Between now and the draft we will be adding as many new profiles as possible. Also note that while the players are listed in rough order of their grades, this is NOT meant as a ranking per se.
2022 Prospect Profiles
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh, 6-3, 217, 4.73, SR+ … Fifth-year super senior was the very definition of a journeyman college QB during his first three years as a starter, but then very much like Joe Burrow a couple of years back, put together a remarkable final year. Indeed, during those first three years, Pickett never completed more than 62% of his passes or had more than 13 TD passes, however, had a 67% completion rate in 2021 while throwing for 42 scores against just 7 picks as he made several All-America teams, was a Heisman finalist and led Pitt to an 11-2 record and their first ACC championship. Has decent size at 6-3, 217 with the lower-body strength to absorb hits in the pocket as well as break tackles in space. However, he also has short arms and very small hands for an NFL QB; indeed, his hand is only 8.5 inches which would be the smallest of any starting QB in the NFL. As well, as a 5th year guy, he’ll also already be 24 by the time he gets to his first NFL game. Has decent arm talent with the arm strength to make all the throws, although he doesn’t necessarily have a cannon and needs to be able to step into deeper throws. Also throws a nice catchable ball with good accuracy, although he doesn’t always put it on the numbers. He possesses all the leadership intangibles teams look for in a franchise QB including smarts, toughness and work ethic. Good enough athlete to be able to escape trouble in the pocket and extend plays with his legs, although probably not a good enough athlete to design run plays for. However, he does still keep his eyes focused downfield when he is on the move and throws well on the run. Has improved his pocket awareness over the years but isn’t all that patient back there and has a tendency to take off if his primary target isn’t open; Could also improve his pre-snap recognition skills in reading defenses and anticipating blitzes. And while he does have a bit of a gunslinger mentality, generally takes good care of the football. Bottom line: Certainly figures to be one of the first 2-3 QBs off the board this spring, but is still a tough kid to grade as there is a lot to like in his game, but there also a number of question in addition to the small hands and age thing. He’s got tools including decent arm strength and athleticism, but neither is necessarily elite. Then there’s the question of whether 2021 was the real deal for Pickett or whether he’s a one-year wonder.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty, 6-0.5, 219, 4.45, SR … Very athletic fifth-year senior. Willis actually began his college career at Auburn, but transferred to Liberty after two years when he failed to win the starting job with the Tigers. He’s a powerful runner who had almost over 900 yards and 13 TDs on the ground this past season and can be a weapon either on designed runs or escaping trouble in the pocket. He’s a solidly built 219-pounder with close to track speed who can break tackles, although he’s not particularly shifty in the open field. Also has what may be the strongest arm in this year’s draft class and can drive the ball into tight spaces. For the most part, though, he is very unpolished as a passer. For starters, he isn’t all that accurate; this year, for example, he completed just 61% of his passes overall, and just 55% against FBS opponents; he also threw 12 interceptions. He doesn’t see the field real well and has limited route anticipation skills and usually just waits for his receivers to come open before releasing the ball. His timing and decision-making in the pocket also tend to be hit-and-miss and he turns the ball over too often. Off the field he is a very quiet, humble kid with great character. Bottom line: This is an athletic player with some intriguing upside as an impactful RPO style passer, but right now he looks to be a better athlete than passer who needs a lot of work on his pocket skills.
Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi, 6-1.5, 212, 4.65, JR … Exciting fourth-year junior led the Rebels to a 10-win season and a spot in the Sugar Bowl and by all rights should have at least been a Heisman finalist. For the year, Corral completed 68% of his pass attempts for over 3,300 yards and 20 TDs versus just 4 interceptions while running for another 600 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. Not all that big at barely 6-2, 212, but is as tough and competitive as they come. He’s also very quick and shifty with the ball in his hands, but will have to learn to slide at the next level. In fact, he’s primarily a RPO QB who makes very quick decisions in that read and go offense. Sees the field well and has a quick-twitch release even when he’s on the move and doesn’t lose much velocity when throwing from odd angles. Very accurate passer in short and intermediate areas where he consistently puts the ball on the numbers and allows his receivers to make the catch without having to break stride. Also has enough arm strength to get the ball into tight spaces as well as downfield, but lacks elite velocity and tends to lose accuracy the farther the throw. In fact, he’s somewhat limited as a pocket passer and probably needs to go to a scheme-friendly team. As a shorter player, he doesn’t always see the field all that well from the pocket and just isn’t very experienced going through progressions. He also needs to improve his route anticipation and ability to read defenses. Bottom line: Will need to go to the right team, but a very talented RPO QB who makes quick decisions, is a crafty runner and has enough arm talent to make all the throws.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati, 6-3.5, 211, 4.52, SR … Experienced, athletic dual-threat QB led Cincinnati to an undefeated season as the Bearcats became the first ever non-Power 5 conference team to qualify for the national championship playoffs. Fifth-year senior with a 44-5 career won-lost record is the only FBS QB with over 10,000 career passing yards and 2,000 yards on the ground. Has a somewhat lean frame and isn’t going to be able to take many hits at the next level and is more quick than fast, but is a heady runner on both designed runs and while avoiding trouble in the pocket. Also throws reasonably well on the run. Certainly has the arm strength to make all the throws at the next level, but in the past his accuracy has been inconsistent; last year, for example, he completed just 65% of his passes which is good but hardly elite in this day and age. In particular, his ball placement just isn’t all that precise and he has been known to have more than his share of wild streaks, especially early in games. His decision-making in the pocket can also be inconsistent as he’ll hold the ball too long on one play and then take off too early on the next. Also needs to work on his route anticipation. Bottom line: Checks off as many boxes as any QB in this year’s draft, but he’s not necessarily elite in any particular area. There are also issues with his accuracy and decision-making in the pocket which will have to be cleaned up.
Carson Strong, QB, Nevada, 6-3.5, 226, 5.15, JR … Two-time Mountain West Player of the Year is a fourth-year junior with arguably the best overall arm talent in the 2022 draft. Prototype pocket passer with good size and more than enough arm strength to make all the throws at the next level. Stands tall in the pocket, sees the field well and has a nice compact delivery. Also has textbook mechanics and is a very accurate passer, especially on underneath and intermediate routes. Indeed, completed 70% of his pass attempts in both 2020 and 2021; also threw for 4,200 yards and 36 TDs against 8 picks this past season. Makes good pre-snap reads, anticipates routes well and does a nice job going thru progressions when he has a clean pocket. Clean pocket, though, is the operative word as Strong just isn’t very mobile and will force throws when the pocket starts to break down around him. He also tends to get sacked a lot – 36 times in 2021 – which can lead to turnovers. He’s also never going to be a factor in the run game. And his mobility is impacted, perhaps significantly, by a knee injury that ended his senior year in high school prematurely and has been an on-again-off-again issue since. Bottom line: Pocket passer with first-round arm talent, but limited by an overall lack of mobility and a lingering knee injury that remains a major red flag.
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina, 6-0.5, 218, 4.85, JR … No one will fault NFL scouts if they plead ‘Will the real Sam Howell please stand up!’ Indeed, at the start of the season, Howell, a third-year junior, was being talked about as a legitimate candidate to be the #1 pick overall at the 2022 draft after a breakout campaign the year before in which he completed 68% of his passes for 3,600 yards and 30 TDs against only 7 picks. However, nobody’s talking that way these days as Howell struggled thru an inconsistent year this past fall when his completion dropped off to under 63% as he threw for just over 3,000 yards and 24 scores with 9 picks. Part of the problem was that Howell was working with a new supporting cast this season, but some very clear flaws in his game were exposed. On the one hand, he seemed to have something of a hitch in his delivery; he also didn’t appear to be making consistently good pre-snap reads, wasn’t seeing the whole field and too often locked onto his primary target and ended up forcing throws into coverage, all of which contributed to a decline in accuracy. At the same time, though, there is still a lot to like in Howell’s game. He can spin the ball and drive it into tight spaces; he’s a tough, competitive player who added a run element to his portfolio this year. Indeed, after running for less than 200 yards in his first two years combined, he ran for over 800 yards and 11 scores this fall as he turned around more than one game with his legs. As good as that sounds, though, Howell just isn’t athletic enough to win games like that at the next level. Bottom line: Arguably the biggest wild card in this year’s QB class, Howell has all the tools to be the first guy at the position selected this coming April; however, after a breakout year in 2020, he just didn’t play that way this past season leaving pro scouts with a quandary.
Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M, 6-0.5, 217, 4.55, JR … Third-year junior is a prototype north-south power back with good vision, balance and instincts. He’s a thickly-built player with a powerful lower body who can break tackles and seldom goes down on first contact. Also is a very patient runner willing to wait for the blocking to develop and has the ability to jump-cut into a seam, although it often takes him a step or two to get back to top speed. In fact, the major hole in his game is that he lacks sprinter speed and isn’t going to break off many big runs. He also isn’t much of a blocker and has had some issues with ball security in the past. He is a decent receiver, though, with good hands, although his route tree is somewhat limited. Was very consistent in his A&M career running for around 1,000 yards and averaging around 5.5 yards per carry in each of his three seasons. Bottom line: Generally considered to be the top RB available in the 2022 draft, Spiller is a very dependable power back who isn’t necessarily going to provide many big plays, either running with the ball or catching passes out of the backfield, but has the potential to be a very good three-down back who keeps the chains moving.
Kenneth Walker, RB, Michigan State, 5-9, 211, 4.38, JR … Third-year junior transfer from Wake Forest, where he did run for almost 1,200 yards in two seasons, but didn’t really fit the offense there. Was arguably the best player in college football last fall when he ran for over 1,600 yards and 18 TDs and had the Spartans in the hunt for the conference title far longer than they had any logical right to be. Ultimately, didn’t win the Heisman (he was 6th), but was a consensus All-American who did win the Doak Walker Award and was the Walter Camp Player of the Year. Walker is a sturdily-built north-south runner with a burst. Has excellent vision, makes quick decisions with the ball and can jump-cut into gaps; he is also a very physical runner who can run thru arm tackles and seldom goes to the ground on first contact. He’s also got a real burst, with a sub-4.4 40 clocking, when he gets a seam, with the acceleration to bounce runs to the outside, and seldom gets caught from behind when he gets behind the defense. Also has decent hands, but was seldom targeted in the MSU offense; indeed, he had just 13 receptions on the year. He’s also very limited as a pass protector. Bottom line: One of the top 2-3 backs in the 2022 draft class, Walker is an excellent all-around RB with the potential to be a solid three-down workhorse in a run-centric, play-action type offense, although he will need to work on his pass blocking.
Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State, 5-11, 217, 4.39, JR … Third-year junior was arguably the most productive back in the country the past couple of seasons. Indeed, he lead all FBS backs with almost 1,600 yards in 2020 and then followed that up with another 1,400-plus this past season; he also scored 41 times while averaging 5.7 yards a carry over those two years. Hall is a big back who can run thru tackles, although his style is actually more finesse than power. He’s a patient runner with excellent vision and instincts who can plant and go when he gets a crease. He also has good speed and can bust plays outside as well as run away from people in the open field. He’s also a good receiver who had 36 receptions in 2021 for over 300 yards and 3 more scores, although he was used primarily as a check-down receiver at ISU. He’s also not a particularly good or enthusiastic blocker in pass protection. It is also important to note that while he was just a third-year junior this past season and is still a relatively young player, he had a lot of touches in those 3 years at ISU. Bottom line: Productive college back with size and speed has the potential to be a very good every-down back in either a spread offense or on a team with a zone blocking scheme, although he is another back that really needs to improve his pass blocking to complete the deal.
Drake London, WR, Southern California, 6-4, 219, 4.50, JR … Third-year junior was arguably the best player in all of college football this past season before missing the final four games because of a fractured ankle. In those 8 games, London had 88 receptions, which still ranked 15th in the country, for over 1,000 yards and 7 scores; he was also named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year and an All-American despite only playing 2/3 of the season. London is a tall receiver who was also a basketball star in high school – he averaged almost 30 points and 12 rebounds per game as a senior – and actually played briefly with the USC hoops squad as a freshman. Big target with long arms and an uncommon catch radius; also has strong hands with the ability to pluck the ball out of the air in contested situations, although he will drop a few due to concentration lapses. Can get deep on occasion, but lacks sprinter speed and explosion with a projected 40-time somewhere in the 4.50 range. Indeed, only averaged 12.3 yards per catch last fall with a long gain of 44 yards. Elite underneath receiver who is an exceptionally quick and nimble on his feet for someone that size. He runs good routes and can separate at the top of the route; also a smart player who can find the soft spots against zones. He is also a surprisingly good runner after the catch who does not go down easily; also a very competitive blocker. Bottom line: Excellent receiver with an uncommon size, speed, athleticism combination that has the potential to be a real match-up problem at the next level. However, how high he goes will depend on how well he tests at the combine, as well as the prognosis for the ankle injury.
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama, 6-1.5, 179, 4.35, JR … Third-year junior with big-play potential originally signed at Ohio State, but transferred to Alabama after being pretty much buried in the deep Buckeyes’ WR-room for two years. Had a breakout year in 2021 when he had 79 receptions for over 1,500 yards and 15 TDs. Also averaged 19.9 yards per catch and led the country with 4 receptions over 70 yards and 11 over 30 yards. He’s a former high school track star who holds the state record for the 300-meter hurdles in Missouri; has a lightning quick first step and that extra gear when the ball is in the air. Is very quick and nimble on his feet with a burst out of cuts and the ability to generate separation with double moves. In addition, has excellent hands, although he will let the football get into his pads on occasion. However, he’s not all that big or physical and can struggle at times to get off tight press coverage. He’s also not going to make a lot of catches in traffic over the middle which limits his route tree. He’s also not much of a blocker. The big issue for Williams, though, is he tore an ACL early in the Tide’s loss to Georgia in that national championship game. The injury reportedly wasn’t all that bad as these things go, but it means he won’t be able to participate in any pre-draft testing and it’s only 50-50 whether he’ll be available for the start of the season. Bottom line: If healthy, Williams is an explosive big-play target with top 5-10 potential; how close to that he gets, though, will be determined by how well he checks out at the combine medicals.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State, 6-0, 183, 4.38, JR … Third-year junior was an integral part of the Buckeyes’ trio of 1,000-yard receivers. Was originally a big-time recruit from Texas who was also an outstanding prep basketball player who averaged 21 PPG as a senior and received several scholarship offers from D1 programs. Primarily a slot receiver who had 70 receptions for 1,100 yards and 12 TDs this season. Wilson has excellent speed with a sub-4.4 40 clocking, but he is also really quick and athletic with outstanding lateral agility. At his best with the ball in his hands after the catch and is especially dangerous on bubble screens, reverses and crossing routes. He has a quick first step and is an instinctive runner. Not the most polished route-runner, but wins at the top of his route with his quickness and agility; also has good hands and can get deep on occasion, but is most comfortable working the underneath zones. Also not that big or physical and can be jammed at the line of scrimmage, but is comfortable in traffic. Bottom line: Skilled possession receiver who is particularly effective after the catch with the speed to get deep has top 10 potential, but may be limited somewhat at the next level because he’s not that big or physical.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas, 6-2, 225, 4.55, JR … Third-year junior with a very unique skill set had a big year for the Hogs in which he caught 66 passes for just over 1,100 yards (16.7 per) and 11 TDs. He’s a wide-bodied receiver who is at his best after the catch. He’s not super fast with a time of 4.55; he’s also not particularly elusive, but he’s an instinctive runner with a quick first step and with that size and ability to accelerate, he’s a brute for smaller DBs to tackle in space. He’s also got great hands and with that size is going to win more than his share of contested ball. On the downside, Burks is not a vertical threat who is just going to run past people; he’s also a somewhat lazy route-runner who doesn’t break all that crisply and he’s been known to take plays off when he’s not the primary receiver and isn’t the most aggressive blocker. Bottom line: Burks is kind of a Deebo Samuel type of receiver who doesn’t really fit any traditional definition for the position, but is an electric player nonetheless who teams will be able to line up all over the field and look for ways to get him the ball in space where he can make big plays.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State, 6-0.5, 187, 4.39, SR … Fourth-year senior was an integral part of the Buckeyes’ trio of elite receivers this year as he had 65 receptions for over 900 yards and 13 scores. Olave isn’t all that big, but is an excellent athlete with track speed – he had a PB of 10.8 seconds over 100M in high school – along with real quickness as he gets to top speed in a hurry. He is also a very smooth player who is arguably the best route-runner in the 2022 draft. He has an array of moves and understands how to set them up and when to use them. Also adept at finding the soft spots in zones. He’s also a very versatile receiver who can play both outside and in the slot. Can also make plays at all three levels including getting deep. He’s also dangerous with the ball in his hands as he has the quickness to run away from defenders, although he’s not likely going to break many tackles in space. In fact, he isn’t all that big or physical and isn’t going to make many contested catches in traffic; he also needs to prove he can beat tight press coverage at the line of scrimmage and he also isn’t much of a blocker. Bottom line: May not be big enough to ever qualify as a true #1 receiver in the pros, but still could be a ‘QB’s best friend’ type receiver as he is a gifted route-runner with a real burst who gets open and make plays.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State, 5-10.5, 178, 4.43, SR … Fourth-year senior leaves Happy Valley as one of the school’s all-time leading receivers highlighted by a 2021 season in which he had 91 catches for almost 1,200 yards and 12 TDs. In the process, he made several All-America teams and was a semi-finalist for both the Biletnikoff and Walter Camp POY awards. Really talented receiver who can make plays at all three levels. Checks off all the boxes pretty well except for one. And that’s the fact that he isn’t all that big or physical and can struggle to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Otherwise he’s fast – he was a state level track star in high school – with the speed and acceleration to get deep; he’s quick, has good balance and body control; has great hands and will make the tough catch in traffic; runs crisp routes and understands how to get open; is dangerous with the ball in his hands after the catch and is also a quality punt returner; and despite being undersized is a tough, competitive kid who will block. Bottom line: Put this kid in a bigger frame and we’re talking a potential top ten prospect. He’s a complete receiver who can both get open underneath as well as make plays over the top, but the questions about his lack of prototype size will likely push him down into the latter part of the opening round.
Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan, 5-9.5, 195, 4.41, JR … Rising third-year junior was an option QB and defensive back in high school who was actually named both offensive and defensive POY in his conference as a senior. Switched to WR when he arrived at WMU and made an immediate impact catching 51 passes as a true frosh when he was named to the All-MAC first team, but then really blossomed this past season when he had 94 receptions for almost 1,300 yards and 10 TDs. He isn’t all that big; in fact, he looks more like a smallish scatback than a prototype WR, but he is solidly built, especially thru the lower-body, and can break tackles in space. He will also struggle at getting off the line of scrimmage against tight press coverage. Also, because he’s only played the position for three years and worked mainly in an option offense where he wasn’t asked to run a lot of sophisticated patterns, his route-running isn’t all that refined as he will round off breaks. When he gets in space, though, he’s a blur with a 40 time of 4.39. He also quick and agile, tracks the ball well, and has great hands. He’s also versatile in that he can play on both the outside and in the slot and can make plays both on underneath gadget routes and in the vertical game. Bottom line: Intriguing non-Power 5 prospect who is just starting to really pick up the nuances of the position and who will be downgraded because of his lack of prototype size and the fact that he didn’t face a lot of top-quality competition in college on a weekly basis. However, he has some real tools including elite speed, quickness, great hands and top-end competitiveness.
John Metchie, WR, Alabama, 6-0, 187, 4.45, JR … Third-year junior is arguably the best Canadian prospect in the draft, although his immediate future for 2022 is clouded by the fact that he tore an ACL in the SEC championship game in December and likely won’t be ready for the start of the season. Metchie is a good all-around receiver who had 96 catches for almost 1,200 yards and 8 TDs this fall before being injured. He has adequate size, although he isn’t necessarily the most physical receiver out there, especially when working in traffic; he also has quite short (30.5″) arms. However, he has good speed and quickness, runs decent routes, has good hands, as well as something of a burst after the catch. He’s also a very versatile receiver who can fill a number of roles at all three levels depending on what his team needs. However, he doesn’t really excel in any particular phase of the game. He has decent speed, for example, but it’s not elite track speed and while he can get deep, is still probably better suited to fill an underneath possession receiver role. Bottom line: Solid, all-around receiver who doesn’t have many holes in his game, but doesn’t excel in any area either, meaning that he is probably going to be better suited to be a complimentary guy rather than a featured #1 target. And that may very well have knocked him out of the first round even before the injury cast further doubt on his final grade.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia, 6-3, 195, 4.47, JR … Third-year junior was a blue chip recruit from Hoover, Alabama, which is just down the road from Tuscaloosa, but somehow ended up at Georgia. Looked like a possible top ten pick after two solid years with the Bulldogs, but tore an ACL in spring practice last year and barely played this season, ultimately making just 5 receptions in 4 games, although two of the four were big plays, including a critical 52-yard gain early in UGA’s national championship win over Alabama. Has good size, length and play strength; he’s also a long-strider with good speed who tracks the ball well and has a second gear when it’s in the air. He also has a pretty good competitive intensity and will win his share of contested throws. He also has good hands with a wide catch radius and consistently makes grabs from all angles. Needs to polish his route-running as he doesn’t come out of his breaks all that crisply, but he does have a burst after the catch and can make people miss in space. Bottom line: If healthy, is a big-play vertical threat with prototype size, speed, concentration and acceleration, but lacks the overall refinement to figure as more than an outside-only wide receiver in the NFL. If healthy is the operative word, though, which could have him going anywhere from the middle of the second round based on his pre-injury talent base, to right off some team’s boards altogether because of the injury red-flag.
