In a weaker draft class overall this year, one position that has taken an overall hit is the offensive lineman category. Hopefully this class will prove us wrong, but outside of the top few, we don’t see as promising of candidates who could be opening day starters. For this article, we’ll be looking at those top 5 lineman who should be a day 1 starter and where they’re pegged to be drafted.
#1: Evan Neal – Alabama
The projected top 5 pick in the draft, has played almost every position on the offensive line. He started his freshman year off as a left guard before moving to right tackle where he spent the majority of his collegiate career and thrived in the role and then closing out as a left tackle. Neal played well in all 3 roles, but succeeded the most when at right tackle. Easily the best run blocker in this class, Neal can line up at either side of the line to protect a run heavy team. If the Jets or the Giants opt for Neal at #4 or #5, Michael Carter can catapult his career or for the Giants, Saquon Barkley can revive his career with an elite blocker with insane athleticism.
#2: Charles Cross – Mississippi State
Neal is arguably the best run blocker and Cross is arguably the best pass protector in this class. With a lot of the teams drafting in the top 10, their quarterback situation of the future is uncertain or has unproven quarterbacks at the helm. This makes Cross a very popular draft choice for most of these teams as he can be a staple to build around with their young quarterback. Cross is an elite left tackle and should be a starter from day 1. We would be surprised to see Cross fall out of the top 10.
#3: Ikem Ekonwu – NC State
Ekonwu and Neal are even in their run blocking capabilities. Both are the best run blockers in this class and would be best suited on a power-running team. Ekonwu has the physical frame to be a top-tier pass blocker, but needs to work on his strength and his technique if he’s going to see any improvement at the next level. This is something that we believe he’ll be able to adapt to over time, but regardless, his run blocking alone sets him up as a first half of the first round draft pick.
#4: Tyler Linderbaum – Iowa
By far the best center in this class, Tyler Linderbaum will be an opening day starter for whatever team is lucky enough to snag him. Linderbaum is a talented run and pass blocker, but his size is what is holding him back from being one of the top couple overall lineman of this class. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in pure athleticism and ability. Linderbaum has the talent and should expect to hear his name called early on day 1 of the draft.
#5: Trevor Penning – Northern Iowa
After the top 4 lineman in this list, the choice for the 5th spot is a lot more difficult as there are several good quality candidates who you could argue could be ranked here. For the 5th best lineman in this draft, we are going out of the FBS and into the FCS with Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning. Penning was the top lineman in all of the FCS as he dominated his opponents every matchup for 3 years. Penning is the ideal size, athletic ability, and composure to succeed in the NFL, but the biggest thing holding him back is nothing to do with him but rather the lack of competition he’s faced. The FCS and FBS are far different ball games, but we’ve seen more and more FCS players being taken in the first couple days of the draft in recent years including Carson Wentz & Trey Lance who both were signal-callers at North Dakota State. One lineman that could give hope to Penning is Dillon Radunz, a former FCS lineman who was selected in the 2nd round of the 2021 draft to the Tennessee Titans. Penning should beat out Radunz in how high he’ll be selected as an end of round 1 pick or early 2nd rounder.