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2022 NFL draft: The best players left after the first round – Touchdown Wire

Players who have to wait around after the first round to hear their names called in the draft are by no means limited in their NFL potential. Since 2000 alone, the list of second- and third-rounders reads like a Hall of Fame buffet years from now: Drew Brees, Bobby Wagner, Steve Smith Sr., Andrew Whitworth, Marshal Yanda, Rob Gronkowski, Lavonte David, and on and on.
Take the view back a few decades, and you’ll see second- and third-rounders like Joe Montana, Dan Fouts, Mike Singletary, Michael Strahan, Ken Anderson, Terrell Owens, Aeneas Williams, Thurman Thomas, Kevin Mawae, Brian Dawkins, Larry Allen, and Mel Blount.
Those are all Hall of Famers, except for Ken Anderson, who should be.
The point is, there’s just about as much of a hit rate in the second and third rounds as there is a bust rate in the later rounds. So, when we get to the players who didn’t hear their names in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, it doesn’t mean at all that these guys won’t be NFL stars — in fact, there’s no barrier to future stardom at all.
Based on our evaluations here at Touchdown Wire, here are the best prospects left on the board after the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Height: 6’1″ (12th) Weight: 219 (43rd)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Malik Willis was a three-star recruit coming out of Roswell High School in Roswell, Georgia. During his senior year, he led Roswell to the Georgia 7A State Championship game, and threw for 2,562 yards and 27 touchdowns while also running for 1,033 yards and ten more scores. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named Willis the 7A Region 4 Player of the Year for his efforts.
Willis originally committed to Virginia Tech, but changed his commitment to Auburn. He spent two seasons with the Tigers, but ultimately transferred to Liberty after struggling to find playing time at Auburn. His first two seasons he was used as a backup behind Jarrett Stidham, and while he managed to carve out a role in certain packages, when he lost the quarterback competition to Bo Nix he made the decision to transfer in 2019.
Willis sat out the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but stepped into the starting job for the Flames for the 2020 campaign. Liberty finished with a 9-1 record in 2020 with him at the helm, and Willis hit on 64.2% of his passes for 2,250 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 6 interceptions. Last season Willis and the Flames finished with an 8-5 record, and his performance earned him an invitation to both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.
Stat to Know: In addition to his passing production, Willis ran for 2,131 yards and 29 touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Strengths: The case for Willis in this draft, and early in this draft, comes down to one word.
Willis is a tremendous athlete with elite arm talent. He has the ability to create outside the pocket and off of structure, which is becoming almost a non-negotiable in today’s NFL. He can deliver throws to all levels of the field off of almost any platform, including deep-shot throws with his feet unsettled in the pocket:
Then there is the athleticism. Willis has the ability to fix mistakes in protection and create with his legs. On this play against Middle Tennessee State, Liberty faces a six-man pressure look, and the quarterback has to navigate an unblocked defender off the right edge:
Beyond the arm talent and athleticism, Willis displayed this past season an ability to solve problems with his mind. Take this play against Middle Tennessee State:
This is a 3rd and long situation for Liberty deep in their own territory. Willis opens to the single receiver on the right side of the formation, who is running a stop route right at the first-down marker. The defense drops the safety down at the snap as MTSU brackets that receiver. Willis immediately moves his eyes to the middle of the field and picks up the crossing route, hitting that to move the chains.
Weaknesses: Perhaps the biggest question facing Willis is this: What are the odds that the team selecting him can develop him to his fullest potential? As we will discuss in a moment, the development of Josh Allen from a raw quarterback prospect into one of the NFL’s elite passers is going to be reflected in Willis, and where he ends up coming off the board. The team that drafts him in the first round will be convinced that they can do for Willis what Brian Daboll and the Buffalo Bills did with Allen.
Will they be right?
There are also other concerns with Willis, from a ball placement standpoint and a repeated decisions standpoint. There are times when Willis misses throws, particularly when trying to put pace on the ball or when trying to layer throws near and around defenders.
Then there are the repeated mistakes. Willis threw an interception on a fake screen concept against MTSU early in the season, and followed that with an interception on the same design against Mississippi a few weeks later. These are the kinds of mistakes that he will need to eliminate at the next level.
Conclusion: In a quarterback class that seems to have more questions than answers, sometimes you see NFL teams more willing to place the bet on upside. A few years ago, Kyler Murray rose to the top of the draft in such a class, and the same could unfold with Willis working to the top of the board because of the potential. Teams will need to be patient with him, but if an NFL organization can get him close to his full potential as a quarterback, they are going to be glad they placed such a bet.
Comparison: For Willis, a range of comparisons might make sense. At a floor a team is probably getting Tyrod Taylor, a quarterback who can make some throws under pressure and from a variety of platforms, and can be effective in the vertical passing game and with his legs. At the higher end of the outcome scale, a team that develops Willis closer to his ceiling could find themselves with their own version of Dak Prescott. If Willis lands somewhere in the middle of those outcomes, you’re looking at Jalen Hurts with a better arm.

Height:  6’1″ (12th) Weight: 211 (18th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.52 seconds (95th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 36 inches (95th)
Broad Jump: 10’7″ (99th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.15 seconds (40th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.29 (60th)
Bio: In last year’s draft five quarterbacks found their way into the first round. Desmond Ridder was mentioned early in the process as a passer who could sneak in as the sixth, but he decided to return to campus for one final season with Cincinnati.
He is probably glad he did, as he and the Bearcats earned a berth in the College Football Playoff. While Cincinnati lost to Alabama in the semifinals, Ridder leaves school as one of the most accomplished players in Bearcats history. He was twice named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year, and threw for 87 touchdowns and over 10,000 yards during his time on campus. Ridder also ran for 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns while with the Bearcats.
Stat to Know: Ridder’s progression as a passer is reflected in his NFL passer rating from season to season. What was an 82.5 mark during the 2019 campaign became a 105.2 mark in 2020, and 108.9 last season.
Strengths: Similar to Pickett, Ridder’s experience makes him ready for the NFL game from a mental perspective. One of the better games to study for him is his outing against Houston in the AAC Championship Game. The Houston Cougars did a lot that night in terms of moving and rotating their safeties at the snap, but Ridder consistently made the right decisions with the football, either getting to his single-receiver matchups when the Cougars spun into single-high coverage, or working through concepts as necessary when Houston rotated into two-high looks.
Another area that stands out is how well Ridder works through reads in the pocket, getting to that all-important backside dig route that has become almost a non-negotiable in the modern game. On this play against UCF, Ridder opens to the left first, and seeing the concept covered he gets his eyes then to the middle of the field, and finally to his fourth read, the backside dig route:
In addition to what he can do with his mind, you can add in the athletic component. Ridder was a weapon with his legs during his time at Cincinnati, reflected in his rushing production. The 4.52 40-yard dash he posted at the Combine showed up on the field, particularly on runs like this one against SMU where you see that straight-line speed on designed plays:
With his processing ability and athleticism, Ridder offers a strong foundation  and floor as a passer while still offering room for growth and development.
Weaknesses: The biggest knock on Ridder is accuracy and ball placement. This is something that shows up both on film, and in advanced metrics and charting. Pro Football Focus charted Ridder with an Adjusted Completion Percentage of 73.9%, which was 33rd among quarterbacks in the college game last season.
There are two caveats to this discussion. First, Ridder’s ball placement issues seem to pop up early in games, and settle down over the course of the contest. This could be something that works out over time, as there is not a mechanical issue with his throwing motion that is to blame. Football players are human, after all (huge if true) and perhaps Ridder is working through some early jitters or excitement and just needs time to settle into games.
Second, Ridder did show improvement in this area during his time on campus. On film there were more misses in 2019 and 2020 where the football was not where it needed to be, than there were on 2021. That growth is, in my opinion, a good sign for his development at the next level.
Conclusion: Ridder offers an NFL team what you want to see from a mental perspective, with some athleticism to boot. You put those two traits together, and you have a very strong foundation for an NFL quarterback. His growth as a passer during his time on campus should not be ignored, and in the right offensive system you could see Ridder being a solid starting quarterback early in his career, with an opportunity to become more.
Comparison: At the Combine, Ridder told the media that he modeled his game after Ryan Tannehill, and you can certainly see that on film. You also see shades of Marcus Mariota as well. When you start connecting dots, you might be led to the Atlanta Falcons, perhaps with their pick at the top of the second round…
Resources: For more on Ridder you can dive into how his athletic ability will translate on Sundays in this video breakdown:
You can also look at some of those spun safety looks he saw against the Houston Cougars in this breakdown:
(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’2″ (25th)  Weight: 212 (21st)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Matt Corral was graded as the sixth-highest pocket passer in the 2018 recruiting class according to, and he played in the 2018 Army All-American Bowl. Corral’s recruiting journey took a few turns, as he originally decided to stay close to home and play for the University of Southern California. Corral then switched to Florida, before finally settling on Mississippi.
After appearing in a handful of games as a freshman in 2018, Corral was named the team’s starting quarterback in 2019. Mississippi struggled and limped to a 4-8 record, and Lane Kiffin was hired to take over the coaching duties following that season.
Under Kiffin, Corral began to thrive. In the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, Corral threw for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. 11 of those turnovers, however, came in just two games as Corral threw six interceptions in a loss to Arkansas early in the year, and five interceptions in a loss to LSU late in the season.
This past season, Corral led Mississippi to a ten-win year, and it was his most efficient and productive season while on campus. Corral completed 67.7% of his passes for 3,343 yards and 20 touchdowns, against just five interceptions. He also added 614 yards on 152 carries, both of which were career-high marks as a runner. Corral decided to play in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor, but suffered an injury early in the game.
Stat to Know: As we will discussion, scheme fit and transition to the NFL are going to be questions. According to Pro Football Focus charting, Corral used play-action on over 60% of his dropback throws last season, the highest among passers in the FBS.
Strengths: Corral is an athletic quarterback with the mobility to not only extend plays in the pocket, but to be a true weapon with his legs. Mechanically, Corral shows a crisp, quick release with a compact throwing motion and a release point just by his ear, allowing him to snap off throws early in the down.
Kiffin’s offense did him many favors, but one of the things that it did for Corral was create opportunities for him to manipulate defenders. As such, Corral is one of the more efficient manipulators in this quarterback class, with an array of pump fakes, shoulder shrugs and eye manipulation at his disposal to get defenders out of position and to attack downfield.
Footwork in the pocket and working through reads is another area that stands out with Corral. You can see moments on tape where his eyes and his feet are right in sync with each other, as he works from his first read to his last on a given play. Take this example as Corral works full-field, right to left:
This is one of Mississippi’s staple plays, as they use orbit motion into a swing route on the right, setting up a high-low on that side of the field with a deeper curl route as the high. Corral opens to that concept, but seeing it covered then comes to the pair of in-breaking routes coming from the left, before getting to the checkdown in the left flat. As he works through his reads, his feet and mind are tied together perfectly, keeping him in position to put the throw on his running back as his fifth read.
Corral’s athleticism shows up on plays like this against Alabama:
Corral has the athletic ability and reaction skills to evade unexpected pressure in the pocket, and still get off throws like this under pressure.
Weaknesses: The biggest questions facing Corral center on his development and transition from Kiffin’s offense to what life will be like in the NFL. As outlined, the Mississippi offense relied heavily on both play-action and RPO concepts. There are some offenses in the NFL that will provide him a similar opportunity, but likely not to the same extent. Corral will need to make plays consistently from the pocket at the next level, or at least with more frequency than he was asked to do in college.
Corral also has the ability to attack the middle of the field, and to layer throws between the numbers, but this is not something he did a ton while playing on Saturdays.
There are also moments on film where you can see how Kiffin dialed up a vertical shot play and Corral insisted on taking that throw, passing up opportunities for an easier completion near the line of scrimmage. Sometimes you have to pass up the three and settle for the layup.
Conclusion: Corral is one of the tougher evaluations in this class, and his evaluation has shades of Justin Herbert’s. Like Herbert, most of what Corral was asked to do things in college are things that do not provide a clean and easy evaluation for life in the Sunday game. Corral’s offense relied heavily on RPO and play-action concepts, with lots of screens and concepts attacking along the boundaries.
The flashes of layered throws, progression reads and concepts attacking between the numbers are there, but there might not be enough exposures of those concepts and moments for teams to feel confident that those flashes will be repeated on a consistent basis in the NFL. Which is eerily similar to the Herbert evaluation. The moments were there, but you had to really look to find them, and even still, betting on small sample sizes — particularly early in the draft — is something teams do not always do.
Comparison: One of the more interesting comparisons I have come across this draft cycle is the comparison PFF had for Corral: Jim McMahon. It is hard to top that, but watching Corral and seeing how he was used at Mississippi — and how he might be used in the NFL, at least early — provides shades of Tua Tagovailoa.
