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PFF lists Knight, Ekwonu top five in 2022 NFL Draft position rankings

Two NC State players were included in Pro Football Focus's (PFF) 2022 NFL Draft offensive positional rankings: sophomore running back Zonovan "Bam" Knight and sophomore offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu.

Knight came in at No. 4 among running backs, and Ekwonu was ranked fifth among draft-eligible offensive linemen.

The duo each earned the two highest offensive grades from PFF last year and were the only two on the Wolfpack offense to earn season grades of 80 or higher.

NC State Wolfpack football Zonovan Knight and Ikem Ekwonu
NC State running back Zonovan Knight (right) and offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (left) each earned top five positional rankings for the 2022 NFL Draft class by PFF. (ACC media)

Knight has led the Wolfpack in rushing yards, all-purpose yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns in each of his first two seasons in Raleigh.

"Knight has a solid returning offensive line and flashed on film in 2020, so I expect big things from him this season," NFL Draft Analyst Michael Renner of PFF said. "While he’s still learning how to run with consistent pad level and correctly pace his runs, he has flashes of brilliance all over his tape. The explosiveness he runs with for a 5-foot-11, 206-pound back is tremendous.

"It’s why he had one of the best forced missed tackle rates in the country last year, with 48 broken tackles on 143 attempts. Now we just want to see it on a bigger workload after he got only 137 carries as a freshman and 143 carries as a sophomore."

Ekwonu received the highest PFF offensive grade among NC State linemen last season and recorded the second-highest run-blocking grade in the ACC. Only Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, who was selected No. 23 overall in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, earned a higher run-blocking grade in 2020.

The 6-4, 325-pounder has led the Wolfpack in pancake blocks in each of his first two collegiate seasons, including 37 in 2019 and 50 last fall.

"Even though he got kicked out to tackle midway through 2020, Ekwonu profiles best as a guard at the next level," Renner said. "What he’s capable of in the running game is unlike anything you typically see from a true sophomore. At 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, Ekwonu simply doesn’t go backward. In two years as a starter, he’s earned run-blocking grades of 85.0 as a freshman and 91.2 as a sophomore.

"However, he’s still a massive work in progress in pass protection, as he allowed seven sacks and 25 total pressures in 2020. Some of that is obviously due to him kicking out to tackle, but he still allowed eight pressures in four games at guard."

Ekwonu was also named a preseason third-team All-American in Phil Steele's 2021 College Football Preview magazine.

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