The Alabama offensive line has been in a state of near-perpetual flux going on almost three years now. Repeated misses and busts in the pandemic classes, and a year of the criminally incompetent Doug Marrone, brutalized the Tide for at least two full seasons at what has been a usual bright spot for Saban teams. O Line.
Titles are won from the inside-out, and the lack of playmakers — particularly on the interior — has been noticeable in everything from absent physicality and inability to open interior holes, to miscommunication and penalties. That saw Alabama surrender the most TFL and sacks of the Saban era in 2021, and the Tide rushing to the portal to find help.
But entering 2022, there had had been one constant on the inside: the usually-steady Emil Ekiyor. Then the season arrived — and of that, we shall have much to say later.
The 6’2, 314# four-star chose Alabama over almost practically every major program in the nation, and rotated at C/G for his first season of limited action. The next two years, he settled in at guard, and would start at that position. So far, so good. Through his first two seasons, Ekiyor looked the part of a potential future NFL lineman. Perhaps never a star, and maybe not a starter, but certainly enough skill and athleticism to stick around on rotational rosters.
It was not without a hiccup, however. The book began to be written on Ekiyor: he is a foundational player of a line, but he is not quite going to be the anchor of a line. His limited size made him particularly susceptible to overpowering rushes against the NFL-tier talent on SEC defensive lines. And despite starting three seasons, Ekiyor had a propensity to surrender pressures on the QB. We need not tell you that a 330-pound cornbread-fattened sum’bitch from Hit Possum, Arkansas right in your face is bad for the passing game, and is often disastrous on interior running plays.
Then 2022 arrived, a season in which he interestingly earned All-SEC honors, but also a season that saw several new red flags emerge: particularly in miscommunication, taking plays off, and flat-out whiffing on his man.
There was one particularly disastrous series against the LSU Tigers as Alabama came out of the half nursing a scant 9-7 lead. In this miserable game (which managed to get both Pete Golding and Bill O’Brien ran out of town), Ekiyor came around on a counter and half-assed a weak block attempt on his man. It resulted in a play for no gain in the redzone. Two plays later, he would take a 5-yard penalty on third down, resulting in a much-cherished BoB 3rd and YOLO pass attempt, effectively killing the drive. Then, three series later, also in the redzone and with the Tide trailing 14-9, Ekiyor was slow getting off snaps the entire series, and surrendered back-to-back pressures on Young, both for incomplete passes. That again resulted in the Tide settling for a FG attempt.
What was most frustrating about that game is that the rest of the line was doing its job on those series, and Ekiyor’s effort stood out like a sore thumb. No. 55 was immediately identifiable as the flat-footed one, the player that — if not taking plays off — was certainly not being focused on the task at hand. It would cost Alabama a total of eight points on the board, and contribute to an embarrassing loss to a one-dimensional LSU squad. Even worse than that, it was clear from the outset of the game that Ekiyor had been targeted by the Tiger defense as the man to attack from the first snap. And it worked.
So, there may not be an official “book” on Ekiyor, but there is an unofficial one. His is a career of duality: he led the Tide in pancakes, but also led the Tide in penalties taken and pressures allowed. If this were 1977, perhaps not as big of a concern. But the modern game is a passing game, and the SEC is a conference defined by the one thing that sets it apart from every other league: defensive line.
When he is paired with a solid line, Emil is a devastating run blocker who works very well as a quiet, steady presence on an established line. But the downside to that is that he is a bit undersized for his position, and there were far too many instances of poor communication with his teammates in the passing game resulting in penalties (he was the most heavily penalized lineman the last two seasons) and blowing assignments. The difference in his productivity between 2021 and 2022 is, I think, illustrative of Emil’s core strength: When you put him with solid players, he’s a great role player. But he’s not someone you want to make the cornerstone of a bad interior.
This was not meant to be a list of negatives of Big 55.
Indeed, when Ekiyor is in the zone, he is dialed in. In 2/3rds of his starts, he did not allow a sack or hit (though pressures were still an issue owing to his size). So, he can hold his own. And he is a punishing run-blocker, leading the Tide in pancakes the last two season, and second behind only Lando in 2020. But in those 1/3rd of games where he was not having his best night, it was apparent. And the worst thing in the world for an interior lineman is to hear your name called repeatedly. That simply happened far too often the last two seasons for my taste.
Fortunately for Emil, he had a killer Combine — which we always knew he would. He’s a gifted athlete and finished 9th among all linemen in athleticism, 4th in productivity drills, and graded out as the 3rd overall best Draft-eligible guard. He’s also been a solid citizen, and is generally very healthy.
“Steady” is a good word to describe his play. But, what is “steady” worth in the modern NFL, particularly at a position of low value, and when there were some issues that emerged on tape? Fourth or fifth round would be my guess. And, for his sake, let’s hope that Emil lands on a veteran, stable offensive line. That really would be the best fit for his skill set and temperament as a player.
Where will Emil Ekiyor be drafted?
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First two rounds
Late-round selection (6th-7th)
Undrafted free agent