It’s no secret, particularly to UNC fans, that the Tar Heels had one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the country last year, as Sam Howell took sack after sack en route to an underwhelming season. It was a slight surprise, then, that three members of that offensive line declared for the NFL Draft despite a year or two of remaining eligibility — Jordan Tucker, Marcus McKethan, and Joshua Ezeudu. And while Tucker almost certainly won’t be drafted and McKethan is a question mark, Ezeudu was the clear best player on a bad line (and the clear best player on an average line in 2020) and should be drafted either today or tomorrow. Let’s get into what makes him an attractive prospect:
Above is a slideshow showing Ezeudu’s Combine testing via Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS) and Mockdraftable’s Spider Chart. I’ll get into the numbers as needed below, but all of the highlighted scores in the RAS card are comparative scores out of 10 comparing Ezeudu to the database of previous NFL guards. Red is well below average, yellow is average-above average, and green is great-elite.
- Athleticism: Ezeudu can flat-out move. He fires out of his stance at the snap and quickly engages defensive linemen whether he’s pass protecting or run blocking, but his movement skills are most evident when he’s used as a puller or lead blocker, where he is nearly always able to get to the spot first and clear a lane for his running back. He’s an easy mover at the second level and doesn’t struggle to make contact against smaller players, making him ideal for zone-based run schemes; he is also consistently able to anchor on reach blocks when the play is supposed to go away from him. When pass protecting, he rarely lunges because his feet get him where he needs to go, and he changes directions adeptly once he’s won a one-on-one and is looking for work.
- Versatility: Ezeudu exclusively played tackle in high school before moving to guard as a freshman at UNC out of necessity, but throughout his UNC career, that background made him incredibly valuable for the Tar Heels. Over his four years, he logged reps at every offensive line position but center, often covering for injured teammates and giving his coaches the ability to play their best backups regardless of position. His base position was left guard, but he played over a third of his snaps last year at left tackle due to the struggles of starter Asim Richards, and held up more than respectably. Even at right tackle, playing opposite side and a different position from his default, he often put up reps like this:
Backside of GH Counter teach tape by UNC right tackle Joshua Ezeudu— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 13, 2021
▪️Protect run-through/stunt in inside gap first
▪️Get hip-to-hip with the Center to seal gap
▪️Funnel backside pursuit to the outside pic.twitter.com/K9l4oHOdJZ
- Intangibles: Ezeudu plays nasty. He will pancake a defender he’s already pushed to the ground just to make a point, or maintain a block on the backside well after he’s no longer involved in the play just to make sure the defense feels him. But he’s not stupid about it, either; far from it. He looks for work after winning in pass protection and always knows which defender he should look to engage at the second level once he’s gotten in space. Off the field, he was voted a team captain despite being the second-youngest member of the Heels’ offensive line, a testament to his teammates’ estimation of him as a leader, and he was a member of the ACC’s 2021 All-Academic Team. He’s also only been playing football since he was in high school, and didn’t play guard until college, and yet was burdened with more responsibility than anybody else on the line — he’ll have no problem absorbing whatever playbook he’s given.
- Power: Ezeudu plays with pretty good functional strength, but he doesn’t overwhelm you off the snap or with his punch — he’s more of an engage blocker than a road grader, and his 20 bench press reps don’t inspire a ton of confidence that this will change much. He has great arm length to play guard and strong hands/grip strength, so he doesn’t get beaten a ton this way, but you’d like to see him use his hips a little more once engaged to get some drive in his straight-up matches and blow more defenders off the ball rather than winning with stalemates — a stalemate is a good play, but that’s more tackle wisdom than at guard. This also puts him at a disadvantage when he does get beaten, as he doesn’t really have the strength to recover effectively, which often leads to penalties — he was penalized 7 times last year, and most of them were of this variety.
- Consistent Technique: Ezeudu came in uncommonly polished for a guy who came to football late and hadn’t been coached until college, but he wasn’t perfect, either, and subpar offensive line coaching at UNC meant that he never really refined his technique past what he came in with. Technique shows up in 3 primary spots for an offensive lineman — hands, feet, and hips. Ezeudu’s almost always got good feet, but his hands are inconsistent and his hips are pretty underdeveloped. With his hands, he gets away with a lot because his punch is heavy and his grip is strong, even if he doesn’t always get his hands to the right spots low and inside, but that won’t fly nearly as often in the NFL. As far as his hips, while you can tell that he has lower-body fluidity because of how he changes directions and blocks on the move, he doesn’t really use them as he should to sustain blocks; he relies more on grip strength to maintain blocks than he should with his athleticism and arm length, which he could use to reposition and roll his hips to re-engage, getting defenders off-balance and leading to more advantageous situations and outright wins. He’ll have to learn to rely less on grip strength as a pro, because that could lead to a lot of penalties against the caliber of defensive lineman he’ll be facing.
I think Ezeudu’s been extraordinarily underrated in this draft process, to be frank. Maybe it’s because he was on a bad line, or maybe it’s because UNC doesn’t have a super-strong lineage of draftable offensive linemen lately, or maybe it’s something else, or maybe I’m just wrong here — I have approximately zero qualifications as an evaluator. But an offensive lineman with Ezeudu’s positional versatility and athletic traits, who’s also picked up the position as quickly as he has, feels to me like an easy Day 2 pick who could start in the NFL his rookie year and be at least pretty good. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll easily clean up his technique with some legit coaching; his ability to pick up the nuances of playing tackle and guard on either side are evidence of how well he’ll take instruction. I wouldn’t be stunned if he ends up having the best NFL career of any of UNC’s draftees this year, honestly. I don’t think he’s a franchise-changer or anything like that, but he was an underrated reason for a lot of UNC’s offensive success the past two years, covering up for a lot of deficiencies on either side of him, and it’s tough for me to see him not succeeding and doing the same at the next level.