NFL Draft Top 5 Positional Rankings: The Trenches
Early 2022 NFL Draft Top Five Positional Rankings, looking at offensive and defensive line prospects.
It’s the second week of our early draft-season positional-ranking series, and this week we’re going to take a trench down to the big uglies. Last week the emphasis was on the offensive-skill positions, so today we work down into the trenches for both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Top 5 Prospect Rankings
Offensive Tackle | Need Tier: moderate
6’5” 310lbs, Mississippi State
There are a handful of offensive tackles that can land on the top spot of this list, but I settled on Charles Cross. He presents with the best athletic skill set in pass protection while showing the highest promise in that area. His smooth feet, natural hip bend, and quick hands make it easy for him to mirror defenders rushing up the arc.
Cross is far from a polished offensive tackle at this point — especially in the run game — but his development from 2020 to 2021 was outstanding. He looks like the prototype for a left tackle in the NFL, and it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the athleticism in pass protection for a more gritty run blocker.
6’7” 351lbs, Alabama
6’4” 325lbs, North Carolina State
6’7” 321lbs, Northern Iowa
6’8” 380lbs, Minnesota
Overall thoughts: The overall offensive tackle class for the 2022 NFL Draft is really solid. There are some true, top-of-the-first-round type of talent at the position, but it doesn’t end there. Just in the rest of the top ~100 of the draft there are a handful of high-upside “traitsy” guys, some high-floor guys ready to start early, athletic tackles, and monster road graders. It’s so talented as a group that any team looking for offensive tackle help should be able to find it in this draft.
There seems to be a top three (Cross, Neel, and Ekwonu) separating from the rest of the class, but after that it becomes a dealer’s choice. Overall, this class leans a little more towards the big, strong, road-grading type of offensive tackle compared to the super-athlete type at the position. This pairs pretty well with some recent offensive line trends of guys getting bigger as the time to throw decreases. For those zone heavy teams that love athleticism, there are still guys scattered throughout the draft, but that group is less dense as a whole than the power-based offensive tackles.
Interior Offensive Line | Need Tier: Low
6’4” 330lbs, Texas A&M
6’2” 289lbs, Iowa
6’4” 325lbs, Georgia
6’3” 320lbs, Virginia TechLecitus Smith, IOL, Virginia Tech - Great flexibility - Explosion of LoS - Easy puller both directions - Physical in the phone booth - Movement and body control is space to match defenders
Lecitus Smith has been a little bit of a draft crush of mine for more than a year, so I had to work him into this list. I first saw him when watching Christian Darrisaw last year and noticed this offensive guard next to him incredibly low in his stance but then exploding off the line of scrimmage. It became hard to focus on Darrisaw with this guard’s movement popping off the screen and his nasty finishing demeanor. This was the beginning of the draft crush on one, Lecitus Smith.
Once a tight end recruit that simply liked eating, Smith moved to the offensive line and quickly found success. His athleticism jumps off the screen, but it’s the nastiness that keeps you coming back. Pairing his tight-end level movement, elite flexibility, and playstyle, and it’s really hard not to think highly of this pseudo-sleeper in the 2022 NFL Draft.
6’3” 310lbs, Boston College
Overall thoughts: The interior offensive line group isn’t as strong as the offensive tackle group, but guys moving inside from tackle is going to help bolster it. Names like Salyer, Darrian Kinnard, Thayer Munford and many more could be trusted on the inside more than the outside, just like every season, which will bring up the overall talent level of this group.
I find it funny that the interior group contrasts the tackle group in playstyle toward the top of the draft. A lot of the top names of the draft are more movement-focused players who excel working out into space or climbing to the second level vs. dominating in the phone booth. Realistically, the best power players at the position may be guys sliding inside from tackle.
EDGE | Need Tier: High
6’5” 269lbs, Michigan
6’5” 260lbs, Oregon
6’5” 250lbs, Michigan
Anyone who has been following my draft content this season won’t be surprised to see David Ojabo so high up on this list. Here is a young man who has played four years of football in total and was battling with Aidan Hutchinson for leading the Michigan Wolverines in sacks this season. There isn’t a single player in this draft who has a higher overall ceiling than Ojabo. It’s just about getting there.
Ojabo’s blend of length, speed and flexibility is unmatched. Every other pass rusher in this class looks stiff as a board compared to Ojabo when watching them run a tight arc around a corner. Pair that with a growing understanding of how to turn that speed into power and counter to the inside, and his NFL career will almost certainly be better than his college one.
6’4” 270lbs, Purdue
6’5” 270lbs, Georgia
Overall thoughts: Similar to the wide receiver position from last week, the edge position is one of the stronger ones in this NFL draft, which happens to align great with the Chiefs’ needs. Taking it another step, there aren’t a ton of small, stand-up style edge players in this draft class but rather true hand-in-the-dirt defensive end types. Out of the top 15-to-20 edge players in this class, only a few are listed as sub 240 lbs and many of them are listed over 260 lbs.
The order of these players is going to be all over the place for nearly every team. Hutchinson has some questions about upside; Thibodeaux has been inconsistent and hasn’t started off the draft process great; Karlaftis looks great on paper, but the film shows causes for concern — and the list could keep going.
Plenty of these rushers deserve to go in the top 10, but narrowing down the order in which they belong is nearly impossible.
As you work through the depth of the position, there seems to be a clear top four — add Ojabo to the aforementioned names, and that’s a pretty consensus top four — but it’s after that where things get crazy. The fifth through about the 12th edge players could be in any order based on what a team wants. The variety, depth, and size of this edge class is perfect for the Chiefs’ usual preferences at the position.
Defensive Tackle | Need Tier: Low/Moderate
6’5” 330lbs, Georgia
6’5” 260lbs, Houston
This feels like cheating since Logan Hall is closer to defensive end size than defensive tackle size but he played predominantly at defensive tackle for Houston. He is going to draw comparison to his teammate from last year, Peyton Turner but Hall may be an even better prospect than Turner. He’s not as naturally athletic or bendy out in space but he’s got a more straightforward path to success on any given play.
Hall has powerful hands that improved as the season went along. He was often able to keep his chest clean with rip or club moves and then follow through with the natural power to fight through indirect contact. He doesn’t have elite ankle flexibility but he’s really good at working through contact and finishing through a blocker’s shoulder rather than needing to clear it all together. He may get some looks at defensive end at the Senior Bowl and in the NFL but for now he sticks to this #2 overall DT ranking.
6’4” 290lbs, Texas A&M
6’4” 317lbs, Alabama
6’3” 301lbs, Georgia
Overall thoughts: The interior defensive line group is one of the weaker positions in the entire draft. Part of that is the general value of the position often being lower than most other positions in the eye of the NFL. The overall depth isn’t that good anyway but add in the value of the position and it may be difficult to place many defensive tackles in the top 50 of this draft.
Adding onto those two points, this defensive tackle class seems a little deeper with nose tackle, run plugging types rather than pass rushers. There are some outliers like Leal, Hall, and Wyatt but they are the exceptions this year. Even out of that group, the two most productive pass rushers - Leal and Hall - spend time playing outside and inside.
The Chiefs need at the defensive tackle position depends on what they do with their players set to be free agents, most specifically Jarran Reed and Derrick Nnadi. If neither come back, the Chiefs certainly need to dip into this nose tackle group in this NFL Draft and it could be set relatively well to provide value.
Next week, we’ll be wrapping up with the defensive skill positions!