NFL Draft 2022: Day 2 Grades for Every Pick


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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    For all of the attention the first round receives, the heart of the 2022 NFL draft can be found in the middle rounds, particularly during the latter portions of Day 2. 

    “I think it’s very middle-of-the-draft heavy; third through the fifth round,” Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told reporters before the start of the event. “First and second a little more thin than we’re used to, but I still think we’re going to have a great opportunity to really improve our football team.” 

    To quibble with Jones’ original point ever so slightly, some strange (looking at you, New England) and unexpected first-round moves make the top of the second round quite exciting.

    Quarterbacks Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder, as well as top running backs Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III, didn’t hear their names called during the opening frame. Linebacker Nakobe Dean, defensive lineman Logan Hall, cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., edge Arnold Ebiketie, offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann, safety Jaquan Brisker and linebackers Chad Muma and Christian Harris held first-round grades on Bleacher Report’s Top 300

    A ripple effect will occur throughout the rest of Friday’s proceedings since talented players slid a little further than projected.

    Follow along as Bleacher Report provides analysis and grades for every pick.  

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Logan Hall, DL, Houston

    Strengths: Physical interior defender with potential to play multiple spots, plays larger and stronger than lanky frame indicates

    Weaknesses: Limited pass-rusher, inconsistent pad level due to height, non-defined role

    The positives of Houston’s Logan Hall can also be viewed as a negative. 

    As a member of the Cougars, Hall primarily played along the defensive interior and excelled in this role, too. The two-year starter grew throughout his time in Houston and became a physical force along the defensive front. Hall overwhelmed lower-level competition with his length, violent hands and consistent drive. 

    But his 6’6″, 283-pound frame indicates he’s more suited to play base end at the NFL level. Hall shouldn’t be viewed as a typical edge-rusher because he’s not. He’s more of a straight-line defender with a lanky body type to fill run and throwing lanes. 

    His development should continue, of course. The next step is finding out exactly where he fits. 

    The versatility to play multiple spots along a defensive front can be invaluable. At the same time, Hall doesn’t have a positional home upon entering the professional ranks. He told Justin Melo of The Draft Network that certain teams are looking at him to play end, while others would like him to add even more weight and start at 3-technique.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took advantage of trading back, adding a couple assets and still landing a talent who they could have reasonably taken with 27th overall pick.

    Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department rated Hall as the 21st-best prospect in the entire class.

    Considering the uncertain status of Ndamukong Suh and Steven McLendon, Hall adds the size, length and physicality necessary for the Buccaneers to consistently win at the point of attack and let the team’s talented edge-rushers go to work. Hall can line up on the edge if needed, play 5-technique and move inside, where he spent most of his time as part of the Cougars program.

    Grade: A

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State

    Strengths: Perfect build for position, elite athletic scores, understands pro-style route concepts

    Weaknesses: Doesn’t always use size to advantage, concentration lapses, straight-line athlete who doesn’t sink and bend out of breaks as well

    There’s only one other wide receiver in NFL history with better physical tools than North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson. 

    According to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte, Watson’s raw athletic score among wide receivers is second to the incomparable Calvin Johnson. 

    The FCS product stands 6’4″, weighs 208 pounds, ran an official 4.36-second 40-yard dash and possesses 38.5-inch vertical and 11’4″ board jumps. Physically, he’s everything a team wants at the position. 

    However, he was far from a dominant target for the Bison. During his five years with the program, Watson never had more than 43 receptions or 800 yards in a season.

    To be fair, North Dakota State employs a run-dominant offense, which has been wildly successful with nine national championships since the start of the 2011 campaign. 

    More will be asked of Watson in the NFL. His physical ability is evident. But he must show that he’s more than only a gifted athlete and develop into a consistent target.

    Thankfully, the Green Bay Packers finally made a strong move to address wide receiver by trading up and selecting Watson with the 34th overall pick.

    Watson gives quarterback Aaron Rodgers a completely different type of target as an elite athlete who can stretch the field. He’ll need to refine some of his technique and become more consistent, because drops will find him in Rodgers’ doghouse very quickly.

    Otherwise, the Packers landed first-round athletic ability at wide receiver after passing on the position twice on Day 1.

    Grade: A

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn

    Strengths: Excellent in ball skills, fluid ball skills, effective in zone and man coverage

    Weaknesses: Lack of top end speed and burst

    Auburn’s Rogers McCreary emerged as the country’s best cornerback last season. Well, at least Pro Football Focus graded him as such.

    The competitiveness in his game is easily recognizable. 

    “McCreary excels when he can line up and cover the guy across from him,” scout Cory Giddings wrote. “He’s a physical corner who has no problem guarding bigger receivers.

    “McCreary is a calm defender who doesn’t panic with the ball in the air. He pairs his patience at the line of scrimmage with hand placement and aggressiveness to control receivers and compete throughout the route.”

    For the Tennessee Titans, they have to account for the fact that Caleb Farley, last year’s first-round pick, has an extensive injury history and is once again coming off a season-ending knee injury. McCreary immediately joins Elijah Molden and Kristian Fulton to give the team a solid trio. If Farley mends and reaches his potential, this group will be outstanding.

    Grade: B+

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

    Strengths: Elite vision, patient runner, quick feet with excellent lateral agility and contact balance, consistently maximizes what’s available

    Weaknesses: Heavy workload, must improve pass protection

    Iowa State’s Breece Hall dominated Big 12 competition for multiple years even though he won’t turn 21 until after the NFL draft. 

    The two-time All-American amassed a whopping 800 total touches in three seasons, which raises concerns about the miles on his tires. However, he should still have fresh legs entering the NFL as one of the youngest prospects in this year’s draft class.

    Hall played in 36 of 38 possible games during his collegiate career. One of those missed absences came when he chose to opt out of the Cyclones’ bowl game this past season.

    In the NFL, Hall likely won’t serve as a bell-cow. But he can have a similar impact thanks to his fantastic vision, which allows him to be extremely patient while waiting for a sliver to open and then explode through quickly closing holes. 

    Because of his style of play, Hall doesn’t look like one of the most athletic ball-carriers in the last 35 years. But he is. According to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte, the 217-pound back posted the ninth-highest relative athletic score during that period. 

    Basically, Hall is young, explosive and productive, with all of the inherent subtleties to play running back at a high level.

    Michael Carter showed promise as a rookie, but Hall is a completely different type of runner. New York’s ground attack is predicated on the outside zone scheme the Shanahan family made famous, and Hall’s vision will make him deadly when running the scheme. 

    The Jets now have a true RB1.

    Grade: A

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor

    Strengths: Positionless defender, strong tackler flying up from slot or safety, can handle man coverage, nose for the football

    Weaknesses: Some hip stiffness, inconsistent zone coverage, can play out of control when flying to the football

    Some defensive backs overcome their size limitations and serve as hybrid defenders. A positional designation would be a disservice to the likes of Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker.

    Baylor’s Jalen Pitre comes from the same mold.

    Pitre is technically a safety, but he’s also a nickel corner and a strong run defender and a gremlin attacking the football. He is a chess piece who allows defenses to do more because of the flexibility of his skill set.

    The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is only 5’11” and 198 pounds with sub-31-inch arms, but the eye test doesn’t lie. Pitre is a fantastic player whose performances supersede any perceived physical limitations. 

    Last season, the consensus All-American posted the best run-defense grade of any Big 12 defensive back since the start of the 2014 campaign, per Pro Football Focus. His 34 run stops and 19 tackles for loss or no gain rank first among cornerbacks since 2020. Pitre didn’t allow a single touchdown into his coverage over the last two seasons.

    Pure coverage skills may have been a lingering concern coming out of Pitre’s stellar senior year, but he didn’t look outmatched at the Senior Bowl. He also ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at Baylor’s pro day, per Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy.

    Clearly, the Houston Texans made revamping their secondary a priority.

    The took Derek Stingley Jr. with the No. 3 pick on Day 1. At No. 35, Pitre gives Houston even more flexibility. With Pitre, head coach and former defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has a chess piece to play at safety or line up over the slot or run the alley.

    The Texans just needed to build up their roster. They’ve done an excellent job upgrading their defensive back line.

    Grade: A

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Arnold Ebiketie, Edge, Penn State

    Strengths: Flexible with bend to shorten pass-rushing path off edge, very quick in short areas, long levers

    Weaknesses: One year of production, smaller frame, lacks power as run defender and pass-rusher. 

    Four years at Temple didn’t do much to place Arnold Ebiketie on the NFL map. But the pass-rusher clearly had the potential to become far more. 

    Ebiketie entered the Owls program as a linebacker and needed to put on the necessary weight to hold up as an edge-defender. But during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, Ebiketie registered 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in only six games. 

    Upon graduating from Temple, Ebiketie transferred to Penn State and exploded onto the scene. 

    In his lone season with the Nittany Lions, Ebiketie led the program with 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks on his way to being named to the All-Big Ten first team. According to Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey, Ebiketie finished fourth among all available prospects with a 32 percent pass-rush win rate on standard dropbacks. 

    Ebiketie has the burst, length (34⅛” arms) and flexibility to be a disruptive force. The NFL is a different animal, though. He still lacks bulk to hold up at the point of attack. 

    Ebiketie stands 6’2″ and weighs 250 pounds. He’ll need to be in the right system to become anything more than a situational pass-rusher.

    The Atlanta Falcons saw a first-round talent still on the board and traded up to acquire him. The organization is doing the smart thing by building up the overall roster so it can eventually plop a young quarterback into the lineup.

    Drake London gives Atlanta another weapon to work down the field and provide matchup nightmares. Ebiketie addresses a premium position on the defensive side of the ball.

    Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett can’t do it all. Ebiketie is an ideal fit as an outside linebacker in Dean Pees’ system with the potential to be a consistent nuisance as an edge-rusher. At Arthur Smith’s previous stop, the Tennessee Titans found a similar talent in the second round when they chose Harold Landry III.

    Grade: A

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

    Strengths: Aggressive press player near line of scrimmage, downhill hitter, slot and outside capabilities, effective blitzer

    Weaknesses: Sometimes too aggressive with hands down the field, little tight in his turn, short-area burst slightly lacking

    Everything about Washington’s Kyler Gordon screams elite cornerback, though he hasn’t quite reached that level as a prospect.

    Statistically, a more impressive defender is difficult to find. The first-team All-Pac-12 performer didn’t allow a single touchdown over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus

    Gordon’s 2021 effort provided the best man-coverage grade in the last four seasons. Last year’s red-zone coverage grade also ranked first among Power Five cornerbacks. Gordon finished third on a very good Huskies defense with 36 unassisted tackles and first with seven passes defended while playing opposite Trent McDuffie. 

