In my book, nasty offensive linemen are guys who bring an angry presence through the whistle. They finish their blocks in a physical manner and look to physically impose their will on every play. Some players want to do their jobs, while nasty players want to do their jobs while physically and mentally dominating the opposition.
“Finishing means, essentially, taking your man further than he wants to go, with an attitude. Finishing is so important because it’s a mindset. You build that mindset in the weight room and in the meeting room. It only happens when your body is in a position to move the defender with power — a good base, engaged core, powerful hips, strong hands in the right position, and knowing exactly when to strike.”– Former NFL OL Geoff Schwartz
This draft season, I want to take a deeper look at the nastiest offensive lineman in the 2022 NFL Draft. Rather than allowing my bias to choose which players to consider, I put together a survey that asks “Which Offensive Lineman is most angry”. I sent that survey to people who put more effort into scouting the draft than myself and use the results here. The survey will stay up through the draft, and anybody with an opinion is encouraged to go vote. All stats discussed below are from PFF.
First-Team All-Nasty Offensive Tackles
Ikem Ekwonu – North Carolina State
Ekwonu has proven to be one of the most dominant run blockers in the country since he stepped on the field for NC State in 2019. He brings size, athleticism, overwhelming power, and a nasty demeanor to the table. In the run game, he is truly a tone-setter that keeps the dial turned to nasty.
While pass protection is still a work in progress, Ekwonu is expected to go in the top five picks. A team drafting Ekwonu can expect to play him at left tackle right away. However, he also has experience playing left guard and offers some positional versatility. While his best fit is likely in a wide zone scheme that allows him to use his athleticism to latch and drive on reach blocks, he is pretty scheme versatile overall.
At NC State, Ekwonu played in a pass-heavy offense that asked him to pass block on 59% of his snaps. This ranks ninth among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Ekwonu ranks 54th in sack rate allowed and 50th in pressure rate allowed. However, he ranks fourth in zone run-blocking grade and 10th in gap run-blocking grade.
Ekwonu comes from athletic bloodlines. His father played college basketball in Nigeria, while his mother was a high school track star. Additionally, his twin brother plays linebacker at Notre Dame. When Ekwonu was in high school, he wrestled in addition to playing football.
Tyler Smith – Tulsa
According to PFF, Tyler Smith led the country in “Big Time Blocks” in 2021, beating out both Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal. Smith easily jumps off the screen when watching Tulsa due to his high energy tone-setting style of play and explosive athletic traits. Off the snap, Smith aggressively seeks out contact and looks to dominate his opponent with devastating power. He is a nasty road grader that excels in run blocking.
In pass protection, Smith is extremely raw. While he is a brick wall once he grips defenders, his technique is severely lacking, leading to inconsistency. His hand placement and punch timing are all over the place, and his feet are not tied to his eyes. Being a more natural run blocker, his aggressiveness in pass protection can get him in trouble.
Regarding scheme fits, Smith is scheme-versatile and has the tools to succeed in any system. However, it might be best for his development to land in a more run-heavy system early in his career. In college, Smith almost exclusively played left tackle. Although, he does project well as an offensive guard at the next level due to his power and explosiveness. That appears to be a safe fallback option if he cannot develop his pass protection skills on the edge.
At Tulsa, Smith played in a balanced offense that leaned run-heavy, pass blocking on 50% of his snaps. This ranks 40th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Smith ranks 17th in sack rate allowed and ninth in pressure rate allowed. Additionally, he ranks eighth in zone run-blocking grade and fifth in gap run-blocking grade.
Second-Team All-Nasty Offensive Tackles
Trevor Penning – Northern Iowa
He is just a bully, man. This dude is out for blood while going up against opponents half his size. It is beyond being nasty for Penning; he is borderline violent on the football field. I feel like every highlight tape for Penning should be paired with “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. It would just be so fitting. Above all else, Penning wants to put his opponent on the ground. He throws guys around constantly, for better or worse. It also helps that he has a massive and wide frame with plus strength and length for days.