Resources: For more on Corral, you can watch this deep dive into his game put together by myself and Matt Waldman:
There is also this dive into his game against Mississippi State, with a focus on the elements to his game that will translate to Sundays:
(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’1″ (12th)  Weight: 218 (40th)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Sam Howell was one of the most coveted football recruits in the state of North Carolina, throwing for 13,415 yards and rushing for another 3,621 during his career at Sun Valley High School. Graded as a four-star recruit, Howell originally committed to Florida State, but decided in the end to stay close to home and play for the Tar Heels.
Howell has been UNC’s starting quarterback since setting foot on campus, throwing for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2019. In 2020, Howell was able to play with NFL talent around in in Dyami Brown, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, and he enjoyed another solid year, completing 68.1% of his passes for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns, against 7 interceptions.
Last year, that talent departed for the NFL, but Howell adjusted. His passing numbers tracked downward, as he hit on 62.5% of his passes for 3,056 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he relied on his legs much more in UNC’s offense. Howerll ran for 828 yards on 183 carries, and was the Tar Heel’s second-leading rusher.
Stat to Know: Howell leaves campus having thrown at least one touchdown in every game he started.
Strengths: Howell’s combination of deep-ball prowess and the athleticism we saw from him last season is often a solid starting point for NFL quarterbacks in today’s game. Howell has both the velocity to stretch defenses downfield and the touch to drop throws in the bucket on nine routes. Throws like this touchdown against Georgia State are a prime example:
Howell also has the ability to throw with timing and rhythm, and deliver anticipatory throws when he has a solid understanding of the coverage and the concept. Take this completion against Notre Dame, where he delivers on the deep comeback route from the left hashmark to the right sideline:
This is your prototypical “Sunday throw,” delivered with timing and anticipation from one side of the field to another, with enough velocity to prevent the cornerback from driving on the football and making a play at the catch point.
Then there is also the added element of what Howell showed this year as a runner. He became a weapon for the North Carolina offense with the football in his hands, leading to increased usage on designed runs:
Weaknesses: Similar to Corral, Howell is going to require a bit of needle-threading when it comes to scheme fit. Howell is a great deep-ball thrower, and the UNC offense also relied heavily on RPO concepts, so he’ll be at his best in an offense that caters to that level of experience. As stated in the Pro Football Focus draft guide, his offense “…was almost all RPOs and go-balls, leading the nation in both.”
If that sounds like an NFL offense, that team might realistically view him as QB1.
As we have also seen with other athletic quarterbacks, his ability to create with his legs is both a blessing and a curse. There are moments in the pocket where, rather than working through reads, Howell decides to create with his legs, passing up open receivers or bailing on concepts early in the down.
Howell also made some head-scratching decisions with the football, particularly early in the year. He threw three interceptions in the season-opening loss at Virginia Tech, and while one was a great play by a cornerback, wrestling the football away at the catch point, the other two were…curious. First was this throw where, with a clean passing lane, he decided to drop his arm angle, leading to a tip and an interception:
Then there was the final offensive play of the game where Howell did this on second down, in a one-score game:
He’ll need to be better with the football at the next level.
Conclusion: That Virginia Tech game, and what happened in the weeks and months after, is a perfect encapsulation of the draft cycle of a quarterback prospect. Howell entered the 2021 college football season as either QB1 or QB2, along with Spencer Rattler. But after that three-interception outing against Virginia Tech, the evaluation community quietly moved on. In the interim, Howell became more of a threat as a runner while continuing to drop in bucket throws in the vertical passing game. He might need more of the ideal scheme fit than others in this class, but in some systems he could truly be the top option at the position this draft cycle.
Comparison: Baker Mayfield is a name often associated with Howell when it comes to a comparison. But his deep passing skills coupled with what he showcased as a runner this year reminds me of Jalen Hurts when he was coming out of college, but with a bit more velocity on throws.
(Syndication: Gainesville Sun)
Height: 5’10” (36th) Weight: 218 (63rd)
40-Yard Dash: 4.59 seconds (40th)
10-Yard Split:
1.51 seconds (86th)
Bench Press: 21 reps (64th)
Vertical Jump: 34.5 inches (51st)
Broad Jump: 119 inches (54th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: “Why? Because I’m a Gator, bro.”
That’s what Desmond Pierce said when asked why he was finishing out his final season with the Gators despite the fact that he was also preparing for the Senior Bowl. The Gators did not always show their star running back the same level of justified deference. Pierce came to Florida after gaining 6,779 yards and 92 total touchdowns for Georgia’s Bainbridge High School, but he was always part of more of a workload-share situation than he should have been.
There are times when you have to wonder what the heck a coach is thinking when he’s deploying his personnel. Exhibit A in this case is ex-Florida head coach Dan Mullen, and his 2021 running back by committee approach. RBBC is the order of the day in a lot of programs, and that’s all well and good, but when you have a house-wrecker of a running back like  Pierce on your team, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Pierce gained 574 yards and scored 13 touchdowns (!) on 100 carries, and he only had double-digit carries twice last season — the Gators’ final two games, after Mullen was fired.
So, why is a back who never had more than 574 yards in a season our RB1? Because when you watch Pierce’s tape, you see the attributes required of a running back combined at a higher level for any other back in this class. It’s as simple as that.
"I ain't got good intentions when I run. I'll tell you that."
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) March 31, 2022

Stat to Know: On his 100 carries last season, Pierce forced 39 missed tackles and averaged 3.65 yards after contact. 365 of his 574 yards came after the first hit.
Strengths: Good backs can deal with contact. Great backs are emboldened by it. Pierce is one of the rare backs in the latter category. When you hit him, he’ll bounce off contact and actually use that leverage to further accelerate downfield. We need look no further than the three explosive runs Pierce had against Georgia’s incredible defense last season — on just nine carries. 
This 19-yard run shows Pierce’s vision, cutback acceleration through gaps, power through hits, and contact balance downfield.
On this 18-yard run, Pierce bounces across and outside the formation, outrunning some rather impressive Georgia defenders.
Every great back has some “FU” runs, where they’re just announcing their presence with authority. This 11-yard run qualifies as just that.
As does this helmetless run against Florida State. Pierce was penalized for “continuing the action” after his helmet was ripped off; personally, I want a running back who’s just ’bout that action, boss.
Dameon Pierce is a BEAST
— libgator (@lib_gator) November 27, 2021

Pierce is also a plus receiver, as he showed on this touchdown catch against LSU. He’s route-diverse and eager to use his hands to catch at a high level.
Weaknesses: Pierce doesn’t have true third-level home-run speed as a few backs in this class have, though I think NFL teams would accept that in favor of all the things he can do. And he suffers occasional lapses in pass protection, though it doesn’t seem to be a serial issue as it does for a disturbingly high percentage of the backs in this draft class. You will also have to project a higher workload onto him, though he was really good against loaded boxes, which is one kind of projection for that.
Conclusion: NFL teams will likely take two paths of thought when it comes to Pierce. They’ll either assume that he’s limited and that Dan Mullen knew what he was doing when he limited Pierce’s workload, or they’ll look at the tape, and salivate at what he’d do in their offenses. The team that takes the second path to its logical conclusion will be duly rewarded.
NFL Comparison: Frank Gore. Gore had a middling workload in the Miami Hurricanes’ loaded backfields until his 2004 campaign. But when he hit the NFL in 2005 as a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, Gore showed pretty immediately that he had the power, acceleration, gap wisdom, and receiving ability to be what he was — a five-time Pro Bowler with exactly 16,000 rushing yards in his estimable career. I’m not saying that Pierce will equal Gore’s numbers or career length — that’s a tough one — but the attributes are quite similar. Pierce can be an every-down back in the NFL from Day 1.
(Syndication Lansing State Journal)
Height: 5’9″ (20th) Weight: 211 (42nd)
40-Yard Dash: 4.38 seconds (95th)
10-Yard Split:
1.49 seconds (95th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 34 inches (45th)
Broad Jump: 122 inches (75th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Walker started his collegiate career at Wake Forest, gaining 1,158 yards and scoring 17 rushing touchdowns on 217 carries, adding six catches for 47 yards. This in no way prepared anybody for what Walker was able to do after he transferred to Michigan State for the 2021 season. Last year, Walker gained 1,636 yards on the ground and scored 18 rushing touchdowns on 263 carries. Add in his 13 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, and Walker did everything he could to prove that he could be a high-volume, every-down back in a major program, with traits that transfer quite well to the NFL.
He opted out of Michigan State’s appearance in the Peach Bowl to prepare for the draft, but one could argue that he’d already proven everything he needed to prove.
Stat to Know: In 2021, no FBS back had more runs of 15+ yards than Walker’s 30, on which he gained 881 of his 1.634 rushing yards.
Strengths: For a back with his speed and quickness, Walker also has a nice sense of when and how to follow his blocks, and then get explosive when necessary. He’s fast, but he’s not frenetic. His third-level speed is plus-average, and he accentuates that with body lean and subtle acceleration to get past cornerbacks and safeties who might otherwise outrun him. That body lean into his speed cuts also keeps him away from contact as he’s gearing up from the first and second levels. He presents a favorable target on the swing passes and release routes he ran at Michigan State, with the potential to do more as a receiver.
Walker has an enviable ability to “get skinny” through gaps, power through small openings, and then burst into the open field. You see that a lot with his tape.
And his jump cuts rival those of any collegiate back in recent years.
He’s also exceptional when things fall apart at the line, and he has to make lightning-quick diagnoses and responses, especially when bouncing outside.
Weaknesses: While Walker can zip through gaps with ease, post-contact power is an issue at times, and it’ll have him running himself right out of the play when he doesn’t see an opening.
And he’s not a plus pass protector at all. If Walker’s NFL team is facing a defense in which blitzing defensive backs are the norm, he might get lighter workloads until he fixes that issue.
Conclusion: Walker’s traits and production project him very well into any zone-heavy run scheme in which he can use his quickness and agility to break off big gains and explosive plays. He’ll never be a headbanger, but if he’s able to advance his route palette and clean up the blocking issues, he has a chance to wow in the NFL as he did in the Big Ten.
NFL Comparison: Melvin Gordon III. Two IIIs? Sure. Like Gordon, who was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Walker can make you miss all over the field, and that’s an incredibly valuable skill. Gordon maxed out as a feature back in 2017, when he gained 1,105 yards and scored eight rushing touchdowns on 284 carries. But he also has two different seasons (2016 and 2018) with 10 rushing touchdowns as more of a committee guy, and he’s currently a very nice complementary back with the Broncos. Walker’s power limitations prevent him from becoming truly scheme-transcendent (and possibly workload-transcendent), but in the right offense, just wind him up and watch him go.
(Jenna Watson/IndyStar-USA TODAY NETWORK)
Height: 5’11” (57th) Weight: 217 (61st)
40-Yard Dash: 4.39 seconds (93rd)
10-Yard Split: 1.54 seconds (73rd)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 40 inches (94th)
Broad Jump: 126 inches (91st)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Hall has some pretty good legacy notes for his position — his cousin is Roger Craig, the 49ers legend who, in 1985, became the first back in pro football history to gain 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in the same season. His stepfather, Jeff Smith, played at Nebraska, and also for the Buccaneers and Chiefs. Hall got his start in 2019 with the Cyclones when he gained 897 rushing yards and scored nine rushing touchdowns on 186 carries, adding 23 receptions for 252 yards and a touchdown. This earned him All-Big 12 honors as a freshman.
Over the next two seasons, Hall became one of the more impressive volume punchers at his position, gaining a total of 3.044 rushing yards and scoring 41 rushing touchdowns on 532 carries, with 59 receptions for 482 yards and five touchdowns. In 2020, Hall became the first unanimous All-American in Iowa State history.
Stat to Know: In Hall’s final collegiate game, against TCU, he ran the ball 18 times for 242 yards, five carries of 15+ yards, and three rushing touchdowns. He finished his NCAA career with five rushing touchdowns of 75 or more yards.
Strengths: Hall isn’t a burner, so he must create explosive plays with patience, vision, power, and sudden acceleration. Fortunately, he has all of those attributes on easy and consistent display. This 16-yard run against TCU is as impressive as any run I’ve seen from any back in the 2022 class. Hall creates at all three levels, which is nice if you can do it.
You can see those same attributes when Hall is deployed in the passing game. He can splay out for swing and screen passes, and he has the potential to line up or motion to an X or Z spot and make things happen outside.
And this effort run against West Virginia is just… *chef’s kiss*. Once Hall gets rolling, he’s very intent on getting yards after contact, and you’ll have to do a lot to get him down. He’s a constant forward leaner who will give maximum effort to stay alive in the open field — a must, because he isn’t going to run away from NFL defenders.
Weaknesses: Hall’s relative lack of flash speed and quickness shows up when he gets bottled up and can’t create his way out of it. You just don’t see the lightning bolts of suddenness in his game; he’s more of a smooth glider with power. If your defense gets on him quickly, he can be limited, and for all his after-contact power, he averaged just 2.83 yards after contact per carry last season. A lot of the lost plays came in situations like this.
And let’s just say that his pass pro needs a lot of work. Hall isn’t consistent with his targets, and his blocking vision isn’t developed. This is an NFL coaching issue to be solved.
