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Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press
The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas aside, the 2022 NFL draft was unlike any we’ve seen. The twists and turns that took place during the first round simply couldn’t have been predicted.
Since the turn of the century, this year’s draft became only the sixth time that a quarterback didn’t go No. 1 overall. A quarterback didn’t even hear his named called until the 20th overall pick, which is the lowest since Jim Druckenmiller’s selection with the 26th overall pick in 1997.
The likes of Liberty’s Malik Willis, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral all fell outside of the opening frame. Instead, this year’s class has been defined by trench play.
The last two Super Bowls proved that teams must properly protect their quarterbacks and/or find ways to consistently rattle opposing signal-callers with pressure. As a result, prospects who affect quarterback play are more valuable than ever.
Follow along as Bleacher Report provides updates, analysis and grades for every single pick of the 2022 draft.
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Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Travon Walker, DL, Georgia
Strengths: Premium athlete, versatility, sudden and violent, readymade run defender
Weaknesses: Nonexistent pass-rush plan, poor hand usage, inconsistent when disengaging from blocks
Courtney Brown, Mario Williams, Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett set the stage as the last four edge-defenders to hear their names called with the No. 1 overall pick. Travon Walker has now joined this select group.
The Georgia Bulldogs defense was so loaded with talent that Walker may have been the team’s fourth- or fifth-most discussed NFL prospect, even though he’s more physically gifted than anyone not named Jordan Davis among the group.
Walker’s raw data is staggering.
The 21-year-old prospect stands 6’5″ and weighs 275 pounds with 35½-inch arms. At that size, Walker posted a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, 35.5-inch vertical, 10’3″ broad jump, 6.89-second three-cone drill and 4.32-second short shuttle. He finished top-four among defensive ends in the 40-yard-dash and both change-of-direction drills.
To better understand just how athletic Walker is for a man of his stature, consider that he posted the second-highest relative athletic score of any defensive end since 1987, according to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte.
Typically, a prospect profile requires more detail than just athletic testing. In this case, Walker’s raw upside drives his value, because his combination of size, wingspan and movement skills are rare. To his credit, the defensive lineman does play with a certain level of viciousness. He simply needs to put it all together by honing his craft and improving his technique.
Only 9.5 career sacks is scary, though.
“Testing-wise, he’s better than Myles Garrett,” an anonymous defensive coach told The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman. “He’s a freak and he is aggressive. With Myles, we didn’t really know how much he wants to set the edge against the run. His motor was up and down. This guy is an animal. He was playing on such a loaded team, but when the production isn’t really there, it does kind of scare you.”
The Jaguars are clearly banking on Walker’s potential. The physical tools are special. The next step is harnessing those capabilities and getting them to consistently translate to the field.
As a system fit, Walker should excel in Mike Caldwell’s scheme. It’s similar to the one Georgia employed. The new No. 1 overall pick can line head up on an offensive tackle or even in a 4i. The versatility is part of the reason he topped the board.
Yet the continued questions of whether Walker will ever become a game-changer as an edge-rusher can’t be overlooked.
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Joe Buglewicz/Associated Press
Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
Strengths: Relentlessness, power at point of attack, varied pass-rushing plan, instant-impact run defender
Weaknesses: Somewhat stiff edge-rusher, inconsistent pad level, lacks top-end burst, short arms
Everyone knows what Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson brings to the table. He’s a 6’6⅝“, 260-pound defender who will give everything he has while serving as an excellent locker room addition.
The biggest question surrounding the reigning Ted Hendricks Award and Lombardi Award winner is how much growth potential he presents. As previously mentioned, he’s a high-motor guy and excellent leader. His physical tools might be limited compared to other prospects at the position, though.
Despite being a potential first-round pick in 2021, Hutchinson returned to Michigan for another season last year. He then helped guide the program to its first College Football Playoff appearance while setting the school’s single-season record with 14 sacks.
There’s minimal downside to this selection, but the same could be said about his upside. Therein lies the rub: Scouts question both his athletic upside and ability to define a defense with the level of dominating play expected of a top pick.
“He’s more of a technician,” an anonymous scout told Go Long’s Bob McGinn. “… The guy’s strength is going up the field. I don’t know how much he can improve. Guys with better hips and flexibility might be able to improve more.”
Another said, “Not the most gifted athletically but he maximizes everything he’s got.”
Hutchinson has arguably the fewest drawbacks out of any prospect this year. However, he may never develop into a difference-maker.
The Detroit Lions keep Hutchinson in-state. The speed with which the organization chose to make this decision says how highly general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell think of the Michigan product.
Hutchinson brings the type of attitude that fits beautifully within Campbell’s “biting kneecaps” mentality. The defensive lineman helped elevate a Michigan program that had been stuck in a lull. His production, tenacity and leadership set the tone for everyone else.
What is Hutchinson’s ultimate upside? This question is what takes this selection from a slamdunk ‘A’ to just outside of that range, because Hutchinson may never develop into one of the league’s elite pass-rushers. But he’s exactly what the Lions need.
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Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Strengths: Fluid hips to sink and turn, burst to close space and drive on routes, hair trigger with route recognition, ball skills are evident
Weaknesses: Injury history, engagement, consistency within coverage when not regularly tested and run support
Derek Stingley Jr. was a star from the moment he stepped onto the LSU campus. During the Tigers’ 2019 national championship run, he earned first-team All-SEC honors and was a consensus All-American.
A few issues arose over the last two seasons, though. According to ESPN’s Matt Miller, NFL scouts have serious concerns about the 6’0″, 190-pound cornerback staying healthy and “locked in” at the professional level.
Stingley did require Lisfranc surgery and played in only three games last year. In fact, he participated in only 10 games over the last two seasons combined. However, he fully recovered from his foot injury and participated in LSU’s pro day three weeks before the draft.
When healthy and on point, Stingley has shutdown potential. He flourishes in man coverage, though he’s also comfortable with zone principles.
At his very best, Stingley sizzles with outstanding ball skills. In 2019, the defensive back snagged six interceptions and defended 15 passes. He’ll need to be that version of himself in the NFL on a weekly basis to return positive value on this selection.
Stingley is never going to be the most physical or engaged participant on the field, particularly against the run. He doesn’t need to be as long as his coverage remains top-notch.
Star power is exactly what the Houston Texans needed. The franchise has been sorely lacking it since the transition under the supervision of general manager Nick Caserio began.
Prior to Stingley’s selection, the Texans’ cornerback room consisted of Lonnie Johnson Jr., Desmond King II, Steven Nelson, Tremon Smith and Tavierre Thomas. The entire defense lacked a true difference-maker. Stingley changes everything in how the Texans are being built. Houston’s defense will be built from back to front, as the franchise is set to face Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill and Trevor Lawrence twice per season.
An elite cover corner who has the tools to completely lock down a top receiver changes a team’s entire defensive approach. This won’t be the same old Lovie Smith defensive scheme.
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Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Strengths: Rangy defender, shutdown coverage in press, zone flexibility, burst to drive onto passes, steps up against the run
Weaknesses: Questionable change-of-direction movement skills, grabs too much, too many technique breakdowns
In early April, Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner proclaimed himself to be the best player in this year’s draft class.
That declaration shouldn’t be viewed as brazen or even unrealistic. His confidence is exactly what a team should want from a top-rated cornerback who’s expected to cover the NFL’s best receivers in a pass-friendly league.
