Despite a record-setting start to the season, 2020 was ultimately disappointing for Mississippi State. However, one player was making noise amongst the silenced Starkville cowbells. In his first full season at left tackle, Charles Cross emerged as one of the best offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft class. As a redshirt sophomore this upcoming season, it’s far from certain that he’ll declare, but a look at Cross’ scouting report proves the Mississippi State OT has the tools to be near the top of the class.
Charles Cross NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Offensive Tackle
- School: Mississippi State
- Current Year: Redshirt Sophomore
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 305 pounds
Charles Cross Scouting Report
Although last season was his first as a starter at the college level, Cross already has some tools to be a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. At 6’5″, he meets the requisite size of an NFL tackle. Despite having bulked up from 270 pounds two years ago to a listed 305 pounds, Cross is a very lean offensive tackle. Ideally, he will add another 10 pounds as he has the frame to do so.
Nevertheless, being lean doesn’t stop Cross from being a violent and physical tackle who exudes competitive toughness. Finishing a play doesn’t always mean putting your man in the dirt, but it appears that the Mississippi State OT did not get that memo. Cross looks to punish his opponent every play, whether in pass protection or as a mauler in the ground game. Despite his lean frame, he’s powerful and displays a decent anchor in pass protection.
Alongside his physicality and violence, Cross brings elite athleticism to the position. He’s explosive out of his stance, has exceptional footwork to mirror his opponent, and although not often required in the Bulldogs’ offense, he can rapidly get out to the second level. In addition, his change of direction is excellent, allowing him to recover swiftly when put in a predicament by pass rushers.
For someone with limited college football experience, Cross demonstrates excellent football intelligence. He appears to be in constant communication with the left guard, pointing out dangerous men lurking on the other side of the trench. The Mississippi State OT does a brilliant job of diagnosing plays, passing off, and picking up players on twists and stunts.
Areas for improvement
For someone who is blessed with impressive speed and athletic ability, Cross has his most significant issues when facing speed rushers. He is often beaten around the outside track by this type of pass rusher. Although he has the athleticism to recover, as showcased several times, that could prove to be an issue as he transitions to the NFL level.
Furthermore, Cross must ensure he doesn’t allow his feet to get crossed over. He can be guilty of this when trying to recover against speed rushers.
Another area for improvement, more precisely consistency, is hand placement. The Mississippi State OT has proven that he can use his hands devastatingly in pass protection and run blocking. However, there are examples of poor hand usage resulting in him losing a rep.
Cross’ Player Profile
Cross’ NFL Draft stock elevation throughout one season could be deemed as a surprise. Yet, the Laurel, Mississippi native, is no stranger to ascending attention.
Heading into his senior season at Laurel High School, Cross was a three-star offensive tackle prospect by most major recruiting sites. Despite competing in a class that contained five-star prospects like Evan Neal and Kenyon Green, Cross earned SEC offers from Arkansas, Auburn, and Ole Miss but found a home with an early commitment to FSU.
He followed up his commitment with an outstanding senior campaign. Cross anchored the offensive line for a Laurel offense that scored 40+ points in six games. The physical left tackle’s performances earned him first-team All-Region and All-State honors.
Cross also represented Mississippi in the prestigious Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game. Moreover, the rarity of his talent was exemplified as he became the first Laurel football player to be selected to the US Army All-American Bowl.
Cross went from being a three-star to a five-star recruit almost overnight
Cross elevated his ranking to the fifth offensive tackle in the class, second-best player in Mississippi, and a top-30 player nationally. He drew comparisons to Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries thanks to his quickness and physicality.
Unsurprisingly, the increase in ranking and attention caused Cross to reconsider his college commitment. Holding offers from nearly 20 programs, he visited USC, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State before choosing Starkville to continue his football journey.
“I wanted to find a place where I felt most at home,” Cross said at the time, while also citing offensive line coach Marcus Johnson as a factor in the decision.
Cross’ career at Mississippi State
Despite the rapid elevation of his ranking through the 2018 high school season, Cross had an obstacle to hurdle before he could shine in Starkville. At 6’5″ and 270 pounds, he was lean even by high school standards. The Bulldogs’ star would need to bulk up to meet the increased physical demands of the college football season.
Although he would eventually redshirt the 2019 season, Cross saw snaps against Southern Miss, Kansas State, and Texas A&M. Those appearances gave him his first taste of live-action bouts, whetting his appetite for an increased role in 2020. Having spent a year developing mentally and physically, Cross entered his redshirt freshman season weighing an additional 20 pounds.
Cross had a breakout season in 2020
The Mississippi State OT made his starting debut in the season opener against reigning champions LSU. For many reasons, the eyes of the college football world were on the contest. One of which was Mike Leach implementing his “Air Raid” scheme on the Bulldogs’ offense.
In his first start, Cross was tasked with protecting K.J. Costello’s blindside. The result? An SEC and Mississippi State passing record as Costello threw for 623 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Cross impressed with his fast and physical play at the left tackle position. Although there wasn’t another success quite like the opening day obliteration of LSU, he was a vital component of the bright moments of the season. Cross protected Costello and Will Rogers as the two quarterbacks combined to set another record. They broke the SEC and program record for the number of pass attempts during a visit to Kentucky.
Despite limited opportunities to display his aggression in the ground game, Cross did prove impactful as the Bulldogs achieved 151 rushing yards against Missouri. The Mississippi State OT impressed sufficiently during his 10 starts in 2020 to earn Freshman All-SEC honors as voted by the conference’s coaches.
His career trajectory has been one of constant elevation. With another season of development in the SEC, there is no reason to believe that Cross won’t be one of the best tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft. Although, to be honest, I think he already is.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.