    Athletically, Gordon tested well too. The 5’11½”, 194-pound defender ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the combine. His 3.96-second short shuttle, 6.67-second three-cone and 39.5-inch vertical at Washington’s pro day would have ranked second, fourth and second, respectively, among defensive backs at the NFL combine. 

    Gordon excels at being a physical defender at the line of scrimmage or in zone. A little bit of hip tightness might appear when he’s asked to pedal and turn in coverage against top targets. He can also be slow to trigger and will miss some tackles in space. Generally, he thrives when asked to play the ball in front of him.

    The Chicago Bears didn’t have a first-round pick this year thanks to last year’s Justin Fields trade. Yet, they still landed a prospect considered by some to be a first-rounder leading up to this year’s event.

    Picking Gordon sets the tone for what the team plans to do on defense under the supervision of new head coach Matt Eberflus, who previously served as the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator.

    However, the Bears are a long way away from actually placing Justin Fields in a position to succeed. The second-year quarterback needs pieces around him, and the Bears chose to go in another direction.

    Grade: C+

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    Boye Mafe, Edge, Minnesota

    Strengths: Fluid pass-rusher, consistently works hands, athletic enough to drop into space

    Weaknesses: Never a full-time starter, questionable instincts, lacks pops upon contact

    Certain prospects elevate their games after the fact. In the case of Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, his best moments came during his path to the 2022 NFL draft. 

    During Senior Bowl week, Mafe turned into a nigh-unstoppable edge-rusher against the best competition college football had to offer. As Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash noted, his overall grade and pass-rush win rate topped 92 and 41 percent, respectively, throughout the week’s festivities. 

    Mafe played relentlessly and showed a skilled pass rush. To cap his week, he won the Senior Bowl’s National Player of the Game award. 

    At the NFL combine, the 261-pound defender posted a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, finished among the top five defensive ends in both the vertical (38 inches) and broad (10’5″) jumps and moved effortlessly throughout the position drills. 

    Mafe’s ability has always been present. It was just too inconsistent during his time with the Gophers. He deserves credit for improving every year on campus, but he could be a liability in certain situations, particularly against the run.

    Mafe’s ability to turn the corner and rush the passer is obvious. He still must prove that he can be on the field in more than a situational role, though.

    To be fair, the Seattle Seahawks have been searching for a consistent pass-rusher for a long time. They’ve tried to address the position in every way possible, including drafting L.J. Collier in the first round three years ago. The Seahawks finished in the bottom-10 in the league last season in sacks.

    Mafe’s selection doesn’t necessarily address the need. Yes, he’s an athletic pass-rusher. He played his best during Senior Bowl week and looked like a future dominant force. But he wasn’t always that guy, spending too much time as a part-time player in college.

    Grade: C

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

    Strengths: Big-play machine, elite top-end speed, powerful lower body to consistently break arm tackles, enough wiggle to make defenders miss in tight spaces

    Weaknesses: One year of high-level production, non-factor in the passing game, suspect protection

    Kenneth Walker III made the most of the transfer portal when he left Wake Forest to join the Michigan State Spartans. 

    “At Wake, I felt like I couldn’t show all my skills,” Walker told CBS Sports’ Shehan Jeyarajah in late October. “I think I can be versatile. I can cut. I can run downhill. I think I’m an explosive runner.”

    In two seasons with the Demon Deacons, Walker managed 1,158 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 217 carries. Last season with the Spartans, he carried the ball 263 times, led all Power Five ball-carriers with 1,636 rushing yards, scored 18 rushing touchdowns, won the Doak Walker Award and became a Heisman Trophy candidate. 

    Walker’s 2021 season was even more impressive when looking at advanced stats. He led all running backs with 1,168 rushing yards after contact, 89 forced missed tackles and 46 runs of 10 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus

    Walker’s athletic testing at the NFL combine backed his on-field prowess when he posted an impressive 4.38-second 40-yard dash. The Walter Camp Award winner is a big play waiting to happen in the run game, although he must evolve as a pass-catcher and pass protector to become a well-rounded offensive threat.

    The Seattle Seahawks simply couldn’t resist. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider saw a game-breaker at running back and had to select him. Seattle makes no bones about the importance of establishing its ground game.

    Yes, Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are already on the roster. But neither is signed beyond the upcoming season. The Seahawks want a workhorse back to establish the run, especially without Russell Wilson in the lineup. They now have one once again.

    However, they passed on quarterbacks Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder when they were right there. Priorities may be out of whack in the Pacific Northwest.

    Grade: C

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

    Strengths: Comfortable working in press to redirect receivers, fires downhill to attack first-level passes, excellent ball-tracker, good all-around athlete

    Weaknesses: Can get sloppy, high with technique, build-up speed, still dealing with injuries

    Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. received one of the truest evaluations among any prospect in this year’s draft class because he didn’t have the opportunity to work out in front of NFL teams. Instead, his status depended almost entirely on what he put on film. 

    Booth suffered a quad strain during his predraft preparation and couldn’t go through workouts at the NFL combine. He also underwent sports hernia surgery in March, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, although he should be healthy for the start of training camp. 

    The eye in the sky doesn’t lie, which is why Booth still received a high grade despite his recent injury history. 

    The first-team All-ACC corner has no hesitation whatsoever when it comes to flying up and making a play either against a short pass or a running play. Booth can press at the line of scrimmage, too. He also doesn’t get nervous with the ball in the air. 

    However, evaluators never got to see what Booth’s top-end speed really is. At times, wide receivers easily released and stacked him. He might possess excellent speed, but he can lose a step or two by playing a little high and tight. 

    The 6’0″, 194-pound defensive back should thrive in a press/zone-heavy scheme because of his quick trigger and ball skills.

    NewMinnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may quickly earn a reputation as “Trader Kwesi” as he continues to manipulate the draft with numerous trades. In this instance, the Vikings moved up to address their biggest area of need.

    The Vikings weren’t in a position to land either Derek Stingley Jr. or Sauce Gardner with the No. 12 pick, which likely played a part in them trading out of their original selection.

    Adofo-Mensah worked the board and still landed a cornerback who earned a first-round grade from Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department. Booth’s slide to Day 2 is largely attributable to his offseason core surgery.

    Booth can slide in as a starter at outside corner opposite Patrick Peterson while learning from the all-time great.

    Grade: A

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky

    Strengths: Shifty target who can create separation and slip through coverage; plays with good balance, toughness and play speed

    Weaknesses: Slender frame, short arms (27⅝ inches), easily brought down when in a defender’s grasp, not going to make many contested catches

    Wan’Dale Robinson found new life when he transferred from the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the Kentucky Wildcats. The Commonwealth native flourished when used in a variety of manners under offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who has since joined the Los Angeles Rams in the same capacity.

    The second-team All-SEC performer grabbed a whopping 104 catches and recorded the third-best season by a receiver in the loaded conference since 2014, per Pro Football Focus. The staff used him all over, including as an outside receiver, in the slot and on fly sweeps and screens.

    Size concerns are never going to go away. Robinson is 5’8″, 178 pounds but has 4.44-second 40-yard dash speed. He led the SEC with 733 receiving yards when facing press coverage.

    New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll came from Buffalo Bills, where head coach Sean McDermott affectionately referred to his wide receivers as “Smurfs” a few years ago. Clearly, the offensive scheme Daboll brings isn’t reliant on big, traditional targets, and his new team already has Kenny Golladay on the roster.

    Even so, Robinson is a concerning selection because he’s redundant with Kadarius Toney yet less explosive. He’s not going to win for the Giants on the outside. He’s essentially a gadget player, whose slight frame will be more of a problem at the professional level.

    Grade: C-

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    John Metchie III, WR, Alabama

    Strengths: Varied, pro-style route tree, can make defenders miss to create after the catch, soft hands with ability to make difficult grabs

    Weaknesses: ACL injury, can be overwhelmed some by bigger corners due to lack of size, not a burner

    Like former Alabama teammate Jameson Williams, John Metchie III is also coming off an ACL tear, though he suffered his injury during the SEC championship game instead of the College Football Playoff national title game.

    However, Metchie is expected to be ready before or near the start of training camp. 

    “Around June, in June, I should be cleared, I should be good to go,” Metchie told reporters at the NFL combine. “Just ready to play football and run some routes. My recovery is going really well. All the doctors say it’s going really well, so I shouldn’t have any issues there at all.”

    Metchie led the Crimson Tide with 96 catches last season. Williams is a speedster who placed the fear of God in every opponent, while Metchie quietly went about his business and created separation due to his understanding of routes. That made him a consistent, reliable option. 

    As long as Metchie is ready for the start of camp, he can be an instant contributor working out of the slot. 

    As mentioned earlier, the Houston Texans built up their secondary with Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre. They also helped solidify the front with the Kenyon Green. The organization decided to jump into the fray of another wide receiver and get their guy in Metchie.

    Obviously, Metchie’s injury affected his draft status after a stellar campaign. At the same time, the injury is what made him available for the Texans at this juncture.

    Houston didn’t have much in the passing game beyond Brandin Cooks. Once Metchie is on the field, he’ll give quarterback Davis Mills another reliable target, which could be crucial in the second-year signal-caller’s development.

    Grade: B

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    Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

    David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan

    Strengths: Speed-rusher who can turn and bend the edge, closing quickness, different rhythm to pass rush

    Weaknesses: Leg injury, below-average run defender, not instinctual

    For NFL draft prospects, an injury is the worst possible outcome during the predraft process. Unfortunately, Michigan’s David Ojabo suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the Wolverines’ pro day.

    Considering the timing, Ojabo’s rookie campaign could be over before it even begins. However, the fact that the Nigerian immigrant (by way of Scotland) plays a premium position with the natural bend and speed to consistently threaten the edge mitigates the potential of a lost year. 

    Even before the injury occurred, teams already viewed Ojabo “as a role rusher with upside to become a starter,” according to ESPN’s Matt Miller

    A prospect screaming off the edge to harass quarterbacks certainly has a place, which is why Ojabo had been considered a first-round talent throughout the evaluation process. 

    At the same time, he played limited reps and needs to round out his game. Ojabo is a natural athlete capable of affecting opposing passing games, but he’s much further behind when asked to consistently win at the point of attack and provide the same type of impact against ground attacks.

    The Baltimore Ravens crushed the first round with the additions of Kyle Hamilton and Tyler Linderbaum. They continue down the same path with the addition of Ojabo in the second.