More importantly, the consensus All-American can back up his statement.
Gardner never allowed a touchdown reception during his collegiate career, according to Pro Football Focus. His career quarterback rating allowed into coverage was lower than if the quarterback intentionally threw incomplete passes his way, per PFF. He surrendered only one pass completion over 10 air yards during the 2021 campaign, per ESPN’s Seth Walder. Recruiting Analytics also noted Gardner allowed only 1.8 yards of separation.
The reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year leaves college football as a truly dominant cornerback. He has the physical tools every team wants at the position, too.
Gardner is 6’3″ and 190 pounds with 33½-inch arms and 4.41-second 40-yard-dash speed. He’s an aggressive press-cover corner who plays a physical brand of football, which can be a potential pitfall at the next level.
While Gardner has spent the majority of his career in press coverage, he excels in zone as well. However, he must refrain from getting overly handsy and rely more on his technique since NFL pass interference rules are far stricter than they are in college.
With the Houston Texans selecting Derek Stingley Jr. one pick earlier, the New York Jets pulled the trigger on Gardner maybe a little earlier than expected.
Gardner isn’t a reach at this juncture by any means. He almost certainly wouldn’t have been on the board with the 10th overall pick. But the opportunity to upgrade the secondary had to come now. The Jets knew they had to upgrade last year’s secondary after finishing 30th in pass defense, especially when they face the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen and Miami Dolphins’ explosive wide receivers on the regular.
Gardner’s physicality is a dream for Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme in which he can beat up wide receivers near the line of scrimmage like Richard Sherman once did.
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Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
Strengths: Tailor-made NFL edge-rusher, explosive, lateral agility, flexibility
Weaknesses: Inconsistent pass-rush plan, hand usage, on-field commitment?
Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux had the potential to be the preseason No. 1 overall prospect–which he was in most cases–and stay there until the draft began. Instead, he hit a few road bumps.
Thibodeaux has the physical tools every team wants in a modern pass-rusher. The 6’4″, 254-pound defender presents the explosivity and quickness to blow by offensive tackles. He did so regularly.
Unfortunately, the edge-defender suffered an ankle injury that hampered him throughout the first half of the 2021 campaign. As a result, his overall production didn’t match the hype. He managed seven sacks, and four of those came in two games.
Also, NFL evaluators question Thibodeaux’s competitive fire. Some may view this as predraft posturing to drive down a top talent’s value, but others may think there are legitimate concerns about his commitment.
Whatever the case, if Thibodeaux maximizes his growth potential, he could very well be one of the game’s best pass-rushers in short order.
Bleacher Report never wavered on Thibodeaux’s potential. He’s been the highest-ranked player by the site’s scouting department throughout the entire process.
The ability and traits aren’t in question. Obviously, other factors came into play. But Thibodeaux will now be placed in Don “Wink” Martindale’s aggressive scheme. He can play from a two- or three-point stance. His versatility is ideal for the system.
Thibodeaux opposite Azeez Ojulari gives the Giants two highly athletic and explosive ends to pair with a big and physical defensive front to set the tone in the NFC East.
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Chris Seward/Associated Press
Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Strengths: Bulldozing run-blocker, punch packed with dynamite, lateral agility, inside-out versatility
Weaknesses: Oversets, hand placement can be all over the place
North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu has some Incredible Hulk in him.
As a result, NFL offensive line coaches won’t be able to help but fall in love with the 310-pound blocker. Ekwonu is aggressive on the field and has a level of violence in his blocks not often seen from line prospects. Off the field, Ekwonu brings an affable personality, which invites everyone to congregate around him.
Of any offensive line prospect in this year’s class, the unanimous All-American posted the most dominant performance. Ekwonu buried opponent after opponent, particularly in the run game. His fearsome demeanor derives from overwhelming power at the point of attack. Ekwonu can crush defenders or just wash them completely down the line. His highlights from the 2021 campaign are something to behold. Bodies fly everywhere.
Athletically, Ekwonu is such an easy mover. The Wolfpack employ a zone-heavy scheme in which the line prospect excelled with his ability to reach and destroy defenders at all three levels. His movement skills showed up at the NFL combine, where he ran a 4.93-second 40-yard dash and floated through the position-specific drills.
Issues arise with the fact that Ekwonu is so athletic yet unrefined. Sometimes, his athleticism allows him to reach landmarks quicker than he should based on the opponent. He must become more patient in pass protection and far more sound with his overall technique. If an offensive line coach can harness his skills, a dominant force will emerge at the NFL level.
A little home cooking can certainly help in Ekwonu’s development. Situations matters. Those on the outside forget these are young men in new situations and new systems. They have to deal with new coaches and newfound fame and riches. It can be a lot.
For Ekwonu, the transition should be a little smoother than it is for a typical rookie since the Charlotte native gets to play close to home.
The Panthers rightly passed on a quarterback. The team didn’t need to force the selection of a signal-caller in what’s clearly a weak position group. Instead, the organization now has a complete offensive line to protect whomever is behind center.
Carolina’s addition of this year’s sixth overall pick, as well as veterans Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett, should significantly elevate the Panthers’ trench play.
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Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Strengths: Massive frame, extraordinary athlete, excellent working in space, plays low and drives defenders off the ball
Weaknesses: One year at left tackle, inconsistent hand placement, can get caught playing over toes
At one time, an elite tackle prospect was the closest to a sure thing the NFL draft could produce.
Between the 1993 and 2000 drafts, the tackles selected among the top 10 consisted of Willie Roaf, Lincoln Kennedy, Tony Boselli, Jonathan Ogden, Willie Anderson, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Kyle Turley and Chris Samuels. Five of them—Roaf, Boselli, Ogden, Pace and Jones—went on to become Hall of Famers.
Since then, the likes of Leonard Davis, Robert Gallery, Jason Smith, Matt Kalil and others evened out the batting average a bit. But the 2022 NFL draft class should veer much closer to the former than the latter.
Alabama’s Evan Neal represents what an NFL tackle should look like. He stands 6’7½” and weighs 337 pounds. His frame naturally holds his bulk, and he looks like he could easily add 50 pounds while not being overly burdened.
Neal has slimmed down a bit over time. Alabama listed him at 350 pounds. But his current build is a testament to the work he’s done since joining the Crimson Tide.
The board couldn’t have set up better for the New York Giants. First, they chose the highest-rated player in the class with the Kayvon Thibodeaux selection. Neal’s addition might even be better simply because he’s the top-rated offensive tackle, per Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department. The Giants desperately needed to upgrade their offensive line, which trumped every other need.
Neal had been in the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick. What makes him so valuable at this juncture is the fact he’s an NFL-ready blocker who can immediately slide into right tackle opposite Andrew Thomas.
Some may sneer about a top-10 pick at right tackle, but the position is more valuable than ever. Elite edge-rushers come off both sides. Defensive coordinators find the weak link and place them there. There’s no longer a weak link at offensive tackle in the Giants’ lineup.
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Drake London, WR, USC
Strengths: Nimble feet for a bigger target, sinks hips in and out of routes, basketball background is evident, massive catch radius, good body control, plays big
Weaknesses: Questionable top-end speed, coming off a season-ending fractured ankle, inconsistent run-blocker
Whenever an oversized wide receiver comes up through the ranks, the same old argument is often used against him: He can’t separate.
Despite numerous examples on film to prove otherwise, that knock hounded Drake London throughout the predraft process. Upon closer inspection, though, he’s an elite target with a series of traits that should delight his new quarterback.
