While this year’s offensive tackle class was highly regarded, the interior offensive line wasn’t so deeply populated. Just four selections followed one first-round pick in Alijah Vera-Tucker in Round 2. Does next year’s class hold more promise? We take an early look at the top guards and centers for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft
These are my very early rankings of the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft class. The rankings are compiled from observations made while watching players in the 2021 class and early adventures into 2022 summer scouting. As such, they’ll be subject to change throughout the summer and 2021 college football season. Nevertheless, it presents an early look at the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft.
1) Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
A two-year starter for the Aggies, Kenyon Green made an immediate impact as a freshman in College Station. A former five-star recruit out of Atascocita High School, he was ranked as the third-best offensive tackle in the 2019 recruiting class. Despite playing tackle in high school, he moved inside to guard on arrival at Texas A&M. Green shined as a freshman while also showing room for development.
Last season, he showed that progression, dominating as a full-time starter at left guard. Over his two years, he has experience playing both left and right, bringing invaluable versatility. Green has built a reputation as a weight-room warrior, and that shows on the field. He brings tremendous strength to the position, which he channels through impactful hands to be a violent people mover on the offensive line. Equally adept in pass protection as run blocking, he shows solid athletic ability to get out to the second level.
Although he is projected to move out to offensive tackle for the coming season, Green still sits firmly atop our list of the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft.
2) Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
The last time North Carolina State had a guard chosen in the NFL’s annual selection event was 2016. That third-rounder is now one of the highest-paid interior offensive linemen in the NFL — Joe Thuney. Let’s not forget that just three years ago, the Wolfpack also had a first-round selection on the interior in center Garrett Bradbury. Ikem Ekwonu is the next man up from the program.
A three-star high school prospect in 2019, Ekwonu has already outplayed his ranking as the 36th best guard in that recruiting class. He became the first freshman to start for the program at left tackle since 2010, going on to start 13 games at that position in addition to four starts at left guard.
He’s been described as “the most feared lineman in the ACC,” and it’s easy to see why. The 6’4″, 320-pounder is strong, athletic, aggressive, versatile, and displays football intelligence. His head is on a swivel, constantly seeking out work.
Despite his experience at offensive tackle, Ekwonu projects to be one of the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft class. He has the size and length to play tackle. However, he excels inside, where his mauler mentality can make him truly dominant in the ground game.
3) Ed Ingram, LSU
It’s been a turbulent journey to the 2022 NFL Draft for Ed Ingram, but he is set to be one of the top guards in the upcoming class. A four-star high school prospect out of DeSoto, Texas, Ingram made an immediate impact for LSU as a freshman. He impressed in his four starts, leading the way for Derrius Guice to emerge as one of the top running backs in college football.
Yet, Ingram missed the entire 2018 season due to a violation of team rules. On his return, he found himself behind the likes of Damien Lewis on the Tigers’ national championship-winning roster. Despite this, Ingram still contributed in 12 games, with three starts before emerging as the full-time starter in 2020.
One of the more experienced guards in the class, Ingram’s return to LSU will be mutually beneficial. He’ll be the offensive line leader while helping his draft stock with a full season to demonstrate his ability. Ingram demonstrates impressive strength and technique, but he needs to prove he can be consistently dominant this season.
4) Zion Johnson, Boston College
Despite a flirtation with the left tackle position in 2020, it’s expected that Zion Johnson will return to his natural position for the upcoming season. If he does, he has every chance to be one of the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft. Boston College has an excellent heritage of developing offensive line talent for the NFL, and Johnson was held in high regard prior to this year’s annual selection event.
An unranked high school recruit, Johnson spent his early career dominating at the FCS level for Davidson. He made 19 starts before transferring to Boston College, earning second-team All-ACC honors in his first season at the FBS level. Although he earned third-team honors at tackle, a return inside will help him not only solidify his draft stock but return to being a dominant offensive lineman.
Johnson displays impressive strength, quickness, and body control. Furthermore, he has that mauler mentality. He loves nothing more than putting a man on the ground. That competitive nature to finish plays should keep scouts’ attention through the season and into the draft process.
5) Paul Grattan, UCLA
Between offensive tackle Sean Rhyan and guard Paul Grattan, the UCLA Bruins sneakily have some of the top offensive line talents in the 2022 NFL Draft. Like Johnson above him, Grattan is a former FCS standout who transitioned to the FBS, intending to improve his draft stock. He was a three-year starter for Villanova, seeing time at both guard and center. Grattan was the starting center as the Wildcats shocked Temple in 2018.
He made an immediate impact for the Bruins in 2020, starting every game in the shortened college football season. Grattan helped pave the way for a rushing attack that averaged over 5 yards per carry. Moreover, the UCLA offensive line reduced their sack average to under 2 sacks a game with him in the lineup.
