to the table, it won’t take long for him to hear his name called next April should he make himself available for the 2022 NFL Draft.