From a physical standpoint, the former USC basketball player brings a little hardwood to the gridiron. His footwork belies his 6’4″, 219-pound frame. London also sinks in and out of his routes. He isn’t some stiff who uses his large frame to overwhelm defensive backs.
From a statistical standpoint, London ranks first in the entire wide receiver class in percentage of targets per route run against man coverage, per Pro Football Focus’ Dwain McFarland. He consistently got open and got fed the ball when teams tried to lock him down with a single corner.
London missed four of the Trojans’ games after suffering a season-ending fractured ankle and still won Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. In fact, his average of 135.5 yards per game would have ranked second overall last season had he qualified.
London is never going to be a burner, but he’s 20 years old with only one full year of purely concentrating on football. He’s a special talent.
Like the Carolina Panthers before them, the Atlanta Falcons decided quarterback wasn’t worth a top-10 selection. London certainly is.
Now he’ll play alongside Kyle Pitts, who pieced together one of the best rookie campaigns ever for a tight end. The duo is a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators, because they simply won’t be able to match up with that much size and athleticism in the passing game.
Sure, the Falcons still need a triggerman to take full advantage of these elite targets. Maybe Marcus Mariota surprises. Or, the Falcons are setting up for their next franchise quarterback, whomever it may be. Whatever the case, the cockpit is now exceptional with a true WR1 on the roster.
The Falcons certainly couldn’t go into this season with Olamide Zaccheaus as their top target.
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Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Strengths: Natural athlete in pass protection, long, better at point of attack than collegiate system indicates
Weaknesses: Limited run-blocking snaps, sometimes bites outside moves to weaken post leg
Entering the predraft process, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross may have been considered a tick below Alabama’s Evan Neal and North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu as a top-tier offensive tackle prospect. Yet Cross also deserves the designation as the class’ most natural pass protector.
Some probably expected the previous statement, considering Cross played in Mike Leach’s Air Raid scheme. Of course, pass protection is of the utmost importance, and the 6’5″, 307-pound left tackle became a wall as the Bulldogs’ blindside protector.
Two things should be taken into account when contextualizing Cross’ standing as an elite pass-blocker, though.
First, he’s not a product of the system. Translatable traits are readily apparent. The offensive lineman displays superb fluidity in his lower body to mirror in his pass set. His long arms (34½”) help to ward off speed-rushers. Cross is usually patient and sound in his technique.
Secondly, the Bulldogs didn’t originally recruit Cross to play in Leach’s scheme. The offensive tackle came in under former head coach Joe Moorhead in 2019, and he deserves credit for his physicality in the run game.
Furthermore, the collegiate left tackle worked out at right tackle during the leadup to the draft, giving him a little more position flexibility.
The Seattle Seahawks probably didn’t expect Cross to be available with the ninth overall pick. He certainly looked like a strong option for other franchises earlier in the process. But the first offensive tackle didn’t come off the board until the sixth overall pick, which pushed Cross down the board.
This selection isn’t just good value. The Seahawks couldn’t have gone in any other direction. The previous statement may seem hyperbolic, yet both of Seattle’s starting tackles remain available in free agency. Maybe Brandon Shell returns, but Duane Brown certainly won’t after general manager John Schneider drafted the veteran left tackle’s replacement.
Obviously, quarterback remains in question. The Seahawks don’t have an answer at the game’s most important position. But the Seahawks now know they can protect whichever quarterback takes snaps this fall.
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Noah K. Murray/Associated Press
Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Strengths: Big-play potential with every touch, plays much bigger than frame indicates, extends to routinely make catches away from body
Weaknesses: Inconsistencies within route running, releases and footwork can be sloppy
In some ways, Garrett Wilson is Jaylen Waddle to Chris Olave’s DeVonta Smith.
The Alabama tandem both heard their names called in the top 10 of last year’s draft. Waddle went higher than Smith because he was viewed as the more explosive option, whereas Smith had the reputation of a more developed and nuanced player.
Like Waddle, Wilson is the big-play threat. He has been since the moment he stepped onto Ohio State’s campus as a 5-star recruit. The 21-year-old averaged 15.5 yards per reception throughout his collegiate career.
At 6’0″ and 183 pounds, Wilson isn’t the most physical wide receiver. But he instantly creates after the catch thanks to an impressive combination of short-area burst and long speed. In fact, his 4.38-second 40-yard dash and accompanying 10-yard and 20-yard splits are considered elite. That quickness regularly showed up on film.
Wilson’s size isn’t a major hindrance, either. He regularly fought for 50-50 balls and made catches outside of his frame. Ohio State liked to use him on fade routes in the end zone.
An NFL wide receivers coach will help clean up his release, particularly when working against the jam. That will make Wilson even more dangerous as he further refines his overall game.
The New York Jets pass offense ranked among the bottom half of the league last season. Wilson can step in and develop alongside last year’s second overall pick, quarterback Zach Wilson.
General manager Joe Douglas spent the last two years building up the trenches. He’s now shifted course with a concentration on winning outside the numbers. Cornerback Sauce Gardner gives the team a potential shutdown corner for Robert Saleh’s defense. Wilson adds some dynamism to an offense that grew stagnant at times last season.
Corey Davis hasn’t lived up to his contract status yet. He still could. But the Jets are better off with Wilson, Davis and Elijah Moore as a trio to make sure they’re more explosive in their franchise quarterback’s second year. The only question is whether someone like fellow Ohio State product Chris Olave might have been a better fit, because he’s a more polished option. Regardless, the Jets needed another weapon in the worst way.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Strengths: Class’ best route-runner, knows how to play with tempo, effective from slot and outside the numbers, soft hands
Weaknesses: Slight frame, shorter arms, provides little after the catch
Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne became top-10 all-time NFL receivers despite not being the biggest, fastest or most physically impressive targets. But they were smooth.
To play the wide receiver position at a high level, the goal is simple: get open.
Ohio State’s Chris Olave enters the NFL as a polished route-runner. He’s a ready-made receiving threat with the ability to play multiple roles, much like he did for the Buckeyes.
In three seasons, Olave never served as the focal point of Ohio State’s passing attack because of how much talent the team boasted. Despite that, the two-time first-team All-Big Ten wideout led the program with 163 receptions and 2,505 yards over the last three seasons. His 32 touchdown receptions are the most in the Big Ten Conference during the same period.
That production is a byproduct of Olave’s reliability. Others within the scheme might have created splashier plays or posted bigger overall numbers, but Ohio State’s coaching staff knew exactly where the ball was going when it mattered most.
“You see that against some of the best players we played against, the best competition’s when he played his best games,” Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day told reporters. “He was clutch, a very good route-runner.”
The New Orleans Saints weren’t waiting to see if Chris Olave would fall to them with the 16th overall pick. Instead, general manager Mickey Loomis chose to trade up five spots and give away third- and fourth-round picks to make sure they land the class’ most pro-ready receiver.
Olave with fellow Ohio State alum Michael Thomas is a dangerous pairing. The incoming rookie has legit sub-4.4 speed to go along with polished route-running skills. If Thomas returns to form as one of the game’s best wide receivers, quarterback Jameis Winston now has a dynamic duo working on the outside after the Saints struggled to generate a consistent aerial attack in 2021.
Granted, part of the issues stemmed from injuries to Thomas and Winston. But the Saints couldn’t find themselves in the same position as last year when they had no one on the outside to pick up the slack.