The clear fit for Penning is a power or gap run scheme with him imposing damage on the play side. With power and aggression to hit home run blocks and clear the way, it’s a clear fit. While he is versatile enough to fit into a zone scheme, his aggression and power seem best suited for a gap scheme. Having experience on both the left and right sides, he could play either bookend. However, Penning seems more like a prototypical right tackle, and I think he would do his best work on the right side.
At Northern Iowa, Penning played in a pass-heavy offense, pass blocking on 56% of his snaps. This ranks 17th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Penning ranks 43rd in sack rate allowed and 46th in pressure rate allowed. Additionally, he ranks first in zone run-blocking grade and first in gap run-blocking grade.
Evan Neal – Alabama
When he gets his hands on defenders, they are dead in their tracks. Evan Neal has a pure physicality and brute force to his game that is difficult to replicate. His massive frame easily holds 340 lbs without appearing to be an ounce over 300 lbs to the innocent bystander. He consistently makes the extra effort to finish blocks and typically finds work when he is free to roam. That finishing mentality paired with an explosive first step and jarring initial punch makes Neal a clear-cut top prospect.
Positional versatility is there for Neal, with the ability to play left tackle, right tackle, or interior. The only reason you don’t start him at left tackle would be if there is not currently an opening, in which case you would flip him to the right side. His size and power point to power or gap run scheme, but he is versatile in how he can be used. The idea of getting him downhill on defensive linemen in a run-heavy scheme is extremely enticing. However, his gap run-blocking grades might suggest otherwise.
At Alabama, Neal played in a pass-heavy offense, pass blocking on 58% of his snaps. This ranks 11th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Neal ranks 28th in sack rate allowed and 20th in pressure rate allowed. Additionally, he ranks 18th in zone run-blocking grade and 39th in gap run-blocking grade.
First-Team All-Nasty Interior Offensive Linemen
Cole Strange – Chattanooga
Next up we have Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange, who mainly played left guard for the Mocs. Strange plays an aggressive brand of football but rarely finds himself out of control. Aiming to make every snap a street fight, Strange has a real knack for getting under his opponent’s skin. Despite weighing in right around 300 lbs, he is a powerful people mover who understands how timing, body position, and leg drive can aid his efforts. With plus athleticism, Strange can work laterally and latch on in space.
In pass protection, he boasts a stout punch and appears to be able to anchor against power. His punch is well-timed with good aim. Beyond the initial punch, he is slow to re-fit his hand placement to sustain blocks. Despite his aggressive nature, Strange is careful to stay controlled and not get off balance or out of position. His footwork inside is solid but can be taken advantage of by more athletic opponents.
Strange would be best utilized as an interior blocker in a zone-blocking scheme due to his weight. Standing 6-foot-6, there may be room for him to add mass and become more scheme versatile. However, given his current size and athletic traits, he projects well to a zone scheme at this point.
At Chattanooga, Strange played in a run-heavy offense, pass blocking on 50% of his snaps. This ranks 46th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Strange ranks 16th in sack rate allowed and 13th in pressure rate allowed. Although, I should note that interior linemen tend to look better in sack and pressure stats than tackles. Additionally, he ranks 17th in zone run-blocking grade and 27th in gap run-blocking grade.
Darian Kinnard – Kentucky
This man was simply the biggest, strongest, and meanest player on the football field in every game he has ever played. While he will face bigger and stronger opponents in the NFL, he will still be a legitimate people mover with the ability to overpower opponents. In college, he has proven to be a nasty run blocker with a killer instinct that sets the tone early. His goal on any given play is simple; he wants to put his opponent in the dirt. Then he wants to rub their face in it. When firing off the snap as a run blocker, Kinnard is a dominant enforcer that puts opponents away.
In pass protection, Kinnard has a long way to go. He is likely to be moved inside to guard at the NFL level due to his lack of experience in true pass sets and against speed. Due to Kentucky’s offense, Kinnard has never found consistency in his angles and mirror against speed. Additionally, his punch timing and hand placement need plenty of work. With wide hands and poor aim, Kinnard is likely to draw plenty of holding penalties if left at offensive tackle. He projects much better inside, where he will be offered more help and have less at risk every passing play.
Kinnard would be best utilized as an offensive guard. However, he does offer positional versatility in a pinch as a player who can fill in outside when needed. As a run blocker, Kinnard is versatile without any real scheme limitations. As a pass blocker, he would fit best with a team that leans into a lot of play-action, allowing him to set the tone as a run blocker and keep opponents guessing.