    Ojabo was a slam-dunk first-round prospect before he got injured during Michigan’s pro day. In the short term, the unfortunate situation cost him. In the long run, the still-developing edge-rusher couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot where he can play with his friend Odafe Oweh. The two can eventually become a dynamic duo rushing off the edge once Ojabo is ready to return. 

    Grade: A

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Josh Paschal, Edge, Kentucky

    Strengths: Strong at the point of attack, shoots his hands, anchors well, outstanding run defender, interior pass-rushing capabilities, high character

    Weaknesses: Lacks flexibility to bend edge as pass-rusher, stout build and shorter arms compared to tradition edge defenders

    Josh Paschal is the type of player every NFL team should want on its roster and in its locker room. 

    “The way he empties his tank, the way he goes about his business, the way he impacts players, he leads, he is so selfless, he has overcome so much,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops told reporters about Paschal in November. “Plays and empties his tank every day, one of the most special players if not the most, I’ve ever coached.” 

    The first-team All-SEC performer gives everything he has because the game was nearly taken away from him. 

    Kentucky redshirted Paschal in 2018 after he was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors found malignant melanoma on his foot, which required three surgeries. He returned to play three games that season. One year later, he registered 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. 

    Paschal’s game continued to improve throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, his 48 defensive stops on runs and 25 tackles for loss or no gain over that span led all Power Five edge-defenders. He graded first among SEC edge-defenders last season, too.

    The Detroit Lions are finding players who fit their head coach’s mentality, at least on the defensive side of the ball. Aidan Hutchinson is now the centerpiece of the unit and a potential culture-changer. As a second-round pick, Paschal won’t receive the same fanfare, but he brings similar qualities to the organization.

    On the field, Paschal is one of the class’ most physical players. The Lions have searched for edge help since Ziggy Ansah couldn’t go anymore. The combination of Hutchinson and Paschal will provide a flexibility and far more potent front.

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Phidarian Mathis, DL, Alabama

    Strengths: Stack-and-shed machine, long levers, bull rush, set strong base and anchor

    Weaknesses: Poor first-step quickness, only effective in confined spaces

    Some programs are known for producing certain types of prospects based on the system they employ and traits they look for in recruits. The Alabama Crimson Tide certainly have a type when it comes to their defensive linemen. 

    Christian Barmore, Raekwon Davis, Quinnen Williams, Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed were all massive interior defenders who were well-coached in the art of stacking and shedding blocks. The differentiation between those prospects tended to be their ability to collapse the pocket as a pass-rusher.

    Phidarian Mathis fits closer to the mold of Tomlinson, Robinson and Reed, who were fantastic against the run, than Allen, Williams and Barmore, who created far more of an impact as interior pass-rushers. 

    The second-team All-SEC selection is a 313-pound plugger with some pass-rushing capabilities thanks to his long arms and a good bull rush. After tallying 1.5 sacks over his first three years at Alabama combined, he racked up nine during his final season on campus.

    Overall, Mathis is far better at locking out blockers, tossing them to the side and working against the run because he has the power to do so. However, he lacks the explosiveness to be a consistent pocket collapser.

    The Washington Commanders continue to invest in their defensive line. They also added yet another Alabama product after previously sinking high picks in Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne.

    Mathis’ particular inclusion allows him to join his fellow alumni and offset the losses of Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle.

    Washington isn’t shy about selecting defensive lineman high in the process. The franchise built its reputation on its talented front. Mathis adds quality depth and will fit right into the rotation.

    Grade: B

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State

    Strengths: Very physical player at or near line of scrimmage, forceful tackler, contributes at all three levels

    Weaknesses: Some tightness in backpedal, inconsistent route recognition 

    As a whole, the safety class is arguably the weakest position group among the incoming crop. A well-rounded defensive back such as Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker becomes more valuable as a result. 

    “Teams told me they like my versatility and effort,” Brisker told reporters after Penn State’s pro day. “You can’t coach effort. They said they saw enough of me on the field [last season], to be honest. I showed them that I know the game of football.”

    Brisker does play with a significant effort and toughness. The first-team All-Big Ten performer can be found chasing down ball-carriers all the way across the field. He also played through a shoulder injury in 2021. These two things often endear players to coaches.

    Brisker is also a complete defender with an excellent athletic profile. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at Penn State’s pro day and posted solid change-of-direction numbers with a 4.19-second short shuttle and 6.91 three-cone drill, per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler

    Overall, the second-team All-American may be best suited in the box because that’s where he can create the greatest impact (pun intended). But he can help in a variety of manners, even if he’s a little more inconsistent along the back line.

    OK. Let’s take a second and look at what the Chicago Bears have done. The additions of Kyler Gordon and Brisker add significant talent to their defensive back line. Brisker, in particular, is one of the class’ best safety prospects.

    The same problem must be brought up for the second time in this round, though. Brisker is a good football player and a very good value. At some point, quarterback Justin Fields is going to need more help. This is what happens when a defensive coach leads the way.

    Grade: B

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Alontae Taylor, CB, Tennessee

    Strengths: Ideal height/length/speed combo, good vision, thrives in zone, flies up against the run

    Weaknesses: Plays a little high, transition through backpedal can be a little stiff, doesn’t always stay in phase down the field

    Being on a disappointing team can affect a player’s draft stock. Alontae Taylor endured four years of mediocrity with the Tennessee Volunteers, though he clearly has the tools to succeed in the NFL. 

    Taylor is a 6’0″, 199-pound corner with 32¼-inch arms and 4.36-second 40-yard dash speed. He also bettered both his vertical and broad jumps at Tennessee’s pro day with 39-inch and 11’1″ efforts, respectively, per Senior Bowl executiveJim Nagy

    Physical attributes are only part of the equation. Taylor played the second-most red-zone snaps last year without allowing a reception, according to PFF. He’s also one of the best in the class in flying up to defend the run. 

    However, Taylor often gambles to make plays, and he can be a little stiff transitioning when running at full throttle. His overall technique could use refinement since he transitioned from quarterback coming out of high school. 

    A team can never have too many corners. The New Orleans Saints already have Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, Bradley Roby and P.J. Williams. Taylor’s inclusion isn’t the problem, though. The value of the selection is very questionable.

    As noted, Taylor presents significant upside. As a prospect, Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department had him graded as a fourth-round option. Obviously, grades are subjective and they can vary widely. However, the Saints passed on more highly regarded athletes at the position, with Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen being prime examples.

    Grade: C

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor

    Strengths: Sprinter speed, good height (6’2″) and catch radius, easily creates separation, springy athlete

    Weaknesses: Press coverage can wipe him out due to thin frame, slow in and out of breaks, didn’t run full route tree, concentration drops

    Does a wide receiver need blazing speed to succeed in the NFL? Not necessarily. Cooper Kupp just had the greatest single season ever by a wideout, and he ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine back in 2017. 

    However, teams are always searching for explosive wideouts with the speed to tilt the field to their advantage.

    Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton ran the fastest 40 among wide receivers at this year’s combine with a 4.28-second effort. That time tied for the second-fastest ever recorded by a wideout since the results became public. 

    Thornton will instantly be a vertical threat as soon as he walks onto an NFL field. However, he can be affected by more physical defensive backs jamming him. He needs to throttle down a bit when he’s coming out of breaks, which makes him more susceptible to defensive backs gaining ground and making plays on the ball.

    Speed kills, and that’s primarily what the New England Patriots are getting at this juncture, because Thornton needs time to prove himself as a consistent target. One elite trait is apparently enough after the Patriots invested free-agent deals in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne last offseason.

    Bill Belichick learned his lesson when the franchise chose N’Keal Harry in the first round during the 2019 NFL draft. Explosivity is more important now than ever before, and Thornton can threaten every blade of grass. Right now, that’s all he needs to do. Over time, he may become a more complete target.

    Grade: C+

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Cam Jurgens, IOL, Nebraska

    Strengths: Elite athlete at center, runs like few do at the position, generates power upon contact through his explosivity, tenacious, three-year starter before declaring early

    Weaknesses: Still on smaller side for position, erratic hand placement, overaggressive and frantic at times

    Where’s the beef? OK, a decades-old fast food campaign reference probably isn’t the way to introduce a draft prospect. But it fits so perfectly for Nebraska’s Cam Jurgens. 

    First, Jurgens’ actual size became the biggest question during his evaluation, as he was clearly a highly mobile and capable center prospect. The Cornhuskers program listed the center at 290 pounds, though. Jurgens showed up at the NFL combine, weighed 303 pounds and blew away the workout portion of the week’s festivities. 

    The third-team All-Big Ten selection is bigger, longer (33⅜-inch arms) and an even better athlete than anyone expected coming into the predraft process. His on-field performance shows how those physical traits translate as a center capable of reaching defensive linemen, getting to the second level, making blocks all the way downfield and just flat out being more athletic than most at the position.

    Interestingly, he made just as big of an impression off the field in Indianapolis when he met with teams and brought coaches his very own beef jerky, or Beef Jurgy.

    With Jurgens’ selection, the Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for the inevitable. Jason Kelce seriously considered retirement this offseason but decided to return (a one-year, $14 million deal probably helped). Kelce turns 34 later this year, and this looks to be his last dance. 

    In the short term, Jurgens can compete to start at guard. Or, the rookie can provide quality depth to all three interior positions before taking a spot next year. His athletic profile certainly portends an easy transition from Kelce, who is one of the game’s most nimble pivots.

    Grade: B+

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    George Pickens, WR, Georgia

    Strengths: Vertical threat, sinks and drives out of stem, wide catch radius, physical blocker

    Weaknesses: Missed majority of last season with torn ACL, build-up speed, route tree needs pruning

    George Pickens is a roll of the dice. 

    The wide receiver’s talent is obvious. Pickens chose to join the Georgia Bulldogs as a 5-star recruit. In his first year with the program, he caught 49 passes for 727 yards and coaches named him to the Freshman All-SEC Team. 

    An unspecified upper-body injury cost Pickens two games during the COVID-19-ravaged 2020 campaign. He then tore his ACL in spring practice prior to the 2021 season. He recovered for the team’s run to a national championship, but he never quite looked like the same explosive weapon that he was earlier in his career. 

    A fully healthy Pickens can beat coverage deep with fantastic ball-tracking capabilities. The 21-year-old excels when asked to make catches outside his 6’3″ frame. He can become a true X-receiver in any scheme, but he needs to become a more well-rounded target at all three levels.

    Although Pickens’ injury history stunted his overall development, he has the potential to emerge as a No. 1 wide receiver. Taking a chance on his traits is well worth the risk.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers know what they’re doing when they invest a Day 2 pick in a wide receiver. While their track record says enough about Pickens’ selection, his addition to the Steelers lineup further underscores the organization’s belief in first-round pick quarterback Kenny Pickett.