If not for the extra picks the Saints spent to trade up, the Olave pick would have been perfect.
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Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Strengths: Speed, speed and more speed, knows how to tempo his routes to take full advantage of said speed, sinks into his routes and explodes through his stems
Weaknesses: Torn ACL recovery, one year of high-level production, sub-180-pound receiver
Alabama’s Jameson Williams didn’t have an opportunity to prove just how fast he is during the predraft process. He’s continuing to recover from a torn ACL that he suffered during this year’s College Football National Championship Game.
Let’s just say, he’s pretty darn fast.
“I just know nobody could run with me,” Williams told reporters at the NFL combine. “I don’t know no 40 time. I just know nobody could run with me. Just say whatever the fastest 40 time here is–I’m faster.”
For posterity’s sake, Baylor cornerback Kalon Barnes ran the fastest 40-yard dash in Indianapolis with a 4.23-second effort.
Williams’ on-field acceleration is more than enough to support his argument. The 21-year-old transferred from Ohio State to Alabama this past year and torched the nation’s most talented defenses. The first-team All-SEC selection caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns after getting out of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson’s shadow.
Williams also earned SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year. His average of 35.2 yards per kick return led the nation among those with 10 or more opportunities.
To ease any concerns about the injury, Williams told NFL Network’s James Palmer that he’s “shooting for” being ready and cleared medically by the start of training camp.
The run on wide receiver hit full tilt. The Detroit Lions moved all the way up from the 32nd overall pick, also giving up second- and third-round picks, to land Williams.
The trade itself may seem a little desperate, but it’s not. The Lions made a massive leap and gave up the haul. Yet Williams may have been the first wide receiver drafted had he been fully healthy. Obviously, he’s not. The Lions rightly didn’t care.
Detroit fielded the league’s worst wide receiver corps last season. If not for fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown emerging as a rookie, the group could have been even worse.
Williams tilts the field unlike any other wide receiver prospect in the class. His aforementioned speed affects everything offensively and how opposing defenses must account for him at all times.
The Lions may have to wait a little while before their new WR1 gets onto the field. Totally worth it.
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Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Strengths: Consistently resets line of scrimmage, stack-and-shed machine, first-step quickness, powerful lower body and uses long arms well
Weaknesses: Usage rate, unrefined pass-rushing technique
Jordan Davis is unlike anything anyone has ever seen along the defensive interior. He’s simultaneously an immovable object and an elite athlete.
Sure, defensive tackle Aaron Donald left mouths agape when he demolished his predraft workout and then went on to have a Hall of Fame career. While Donald’s unbelievable effort at the 2014 scouting combine was somewhat expected, he weighed 285 pounds. What Davis accomplished this year at 341 pounds was nothing short of staggering.
The Outland Trophy winner ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash and posted 32-inch vertical and 10’3″ broad jumps. That means he’s taller than Rob Gronkowski, heavier than Jason Peters, faster than Patrick Mahomes and quicker than Jarvis Landry, per NFL Research. The 22-year-old unanimous All-American is the most athletic big man in NFL history.
When Davis took the field, he served as a legitimate difference-maker along Georgia’s defensive interior. He didn’t play an expansive role in the Bulldogs’ defensive rotation, though. The coaching staff didn’t need him to play more than 35-45 percent of the snaps since Georgia’s defense was so loaded.
Davis’ projections may be limited based on usage, but his ability is certainly evident if he’s asked to become a focal point. At worst, he’s an elite run defender. At best, he’s a three-down, one-man wrecking crew.
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman believes in building through the trenches. As such, he felt compelled to jump ahead of the Baltimore Ravens and make sure the Eagles landed a truly unique talent in Davis.
The trade-up was only two picks, but Roseman clearly felt Davis was the Ravens’ guy. So he manipulated the draft to his team’s benefit.
Davis will benefit Philadelphia by adding a massive interior talent to a group that already features Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox. The pick feels like a setup to eventually move beyond Cox, who turns 32 this year. Roseman is simply preparing for the inevitable by making a move for a unicorn at the defensive tackle position.
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Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Strengths: Instincts, range, length, smooth backpedal and change of direction, shutdown tackler, affects game at all three levels
Weaknesses: Lacks top-end speed, can struggle when covering smaller targets
Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton may not be the fastest safety when he’s asked to run a straight line during non-football activities. But his performance when he takes the field makes him the unicorn of the 2022 class.
Like Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson before him, Hamilton’s level of play supersedes the value often placed upon his position group. The consensus All-American is part of a new breed of defensive backs capable of playing at all three levels.
As a deep safety, Hamilton is adept at reading a quarterback’s eyes, tracking the ball and covering a large expanse of space thanks to his rangy 6’4″, 220-pound frame with 33-inch arms. He can then move up and play linebacker in certain packages. He’s also capable of playing near the line of scrimmage and slicing his way into opposing backfields.
Hamilton’s biggest drawback is that he lacks a true top gear. He ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and he couldn’t improve upon that number at Notre Dame’s pro day.
Instead, he performed worse with a pair of 4.7-second efforts.
A player’s feel for the game is far more important than straight-line speed, though. Despite his athletic limitations, Hamilton is one of the class’ best players.
The Baltimore Ravens may have missed out on Georgia’s Jordan Davis, if the Philadelphia Eagles’ hunch was correct. The Ravens clearly didn’t panic and landed one of the best players in the entire draft class.
Baltimore is so consistent in how it approaches the draft. General manager Eric DeCosta lets the board come to him and simply takes whichever top talent remains available.
The Ravens invested in Marcus Williams during free agency. Hamilton is the perfect complementary piece. Alongside Chuck Clark, Baltimore can flex the rookie into multiple different positions and provide different looks in big nickel to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald now has a defensive chess piece. Hamilton could and should be employed in both safety roles, sub-package linebacker, nickel corner and blitzing off the edge. Constant movement will make Hamilton and the Ravens defense downright dangerous.
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Sam Craft/Associated Press
Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M
Strengths: Athletic profile and experience start at guard or tackle, wide base generates power to move defenders off the ball, strong anchor in pass set, long arms (34⅛ inches)
Weaknesses: Handle placement, wrestles too much, athleticism can be a detriment when oversetting against athletic pass-rushers
Kenyon Green needs to find a positional home. The 5-star high school recruit started at every position along the Texas A&M Aggies’ offensive front other than center.
His development will go a long way just by settling into one spot.
Green’s ability to play all of these positions at a relatively high level says quite a bit about him. This past season, the Aggies were forced to shuffle their offensive front numerous times. He wound up starting seven games at left guard, two at right guard and one at left tackle after opening the season as Texas A&M’s right tackle.
While Green has the athleticism to remain at tackle, guard may be his natural position. He’s spent the most time along the interior, with 32 two career starts between the two guard spots. Despite all of the shuffling, Green graded out as the SEC’s second-best guard this past season, per Pro Football Focus.
Versatility is a wonderful trait for any prospect, but his professional maturation can be hampered without a proper developmental plan.
The Houston Texans chose to pass all of the top offensive tackle prospects with the third overall pick only to double back and overdraft Kenyon Green with the 15th overall pick.
Two things save this selection from being an outright failure.
First, Green’s versatility shouldn’t be downplayed. He could immediately step in and start at multiple spots. Though the previous statement is an indictment of the current state of Houston’s roster.