Conclusion: Hall’s 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine is one of the more incongruous testing numbers I can remember from any draft prospect in a while — because there just isn’t 4.39 speed on the field. When Najee Harris came out of Alabama last season, my thought was that Harris does everything at an above-average to really good level, but nothing spectacularly to the point where you see one of those franchise-defining backs. I see a similar back in Hall, who brings so much to the table and should be highly productive at the next level. You just wonder what he could be with one extra tick of short and long speed. That’s not a professional death sentence; but I can imagine NFL evaluators wondering this, as well.
NFL Comparison: Matt Forte. Selected with the 44th pick in the second round of the 2008 draft out of Tulane, Forte quickly became one of the NFL’s most effective and versatile backs in the league despite the lack of a real third gear or devilish escape speed. From 2008 through 2016, Forte had more total yards from scrimmage (13,794) than any other back (Adrian Peterson finished second over that time with 12,083), and I could see Hall having the same kind of long-term impact in an offense that’s okay with a back who can do it all… except for blowing you away with a fifth gear.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Height: 6’3″ (86th) Weight: 195 (36th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.47 seconds (59th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 33 inches (19th)
Broad Jump: 10’5″ (76th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: A few years ago, George Pickens looked like a mortal lock for WR1 in his eventual draft class. After catching 69 passes for 1,368 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama, Pickens stepped into the starting lineup for the Georgia Bulldogs as a true freshman. What did he do that year? Catch 49 passes for 727 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, the past two seasons have not been as kind to Pickens. His production was up-and-down in 2020, as he caught 36 passes for 513 yards and six touchdowns, and then tore his ACL during spring ball prior to the 2021 campaign. He managed to get back onto the field late in the year, and in four games caught five passes for 107 yards.
Still, while it once seemed like Pickens was a lock for the first round, that appears to be very much in doubt.
Stat to Know: Fun with sample sizes! Pickens averaged 21.4 yards per reception this season. Yes, on five catches…
Strengths: Pickens is a master of late separation. He wins at the catch point, which is something he was doing as a true freshman against bigger and more physical SEC cornerbacks, but also has the ability to create a bit of space off his breaks with arm bars, shoulder nudges and by using his leverage and frame.
But Pickens is much more than just a contested-catch receiver. He has the ability to separate from press-aligned defenders, and this is something that again he was doing as a true freshman in the SEC. Take this play from his freshman campaign:
Facing a press-aligned defender shaded to the inside, Pickens uses a stutter-step off the line to stress his leverage, and then bursts along the boundary to separate on the vertical route for a touchdown.
His catch radius shows up as well, whether working underneath, along the sideline or in the vertical passing game. Take this play from that game against Baylor, where Pickens was named the MVP of the Sugar Bowl:
Again, you see the release off the line against a press-aligned defender, followed by an incredible adjustment to the football for a big play.
Of course, you cannot discuss Pickens without mentioning how, coming back from his injury, he delivered the first big play of the National Championship game:
This play highlights Pickens’ nuanced route-running as well as his ability to track the football in the vertical passing game. The cornerback sets up in press alignment with outside leverage, so Pickens releases to the inside as he pushes vertically. At the top of his stem, he flashes his eyes to the outside as he fakes in that direction, and the corner bites. That is all Pickens needs to push to the post and get separation, and he then tracks the football perfectly and extends for the confident catch, and the huge play early.
Weaknesses: Those who remain convinced that the “best ability is availability” might have some concerns. Pickens is coming off the ACL injury, and also missed time in 2019 for a violation of team rules. He was also ejected from a game as a freshman for fighting.
Pickens has the body type to be an X receiver at the next level, but might need to add some strength to handle the more physical corners he will see on Sundays.
Conclusion: You do not step into the starting lineup as a receiver in the SEC as a true freshman and put up the numbers Pickens did if you are not a talented football player. Circumstances might have pushed Pickens down the board into the Day Two range, but an NFL team is going to be thankful for said circumstances.
Comparison: I get a Tee Higgins vibe after studying Pickens’ college career.
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Height: 5’10” (14th) Weight: 195 (36th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.41 seconds (81st)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 35 inches (37th)
Broad Jump: 10’5″ (76th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.13 seconds (19th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.32 seconds (32nd)
Bio: Skyy Moore graded as a three-star prospect out of Shady Side Academy in the Pittsburgh area, and was recruited as a cornerback by a few different schools, including Robert Morris and Rice. He signed with Western Michigan, and moved to wide receiver despite playing quarterback on offense in high school.
Moore was an immediate contributor for the Broncos, starting 12 games as a true freshman in 2019. During that season Moore caught 53 passes for 802 yards and three scores. He played in five games in the shortened 2020 season, catching 25 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns.
He put up big numbers this past season, catching 95 passes for 1,292 yards and ten touchdowns.
Stat to Know: Moore is a weapon after the catch. Pro Football Focus charted him with 26 missed tackles forced this past season, tops among wide receivers.
Strengths: Moore walks into an NFL locker room as a Day One option as a slot receiver. But there is much more to his game than just a player that needs a two-way go to get separation. Moore can play on the boundary, and can play very well against press-aligned defenders. With shifty footwork off the line and a violent array of hand swipes, he can beat jams and get into his routes quickly off the line of scrimmage. Studying him I saw 24 different reps against press-aligned defenders in his games against Michigan and Pittsburgh, the toughest competition he faced this past season.
Against Pittsburgh, he caught 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.
This play against Northern Illinois is a prime example of how he can beat a defender off the line and establish leverage early in the down:
We will get to his player comparison in a moment, but this is the play that caused me to write down that comparison next to Moore’s name:
Even the body movement after the catch is reminiscent of this former NFL player.
But despite offering a floor as a starting slot receiver, thanks to his ability to beat press-aligned defenders Moore brings versatility to the table. Western Michigan used him along the boundary, as he saw over 500 snaps on the outside, and around 250 from the slot. Teams can use him as an outside receiver in packages, and he might have a role as a Z receiver in the NFL instead of a pure slot option.
Weaknesses: The bulk of Moore’s production came in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. He separates quickly in the down and win with both his change-of-direction skills and his violent hand game. That helps him on routes underneath, but he has not fully formed a vertical package. Now, the team that drafts him might be find with what he offers on Day One underneath, but those looking for a vertical threat out of the slot — akin to Christian Kirk — might need some patience.
While he is a physical player, he did lose at the catch point to bigger defenders. That is something that will not ease up on Sundays. Plus, he’ll be facing a much different level of competition than he saw playing on Saturdays. While he put up big numbers against Pittsburgh, Michigan held him to just two receptions. Still, he did his part, and was getting separation on plays like this but never saw the ball:
Conclusion: Moore’s versatility, with the ability to play in the slot immediately while having the skill-set to play on the boundary, should make him an appealing option for NFL teams. Offenses that use receivers in interchangeable ways — such as what Josh McDaniels did in New England for years — should covet what Moore offers both outside and in the slot.
Comparison: The Julian Edelman comparisons write themselves. I know I used that last year with Amon-Ra St. Brown, but on that second clip above he looks exactly like him.
(Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’4″  Weight: 208
40-Yard Dash: 4.36
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 38.5 inches
Broad Jump: 11’4″
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Coming out of Henry B. Plant High School in Tampa, Christian Watson did not have a ton of schools lining up for his as a recruit. 247Sports graded him as a two-star recruit, and Watson chose to play at North Dakota State. As a senior at Henry B. Plant, Watson caught 23 passes for 393 yards and eight touchdowns.
After taking a redshirt season in 2017, Watson saw limited action for the Bison in 2018, as he caught nine passes for 165 yards. During his redshirt sophomore season in 2019, Watson took on more of a role, catching 34 passes for 732 yards and six touchdowns, and earned a Second-Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection.
After catching 19 passes for 442 yards and a touchdown in the 2020 season, which was played in the spring of 2021 due to COVID-19, Watson returned to campus in the fall for his senior campaign. He caught 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns, earning his second-straight First-Team All-MVFC selection.
Stat to Know: Watson comes from a football family. His father, Tazim Wajid Wajed was a defensive back for five years in the NFL. His brother played linebacker at both Illinois and Maryland before playing in the XFL, and his uncle played at Marshall.
Strengths: Watson is another member of this draft class who looks like a prototypical X receiver at the next level. He has the ideal size, frame and speed to play in that role, and is a dangerous weapon on routes that focus on the vertical parts of the playbook. On this play, Watson runs the slant-and-go to perfection, getting over the top for a touchdown:
Watson is also comfortable working over the middle, as he does on this play. Running a dig route from the left side of the field, you see him push vertically to stress the defender, before working across the field and fighting to stay in the quarterback’s field of vision:
Watson is also a great fit for vertical passing games, as he can stack defenders with confidence and tracks the football well over his shoulder. Watson was also impressive at the catch point, as he can win in contested-catch situations and has the confidence in his hands to make catches while extending his arms away from his frame.
Weaknesses: The first question might be the level of competition he faced playing on Saturdays. This is why the Senior Bowl was a huge week for him, as he demonstrated that the traits he showcased at NDSU were there for him against higher levels of competition.
Watson is not as sudden as other receivers in this class, and sometimes needs a few more steps to change directions or get up to speed. That, coupled with what he does well, might limit him to more downfield offensive systems.
Conclusion: We have talked for years about how players that can win on the outside in that X receiver role are more attractive than options who need the benefit of a two-way go working from the slot. Watson’s experience playing on the outside and seeing press-aligned defenders, even at the FCS level, gives him the ability to play as an X at the next level. That experience, coupled with what he did down in Mobile, bodes well for his NFL career.
Comparison: Lance Zierlein mentioned Dontrelle Inman as a comparison, and that is accurate in my mind.
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’4 1/8″ (42nd) Weight: 307 (34th)
40-Yard Dash: 5.21 seconds (63rd)
10-Yard Split: 1.81 seconds (36th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 24 inches (10th)
Broad Jump: 102 inches (48th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.75 seconds (57th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.95 seconds (15th)
Wingspan: 80 3/8 inches (47th)
Arm Length: 33 1/8 inches (33rd) 
Hand Size: 10 inches (50th)
Bio: A four-year letterman at Sylvania Northview High near Cleveland, Fortner received several offers from smaller schools in his area, but committed to Kentucky instead. He played left and right guard for the Wildcats from 2016 through 2020, moving to center for his final collegiate season. He made First Team All-SEC at his new position, and accepted invitations to the East-West Shrine Bowl and Reese’s Senior Bowl for 2022.
Stat to Know: When Fortner’s teammates ran behind his gap in 2021, they had a 51% Positive Play Rate, third in this class of centers behind Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum and Arizona State’s Dohnovan West, who tied at 55%.
Strengths: With Fortner, even the ugly reps turn out pretty well — he has a series of adaptive and recovery strategies to keep him from getting truly beaten on a regular basis.
He can handle stunts and twists with ease.
Fortner isn’t as agile as Tyler Linderbaum or Cam Jurgens at the second level, but he’s perfectly capable of anchoring at all levels — he brings more nasty there than pure agility and target specificity.
Weaknesses: Fortner seems to be more consistent in pass pro when he’s snapping straight to the quarterback as opposed to shotgun — there’s something about shotgun snaps that make him more susceptible to early pressure and rushes to the pocket.
Conclusion: Fortner’s guard tape shows NFL potential, but I like him best as the pointman of a line with a need for a center equally adept at zone and gap blocking, and a need for a guy who brings technically-refined nastiness to the field. He’ll be an easy asset in that scenario.
NFL Comparison: Alex Mack. The centers who can pop at the second level and do athletic things in space are the ones who tend to get more public praise, because it’s not as “fun” to watch a center who can just work defensive tackles closer to the line of scrimmage. But if your game is gap and inside zone power, you’d better have a headbanger at the pivot. Like Mack, Fortner isn’t the biggest center, but he knows how to use technique and leverage to impose his will as other centers might not. And there’s enough to go on in space to make Fortner a decent prospect in speedier offenses. He’s not a big name, but Fortner has NFL-level play all over his tape.
(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’6 1/8″ (85th) Weight: 303 (20th)
40-Yard Dash: 5.05 seconds (89th)
10-Yard Split: 1.73 seconds (83rd)
Bench Press: 30 reps (82nd)
Vertical Jump: 30.5 inches (79th)
Broad Jump: 117 inches (98th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.46 seconds (86th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.49 seconds (91st)
Wingspan: 80 1/8 inches (41st)
Arm Length: 32 7/8 inches (23rd)
Hand Size: 10 1/4 inches (70th)
Bio: Raimann was born and grew up in Steinbrunn, Austria, and first played American football for the Vienna Vikings’ youth team at age 14. He attended Delton Kellogg High School in Delton, Michigan for his high school junior year, and his host family included two Central Michigan players — Rollie Ferris, and Tyden Ferris, his future collegiate teammate. He then returned to Austria, graduated from Ballsportgymnasium Wien, and completed his compulsory service in the Austrian military. He then committed to Central Michigan and played tight end during his first two seasons, catching 20 passes for 164 yards.