    Pickens can be the true X the Steelers currently lack. Ironically, the man who announced the selection, Chase Claypool, hasn’t adequately filled that role. Pickens and Claypool are big bodies and difficult matchups, and they will allow Diontae Johnson to consistently work the middle of the field.

    Grade: A

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati

    Strengths: Instant downfield winner, red-zone weapon, former four-sport high school athlete, tough enough to play linebacker for a stint

    Weaknesses: Developmental route-runner, less effective on underneath routes

    Very few prospects have the same well-rounded profile as Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Alec Pierce.

    The 6’3″, 211-pound target can provide instant offense as an outside vertical threat. He averaged 17.5 yards per reception throughout his collegiate career. 

    His size combined with outstanding athleticism make him difficult to handle on go routes and in the red zone. At the NFL combine, Pierce ranked among the top 10 wide receivers with a 4.41-second 40-yard dash (ninth), 40.5-inch vertical (first), 10’9″ broad jump (seventh), 7.13-second three-cone drill (sixth) and 4.28-second short shuttle (fourth). 

    The 21-year-old does need further refinement within his route tree, so he’ll take some time before becoming a complete target. However, he’s exactly the type of player that every coach wants.

    Pierce excelled on special teams as a true freshman and even got a shot at linebacker during the season. He’s smart, too. The wide receiver received his mechanical engineering degree this past December. The second-team All-AAC performer improved every single year under Luke Fickell’s tutelage and enters the NFL on an upward trend.

    Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard believes in investing in elite traits. Pierce certainly fits the mold.

    The Colts entered this year’s draft without a first-round pick—thanks to the ill-fated Carson Wentz trade—and a significant need at wide receiver. Somehow, the team patiently waited for their guy, traded down to net an extra third-round pick and still landed the prospect they likely would have selected earlier in the round.

    Grade: A

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan

    Strengths: Hands-catcher, 4.41-second 40-yard dash speed, short-area quickness for clean releases, doesn’t throttle down through routes

    Weaknesses: Lacks size/length for true outside receiver, limited route tree

    In the past 16 years, the Western Michigan Broncos have surprisingly produced five wide receiver draftees. 

    WMU’s run started with Greg Jennings, who pieced together a stellar career after the Green Bay Packers selected him 52nd overall in 2006. Meanwhile, Corey Davis set the bar by becoming the fifth overall pick in the 2017 class.

    Skyy Moore will likely fall somewhere between those two. He wasn’t a top-five pick, but he should become a long-term contributor thanks to his skill set. 

    Moore made an immediate impact at Western Michigan, earning a first-team All-MAC nod as a true freshman. After the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, he burst onto the NFL draft scene with 95 receptions for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season. 

    The 5’10”, 195-pound target is the type of security blanket quarterbacks crave. Moore graded better than any wide receiver last season against zone coverage and ranked first in forced missed tackles after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. 

    In other words, the 21-year-old already knows how to find soft spots in coverage, and he creates once the ball is in his 10¼-inch hands.

    When Patrick Mahomes drops back to pass this season, his wide receivers are going to look drastically different. Sure, Mecole Hardman is still on the roster. But the quarterback will now be throwing to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Moore.

    The Chiefs may not have Tyreek Hill anymore, but the offense still has a plethora of weapons for Mahomes to utilize. With all those options, Kansas City should be able to maintain its status as an offensive juggernaut. 

    Grade: B

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State

    Strengths: Consistently works to gain leverage in routes, one-size-fits-all tight end, strong hands, works to create after catch and finishes runs

    Weaknesses: Compactly built without much length, inconsistent/inefficient blocker

    Colorado State’s Trey McBride is the reigning John Mackey Award winner, which is presented to the nation’s top tight end. Others who recently won the award have been pretty successful upon entering the league. 

    Both Kyle Pitts and T.J. Hockenson were top-10 picks. Mark Andrews and Harrison Bryant didn’t come off the board until the third and fourth rounds, respectively, although the former has established himself as the Baltimore Ravens’ top pass-catcher.

    McBride wasn’t a top-10 talent, but he’s good enough to become a featured component with an offensive scheme.

    Last season, McBride led all tight ends with 90 receptions and 1,121 yards. He proved capable of contributing in a variety of manners, whether as an in-line tight end, off the wing, in the slot or out wide. 

    McBride isn’t an explosive pass-catcher compared to other tight ends. He’s more of a Steady Eddie who’s capable of playing multiple roles, running good routes, giving good effort and maximizing what’s available to him. After all, he received the second-highest receiving grade (behind Pitts) since the start of the 2014 campaign, per Pro Football Focus.

    The Arizona Cardinals are taking a different approach at the tight end position. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury came into the league as an Air Raid savant after learning under the wing of Mike Leach. But the Cardinals coach continues to adapt to the pro game.

    Arizona already has Maxx Williams as one of the game’s best blocking tight ends. The organization traded for and re-signed Zach Ertz. The Cardinals now have the TE1 from the 2022 class in McBride, who is yet another weapon to join DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore and the recently acquired Marquise Brown.

    Grade: B+

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Sam Williams, Edge, Ole Miss

    Strengths: First-step quickness, threatens edge and sets up inside move, strong hands with long arms, varies pass-rushing approach

    Weaknesses: Poor run defender, weak anchor, gives up chest and the snap is over when he does

    Edge-defenders make their money by rushing the passer. Ole Miss’ Sam Williams excels in that department. 

    The first-team All-SEC defender ranked among the top five overall last season with 12.5 sacks. He did so without much help, too. According to SIS Football, Williams racked up 40 pressures and 9.5 sacks when the Rebels rushed only three defenders. Both numbers led the country. 

    “Draft the rush and worry about the rest of it later,” an AFC personnel director told NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein. “He has the talent to get after quarterbacks and that will always have value in the league. Always.”

    Williams’ get-off coupled with a strong bull rush and inside move make him difficult to handle in pass protection. The same can’t be said for the run game, though. He can be easily reached and moved at the point of attack, which tends to make him a non-factor.

    Teams also had to do their homework on Williams off the field. Police arrested and charged him with sexual assualt in July 2020. The team subsequently suspended Williams. He returned to the program when charges were dropped seven weeks later. 

    A year later, the idea of risk involved with Micah Parsons’ draft selection seems silly. But the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year had a history of immature behavior during his high school and college careers. The Dallas Cowboys are a franchise willing to take chances with certain prospects.

    As noted, Williams doesn’t have a clean history. However, his ability to rush the passer isn’t in question. He can take pressure off of Parsons. Or better yet, Williams can win his one-on-one matchups whenever opponents key on Parsons and slide protection his way. 

    Grade: C

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Luke Goedeke, IOL, Central Michigan

    Strengths: Power and technique to consistently uproot defenders, keeps back flat and hands tight, tight end feet

    Weaknesses: Short arms, still learning to locate defensive movement, can be too aggressive against speedy pass-rushers and whiff

    Believe it or not, the Central Michigan Chippewas featured the nation’s best pair of offensive tackles this past season. 

    Luke Goedeke didn’t get the same national recognition as teammate Bernhard Raimann thanks to the Austrian left tackle’s immense physical gifts and interesting story. Goedeke’s story is noteworthy as well, though. 

    The tight end-convert transferred from Division III University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and walked onto the Chippewas program. Unfortunately, he dealt with injuries the last two seasons, including a knee surgery that cost him the entirety of the 2020 campaign. 

    When Goedeke was on the field, he was one of the nation’s best right tackles. He proved to be the top-ranked tackle in pass-rush grade on true pass sets, according to PFF’s Austin Gayle. He’s an even better run-blocker, with a tenacity to finish plays.

    Goedeke’s lack of length (32¼-inch arms) and overall lack of starting experience will likely force him to guard, but he’s already grown into one of the best offensive linemen in this draft class.

    Aaron Stinnie could start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but clearly, the team wasn’t entirely comfortable with its offensive interior after Ali Marpet retired and Alex Cappa signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The Buccaneers already added Shaq Mason via trade. Goedeke can immediately slot to left guard and cement the team’s new-look interior. The second-round rookie must stay healthy for the team’s plans to reach fruition.

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Troy Andersen, LB, Montana State

    Strengths: Premium athlete, rare straight-line speed, fantastic range, ideal build, doesn’t quit on plays

    Weaknesses: Lacks natural instincts, runs around blockers, lacks physicality, still learning how to translate speed and athleticism into coverage

    Troy Andersen presents a fascinating athletic profile. 

    The linebacker was named Big Sky Freshman of the Year while also playing running back. As a sophomore, Andersen converted to quarterback and set a school record with 21 rushing touchdowns. His 1,412 rushing yards ranked third at the time as well. He primarily spent his last two seasons at linebacker, where he amassed 201 total tackles (including 150 this past year), 25.5 tackles for loss and 12 defended passes. 

    As impressive as Andersen’s resume is, his pure athleticism may be even more so. The 6’3½”, 243-pound linebacker posted a scorching 4.42-second 40-yard dash and ranked fifth since 1987 in relative athletic score, per Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte

    Andersen’s natural ability isn’t in question. His ability to consistently play between the tackles is. 

    Specifically, the linebacker appears allergic to contact at times. The reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year filled up the stat sheet because he was clearly the most talented player on the field. He has the tools to flourish in the NFL. He simply must learn how to play linebacker at a much higher level for maximum growth potential.

    The Atlanta Falcons basically added a more athletic Foyesade Oluokun. The comparison is a compliment in some ways, but it’s a negative, too. 

    Andersen will rack up numbers and plenty of tackles. How many of them will actually make an impact? It’s a legitimate question after watching the Division II product rely too heavily on this athleticism while regularly avoiding contact.

    Grade: C

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Ed Ingram, IOL, LSU

    Strengths: Thick, squared-off frame to punish defenders, plays with leverage and power, good puller in space, picks up movement and looks for work

    Weaknesses: Some tightness in hips to affect lateral movement, could snug up better on double-teams

    The LSU Tigers fell apart last season, which caused those still playing well to be overlooked in some capacity. Typically, the Tigers are known for producing high-end NFL talent on a yearly basis. That was true to a lesser degree, as cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is considered an elite prospect. Otherwise, the program slipped into the abyss of mediocrity. 

    Guard Ed Ingram didn’t follow the descent. He flourished while the squad bottomed out as the worst team in the SEC West. The left guard led the conference with an 82.6 pass-blocking grade, according to Pro Football Focus

    Ingram experienced some ups and downs as well or his grade could have been higher. Even so, he’s clearly a sturdy blocker who’s tailor-made for the professional game. 