Second, the Texans did trade down two spots before ultimately drafting Green. The difference between the 13th and 15th pick may not seem like much, but general manager Nick Caserio managed to add extra assets before making this reach.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Strengths: Slippery and explosive throughout route tree, larger-than-expected catch radius, creative after the catch
Weaknesses: Small stature/lacks length, suspect play strength
Jahan Dotson’s size shouldn’t fool anyone, because he plays much bigger than his 5’11”, 178-pound frame indicates.
“When I get the ball in my hands, it’s exciting,” he told reporters at the NFL combine. “I’m very fast. I can take the top off defenses.”
For some, where he lines up may be in question. His stature doesn’t automatically equate to him being a slot receiver, though.
First, Dotson isn’t a slouch in the speed department. The first-team All-Big Ten performer posted a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine to work down the field and outside the numbers. Second, only 16.4 percent of his snaps came from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of Dotson’s skill set is how he battles to make catches outside of his frame. Despite 30¾-inch arms, he can go up and pluck the ball out of the air. His 36-inch vertical jump helps in these situations.
Granted, Dotson shouldn’t be viewed as a traditional X-receiver with the physical tools to dominate defenders. But he’s a creative playmaker when asked to work in space and allowed to go and get the ball. In today’s game, that kind of player is extremely important to any offense.
The Washington Commanders are now building around quarterback Carson Wentz. The commitment to the quarterback comes with an investment in the passing game to make sure he succeeds.
Washington isn’t on the best terms at the moment with its star wide receiver Terry McLaurin. But Dotson’s selection should have no bearing whatsoever on McLaurin’s status because the two should complement each other well.
A healthy Curtis Samuel can work from the slot and over the middle of the field while McLaurin and Dotson are found outside the numbers.
Overall, the Commanders are more explosive in an attempt to improve upon a bottom-half-of-the-league passing attack.
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John Locher/Associated Press
Zion Johnson, IOL, Boston College
Strengths: Thick, powerful lower body to uproot defenders or anchor in pass protection, experienced blocker at multiple positions
Weaknesses: Slow adjusting on the move or with technique. Can be caught off balance at times.
One of the highest compliments bestowed upon prospects is noting they fall into the plug-and-play category. Boston College’s Zion Johnson fits this description as a tailor-made NFL guard.
In general, the position doesn’t hold the same value as tackle. Those on the inside don’t need to be as athletic, and they’re bookended by blockers on each side. In today’s game, a strong offensive interior is necessary to maintain the depth of the pocket. If a quarterback can’t step up when pressure flies off the edges, the value of the position becomes abundantly clear.
Johnson actually played left tackle during the 2020 campaign and performed admirably. But his skill set clearly translates to the interior, where he can be a physical force at any of the three positions. Granted, Johnson is the class’ best guard. But he showed plenty of versatility when he took over snapping duties while at the Senior Bowl.
As powerful as the first-team All-American is, he can be a tone-setter in the run game and consistently help to set the pocket in pass protection. In fact, Johnson allowed only six pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Los Angeles Chargers have an interesting decision in front of them after drafting Johnson.
The coaching staff can immediately insert the rookie into the left guard spot and bump Matt Feiler to right tackle, where he’s previously experienced success as a member of the Pittsburgh Stelers. Or, Johnson can play right guard and solidify the interior, though right tackle would remain a problem area.
Either way, the Chargers are now much stronger along the interior because Johnson looks like a future 10-year starter.
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Michael Woods/Associated Press
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Strengths: Big-time yards-after-the-catch creator, deep threat, beats single coverage consistently, highly productive from the slot
Weaknesses: Middling athlete, effort can be inconsistent, particularly as a blocker, route running could use some polish
Testing numbers can muddle a prospect’s evaluation when the film speaks for itself.
Arkansas’ Treylon Burks entered the predraft process as the possible No. 1 wide receiver prospect in this year’s class. However, his middling workouts stymied any momentum he built during his time on campus.
As other wide receivers burnt up this year’s fast track at the NFL combine, Burks posted a 4.55-second effort. He didn’t finish in the top 10 among his position group in any of the combine drills. From a pure numbers perspective, his relative athletic score is average at best.
However, issues with speed, quickness or power never appeared during his collegiate playing days. In Burks’ final 21 appearances at Arkansas, he caught 117 passes for 1,924 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Burks is a big, thick wide receiver. He isn’t built like others at his position. Yet he clearly found ways to win against his competition. His 98.4 receiving grade on targets over 20 yards during the last three seasons ranked first among all Power Five prospects, according to Pro Football Focus. He also produced 24.2 percent more yards after the catch compared to the average YAC produced per route over his career, per CFB Film Room.
The Tennessee Titans acquired the 18th overall pick by trading A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ironically, the Titans moved Brown only to draft Burks, who presents a very similar skill set.
Like Brown, Burks is built differently at the position. They’re both thicker and excel when asked to create after the catch. Also, Burks primarily played from the slot, as Brown did during his time with Ole Miss. The transition from one to the other shouldn’t be difficult, but the rookie will take on a lot in an attempt to replace him. Therein lies the problem with this particular selection.
Burks’ inclusion to the Titans lineup must be tempered by the fact that Tennessee traded away one of the game’s best young wide receivers. The Titans basically dealt Brown just to replace him with Burks and add a late third-round pick. At best, the franchise is treading water.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Strengths: Endless mean streak, elite athleticism, size, length, power to throw other grown men like rag dolls
Weaknesses: Pad level, level of competition, inconsistent footwork and hand placement
Offensive line coaches often fall in love with two types of linemen: those with violent, aggressive tendencies or those with natural athleticism that helps them make up for any mistakes. The staff can coach up everything else.
Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning is the rare prospect who has both qualities. However, he’ll need to be coached up more to become a consistent NFL offensive tackle.
Attitude is the first attribute mentioned when discussing Penning. He wears out opponents and breaks their wills.
“Playing very nasty, I believe, is how O-line has to be played,” Penning told reporters at the NFL combine. “You want to make that guy across from you hate to go against you. You want to see the fear in his eyes.”
From a tools perspective, Penning is a 6’7⅛”, 325-pound left tackle with 34¼-inch arms. His 4.89-second 40-yard dash made him only the fourth 320-plus-pound player to run a sub-4.9 at the combine since 2003, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Penning’s 7.25-second three-cone effort tied for the best among all offensive linemen at this year’s scouting combine.
While Penning’s attitude and athletic tools are enticing, he remains a work in progress. The FCS product’s pad level is consistently high, and his hands can be all over the place. Then again, those things can be taught with proper coaching.
Interestingly, the New Orleans Saints gave up a future first-round pick to have a pair of opening-round choices this year. The idea behind the move centered on getting two quality pieces so the team can continue to compete at a relatively high level in a lesser NFC.
General manager Mickey Loomis made a move up to acquire Chris Olave and give the Saints the most pro-ready wide receiver in the class to join a now-healthy Michael Thomas.
Penning’s addition makes up for Terron Armstead’s loss in free agency. Armstead became one of the league’s best blockers when available. But he never played a full season with New Orleans, whereas Penning started every game over the last three seasons. He’ll take over left tackle and complete a Saints offensive front that will likely be a premier unit for years.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Strengths: Anticipatory thrower with initial read, ran extensive NFL concepts, excellent passer on the move
Weaknesses: Inconsistent timing on passes with slow progression, hand size, older prospect
A Venn diagram of Kenny Pickett’s ceiling and floor as a prospect might as well be a singular circle. What an evaluator sees is exactly what his team will get.
