The New York Giants had their choice of the top three tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft. With a desperate need for a right tackle opposite Andrew Thomas, the Giants needed to find a solution to the persistent problem plaguing them for years.
Big Blue found themselves in a unique situation with the fifth and seventh picks in the draft. The Giants could have had their pick at five of Evan Neal (Alabama), Charles Cross (Mississippi State), or Ikem Ekwonu (North Carolina State); however, the Giants opted to select Oregon EDGE rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux.
New York was still assured one of the big three tackles, all rumored to be liked by Giants’ brass. The Panthers choose Ekwonu at six, and the Giants decided to select Evan Neal over Charles Cross, who eventually was selected by the Seattle Seahawks at nine.
The three tackles will always be linked. Neal’s rookie season has been turbulent, with highs and lows, before he suffered an MCL injury that will hold him out of action for a few games. I watched Ekwonu’s tape against Cleveland, and it was not pretty; tough assignment against Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Charles Cross seems to have garnered the most praise out of the three.
Cross is playing well for a rookie, but he has his faults, and they are similar to issues that plagued him at Mississippi State. Here are the three rookie tackles statistics through seven weeks, per Pro Football Focus:
The foot quickness and athletic ability were never in question for Cross. After seeing the Giants’ offense on full display, it’s easy to notice why the Giants were linked to Charles Cross. In his tape against the Chargers last week, he did a good job against one of the league’s premier pass-rushing specialist, Khalil Mack:
(Charles Cross is No. 67, he plays LT)
apropos of nothing, here's five snaps of Charles Cross going one on one against Khalil Mack in pass protection.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 26, 2022
(love the swipe Cross uses in the 2nd clip) pic.twitter.com/ECFkonvagv
I will go over some of these plays later, but this tweet from Nate Tice is a good foundation to display Cross’ upside.
Pro Football Focus grades him out better as a pass-blocker, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since he played in an Air Raid system that rarely asked him to run block. His run blocking isn’t poor, though, and there’s a lot of room for growth. Let’s see what he put on tape through seven games.
Seattle runs more zone than power concepts, but they run a weak side boundary guard-tackle counter to Cross’ side off the double-Y set:
Cross pins as the backside guard and tackle pull around, and the power in the double team and climb is evident from Cross. The rookie gets hip-to-hip with his teammate, Damien Lewis (68), and displaces the 3-Technique; Cross quickly flashes his eyes to the MIKE linebacker on contact, comes off the double team, and takes Drue Tranquill (49) out of the play. The transition to Tranquill is smooth and required precise footwork to avoid the trash around his feet.
We witness the power again against Khalil Mack (52), who disrupted the release of D.K. Metcalf (14). Cross attacks and gets to Mack before the veteran can fully collect himself. Cross gets both hands on Mack and lifts him off the ground, conceding space off the edge, before staying in front and delivering another shot as D.J. Dallas (31) cuts the football upfield.
David Onyemata (93) is in a tough spot moving laterally, engaged with two blockers, but the sheer power and strength of Cross are palpable in this play. Onyemata isn’t surprised by the contact, but he gets tossed by Cross, and Lewis drives through the block to plant the defender. Very impressive on the initial part of the play from Cross, and he still climbs to locate linebacker Pete Werner (20) in space.
Cross is on the strong side of the double-Y set (expect to see a lot of tight ends against Seattle). Cross executes a great reach block on the defender. Cross gets out of his stance quickly on the outside zone pitch; he stays square to target, makes contact, gets his hips outside, and is relentless by keeping his feet moving.
Cross helps his guard with the backside double-team block on the 3-technique. I love how his eyes are up on the linebacker as he initiates contact; once that linebacker pinches inside, he drives through the 3-technique - showing power - and creating a cut-back lane that was blown up by D.J. Jones (97).
Cross crosses the face of the 2-Technique, Sebastian Joseph-Day (69). He makes contact, gets his outside shoulder to the midline while maintaining contact, and he drives his feet through the contact of the zone run on the backside scoop block. I appreciate how Cross explodes - low to high - through contact and how his hips flip to create a seal from the play side. Also, his elbows are tight, and his hands are inside.
A technique Cross used at Mississippi State - that we extensively went over in a YouTube video on Big Blue View - was used on this backside block against the Chargers. Cross allows the defender to contact his lead arm, forcing Cross’ momentum forward. That gave the defender an alley to separate behind Cross and be a backside pursuit defender; however, Cross felt the loss of leverage, so he turned his butt towards the defender and boxed him away from Kenneth Walker III (9). Not ideal technique, but effective; kudos for the adaptability to an initial struggle.
Here’s another shot of the box-out. Cross would make for a great basketball player in the post. Also, look at the blocks from the tight ends on the right side of the screen.
Issues vs. the run
It’s not just an issue with run blocking, but Cross has the propensity to grab and hold when he loses the half-man relationship. He’s beat as he gets stacked and pulled away, but he grabs the 49ers defender and pulls him to the ground.
I think the issue of grabbing will rear its ugly head against Kayvon Thibodeaux, especially in the passing attack where Cross can have a soft outside shoulder. Cross has four penalties on the year, and he is prone to using his hands in a manner that elicits yellow laundry.
Much like the play above, blocks against defenders aligned in a wide set seemed more uncomfortable for Cross, which makes a ton of sense; Cross played in an Air Raid offense where a lot of defenses ran TITE fronts, so a lot of defenders he saw in college were typically not very wide.
Cross gets beat inside as he attempts to cut the defender off. It’s not the easiest angle to block, but that run is going inside, and losing in that direction seems like a mistake.