Calvin Austin, WR, Memphis, 5-8, 170, 4.32, SR … Fifth-year senior was a track star who walked onto the football team, which may be the last time he actually walked anywhere near a football field as he is one the fastest guys in the 2022 draft with a 40 time of 4.32 seconds. However, while he may be one of the the fastest players in Indy this week, he may also be the smallest at barely 5-8, 170. And with that smaller size comes some of the usual issues for smaller receivers in that Austin is going to catch a whole lot of slants and he will struggle to beat the jam at the line of scrimmage. Although if a DB hopes to get his hands on him, he’d better be quick because despite his size, Austin is electric. He’s extremely quick and agile, has excellent balance and body control, has soft hands, runs decent routes and is explosive with the ball in his hands. In fact, he has also been an effective punt returner at Memphis. Bottom line: Undersized, but uniquely talented receiver with speed and quickness you just can’t teach. Again, he’s not going to be a go-to #1 type target, but in the right system with a creative coordinator prepared to find ways to get the ball in his hands, he’ll be fun to watch and a pain to defend!
Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State, 6-3.5, 246, 4.55, SR … Fourth-year senior quietly put together one of the most productive seasons in college football history this past fall when he had 90 receptions for over 1,100 yards, which is the 5th most in FBS history for a TE. And he proved it wasn’t a fluke as he followed it all up with a strong performance at this year’s Senior Bowl. He isn’t all that big and isn’t overly fast for the position, but he is a solidly built 246-pounder who is a really good athlete despite the fact that he lacks track-type speed. In fact, he holds his high school’s career records for most points on the basketball court and most home runs on the diamond. He is quick, has good balance and body control, and really understands the game. He also has elite hands and is a skilled route-runner who knows how to gain separation versus man coverage and the spatial awareness to find soft spots against zones, although he isn’t a major threat with the ball after the catch. He also only had one TD this past season which raises some questions about his potential as a red-zone target. And while he’s not all that big, McBride is a willing blocker who is quick off the snap and has solid technique, although he will occasionally struggle to sustain blocks as a result of his lack of prototype length and play strength. He’s also a versatile player who can line up in-line with his hand on the ground, as an H-back, or slide outside into the slot where he becomes something of an extra WR. Bottom line: Arguably the best TE in this draft despite the fact that he’s not all that big and isn’t really a big-play threat, however, he is still a good athlete with great hands who understands the position and knows how to get open.
Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M, 6-4, 255, 4.60, JR … Third-year junior with 33 career starts came into the season as the consensus top TE in the 2022 draft class, but never really got it going and finished the campaign with just 36 receptions for just over 500 yards and 4 TDs. Certainly looks the part of a potential elite TE; he’s tall with good length and has long arms that give him a wide catch radius. He’s also got good straight line speed and can get vertical in a hurry; he can also be dangerous with the ball in his hands after the catch. However, he appears to be somewhat still and isn’t particularly quick or agile. He also isn’t much of a route-runner as he lacks much of a burst coming out of his breaks. He’ll also put a hat on people when asked to block, but his technique at this time isn’t all that refined. Bottom line: Wydermyer has as much physical upside as any TE in this year’s draft class as he possesses prototype size and speed which should be enough to see him selected somewhere in the second day this coming April, but he’s not a particularly natural or refined receiver or blocker at this point in his career.
Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina, 6-4.5, 245, 4.50, SR … Fourth-year senior was a lightly – very lightly – recruited WR out of high school, but has evolved into a very good receiving TE with big-play ability who had 59 receptions for over 900 yards and a dozen scores last fall. For his career, Likely averaged over 15 yards per catch and had 27 TD receptions. He is still not very big, and while he is a willing blocker doesn’t get much push in the run game and can be run over by bigger defensive linemen. However, he is a really good athlete who is a legitimate vertical threat and can make people miss in space after the catch. He also has excellent hands, tracks the ball well and wins his share of contested passes. He’s also got good quickness and agility, but his route running can be inconsistent as he just isn’t that crisp getting into and out of his breaks. Bottom line: Talented receiving threat has the potential to be a real match-up problem in the right scheme, but is probably too small to be a traditional in-line TE in a run-heavy offense.
Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State, 6-5.5, 252, 4.75, SR … Veteran two-way TE who was kind of an afterthought in the talented Buckeyes’ offense. Indeed, the fourth-year senior had just 54 receptions in 44 career games, including 26 this year. He has decent size and length and is a willing blocker with good play strength and can more than hold his own from an in-line position. He will also deliver a pretty good pop when crossing the formation, but needs to consistently stay under control in those situations. At the same time, Ruckert isn’t going to run away from anybody downfield, but he is an adequate athlete with great hands and good catching range who can make the contested catch in traffic. He’s also a good route-runner with a nice feel for the passing game and is adept at finding the soft spots over the middle, although he won’t be a major threat with the ball in his hands after the catch. He is an excellent red zone target, though, as almost one out of four catches he did make were for scores. Bottom line: Experienced, multi-dimensional TE who will put in a solid day’s work blocking in the trenches and has the tools to be a far more productive receiver in the pros than in college, although he’ll likely never be a big play threat.
Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State, 6-6.5, 252, 4.85, SR … Fifth-year senior has been one of the most productive collegiate TEs in the country the past several seasons as he had 168 career receptions for almost 2,200 yards and 23 TDs, including 62 catches for 760 yards and 6 scores this past season. As a result, was a two-time Mackey Award finalist, a three-time All-American and a four-time all-conference player. He has excellent size and length for the position; he also has great hands, good body control and concentration, and can make the tough catch in traffic. Also does a nice job using his size to box out smaller defensive backs. However, despite his size, he lacks the core strength to figure as an every-down in-line blocking TE. He is also somewhat limited as an athlete. He’s not real fast or explosive and is not a vertical threat; there’s also not a big YAC factor. He is also somewhat stiff without much in the way of burst or agility running routes, although he does have a good feel for what the defense is doing and can find the soft areas of the coverage. He is also an outstanding student and character player who graduated with a 3.99 GPA in mechanical engineering and is currently enrolled in a post-grad Finance program. Bottom line: Highly productive college performer with prototype size and length as well as great hands, however, is limited as an athlete and may struggle to duplicate that productivity at the next level.
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama, 6-7.5, 337, 5.40, JR … Experienced third-year junior with 41 career starts who progressed from LG in 2019 to RT in 2020 and LT this year. He’s a massive guy with exceptional length who is quite simply a long, long way around. And while he’s no gazelle, Neal is a surprisingly good athlete for someone that size. He’s a dominating run blocker with a quick get-off, devastating punch and uncommon lower-body strength who simply engulfs defenders in front of him and just wears them down. Also plays with a bit of edge and goes hard to the whistle. Can also get out and reach second level blocks, although he will lunge at times and lose his balance. He’s also an accomplished pass blocker who as noted is just a long way around. He’s relatively nimble on his feet with a smooth slide step and can cut off the edge; also uses his long arms effectively to redirect pass rushers away from the pocket. However, has some issues with lateral quickness and doesn’t plant and change direction all that well and has struggled with counter moves by quality speed rushers in the past. Also has somewhat limited range in blitz pick-up. There will also be some concerns about weight control for a big guy who actually weighed close to 390 in high school, although he reportedly played at closer to 345 this past season. Bottom line: Legitimate top 5 prospect with an uncommon combination of size, strength, athleticism and intensity, but at least on paper, may look better suited to playing RT at the next level where his lack of pure foot speed won’t be exposed as much as it might on the other side. Indeed, it does not appear that there are a lot of Pro Bowl LTs in the NFL who run in the 5.40 range, although truth be told, there just aren’t that many pro LTs who are 6-7, 350 who can jump on top of a 48-inch box from a standing start.
Ikem ‘Ickey’ Ekwonu, G/T, North Carolina State, 6-4, 310, 4.93, JR … Third-year junior with 32 career starts and top 5 potential; lacks prototype length but otherwise is the total package; he’s a good athlete who was a high school wrestler and actually ran anchor leg on his high school relay team; he’s also strong and powerful with a mean and nasty disposition on the field; also a super-smart kid in the classroom who is the son of a doctor and had offers to go to both Yale and Harvard, and it appears those smarts translate to the field where he has a high football IQ. Dominating drive blocker who explodes out of his stance, packs a devastating punch and plays with great leverage and body control. Can also make a block in space and is effective pulling; can also get to the second level where there is plenty of tape showing him knocking one man to the ground and going looking for another; only issue in the run game is that he can be over-aggressive at times and will occasionally lose his balance going for a pancake that isn’t necessarily there. Is also a good pass protector who anchors well and just can’t be bull-rushed; has a smooth slide step and while he isn’t as tall as some OTs, still has long arms and generally gets the most out of his extension. However, he lacks elite lateral agility and has struggled at times against speed edge rushers, especially when trying to deal with cutback moves as he tends to overset and is slow to redirect. Bottom line: Going to be an interesting guy to grade in that physically he’s best suited to play inside where he’ll likely get an elite grade, whereas most teams are going to be looking at OT where he’s good but does have some holes in his game. That versatility, though, also makes him one of the safer picks in this year’s draft class because if he doesn’t really work out at OT, he can kick inside where he’ll still have Pro Bowl potential.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State, 6-4.5, 307, 4.95, RSO … Third-year redshirt sophomore with 22 career starts at LT. Cross is arguably the best pure pass blocker in the 2022 draft. Indeed, he allowed just two sacks playing over 900 snaps this fall in the rugged SEC West. He is an exceptional athlete with a great first step and superior balance and body control who is very light and nimble on his feet; he also generally keeps his feet moving through the play even when engaged. He also has elite lateral agility, is very fluid in space, and can plant and redirect with ease. Also has good range and does a nice job identifying and cutting off blitzers and loopers. Doesn’t possess the most powerful punch, though, but is still effective redirecting opponents with his hands based on advanced timing and placement. Cross, though, isn’t all that big or physical. He’s a bulked up 310 pounds but is still somewhat lean and will struggle at times to anchor against straight bull rushes. He’s also likely never going to be a true road grader drive blocking; in fact, playing in the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense, he actually doesn’t get a lot of snaps in the run game. However, he is a willing run blocker who gets a hand on people quickly and does a nice job sealing off opposing tacklers; can also get to the second level and make a block in space. Bottom line: Cross is a prototype LT prospect with decent length and outstanding feet and athleticism who is an excellent pass blocker. However, he’s not overly strong or physical and is only an average run blocker. Still, pass-blocking LTs are worth their weight in gold in today’s pass-oriented offenses and shouldn’t slide very far outside this year’s first ten picks if he isn’t selected sooner.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa, 6-2, 296, 5.10, JR … Fourth-year junior who came to Iowa as a DT but shifted to C in 2019 and finished his college career as a consensus All-American, the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and Rimington Award winner this past season. and despite not being the biggest interior offensive lineman out there, is still considered to be one of the best C prospects to come along in a while. He’s a good athlete who also played baseball in high school and made the state meets as both a wrestler and shot putter. He’s very quick with excellent balance and body control, he also has really strong hands, along with impressive lower-body power and, as a former wrestler, plays with great leverage. Really smart player who knows how to play the angles and set up blocks. Tenacious blocker with nimble feet who never stops moving and plays to the whistle every down. Easily gets to the second level and can make blocks in space, although he will overextend at times. Doesn’t get as many pass-blocking reps in the run-heavy, play-action oriented Iowa offense as some other offensive line prospects but does a nice job moving around the pocket picking off blitzes; he’s also dynamic leading the way on screens and other gadget plays. However, he will struggle at times to anchor and will give up a lot of penetration when manned up against big, physical bull rushers. And because of the lack of bulk and short arms, he is somewhat scheme limited in that he is unlikely to be able to transition to OG. Is also scheme limited in the sense that he is best suited to team’s that employ a zone-blocking system. Bottom line: One of the better C prospects to come along in a while with top 10 athleticism, agility, smarts and tenacity, but has some size and length limitations.
Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan, 6-6, 303, 5.05, SR … Fourth-year senior is arguably THE most interesting player in the 2022 draft class as he only started playing football in high school as a foreign exchange student from Austria. In fact, he was originally a WR in high school, but switched to TE when he arrived at CMU and only moved to OT at the start of the 2020 season. However, he appears to be a natural despite playing a total of only 18 career games at the position. Indeed, proved himself to be for real with a very good week of practice at the Senior Bowl where he was the best offensive lineman in the actual game. He certainly looks that part at 6-6, although his arms are a little shorter than ideal at just 33 inches. He’s also a little light in the caboose but has the frame to add another 10-15 pounds. What he is, however, is an outstanding all-around athlete. He’s very quick and agile, flexible and has outstanding balance and body control. He’s also got legit weight room strength that translates into a dynamic initial punch, as well as the ability to anchor at the point of attack. He’s also very competitive, while also being super smart with a GPA of 3.8 as an Actuarial Science and Statistics major. He’s both a solid run blocker who really locks on and can get to the second level, as well as a reliable pass protector with the quickness to cut off the edge, although his hand placement can be inconsistent at times. At the same time, though, he is a somewhat older player who will turn 25 before the start of his rookie season, which means he’ll already be almost 30 when he comes up for a second contract. Bottom line: Raimann is one of the tougher calls for NFL scouts as he is still a developing player, and there is the age thing, however, has all the tools and has as much upside as any offensive lineman in the 2022 draft.
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa, 6-7, 325, 4.89, SR … Fifth-year senior was the outstanding offensive lineman in the FCS ranks this past season when he was a consensus All-American at that level. Three-year starter who has gotten bigger and better each year. Was actually a lightly recruited 235-pound TE out of high school but grew into a 325-pound monster with long, 35-inch arms. He’s also a weight room warrior type who holds several school lifting records, including a reported 625-pound squat. He’s a physically dominating road grader in the run game who really locks on and uses those long arms and strong punch to drive defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. He’s also a decent athlete with some small-area quickness and explosion, but he tends to be stiff and lacks elite lateral agility and range. As a result, he struggles to stick with quick edge rushers, especially when they cut back inside on him. He’s a very competitive kid with a nasty temperament, but did have a tendency to get a little lazy at times at NIU where he didn’t always have to give his best effort to dominate his lower-level competition. Bottom line: Intriguing FCS prospect that is a dominating run blocker and competent pass protector who has been moving up draft boards across the NFL all season, however, may be best suited to play RT in the pros, as he lacks prototype athleticism and agility.
Kenyon Green, G/T, Texas A&M, 6-4, 323, 5.24, JR … Versatile, experienced third-year junior was the #1 recruit in the state when he signed on with A&M; he’s a two-time consensus All-American who started all 35 games in his Aggies’ career, mostly at LG, but he actually played all four OL positions other than C at one time or another in his days at A&M. In fact, was projected to slide out to LT this fall, which had NFL types thinking of him as a possible top 10 candidate for this year’s draft, but he was simply a better OG than OT and ended up moving back inside. He’s a dominating run blocker that is quick off the snap, keeps his pads low and his feet moving and just bullies people. He’s also agile enough to get to the second level and make a block in space. He also comes from a football family and has a really good football IQ along with a nasty, take-no-prisoners attitude. However, he’s still more of a bully than a craftsman and has had issues when pass blocking out on the edge as he lacks the agility and polish to hang with quick edge rushers. At the same time, he’s not all that tall (for an NFL OT) at under 6-4. On the other hand, he does have good arm length at 34 inches but is much more comfortable pass blocking inside where he anchors well and is hard to bull rush, although he does have a tendency to plant his feet too early and end up reaching and lunging too often. Bottom line: Green is arguably the top OG in this year’s draft class with added value in that he could play OT in a pinch, but still looks destined for the latter part of the opening round as there are a number of elements to his game that he needs to clean up, including his overall footwork and hand placement.
Darian Kinnard, G/T, Kentucky, 6-5.5, 322, 5.31, SR … Kinnard is a fourth-year senior who started the last 39 straight games at RT for the Wildcats during which time he established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in the country. Indeed, he is a two-time All-American including 2021 when he was a consensus choice; he was also named the SEC’s top OL and was an Outland Trophy semi-finalist this year. Kinnard has a prototype build for an NFL RT. He’s big with long arms (35.5 inches) and huge 11.5 inch hands. He’s also a decent athlete with a good get-off and lateral quickness. He also plays with an edge and is simply a bully in the run game; he has a jarring punch, keeps his pads low and his feet moving until the whistle. And, at least on paper, he’s also a very accomplished pass blocker having given up only one sack in over 700 snaps this past season. However, that number masks the fact that he played in a quick release offense where he really didn’t have to sustain blocks very long. In fact, his pass pro technique is very raw. While he gets good initial arm extension, his hand placement is very inconsistent. He also struggles to cover the edge as he tends to drop his head and lunge as he just doesn’t have the nimble feet to cut off the corner. And that issue was exposed at the Senior Bowl where he gave up a number of pressures and just had no answer for some of the fast edge rushers that dominated that game. Bottom line: Massive guy who checks off a lot of boxes for a prototype RT, but likely will need considerable development time to get his pass protection skills in better order, and as such, may very well be better suited to kicking inside to OG at least to start his career.
Zion Johnson, C/G, Boston College, 6-3, 312, 5.18, SR+ … Fifth-year super senior was essentially unrecruited out of high school and ended up at FCS Davidson where he played two seasons before transferring to BC. Started two seasons for the Eagles and one at LT, but is reportedly being looked at by the NFL primarily as a C where he played at the Senior Bowl. He’s not overly tall at under 6-3, but still has decent length with 34-inch arms. He’s also a thickly built 312-pounder who plays with a strong base and maintains good pad level. However, he is more of a finesse blocker than a true road grader as he isn’t real powerful, although he is a good athlete with excellent mobility and nimble footwork who is very smooth moving around the pocket. Also has good quickness and lateral agility along with good vision and does a nice job picking up blitzes and stunts, as well as pulling and blocking in space in the second level. He is also fundamentally sound technically with good hand placement, although he could do a better job sustaining blocks in space as he will lunge at times and fall off the block. Smart kid with a degree in computer science who is doing grad work in the area of cybersecurity. Bottom line: Solid veteran offensive lineman who doesn’t offer much in the way of upside, but still should be a value pick early in the second round as he is a high character player with decent athletic skills who also doesn’t have many holes in his game.
Tyler Smith, G/T, Tulsa, 6-4.5, 324, 5.02, RSO … Rising third-year redshirt sophomore only played in a couple of games as a true freshman, but started the last 24 straight for the Golden Hurricanes, although he might have been better served to play one more year in college and refine some of the technical aspects of his game. Still an intriguing prospect with good size, length and thickness. Indeed, while he’s a tad shorter than ideal for an NFL OT, he’s got long (34”) arms and huge hands (almost 11”). He’s also a better than advertised athlete with a 40-clocking in the 5-flat range. He’s a prototype road-grader in the run game with a punishing initial punch, tremendous lower leg drive, and a nasty, tenacious, take-no-prisoners attitude, although his hand placement can be inconsistent and too often he stops his feet after making initial contact. However, while he’s got decent quickness and lateral agility, his pass protection technique needs a lot of work as he tends to come out of his stance too high and loses balance and leverage. He also tends to set his feet too early after his initial set and ends up doing a lot of clutching and grabbing; indeed, he had 16 penalties in just 13 games this past season. For the record, he’s also a very young prospect as he only turns 21 a few days before the draft. Bottom line: Intriguing developmental prospect, especially as an interior offensive lineman who could kick out to RT in an emergency, as he has plenty of tools as well as a pro demeanor, but he may need something of a redshirt year at the next level to iron out some of those inconsistencies in his game.
Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota, 6-8, 384, 5.55, SR … Fourth-year senior originally played rugby and basketball in Australia and has only played four years of football at any level, although he did end up starting 31 games at Minnesota. At 6-8, 384, he is quite simply a massive guy who also has long arms (35.5 inches) and huge 11-inch hands. Has actually dropped some weight over the past year or so. Dominating run blocker who is surprisingly quick off the snap, keeps his pads low and regularly engulfs smaller defensive linemen and can quite literally often create a lane all by himself. At the same time, though, he is not going to get out and make many blocks in space. In pass protection, he is also almost impossible to either bull rush or simply run around to get to the QB once he gets his arms extended; there’s just too much of him to get around. However, he doesn’t have great balance or lateral agility once he starts to move and will really struggle to stay with counter moves and cutbacks. He also doesn’t have a whole lot of range when it comes to dealing with stunts or quick blitzers. Bottom line: One of the 2022 draft’s bigger – both literally and figuratively! – boom or bust type prospects, Faalele is already a dominating drive blocker with a tantalizing blend of size and length, along with strength and pure power as well as enough athleticism to be an equally dominant pass protector, but he’s very raw at this point in his career and may need some time to fully develop as he refines his overall technique.