That could be a good or bad thing depending on the situation.
Pickett will be 24 years old before he ever plays a meaningful NFL snap. His first four seasons with the Pittsburgh Panthers were rather forgettable. However, his redshirt senior campaign was a far different story.
Pickett shattered his previous career highs with a 67.2 completion percentage, 4,319 passing yards, 42 touchdown passes and an average of 8.7 yards per attempt en route to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He also finished as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Pickett deserves ample credit for putting everything together during his final year on campus, and he’s arguably the most pro-ready prospect of this incoming bunch after playing under former NFL assistant coach Mark Whipple. However, his skill set appears limited.
Hand size is often discussed during the predraft process, and Pickett will enter the NFL with the smallest grip of any starting quarterback. He also doesn’t possess standout physical traits. Pickett has a solid arm and good mobility, but he isn’t in the same class as other options.
Basically, his upside tops out as a ground-rule double, not a home run.
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t hesitate, though. The organization held its water and waited. And waited. And waited. General manager Kevin Colbert didn’t force the situation. When it was all said and done, Pittsburgh had its choice from all of the quarterbacks with the 20th overall pick.
No team knew Pickett better, as he played his home games in the same stadium the last five years. The Steelers saw up close how the quarterback matured and developed over time.
Pittsburgh chose the safer bet over the far riskier option in Liberty’s Malik Willis. It’s an indication that Pickett can come in and compete right away for the starting job, even though the franchise signed Mitch Trubisky to a free-agent deal earlier this year.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Strengths: Competitiveness, physicality, press-man capabilities, inside-out versatility, plays downhill with quick trigger
Weaknesses: Small frame/lacks length, struggles to recover when stacked
The Washington Huskies program is now in the business of producing undersized yet technically sound defensive backs who just know how to play the game. Trent McDuffie is following in the footsteps of Budda Baker, Byron Murphy Jr. and Elijah Molden.
The 5’11”, 193-pound defender with 29¾-inch arms battles every single play with a level of competitiveness unmatched in this year’s class. The undersized defender is going to take on blocks when necessary, blow up running plays, cover bigger targets on the outside and excel in coverage.
The first-team All-Pac-12 defender shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a certain role, either. Yes, he can cover the slot and excel in doing so. But he’s also a capable outside corner.
The cornerback’s measurements aren’t ideal, but McDuffie is easy to fall in love with based on how he plays the game.
The AFC West will be absolutely brutal this fall. The whole division has been very active this offseason. The Los Angeles Chargers added Khalil Mack. The Las Vegas Raiders traded for Davante Adams and signed Chandler Jones. The Denver Broncos are now led by Russell Wilson, of course. The Kansas City Chiefs appeared to be falling behind a little after being the standard-bearer for the entire AFC the last few years.
The Chiefs know they can score. But they need to be able to slow some of the best offenses the league now has to offer. Typically, the Chiefs haven’t invested much in the cornerback position. A trade-up to select McDuffie clearly changes that approach.
McDuffie adds a hard-nosed, competitive and versatile option. Interestingly, he can provide some of the same traits Tyrann Mathieu previously did.
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John Amis/Associated Press
Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
Strengths: Ideal NFL linebacker build, good feet, quick play-speed, sound when making reads/run-fits, comfortable in coverage
Weaknesses: Angular build causes him to lose some leverage and power, can be overaggressive and overrun some plays
Georgia’s defense was stacked with future NFL players last year, including Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Devonte Wyatt, Travon Walker, Lewis Cine and Channing Tindall. Quay Walker belongs in that mix, too.
Walker’s build and traits should fit well at the NFL level. He’s a 6’4″, 241-pound linebacker with 32⅝-inch arms and 4.52-second 40-yard-dash speed.
The 4-star recruit didn’t become a full-time starter until his fourth year on campus. Georgia’s loaded roster can explain his slower-than-expected development to some degree, and he still contributed on special teams and as a rotational piece. But once inserted into the starting lineup, Walker displayed a well-rounded skill set deserving of attention by NFL scouts and evaluators.
Walker’s size, length and athleticism are ideal for an NFL linebacker. But he showed a comfort level working in space that’s vital to his future success in the pros. He also covers plenty of ground sideline-to-sideline.
Walker may not be the sexiest prospect to come out of Georgia’s vaunted defense. However, he’s a team player who still boasts significant upside thanks to his athletic profile.
The run on wide receivers earlier in the draft likely affected the Green Bay Packers’ approach with the 22nd overall selection. Or, the Packers see the depth of the position class and know a quality receiving threat can be found later.
Instead, general manager Brian Gutekunst turned his attention to the defensive side of the ball and found a running mate for the re-signed De’Vondre Campbell. Quay will team with the All-Pro and give the Packers two off-ball linebackers who can cover plenty of ground.
Walker played in a similar system at Georgia, which will help with his insertion into the Packers lineup. However, the Packers had their choice of linebackers. Walker is physically talented with significant growth potential. But he was far from the best linebacker in this class. He wasn’t even the best linebacker on the Bulldogs defense.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Strengths: Physical press corner, plays with balance thanks to quick feet, smooth transition through backpedal, high-points the ball
Weaknesses: Can be overaggressive and grabby, poor angles, hit-or-miss tackler
Certain draft prospects fall off the radar at times because of the situation in which they find themselves.
Florida’s Kaiir Elam looked like a potential first-round cornerback entering the 2021 campaign. He did nothing to significantly hurt his status last season, but the Gators floundered, finishing with an underwhelming 6-7 record.
For that reason, Elam didn’t receive the same type of attention as other prospects in the class. However, his predraft performance put him right back into the mix with the other top cornerbacks.
No Power Five cornerback performed better than Elam over the last three seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, he led all Power Five corners by allowing a scant 55.6 passer rating into his coverage.
The 6’1½”, 191-pound corner ripped a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine. At Florida’s pro day, Elam posted an unofficial 37.5-inch vertical and 4.21-second short shuttle. The 20-year-old is a smooth, fluid mover in his backpedal through his turn, which only adds to his effectiveness in press coverage.
Elam didn’t play quite as well in 2021 as he did during previous seasons. Still, scouts had 30 career games to evaluate. His success at an early age coupled with his athletic profile and skill set makes the former Gator one of the class’ best corners.
Over the last three-and-a-half years, the Buffalo Bills relied on Levi Wallace to start opposite Tre’Davious White. Wallace originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent and earned the spot, although the Bills never really brought in anyone to challenge him.
Wallace is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Buffalo responds by finally using another first-round pick on a corner in Elam. The size and length Elam brings to the lineup is a complete change of pace after what the Bills previously had at the position.
From a macro point of view, the franchise didn’t have any significant holes. Cornerback was the one area where an upgrade looked to be necessary. The Bills leaped ahead of the Dallas Cowboys to make sure the position was properly addressed.
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Steve Luciano/Associated Press
Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa
Strengths: Bulldozer of a blocker, overwhelming at the point of attack, strong anchor, ideal physical tools
Weaknesses: Technical mess, erratic hand timing and placement, wrestles defenders and holds far too much
Traits are always important in the evaluation process. Those can be broken down into two categories: physical and translatable traits.