He possesses impressive play strength and the requisite athleticism to carry out pulling duties. He’s another prospect whose aggressive nature makes him a natural mauler on the interior of the offensive line. Additionally, his versatility, having played both guard and center, will be attractive in the draft process.
Honorable mention for the top guards in the 2022 NFL Draft
Emil Ekiyor, Alabama; Cade Mays, Tennessee; Lecitus Smith, Virginia Tech; Marquis Hayes, Oklahoma; Josh Sills, Oklahoma State; Cain Madden, Marshall; Chasen Hines, LSU; Kayden Lyles, Wisconsin.
Top centers in the 2022 NFL Draft
As with the guards listed above, these are my very early rankings of the top centers in the 2022 NFL Draft. As the 2021 college football season progresses and I dive into the tape even deeper, these may change. Still, it presents something of an early watch list for the coming class.
1) Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Back in June last year, Nick Farabaugh called Tyler Linderbaum a sleeper at the center position. Fast forward almost a year, and it’s safe to say no one is sleeping on the Iowa offensive lineman anymore. Linderbaum is universally considered as one of the top center prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Amongst many impressive aspects of his game, what stands out the most is that he’s still learning the position. Although he’s made 21 starts for Iowa, Linderbaum is still a relative newcomer to the position. Despite being named a finalist for the prestigious Rimington Award last year, this coming season will be just his third playing on the offensive line. He was originally recruited to the Hawkeyes as a defensive line prospect out of high school.
Although there will be concerns about his lightweight frame — Linderbaum is listed at 289 pounds — he has demonstrated strength and nastiness. Furthermore, his experience as both a defensive lineman and state wrestler gives him an incredible understanding of leverage which helps him win at the point of attack. He also brings impressive athleticism and quick footwork to the position.
2) Alec Lindstrom, Boston College
I mentioned the Boston College heritage of offensive line excellence earlier, and Alec Lindstrom is just another example of that. In fact, there’s every chance that the Eagles have three offensive linemen selected within the top 100 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Lindstrom isn’t just a product of the Boston College conveyor belt. There is a family history of success on the line with brother Chris and father Chris Sr.
Lindstrom would have been drafted this year, but he returns to Boston College as one of the top centers in the 2022 NFL Draft class. He brings experience with 36 appearances at the position. He also plays the game to an extremely high level.
Despite weighing in at under 300 pounds, Lindstrom is as violent and athletic as a run blocker. As the Eagles transitioned towards a more pass-oriented offense last season, Lindstrom was also able to display his ability in pass protection and his high football intelligence.
3) Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame
Due to the departure of nearly the entire Notre Dame offensive line to the NFL, Jarrett Patterson presents something as an enigma. He was originally recruited to the Fighting Irish as a four-star offensive tackle in the 2018 recruiting class.
However, after three appearances as a freshman, Patterson carved out a role as the full-time starter during his second season in South Bend. In fact, before the 2021 college football season even begins, he already has 20 starts in the middle of the offensive line.
Nevertheless, it appears uncertain as to where Patterson will play this coming season. There is speculation that he will return to his natural position and man the left tackle spot vacated by Liam Eichenberg. While that adds versatility, it clouds the judgment of him as one of the top centers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Additionally, he is coming off an injury that caused him to miss time at the end of the season.
From a pure playing perspective, Patterson has proved that he has a strong anchor, decent hand skills, and the agility to be impactful downfield in the run game. Patterson has been the anchor for an offensive line that has consistently been one of the best in the nation.
4) Ben Brown, Ole Miss
Mississippi’s Ben Brown is another player where there is some positional ambiguity. Several outlets have Brown listed as a guard, and he has considerable experience there with 24 starts. On the other hand, he made 10 starts at the heart of the Ole Miss offensive line in 2020 and is set to remain there this coming season. As a result, I have him ranked amongst the top centers to look out for in the run-up to the 2022 NFL Draft.
A former high school offensive tackle, Brown has an impressive build. He’s 6’5″ and 315 pounds and uses the full force of that frame as a violent people mover in the middle of the offensive line. Brown has that nasty demeanor that helps him finish opposing defensive linemen, regardless of whether that is against the run or as a pass protector. He has also demonstrated versatility from not just a positional perspective but a scheme perspective too.
5) Colin Newell, Iowa State
With 26 starts at center, Colin Newell is one of the most experienced centers in this 2022 NFL Draft class. Newell has the opportunity to make a name for himself this season, with Iowa State in a great position to challenge for the Big 12 Championship again. They return every starter, and even every snap, from the 2020 offensive line that helped Breece Hall rush for over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns.
A former three-star recruit, Newell has played above his recruiting ranking to earn first-team All-Big-12 honors last season. He demonstrates quickness off the snap, impressive play strength, and can get to the second level to impact the ground game. Moreover, he shows football intelligence, constantly searching for the next man to hit.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.