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 a offensive tackle prospect that has become a household name in draft circles, but his best home may be at another position when he gets to the league.
#79 Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State (Junior) – 6040, 310 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Ikem Ekwonu||6’4, 310lb||10 1/4||34||84 1/4|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Possesses good size with long arms and a thick torso
— Fluid mover out in space when asked to climb to the second level or pull from the tackle/guard spot
— Fairly active kick step in pass protection with quickness off the snap of the football
— Has impressive play strength at the point of attack in the run game, being able to displace defenders with regularity
— Sets the tone as a run blocker on the offensive line
— Dominant force as a down blocker or on kick out blocks
— Physical presence that looks to plant his opposition into the ground any chance he gets
— A “highlight reel” guy when it comes to pancake blocks in the run game
— Has the grip strength as well as the arm length to latch onto pass rushers and neutralize their rush
— Has the ability to adjust to counter rushes and anchor in against power rushers
— Has a nice snatch trap move in pass protection to chuck defenders to the floor
— Has experience playing at both guard and tackle in college
— Saw noticeable improvement in pass protection in 2021, going from surrendering seven sacks the year prior to two this season
— Doesn’t possess the ideal height you look for in a blindside protector
— Feet can be a tad slow when attempting to mirror speed rushers attempting to get the corner
— Susceptive to the inside rush and allowing defenders to cross his face into the pocket
— Has a bad tendency to lunge forward both as a run blocker and pass protector, losing balance and whiffing blocks
— Will drop his head when he shoots his shoulders over his hips, causing him to not be able to see who he is hitting
— Needs to be more consistent with his hands in terms of hit-and-replace when the defender knocks down his initial punch
— Will need to sustain his blocks longer at the next level to avoid defenders falling off and making plays
— Junior prospect from Charlotte, NC
— Athletic bloodlines with fraternal twin brother Osita playing LB at Notre Dame, father (T.J.) is a 6’6 doctor who played college basketball before coming to the U.S. from Nigeria and mother (Amaka) was a high school track star
— Named first-team all-state and first-team all-conference on offense as a senior in HS
— Multi-sport athlete as a high school wrestler and ran anchor leg on his prep relay squad
— Started the final seven games of his freshman season at left tackle and led the team with 37 pancake blocks and was named to the FWAA Freshman All-America team
— Began his sophomore season as the Wolfpack’s starting left guard, but was moved back to left tackle during the season and again led the Wolfpack with 50 pancake blocks and 22 knockdowns and was named second team All- ACC at both guard and tackle
— Started every game at LT for the Wolfpack, winning the Jacobs Blocking Award for the best lineman in the conference before declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft
— Unanimous All-American in 2021, won the Jacobs Blocking Award in 2021, first-team All-ACC in 2021, second-team All-ACC in 2020
— Business Administration major
Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu from NC State is a local kid that stayed in-state to play with the Wolfpack and saw his opportunity to hit the field right away in his true freshman season. He played both tackle and guard to begin his collegiate career before manning the blindside spot at LT to finish his time in Raleigh. When watching Ekwonu, the thing that immediately sticks out is his physicality and nastiness in the run game. He is a dominating run blocker, having the strength paired with the movement skills to win both at the LOS against a defensive lineman as well as in the second level against a smaller defender. Here is a three-play sequence against Clemson where we see Ekwonu as a run blocker.
Ekwonu can be a dominant force as a down blocker when asked to wash defenders down the line to allow runners to go off his backside. We see that against the Tigers on this play where Ekwonu takes the LB filling in the hole and runs him clear out of the play. The runner doesn’t get much, but Ekwonu does his job kicking his man out of the way.
What also makes Ekwonu a great run blocker is his movement skills and athleticism at his size. NC State runs a wide zone scheme that requires their tackles to climb to the second level and even pull like we see on this rep against Florida State where Ekwonu goes around the slot receiver and finds a second-level defender and absolutely levels him while on the run.