Physically, Tulsa’s Tyler Smith has the natural ability teams want in a future starting tackle. The collegiate left tackle stands 6’5″, weighs 324 pounds and has 34-inch arms. Athletically, he moves well too.
Translatable traits are skills seen on film that look like they’ll translate to the pros. To Smith’s credit, he’s clearly strong at the point of attack and a violent blocker. Once the lineman latches his hand onto a defender, the rep is done. Yet, Smith’s technique could be his downfall.
He plays with poor leverage, struggles with his aiming points in his pass sets, displays wild hands and looks like a future holding machine.
To be fair, raw potential is enticing, and coaches always think they can get the best out of every player, even if the individual has a long way to go from a technical standpoint. Smith looks the part and brings the right attitude. But he may not be ready to handle the rigors of being an NFL blindside protector and might start his career at guard until he rounds off some of his rough edges.
Of all the places for Smith to land, Dallas is arguably the best possible situation. But no one can deny he still needs significant work for his performance to match his potential.
Smith likely moves inside to guard as a replacement for Connor Williams. The chance to play alongside Tyron Smith should be a boon for the rookie. Also, a shift to the interior should protect the younger Smith, who’s a technical mess.
The Cowboys’ have had a strong offensive front in recent years, but it has been on a bit of a decline. The 21-year-old adds significant talent. He’s also a major work-in-progress whose deficiencies may outweigh his strengths at first while he learns on the job.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa
Strengths: Generates impressive power through leverage, technique and hip torque, consistent finisher, elite lateral agility
Weaknesses: Lacks length and bulk
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum isn’t for everyone. But he is a special talent.
Linderbaum is undersized (6’2⅛”, 296 lbs) and is a scheme-specific prospect. But he’s also more than worthy of becoming the highest drafted center in the modern era, which makes him a truly unique combination.
In a zone-heavy scheme, particularly the wide zone that so many teams now utilize, Linderbaum could serve as the tip of the spear for the entire offense. He’s a magician working combo blocks and getting to the second level. He regularly reaches shaded defenders. The reigning Rimington Trophy winner does these things while continually finishing his blocks and never giving up on a play.
But the former high school wrestler’s lack of bulk coupled with 31⅛-inch arms will make him a difficult sell for certain organizations. Although ideal measurements aren’t as important for the center position as others, teams typically want their first-round investments to veer closer to the prototype than an outlier.
However, Linderbaum is clearly the best center prospect since the Miami Dolphins selected Mike Pouncey with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft, if not longer.
All the Baltimore Ravens do is draft great football players. OK, not everyone pans out in their favor. But it sure does seem like they handle this process as well or better than any other organization. Linderbaum’s addition is the latest example after they already drafted Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the 14th overall pick.
Linderbaum’s fit with the Ravens may seem counterintuitive, because he’s light and short-armed and thrived in a heavy zone-blocking scheme. None of it matters. Linderbaum is a dominant force in the middle despite his supposed limitations. He’s also at his best when run blocking, which is exactly why he’ll thrive in the Ravens’ ground-and-pound attack.
Baltimore significantly upgraded over the ball to impose its will on opponents.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State
Strengths: Tone-setter against run, consistently works to get off blocks and makes hustle plays, explodes into, through and around blocks
Weaknesses: Bend off edge isn’t optimal, inconsistent speed-to-power as pass-rusher
What a long, strange trip it’s been for Jermaine Johnson II.
Johnson’s collegiate career began at Independence Community College—featured in the Netflix series Last Chance U—after he didn’t have the high school GPA to play Division I football. The edge-rusher went on to become the nation’s most sought-after JUCO recruit (per 247Sports) and subsequently signed with the Georgia Bulldogs.
After two lackluster seasons with the Bulldogs, Johnson enrolled at Florida State and blossomed.
“My life is forever changed because of Florida State,” Johnson told reporters at the NFL combine.
In his final season, the 6’5″, 254-pound edge-defender posted 17.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. He emerged as an elite run defender and capable pass-rusher. In doing so, his status vaulted among the best incoming edge prospects. He confirmed his standing with a superb week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
What may surprise some is Johnson’s a better run defender than pass-rusher at this point in his career. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year certainly knows how to put a pass-rush plan together, but he’s an instant impact run defender the moment he steps onto an NFL field.
Johnson put in the job, found the right place to develop and showed everyone what he’s capable of when everything falls into place.
The New York Jets aren’t messing around. They knew they had to significantly improve in multiple areas, and general manager Joe Douglas attached those spots with three different first-round picks.
The team had already drafted an elite cornerback and top wide receiver, and it used this pick on one of the class’ top edge-defenders.
Johnson adds punch to a pass rush that finished among the bottom 10 last season in sacks.
The Jets already invested in Carl Lawson, who suffered a season-ending injury prior to the start of the 2021 campaign, and John Franklin-Myers. But when head coach Robert Saleh served as the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and helped them make it to the Super Bowl, his defense was built on a deep defensive line that came at opposing quarterbacks in waves. A team can never have too many good pass-rushers, and the Jets made sure they landed one of the class’ better options.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Strengths: Universal versatility, consistently makes right reads, typically good fits against the run and and comfort in drops, regularly beats blocks
Weaknesses: Good-not-great speed and quickness, not a strong finisher as a tackler, can overrun some plays now and again
Versatility is the name of today’s NFL. For the most part, teams can’t rely solely on specialists.
Wide receivers must play outside the numbers and inside the slot. Offensive linemen must cross-train at multiple positions. Defensive linemen must have some flexibility along the line of scrimmage. Defensive backs need to be comfortable in multiple roles.
Linebacker is no different, and Utah’s Devin Lloyd is the master in this year’s draft class.
Lloyd can excel at any of the three off-ball spots .The Utes liked to play him at “Sam” linebacker in base sets before moving him to “Mike” in sub-packages. They also loved to use him as a blitzer, and he excelled in coverage when he wasn’t playing downhill. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year racked up an impressive 111 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four interceptions.
Any player who doesn’t have to come off the field in any situation holds significant value since defenses aren’t forced to substitute. The biggest concern about Lloyd is his lack of elite timed speed, as he posted a 4.66-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
The Jacksonville Jaguars clearly value versatility in how they’re building their defense. Lloyd joins this year’s No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker to give the Jaguars’ defensive front a facelift.
Like Walker, Lloyd’s best quality is the fact that he’s a position-less player. The second-line defender is interchangeable at any of the linebacker positions. He’s also capable of playing off the edge.
Considering Mike Caldwell’s history learning under Todd Bowles, linebackers are vital to the overall construction of the defensive system. The position is also expected to make plays in different phases since the scheme is so aggressive.
Opponents can expect Lloyd to be all over the field and flying to the football, whether he’s defending the run, pass or getting after the quarterback.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Strengths: Three-down interior defender, first-step quickness, strong hands
Weaknesses: Struggles to hold point against double-teams, inconsistent hand usage, lack of length
Former Georgia teammates Jordan Davis and Travon Walker are phenomenal athletes and may have gotten more run throughout the 2021 campaign and predraft process, but neither has the polish nor the three-down usage of Devonte Wyatt.
Wyatt is different because he doesn’t need to come off the field, and he can immediately help against the run and collapse the pocket. The 304-pound lineman’s first-step quickness is among the class’ best. Wyatt explodes off the ball, which often allows him to work half a man and reestablish the line of scrimmage.