The switch to tackle came in 2020 as Raimann gained weight — he allowed no sacks and five total pressures on 447 reps in the Chippewas’ shortened season, and came back for a 2021 campaign in which he allowed one sack and 10 pressures on 895 total snaps and 475 pass-blocking snaps.
excited for Bernhard’s trajectory for a number of reasons, not the least of which is this: he seems to get happier as he acquires mass
— Mike Golic Jr (@mikegolicjr) April 5, 2022

Stat to Know: Raimann allowed a sack, a quarterback hit, and two quarterback hurries in the 2021 season opener against Missouri. After that, he gave up no sacks, two quarterback hits, and four quarterback hurries in 11 games.
Strengths: At his best, Raimann is agile and strong enough to do just about anything you require from a left tackle. His ability to set the edge and hit targets in space is particularly appealing.
And he has an easy movement palette through the arc as a pass-blocker — what I liken to the arc of an opening door. Raimann can do that all day.
Weaknesses: Raimann is more of a catcher than an attacker with his hands; he would benefit from more aggressiveness in this capacity, especially to offset the possible negative effects of his relatively short arm length and wingspan. NFL-level defenders could get inside his reach and make things more complicated than they need to be.
He will also struggle at times to recognize and pick up extra pressures and the tails of stunts. One assumes this is the product of Raimann’s relative inexperience, and can be cleaned up over time. But this rep against Missouri shows the need for coaching and development.
Conclusion: That Raimann can already play at the level he’s reached with such limited experience at the position should be highly exciting to NFL line coaches, who probably as a group wouldn’t hesitate to get a guy with this much athletic potential and positional upside. Yes, there are things to work on here, and that’s completely understandable, but don’t mistake Raimann for a developmental prospect. He has the chops to start in his first NFL season, and from there, the sky’s the limit.
NFL Comparison: Sebastian Vollmer. Like Raimann, Vollmer didn’t play American Football until he was 14 years old — he grew up in Germany. And like Raimann, Vollmer switched from tight end to left tackle in college — Houston, in Vollmer’s case. A private workout with Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia had New England selecting Vollmer in the second round of the 2009 draft, and Vollmer combined athleticism and strength while overcoming his relative inexperience to play seven mostly solid seasons. Vollmer tended to alternate between clean seasons and campaigns in which he gave up a ton of pressures, and while Raimann might fit that profile for a while, there’s certainly enough on the ball in a physical sense for him to become a top-level move tackle over time.
(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’6 3/8″ (86th) Weight: 315 (63rd)
40-Yard Dash: 4.92 seconds (97th)
10-Yard Split: 1.76 seconds (64th)
Bench Press: 24 reps (44th)
Vertical Jump: 27 inches (39th)
Broad Jump: 107 inches (75th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.25 seconds (98th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.4 seconds (97th)
Wingspan: 81 3/4 inches (69th)
Arm Length: 33 7/8 inches (59th)
Hand Size: 10 1/2 inches (85th)

Bio: Lucas attended Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, WA and was named All-USA Washington Second Team by USA Today. He was named the No.52 offensive tackle in the country and eightth overall prospect in Washington by Lucas also lettered four years in basketball — he was a two-time All-Cascade selection, and he averaged 16 points per game and 14 rebounds per game as a senior.
After committing to Washington State and taking 2017 as a redshirt season, Lucas was named to the Freshman All-America Team by USA TODAY and The Athletic, and made All-Pac-12 Conference Second Team. The Outland Trophy Watch Lists started in 2019 and didn’t stop. He was named to the All-Pac-12 Conference Second Team and to the Associated Press All-Pac-12 First Team in both his junior and senior seasons. Lucas was invited to the 2022 Reese’s  Senior Bowl, where Pro Football Focus’s Mike Renner named him one of the 10 biggest risers of the week.
There’s another important biographical thing to add here.
Washington State OT Abe Lucas was bored at 3 am as a freshman and started ripping this song on his Fender in his dorm
Got a noise violation for it
“Still worth it,” Lucas said
Adjust the rankings, ⁦
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 3, 2022

While we can’t adjust player rankings for musical taste (if only we could), this certainly put Lucas on my radar.
Stat to Know: Lucas lined up for 749 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, and allowed no sacks, two quarterback hits, and 17 quarterback hurries.
Strengths: Lucas has a nasty streak that shows up in open space — Lucas can use his movement skills and hand use to box defenders out with target accuracy.
The plus footwork shows up on this rep against Oregon — Lucas has his opponent repelled before he even gets his hands out, and that’s a consistent attribute. .
Weaknesses: Lucas had reps against Oregons Kayvon Thibodeaux where he fought to a draw; you’d lust like to see a bit more of a finishing mentality at times.
Lucas also needs to get more strength from his sets; there are times when he kind of floats through the play, and you can push him right back into Mr. Quarterback. Less than optimal.
Conclusion: The extent to which you grade Lucas as a first-year starter will depend a lot on the type of offense you prefer. If you’re all about headbanging your way to sustained running plays, he won’t be your first choice, despite his thrash-metal preferences. But players of Lucas’ ilk are becoming more and more important in the NFL as the league transitions to more RPOs, quick-game concepts, and offenses are facing defenses that make the front-side protector as important as the blind-side guy. In any of those offenses, Lucas will fit like a proverbial glove.
NFL Comparison: Brian O’Neill. Selected in the second round of the 2018 draft out of Pitt, the Vikings’ right tackle has become one of the NFL’s most underrated blockers, and he’s specifically great in pass protection without a lot of sand in his pants. When you’re winning against top NFL edge defenders and you barely crack 300 pounds on the scale, you’d better have your technique in order. O’Neill has developed that to the point where the Vikings wisely gave him a five-year, $92.5 million contract extension last September, and Lucas has a lot of the same attributes as a potentially dominant player in a pass-heavy, quick-game offense.
(Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’4″  Weight: 283
40-Yard Dash: 5.00 seconds
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 28 inches
Broad Jump: 8’10”
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Coming out of Judson High School in Converse, Texas, DeMarvin Leal was one of the top recruits in the 2019 recruiting cycle. 247Sports graded him as a five-star recruit, and ranked him as the 16th player in the country. As you might expect, the scholarship offers came rolling in, but Leal stayed in state to play for Texas A&M, becoming their highest-graded signing since Myles Garrett.
The expectations were high, and Leal did his best to live up to the hype. He started in seven games and played in all 13 as a true freshman, recording 38 tackles and a pair of sacks. He started all nine games in the shortened 2020 season, notching 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. This past year, Leal secured a career-high nine sacks, and was named a First-Team All-SEC player, and an All-American.
Stat to Know: In addition to what he did rushing the passer, Leal was also solid against the run. Pro Football Focus charted him with 23 run stops, ranking him 28th among his position group.
Strengths: Leal is a high-effort play who moves extremely well off the edge for a man of his size. He showed on film the ability to counter offensive tackles with a secondary plan of attack, and has a good first step to threaten blockers off the snap. He also showed good power and anchoring ability in his lower body, with the ability to hold his ground on the interior when he kicked inside, even at times against double-team blocks.
Given that he played primarily on the edge, one of his best traits in college was the ability to set the edge and kick running plays back to the inside. Here is perhaps where his effort and work rate showed the most, as Leal was often fighting and working to ensure the edge was set, and running backs were turned back to the interior help.
One of my favorite plays from him was this snap against Auburn, where his awareness created a sack for his teammate:
On this snap, Leal aligns as a 0-techinque, head-up on the center. He begins to rush the passer off the snap, but recognizes that the offense is setting up a screen. He peels back to pick up the running back, and the quarterback cannot make the throw, leading to the sack.
His technique with his hands can be impressive:
Leal identifies the concept immediately after the snap, and then slices to the inside of the left tackle with a nasty swim move, getting to the ball carrier for a loss on the play.
Weaknesses: So what’s the problem?
It might be one of NFL fit and role.
At his size and with what he did on film, Leal’s best role is probably as an interior defender who can attack on the inside against guards and centers. What he did off the edge was impressive on Saturdays, but moving him inside and letting him use his first step on the interior makes the most sense. His quickness showed up more when he aligned inside, rather than off the edge.
But, that is more of a projection. He spent the bulk of his time playing on the outside. Still, some of the plays highlighted here showcase what he did on the interior, and that is probably his best role.
Conclusion: There are two ways teams could use Leal as a rookie. A team could kick him inside and lean on him as a pure interior defender, and given what we have seen, that might be his best pathway to NFL success. Or teams can use him similar to how Texas A&M used him, relying on his versatility as a defender and aligning him anywhere from 0-techinque to the edge.
What’s that expression? The more you can do for a team, the more valuable you are? That might be what leads to Leal coming off the board earlier than we are seeing right now in mock drafts.
NFL Comparison: The player that most comes to mind studying him is Trey Flowers.
(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’4″ (81st) Weight: 325 (91st)
40-Yard Dash: 4.92 seconds (75th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 29 inches (34th)
Broad Jump: 9’2″ (66th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.33 seconds (81st)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.58 seconds (56th)
Bio: Travis Jones was a three-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, and played both offensive and defensive line at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut. Jones received a number of scholarship offers from teams including Temple and Boston College, and originally committed to play college football at Rutgers. In the summer of 2017, however, he decommitted from Rutgers and a few weeks later announced he announced his commitment to Connecticut.
Jones was an immediate contributor for the Huskies defense as a true freshman, appearing in 11 games and notching 46 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss. While he did not play during 2020 when Connecticut canceled the football season, he returned last year and had his most productive season in college, recording 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks. His play at Connecticut earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he more than proved he belongs on the big stage.
Stat to Know: One of the knocks on Jones is that he did not put up big pressure and sack numbers. This is one of those moments where context is key. During his time on campus Jones and the Huskies won five games. There were not a lot of moments where he could simply pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.
Strengths: Connecticut used Jones in a few different ways up front, as he was most often aligned as a 3-technique and even saw a few snaps at edge, but at the next level Jones is a nose tackle. He has the power and lower-body anchor to consistently reset the line of scrimmage against the run, and even when he was seeing double teams due to the level of talent around him, Jones found ways to impact the running game. On this play against Vanderbilt he does just that:
Jones aligns in the B-Gap, between the right guard and center. Off the snap he takes on both blockers, keeping his linebacker clean, but he fights through the double, and meets his linebacker at the running back, holding this play to a gain of a single yard.
Jones is powerful at the point of attack, and has the upper-body strength to control blockers and then shed them, working to the running back. On this play against Vanderbilt he does that, fighting off the center and getting to the back to stop this before the offense gains a single yard:
While the production as a pass rusher was not there this season — likely due to the context outline above — the effort was there. On this play against Clemson Jones keeps fighting until the whistle, working through multiple blockers to get pressure on the quarterback:
Weaknesses: Jones was able to get by with power and effort, but he could be more explosive off the ball and being with more pop at the snap. He is at times more reactionary, and could improve his game if he took the fight to the blockers at the snap. On those moments where he strikes first, you can see the difference.
Another area where he could improve is with his awareness. If he could anticipate doubles and down block more consistently, he would be able to drop his hips and anchor in those moments better. On this play against Vanderbilt, he stays upright through initial contact, and then gets washed out by the down block when it comes from the tackle:
Conclusion: The bottom line is this: While at Connecticut, Jones still found ways to produce when he was the likely focus for the opposing offensive line during the entire week of practice leading up to the game. When he got to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, for example, he showed that he belonged on the big stage. Getting to play on an NFL roster with top talent around him is going to fully unlock what he can be on the football field.
NFL Comparison: Johnathan Hankins is a popular comparison, with both Joe Marino and Lance Zierlein using that in their profiles. Hard for me to argue.

Height: 6’3″  Weight: 297
40-Yard Dash: 5.00 seconds
Bench Press: 17 reps
Vertical Jump: 32 inches
Broad Jump: 9’4″
3-Cone Drill: 7.89 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.81 seconds
Bio: Matthew Butler was a three-star recruit in the 2017 recruiting class, and ranked as the 12th-best player in the state of North Carolina. Offers came in from a number of schools, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas A&M, but Butler chose to play his college football at Tennessee.
He played in a reserve role as a true freshman in 2017, and saw a bit more action during the 2018 season, but saw his role with the Volunteers increase in 2019. That year he started four games and tallied 45 tackles with 2.5 sacks. During 2020, Butler started all ten of Tennessee’s games, notching 43 tackles and another two sacks. He decided to return to campus for his “super” senior season, and had his most productive year at Tennessee, posting 47 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Butler graduated in December of 2020 with a degree in political science — maintaining a 3.63 GPA along the way — and plans on a career in criminal justice when his playing days are over.
Stat to Know: While some members of this interior defensive line class are facing questions about work rate and conditioning, those go out the window when talking about Butler. He played 726 snaps last season, most among SEC players on the defensive line.
