Multi-talented Ikem Ekwonu would love to tackle playing in New York
INDIANAPOLIS — Ikem Ekwonu is built for Broadway, built for Wall Street and built to play offensive line in New York.
The Jets and Giants own the fourth and fifth picks, respectively, in next month’s NFL Draft. Both want to upgrade their offensive line, but North Carolina State’s Ekwonu, a big tackle with an even bigger personality, might not be on the board for either team.
"I wouldn’t be shocked if I went No. 1 overall," Ekwonu said Thursday at the NFL Combine. "I feel like when that time comes, I’d deserve it."
Some mock drafts have 6-7, 336-pound Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal going first to Jacksonville. Ekwonu, listed at 6-4 and 325 pounds, could end up being the top pick and might not get past Houston at three.
If he does, the Jets could have a tough decision at four.
They need to address the NFL’s worst-ranked defense last season. Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton are possible targets at four, but if he’s still available, Ekwonu would have to be in the discussion.
Ekwonu has the versatility to play left tackle and guard. He believes left tackle is his best position, though, and that he can dominate there.
Mekhi Becton and George Fant are expected to compete for the Jets’ starting left tackle job. Ekwonu said he would have no problem playing guard in the NFL, which he did in 2020.
"I’ve always been a team player," he said. "I’ve never been shy to bump inside and do the best thing for the team. But if you ask me personally, I definitely see myself as a left tackle. I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of my potential at left tackle."
Ekwonu is known for his pancake blocks and is strong in the running game but says he needs to improve his pass protection. He said he’s letting coaches and general managers know during interviews that he is working on that.
Ekwonu, who met with the Giants on Thursday, also wants to sit down with the Jets. He would love to play for either team.
"That would be great," he said. "I got family in New York and New Jersey. It’d be nice being able to spend some time with them and be close to them.
It’s definitely a good environment for me. I feel like I’ll fit right in."
He would, and not just because of football. Ekwonu is a bit of a Renaissance man.
A business administration major, he uses that knowledge to more than dabble in the stock market. He has a musical theater background and is always singing or humming.
While in grade school, Ekwonu had small parts in the musicals "The Jungle Book" and "The Aristocats." Then he scored one of the lead roles in "101 Dalmatians" as a fifth-grader. He played Pongo, the father of all the dogs. He said "it meant a lot" to have that part after the smaller roles.
"Throughout the whole musical I’m looking for dogs, looking for my babies," Ekwonu said. "That was definitely fun for me."
Ekwonu also was in chorus in high school but had to give it up because of sports.
His family also is very diverse and accomplished.
His father played college basketball and is now a doctor. His mother ran track and became an accountant. His older sister is in medical school. His older brother is an animator who has worked on Netflix shows. His twin brother also is a business major and plays football at Notre Dame.
Ekwonu said everything he’s been exposed to has helped his relationship-building skills. He said it’s made him "friendlier and more empathetic to other people." On the field, though, he is much different.
"I love offensive line, being able to impose my will when I want on defenders," he said. "That’s something I take a lot of pride in. I have a lot of fun with this game. I have a lot of fun dominating people. That’s one of the best parts about the job."