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan, 6-6.5, 260, 4.74, SR … Fourth-year senior came back from a fractured ankle that limited him to just three games in 2020 to basically earn ‘defensive player of the year’ honors in all of college football this past season when he posted 13 sacks in leading the Wolverines into the national playoffs. Long, tall DE looks more like a TE or basketball power forward; in fact, he actually also played lacrosse in high school which is a scary thought. However, unlike a lot of taller defensive lineman, he has the flexibility to dip his shoulders and bend at the hip and knees. He also has a quick, explosive first step, elite change of direction skills, a powerful punch, effectively uses his strong hands to get off blocks, as well as an evolving array of pass rush moves; also does a nice job setting up his moves, although he actually has relatively short arms. He also has an incredibly hot motor that runs all the time. He’s also extremely scheme versatile with the ability to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up as either a 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB. Could also kick inside on passing downs. Indeed, expect the team drafting Hutchinson to move him around a lot like Dallas does with OLB Micah Parsons, the NFL DPOY as a rookie this year. However, the one thing that Hutchinson lacks in his arsenal is elite closing speed and he will on occasion get pushed by the pocket by OTs that have stayed in contact. Bottom line: Arguably the best player in college football this year has the tools to be a dominant edge rusher at the next level, along with the motor to be really special.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon, 6-4, 254, 4.58, JR … Third-year junior was a superstar recruit out of L.A. who chose the Ducks over all of college football’s big-time programs. Has generally been considered to be the top edge rush prospect for the 2022 draft with the tools to be THE best overall prospect period, although he isn’t rated in quite the same class as recent early-pick DEs like Chase Young or Myles Garrett. Has prototype length, an explosive get-off and elite closing speed, along with excellent bend and flexibility, although his technique is still somewhat of a work in progress and needs to refine his technique and learn how to set up blockers. Still somewhat lean at 260-pounds, but has decent strength and is a solid enough run defender who is strong in pursuit with the lateral agility to close down lanes, although he could do a better job anchoring at the point of attack. Had a breakout year in 2019 when he had 9.5 sacks as a true freshman, but his productivity has been hit and miss ever since. Had only three sacks in the Ducks’ truncated 7 game season in 2020, although he did dominate Oregon’s Pac-12 championship game win over USC that year. Started the 2021 season where he left off the previous year posting a couple of big plays early in the Ducks’ season opener, but hurt an ankle before the half and missed all or part of several games and wasn’t close to 100% in several others. In the end, he finished the year with 7 sacks and 5 other tackles for loss, but did have a QB-pressure rate (18%) that was among the best in the country. Thibodeaux will also have to answer some questions about his motor which has been known to run hot and cold at times, as well as his dedication to the game before the upcoming draft. On the one hand, he is a confident, almost brash young guy which you better be if you have ‘the chosen one’ tattooed on your arm and you think of yourself as a ‘brand.’ At the same time, he is something of a ‘renaissance man’ who had a 3.8 GPA in high school, plays chess, and has talked about becoming a lawyer with a focus on social issues down the road. And things like his comments about Alabama’s academics can rub a lot of people the wrong way. Bottom line: Elite physical talent who never quite lived up to the billing in college, but has as high a ceiling as any player in the 2022 draft if the team selecting him can get it unlocked.
Travon Walker, DE, Georgia, 6-5, 272, 4.51, JR … Rising third-year junior was a blue-chip recruit as a 290-pound DT and played inside for two years, but dropped 15-20 pounds and moved outside in 2021 where he had 6 sacks and 32 QB hurries. Has prototype length and is one powerful dude with both upper and lower body strength. Also has an explosive first step, a powerful punch, keeps his pads low and plays with good leverage, and has excellent lateral agility. He’s also got close to close to elite speed with a 4.5-type 40 clocking and can simply beat people around the arc. Wins primarily, though, by shooting gaps and physically overpowering offensive linemen. Very stout run defender who anchors well at the point of attack, although he could be a little quicker shedding blocks and finding the ball. Also has a terrific motor and is high-character player. He’s also a very versatile player who could quite conceivably also bulk back up and line-up as a quick interior DT at the next level; he’s also got the tools to play as either a 3-4 or 4-3 DE, and could conceivably even play some snaps as an OLB in a 3-4. Bottom line: Walker is a really interesting rising prospect with rare athletic upside and position versatility that could very well translate into plenty of top 5-10 consideration, but much of his grade is based primarily on pure speculation rather than on-field performance, as he is still far from a finished product and has yet to dominate as a true impact player on a consistent basis.
Jermaine Johnson, DE/OLB, Florida State, 6-4.5, 254, 4.58, SR+ … Rising fifth-year super senior who has taken a rather circuitous path to the top of the draft board. A 2-star recruit out of Minnesota who didn’t qualify academically, originally went the JC route where he emerged as a potentially disruptive edge-rusher with offers from all the big-time football programs. He ended up at Georgia where he was a productive rotational performer for two years, but took advantage of the NCAA’s relaxed Covid transfer rules and switched to rebuilding Florida State for his final year where he hoped to get more playing time, which he had in spades and has responded with close to a sack per game. Johnson has always been a gifted athlete with 4.5-type speed and explosion, along with weight room strength. He also has prototype length, but still needs to do a better job using his long arms to get off blocks. Has an evolving array of pass rush moves, however, is still primarily a speed rusher who needs to improve the technical aspects of his game. Not the most physical run-stuffer at the point of attack, but has excellent lateral quickness and agility and does a decent job setting the edge. Also has some scheme versatility as he has lined up both as a 3-4 OLB and 4-3 DE playing with his hand in the dirt. Bottom line: Emerging high-ceiling prospect with as much physical potential as any edge rusher in the 2022 draft but needs a little more polish.
George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue, 6-4, 266, 4.75, JR … Interesting guy who only started playing football in Grade 8 after his family immigrated from Greece. Third-year junior had a breakout year in 2019 when he posted 7.5 sacks as a true freshman, but barely played the following year because of an ankle injury, as well as a bout with Covid. Productivity was hard to read in 2021 because he was constantly double-teamed as just about every opponent schemed around him. In the end, he had only 5 sacks this year, but was also credited with 35 QB hurries. Lacks prototype length and elite speed, but he is a very good athlete otherwise. Indeed, he was also a track star who won back-to-back state shot put titles in high school and reportedly has a 37-inch vertical. And while he isn’t going to simply run around people to get to the QB, he is a a strong, powerful player with a thick lower body and weight-room strength who plays with excellent leverage; he’s also simply relentless attacking the pocket. He does have a very quick first step and the ability to plant and change direction without losing speed or power. He also has strong hands and a devastating punch along with an impressive array of pass rush moves. Indeed, he may be the most technically proficient DE in this year’s draft class; Is also a student of the game, with the ability to read opposing offensive lineman’s moves and set up his next rush. Willing run defender, although he could do a better anchoring the point of attack on plays run right at him. Bottom line: Karlaftis has a unique combination of strength and power, technical proficiency and top-end, non-stop intensity, along with decent athleticism, although lack of sustained elite production will be a concern, as will the lack of elite footspeed which may limit his ultimate ceiling.
David Ojabo, DE/OLB, Michigan, 6-4, 250, 4.50, RSO … Third-year redshirt sophomore with special athleticism who is just starting to scratch the surface. In fact, was born in Nigeria, but grew up in Scotland playing soccer and basketball and didn’t actually start playing football until his junior year in high school, just 5 years ago. Also was something of an afterthought heading into the season at Michigan after posting one measly career tackle in his first two years in the program, but had a breakout campaign this fall when he registered 11 sacks. Indeed, at one point late in the season actually had one more sack than Aidan Hutchinson, his more heralded UM linemate. Ojabo is a pure speed rusher who was a state 100M titlist in high school with a 10.93 PB, but he also has the flexibility to dip his shoulder and make himself small while turning the corner, as well as the agility to plant and change direction on the fly. He also has decent hand and upper-body strength, but his usage of both is very rudimentary. He also has a very limited arsenal of pass rush moves, although they did get better over the course of the season. Willing enough run defender who is dynamic in pursuit but isn’t very physical or instinctive and struggles to hold the point of attack on plays right at him. Bottom line: Quick-twitch edge rusher with high-end physical skills, but still very raw and unpolished such that the team that selects him may have to give him a year or so to develop into an every down defender.
Arnold Ebiketie, DE/OLB, Penn State, 6-2.5, 250, 4.60, SR … Fifth-year senior spent four rather undistinguished seasons at Temple before transferring to Penn State where he almost immediately blossomed into a dynamic edge rusher. Indeed, after posting just 6 career sacks at Temple, he had 9.5 last season with the Nittany Lions along with 8.5 other tackles for losses; for good measure, he also forced a couple of fumbles and blocked two kicks and then topped it all off with a dominating week at the Senior Bowl. He’s not overly big, but does have long 34-inch arms; he also has big 10-plus inch hands and delivers a powerful initial punch, although he could get stronger to sustain that impact. Has good speed and quickness, although he actually tends to be a little slow off the snap on occasion. However, he’s very flexible and can bend, dip and flatten around the corner without losing any momentum. With the constant movement, he also becomes a hard target for OTs to get a piece of. Tough, competitive player who plays to the whistle; will also battle defending the run, but he will struggle to hold the point of attack against bigger offensive linemen. Also has almost no meaningful experience in coverage. Bottom line: Emerging pass rush talent with a unique tool kit, but because of his limitations defending the run, will likely be best suited to playing a 3-4 OLB at the next level who can kick up to DE in passing situations.
Logan Hall, DE/DT, Houston, 6-6, 283, 4.88, SR … Fourth-year senior was a lightly recruited 225-pound end coming out of high school, but grew into a full-sized DL who had a breakout year in 2021, where he had 48 tackles including 6.5 sacks and 7 other tackles for loss, along with 16 other QB hurries. Actually played mostly DT for the Cougars despite being a little undersized for the inside, but he’s very strong, especially thru the lower body. He’s also versatile in that he could also be a standard 4-3 DE in a pinch as well as a 5T DE in a 3-4 scheme that kicks inside on passing downs. He’s also got long arms which he uses effectively to shed blockers as well as a heavy punch. In fact, he’s a very stout run defender who anchors really well, has good lateral range and never quits on a play. He’s also got some short-area quickness, but overall isn’t particularly fast or explosive; he’s also a little stiff and doesn’t bend or dip all that well. In the end, he’s primarily a bull-rusher going after the QB who really doesn’t have much in the way of polished pass-rush moves. Fortunately, he is a very effective bull-rusher with the combination of length and strength, leg drive and relentless intensity. Bottom line: Rising defensive lineman with a rather unique set of tools. The question for the NFL is where does he fit, as he likely lacks the athleticism to win the edge as a traditional 4-3 DE and the girth to hold up inside, although he certainly has the frame to add some bulk. In the end, his playing style and physical profile appear to be best suited to play defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, suggesting he may need to go to the right team to get the proper scheme fit.
Drake Jackson, DE/OLB, Southern California, 6-3.5, 254, 4.50, JR … Athletic third-year junior never quite lived up to the hype when he was recruited, but has some intriguing tools to work with at the next level. He is also a versatile player who played both DE and OLB with USC; indeed, the fact that he was never allowed to settle into one spot may have contributed to his somewhat pedestrian productivity. Jackson has good length and long arms; he is also a very good athlete with a projected 40 clocking in the 4.50 range and even better quickness and lateral agility and range; for good measure, he’s also got some bend when turning the corner. He is primarily a speed rusher who wins with an explosive get-off and elite closing speed. He also has some pass rush moves, but they aren’t overly polished; he also needs to learn to set up his moves better. He can also be an effective run defender when chasing down plays from behind or jumping into gaps and bursting into the backfield, but isn’t very physical at all and struggles to shed blocks and hold the point of attack. Bottom line: Fast, athletic OLB with a ton of potential as an outside edge rusher with speed, quickness and agility, but also appears to be something of a one-trick pony who will need to find the right system fit and could also need some time to develop a complimentary package of skills.