At Kentucky, Kinnard played in a run-heavy offense, pass blocking on 44% of his snaps. This ranks 53rd among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 NFL Draft class. In pass protection, Kinnard ranks 52nd in sack rate allowed and 30th in pressure rate allowed. Additionally, he ranks ninth in zone run-blocking grade and sixth in gap run-blocking grade.
Tyler Linderbaum – Iowa
According to PFF, this young man is the best center prospect of the PFF College era. Despite being undersized, Linderbaum is an absolute dog of a competitor. His effort is apparent in his playstyle as well as his technique. He works off the field to perfect his craft. Playing through the whistle, he always looks to finish plays and is not shy to find work whenever he can. This guy combines a hot motor with a nasty demeanor, plus strength, and consistent technique.
Linderbaum would excel in a wide-zone scheme that lets him get on the move and provides more support for his lack of size. While he might be able to make a move to guard, I think that a team would be foolish to move him off the center position.
At Iowa, Linderbaum played in a balanced offense that leaned more heavily on the run, pass blocking on 52% of his snaps. This ranks 35th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Linderbaum ranks 12th in sack rate allowed and fourth in pressure rate allowed. Although, I should note that interior linemen tend to look better in sack and pressure stats than tackles. Additionally, he ranks third in zone run-blocking grade and 30th in gap run-blocking grade.
Second-Team All-Nasty Interior Offensive Linemen
Kenyon Green – Texas A&M
Green was a 5-star recruit out of High School, and he lived up to that billing during college. In his time at Texas A&M, he started at RG, LG, and LT. On film, you see an aggressive athlete that explodes into contact with force and sets the tone for his team. Green has never seen an opportunity for contact that he did not like and seems to salivate at the opportunity to put someone on their back. Further enhancing that nasty temperament is a powerful lower half and high-end athletic ability.
Green is one of the most versatile players among this group both positionally and scheme-wise. He could be worth developing as an offensive tackle, but he would also excel staying inside. Regarding the scheme, Green has few limitations that would prevent him from finding success in any scheme. Although, his gap blocking grade is one of the worst in the class. This could just point to a lack of experience in gap schemes, or it could point to a zone scheme being a much better fit.
At Texas A&M, Green played in a balanced offense that leaned more heavily on the pass, pass blocking on 55% of his snaps. This ranks 20th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 NFL Draft class. In pass protection, Green ranks 34th in sack rate allowed and 49th in pressure rate allowed. I should note that interior linemen tend to look better in sack and pressure stats than tackles. Additionally, he ranks sixth in zone run-blocking grade and 57th in gap run-blocking grade.
Zion Johnson – Boston College
Widely considered to be one of the safer bets in the draft class, Zion Johnson plays a purposeful brand of football. While he does not have the frame to play tackle, he will fit in as an NFL guard right away. This player seemingly never stops looking for work and always looks to finish his blocks. He is a physical competitor with enough power and mass to play a hard-nosed brand of football.
Johnson most naturally fits in a zone-blocking scheme but has the traits to be scheme-versatile. While he did play some tackle at the college level, he is limited by short arms and a narrow frame that could give him trouble as a tackle at the NFL level. Additionally, his aggressive nature is best suited for the interior.
At Boston College, Johnson played in a run-heavy offense, pass blocking on 47% of his snaps. This ranks 47th among the 58 offensive linemen reviewed for the 2022 draft class. In pass protection, Johnson ranks 22nd in sack rate allowed and 36th in pressure rate allowed. I should note that interior linemen tend to look better in sack and pressure stats than tackles. Additionally, he ranks 20th in zone run-blocking grade and 11th in gap run-blocking grade.
All-Nasty Offensive Linemen Honorable Mentions
- Zach Thomas – San Diego State
- Alec Lindstrom – Boston College
- Blaise Andries – Minnesota
- Lecitus Smith – Virginia Tech
- Marcus McKethan – North Carolina
- Cordell Volson – North Dakota State
- Sean Rhyan – UCLA
Follow On Tap Sports Net on social media!