    The second-team All-SEC performer played well while starting in his freshman year. 

    A near-14-month suspension ensued after he was accused of sexually assaulting two minors when he was in high school. Charges were dismissed, which allowed Ingram to rejoin the team in September 2019.

    Guard has been a regular sore spot for the Minnesota Vikings over the past few seasons. While Ezra Cleveland found a home along the interior, the other spot isn’t settled. The Vikings did sign Jesse Davis as a veteran swing lineman who can start at guard or right tackle.

    Ingram is a natural guard who can immediately jump into the lineup. This selection is also an indication the team has already given up on Wyatt Davis after investing a third-round pick in the Ohio State product just last year. 

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Cam Taylor-Britt, CB, Nebraska

    Strengths: Physical defender, excellent straight-line speed, safety versatility

    Weaknesses: Suspectchange of direction, not a reliable wrap-up tackler, poor angles, bites on fakes

    Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt could succeed in the NFL as a cornerback, but he might thrive at safety. He played both positions during his time with the Cornhuskers program.

    Primarily a corner, the two-time second-team All-Big Ten selection showed excellent ball skills with 27 defended passes and six interceptions throughout his career. In fact, his 18 combined interceptions and passes broken up ranked first among Big Ten defensive backs over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus. He also ran an impressive 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

    While both of those traits portend his staying on the outside, he has a muscular build, an aggressive demeanor and a level of physicality that would translate to safety, where he could use his speed to cover a lot of space and key on opposing quarterbacks. 

    Either way, the ability to do both only helps Taylor-Britt’s case.

    The Cincinnati Bengals can’t get Super Bowl LVI out of their minds. Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp regularly ran free in the Bengals secondary as the Los Angeles Rams captured a championship.

    Taylor-Britt brings more versatility to the Bengals’ defensive backfield after Cincinnati took Michigan’s Daxton Hill in the first round. While Hill is a safety with cornerback flexibility, Taylor-Britt is a cornerback with safety flexibility. An amorphous secondary is forming in the Queen City.

    Grade: C+

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Drake Jackson, Edge, USC

    Strengths: Athletic enough to beat tackles off the edge, can bend around corner, above-average lateral movement

    Weaknesses: Lacks play strength, limited pass-rusher, particularly with countermoves

    Self-awareness can be an underrated trait for an NFL draft prospect. USC edge-rusher Drake Jackson is an excellent example of a player who’s aware of his strengths and weaknesses and where he can best help his new team. 

    USC didn’t exactly have a plan for Jackson’s usage. He technically played defensive end, but the coaching staff often dropped him into space, particularly during the 2020 campaign, or reduced him down in sub-packages. 

    USC listed Jackson at 250 pounds. He’s since seen the light as a potential base end who continues to play along the interior in nickel and dime packages. 

    Since the combine, Jackson has added 19 pounds, according to CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso. The 20-year-old defender now weighs 273 pounds. In other words, he’s bulked up from roughly the same weight as T.J. Watt to Myles Garrett.

    Jackson shouldn’t be compared to two of the NFL’s three best defenders. That’s unfair. However, the two clearly are clearly different in body types and how they’re used.

    The San Francisco 49ers found a new running mate for Nick Bosa. With Arik Armstead moving back inside and thriving, another edge defender became necessary. Dee Ford may already be on the roster, but he’s never lived up to expectations, and he’s on the last year of his current deal.

    Considering this pick came late in the second round, the 49ers found excellent value while addressing a premium position with a prospect who presents significant upside. Ironically, he’s much like Armstead in that he can play base end and provide plenty as an interior pass-rusher. 

    Grade: B+

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati

    Strengths: Well-rounded game with good anticipation in the pass game and physicality against the run, former corner experience, quick trigger

    Weaknesses: Could be better playing ball in the air, not built for heavy man-cover usage, never answered question about top-end speed

    Last year’s Cincinnati Bearcats secondary was truly special. 

    Opponents generally avoided cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who was named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. Opposite him, Coby Bryant captured the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

    Meanwhile, safety Bryan Cook laid the lumber as the group’s enforcer. But he needed time before stepping into the role. 

    Cook originally played at Howard University before transferring to Cincinnati. During his first season with the Bearcats, he started only two games. But as a senior, he became a defensive tone-setter.

    Last season, Cook finished second on the team with 57 solo tackles and nine defended passes. During any Cincinnati game, the first-team All-AAC selection could be found around the ball. He closed space and regularly made plays against the run, and he showed a well-rounded skill set with a good awareness of different coverages. 

    Despite the amount of talent in Cincinnati’s defensive backfield last season, Cook was never overshadowed and served as a critical component to the program’s success.

    The Kansas City Chiefs chose to move on from Tyrann Mathieu this offseason. Instead, the organization signed Justin Reid as his replacement, and Juan Thornhill remains on the roster as well. 

    Cook brings a different mentality to the position with his physical nature. He’s going to set the tone and give the Chiefs a solid third option among their safeties in sub-packages and different looks.

    Grade: B

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    Jim Rassol/Associated Press

    James Cook, RB, Georgia

    Strengths: Natural catcher, good burst as a runner, excellent balance and body control

    Weaknesses: Inconsistent vision, thin frame

    The Cook family now has two running backs in the NFL. James joins Dalvin, and the older brother may be jealous because of where the incoming back landed.

    The Buffalo Bills added yet another weapon to their passing game. 

    Cook can create explosive plays as both a runner and a receiver from the running back position,” Bleacher Report scout Nate Tice wrote. “He is a viable weapon as a pass catcher, with the ability to split out and create mismatches on linebackers asked to cover him. He is a smooth route-runner who plays with balance and can consistently come out of his route breaks staying friendly towards the quarterback. Cook also has very good hands and flashes the body control to adjust for throws away from his body.”

    The Bills don’t place a huge emphasis on the running game. Cook’s addition further supplements what they want to do offensively, though, because of how he can help as a receiver.

    Grade: B

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Nik Bonitto, Edge, Oklahoma

    Strengths: Elite short-area quickness and burst, easily slips off blocks, lateral agility to move and shoot gaps all over front

    Weaknesses: Slight frame, can be overwhelmed at the point of attack, hands don’t jolt blockers

    At the NFL combine, Oklahoma edge-rusher Nik Bonitto succinctly described his mindset whenever he’s on the field.

    “I’m just going to go balls-to-the-wall every play and kill everybody who’s in front of me,” Bonitto told reporters.

    Bonitto’s impression of The Program‘s Alvin Mack aside, he’s easily one of the best natural edge-rushers in the class. The question is whether the 6’3″, 248-pound defender will provide anything more than that.

    Purely as a situational pass-rusher, Bonitto should excel in the NFL. He led college football in pass-rush grade during the 2020 campaign, and he followed that up with the best pass-rush win rate among any player with 250 or more pass-rush snaps in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus (h/t NFL Network’s Ben Fennell). 

    His win rate last season (with screens, play-action passes and designed rollouts excluded) matched or bettered Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, Purdue’s George Karlaftis, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II and Georgia’s Travon Walker, per PFF’s Ben Linsey

    Bonitto is a natural fit in Ejiro Evero’s defensive scheme, which he brings to the Denver Broncos from the Los Angeles Rams. The undersized edge is perfectly built to play outside linebacker. He also adds significant juice as a pass-rusher. 

    The Broncos already feature Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed, but Bonitto is far more flexible than both with some exceptional athletic traits.

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Luke Fortner, IOL, Kentucky

    Strengths: Lateral movement, excellent pad level and fits, highly intelligent (engineering student), center/guard experience

    Weaknesses: Not powerful at point of attack, inconsistent hand placement, older prospect as sixth-year senior

    Kentucky’s Luke Fortner is never going to draw a lot of attention with his on-field performance, which is exactly why he’s an excellent prospect. He quietly and effectively goes about his business to little fanfare, which is especially amazing considering he made the switch from right guard to center last season without missing a beat. 

    “As old as Fortner is, as long as he’s been around, he can play any position, really,” Kentucky offensive line coach Eric Wolford told reporters last summer. “… He’s like another coach on the field.”

    Fortner originally entered the Wildcats program in 2016. He took advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic and molded himself into a top center prospect after starting two seasons at guard.

    Over the ball, the two-time William V. Campbell Trophy semifinalist really takes advantage of his intelligence, recognition and lateral movement, which makes him an ideal zone-blocking center. 

    Fortner can immediately slide into the starting spot over the ball and serve as the spearhead for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive front.

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Brian Asamoah II, LB, Oklahoma

    Strengths: Quick downhill player, explosive safety-like linebacker

    Weaknesses: Undersized and lacks physicality

    The game is trending toward smaller linebackers who look more like old-school defensive backs than second-line defenders. Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah II certainly fits the bill as a 6’0”, 226-pound prospect.

    “Asamoah would best fit as a ‘Will’ in the NFL, where he can be kept clean from strong-side blocks and do work as a coverage defender,” Bleacher Report scout Derrik Klassen noted. “With that said, he still needs to add strength and physicality before he develops into a full-time starter at the position. Asamoah’s coverage chops are worth a late swing, but he is a ways away from being a complete linebacker right now.”

    The Minnesota Vikings did bring Jordan Hicks into the fold this offseason, but the veteran turns 30 this summer. Asamoah can start his career as a sub-package defender and eventually take over for Hicks.

    Grade: C

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    Joshua Ezeudu, IOL, North Carolina

    Strengths: Physical and competitive, good length, good movement skills along interior

    Weaknesses: Erratic hand placement, can play a little high

    The New York Giants continue to strengthen their offensive front after already adding Mark Glowinski, Jon Feliciano and Evan Neal.

    Northern Carolina’s Josh Ezeudu can immediately compete to start at left guard and possibly unseat Shane Lemiuex. At worst, the Giants now have another good, young interior option.

    “Ezeudu wins with good initial explosiveness out of his stance and lateral quickness that allows him to get to his spots quickly in pass protection while remaining square with inside-out positioning on rushers,” Bleacher Report scout Brandon Thorn wrote. “He shows impressive refinement in his pass sets, mixing up flat, angled and vertical sets with independent hand usage and very good length to establish first meaningful contact.”

    Grade: B

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State

    Strengths: Big, long corner who excels in zone coverage, consistently plays through catch point, quick trigger to play downhill

    Weaknesses: Less than sufficient short-area burst, ankle-biter as a tackler, gets hung up on blocks

    Generally, two types of cornerbacks can be found. Either the defensive back is smaller and far more fluid in coverage, or they’re bigger, not quite as athletic and excel in press coverage and/or zone. 

