From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling an offensive tackle prospect that is fairly new to the position. While he is fairly young, his technique and athleticism ooze upside you look for in a franchise left tackle.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State — (R-Sophomore) 6046, 307lb
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Charles Cross||6046/307||10 3/4||34 1/2||81|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Has the length and frame for a prototypical tackle prospect with room to add more mass
— Possesses great athleticism when moving laterally, mirroring pass rushers with ease
— Has the burst and acceleration to excel when asked to get out in space
— Dangerous in the screen game, having the ability to pick up linebackers and defensive backs in open space
— Plays with a steadiness in pass protection, having the footwork and wide base to absorb defenders
— Has flashes of good push in the run game with good leg drive
— Does a great job stalling the rush by locking onto the rusher’s shoulder pads and digging his feet in to neutralize the defender
— Regularly picks out twists and stunts and does a great job passing off defenders to the guard while picking up the man looping around the edge
— Knows how to hit and replace, winning the hand fighting battle with pass rushers
— Long arms allow him to latch onto edge rushers from a distance and keep them from getting into his chest when he connects with his punch
— A 21-year-old redshirt sophomore who is still growing into himself as a prospect
— Can stand to add more muscle mass to have a more powerful punch and stronger anchor
—Will need to get functionally stronger in order to withstand force by power rushers
— Needs to generate more power and push on down blocks
— Will need to punch and sustain his blocks longer on his run fits
— Can be more intentional and dynamic with his vertical kick step in pass protection
— Can be susceptible to the inside counter by edge rushers
— Will occasionally stop moving his feet laterally on the counter rush, leading to defender getting pressure in the pocket
— Redshirt Sophomore prospect from Laurel, MS
— Five-star offensive tackle per Rivals and 24/7Sports and the #1 prospect from the state of Mississippi in 2018
— Named first team All-State as a senior, standout performer in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl
— Appeared in three games as a true freshman before redshirting in 2019
— Started all ten games in 2020 as a redshirt freshman and was MSU’s top-graded offensive lineman on five occasions via Pro Football Focus
— Started all 12 games in 2021 and allowed only two sacks in 919 snaps played
— Opted out of the bowl game in order to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft
— Majoring in business administration at Mississippi State
— Freshman All-SEC in 2020, first team All-SEC in 2021, first-team All-American in 2021
Charles Cross from Mississippi State is a unique blend of a steady player with impressive college tape with the upside for more being only a redshirt sophomore. The Laurel, Mississippi native came to Starkville at 270lb and has packed on 40lb since then, but still has room for more. The need for added mass and more functional strength shows up when watching Cross as there are occasions on his film where h will get walked back in the pocket by power rushers when get inside his chest. For example, watch this play as the Memphis defender explode into Cross’s torso, forklifting him into the lap of the QB who manages to get the pass off before getting hit.
Another notable thing that Cross needs more consistency within his game is his punch and ability to keep defenders from falling off his blocks. Here is one example against Alabama where Cross gets a long arm on the defender, but doesn’t continue to block, allowing the defender to get off and make a play on the back in the backfield.
There are also times where Cross will be susceptible to inside counters be edge rushers, needing to take his inside hand and deliberately drive the defender’s shoulder back to prevent the counter rush. Here’s an example against Texas A&M where Cross initially neutralizes the rush, but the defender works back inside as the QB steps up in the pocket, getting across his face to get the sack. To Cross’s credit, the QB holds onto the ball way too long here, given the defender extended time to work through the block. Still, if Cross can learn to drive his right arm through the defender’s shoulder and seal him off with his inside foot, he’ll take his pass protection to another level.
Here’s another example in the same game where Cross does a great job sealing off the edge to the pass rusher, but when the QB tries to escape the pocket up the middle, the defender works off the block. Cross doesn’t lose this rep, but this rep can turn into a highlight play with a more forceful jab through the defender’s shoulder to jolt him back.
