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Carolina Panthers

Charles Cross, Trevor Penning highlight deep tackle class

Charles Cross

INDIANAPOLIS — The good news is, there are two premiere left tackles at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft in Ickey Ekwonu and Evan Neal. The bad news is, they might not last past the top five picks.

But the Panthers, picking sixth, still have a deep crop of tackles to choose from, and could find the answer they've been looking for at the position whether they stay put or move back.

Charles Cross of Mississippi State fits comfortably in that top group with Ekwonu and Neal, and has the kind of pass-blocking ability that makes him a potential difference-maker from the first day.

He measured in at 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, with 34 1/2-inch arms this week. He also underscored his athletic credentials by running a 4.93-second 40-yard dash Friday. That's why Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said this week that Cross "looks like a power forward out there in pass protection."

If there's a question about Cross, it's about how ready to run-block at the NFL he is after finishing his college career in an Air Raid system in which running the ball is an afterthought.

"Go watch the film," Cross said this week when asked about those who question his ability. "I'll say to them go watch the film. you'll see."

Former Panthers offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, now working as an analyst who appears on SiriusXM, was impressed when he watched that film of the Bulldogs blocker.

"His ability to pass-protect is special," Schwartz said. "I understand the questions about the system he played in, but his film is great, and he's a freak athlete. And in addition to that, his arms are so long, and you can see the power he generates from his hips. He flashes so much ability."

Trevor Penning

Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning's also a phenomenal athlete, as the 6-foot-7, 325-pounder ran a 4.91 40 on Friday.

He also has a mean streak, and there's plenty of evidence of it on film. At the Senior Bowl, he was routinely getting in scraps with defenders after putting them on the ground, a reputation that sits well with evaluators.

"Off the field, I'm just trying to be a nice guy, no reason to be angry," Penning said this week. "On the field, I think it's just a switch you got to have to have to play football, especially the offensive line. Just playing very nasty is just how I believe O-line is meant to be played.

"You want that guy across from you to hate to go against you. You want to like see the fear in his eyes almost."

Penning is clearly leaning into his reputation. Asked this week for three words to describe his style, he replied: "Physical, nasty, prick."

Schwartz laughed when asked about that, noting that smaller school players often have to be a little over the top in some way to separate themselves.

"He's clearly a mean S.O.B.," Schwartz said. "A guy like Evan Neal played against guys in the SEC every week, this guy's best opponent was Iowa State. You have to set the tone with your style. But his tape is very good. He'll probably take more coaching, but that doesn't mean he can't play in the NFL."

There are several other prospects deeper in the draft who could make an impact here, and the Panthers are investigating all their options. While they could stay put at six and possibly have Ekwonu or Neal or Cross fall into their laps, they've considered moving back in the draft to add picks. If that's the move, there's a deep class to chose from, to address what they've already identified as a priority.

View photos of offensive line prospects going through drills at the 2022 NFL Combine.

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