    Obviously, certain talents transcend typical positional stereotypes. But certain body types tend to fit better into specific schemes. 

    For Mississippi State’s Martin Emerson, the 21-year-old is built to play in a zone-heavy scheme where he can keep the receiver and ball in front of him. 

    Emerson is a relatively fluid 6’2″, 201-pound cornerback with 33½-inch arms. His size and length allow him to redirect wide receivers off the line scrimmage and within their routes. He’s a good athlete for his size but doesn’t show the type of burst necessary to consistently drive on balls or handle smaller, twitchier targets. 

    His size and length can be beneficial in the right system. If Emerson is asked to consistently lock down top receivers and run with them all day long, he’s going to have a long day at the office.

    The Cleveland Browns love physical cornerbacks who can reroute off the jam and frustrate opposing wide receivers. Emerson is insurance for Greedy Williams, who has dealt with shoulder issues since he entered the league. 

    Another big, physical corner fits right into the Browns’ coverage plans, and the rookie immediately creates quality depth with Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II starting.

    Grade: A

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State

    Strengths: Quick and athletic out of stance, moves well, particularly in zone-blocking scheme

    Weaknesses: Lacks functional strength, doesn’t play with great leverage and hand placement, sets too soft of an edge in pass set

    Nicholas Petit-Frere entered the Ohio State Buckeyes program as the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle and a 5-star recruit in 2018. He never quite lived up to expectations. 

    Granted, Petit-Frere became a two-year starter and gained experience at right and left tackle. However, he needed two years to reach that point, including a redshirt freshman campaign, and still didn’t flash the caliber of play commensurate with his status coming into the program. 

    The first-team All-Big Ten selection did improve with each season. But he still needs plenty of work because he simply doesn’t show enough grit or the level of technique to step into an NFL lineup upon being drafted. 

    What teams see is an athletic 6’5″, 316-pound tackle prospect with 33⅝-inch arms and a strong pedigree. Sometimes, those traits are enough. The task of developing a raw prospect then falls upon the position coach to maximize the individual’s skills over time. Petit-Frere must improve his play strength and overall technique to eventually make a case for a starting spot.

    The Tennessee Titans may have finally found their solution at right tackle following the inexplicably awful selection of Isaiah Wilson in the first round of the 2020 draft and a disappointing rookie campaign from last year’s second-round pick, Dillon Radunz.

    Petit-Frere can move back to the strong side and eventually develop into the long-term starter. The Titans should know he’s not ready to take the reins just yet, but he might be able to do so in relatively short order. 

    Grade: B

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    Steve Conner/Associated Press

    Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming

    Strengths: Volume tackler, makes disciplined and quick reads, very comfortable zone-dropping, consistent energy and effort

    Weaknesses: Lacks physicality when forced to face blockers, can overpursue at times, marginal lateral agility

    The nation’s second-leading tackler during the 2021 campaign was…*checks notes*…Wyoming’s Chad Muma. 

    The two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection is a tackling machine. But he wasn’t always that way. He bounced back and forth between safety and linebacker (with a little wide receiver thrown into the mix as well) during his high school career and first season on campus. 

    “When you watch him play, he understands both offense and defense,” former Wyoming defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton said about the position switch, per Wyo Sports’ Robert Gagliardi. “All of our young guys are good athletes and can run around, but it is different for them to conceptualize things. Chad can do that, and still run and play fast.”

    During Muma’s three seasons as a full-time linebacker, he got noticeably better. During his last two years on campus, he averaged 11.2 tackles per game. 

    Muma displays a good feel for the game, usually makes proper reads, displays good quickness and consistently wraps up ball-carriers. Previous experience at safety helps him in coverage, too.

    Interestingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars followed their earlier selection of Devin Lloyd, a player they traded up in the first round to acquire, with the third-round choice of Muma.

    Muma’s value at this juncture is superb, since Bleacher Report graded him as a late first-round option. His inclusion to the roster is suspect, though. 

    The team already sunk a free-agent contract in Foyesade Oluokun and drafted Lloyd. Muma doesn’t have an immediate spot. However, some flexibility exists within his group, because Lloyd can play multiple spots and Muma is a former safety convert. Mixing skill sets along the second line should keep the Jaguars defense interesting.

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Velus Jones Jr., WR, Tennessee

    Strengths: Standout kick and punt returner, tough in traffic, will take a hit and still finish catch, creative after the catch

    Weaknesses: Route running is a work in progress, only one year of solid production, age

    Velus Jones Jr.’s speed and explosiveness are undeniable. His 4.31-second 40-yard dash made him the second-fastest wide receiver at this year’s NFL combine.

    Jones is also a fearless returner who was named the SEC’s Co-Special Teams Player of the Year this past season alongside Alabama’s Jameson Williams. Jones excelled as a kick returner both at USC then Tennessee after transferring. During his final season with the Volunteers, he also took on punt return duties and averaged 15.1 yards per return.

    Jones continued to develop as a wide receiver and posted his most productive season last year, too. The 6’0″, 204-pound target set career highs with 62 receptions for 807 yards and seven touchdowns.  

    However, Jones is among the older prospects in this year’s draft class. He’ll turn 25 shortly after being drafted.

    Finally, the Chicago Bears got some wide receiver help for quarterback Justin Fields. Too bad they did so by investing in an older prospect, one whose primary function coming into the league will likely be as a returner. Sure, his speed is great. But the team missed its opportunity to find a legit target earlier in the process.

    Grade: C-

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State

    Strengths: Four-year starter, high level of comfort in pass set, recognition of stunts and blitzes, varied hand usage

    Weaknesses: Leans on defenders in run game, bull-rushers are problematic, upright playing style with narrow base

    Abraham Lucas is the latest offensive line prospect to come out of an Air Raid scheme, and his skill set is similar to all of those who preceded him. 

    Lucas is an adept pass-blocker with approximately 1 million pass-blocking snaps. The right tackle allowed a minuscule 2.0 percent pressure rate over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus (h/t Smart Football’s Adam Carter). 

    Lucas is clearly comfortable in his pass set, though he was helped by a scheme that widens splits and makes it more difficult for edge-rushers to affect opposing quarterbacks. Questions also remain about how he’ll transition to the other phase of the game. 

    Although he won’t enter the league as a capable run-blocker, tackles today are paid to protect the quarterback. Lucas is a four-year starter for a Power Five program with a clear comfort level in his pass set and a strong athletic profile. He can be coached up with his technique and run-game prowess.

    Amazingly, the Seattle Seahawks have passed on Liberty quarterback Malik Willis at each opportunity. In doing so, they pieced together a stellar draft that started with Mississippi State left tackle Charles Cross. Now, the organization has Cross’ bookend in Lucas.

    A tinge of irony exists when the team that still believes in a ground-and-pound approach invests two high-round picks in the class’ best and most experienced pass-blockers.

    Grade: A-

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia

    Strengths: Elite athlete, massive catch radius, experienced blocker, size/length/speed to create instant mismatch

    Weaknesses: High-cut athlete, struggles to maintain leverage due to height, build-up speed, hasn’t shown much after the catch

    A fully formed version of Jelani Woods never materialized at the collegiate level, but he has the potential to become a fantastic weapon in an NFL offense. 

    Woods, who played quarterback in high school, committed to the Oklahoma State Cowboys and converted to tight end. After a redshirt campaign, he primarily served as a blocker over the next three seasons and caught only 31 passes.

    As a graduate, the 6’7″, 259-pound tight end transferred to Virginia, where he became a much bigger part of the offense. He caught 44 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns during his lone season with the Cavaliers, though a balky knee slowed him to a degree. 

    The best should be yet to come from Woods, whose athleticism is literally off the charts. He dominated at the Shrine Bowl and then posted the highest relative score by a tight end over the last 35 years, according to Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte.

    Matt Ryan should be smiling from ear to ear. First, the Indianapolis Colts traded back and still landed a super-athletic wide receiver in Alec Pierce. In the third round, the franchise landed the most athletic tight end ever recorded. Weapons can now be found in this offense with immense growth potential.

    Pierce and Woods will join Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr. and Nyheim Hines to give Indianapolis a fantastic core of young talent at the skill positions.

    Grade: A

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

    Strengths: Drives the ball to all three levels, excellent athlete, understanding and progression through offense

    Weaknesses: Erratic ball placement, inconsistent pocket awareness, thin frame

    As other quarterback prospects in this year’s class garnered more attention, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder assembled the best season of all. The three-year team captain helped elevate a Bearcats program that became the first Group of Five participant in the College Football Playoff.

    From a performance standpoint, Ridder improved as a passer every year on campus.

    As a senior, the two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year posted a 30-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He didn’t record a single turnover-worthy throw on 73 deep passes last season, perPro Football Focus. He also ranked third among the class in accuracy percentagefrom a clean pocket. His 82big-time throws led all Group of Five quarterbacks since the start of the 2018 campaign.

    Physically, Ridder’s athletic profileparallels that of Marcus Mariota, who was the second pick in the 2015 draft. His 4.52-second 40-yard-dash time creates another weapon for offensive coordinators to utilize.

    Consistency tends to be Ridder’s biggest problem, particularly early in contests. He’ll miss some throws he should easily make but convert far more difficult tosses. The quarterback’s growth potential is significant based on how he progressed in his four years as Cincinnati’s starter under Luke Fickell’s supervision.

    Ridder may have had to wait much longer than expected, but he should be ecstatic to land where he did. 

    Bleacher Report’s QB1 tumbled right into the Atlanta Falcons’ awaiting arms. Despite being a third-rounder, the rookie could legitimately win that job outright from Marcus Mariota and give the Falcons a good, long look at whether he can be the long-term starter.

    As a fit, Ridder should thrive in Arthur Smith’s scheme since he’s used to heavy play-action and layering throws.

    Grade: A+

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

    Strengths: Closing speed, good feel for zone coverage, works effortlessly through trash

    Weaknesses: Suspect instincts, will play out of control at times, struggles when forced to take on blocks

    Christian Harris’ time at Alabama felt like somewhat of a squandered opportunity. 

    Harris entered the Crimson Tide lineup as a true freshman and excelled. League coaches even named him to the freshman All-SEC team. However, he didn’t grow significantly over the next two seasons.

    Harris may be limited by who he is as a linebacker. He’s more of an athlete than an instinctive ball magnet. 

    Harris is best when he’s asked to be a run-and-chase defender. His 4.44-second 40-yard-dash speed encapsulates the type of range he possesses. He gains ground on ball-carriers quickly, although he isn’t the most instinctive option to come out of Alabama. The Crimson Tide have been a favorite for linebacker talent since head coach Nick Saban arrived. 