Boye Mafe, DE/OLB, Minnesota, 6-3.5, 261, 4.53, SR … Emerging fifth-year senior edge rusher never really put up much in the way of big numbers until this year when he had 7 sacks and followed that up with an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl where he had a couple of sacks in the actual game. He’s an athletic freak with the physical tools to blow up the combine where he’ll be looking to post close to 4.55 seconds in the 40 along with a 40-plus vertical. He is especially quick off the snap and has the lateral agility plant and can change direction as well as explode into gaps, plus he has the flexibility to dip his shoulder, bend under blocks and make himself small. Would appear to be best suited to lining up as a 3-4 OLB, although he is big and long enough to play with his hand on the ground if needed. However, he’ll need to work on stacking at the point of attack as well as using his hands to shed blocks. In fact, right now he looks to be something of a one-trick pony who is going to win with his speed and quickness off the snap or not all and also needs to develop some secondary moves, although he has made strides in that area the past couple of seasons. Bottom line: The production hasn’t always been there, but Mafe has the raw physical skills, including quick twitch explosion, along with good lateral mobility, bend, and power, to continue to develop into an elite edge rusher and could ultimately end up being one of the most dynamic edge rushers in this year’s loaded class. In the end, ‘you just can’t teach speed!’
DeMarvin Leal, DE/DT, Texas A&M, 6-4, 283, 5.00, JR … Third-year junior had a breakout season in 2021 when he had 8.5 sacks. Very versatile defensive lineman who has potential as a 4-3 DE or DT, as well as a 3-4 DE. Very quick and athletic for a big guy. Has an explosive first step, can bend and dip with the agility to change direction, and has a nice array of spin and counter moves, along with impressive length. He’s also got a good motor. However, that versatility comes with some concerns about whether he in fact is really good at any particular position. On the one hand, he likely lacks the closing speed to consistently get to the QB from a traditional DE slot. At the same time, he isn’t all that strong or physical and struggles to anchor defending the run which could limit his ability to be a three-down 4-3 DT. In the end, his best fit may be as a 3-4 5T DE that kicks inside on passing downs in a four-man front. Bottom line: Potential as a very quick interior pass rusher is going to intrigue a lot of teams, but concerns about where he fits as a three-down defender may push him into the latter part of the opening round.
Amare’ Barno, DE/OLB, Virginia Tech, 6-4.5, 246, 4.36, SR … Fifth-year senior may be the most pure athletic edge rusher in this year’s loaded class at the position. Indeed, he ran a remarkable 4.36 40 and had a 37-inch vertical. He actually played two years at the junior college level before ending up at VA Tech, where he started at both DE and OLB at times. Had something of a breakout year in 2020 when he had 6.5 sacks and led the conference in total tackles for loss with 16. However, he wasn’t able to build on those numbers in 2021 when he had just 3.5 sacks. He has nice length at almost 6-5 with 34-inch arms, but he’s very lean at barely 246 pounds and struggles to hold the point of attack defending the run, although he can be effective jumping into gaps and chasing down plays from the backside. Also lacks the upper body strength to shed blockers when engaged in both run and pass defense, and doesn’t really explode off the snap but tends to try and pick his way. Can be disruptive rushing the passer when he gets a lane, but lacks the strength and technique to beat a quality OT when engaged. Bottom line: Very athletic edge rusher who isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, in that he’s probably too light to play a traditional 4-3 at the next level, but will intrigue teams looking for a 3-4 OLB with length and speed.
Sam Williams, DE, Mississippi, 6-3.5, 261, 4.46, SR+… Fifth-year super senior who had a breakout year in 2021. Could be one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft despite the fact he has elite physical skills and is coming off a very productive super senior season in which he made several All-America teams after posting 12.5 sacks. First problem is that Williams was charged with sexual battery back in 2020, and while the charges were eventually dropped there are still unanswered character questions. At the same time, while Williams no doubt is an outstanding athlete with an elite combination of speed – he clocked under 4.50 seconds for the 40 at the combine – strength, and explosiveness, he is still a very unrefined player who wins almost exclusively with speed and power and almost never with finesse or technique. In particular, his hand placement is very basic as is his pass-rush arsenal while he’s not particularly instinctive. He’s also somewhat limited as a run defender as he just doesn’t anchor all that well. Bottom line: Intriguing prospect with unique physical tools, but is still very raw and has those character concerns.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia, 6-6.5, 341, 4.78, SR … Fourth-year senior is a massive interior defender who anchored Georgia’s defense on their run to the 2021 national championship. In fact, he was a consensus All-American who was awarded both the Bednarik (best defensive player) and Outland (best lineman) Trophies for his efforts this fall. He’s a superior run defender with rare athletic ability for somebody that big. Indeed, in addition to being really, really big, Davis has long arms and outstanding football strength. He’s also exceptionally quick, flexible and agile for a guy that size. He really pops out of his stance and explodes into opposing linemen with power and purpose; he also has the lateral agility to make plays tackle-to-tackle and is effective on stunts and other games; he’s also strong taking on double teams. He probably could do a better job locating the ball, but simply engulfs ball-carriers when he finds them. The big question for Davis and his ultimate draft grade, though, is whether he will be able to contribute to the pass rush after posting just 7 career sacks in 4 years including 2 in 2021. No question he’ll absorb plenty of blockers and collapse the pocket, but he doesn’t have much in the way of closing speed; he also has a limited array of pass rush moves. There are also some questions about his overall conditioning and stamina as he never played much more than 50% of the Dawgs’ defensive snaps. Bottom line: Dominating run defender with the athletic skills to be better pass rusher has the potential to be the first DT off the board this coming April, depending on how teams actually view that pass rush potential.
Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia, 6-3, 304, 4.77, SR+ … Experienced fifth-year super senior combined with Jordan Davis to give the Dawgs’ the top interior defensive line in college football last year. Actually spent a year at a junior college before moving on to UGA where he put in four solid seasons. Not overly tall or long, but is very quick, flexible and agile with a terrific motor; he also plays with good leverage with the ability to burst into gaps and get upfield. Also sees the field and has good lateral range along the line of scrimmage. However, while he’s very difficult to block-one-on-one, he does struggle at times to anchor against double teams. He has also never been that productive as a pass rusher with just 5 career sacks, although 2.5 came in 2021. Doesn’t use his hands all that well to disengage and just doesn’t have much in the way of a polished pass-rush arsenal. NFL teams will also note that he is a little older that most rookies these days as he will turn 24 before the draft. Bottom line: Jordan Davis’ ‘little brother’ on the UGA defensive front is an ultra-quick high energy prospect with late-first round potential who would conceivably go even higher if he wasn’t quite so limited as a pass rusher.
Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma, 6-3.5, 290, 4.89, SR … Disruptive fourth-year senior was the top-rated junior college recruit in the country in 2020 and followed that up with two solid seasons with the Sooners who moved him all over the defensive front depending on the situation. He was also one of the outstanding players at this year’s Senior Bowl where he was unblockable at times. He’s a taller interior defensive lineman with excellent length including long over-35 inch arms, although he could do a better job using that length to get off blocks especially when rushing the passer. He’s also a very athletic defensive lineman with an explosive first step, unusual flexibility and agility for a player that size, and an excellent motor who specializes in getting into gaps and blowing up the backfield. Indeed, almost half of his tackles in 2021, including 5 sacks, were behind the line of scrimmage. However, because he has somewhat of a high base, he will struggle to hold the point of attack when double-teamed. And while he did have those 5 sacks, he really needs to develop a more polished array of pass-rush moves to evolve into a true 3-down lineman. Bottom line: Physically gifted interior defensive lineman with late first round potential who has the skill set to develop into a disruptive DT in the vein of Aaron Donald and Chris Jones in the right system.
Travis Jones, DT, UConn, 6-4.5, 325, 4.92, JR … Emerging fourth-year junior had a breakout week at this year’s Senior Bowl after playing in relative anonymity at UConn where in fact he did not play at all in 2020 as the Huskies opted to shut their program down that season because of Covid. Was actually originally recruited as an OG, but switched to defense very early in his UConn career. Jones is a big guy with intriguing length as he has 34-inch arms. Still more a run-stuffing two-down interior defensive lineman as he isn’t all that quick or explosive off the snap. However, he has excellent strength and a punishing punch that gets the OL in front of him off-balance and is very difficult to move off his spot even when against double-teamed. He’s also a very good tackler who sees the field well and has a very good motor. And despite the fact he had a respectable 4.5 sacks this past season, he doesn’t appear to have the tools or polished moves to be much of a factor rushing the passer at the next level, although he certainly will likely be able to do some damage in that regard collapsing the pocket and absorbing blockers. Bottom-line: Prototype big-bodied space-eating, run-stuffing interior defensive lineman who possesses surprising athleticism and speed for a big man, but may not be much more than a two-down guy because of limitations against the pass.
Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia, 5-11, 229, 4.50, JR … Very athletic third-year junior won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top LB in both high school and college this year when he led the Bulldogs’ defense with 72 tackles, including 6 sacks, 5.5 other tackles for loss, 2 picks, 8 pass break-ups and 2 forced fumbles. He’s not all that big at a listed 5-11, 229. What he is, though, is the fastest LB in this year’s draft with sideline-to-sideline range; he’s also got excellent instincts and the quickness and nimble feet to slide through the traffic and find the ball. And while he’s not all that big, he plays with excellent leverage and really explodes into tackles. Can also contribute in defending the pass as both a blitzer who can shoot the gap as well as in coverage, although he will struggle at times to deal with taller, longer TEs when manned up. For good measure, he’s also a great character kid and an outstanding student in the classroom who is majoring in mechanical engineering. Bottom line: Dean is an outstanding all-around LB with the speed and range to get some top ten consideration, but there will be concerns about the lack of size.
Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah, 6-2.5, 237, 4.66, SR … Disruptive fifth-year senior was actually recruited as a safety, but developed into one of the country’s most productive interior LBs. In 2021, for example, he posted 110 tackles, including 8 sacks, 14 other tackles for loss, 4 interceptions (including a couple of pick 6s), and 6 other pass breakups, although his production did decline somewhat in the latter part of the year. Long, lean LB with good, though, not necessarily elite speed. Still has sideline-to-sideline range as he reads the field so well and has great instincts and anticipation. Also very quick to read interior run plays and consistently beats the blockers to the point of attack; also one of the best in college football shooting the gap and getting into the backfield. Solid enough wrap-up tackler, although he’s not real physical and will slide off on occasion. As a long-legged guy also has some issues taking on and shedding blockers when he doesn’t beat them to the point of attack. As a former DB has always been a very good coverage LB who matches up well with RBs and TEs. Also quick and instinctive in zone and features excellent ball skills for a backer. Also emerged as a gap-jumping pass rusher this fall with those 8 sacks, but needs a clean seam as he doesn’t have much in the way of natural pass rush moves. Bottom line: Arguably the most productive LB in college football, Lloyd figures to be one of the first two ILBs off the board this coming April along with Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, although top 10-15 might be just a little early given the questions about his overall physicality.
