One of the more tricky aspects of preparing for the NFL Draft is projecting some prospects into the pros.
There are some players, and schools, where projection is relatively simple. They’re experienced in Pro Style concepts and the traits are pro-ready. But there are other players that involve more artistry than science, players where the projection isn’t as clear and questions need to be answered.
Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross is one such player. He boasts many of the traits that get executives excited: He’s a fluid mover with long arms who rarely gave up pressure in the SEC.
However, there’s also quite a bit of projection involved in Cross’ evaluation. For example, he only has 20 starts to his name, and many of those were in an offense which has little in common with how football is played in the NFL.
Cross has been widely linked to the New York Giants at the top of the first round. Could Cross be the answer to the Giants’ questions at right tackle?
Prospect: Charles Cross (67)
Games Watched: vs. Georgia (2020), vs. LSU (2021), vs. Texas A&M (2021), vs. Alabama (2021)
Career Games Played: 25
2021 Games Played: 12
Best: Athleticism, arm length, foot speed, lower-body fluidity
Worst: Run blocking, hand usage/technique, experience
Projection: A starting NFL tackle with “boom/bust” potential.
Mississippi State’s Charles Cross is an athletic and fluid offensive tackle prospect.
Cross sports a (relatively) lean and athletic frame at 6-foot 4 ¾ inches, 307 pounds. While he’s slightly undersized for the position, Cross compensates with long 34 ½ inch arms and big 10 ¾ inch hands. His long arms and slightly short frame give Cross good length for the position while maintaining natural leverage. Likewise, his hands are powerful enough to maintain control of defenders when he wins inside leverage.
Cross lined up exclusively at left tackle for Mississippi State’s offense. He has a fluid lower body with good short-area quickness and very good agility for the position. Cross has enough athleticism to mirror speed rushers off the edge, as well as recover against sudden inside moves. Mississippi State’s offense heavily featured screen passes, and Cross was easily able to climb to the second level. He has enough agility and quickness to get into position ahead of the ball carrier and make accurate blocks in space.
He also has a flexible lower body and is a natural knee bender. Cross is able to sit into his stance and maintain good hip and pad level throughout the play. That leverage, and his foot quickness, allows Cross to dissipate power rushes through a series of choppy steps.
But while Cross’ quick feet and good leverage allow him to blunt bull rushes, he has to give up ground to do so. He lacks the kind of play strength and anchor to hold up against powerful defensive linemen without being walked into the backfield.
Cross also needs to improve his hand usage and placement. He rarely wins inside leverage on defenders, and often winds up with his hands outside their framework. Cross has a habit of taking fistfulls of jersey to control defenders when he doesn’t have inside leverage, which could draw holding penalties at the NFL level. He also has a habit of lowering his head and lunging into defenders when they transition to counter moves.
Overall Grade: 7.7
Mississippi State’s Charles Cross has many of the athletic traits necessary to become a starting tackle at the NFL level.
He has enough size, good length, and great movement skills. Cross is a fluid, easy mover with enough play strength to at least blunt power rushes, and the athleticism to match up with most speed rushers.
All of that makes it easy to fall in love with the player Cross could become. However, he’s a relatively inexperienced tackle and he has some definite warts to his game.
Some of them can be improved over time. Cross’ suspect anchor should be improved with time in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Cross will need coaching in NFL blocking schemes and technique, as Mississippi State’s offense has little in common with the NFL game. It remains to be seen how Cross will fare in a scheme that uses (many) more 3-5 step drops and doesn’t rely heavily on “catch and throw” bubble screens to get the ball out before even unblocked pressure has the chance to threaten the quarterback.
Likewise, Cross will also need work on his technique and hand usage. His tendency to place his hands outside defenders’ framework – often taking fistfulls of their jersey or grabbing their shoulders to control them without inside leverage – could make him a magnet for holding penalties at the NFL level.
Charles Cross has the tools and potential to be a good offensive tackle in the NFL, but teams will need to understand who he is now and have a clear plan for his development. Cross has tremendous upside, but real concerns as well.