Strengths: Every year as the draft approaches, Doug Farrar and myself write about the guys we are willing to bang the proverbial table for at some point in the draft.
My version this year likely has Butler near the top of the list.
Butler is a productive pass rusher on the interior with suddenness to his penetration plan and the effort to play through the whistle. He relies on a number of moves as a pass rusher, whether a cross/chop, a dip and rip, a push/pull or more. He is not the longest defender, but he has moments on film where he can lock out blockers, track the ball-carrier and get himself to the football.
Tennessee used Butler on the edge in passing situations, and in some three-man front packages, and that is where you saw some ability to attack off the edge. Then you see plays like this sack against Georgia working against the left guard, and you an imagine a path to NFL success:
Butler hits the guard with a power move off the snap, but then quickly transitions into the rip move on the inside, working past the blocker for a sack.
Weaknesses: One question with Butler is whether last season was a mirage, or he is a late-developing prospect who can continue this growth as he moves to the NFL. He is at his best when allowed to attack as a one-gap defender, and while he could add some mass and play in a two-gap role, I think he’s probably better suited to the one-gap life.
Conclusion: The potential is there for Butler to carve out an effective role early for an NFL team as a situational player, thanks to what he offers as a pass rusher. He can draw upon a well-rounded tool kit of moves to combat blockers and disrupt plays on the interior. He was also used by Tennessee on some stunts and twists, and that could be a way to incorporate him into the gameplan as an NFL rookie. Combined with his effort, you could see him put together some big plays early in his career.
NFL Comparison: It is not just the name, I swear, but I see shades of Adam Butler in Matthew Butler’s game.
(Syndication: Online Athens)
Height: 6’2 5/8″ (17th) Weight: 268 (55th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.77 seconds (63rd)
10-Yard Split: 1.62 seconds (70th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 38 inches (91st)
Broad Jump: 123 inches (87th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 79 inches (27th)
Arm Length: 32 3/4  inches (20th)
Hand Size: 9 5/8 inches (30th)
Bio: A four-star recruit out of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, Paschal chose Kentucky over just about every major program in the nation, including Alabama, USC, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma. His career path was delayed when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2018, and he had several operations to battle the cancer — a process that ended in August, 2019. He had 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2019, fell off a bit in 2020, and put up a ton of good tape last season with 38 total pressures and 20 stops from every gap — 23 snaps in the A-gap, 87 snaps in the B-gap, 287 snaps over the tackle, and 252 snaps outside.
Stat to Know: Paschal had five sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2021.
Strengths: For a guy weighing nearly 270 pounds, Paschal has an ferociously quick close to the pocket. His acceleration and short-area quickness are his alpha attributes from the edge.
Here’s Pascal creating pressure against Mississippi State left tackle Charles Cross, who I believe to be the best offensive lineman in this draft class. Cross recovers nicely from a head-up move inside, because he’s that good, but you can also see how well Paschal moves from the snap to the pocket.
Paschal can create absolute havoc as an interior rusher with his lateral quickness and power to work the bull-rush. The Georgia Bulldogs discovered this with a quickness on this rep.
And if you’re going to give Paschal a double-team, both of your blockers had better be on point. Otherwise, he’ll knife through it all with ease.
Weaknesses: Paschal will work himself into stalemates at times, even against single teams, because his hand technique isn’t yet evolved enough to disengage. It’s a short-term concern, and a long-term wonder — when he puts that together with NFL coaching, how good will he then be?
This red zone rep against Louisville showed a similar issue. You can turn Paschal into an innocent bystander if you force him to use his hands, as opposed to flouting his physical superiority through the gaps.
A guy this good with his basic attributes should not get pushed around to this degree by two-fifths of Vanderbilt’s offensive line. Paschal’s elementary technique will render him out of the picture too often at the next level for a while.
Conclusion: If you’re looking for a traditional edge rusher who plays 90% of his snaps outside the tackles, you may miss out on Paschal’s potential, because his true value is in his ability to affect offenses from every gap from wide 9 to offset nose tackle. Teams that value such versatility will be more present with Paschal’s NFL future, and one will be duly rewarded when they commit to it.
NFL Comparison: Emmanuel Ogbah. There’s a subset of multi-gap pass-rushers in the NFL who don’t get the praise they deserve because they’re so good in every gap, and they don’t hang out in one place — so perhaps it’s hard to get a bead on what makes them great. Ogbah became that kind of player when he was unleashed in Brian Flores’ Dolphins defense in 2020, and Paschal reminds me a lot of Ogbah as a player who can defeat blockers in different gaps, and in many ways. He might be the most underrated edge defender in this class, but in the right system, he won’t hold that classification for long.
(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’3 3/4 (45th) Weight: 261 (34th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.53 seconds (98th)
10-Yard Split: 1.59 seconds (87th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 38 inches (91st)
Broad Jump: 125 inches (92nd)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 80 3/4 inches (58th)
Arm Length: 32 5/8 inches (16th)
Hand Size: 9 7/8 inches (48th)
Bio: A three-star recruit out of Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Adeboye “Boye: Mafe also spent his eighth-grade year in a cultural exchange program in his family’s native Nigeria. He chose Minnesota over Rutgers and Wyoming, and though he never had more than 480 snaps in a season over four years (1,086 total), he made Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2020 with 4.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. Last season, he made Third-Team All-Big Ten and again led the Gophers in sacks (7.0), tackles for loss (10.0), and forced fumbles (one).
Stat to Know: Mafe had just 20 of his 480 snaps inside the tackles last season. If I’m on his NFL coaching staff, I’m multiplying that number by four or five.
Strengths: As a pure edge rusher, Mafe has a really nice combination of strong, aggressive hands, and freaky athleticism to the pocket. This play against Indiana is just ridiculous. Mafe is aligned inside the left tackle, which he didn’t do a lot, but… wow. He can’t knife through the double-team, so he just careens around the tackle, closes to the pocket, and chases the quarterback to the sideline. You want effort pressures? It’s hard to do much better than this.
Here’s a similar win against Nebraska — if I’m Mafe’s NFL coach, I’m putting him inside more often, because this kind of speed and bend around double teams is rare.
And here, he shows a nice ability at least swing with double-teams, using hand strength and velocity. You love to see this from a player his size. And again, this is from the tackle’s inside shoulder.
From the edge, Mafe has no trouble bedeviling tackles with speed counters that start outside, and upset things from inside.
Weaknesses: There’s nothing Mafe can do about his relatively short arms, and what happens at times to most edge guys with this particular issue happens with him — if a tackle gets his hands out first (or even as the rush develops, Mafe struggles to counter straight-ahead. He’ll need to continue to develop his hand techniques as adaptive strategies.
He can also be waylaid by slide blocks, as well as motioning and pulling tackles and tight ends — any situation in which he needs to quickly disengage and move. Again, he’ll need to do more than wrestle with power in these situations.
Conclusion: I’m fascinated by Mafe’s potential as a multi-gap pass rusher at the next level, especially when he gets more reps and is able to continue to develop his attributes, and gets with a next-level strength program to fill out his skill set. He could be a plus defender in the NFL sooner than later.
NFL Comparison: Michael Bennett. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M in 2009, Bennett played pretty well with the Buccaneers for a few seasons, and then blew up to a thermonuclear level with the Seahawks when his new team realized how he could disrupt from multiple gaps. I think that Mafe has a ton of untapped potential in this regard, and I hope his NFL team sees him the way the Seahawks saw Bennett.
(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’4″ (56th)Weight: 250 (11th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds (96th)
10-Yard Split: 1.64 seconds (51st)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 35 inches (72nd)
Broad Jump: 122 inches (84th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.45 seconds (39th)
Wingspan: 80 3/4 inches (58th)
Arm Length: 33 1/2 inches (50th)
Hand Size: 9 inches (3rd)
Bio: Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Ojabo played soccer, volleyball, and basketball in Aberdeen, Scotland after his family moved there for his father’s job. Wanting to maximize his athletic opportunities, Ojabo left his family and moved to the U.S. at age 15, enrolling at Blair Academy, a boarding school in New Jersey. Ojabo switched from basketball to football as a junior when he saw his teammate, former Penn State and current Baltimore Ravens edge-rusher Odafe Oweh make the same transition. He took to the game quickly, becoming a four-star recruit and gathering offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Yale, and Columbia, choosing Michigan because he appreciated the academic opportunities there. He redshirted in 2019 making Scout Team Player of the Year, and really broke out in 2021, with 11 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, and a Big Ten-best five forced fumbles.
Unfortunately, Ojabo suffered a torn Achilles tenson at his pro day on March 19, which may force him to miss his rookie NFL season, but the tape still shows enough pass-rush juice to make that redshirt possibility more appealing than it would be for a lot of prospects.
Stat to Know: Ojabo led all edge defenders last season in Sports Info Solutions’ “Hand on Ball” rate, which tracks how often a defender gets his hands on the ball by breaking up or intercepting a pass, or forcing or recovering a fumble. Ojabo did that on 1.7% of his snaps.
Strengths: We often talk about speed-to-power moves; here’s Ojabo running power-to-speed against Penn State. He’s so quick off the snap, and to get his hands out, tackles had better be quick with their own hands. If not, it’s the bull-rush, then the close to the pocket. Bonus points in this case for the strip-sack.
Ojabo also has about as filthy a spin move as you’ll see from any edge-rusher in this class.
You can see that 4.55 speed when it’s time for Ojabo to gobble up turf with his stride length; Michigan State really had no answer for this.
Weaknesses: Ojabo does have some good power moves, but he’s not going to beat the landslide to his side on a run play with pure mass; he’ll have to finesse his way out of plays like this.
Like Aidan Hutchinson, his estimable bookend, Ojabo can get himself disappeared by motioning and pulling blockers.
Conclusion: It’s a real shame that Ojabo suffered that injury, because if he hadn’t, I might well have him in my top three edge defenders, and I would almost certainly rank him above Aidan Hutchinson, his Michigan bookend. Ojabo has a compelling combination of traits and techniques to get to the ball, and if he’s able to make a complete recovery, he’ll be a supreme annoyance to opposing quarterbacks in the NFL just as he was in the NCAA.
NFL Comparison: Cliff Avril. Ojabo has a similar combination of smooth pursuit and aggressive techniques to get to the quarterback, and the more you watch his appallingly great spin move, it’s appropriate to throw a bit of a Dwight Freeney comp in there, as well. No matter which edge-rusher you compare him to, it’s clear that a healthy David Ojabo has all the traits to succeed in any four-man front. Let’s hope we’re able to see a healthy David Ojabo sooner than later.
(Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’3″ (30th) Weight: 248 (7th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.54 seconds (96th)
10-Yard Split: 1.59 seconds (87th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 36 inches (80th)
Broad Jump: 120 inches (76th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.07 seconds (76th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.23 seconds (88th)
Wingspan: 78 3/4 inches (19th)
Arm Length: 32 1/2 inches (12th)
Hand Size: 9 3/8 inches (16th)
Bio: A four-star recruit at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Bonitto played defensive end, linebacker, and quarterback in high school, and weighed offers from Alabama, Louisville, and Texas before choosing the Sooners. He made Second-Team All-American and Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2020, and Second Team All-Big 12 in 2021, totaling 122 total pressures on 584 pass-rushing snaps over four seasons. He also allowed 17 receptions on 23 targets for 155 yards, 113 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 73.6 in his collegiate career.
Stat to Know: Sports Info Solutions defines Quick Pressure Rate as “the percentage of pass rushes that resulted in the player generating the first pressure on the quarterback and doing so in 2.5 seconds or less.” No edge defender in the NCAA had a higher Quick Pressure Rate in 2021 than Bonitto’s 12%.
Strengths: Remember what we said about how long it takes to get around the protection arc against quick-game passing offenses? If you’re going to disrupt that way, you had better be able to cut the corner with a severe quickness Bonitto can do this as quickly as any edge defender in this class. He’s very agile in short areas, an attribute you must have when you’re his size.
Bonitto is an outstanding effort player — even when he gets lost in traffic, or his initial moves don’t work, he’s constantly moving to the ball. As much as his athleticism pops off the tape, teams are going to love his determination through the play.
And if you want a guy with the athleticism to play off-ball, Bonitto has that — he had 37 box snaps last season, with reps in run-stopping and coverage. On this sack from the edge, he shows open space movement skills that should have NFL defensive coordinators wondering if he can be used as a box/edge hybrid guy. After all, everybody’s looking for the next Micah Parsons…
Weaknesses: If I want Bonitto outside the edge, I’m probably not putting him inside the tackles at the line; he doesn’t show the root strength to deal with bigger guys when they’re looking to physically dominate. That’s more of a size thing than anything about his competitive personality, but it’s a discussion his NFL coaches will have.
Here’s another example of Bonitto getting washed out at the line — perhaps he can be coached to be more impactful in this role, but again, if you want him defending the run, it’s best to get him to the second level through pre-snap placement, or post-snap movement.
Bonitto will also need work in coverage if he’s to be a regular asset at the NFL level — he hasn’t had a lot of reps where he’s truly defending the flat or curl areas without watching the backfield.