Ekwonu makes his money in the ground game, but he has improved as a pass protector during his time at NC State. He is quick out of his stance and has the long arms and the ability to sit down and anchor against the rush. Here is a great example against the Seminoles where Ekwonu picks up the rush end on third-and-long and recognizes the spin move back to the inside, adjusting to the counter move and kicks the pass rusher out of the play while the rest of the line caves and allows the pressure to get to the QB for the sack.
There are also moments in pass protection where you see Ekwonu’s nastiness come out in his pass protection like on this rep where he executes the snatch trap technique. He uses #11 Jermaine Johnson’s momentum and bend against him, chopping his hand down and puts his right hand into Johnson’s back to put him on the turf as he finishes over top of him.
Still, while Ekwonu has improved from 2020 to 2021, there are still some glaring issues to pop up on his tape that he needs to iron out in order to be a consistent player at the next level. He likes to lunge forward into his blocks, looking for the big blowup block. This leads him to duck his head and come out unbalanced, resulting in him whiffing blocks. Here in the same game, we watch Ekwonu drop his head and lunge forward into Johnson who easily club/swims around the whiff and makes the play in the backfield.
We see a similar situation here against Miami where Ekwonu is in position to make the block, leans forward and ducks his head, allowing the defender to get the inside swim on him to wrap up #7 “Bam” Knight in the backfield for a loss on the play.
Here’s another example against the Seminoles in pass protection where Ekwonu shoots his hands and stalls his feet and he leans into the block, getting completely sauced by Johnson who hits the outside swim move who pressures the QB to step up in the pocket while being chased by the defense.
Ekwonu has long arms to engage pass rushers early in the rep, but his lack of size and consistent footwork in pass protection can lead to him losing the corner to speed rushers who can work through his grasp. A good example of that here against #4 Keir Thomas who extends Ekwonu off his frame and rips off the block as Ekwonu gets turned around to watch the pass rusher sack his quarterback in the pocket.
Along with inconsistent footwork and the regular lunge forward with his head dropped, Ekwonu also is susceptible to the inside counter, allowing defenders to cross his face which is a cardinal sin for offensive linemen. Watch this rep against #98 Myles Murphy where Ekwonu cheats to the outside to prevent the defender getting the corner, exposing the inside rush which Murphy exploits as he rips through Ekwonu’s block attempt where he fails to shuffle his feet to cut the pass rusher off, getting ridden into the lap of the QB where Murphy finishes for the sack.
A name that came to mind initially when watching Ekwonu was current Buffalo Bills LT Dion Dawkins who came out of Temple with a similar classification as a “tweener” also standing 6’4, 320lb with long arms, but a short, burly torso. Dawkins was well-known for his physicality as a run blocker, making some scouts suggest that he should kick into guard at the next level. He proved to hold his own well in pass protection though and has made a home manning the blindside for Josh Allen. I see a lot of similarities in play style between Ekwonu and Dawkins outside of their nearly identical frames as both excel in the run game but have occasional hiccups in pass protection.
Dawkins was able to iron out his issues and become one of the better starting tackles in the league today. Hopefully, Ekwonu can do the same, but I still hedge that his best fit in the league is kicking inside and becoming a likely dominant presence at guard early in his NFL career. He has the traits to hold his own at tackle, but his lack of height (I personally doubt he measures in at 6’4), his regular tendency to lunge forward on his blocks, and allowing pass rushers to cross his face makes me believe his best fit would be inside a phone booth where he can battle interior defenders in close spaces which he does well.
Pittsburgh could use help both inside and outside on the offensive line, making Ekwonu a logical target should he somehow fall to #20. However, many teams also in dire need for offensive line help, and given the trend is that he gets selected in the Top 10 picks as we stand here today makes it highly unlikely that he will don the Black and Gold come fall. Still, it’s good to do homework on Ekwonu who would come in as an undersized tackle much in the mold like Kelvin Beachum when he began his career in Pittsburgh, but could end up succeeding in a run heavy, power scheme that implements some zone to get him on the move with guard being a great fallback plan.
Projection: Early Day One
Depot Draft Grade: 8.6 – Year One Quality Starter (1st Round)
Games Watched: at Florida State (2021), at Miami (2021), vs Clemson (2021)