    When Harris sees the play develop and triggers, he’s efficient in his operation and does a good job avoiding blockers. However, he isn’t always reliable when he’s asked to break down or finish tackles because of his upright playing style and light frame. 

    Alabama’s latest linebacker prospect isn’t the same old, same old at the position. He isn’t a big, physical, downhill type. Instead, he’s more of a modern linebacker who isn’t as big or as tough but displays the necessary speed to affect the game in other ways. 

    The Houston Texans are all over the board, and they should be. The team tore down the roster last year and needed a massive infusion of talent. They’re getting it, even if there doesn’t appear to be a specific rhyme or reason to the overall approach.

    General manager Nick Caserio already addressed the secondary (twice), the offensive line and wide receiver. Linebacker is now filled as well with Harris’ selection. The rookie can work alongside Christian Kirksey as two linebackers with skill sets. Kirksey also has a significant injury history, which makes Harris’ addition even more important. 

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Travis Jones, DL, Connecticut

    Strengths: Powerful with long arms to stack and shed, nimble feet for 325-pound prospect, identifies ball-carriers to slip blocks and make plays

    Weaknesses: Inconsistent pad level, basic pass-rush plan, double-teams can drive him off ball despite size

    Travis Jones peaked at the perfect time. 

    The defensive tackle’s draft status was hurt after the Connecticut Huskies didn’t play the 2020 season because of COVID-19 restrictions. As the lineman’s senior season progressed, Jones appeared on more radars until evaluators couldn’t ignore him any longer, particularly with his performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine. 

    On film, the 325-pound Jones is a certified space-eater with upfield capabilities. The latter became readily apparent in an all-star setting against top competition. Jones showed he could be more than just a two-down option. His power, quickness and long levers (34¼” arms) portend pass-rush potential to collapse the pocket on a regular basis. 

    Jones’ performance at the combine also showed an elite athlete who moves smoothly on the field. He looked as good as any interior defender in drills and showed he could be an every-down defender. 

    Granted, Jones needs to reach a certain level of consistency, which can be difficult for a bigger defender. However, the incoming class isn’t filled with quality interior options, thus making Jones’ skill set even more valuable.

    Quarterback Lamar Jackson may not be happy, but the Baltimore Ravens are sticking to their identity. Jones adds another big, burly body to the team’s defensive interior. Simply put, the Ravens are old in the trenches with Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and even Michael Pierce, who turns 30 later this year. 

    Adding another powerful body to take up space while the other athletes on defense run and make plays is both an excellent approach, and it’s how the Ravens play football. 

    Grade: B+

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan

    Strengths: Athletic and balanced blocker, looks to obliterate assignments upon contact, comfortable working in space

    Weaknesses: Sets a soft edge against speed-rushers, can struggle to anchor based on build, inconsistent timing with punch

    The most fascinating story of the 2022 NFL draft belongs to Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann. 

    Raimann is an Austrian citizen who began playing American football in Vienna. He then traveled to the United States as a foreign exchange student. After completing his year abroad, Raimann returned home and completed his mandatory military service. While doing so, he committed to play at Central Michigan. 

    The tight end-convert started 18 games along the offensive line for the Chippewas and emerged as a premium protector. However, the first-team All-MAC selection will turn 25 during his rookie campaign. 

    Despite his age, Raimann has ample growth potential as he continues to harness his raw athleticism and hone his technique. The 6’6⅛”, 303-pound blocker had elite relative athletic scores in all of the combine’s movement drills, per Pro Football Network’s Kent Lee Platte

    Raimann can be overwhelming at the point of attack, either along the line of scrimmage or when asked to block on the move. He just needs time to develop his technique.

    Raimann may have started his football career relatively late in the process, but he still boasts as much potential as most of the offensive line prospects in this draft class.

    The lineman’s age almost certainly had something to do with him sliding all the way into the third round, because his level of play and athletic profile are both exceptional.

    The Indianapolis Colts just may have gotten their starting left tackle about 50 or so selections later than Raimann was originally projected to go. Matt Pryor will still get the first crack at protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side. However, that plan is far more palatable now since the Colts have a legitimate alternative if the veteran can’t handle the duties on a full-time basis.

    Grade: A+

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Alex Wright, Edge, UAB

    Strengths: Plus physical traits, strong hands, thick lower body, burst off the snap, better than bend than expected

    Weaknesses: Unrefined technique, lacks pass-rushing plan, plays tall, diagnose skills are suspect

    Few prospects are as intimidating at the line of scrimmage as UAB’s Alex Wright. The thickly built 6’5″, 271-pound edge defender has the size, length and power to be completely overwhelming. 

    However, Wright is still harnessing his ability. The fact he managed only 11.5 career sacks in three seasons against Conference USA competition shows how raw he still is as a prospect.

    To be fair, Wright still posted the second-highest pass-rush win rate of any Conference USA edge-rusher in a single season, per PFF. He also posted the second-most pressures on third-and-long last season, according to NFL Network’s Ben Fennell

    Wright will need more polish to fully unleash his natural physical tools. That’s OK. His consistent effort already makes him difficult to handle. Teams are always willing to bet on traits, especially late in the draft.

    The Cleveland Browns needed bodies along their defensive line. General manager Andrew Berry added Chase Winovich and Taven Bryan this offseason. Still, the Browns’ defensive line looked like a glaring weakness heading into the draft, especially if Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t re-sign.

    Wright helps offset those concerns just a little, because he’s a prospect with significant upside. Cleveland should still re-sign Clowney if the opportunity arises. If it does, Wright will be in an even better position learning from the former No. 1 pick.

    Grade: B+

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    JT Woods, S, Baylor

    Strengths: Elite straight-line speed, long and impressive frame, good on-ball production, explodes through contact

    Weaknesses: Lacks lateral agility and fluidity in the lower body, takes inconsistent angles

    Baylor’s JT Woods brings an intriguing blend and size to the safety position, though his skill set doesn’t accurately reflect either. 

    Woods is a 6’2⅛”, 195-pound defender with track speed. His size can be intimidating, yet he plays with a high pad level and takes rushed angles toward intended targets.

    His 4.36-second 40-yard-dash speed, coupled with 32⅜-inch arms, allow him to cover a lot of space and make plays on the ball. Woods’ six interceptions tied for the most in the country last season. His 40 effort, meanwhile, tied for second-fastest among this year’s incoming safeties. However, he’s a straight-line defender who’s stiff in the hips and struggles with change-of-direction. 

    The skill set Woods presents is a paradox. His size, length, speed and ball skills scream future contributor, but athletic limitations can be exploited against experienced route-runners and savvy quarterbacks.

    The Los Angeles Chargers were fortunate to have Rashawn Slater and Zion Johnson fall to them in the first rounds of back-to-back drafts. In doing so, a once-weak offensive front now looks like a position of strength. 

    It’s important to note those choices because the offensive line remained the one glaring hole on the Chargers roster. From this point forward, Los Angeles can build upon what’s already in place.

    Woods gives the team yet another versatile safety alongside Derwin James and Nasir Adderley. Brandon Staley’s defensive scheme is predicated on playing light boxes while dropping more bodies into coverage. The more those bodies can do, the more difficult it is for offenses to find room to breathe.

    Grade: B

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA

    Strengths: Threat after the catch, big-play machine, former walk-on with room to grow both physically and within current skill set

    Weakness: Refinement in route running, willing but below-average blocker

    Kyle Pitts is the new basis for comparison at tight end, and deservedly so. Pitts became the highest drafted tight end ever and went on to post a historically good rookie campaign. 

    When another prospect compares favorably to Pitts, everyone should take notice. UCLA’s Greg Dulcich fits the bill.

    In 2020, Dulcich finished ahead of Pitts and led all Power Five tight ends in receiving yardage market share and receiving yards per pass attempt, according to Fantasy Footballers’ Marvin Elequin. He then repeated the feat this past season. 

    Dulcich doesn’t have the same athletic profile or overall skill set as Pitts. But he showed significant growth each year on campus and proved he can be a vital component in the passing game.

    The first-team All-Pac-12 selection created 470 yards after the catch and hauled in 36 catches of 15 or more yards since the start of the 2020 campaign, per Pro Football Focus. Those numbers ranked second and tied for first, respectively, among Power Five tight ends.

    Others in the class may have been more productive, better blockers or superior athletes, but Dulcich has the chance to blossom into a premier NFL playmaker. 

    Russell Wilson’s addition to the lineup is only part of the reason why the Denver Broncos are truly dangerous. Yes, Wilson plays a significant role in what the team will do moving forward since the previous quarterback play was so bad. Even so, the Broncos already had weapons in Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III.

    Noah Fant was included in the Wilson deal, though. Dulcich helps offset that loss and makes sure that Albert Okwuegbunam isn’t forced into a full-time role.

    Grade: A

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Cordale Flott, CB, LSU

    Strengths: Defined role as nickel corner, tough despite slight frame, quick with fluid footwork, comfortable in zone coverage

    Weaknesses: Rail thin, lacks top-end speed for man coverage, lacks functional playing strength and can be bullied

    LSU is often referred to as DBU after producing the likes of Patrick Peterson, Mo Claiborne, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Jalen Mills, Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White, Donte Jackson, Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton. Derek Stingley Jr. was also one of the highest-rated players in this year’s class. 

    But the depth found among the incoming LSU defensive backs doesn’t stop with Stingley. Cordale Flott is yet another capable cover man from the Bayou. 

    Flott served as a two-year starter before declaring early for the NFL draft. He found a home working as the Tigers’ nickel corner and excelled at the position, although he might have troubles at the NFL level when working over the slot. 

    Nickel corner can be a physical position. Flott triggers on the run quickly and plays tough despite the fact that he’s only 175 pounds. He’s also nearly 6’1″, which makes him quite wiry and in need of added bulk. 

    While it’s not a true one-for-one replacement because Flott will likely take over the bulk of nickel duties, cornerback had been at the forefront of the Giants’ needs because of James Bradberry’s exorbitant contract. Currently, the veteran holds a $21.9 million salary-cap charge. The team can release him with a June 1 designation and save $11.5 million. 

    Adding any quality cornerback prospect can help ease such a move if the Giants decide to go in that direction.

    Grade: C

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    DeAngelo Malone, Edge, Western Kentucky

    Strengths: Quick off the ball, good flexibility, burst to flatten and finish at quarterback, long arms, plays strong despite size

    Weaknesses: Limited upside, overwhelmed by bigger offensive linemen, doesn’t always play with good leverage

    Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone has everything a team could want in an edge-rusher, except for the build to be an every-down defender. The two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year stands 6’3″ and weighs 243 pounds. 