As you have seen in the last couple clips, Cross is steady when it comes to pass protection. He has good lateral movement to mirror pass rushers and does a good job playing with a good base and anchoring in with the pass rusher makes contact. His instinctual awareness is above the bar for the position as we see on this rep as cross recognizes the attempted spin move back inside and prevents the defender from countering back inside across his face.
He doesn’t panic when in pass protection and almost always is in-phase to execute the block. We see a good example of Cross’s ability to hit and replace here against LSU where he quickly knocks down the defender’s hands and gets his hands on the defender’s shoulder to run him into the grass, effectively using his momentum against him.
His awareness as a blocker also shines in his ability to regularly notice twists and stunts and effectively pass off one defender inside to the guard while picking up the looping defender coming around the edge. Here is one example of Cross sniffing out the stunt against the Crimson Tide when he leaves the defensive lineman to pick up #31 Will Anderson looping around from the opposite side, running him around the pocket and out of the play.
Another example from the same game where Cross initially picks up Anderson but passes him off to the guard to pick up #8 Christian Harris looping around the corner to keep the quarterback clean.
While Cross played in a pass-happy offense in Mike Leach’s system, he has showcased the ability to be a quality run blocker when he sustains his blocks and runs his feet on contact. A perfect example of this comes from this clip last year against #13 Azeez Ojulari of Georgia where he engages the defender on the snap and runs him back into the end zone, pancaking him into the turf as the runner follows him in for the score.
Cross is also capable of turning his shoulder to create a seal in the run game for his back to run behind. Watch this play against the Aggies where Cross works the double team initially on #2 Michael Clemons, but proceeds to work him into the second level, turning his feet and shoulder to wall him off from the runner who runs off Cross’s backside for a successful play.
While Cross is normally his best in pass protection, the work he does in the screen game can be a treat to watch. Cross is a good athlete, having the movement skills and acceleration to pick up blocks at the second level and in open space the other tackles may struggle with. Watch this play against the Tigers where Cross throws off the defensive end to run to the second level on the tunnel screen pass, finding the linebacker and proceeds to run through his face, putting him square on his back as the receiver get the first down.
Cross knows he’s an exceptional athlete at tackle and he looks to use it when asked to make a big block on smaller defenders. Check out this highlight block on the same screen play against the Tide where Cross finds #10 Henry To’o To’o and sends him into another dimension, exploding through the linebacker on a takedown block you would likely see in WWE.
When watching Cross, my mind immediately went to perennial All-Pro and current Cowboys LT Tyron Smith as a pro comparison. Both Smith and Cross share similar measurables in terms of lean, athletic frames with the long arms and the movement skills in pass protection that are eerily similar to one another when you watch the two side-by-side. Smith was highly touted coming out of USC as a young, athletic prospect that oozed upside, but needed to add more strength and mass to his frame in order to become the dominant force he has been in the league for the better part of a decade. Cross shares a lot of those similarities as well as question marks that must be addressed to reach his full potential.
With Cross, he would be best suited to go to a system that is more pass heavy/spread based that also allows him to get out in space and work in the screen game to capitalize on his athletic gifts. He will need to get stronger as a run blocker and be more consistent with sustaining his blocks, but his refined game at this point in his career make me confident that he will be able to develop into a sound run blocker with the ability to become a premiere pass protector in the league. While Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu are great prospects in their own right, I personally see Cross as the best pure pass protector in this class which warrants top ten consideration.
Cross fits the profile of a young left tackle prospect that still has room to grow. That upside along with a solid floor make him a tantalizing prospect that Pittsburgh should have on their radar. While the team has Dan Moore Jr. penciled in at the LT spot as of now, the idea of selecting Cross and moving Moore to RT would give Pittsburgh two young bookend tackles that could serve as part of the foundation for the offensive line for the next decade. Either way, I foresee Cross making whatever team selects him come April extremely satisfied with their decision sooner rather than later in his career.
Projection: Early Day One
Depot Draft Grade: 9.1 – Pro-Bowl Talent/ Day 1 Starter (Round One)
Games Watched: vs Alabama (2021), at Memphis (2021), at Texas A&M (2021), at LSU (2020)