NFL Draft News and Rumors: The latest on Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal, Charles Cross, and the 2022 OT class

The latest news and rumors surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft class at tackle see several players cementing their top-10 status.

We are less than three weeks away from the Jacksonville Jaguars being called to the clock to start the 2022 NFL Draft. Yet unlike years past, there is plenty of conjecture as to how the top of the draft will play out. Here are the latest news and rumors around the 2022 NFL Draft class at offensive tackle — a position that will affect the top of the draft and whose results will ripple through the entire first round.

2022 NFL Draft News and Rumors: Charles Cross on the rise

The case can be made that the offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft are rising faster than any other position, including Mississippi State’s Charles Cross.

How high could Cross come off the board?

Right now, three tackles could land in the initial six selections. Evan Neal of Alabama and Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State long established themselves in the top six. The third player at the position would be Cross of Mississippi State, who is rising faster than any of the top players at the position.

Pick No. 6 to the Carolina Panthers is not out of the question. People in league circles believe it will happen. Though they need a quarterback, left tackle is also a pressing need. If Cross does come off the board to the Panthers, that pick dictates even more afterward.

UPDATE (7:15 PM ET): Since posting this story, sources close to the Panthers tell PFN that right now, it comes down to a pair of players for Carolina – Charles Cross or Ikem Ekwonu. However, it’s questionable that Ekwonu lasts until the sixth pick.

Cross’ selection dictates the rest of Round 1

If those three are off the board by the ninth pick, it will affect where Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa and Tyler Smith of Tulsa end up. Penning could come off the board as early as No. 10 to the New York Jets. I’ve been reporting since the Senior Bowl that Penning is a favorite of general manager Joe Douglas. As we spoke about during last week’s edition of the Draft Insiders, the saga with Mekhi Becton continues.

Jets coaches have confided to several players the team will go offensive tackle early in the draft. Whether early means the fourth selection, 10th pick, or the top of Round 2, I cannot tell at this point.

I’m hearing the latest Penning comes off the board is pick No. 14 to the Baltimore Ravens. The franchise recently signed Morgan Moses, who played with the Jets last season, to a three-year deal. Yet, upon inspection of the contract, it reads like a one-year deal. Thus, the Ravens want to come out of this draft with a young offensive tackle.

Other tackle landing spots in the 2022 NFL Draft

Don’t discount a needy tackle team such as the Los Angeles Chargers moving up for Penning. One trading partner to keep in mind is the Minnesota Vikings. I’ll have more on that later this week.

It should be noted that the Ravens are bringing Penning in for an official top-30 visit this week. The Jets also met with Penning recently, though outside the realm of the official top-30 visit. This is important as Penning was at the Senior Bowl and Combine, and it’s a sure sign that both teams are highly interested in his services.

Smith is getting a ton of interest as of late. He has 14 official visits and was forced to turn down requests because of his busy schedule. The list of official visits includes the Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Commanders, and an already completed visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jets worked out Smith and requested a visit but were left off the list due to his travel schedule.

The team to watch for Smith is Tennessee at pick No. 26. Smith would be an upgrade at right tackle over 2021 second-round pick Dillon Radunz, a natural guard. As previously reported, Smith long established himself as the fifth tackle in this year’s class, and some feel he could start his career at offensive guard and then kick out to tackle.

Tony Pauline is the Chief Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Tony’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter: @TonyPauline