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2022 NFL Scouting Combine

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NFL Combine Notebook (3/3): Get to know OL class

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Joe Schoen can count the number of healthy Giants offensive linemen on one hand. On top of that, all four players who started at least 14 games for the team in 2021 – Will Hernandez, Nate Solder, Billy Price and Matt Skura – are set to become unrestricted free agents on March 16.

Needless to say, the incoming general manager will know this year's class of linemen inside and out by the time he leaves Indianapolis.

"There's several holes that we need to fill through any avenue we can – free agency, trades, draft, college free agency," Schoen said Tuesday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "You've got to remember there's two classes of basically the draft. A lot of kids went back to school last year with the COVID year (players who opted out were granted an extra year of eligibility), so maybe there's a surplus of college free agents that can make your team. We're going to look at every avenue that we can to upgrade the roster, and offensive line is included in that."

During his five seasons as Brandon Beane's right-hand man in Buffalo, the Bills never used a first-round selection on an offensive linemen. They found players on all three days of the draft and some beyond then, whether it was via trade or signing an undrafted free agent.

But that won't preclude him from taking one with the fifth or seventh overall picks – or both – now that he holds the reigns with the Giants.

"It's a unique position," Schoen said of evaluating offensive linemen coming out of the draft. "I think some of it's the make-up of the guys. If you talk about a unit in terms of five offensive linemen, they've got to be working together and in sync. I look at the type of guys, we talk about smart, tough and dependable. We've talked about that in our press conferences. I think you start there and then you move to the talent aspect. Do they have athleticism? Do they have strength? Do they have power? What type of run scheme are we going to be in? What are we going to ask them to do? I think it's an intangible position just as well as a physical position."

View photos from the Giants' suite in Indianapolis, where the team is gathered to evaluate the top draft prospects.

After all, the 2022 class might be too good to pass up.

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network's lead draft analyst, has 10 offensive linemen in his top 50 overall prospect rankings. The list begins with tackles Ickey Ekwonu (No. 2) and Evan Neal (No. 5) from N.C. State and Alabama, respectively. They were among the top O-line prospects who met with the media on Thursday at the combine.

Here's what you need to know:

OT Ickey Ekwonu, N.C. State (No. 2 overall prospect in Jeremiah's top 50)

Height: 6-4 | Weight: 320 lbs.

Ekwonu is a common name tied to the Giants in mock drafts, but time will tell if he makes it to the fifth selection. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has him going first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Ekwonu wouldn't be shocked if that happens.

"If you ask anyone back at State, they're going to tell you I have the most fun on the field," he said. "I love this game so much. I love the offensive line, being able to impose my will when I want on defenders, and that's something I take a lot of pride in. Every time I go on that field, it really feels like I'm a kid again and playing flag football. I have a lot of fun with this game. I have a lot of fun dominating people. That's one of the best parts about the job."

He is also one of the most intriguing players off the field. His father, T.J., is a doctor who played college basketball before coming to the U.S. from Nigeria. His name (Ikemefuna) is translated to "my effort will not be in vain." A former coach nicknamed him "Ickey" because he looked like former Cincinnati Bengals RB Ickey Woods. He also received scholarship offers from Harvard and Yale.

OT Evan Neal, Alabama (No. 5)

Height: 6-7 | Weight: 336 lbs.

The 2021 consensus first-team All-American started 40 games over three years at three positions: 13 at left guard in 2019, 12 at right tackle in 2020, and 15 at left tackle in 2021.

But the only number that people gasped over in Indianapolis was 336.

That was his weight when he checked into the combine, forcing many to do a double take as it looked slim on his 6-foot-7 frame.

"I've always just been a big guy," said Neal, who was listed at 350 pounds at Alabama. "I never looked at myself as having a weight problem. I felt comfortable playing at all of those weights, but I definitely feel more comfortable at the weight I'm at now."

Neal said he will not participate in drills this week after coming off a "long season" in which the Crimson Tide returned to the national championship game.

His favorite player is Hall of Famer Larry Allen, who started 20 games at left tackle, 121 at left guard, 45 at right guard, and 11 at right tackle throughout his career. It's that versatility that Neal hopes will set him apart, too.

"You can pretty much plug me in any place other than center," he said.

C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (No. 22)

Height: 6-3 | Weight: 290 lbs.

Linderbaum racked up the awards in his final season at Iowa, including the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's premier center in college football. He started 34 consecutive games at center for the Hawkeyes after playing as a defensive lineman as a true freshman.

Linderbaum, who said he has met with the Giants among other teams, left Iowa's bowl game on New Year's Day with what he said was a mid-foot sprain.

"I'm feeling really good," he said. "It's all healthy now. I just haven't done enough training on it to compete here at the combine and I'm shooting for a pro day competition."

OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa (No. 23)

Height: 6-7 | Weight: 330 lbs. | Arms: 34 ¾" | Hands: 10 ¼"

Penning caught people's attention last month at the Senior Bowl, where former Northern Iowa teammate and current Giants outside linebacker Elerson Smith did the same thing a year ago. Penning said he was the toughest player he ever faced, including opponents.

"Just the balance of power and athleticism and length and everything he's got, he's a freak," Penning said of the Giants' fourth-round draft choice. "He's a freak. He definitely made me better. Iron sharpens iron, so going against him every day it really helped my game for sure."

Drills underway in Indy

Wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks kicked off the first day of workouts at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. Before they hit the field, the first group showed their strength in the bench press. Here are the top five:

TE Jelani Woods (Virginia) – 24 reps

TE Teagan Quitoriano (Oregon State) – 22 reps

TE Daniel Bellinger (San Diego State) - 22 reps

TE Grant Calcaterra (SMU) – 20 reps

WR Isaiah Weston (Northern Iowa) – 20 reps

View photos from the NFL Combine as the OL and RB speak to the media while workouts begin in Indianapolis.

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