Christian Harris, ILB, Alabama, 6-0.5, 226, 4.44, JR … Third-year junior has been a key part of the Alabama defense since he joined the team in 2019, despite the fact he had never played LB until he arrived in Tuscaloosa having been primarily a DB, and sometime WR and TE while returning kicks in high school. He’s not all that big at just under 230 pounds, but he is a thickly built player with exceptional upper and lower body strength. He’s also a very good athlete with near elite LB speed who can run with most backs and TEs in coverage; he’s also quick and agile with sideline-to-sideline range, and despite having only played the position for three years has good vision and instincts. He also does a decent job finding his way thru traffic, although he can get engulfed by big offensive linemen at times. When he does find the ball, he’s a physical tackler who drives thru ball-carriers. Only real issue is that while he is very good in man coverage, he isn’t as comfortable in zone, where he reacts okay to receivers in front of him but doesn’t always really anticipate the full route package. He’s also not a natural pass rusher in the sense that he’s not going to shed an offensive lineman on the way to the QB, but he is a good blitzer with quickness who can get into the backfield if he gets a gap; indeed, he had a total of ten sacks over the past couple of years. Bottom line: Came into the season rated as the #1 LB in the 2022 draft class and a legit top 10-15 prospect, but like former Tide safety Xavier McKinney a couple of years back, has slipped back a little as he just didn’t pile up big numbers this fall. Still, he’s a very athletic, physical, versatile backer with three-down value as he has the ability to match up with TEs and RBs in pass coverage and could be a real steal for some team in the latter part of the opening round or early second this coming April.
Leo Chenal, ILB, Wisconsin, 6-2.5, 250, 4.53, JR … Third-year junior had a breakout year in 2021 when he had 115 tackles including 8 sacks and 10.5 other tackles for loss. Chenal is a throwback thumper who takes no prisoners defending the run. He is a 250-pound weight-room warrior with strong hands and solid instincts who does a nice job sifting thru the traffic and really delivers a pop when he finds the ball. He’s also a better than advertised athlete with decent straight-line speed, although he’s probably more a between-the-tackles type rather than a sideline-to-sideline guy. He’s also not the most agile LB out there with somewhat limited change of directions skills; in fact, he’s probably most disruptive getting into gaps and crashing the line of scrimmage. That stiffness also extends to coverage where Chenal has never been much of a factor in either man or zone. However, he is an excellent pass rusher coming off the edge where he has some initial quickness, plays with good pad leverage and strength and has some rudimentary pass rush moves. He also has one of the great motors in college football and is an inspirational team leader. Bottom line: Developing star with an intriguing combination of skills in that he is both a dominating run defender and an effective power pass rusher who, in the right system where he gets moved around depending on the situation, could have real pro bowl potential.
Derek Stingley, CB, LSU, 6-0, 190, 4.35, JR … Third-year junior was the #1 high school recruit in the country and was named an All-American as he started every game in the Tigers’ national championship season as a true freshman in 2019, but hasn’t been as prominent the past two years because of a series of injuries. Still made it two years as an AA in 2020 despite missing games with first a concussion and then later a leg issue, but played in only three games this past season because of a training camp foot injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. When healthy has all the tools of a true shutdown corner including prototype length, elite speed, fluid hips, great hands ball skills, and excellent instincts, vision and patience. Best as a press corner with strong hands and solid technical skills, but also breaks well on the ball in zone. Could be a little more physical defending the run, though, and has been known to give an inconsistent effort at times. Is the grandson of former NFL first rounder Darryl Stingley whose career was tragically cut short when he suffered that catastrophic spinal cord injury back in 1978. Bottom line: Stingley has as much pure talent as any corner to come along since Patrick Peterson (who also wore #7 at LSU) a decade ago, but scouts have to figure out whether off years the past couple of seasons were primarily the result of injuries or are legitimate red flags.
Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, CB, Cincinnati, 6-3, 190, 4.41, JR … Third-year junior was a lightly recruited 160-pound WR/CB coming out of high school, but emerged as one of the cover corners in the country after bulking up to the 200-pound range. Was named the AAC Defensive Player of Year this fall as well as an All-American for the second time; actually could be three straight AA years as he was a Freshman All-American back in 2019. Had a remarkably productive college career as opposing QBs barely completed 30% of their throws against him and he never gave up a TD pass in his entire career, although playing in the AAC he wasn’t facing a steady diet of elite receivers. Has excellent length and uses hands and reach to disrupt routes. Also has really nimble feet and great vision and instincts. He also has a burst and is a long strider who covers a lot of ground, but still lacks sprinter speed. And as a former prep WR also has excellent hands and ball skills. Can play in both press and zone coverage, although he’s better in the former. Could be a little more physical tackler and probably needs to add some strength. Also needs to polish his technique as he can also be a little grabby at times and will also gamble at times going for the big play. Bottom line: Really talented cover corner that dominated at the college level and has people talking about a possible top 5-10 pick, although much will still depend on how he times in pre-draft testing.
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida, 6-1.5, 191, 4.39, JR … Third-year junior was looking to build on a breakout year in 2020 this fall, but missed three games with an early-season knee injury and never really got back into form after that. In fact, finished the year with just 29 tackles, one pick and 6 other pass breakups, about half his totals the previous year. If healthy, though has prototype length and speed; indeed, was a state 100M finalist in high school. Physical press corner who does a nice job disrupting routes at the line of scrimmage. Also transitions well out of breaks and has excellent recovery speed, although he could be a little more aggressive when the ball is in the air. Has good vision and instincts in zone, although as a long-legged guy can be a little choppy coming out of his back-peddle. Physical tackler, but will slide off the occasional play going for the big hit rather than just wrapping up. And yes, he’s a nephew of former Baltimore first-rounder Matt Elam; in fact, his father also played in the NFL for several years. Bottom line: Aggressive cover corner may be being a little undervalued at this point based on an underwhelming 2021 season, but much of that may be attributed to the knee injury. In fact, has prototype length, speed and athleticism, along with a feisty demeanor, and could be something of a first-round sleeper.
Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson, 6-0, 194, 4.45, JR … Third-year junior was one of Clemson’s highest recruits ever and evolved into a very steady, dependable cover corner. Has good size and length, including long arms, for the position. Also has good, though not necessarily great, speed along with better quickness and agility. Also is very smooth in his back-peddle and can turn and run on a dime, although he’s not as quick changing directions. Aggressive press corner who uses his hands and long arms to effectively disrupt routes; also confident in zone where he appears to prefer to play off and keep everything in front of him. Also tracks the ball well and stays patient and under control when it’s in the air. He’s also a feisty kid who is a physical tackler and will get his nose dirty in run defense, but has a tendency to leave his feet too early at times. Bottom line: Polished corner who may be one of the safer picks in this year’s draft in that he does not appear to have any major holes in his game. At the same time, though, he doesn’t really excel at any particular phase of the game which, along with somewhat questionable long speed, could limit his upside.
Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn, 5-11, 190, 4.50, SR … Fourth-year senior held up well facing the gauntlet of quality SEC receivers week-in and week-out. Solidly-built player who is tall enough, but has very short arms. Ad because of the short arms is somewhat limited in his ability to disrupt routes at the line of scrimmage. McCreary also lacks elite track-type speed, but is very quick, nimble and instinctive with a very fluid back-peddle and excellent body control. As a result, he is able to mirror receivers all over the field and keep separation to a minimum. Also has good ball skills and doesn’t panic when it’s in the air. He’s also a versatile DB who can play outside as well as cover the slot; he’s also physical enough that he could find a role as a nickel safety. Bottom line: Sticky cover corner with plenty of high quality experience on his resume, but is another CB this year who may have a somewhat limited upside because of the lack of 4.3 speed along with the issue of the short arms.
Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington, 5-10.5, 193, 4.44, JR … Versatile third-year junior, McDuffie is a physical, instinctive corner, although he’s probably quicker than he is fast and is ultimately best in zone coverage where he has excellent vision and quickness and can anticipate and jump routes. He’s also a thumper when he does find the ball. Has good enough speed with nimble feet and excellent lateral agility; also has the fluidity to sink his hips and quickly get in and out of breaks, but lacks that extra gear when the ball is in the air. He will battle in press coverage, though, but will struggle to match-up with bigger receivers. Very physical tackler will throw his body around and run through ball-carriers, although he could do a better job getting off blocks. Bottom line: Smart, feisty corner likely lacks the length and pure foot speed to qualify as an elite prospect; however, he is arguably the best zone corner in this draft as well as potentially the best candidate as a nickel CB.
Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington, 5-11.5, 194, 4.52, JR … Fourth-year junior was primarily a special teamer over his first three seasons with the Huskies, but emerged as a physical cover corner in 2021 when he made 46 tackles and picked off a couple of passes while breaking up 9 others. Intriguing athlete with elite quickness, agility, and leaping ability; indeed, he reportedly has posted a 42-inch vertical and shuttle times that would have blown away the field among last year’s combine invitees. However, his long speed is only decent with a projected 40 time in the 4.50 range and he can be a little stiff coming out of his back-peddle. He’s also a thickly-built kid who is an aggressive tackler in run support and defending screens. Also physical at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, but will struggle to stay with quicker, faster receivers once they move downfield. In fact, he is probably best in zone where he sees the field well, stays balanced and patient, reacts quickly to the ball, and comes up and delivers a blow on the receiver. Interesting player who lists his background in dance and martial arts for much of agility. Bottom line: Rising, physical CB with good all-around cover skills who has at least some Pro Bowl potential in the right system, but is still just a tad behind some of the other top corners in this year’s draft because of the lack of pure elite footspeed.
Tariq Woolen, CB, Texas-San Antonio, 6-4, 205, 4.26, SR … Fifth-year senior was originally recruited as a receiver and only switched to defense two years ago, but has emerged as an intriguing cornerback prospect with elite measurables who had a very solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl where he more than held his own against top-flight competition and then literally blew up the combine with one of the great athletic performances ever at the event. Indeed, he ran a 4.26 40 and had a 42-inch vertical. Also has excellent size with long (33.5”) arms. He’s very effective using his length to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and can run with anybody; as a former receiver, he also tracks the ball well and has decent ball skills, although he actually never made a whole lot of plays at UTSA where he had just 2 career picks and 11 total pass breakups. He is also very comfortable in zone where he has good vision, patience and instincts. However, as a taller (6-4) corner, he can struggle to handle the stop-and-start COD moves of quicker inside receivers. He is also still very much a work in progress from a technical perspective. His hand placement and basic footwork, for example, can be sloppy at times and he’s still learning the intricacies of route anticipation. He also isn’t a particularly strong run defender despite the fact he’s got good size; he doesn’t shed blockers all that well and has a tendency to go for the big hit at times when wrapping up would be just fine. Bottom line: Woolen may be Exhibit A in the productivity versus measurable and pure athletic ability this year. He is still a very raw, more developmental type project, but has a generational set of measurables including size and speed. What will decide the debate is that he did make considerable strides as a cover corner over the past couple of years and, as noted, more than held his own when challenged by quality opposition in Mobile.
