2022 NFL Draft Notebook: Breaking down Trevor Penning’s game

Trevor Penning. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Trevor Penning. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images) /

An FCS school that is showing they know how to produce NFL talent on the offensive line is the University of Northern Iowa. Last season, the school saw Spencer Brown get drafted in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. This season the Panthers have the top small-school prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft: Trevor Penning, who has a strong chance of being a first-round pick.

This week’s NFL Draft Notebook looks at Trevor Penning and why some scouts grade him as a first-round prospect. In addition to looking at Penning this week’s article also look at the following

  • The 2022 NFL Draft offensive tackle class
  • A look at the biggest offseason need for each AFC West team.
  • Which players have improved their stock at the NFLPA and Shrine Bowls
  • And much more

Trevor Penning Scouting Report

Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning is a player who has gone from a lightly recruited prospect out of high school to one of the top offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft. Coming out of Newman Catholic High School, Penning only received two FCS offers from Northern Iowa and South Dakota while FBS programs in-state programs Iowa and Iowa State never even talked to him. One of the reasons these schools overlooked him coming out of high school is that he was an undersized offensive tackle prospect who only weighed 260 pounds.

In his first season at UNI, Penning redshirted and focused on adding weight to his frame. He also only saw spot duty in 2018 not starting any games and seeing action in just four games. His game was taken to the next level in 2019 though when he started 15 games at left tackle for the Panthers while current Buffalo Bill, Spencer Brown, started at right tackle. Penning continued to develop in the spring of 2021 and was named All-MVFC honorable mention.

Penning entered the season as the top small-school offensive tackle in the 2022 NFL Draft and he lived up to that hype. He really impressed scouts with his play against Iowa State when he held Big 12 co-Defensive Lineman of the Year Will McDonald IV in check. He finished the season by being the only offensive lineman named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award which goes to the top offensive player in the FCS. In addition to being recognised as one of the best offensive tackles in college football, he was also being looked at as a possible first-round pick by NFL decision-makers.

When evaluating Penning several traits stand out as positives, but his biggest one by far is the mentality he plays with. He is one of the more physical offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft and always blocks to the whistle. In addition to his drive to dominate his opponent, he displays impressive strength which makes him one of the better run blockers in this year’s class.

Another positive with Penning is his imposing size coming in at 6-foot-6 and 3/4 and 330 pounds. This size helps him in run blocking with his ability to control his opponent at the point of attack. His outstanding length also helps him in pass protection since it allows him to get good extension when blocking and keeps the defender away from his body.

While Penning is one of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft he does have some things he needs to work on in order to live up to his potential. One of these is that defenders can still get the best of him in pass protection. In this area, he needs to block with better pad level. He had several occasions last season where a defender got under his pads and was able to bull-rush him. He also has the tendency to stop his feet when pass blocking which can get him off balance and will give him issues vs. speed rushers in the NFL.

Two other issues NFL teams will likely have with him is his tendency to get penalties and the fact he played at the FCS level. Last season, he was called for 16 penalties and he does have a tendency to hold. If he is to earn a starting spot in the NFL he will have to improve in this area. The other issue is that he played at the FCS level, but it should be noted he played in the top conference in the FCS and also held his own when going up against FBS opponents. If he can have a strong Senior Bowl week he will help put the concerns about him playing at a smaller school to rest.

When it comes to where Penning goes in the 2022 NFL Draft a lot will depend on his overall performance at the Senior Bowl. If he can continue to look good in drills against some of the top pass rushers his stock will continue to soar going into the NFL Combine. He should have a strong performance in Indianapolis since he was named to Bruce Feldman’s Freak List this past August. If he can ace both the Senior Bowl and NFL combine look for Penning to be a first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

2022 NFL Draft Offensive Tackle Rankings

Top prospect: Charles Cross, Mississippi State
While most NFL Draft sites have Alabama’s Evan Neal rated as the top offensive tackle in the 2022 NFL Draft, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross earns the top spot here. What stands out about Cross is his elite athletic ability which allows him to keep even the top speed rushers at bay. Another positive with him is that he plays with good technique and uses his hands extremely well. If he can improve his strength as a run blocker he should be a consistent All-Pro.

Most underrated: Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
While it may be hard to say a player who is projected to be a late second-round pick is underrated that is the case with Ohio State offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. When it is all said and done I would not be shocked if Petit-Frere was the fourth tackle taken off the board and could see him going late in the first round. What stands out about him is his combination of athletic ability, quick feet, and ideal length. One knock on him will be his game against the Michigan Wolverines but it should also be noted that he held first-round prospect George Karlaftis to zero sacks and zero hurries on the day.

Most overrated: Evan Neal, Alabama
One of the highest regarded prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft who is being overrated is Alabama offensive tackle, Evan Neal. An issue NFL teams will have with him and might project him more as an offensive guard or right tackle is his lack of balance. He tends to lung when blocking which causes him issues when it comes to staying on his blocks. On the positive, he shows excellent power and moves well for a player his size.

Biggest risk: Matt Waletzko, North Dakota
What makes Matt Waletzko a risky prospect is his combination of elite length and mobility yet only average strength. This combination will likely cause a team to overdraft him in the hopes they can develop his strength and turn him into a starting left tackle. While he does have the potential to play this position he likely will see very limited playing time if he does not get stronger and will be a big liability as a run blocker.