Conclusion: As a straight-line rusher and a guy who can bend to the pocket, Bonitto has already proven that he has the skills some teams covet when it’s time to get to the quarterback in a hurry. I’ll be fascinated to see if and how his NFL team expands his role into coverage concepts that he has the athleticism to take on.
NFL Comparison: Haason Reddick. Reddick has been one of the more productive and underrated undersized edge defenders of his era, with his best role as an “endbacker” who can provide quick pressure with his speed to the pocket. Bonitto has those same types of traits, and in a leagur where that quick pressure is so important, Bonitto could be a standout right away.
(Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’2 3/8″ (16th) Weight: 250 (11th)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
10-Yard Split: N/A
Bench Press: 21 reps (30th)
Vertical Jump: 38 inches (91st)
Broad Jump: 128 inches (96th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 81 3/4 inches (71st)
Arm Length: 34 1/8 inches (72nd)
Hand Size: 10 1/4 inches (78th)
Bio: Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Arnold Ebiketie moved to the Washington D.C. area with his family at age 12. He tried football for the first time as a sophomore at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland, and proved to be a genius (sorry) right away. Still, his lack of experience made him a three-star recruit and limited his collegiate offers. He chose Temple, amassing six sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss over three seasons. He graduated in 2020 and entered the transfer portal, choosing Penn State over Texas, Washington, Florida State, and Miami. The move to the Nittany Lions coincided with his breakout season, as he put up 52 total pressures after totaling 32 in the three years before.
Stat to Know: In 2021, Ebiketie had a Quick Pressure Rate of 7%, among the highest of the edge defenders in this draft class. Sports Info Solutions defines Quick Pressure Rate as “the percentage of pass rushes that resulted in the player generating the first pressure on the quarterback and doing so in 2.5 seconds or less.”
Strengths: Ebiketie’s arm length is an attribute, and he knows how to use it. When he’s in a two-point stance, his hands rest below his knees, and he’s very good at getting his hands up and using that length to press tackles to the pocket.
As a wide rusher, Ebiketie can pop off the snap and turn to the pocket quickly — on this sack, he doesn’t even need to use his hands.
Ebiketie doesn’t have a counter move as defined as most players on this list, and this makes me wonder how much more effective he’ll be when he develops that, because he certainly has the twitch to do so. When he gets that going, he can add it to his adaptive move, where he gets his hands into the tackle’s chest, and it’s game over.
Weaknesses: If Ebiketie doesn’t get his hands out and going, bigger blockers can eat his lunch, especially in the run game. At 250 pounds, he’s better off with his head on a swivel, dodging through gaps, as opposed to hitting the party late and setting smushed.
Even a well-placed tight end can make Ebiketie disappear against the run; this is where he must be more watchful of blockers in his area, and more quick and aggressive with his counter moves to keep in the play. “Spatial awareness” is one of my favorite “Oh, look how smart we are” scouting terms, and you see the inverse example at times when you watch Ebiketie’s game.
Conclusion: I’m quite impressed by Ebiketie’s athletic potential, movement skills, and palette of schemes to get to the quarterback. He strikes me as a player who might need a year of transition as he gets a bit more strength and a pure counter move, but over time, he could be a very good pure edge disruptor.
NFL Comparison: Montez Sweat. Sweat came out of Mississippi State in 2019 as a long-armed edge-rusher with estimable speed, some play strength concerns, and he’s started to put things together at the NFL level. I would like to see Ebiketie as an outside linebacker-style edge defender who can slip through blockers and speed through gaps in nickel and dime sets. That’s where he’ll be at his best in the NFL.
(Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 5’11” (5th) Weight: 229 (20th)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Coming out of Horn Lake High School in Horn Lake, Mississippi Nakobe Dean was one of the top linebackers in the country. Well, he actually was the top linebacker in the nation, as he earned the High School Butkus Award as the top high school linebacker in the country in 2018.
Graded as a five-star recruit, Dean had no shortage of scholarship offers. He turned down Mississippi and Alabama to play for Kirby Smart at Georgia, and stepped right on the field as a true freshman and recorded 25 tackles. As a sophomore in 2020, Dean recorded 71 tackles and added 1.5 sacks. This past season, Dean helped the Bulldogs win a national title, securing another 72 tackles and a career-high 10.5 sacks along the way.
He also earned his second career Butkus Award, this time as the top linebacker in college football.
Stat to Know: Dean took over as a starting linebacker in 2020, forcing Monty Rice into a reserve role. When you saw three-game stretches like the one he had in the middle of the season, where he secured double-digit tackles in games against Kentucky, Florida and Mississippi State, you can see why the coaching staff trusted him.
Strengths: Speed, as they say, kills.
That is why Nakobe Dean is coming off the board in the first round.
In addition to the other traits he brings to the table, Dean is a true sideline-to-sideline defender. He wins with speed, and it shows up on plays like this against Michigan where he tracks the running back across the formation for the stop:
It also showed up on plays like this against Florida, where he aligns along the boundary and jumps a hitch route, looking more like a cornerback than a linebacker:
In addition to his athleticism, Dean is a smart linebacker and that shows up not only in the pre-snap phase, but during the play itself. He has great vision and feel for his run fits, and his nose for the football is incredible. I had a chance to talk with him about Georgia’s technique for fitting zone runs in this podcast, and he explained how the Bulldogs rely on the “stack, track and fall back” technique, and why:
Who exactly is @NakobeDean?
Check out the latest episode of Talkin' The Draft as @ConnorNFLDraft and @MarkSchofield get to know him! @GeorgiaFootball
— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) April 6, 2022

As he put it, while he is responsible for the A-Gap on such plays, the safety is responsible for the backside B-Gap. Since that player is coming from 12 yards deep, Dean better be able to backtrack into the B-Gap to prevent a cutback, otherwise you’re looking at a ten-yard gain.
Perhaps his best skill-set for the NFL game is his coverage ability. You saw it on the Pick-Six against Florida, but Dean is very patient when tasked with man coverage, and rarely bites on the initial move from the receiver or running back. That is going to serve him well at the next level. He looks the part of a weak-side linebacker, and handling option routes from the running back was something he did quite well.
Weaknesses: Similar to Lloyd, finding flaws in Dean’s game feels like unfair nitpicking. There are moments where his speed hurts him, as he can overrun plays and miss tackles as a result. There are also moments where his tackling technique leaves him too high, and ball carriers can break through his attempt. He is also undersized by NFL standards, and had the benefit of playing behind Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, who kept him clean on the majority of snaps.
Still, you then see those plays linked above and throw the concerns out the window.
Conclusion: The best way to sum up his game is this way: As a New England Patriots fan, if he is on the board at 21 and the Patriots pass on him, I will need more than a few moments to collect myself.
Comparison: Mike Renner of Pro Football focus said Dean offers shades of Devin Bush, and that feels right to me.
(Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.)

Height: 6’1″ (25th) Weight: 226 (12th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.44 seconds (97th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 35 inches (53rd)
Broad Jump: 11’0″ (99th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Christian Harris was a four-star recruit coming out of University Laboratory High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Where he played cornerback, tight end and wide receiver.
But colleges viewed him as a linebacker, and he showed he could handle the position at the All-American Bowl prior to beginning his college career. He originally committed to Texas A&M, but flipped to Alabama to play for Nick Saban.
He played all right, stepping into the starting lineup as a true freshman as a linebacker for Saban despite not playing the position in high school. He notched 63 tackles that season, and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
This past season, Harris tallied 79 total tackles, 5.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Stat to Know: Harris might have saved his best college game for his final outing. In the loss to Georgia in the National Championship game, he notched seven tackles and three sacks.
Strengths: The reason I am high on Harris is because in studying him, I came away thinking he is a nice blend of both Lloyd and Dean. He can pressure quarterbacks as a blitzer both off the edge and through the interior, but also has some athleticism to track down the football and play tackle-to-tackle. His best role in the NFL is likely as a weak-side linebacker, similar to Lloyd, so he can flow to the football and put that athleticism to use:
His athleticism showed up when rushing the passer, whether as a designed blitzer or on stunts. Take this play against Cincinnati, where he loops around half of the defensive front but still gets to Desmond Ridder:
But beyond his athleticism, Harris has the versatility to play in any number of roles. He can carry receivers vertically, drop in zone coverage, and is an aggressive linebacker against the run who can stack-and-shed blockers and get to the football. That kind of player is going to find a home, and a role, early in his NFL career.
Weaknesses: Perhaps the biggest knock on Harris is this: Has he already reached his ceiling as a linebacker? There was not a ton of growth from him during his Alabama days, whether in terms of production or in execution. The player we saw in 2020 is the same player we saw in 2021. Now, that is a very, very good football player, but his upside might not be the same as Dean or Lloyd, or even some others in this class.
Conclusion: Rewatch that sack of Ridder and tell me there is not a role for Harris immediately as a linebacker in the NFL. Remember, after not playing the position in high school he stepped into the second level of Nick Saban’s defense as a true freshman and started 12 of 13 games. I might lean with the legendary ball coach on this one.
Comparison: I have seen a few different comparisons for Harris floating around, but the one I have settled on is Tremaine Edmunds, currently patrolling the middle of the field for the Buffalo Bills.
(Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’3″ (82nd) Weight: 239 (59th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.63 seconds (63rd)
Bench Press: 27 reps (90th)
Vertical Jump: 40 inches (96th)
Broad Jump: 10’9″ (96th)
3-Cone Drill: 7.06 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.28 seconds (58th)
Bio: In the seventh grade, Chad Muma was diagnoses with Type 1 diabetes, but that did not stop him from following in some family footsteps. Like his father and grandfather, Muma played college football at Wyoming. Prior to his days in Laramie, Muma was a defensive back for Legend High School in Parker, Colorado, and he was named a Second-Team Class 5A All-State player as a senior. That year he notched 77 tackles, despite missing half of the season due to a knee injury.
While he had offers from other Mountain West schools such as Nevada, Colorado State and Hawaii, he followed his father and grandfather to Wyoming. He played mostly on special teams as a true freshman, but carved out a bigger role as a sophomore in 2019, recording 51 total tackles. Similar to his final year in high school, Muma recorded 71 tackles during the 2020 campaign, despite playing just six games in the COVID-shortened season. This past year was beyond impressive, as Muma tallied 142 tackles and three interceptions. Muma was a finalist for the Butkus Award, a Third-Team All-American, and earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Stat to Know: Muma is another all-around linebacker in an impressive draft class. His 50 run stops ranked him second in the nation among linebackers. His 16 coverage stops ranked him tenth.
Strengths: You can imagine a scenario where a linebacker posts the kind of numbers Muma did this past season at a Power Five school, and suddenly we are talking about a player in contention for LB1 status. As it is, Muma is still on the fringe of the discussion thanks to what he put on tape the past few seasons. Muma is another three-down linebacker who is just as effective when the ball is in the air as he is when the offense keeps it on the ground.
His experience shows up on any number of plays, and he is a very aware football player. Muma can be seen sniffing out screens, working through traffic on rub and pick concepts, and reading the eyes of the quarterback in underneath zone coverage. Watch him read the eyes of the quarterback here, picking his pocket for the big play:
Muma also plays very well in a crowded box, picking his way through traffic and finding a path to the ball-carrier. Among many “favorite plays” of his, this snap against New Mexico stands out:
Muma sees this play develop, and from his vantage point it looks exactly like a swing screen to the running back. But before completely committing downhill, he peeks back to the quarterback to make sure the ball comes out of his hand, and once he confirms, he explodes downhill for the tackle for a loss.
That showed up in the running game as well, on plays like this one against Connecticut:
Muma is just a damn good football player.
Weaknesses: As we saw with Lloyd and Dean, criticisms or weaknesses feel more like nitpicking. The biggest might be the level of competition he faced in college. But then you watch how he reads quarterbacks, how he plays in traffic and how the reads out his keys before exploding downhill, and you realize that those traits translate regardless of competition. He could clean up his technique against cut block attempts and use his hands better, but in all, he is a very sound player.
Conclusion: As I mentioned at the outset, studying this position group was the most fun I had this entire draft cycle, and that includes two other positions I loved diving into, wide receiver and cornerback. Muma was a big part of that. Watching how he plays the game, or more accurately, how he feels the game, and you cannot turn off his film. He is one of those players that, even when you have studied enough games to get a sense of who he is, you keep watching. I am very excited to see where he lands.
Comparison: Derrik Klassen of Bleacher Report went with Sean Lee, and the more I see it, the more I get it.

Height: 6’0″ (70th) Weight: 194 (60th)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Andrew Booth Jr. was another highly-regarded recruit in the 2019 class, graded as a five-star player out of Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia. 247Sports ranked him as the second-best cornerback in the class, behind Derek Stingley Jr.
Booth had offers from a ton of schools, including LSU, but opted for Clemson. He played in 13 games for the Tigers as a true freshman, and made four starts during the 2020 campaign for the Tigers, notching a pair of interceptions. Head coach Dabo Swinney thought playing him as a true freshman, rather than redshirting him, was the best way to prepare him mentally.