Kyle Hamilton, SAF, Notre Dame, 6-4, 220, 4.59, JR … Third-year junior is one of the most talented players in this draft with LB size and temperament combined with speed, range and agility, although he didn’t time as well as expected at the combine with a 4.6-type 40 clocking. It should be noted, though, that nobody really expected him to run at all in Indianapolis because of the fractured foot he injured in mid-season. Very versatile as a safety, as he is just as comfortable playing up in the box or patrolling the deep secondary and could also project to play some at ILB on passing downs. Has outstanding man-coverage skills with the size to match up with bigger TEs and the quickness to handle more traditional slot receivers if needed. Hamilton has excellent instincts along with outstanding ball skills as he anticipates routes well and uses his length and short-area quickness to get his hands on passes. For his career, Hamilton had 8 picks, including 3 in 7 games in 2021. Hamilton also has some potential as a blitzer in that he uses his hands well to take on and control blockers, although he never did record a sack for the Irish. He’s also a really good wrap-up tackler in space. And while he will deliver a pop, he can be a little over-aggressive playing the run and doesn’t also take the best angles to the ball. Did miss a game in 2020 with an ankle injury and then sat out the second half of the 2021 season with a non-career threatening knee injury that did not require surgery. High-character kid who drew praise from the Irish staff for staying engaged while he was out, as he helped coach up some of the younger DBs. Bottom line: Hamilton is arguably pound-for-pound the best player in this draft and would be very much in the debate to be the #1 player selected if he played a more valued position. Still figures to be a top 5-10 pick with the versatility to provide the team that selects him multiple options in their defensive scheme.
Daxton Hill, SAF, Michigan, 6-0, 191, 4.38, JR … Third-year junior with exceptional athletic ability has reportedly run in the low 4.3s with a 43-inch vertical. He’s also a very versatile player who can work as both a nickel safety as well as a straight-up corner in a pinch. He’s also a physical player who is very aggressive coming up to make plays in the box despite the fact that at a tad over 190 pounds, he’s not necessarily all that big for a safety; he’s also effective jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. However, despite the fact that he’s really fast and can run with just about any receiver out there, he is somewhat tight in the hips, isn’t particularly agile and has barely average change of direction skills. In zone, he sees the field well and breaks crisply on the ball, although he isn’t necessarily that instinctive and tends to react primarily to what’s in front of him rather than anticipating developing situations. Bottom line: Hill is going to be one of those players that really tests NFL scouts. On the one hand, there’s a lot of upside there based on the fact that he’s a physical, aggressive player with elite speed and plenty of versatility. At the same time, though, he’s not the smoothest or most instinctive player out there, but in a year in which the safety class isn’t all that talented, at least after Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, teams looking to upgrade at safety are going to be intrigued by that upside.
Kerby Joseph, SAF, Illinois, 6-0.5, 203, 4.55, SR … After three rather undistinguished years in which he only had a couple of starts with the Illini, the fourth-year senior had a breakout year in 2021 when he posted 57 tackles and picked off 5 passes while making the Big Ten’s first-unit all-conference team. He also had a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl. He’s a good sized safety with relatively long arms for the position (33 inches). And while most of the other top safeties in the 2022 class are primarily in-the-box type players known primarily for their physicality, Joseph is a ball-hawker who played the majority of his snaps in the deep secondary. He doesn’t necessarily have track speed, but is a long strider who is quick off the mark; he also has good body control, tracks the ball well and has good ball skills, although he doesn’t always trust his eyes and will hesitate on occasion before reacting in zone. Can also be trusted in man coverage where he uses his long arms and strong hands to disrupt routes and will battle for the ball in the air. And while not known as a thumper in run support per se, he is a solid enough run defender who reads the play well and is a reliable wrap-up tackler. Bottom line: One of the better pass defending safeties in the 2022 draft. Joseph has excellent length and range over the top; he’s also fluid in space and has good ball skills, but needed to have played with better anticipation and awareness to earn a higher grade, particularly given that he only had one true elite year of production.
Lewis Cine, SAF, Georgia, 6-2, 199, 4.37, JR … Third-year junior became one of the leaders on the UGA defense that powered the Dawgs to this year’s national championship. Indeed, his calling card is that he’s a super aggressive, physical tackler, whether coming up in run support or trying to separate receivers coming over the middle from the ball. In fact, he led the team in tackles this season, although he can be too aggressive at times which has resulted in unnecessary targeting calls. Plus he tends to come in high and will occasionally fail to wrap up and slides off the tackle. Has decent size and very good length for a safety. Also a very good athlete with a 40 time of 4.37 that he combines with good quickness, body control and lateral range, although he isn’t quite as dominant in coverage as in run support. However, he does have enough athleticism to play a lot of man, although he doesn’t always track balls over his head all that well. Is more comfortable in zone where he reads the field and anticipates routes well and has a great break on the ball. And as noted above, he delivers a pop when he gets there. Smart player who made most of the calls in the secondary although he was only a 3rd-year guy. Bottom line: Rising junior safety prospect with decent size, good athleticism and a nasty demeanor. Is probably best suited to playing in the box close to the line of scrimmage, but does have the tools to be effective farther on downfield, although there are some coachable elements in his deep game that need to be cleaned up.
Verone McKinley, SAF, Oregon, 5-10.5, 198, 4.50, JR … Emerging fourth-year junior played in the shadow of Duck defensive stars like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell, but was arguably the most consistently productive player on the unit. Indeed, he had 78 tackles in 2021 along with 6 picks and 6 other pass breakups, with the half dozen interceptions giving him 11 for his career. He’s not all that big or long, but is a solid enough run defender who does not shy away from contact. McKinley closes quickly on the ball and is a dependable wrap-up tackler. Also does a good job of reacting and closing the space to the ball-carrier. What makes McKinley really intriguing to the NFL are his coverage skills. He’s got good speed and better quickness, plus he’s a smooth athlete who can turn and run with ease and is comfortable changing directions. He also does a nice job tracking the ball in the air and has good ball skills. In zone, he reads the quarterback’s eyes well and does a good job of undercutting routes. What truly sets McKinley apart, though, are his instincts and route anticipation. He is something of a QB on the defense with a rare football IQ who sees the field really well, processes that information quickly and is often able to pass it on to others on the defense as the play is developing. Bottom line: Underrated coverage safety who isn’t all that big and lacks elite speed, but is still a really productive kid who understands the game and wins with quickness, agility and outstanding anticipation.
Jaquan Brisker, SAF, Penn State, 6-1.5, 199, 4.49, SR+ … Experienced super senior safety with five years of college football under his belt including three at Penn State and two at the junior college level. He’s also a three-time All-American, including twice at PSU and once in JC. Brisker is a physical safety with good size, length, speed and overall athleticism. He is an aggressive runner and defender in the box who reads the play quickly, has a burst to the ball, and uses his length effectively to shed blocks. He is also a very physical tackler, although he will overrun the odd play when he isn’t under control going for the highlight reel hit. And whether in run support or coverage, he has excellent awareness and anticipation and is very smooth changing direction which results in sideline-to-sideline range. Still better in zone where he has a good feel for what’s going on around him, breaks crisply on the ball and has good ball skills when he gets there. However, while he has decent straight-line speed with a 40 time of 4.49 seconds, he will struggle to run with faster receivers. He also doesn’t track the ball all that well on passes over his head. Given that he played 5 years in college, it should be no surprise that he is a somewhat older player who will turn 23 the week before the draft. However, he’s also a pretty mature guy who went thru a tough time after his older brother was killed when he was 15. Bottom line: Another quality in-the-box safety with good size, athleticism and energy who figures to be very much in the debate to be the second safety off the board this coming April.
Jalen Pitre, SAF, Baylor, 5-11, 198, 4.45, SR … Rising fifth-year senior who spent 3 rather undistinguished years with the Bears, but then blossomed into one of the more productive safeties in the country in his final two seasons in the program, including 2021, when he was a finalist for both the Thorpe (best defensive back) and Big XII Defensive Player of the Year. He then put an exclamation point on his emergence with an excellent week at this year’s Senior Bowl. Actually played a kind of a hybrid S/LB role with the Bears in which he usually lined up in the box near the line of scrimmage as a third LB in a 4-2 scheme. He’s not all that big or physical, but he is quick and instinctive with excellent lateral range. He’s also a sure wrap-up tackler who was really adept at beating the blockers to the point of attack and getting into the backfield. Indeed, he had 18.5 tackles for loss this past season. However, he could do a better job getting off blocks if he doesn’t beat the offense to the point of attack. He’s also an effective blitzer who had 6 sacks over the past two seasons that can bend on the edge and knife through the line to make plays. There are some questions about how well Pitre will hold up in coverage at the next level as he just didn’t do much of that at Baylor, but he does have good speed and was very good in zone in college where he sees the field well and breaks crisply on the ball. Also held up well enough covering RBs and TEs in man, but manning up against faster, quicker WRs was another story, although he did show better than advertised coverage skills at the Senior Bowl. Of note, he did suffer a knee injury as a junior in high school that will have to be checked out. Bottom line: Experienced in-the-box safety who isn’t all that big, but has big-time speed and quickness, agility and range, instincts and competitiveness. Is something of a tweener on paper, but is a playmaker on the field who given a chance in the right scheme could quite easily become a very good pro.
Bubba Bolden, SAF, Miami, 6-2, 209, 4.47, SR … Fifth-year senior has had something of an up-and-down career. Was a big-time recruit who originally signed with Southern California in 2017, but didn’t played much as a true freshman and then was suspended for the 2018 season after running afoul with the law over a wild party. He transferred to Miami and had an excellent season in 2020 when he was a Thorpe Award semi-finalist after leading the Canes with 74 tackles. However, he missed much of both the 2019 (ankle) and 2021 (shoulder) seasons which will no doubt lead to some questions about his durability. The fact that he injured the ankle in 2019 celebrating an interception could also have some teams red flagging him for maturity concerns. When he has played, Bolden has proven to be a versatile safety with good size and length who is a physical, downhill run-first defender who makes quick reads, is strong at the point of attack, and is an aggressive tackler, although he has had a few too many missed tackles after failing to wrap up; he also doesn’t always take the best angles to the ball. He does have the size and speed to run with most TEs in coverage, but overall he’s not as comfortable playing the pass, where he’s made little impact, as he tends to lack vision and awareness, while there are also concerns about his deep speed and agility. In fact, over the past two seasons, he had a total of just 1 pick and 6 other pass break-ups. He does have decent straight-line speed for a safety, but is stiff in the hips and doesn’t turn or change direction all that fluidly. Bottom line: Interesting prospect who does have some physical tools including good size and length, along with adequate speed and athleticism, but he would appear to be more of a developmental type prospect as there are some inconsistencies in his game.
- Posts not found