Some mental errors are evident on film with Cross; they’re not persistent, but they seem to happen at times. In the play above, Cross steps to the play side of the counter run where the next closest defender is a 2i-Technique. Cross seems to have his eye on Malcolm Rodriguez (44). However, it’s a counter run with Dee Eskridge (1) as the lead blocker for Walker III. By stepping down in the B-Gap, Cross allows Charles Harris (53) to get right around the edge and make a tackle. There could have been a miscommunication due to Eskridge’s alignment, or maybe Cross was tasked with something else, but mishaps in pass protection that we’ll go over later made me feel like this was necessary to include.
Cross has the physical gifts and temperament to be great in pass protection. We’re seeing signs of it materializing in his young career. Look at how smooth and quick his feet are and how effortless he looks, popping out of his stance and gliding to his set point.
The contact is wide, but he just sits back on his hips and readjusts his hands to gain control against Khalil Mack. He’s patient, doesn’t panic, and he easily mirrors one of the better pass-rushers in the game.
Cross does well to time up his outside hand punch of the inside shoulder of Mack right when the pass rusher goes for a swipe. The punch by Cross halts Mack long enough for Cross to make contact with his inside arm, as Cross flips his hips and cuts Mack’s angle into the pocket. His feet move well, and he reacts to every one of Mack’s movements to disallow the pass-rusher from having any sort of impact.
Here’s a snatch and trap of Mack. Cross makes contact with Mack and uses his inside arm to break the contact as Mack leans in, forcing the pass rusher to fall forward, where Cross just falls on him to remove the threat.
Cross receives a long arm from Mack and concedes some ground, but anchors down before the pocket is compromised. Too many times in Mack’s history would he land this move and work back through the inside shoulder for a strip sack, but Cross gets both hands-on and just walks backward before bowing his back and sitting on his hips.
Here’s another example of Cross’ anchor against a pure bull rush. It’s easy to see the rusher explode into contact with force and initially jolt Cross, but the rookie tackle just absorbs the contact and sits back, halting the rush before his guard comes in for help.
A concern I have with Cross in pass protection is the soft outside shoulder, meaning he allows pass rushers too close where they can land rip moves and corner into the pocket up the pass-rushing arc. It shows up here against Myjai Sanders (41), but Cross’ recovery is very impressive. At the point of contact, Sanders’ hips are oriented into the pocket - not great for Cross. However, the rookie tackle lands his outside hand on the upper bicep of Sanders and his inside hand on the back inner deltoid - almost sandwiching the defender who attempts to use a hump move back inside that failed mightily. Sanders attempts to use power inside, and Cross gets his feet back underneath him, squares him up, and then just raises his center of gravity to negate the early win. Very impressive recovery.
Pass blocking issues
Sanders does a great job exploding off the line of scrimmage and getting hip-to-hip with Cross as he gets up the arc. Sanders uses an outside step before taking a more direct path to the half-man, which may have caught Cross off guard, allowing him to attack his outside shoulder as Sanders disengages and turns the corner. Thibodeaux can have a lot of success if he can get hip-to-hip on Cross and through the outside shoulder. This could cause some holding penalties.
One player who gave Cross a lot of issues was former New York Giant Lorenzo Carter. The current Falcons’ edge defender has a unique blend of burst, length, and power that seemed to catch Cross off-guard several times in pass protection: here are a couple examples:
As impressive as Seattle has been with two rookie tackles, something tells me Wink Martindale is excited to scheme against that type of inexperience. There are issues in Seattle’s tape with the left side of the line recognizing and passing off twists/stunts.
The backside 1-Technique loops on the end/tackle twist - that is a far distance to travel - and Cross doesn’t seem to realize the defense’s intentions until it is too late. Cross wants to pass off the penetrating Mack to his teammate, but the twist is timed well and Cross can’t take the looper, resulting in an accelerated throw.
The Chargers incorporate a linebacker on the line of scrimmage into the twist, and Cross fails to read the path of Chris Rumph III (94) as the penetrator, allowing Tranquill to win the edge and create pressure. Both of these twists were well executed by the defense, but they’re noteworthy.
This might not fully be on Cross, but the Cardinals bring pressure from their slot (something done often by Martindale); the running back steps to the edge to account for the extra rusher that Cross was distracted by at the snap. Cross allows Markus Golden (44) into the B-Gap because of that extra rusher, and possibly because he thought the guard would account for Golden, who stepped to his right and flashed his eyes on Zaven Collins (25). Cross seems uncertain about his assignment and the extra defenders on the line of scrimmage cause miscommunication and a quarterback hit - looks at Wink Martindale.
Right before the snap, Budda Baker (3) creeps toward the line of scrimmage with a wide-rusher and a defender directly in the center of the A-Gap. Golden rushes inside to set up the blitzing Baker who ends up unblocked The presence of the A-Gap defender might have forced the belief into Cross that he would have no help to the inside, but the next closet defender was in the opposite B-Gap. It’s a good pressure look by the Cardinals, and the Seahawks end up with three blocking two in eight-man protection against six initial rushers. Cross took the penetrator too far into Lewis who was in position and Baker runs free at Geno Smith.
Charles Cross has played well through the first seven games of his career, but he is still a rookie who struggled to consistently pick up a lot of moving aspects of Vance Joseph’s defense - something he should see a lot of against the Giants. I expect Martindale to twist, bring off-ball pressure, use simulated pressure, and attempt to take advantage of the two rookie tackles.
I also believe Thibodeaux can give Cross problems rushing high-side. I’m impressed with what I have seen from Cross, but there are exploitable mistakes that the Giants can take advantage of on Sunday. I expect to see more exotic pressures this week against Seattle.