Surprisingly, Wyatt’s burst didn’t result in more sacks, as he recorded just five throughout his collegiate career. But his explosivity will help restrict the pocket, thus making life difficult on opposing quarterbacks. The bigger concern is sub-33-inch arms and an inability to disengage from blocks at times.
Wyatt excelled in different alignments at Georgia and is capable of helping in both areas of the game, despite certain concerns, making him one of the class’ top interior defenders
The Green Bay Packers did it again. They passed on a wide receiver in the first round. It was bad enough the last two years when the offense desperately needed to provide Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers with some help. Now, Adams is no longer with the team, and general manager Brian Gutekunst still doesn’t feel pressured to address the position.
To be fair, the top six wide receivers are already off the board, and a team shouldn’t force a pick if it’s clearly a reach. So the Packers receive a slight reprieve for now.
Besides, Wyatt is a solid addition with extensive experience playing in a three-man front. Clearly, the Packers chose to prioritize the middle of the defense after already selecting another former Bulldog in Quay Walker.
This particular selection also has an eye toward the future since Jarran Reed is operating under a one-year deal and Dean Lowry is a free agent after this season. A wide receiver can still be had later.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Cole Strange, IOL, Chattanooga
Strengths: Top-notch athlete, experienced blocker at multiple positions, understands, recognizes and picks up defensive movement, loves to finish plays
Weaknesses: Pad level is high for interior blocker, somewhat lanky, which causes him to lose power, poor footwork in pass set
NFL offensive line coaches require their athletes to practice at multiple positions because of the limited number of available roster spots. When a prospect shows the capability of lining up at different positions, he’s ahead of the game.
Chattanooga’s Cole Strange started 41 contests at left guard for the Mocs. He also got time at center and left tackle. When he arrived at the Senior Bowl, he was tasked with taking on some snapping duties as well.
The 6’5″, 307-pound Strange is a natural guard, and he’s likely to start there at some point during his NFL career. Yet he can cover all three interior spots and can bump out to tackle in a pinch, particularly in a zone scheme that allows him to take advantage of his natural athleticism.
Impressively, the FCS product posted the seventh-best relative athletic score among guards over the last 35 years, according to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots don’t care what anyone thinks. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached for Strange with the 29th overall pick.
Reach may be an understatement. Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department graded Strong as the 98th-best prospect in this year’s class. The Patriots selected him a full two rounds earlier than his grade indicated.
Some will argue the Patriots have done this before. They have. Belichick and Co. successfully drafted Logan Mankins much earlier than expected in the 2005 draft. Maybe Strange experiences a similar career path.
The Patriots gave Shaq Mason away for next to nothing and now have seemingly decided to replace him with Strange in the first round.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue
Strengths: Explosive first step, plays through blockers, knows how to properly use his hands
Weaknesses: Doesn’t beat blockers with speed off the edge, tendency to play high
Generally, Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department remained much higher on Purdue’s George Karlaftis than the rest of the scouting community.
“Aside from ideal length,Karlaftis has just about every trait necessary to bloom into a star power-rusher,” scout Derrik Klassen wrote. “Karlaftis coils and explodes off the snap even without having to time the snap perfectly. In turn, he often gets the jump on opposing offensive tackles, opening up the floor for him to show off his relentless bull-rushing or array of hand-fighting tactics. Blend that together with the ability to change directions and get skinny much better than any player his size should, and Karlaftis lands in special territory as an athlete. He also has all the awareness, anchor and motor to be a high-end run defender right away.”
To Klassen’s point, Karlaftis admitted at the NFL combine that his game is predicated on converting speed to power. His inability to consistently beat offensive tackles with quickness and bend the edge likely devalued him in the eyes of some teams.
The Kansas City Chiefs benefited when he fell in their lap with the 30th overall pick.
Kansas City’s defense completely changed after the team acquired Melvin Ingram III in a midseason trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Karlaftis can do the same for the scheme. Chris Jones can work primarily from the interior, while Karlaftis can primarily work off the edge opposite Frank Clark.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Dax Hill, S, Michigan
Strengths: Nickel corner, physical for his size and wrap-up tackler, excellent in zone coverage, elite speed for a safety prospect
Weaknesses: Smooth backpedal but less effective when asked to turn and run with receiver, risk-taker
Michigan’s Dax Hill is made for the modern game. His safety designation was basically in name only this past season. According to Pro Football Focus (h/t the Baltimore Sun‘s Jonas Shaffer), the defensive back lined up over the slot on 69.8 percent of his snaps.
Considering his build (6’0″, 191 lbs) and raw speed (4.38-second 40-yard dash), Hill could make the full-time transition from safety to cornerback, as the Kansas City Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed did two years ago.
Or a creative defensive play-caller can use Hill as a chesspiece.
The first-team All-Big Ten performer is capable of playing in the box, near the line of scrimmage and even as the deep safety. He has the long speed to cover a lot of ground from sideline to sideline. This varied skill set can turn him into a defensive weapon.
His coverage skills coupled with a tenacity to fly up against the run and play off the edge if need be allowed him to finish second on the Wolverines last season with 69 total tackles. His eight pass breakups and two interceptions led the team.
The more a player can do, the more valuable he becomes, which makes Hill one of the class’ more valuable defenders.
Despite the versatility, Hill is somewhat redundant in Cincinnati with Mike Hilton already on the roster. There’s another way to look at this selection, though.
Cincinnati’s defense now has far more flexibility. Hill primarily lined up in the slot, but he can play free safety as well. The biggest issue is based on how the outside corner opposite Chidobe Awuzie stacks up with Eli Apple still at the spot.
How defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo eventually employs all of his defensive backs borders on micromanaging. From a bigger picture, the Rams torched the Bengals secondary in the Super Bowl. Cincinnati already made significant investments in its offensive line to make sure Joe Burrow is properly protected. Hill’s addition addresses the other problem area that cost the team a championship.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
Strengths: Fearless tackler, quick reaction in coverage, good understanding of schemes, covers a lot of ground
Weaknesses: Play a little high through contact, thin frame, more of a straight-line athlete
On a defense loaded with future NFL talent, safety Lewis Cine led the national champion Georgia Bulldogs with 73 total tackles and nine defended passes.
Georgia’s defense featured the Butkus Award winner, the Outland Trophy winner and another defensive lineman selected with the first overall pick. However, Cine served as the unit’s eraser by playing the alleys and the run as well as any other defender in college football.
The first-team All-SEC safety takes excellent angles and arrives at the ball-carrier while going roughly 100 mph, though he can be a little reckless in his tackling form. That speed estimation is only a slight exaggeration, as the 6’2″, 199-pound defender ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
“People think of me as just a hitter, (but) I see myself as an all-around playmaker,” Cine recently told reporters. “I show up when I’m needed, and I’m always around the ball. I think that I’m a smart player. I can get guys lined up. When guys are wrong, I can make them right. I have range, I’m fast, and I can come from top down extremely fast.”
The Minnesota Vikings traded all the way back to the 32nd overall pick after starting the evening with the 12th selection. In doing so, Minnesota was still able to land the most intimidating safety in the class.
As talented as Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is, he’s not the same type of hitter Cine is. Nor does this year’s highest-drafted safety possess as much speed.
Initially, Cine can join Harrison Smith, learn from the veteran and form the league’s most physical safety duo. The incoming defensive back will eventually replace Smith, who turned 33 in February. The Vikings can save $15.3 million by releasing the veteran with a June 1 designation next year, per Over The Cap.
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