This past season was his most productive in college, as Booth recorded 37 tackles and three interceptions, both career-high marks.
Stat to Know: Teams looking for a scheme-diverse corner are going to love what they saw from Booth, as he played a lot of zone coverage last season. Pro Football Focus charted him with 266 zone snaps, in contrast to the players already profiled.
Strengths: While we started with man coverage, or press coverage, with both Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr., with Booth the strengths begin with versatility. He has the movement skills, change-of-direction ability and footwork to handle man coverage in the NFL, but his time at Clemson saw him play a lot of zone or off coverage. That had Booth dropping and using his eyes to read and react to the play as it unfolded, and then driving downhill if necessary to make tackles.
One of my favorite snaps of Booth’s from this past season was this play against Boston College:
Booth is the curl/flat defender in this two-high coverage, and you can see the awareness he has for the position as he calls out the corner route due to the outside receiver’s release, and sinks under that while not taking the bait of the flat route from the tight end. When the quarterback finally throws to the flat, Booth explodes downhill and makes the tackle, holding this to a gain of one yard.
While his zone experience might be his calling card, his footwork put him in position to handle man coverage at the next level. This play from Clemson’s game against Iowa State is a prime example, as he matches the in-breaking route from press alignment:
Booth’s versatility might have some looking at him as the top option in the draft.
Weaknesses: Booth’s experience in zone coverage, reading concepts and rallying downhill to the catch point, comes with a caveat.
Missed tackles.
If you are going to be playing off coverage or in zone, you need to be able to limit the damage. Five yard throws cannot become 15-yard gains because of a missed tackle. PFF charted him with a missed tackle percentage of 23.9% last season, ranking him 326th among college cornerbacks.
Plays like this are what he needs to fix:
It is not a lack of effort issue, in fact it might be the opposite. At times it looks like Booth wants to end the player with the football, and just whiffs at the strike point. Breaking down and just making a sure tackle, rather than swinging for the home-run type of hit, might be the answer.
Booth also suffered a core muscle injury prior to his Pro Day, and did not work out at the Combine  because of a hamstring injury. The core muscle injury is going to require surgery, and is worth monitoring.
Conclusion: I keep coming back to the idea of Booth as a Philadelphia Eagle. The scheme fit seems almost perfect, with what we saw from the Eagles defense a year ago. Booth will need to clean up the tackling to thrive in such a zone-based system, but if he does that, watch out.
Comparison: I know I roll out the Patriots comparisons far too often, but I see shades of J.C. Jackson in Booth’s game.
(John Reed-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 5’11” (52nd) Weight: 190 (42nd)
40-Yard Dash: 4.50 seconds (40th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Coming out of Williamson High School in Mobile, Alabama, Roger McCreary graded as a three-star recruit and was the 87th-ranked cornerback in the 2018 class according to 247Sports. He originally committed to South Alabama and looked to stay close to home, but ultimately he chose Auburn.
He stepped onto the field as a true freshman and played in seven games, primarily as a reserve. He played in all 13 games as a sophomore in 2019, grabbing his first collegiate interception in a game against LSU. He took over as a starter in 2020, snaring three interceptions in ten games. This past season, he recorded 14 pass breakups, the top mark in the SEC. He was named a First-Team All-American at the end of the year.
Stat to Know: This is more “interesting fact” than “stat to know,” but the night before every game McCreary eats a meal of baked beans with sugar piled on top.
Strengths: Derek Stingley Jr. is not the only cornerback in this class who played early in his career, and held his own, in the SEC. While Stingley’s production as a true freshman does stand out, McCreary also took on a big role early in his career for the Tigers.
In fact, his first interception came against Stingley’s LSU Tigers, in a 2019 meeting between Auburn and LSU:
This play is a good synopsis of McCreary’s skill-set. He aligns in press, maintains his relationship with the receiver throughout the route — showing some sticky man-coverage skills — and fights at the catch point to secure the interception.
If you are wondering, that is Ja’Marr Chase that McCreary is covering.
That leads us to the second point. McCreary is certainly battle-tested, coming out of the SEC. His game against Alabama this season is a prime example, as he was matched up with Jameson Williams early in the game, and against John Metchie III late in the game. McCreary will travel with receivers when asked, and saw time both on the outside and in the slot during his time on campus.
While Metchie got the better of him on the game-winning play in the Iron bowl, McCreary had some great plays against him before that snap. Take this comeback route, where McCreary showed his fluid hips and ability to stay patient against routes:
He also displays solid technique at the catch point. On this play from the Iron Bowl, Metchie tries to test him deep on a double move. McCreary does not panic, and plays up through the catch point to prevent the completion:
McCreary is experienced, changes directions well and has played against some of the best receivers in the SEC, putting up impressive production (his 20 forced incompletions last season were tops among college cornerbacks). That alone is a resume worthy of an early selection.
Weaknesses: On the negative side of the ledger, McCreary might not hit some size thresholds for teams, at least with respect to playing on the outside. Similar to Trent McDuffie, McCreary lacks ideal length for the position, as his 28.88-inch arms placed him in the 1st percentile for the position, and would be the smallest of a boundary cornerback in the NFL. That likely foreshadows a move to the inside, which could see him slide down boards a bit.
One area where he could improve is when playing in off technique. Particularly early in his career, the big plays he gave up seemed to come when he was playing off the receiver and trying to read cues and react downhill. If he can add consistency there, to what he already can do at the catch point, that would make for an ideal combination.
Conclusion: What McCreary did over his career in the SEC should count for something. Yes, the measurables might make him somewhat of an outlier, but he makes up for that lack of length with great closing skills, good fluidity and great awareness for the position. I think he can still play on the outside, but his versatility makes him a solid option as a slot corner out of the box.
Comparison: McCreary gives of some Casey Hayward vibes when studying him.
(Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’0″ (55th) Weight: 194 (60th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.52 seconds (30th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: Kyler Gordon was a standout on both sides of the football for Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, Washington. During his senior year, for example, he ran for 517 yards on 40 rushing attempts, caught 32 passes for 841 yards, and tallied 44 tackles and five interceptions as a defensive back. He was named the Offensive MVP of the Cascade Conference, and a First-Team All-League defensive back.
Rated as a four-star defensive back by 247Sports, Gordon turned down Notre Dame, Nebraska and UCLA to stay close to home and play for Washington. He played in four games in the 2018 season, preserving his redshirt status. During the 2019 season, he played in all 13 games for the Huskies with four starts, recording 32 total tackles.
Gordon played in four games during Washington’s shortened 2020 campaign, making one start for the Huskies. He finished the year with 18 tackles, and was named the team’s Special Teams MVP.
This past season he slid into a starting role on the defensive side of the football, and finished the year with 45 tackles and a pair of interceptions.
Stat to Know: Gordon brings some versatility to the table as a prospect. He played all over the field for the Huskies, including in the slot, on the boundary, in the box and on the line of scrimmage. He saw 144 snaps in the slot a year ago, but also played 160 press coverage snaps, 60th-most among college cornerbacks.
Strengths: Gordon is an explosive defender who plays with impressive burst, whether coming downhill against the run or clicking and closing on a receiver after his break. That makes him one of the better run defenders in this cornerback class, whether aligning in the slot or along the boundary.
That closing speed also plays well in coverage. Similar to his teammate Trent McDuffie, some of Gordon’s best plays came when closing down on a receiver after the catch and either limiting the additional yardage or preventing the completion. Take this crossing route from Colorado:
Gordon plays this shallow crosser from depth, and has to work around a deeper dig route that creates traffic. Still, he gets to the catch point right as the football does, and prevents a third-down completion. That closing speed will serve him well in the NFL.
This play also shows another strength of his, which is his disruption at the catch point. He manages to get his hands on the football in critical spots, leading to incompletions, tipped passes and even deflections that are intercepted by teammates:
Weaknesses: Eye discipline is perhaps the biggest area where Gordon can improve, although that might come with more snaps. There are times where Gordon can bite on double-moves, or take the bait when the offense is setting up a shot play downfield. On this play against Stanford, Gordon takes the bait on the swing screen behind the line of scrimmage while in zone coverage, giving the offense the deeper wheel route:
More discipline in situations is an area where he can show some improvement. Another area where he can improve is with his press technique, and working to stay parallel to the line of scrimmage longer rather than immediately turning his hips as the receiver releases.
Conclusion: Gordon’s versatility, closing speed and ability to help against the run will endear him to secondary coaches and defensive coordinators at the next level. He just needs to dial back the aggression just a bit, being more patient and disciplined, and he can carve out a nice role for an NFL defense.
Comparison: Comparing players to former teammates is often low-hanging fruit, but you can see parallels between his game and Elijah Molden, a former Washington defensive back now in Tennessee with the Titans.
(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’1 3/8″ (77th) Weight: 199 (20th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.49 seconds (75th)
10-Yard Split: 1.52 seconds (77th)
Bench Press: 22 reps
Vertical Jump: 35 inches (36th)
Broad Jump: 124 inches (92nd)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 76 inches (49th)
Arm Length: 31 3/4 inches (56th)
Hand Size: 9 7/8 inches (86th)
Bio: A three-star recruit out of Gateway High in Monroeville, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), Brisker played receiver and safety in high school and then enrolled at Lackawanna Community College as academics was not the focus it should have been. After two seasons there, Brisker chose Penn State over Alabama, as it was his dream to play there. Brisker had two interceptions as a non-starter and spot player in 2019, made Third-Team All-Big Ten in 2020, and advanced to Second Team All-American and First Team All-Big Ten in 2021.
Over three seasons with the Nittany Lions, Brisker played 668 snaps at free safety, 690 in the box, 332 in the slot, 13 at cornerback, and 41 at the defensive line.
Stat to Know: No safety on this list allowed a lower opponent passer rating than Brisker in 2021 — he gave up 12 catches on 21 targets for 105 yards, 38 yards after the catch, one touchdown, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 46.8. He allowed no catches on three targets in man coverage.
Strengths: Some think of Brisker as a predominant box safety, and I don’t get that at all — he’s perfectly good in the deep third, especially in two-high coverage. On this interception against Maryland, watch how he tracks the quarterback out of the pocket and puts himself in position where the ball will be his.
He’s also great at reading the quarterback, as he showed on this red zone interception against Wisconsin. Track the ball and go get it.
And if you need a guy who can move quickly from one side of the field to the other, Brisker is just fine with that. Unfortunately, he couldn’t turn this into an interception.
NFL teams that play a lot of Cover-0 and blitz to it (Chiefs, Ravens, Dolphins) should love Brisker’s aggressiveness and tracking skills to the ball.
Weaknesses: Much like Lewis Cine, Brisker is so aggressive at times, he can take himself out of the play by losing track of his tackling fundamentals. This blitz against Rutgers would have had a more positive outcome were that not the case.
Brisker has the footwork and transition skills to be a quality pass defender up the seam and over the middle, but he isn’t always in the right place to finish the play.
Conclusion: Brisker’s cornerback background shows up on tape with his ball skills, and I love his play personality. Like a lot of safeties in this class, he’ll need to learn to temper his aggression at times to avoid giving up big plays, but overall, he’s got his game on lock, and the stuff that needs fixing is fixable.
NFL Comparison: Adrian Amos. I generally try to shy away from player comps from the same school, and Amos also played for Penn State, but this one makes too much sense. Like Amos, Brisker can play at a dominant level in the box, and he’s underrated as a deep defender. Brisker might be even more advanced as a deep defender over time, but no matter how he’s utilized, he’s got Day 1 starter traits and game-changing potential.
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 5’11″ (19th) Weight: 198 (17th)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
10-Yard Split: N/A
Bench Press: 16 reps (43rd)
Vertical Jump: 35 inches (42nd)
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: 6.74 (86th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.18 (57th)
Wingspan: 73 1/2 inches (19th)
Arm Length: 30 5/8 inches (17th)
Hand Size: 9 inches (15th)
Bio: A three-star recruit out of Stafford High near Houston, Pitre chose Baylor over SMU, and was the only recruit who stayed put after the Art Briles disaster. This proved to be the right move, as the high school linebacker and safety became a force multiplier in Dave Aranda’s concepts. An early enrollee and five-year starter, Pitre was named First-Team All-Big 12 in 2020 and returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns that season. He built on all that in 2021, allowing 31 catches on 54 targets for 268 yards, 141 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, six pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 55.2. He was named Consensus First-Team All-American, and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Over five seasons with the Bears, Pitre played 425 snaps at free safety, 367 in the box, 1,273 in the slot, 26 at cornerback, and 367 at the defensive line. Also, on 907 coverage snaps over those five seasons, Pitre never allowed a single touchdown.
Stat to Know: Pitre was sent on blitzes on 17% of opponent quarterback dropbacks in 2021, by far the highest percentage for any NCAA safety — Ball State’s Bryce Cosby ranked second at 8%.
