The Jacksonville Jaguars own the first overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. The two projected first overall picks are Michigan edge Aidan Hutchinson and Alabama left tackle Evan Neal. But why not Icky?
NC State’s, Ikem Ekwonu, a.k.a. “Icky,” has been amongst the top offensive line prospects since the 2021 preseason. He played left tackle for the final eight games of the 2020-21 season and was set to play LT for the 2021-22 season too. Ekwonu had been overlooked though due to his offensive guard-like frame at 6’4,” 320 lbs. Guard, of course, is generally considered a less valuable, less draftable position. Still, Ekwonu not only improved his stock throughout the season, but has also solidified himself as a player who will play left tackle at the next level.
Current projections see Ekwonu as a top ten-selection. His primary placements being the New York Jets at fourth overall, Carolina Panthers at sixth, and the New York Giants at fifth or seventh. There are a few projections scattered around the internet having Ikem Ekwonu going first overall, but it’s a rarity.
What is helping his case?
The primary factor helping Ikem Ekwonu’s case for the first overall pick is the Jaguars’ urgent need for offensive line help. Not just that, there’s the fact that they drafted their quarterback of the future in Trevor Lawrence, and need to protect him immediately. Another factor that is helping his case is his productivity at the tackle position. He isn’t the consensus number one tackle prospect this draft. Still, he outshined all the other high-end tackle prospects, such as Alabama’s Evan Neal.
The discussion between the top tackles is essentially between Ekwonu and Neal. Ekwonu is a better pass protector at the moment, a better run blocker at the moment, and the detail that separates him from everyone else in this class is his nastiness. He wants to obliterate his opposition on a play-to-play basis, and it is truly beautiful to watch.
What is hurting his case?
Evan Neal isn’t as refined as Icky; he is less productive than Ekwonu. So why would he be taken before him? There are three main explanations:
- Evan Neal is from Alabama. Generally speaking, if you are from Alabama you are bound to get more hype than an NC State kid.
- Neal was a five-star recruit from IMG Academy; Ekwonu was a three star.
- Evan Neal is a 6’7,” 350 lb. athletic freak.
The other reason Ekwonu might not go first overall is because of Aidan Hutchinson, who is a defensive end from Michigan. Hutchinson is largely considered to be the best player in this entire class. He racked up fourteen sacks, along with a whopping seventy-four pressures, finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting. The only reason he might not go first overall is if the Jaguars decide to value Trevor Lawrence’s life and take a lineman at one.
Why should Ekwonu go first?
Ultimately, Ikem Ekwonu outshined Evan Neal this season and while Neal has a humongous upside, Ekwonu has a really high ceiling, in his own right. Ikem Ekwonu is a gangster on the football field; he’d be a coach’s dream due to his versatility, his pulling ability, and his overall intelligence at the tackle position. He is an excellent second level blocker and has the quickness to lead his ball carrier downfield. While his pass-pro kick-step isn’t refined, he has shown massive improvement. This growth has not only come on a year-to-year basis, but game-to-game as well.
This constant improvement is massive as Evan Neal’s development has been more slow-and-steady, which is fine, but not necessarily ideal when in dire need of immediate offensive line help. As for Aidan Hutchinson; look—the old adage, “in the draft, you take best player available,” is a good rule to live by. There are cases where you have to break outside of that rule and pick what is best for your team. At the end of the day, what’s best for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is taking Ikem Ekwonu with the first overall pick.