Player who had a breakout year: Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
This summer North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu was named a sleeper to watch in the 2022 NFL Draft, well people finally woke up and took notice of him this season. The trait that has scouts drooling over him is his strong run blocking. As a run blocker, he shows outstanding power and routinely dominates his opponent in this area. He has also improved his pass blocking significantly which is why he now projects as a top-ten pick.

2022 NFL Draft Offensive Tackle Overall Rankings

1. Charles Cross, Mississippi State (first round)

2. Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State (first round)

3. Evan Neal, Alabama (first round)

4. Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State (first round)

5. Trevor Penning, UNI (second round)

6. Daniel Faalele, Minnesota (second round)

7. Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan (second round)

8. Max Mitchell, Louisiana (fourth round)

9. Bamidele Olaseni, Utah (fourth round)

10. Braxton Jones, Southern Utah (fourth round)

11. Rasheed Walker, Penn State (fifth round)

12. Abraham Lucas, Washington State (fifth round)

13. Matt Waletzko, North Dakota (fifth round)

14. Kellen Diesch, Arizona State (fifth round)

15. Austin Deculus, LSU (sixth round)

16. Obinna Eze, TCU (sixth round)

17. John Ojukwu, Boise State (seventh round)

18. Andrew Stueber, Michigan (seventh round)

19. Dare Rosenthal, Kentucky (free agent)

20. Nick Zakelj, Fordham (free agent)

21. Jordan Tucker, North Carolina (free agent)

22. Jack Snyder, San Jose State (free agent)

2022 NFL Draft Top Needs For AFC West Teams

A look at the biggest offseason need for each AFC West team.

Denver Broncos
There is no doubt about what the most pressing need for the Denver Broncos is this offseason and that is finding a quarterback. Neither Teddy Bridgewater nor Drew Lock is the answer at the quarterback position and it would not be a shock if both of these players are gone by next season. Denver could address this need in the 2022 NFL Draft by taking a prospect like Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral. They could also swing for the fences and trade for someone like Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Russell Wilson.

Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs biggest need this offseason will come down to who they resign after the season. The team could have two big voids on their roster if they are not able to resign defensive end Melvin Ingram and safety Tyrann Mathieu. If both of these players return to the Chiefs next year the team will still want to address the defensive end position with a draft pick or two since Ingram will be 33 next season.

Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders suffered a major blow when the team release Henry Ruggs III who was starting to look like a number one wide receiver. This left the team with Zay Jones and Bryan Edwards as its starting receivers and neither one of these players has been consistent enough to be a go-to receiver. Look for the Raiders to try and add either a number one receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft or in free agency.

Los Angeles Chargers
At his end of the year, press conference Charger coach Brandon Staley mentioned how bolstering the defensive front would be a top priority and after looking at how this unit performed last year it is easy to see why. Last season, the Chargers finished 30th in NFL when it came to stopping the run allowing 138.9 yards per game and gave up 4.6 yards per rush. If the Chargers want to make the playoffs next year they will have to be able to stop the run in 2022.

Scouting Notes

— An offensive tackle who is seeing his stock rise is Utah offensive tackle Bamidele Olaseni. The main reason he is seeing his name move up the draft board has been his outstanding play at the Shrine Bowl. He displayed outstanding feet for a lineman who came in at 6-foot-7 and 348 pounds. It also didn’t hurt that he measured in with an 88 3/8 inch wingspan which offensive line coaches will love. When it is all said and done it would not be a shock if Olaseni heard his name called late on day two of the 2022 NFL Draft.

— While Olaseni measurables will help him come draft time the same can not be said for Miami quarterback D’Eriq King. King came in at only 5-foot-8 which would make him one of the smallest quarterbacks in NFL history. His lack of size and only average accuracy could mean he will have to switch to receiver to make it in the NFL.

— A player who turned heads at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is Ole Miss defensive end, Sam Williams. This should not come as a surprise though after his strong 2021 season. He finished the season with 12.5 sacks which is an Ole Miss record and also was able to account for 16 tackles for loss. The big concern with Williams is his off the field behavior including his arrest for sexual battery in 2020. If a team feels comfortable with his character look for them to take him early on day three of the 2022 NFL Draft.

—Miami of Ohio defensive end Dominique Robinson is an interesting player to watch at the Senior Bowl. Despite never starting a game and only recording 6.5 sacks during his career he is a player who shows a high upside. Part of the reason his sack total is so low is that he spent his first three years playing wide receiver for the RedHawks before switching to defensive end prior to the 2020 season. This lack of experience is one of the reasons he is still a very raw prospect that still needs to add strength in order to hold up vs. the run. On the positive side though he is an athletic pass rusher who shows a good burst off the ball. If he has a strong week in Mobile he easily could be a high day three draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

— Look for the Atlanta Falcons to spend a lot of time looking at pass rushers at the Senior Bowl. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has already stressed how important it is for the team to find some pass rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft, and after seeing how poorly the Falcons got to the opposing quarterback last year it is easy to see why this is a need that must be addressed. In 2021, Atlanta finished dead last in sacks with just 17 and allowed quarterbacks to complete 68% of their passes. One defender that could interest the Falcons early on day three who is playing in the Senior Bowl is Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe.

Quote of the Week

“Unfortunately, they’re (quarterbacks) not falling off trees. We’re looking and we will look. We’ll cast a wide net there too like we do at every other position. There is an urgency to get the right guy, the right quarterback, but you just can’t force it.”

-Denver General Manager George Paton, per Broncos TV, on the team’s search for a quarterback this offseason