Strengths: Pitre’s transition to more of a full-time safety is a bit of a projection because he played so much slot, but this fade interception against Texas State allows you to put him a few yards back in a two-deep alignment in your mind, and everything is just fine back there. He can peel off his first assignment and help in the back because he’s quick and fluid in his transitions.
Pitre had two interceptions last season, but he had his hands on a lot more passes that were just a fingertip or two away from becoming picks. This end zone deflection against Oklahoma State shows how he can match up with bigger slot receivers and tight ends — he’ll just align and clamp down in coverage.
This interception against Texas State shows how well Pitre can play that deep slot/STAR position we all know about via Jalen Ramsey.
Why was Pitre sent so often on blitzes? Because he has a great sense of how to get past blockers, and an impressive close to the pocket. He put up five  sacks and 25 total pressures last season.
Weaknesses: If Pitre is to match with tight ends through the route at the NFL level, he’ll need to do so with positioning as opposed to physical strength; he can get bodied out pretty easily.
Pitre’s NFL coaches will want to have him watching tackling videos pretty quickly. There are too many whiffs on his tape.
Conclusion: If you need a firecracker player to accentuate your defense with aggressive play personality, slot speed, and high potential in free and blitz roles, Pitre might be at or near the top of your defensive back board. I’m not dumb enough to compare any college defensive back to Tyrann Mathieu, given the ways in which Mathieu can stitch a defense together at his NFL best, but if you squint a little, it’s not impossible to imagine that kind of effect if Pitre hits his ultimate ceiling.
NFL Comparison: Jevon Holland. There are some elements of John Johnson III’s game with the Rams here when he played the STAR and slot positions as well as deep safety, but Pitre reminds me most of Holland, the former Oregon standout safety who the Dolphins took with the 36th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Like Holland, Pitre can do everything from slot to free to blitz, and he can make it look pretty easy. It’ll be fascinating to see where Pitre lands in the NFL — hopefully with a team that understands and knows how to utilize his athleticism and versatility. Even in an era where safeties are asked to do a lot of things at a very high level, it’s an interesting mix.
(Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’1″ (59th) Weight: 203 (33rd)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
10-Yard Split: N/A
Bench Press: 18 reps (63rd)
Vertical Jump: 39 inches (87th)
Broad Jump: 123 inches (67th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 79 1/2 inches (33rd)
Arm Length: 33 inches (93rd)
Hand Size: 10 1/4 inches (90th)
Bio: A receiver, running back, and all-around defensive back in high school in Florida, Joseph saw college offers come late as a three-star recruit. Eventually, he chose Illinois over South Florida, Mississippi State, and Syracuse. He was a part-time starter at safety and occasional receiver until 2021, when it all came together, and he was named Second Team All-Big Ten after recording his first five college interceptions.
Over four seasons with the Fighting Illini, Joseph played 609 snaps at free safety, 260 in the box, 133 in the slot, 10 at cornerback, and 44 at the defensive line.
Stat to Know: 2021 was by far Joseph’s best collegiate season, as he allowed nine catches on 19 targets for 134 yards, 32 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, five interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 66.4. In his three previous seasons, he’d allowed three touchdowns with no picks, and he’d never allowed an opponent passer rating lower than 103.5.
Strengths: Joseph is a good as any safety in this class at tracking the deep ball in single-high alignments, and using his ball skills to make the play. Yes, the NFL is becoming more of a two-high league, but one reason is that there isn’t a lot of players at the NFL level who can do stuff like this.
He’s also very adept at tracking the ball in short areas, and again, the ball skills show up on this acrobatic interception.
You can also use Joseph as a spy and a blitzer.
Weaknesses: I don’t necessarily love Joseph as a box or slot defender flaring out to cover flat and curl areas; I think he’s more adept coming down and moving out from up high. He can get a bit lost on those closer coverages.
Conclusion: Joseph is a good all-round player, but I think that teams playing more single-high and staying on that schematic island would do well to look him up in that role. It’s where he seems most comfortable, and there’s still a lot of specific value there.
NFL Comparison: Kevin Byard. Like Byard, Joseph can take care of business in a lot of ways, but he’s at his best when asked to cover the deep third in single-high situations.
(Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’0 3/4″ (42nd) Weight: 206 (46th)
40-Yard Dash: N/A
10-Yard Split: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 78 inches (81st)
Arm Length: 31 7/8 inches (59th)
Hand Size: 8 1/5 inches (4th)
Bio: The rare no-star recruit on one of our lists, Cook played quarterback and cornerback at Mount Healthy High School in Cincinnati, and the only offer he received was from Howard University. He played cornerback there for two seasons, and then entered the transfer portal to play with his home city college team. NCAA rules prevented him from playing in the 2019 regular season, but he did get reps in the Bearcats’ Birmingham Bowl win over Boston College. Cook played in 10 games in 2020, starting just one at safety, but 2021 was the year in which it all came together for him. Along with Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant, he helped to build one of the NCAA’s best secondaries, and Cincinnati made it all the way to the Cotton Bowl against Alabama.
Over five total seasons with the Bison and Bearcats, Cook played 344 snaps at free safety, 508 in the box, 258 in the slot, 408 at cornerback, and 23 at the defensive line.
Stat to Know: In 2021, Cook allowed 22 catches on 37 targets for 202 yards, 101 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 51.9. One of those picks came against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
Strengths: Cook is as good as any safety in this class when it comes to patrolling the deep third, especially as a single=high defender, where he can use his lateral speed and on-field acumen to shut down any deep attempts to either side of the field.
Cook works this end zone crossing route as a cornerback would — match the tight end through the route, get inside the target, and work to the ball. Reward: Interception.
When evaluating safeties, it’s not just the plays they shut down; it’s also about the plays they prevent entirely. Houston’s quarterback is looking for his receiver on the deep crosser through this scramble drill, but he has to tuck and run, because Cook leaves him no room with his match skills.
Weaknesses: Cook can play the slot, but it’s not his optimal coverage location. He’ll need to be more on point when it comes to receivers who make quick cuts and route adjustments.
Not that Cook was the only defender to miss tackles when trying to stop Alabama running back Brian Robinson — there were three on this play alone — but you’d like to see more squaring up and fewer ankle tackles in a general sense.
When Cook does get his tackling together, and he matches that with his field speed, he’s the kind of safety who can prevent big plays from becoming bigger.
Conclusion: Given Cincinnati’s high rate of both press coverage and single-high concepts, it’s quite easy to project Cook in those kinds of old-school defenses. Were he coming out of college a decade ago, he might be a first-round pick. But there’s still more than enough value in what Cook does to make him a plus starter in the deep third over time.
NFL Comparison: Quandre Diggs. Seattle’s five-dimensional whiff on Jamal Adams tends to obscure the fact that the Seahawks absolutely stole Diggs from the Lions a few years back. Detroit deployed Diggs as more of a hybrid free/overhang slot defender; Pete Carroll put him in that old Earl Thomas role as the deep-third eraser, and Diggs proved able to handle it as few other NFL safeties could. There’s no projecting Cook in that role — he played it all the time for the Bearcats, and he did it very well.
(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’0 1/8″ (38th) Weight: 212 (72nd)
40-Yard Dash: 4.34 seconds (98th)
10-Yard Split: 1.51 seconds (83rd)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 37 inches (71st)
Broad Jump: 130 inches (92nd)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 76 inches (72nd)
Arm Length: 31 1/2 inches (49th)
Hand Size: 9 inches (46th)
Bio: Cross’ parents didn’t allow him to play football until he went to DeMatha Catholic High School in Bowie, Maryland. He was a linebacker at first, and then switched to safety in his sophomore season. At that point, he had 2020 second-overall pick Chase Young as a teammate; DeMatha can also claim Brian Westbrook, Cameron Wake, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Rodney McLeod among its more famous football alumni. Cross became a star in football and track in his junior and senior seasons, and chose Maryland over just about every major program in the country as a four-star recruit. He made Honorable-Mention All-Big Ten in each of his three seasons, and led his defense in interceptions in each of those three campaigns.
Over three seasons with the Terrapins, Cross played 996 snaps at free safety, 396 in the box, 147 in the slot, 30 at cornerback, and 11 at the defensive line.
Stat to Know: Cross had a rough stretch in the second half of the 2021 season, when he was debited with a touchdown allowed in four straight games (Indiana, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan). This was right before a two-target/no-catch game against Ohio State.
Strengths: Cross’ closing speed allows him to get to the ball and have time to get in proper position to make the play.
This is even more true when he’s playing two-high, and he only has to cover half the field. Have we mentioned yet that the NFL is moving to more two-high coverages at an accelerated rate?
Speaking of closing speed… how about this sack against Michigan where Cross has to sift through blockers, has to reset his body, and still gets the takedown? Blitz-heavy teams should be highly intrigued.
Cross isn’t a headbanger in the run game per se, but when he’s in position, he’s good for a few key tackles for loss at the right time, such as this stop against Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III, who some believe to be the best back in this class.
Weaknesses: Cross can be an estimable blitzer, but (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), he’ll have to clean up his tackling technique.
Cross can be prone to false steps, and as impressive as his coverage speed is when he’s sure, he gets a bit caught up otherwise, and the reaction time is less than ideal.
He can also get beaten deep when he isn’t aggressive with his steps off the snap — here’s where the late-season lapses came in — both in vulnerability to misdirection, and losing speed in hesitation.
Conclusion: Cross’ specific value to an NFL team is that you don’t see a lot of guys with his height/weight profile playing true free safety roles as much as he does. At the NFL level, I like him as a do-it-all guy whose blitzing adds an interesting dimension, and whose two-high deep abilities fit very well in today’s NFL.
NFL Comparison: Eric Reid. Selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of LSU by the 49ers, Reid played a primary free safety role in Vic Fangio’s Sen Francisco’s defense, and then became a very good free/box/slot hybrid over time. Cross projects quite similarly. As he continues to learn how to trust his reaction time, his NFL profile will increase.
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Height: 6’2 1/8″ (92nd) Weight: 195 (10th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.36 seconds (92nd)
10-Yard Split: 1.52 seconds (77th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 40 inches (77th)
Broad Jump: 128 inches (97th)
3-Cone Drill: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Wingspan: 77 3/8 inches (73rd)
Arm Length: 32 3/8 inches (75th)
Hand Size: 8 71/2 inches (4th)
Bio: A three-star recruit out of Byron P. Steele High School in Cibolo Texas, Woods was a wide receiver and safety. He received offers from schools around Texas, and several in the Ivy League, but chose Baylor as the first and only Power 5 school to show that level of interest. Nicknamed “The Heartbreak Kid” in Dave Aranda’s defense because of his ability to destroy intentions of opposing quarterbacks with nine total interceptions over the 2020 and 2021 seasons (and another in the Senior Bowl), Woods was Honorable-Mention All-Big 12 in both of those seasons. He was also a track star for the Bears, winning the 110-meter hurdles at the Baylor Invitational, and timing at 10.61 seconds in the 100-meter dash at the USC Invitational.
Over four seasons with the Bears, Woods played 856 snaps at free safety, 564 in the box, 535 in the slot, five at cornerback, and 22 at the defensive line.
Stat to Know: In 2021, Woods allowed 22 receptions on 35 targets for 263 yards, 103 yards after the catch, one touchdown, six interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 55.7. That’s not a fluke, as he allowed an opponent passer rating of 45.6 in 2020.
Strengths: When Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral got hurt against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, it was up to Luke Altmyer to pick up the slack. That didn’t really happen. Instead, Woods made Altmyer’s life miserable with two interceptions and a pass deflection. When Altmyer thought that the middle of the field was open, it generally wasn’t, and Woods was the primary reason.
Woods can afford to be an opportunist to the ball, because he’s very good at playing high safety to the field side, and he’ll keep his eyes on the quarterback though his drops. This allows him to jump routes deep and come down and close to the ball. This pick-six against Texas State shows the latter ability in full.
Weaknesses: Not to sound like a broken record with the whole missed tackles thing, but Woods has a problem with this as well. If he’s whiffing against the run at the NFL level at this rate, he’s going to be an unfortunate participant in highlight shows.
There’s no question about Woods’ field speed, but he can get caught betwixt and between on play-fakes, RPO stuff, and combo routes. On plays like this, it doesn’t matter how fast you are in a straight line.
Conclusion: When a prospect ranks in the 92nd percentile in both height and 40 speed for his position, you want to see both things on the field. You do with Woods when it’s time to eliminate a play downfield with easy speed and transitive skills. There are some serious tackling and awareness issues to deal with, but Woods is a great third-day bet when it comes to his overall potential.
NFL Comparison: L’Jarius Sneed. Sneed, who the Chiefs selected in the fourth round of the 2020 draft out of Louisiana Tech, became a plus NFL cornerback after playing safety for the most part in his final season at Louisiana Tech. Sneed had more college reps at cornerback than Woods did, but I wonder if the NFL team taking Woods might see him as somebody with more slot/outside attributes. Maybe I’m going too far outside the box, and maybe Woods will be a good speed safety in the NFL over time, but you never know.
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