    “He’s undersized right now, but has the length and speed to grow into a starting linebacker,” an NFC front office executive said, per Matt Lombardo. “Plus, he plays hard, that’s the most important thing.”

    It’s hard to match Malone’s 48.5 tackles for loss and 25 sacks in 38 games over the last three years. But the size issue won’t go away. He is rocked up and may be maxed out physically. 

    Maybe Malone adds 5-10 pounds over the next few years, but he’s likely capped out at a situational pass-rusher in specific defensive schemes that use him as a linebacker.

    The Atlanta Falcons are accumulating talent, which was desperately needed considering they entered the draft with the league’s worst roster.

    Elite receiving threat. Check. Developmental quarterback. Check. Athletic linebacker. Check. Edge-rusher. Check and double-check.

    The Falcons grabbed Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie near the start of Day 2 and doubled down with Malone. Both fit the physical profile to play outside linebacker/edge-rusher in Dean Pees’ scheme.

    Grade: B+

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

    Strengths: Comfortable working through traffic, explodes through contact, instincts to beat ball-carriers to their spot, special when asked to blitz in pressure packages

    Weaknesses: Lacks size and length, may not be able to handle NFL blockers or tight ends

    Nakobe Dean has heard it all before. He isn’t big enough or fast enough to be an elite defender. 

    “For me, it is no concern at all,” the reigning Butkus Award winner said on CBS Sports’ Pick Six podcast. “I feel like everybody is going to blow it out of proportion. It is what it is. I have been hearing it my whole life ever since I started getting recruited in high school…I am going to take it in stride. It does nothing but make the chip on my shoulder that I play with bigger and bigger.”

    Dean’s 5’11”, 229-pound frame didn’t prevent him from becoming a dominant defender in the nation’s toughest conference. According to Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash, he’s the only linebacker in the site’s college era to record a 90-plus grade in coverage and as a pass-rusher. 

    Lack of size is less of an issue for linebackers today than it has ever been. An instinctual three-down defender who can affect the game in multiple ways while not being exposed in a pass-first league is far more valuable than thumpers who are only proficient at stacking and shedding blocks on their way to ball-carriers.

    The unanimous All-American proved himself as a fantastic player and leader on one of the best defenses of the modern era.

    Forget the fact Dean may be too small. Forget that his arms are shorter than teams prefer. Maybe a poor medical exam caused him to fall much further than his play deserves. 

    Whatever the case, the Philadelphia Eagles landed a true baller and alpha for the defense at a position the organization doesn’t traditionally value highly. General manager Howie Roseman landed a first-round talent two frames later. 

    Grade: A+

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M

    Strengths: Quick get-off, experience in multiple alignments, light feet and easy-mover

    Weaknesses: No clear position fit based on skill set, lacks anchor and power, doesn’t have bend to be an every-down edge-rusher

    DeMarvin Leal arrived at Texas A&M as a heralded 5-star recruit, but never made the impact many in and around College Station likely expected. 

    Projections banked on Leal’s upside, too. The defensive lineman regularly appeared as a projected top-10 pick in preseason mock drafts, but he never reached those standards during the 2021 campaign. 

    Leal bounced back and forth between the edge and playing along the interior. He did rack up 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks to earn first-team All-SEC and unanimous All-American nods, but he doesn’t have a specific fit or skill set that immediately translates to the NFL. 

    The 6’4″, 283-pound lineman isn’t explosive or athletic enough to remain on the edge, and he doesn’t have enough bulk or strength to consistently win as a defensive tackle. Leal is clearly talented, but he lacks the necessary direction to live up to previous expectations.

    One thing is certain: The Pittsburgh Steelers know how to develop high-end talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. 

    Leal gets to learn from Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. He couldn’t find a better education anywhere else. Those veterans will make sure the once-heralded rookie puts in the work to maximize his natural tools. Furthermore, Leal, a bit of a defensive tweener, should fit right in as a 5-technique or 4i in the Steelers defense. 

    Grade: A

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Marcus Jones, CB, Houston

    Strengths: Quick, fluid athlete, transitions through backpedal smoothly, ready-made nickel corner

    Weaknesses: Small stature, lacks length, doesn’t locate ball well

    Houston’s Marcus Jones is a 5’8”,178-pound cornerback with 28⅞-inch arms. There’s no getting around those measurements. Yet, he can cover and brings value in multiple different ways.

    “Jones is a productive cornerback with a bunch of experience between playing at Troy and Houston,” Bleacher Report scout Cory Giddings wrote. “An undersized player, he has shown the ability to play in both the slot and outside cornerback position. Jones has also shown special team value as a kick and punt returner, racking up both yards and touchdowns.”

    The fact that Jones can immediately contribute on special teams can’t be overlooked after being drafted by the New England Patriots. Eventually, the rookie can work himself into the rotation. His earlier contributions will come as a kick and punt returner, though.

    Grade: C

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    Kendall Warner/Associated Press

    Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

    Strengths: Top-shelf arm strength and athleticism, highly competitive, playmaker outside of structure

    Weaknesses: Simplified offense not requiring NFL-caliber reads/throws, decision-making, non-anticipatory thrower

    Liberty’s Malik Willis is potential personified.

    Among all of the quarterback prospects in the 2022 NFL draft, none boast as much upside or raw talent as Willis. That makes the 6’0½“, 219-pound signal-caller the most intriguing option in what’s perceived to be a weak position group.

    Today’s NFL is predicated on being able to create both from the pocket and outside of structure. Willis is a Dr. Strange-level magician at the latter, but not necessarily the former. 

    The question isn’t whether he can be an effective pocket passer. He’s proved capable of delivering the football. Rather, how much growth can he show in a short amount of time after playing in a rudimentary-level offense?

    Patience will be necessary, though Willis can immediately add value based purely on his athleticism. A creative coaching staff can take advantage of his wizardry through run-pass options, pocket movement and half-field reads. 

    Willis will inevitably be late on certain passes and force throws. Both are common downfalls of prospects who often rely on their natural ability as the best athletes on the field or have the strongest arms to make up for what they lack in anticipation.

    Willis is the most gifted quarterback prospect among the incoming class. He might also be the furthest behind on the developmental curve.

    The NFL clearly found the aforementioned flaws in Willis’ game. As a result, the one-time top-10 projection fell all the way into the third round. While the young man will almost certainly be disappointed with the long wait, his actual draft status should help him immensely.

    First, the pressure is now off of the developmental prospect. With Ryan Tannehill in front of him, he’s not going to be forced into the lineup before he’s ready. And maybe the Titans now have a succession plan in place whenever the franchise chooses to move on from the soon-to-be 34-year-old signal-caller.

    Grade: A

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Cameron Thomas, Edge, San Diego State

    Strengths: Interior pass-rusher, nonstop effort, hand usage and counters, can get skinny and shoot gaps

    Weaknesses: Initial quickness off the snap, flexibility, suspect power at point of attack

    Cameron Thomas is technically listed as an edge-rusher, but he’s really an interior defender in a defensive end’s body. He’s at his best when lined head up with a tackle or reduced down over guards or centers. 

    The 6’4″, 267-pound defender lacks juice when rushing off the edge. However, he should be able to win in two clear areas in the NFL.

    First, Thomas’ motor runs white hot. He may not be able to consistently beat offensive tackles off the line of scrimmage, but his persistent effort and hand usage will make him a headache for any opponent. 

    The second-team All-American, who registered an impressive 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last season, gives tackles and guards fits when collapsing the pocket by slanting or shooting gaps. According to Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle, the underclassman ranked first in pass-rush win rate when lined head up or inside an offensive tackle. 

    Thomas’ fit with the Arizona Cardinals is interesting since he’s not going to be a true standup edge defender. Instead, he can capitalize on his extensive experience playing on the interior, either as a head-up base end or by kicking inside to play alongside J.J. Watt.

    Either way, the Cardinals added another long, physical and relentless player to their defensive front. 

    Grade: B

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    Dan Anderson/Associated Press

    Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama

    Strengths: Already served as clear-cut No. 1 option, has inside-out flexibility, produced against top competition, legitimate vertical threat

    Weaknesses: Concentration drops, could use refinement with non-vertical routes, lackadaisical blocker

    A quick glance at last season’s FBS leaders in receiving yardage featured a surprise in the top 10. 

    The nation’s leaders in the category–Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns and Utah State’s Deven Thompkins–both played for top-10 offenses in passing yardage. Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njiba tore up the Big Ten Conference and posted an incredible 347 receiving yards against Utah in the Rose Bowl. Pitt’s Jordan Addison won the Biletnikoff Award. Alabama’s Jameson Williams and his game-changing speed rounded out college football’s five most productive targets.

    South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert ranked sixth despite playing in a passing offense that didn’t even register among the nation’s top 40 units. Tolbert snagged 82 receptions for 1,474 yards, while no other receiver on the team managed more than 630 yards. Quarterback Jake Bentley ranked 67th overall nationwide with 2,476 passing yards.

    In other words, Tolbert was a one-man show for a sub-.500 Group of Five program. He served in the same role two years running, which is a testament to his talent level. Against top competition–Tennessee, a ranked Louisiana squad in 2020 and Coastal Carolina twice–the 6’1″, 194-pound target caught 29 passes for 476 yards. 

    The Dallas Cowboys needed a quality third target. After trading Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns, Dallas still had CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. James Washington hasn’t done much over the past two seasons to be handed anything by his new team, so Tolbert will immediately push him while working on the outside as a vertical threat.

    Grade: B+

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor

    Strengths: Speed and range are top notch, comfortable in coverage, effective blitzer

    Weaknesses: Lacks bulk to consistently win at point of attack, lacks physicality as a tackler

    Snarling, downhill thumpers need not apply in today’s NFL. Baylor’s Terrel Bernard is part of the game’s new breed.

    “Bernard has been a linebacker since the day Baylor recruited him,” Bleacher Report scout Derrik Klassen wrote, “but he looks and plays like a safety who was converted to linebacker.

    “The sideline-to-sideline range Bernard shows off is among the best in the class, as is his flexibility and change of direction. Many of his best plays feature him flying across from the opposite side of a run play to shoot through a gap or firing downhill to slip past a blocker into the backfield, Lavonte David style. All of that range and agility shows up when he’s asked to cover players in tight coverage as well.”

    At 6’1” and 224 pounds, Bernard is never going to be a linebacker who consistently mixes it up and wins against much bigger blockers. However, he can be a run-and-chase sub-package linebacker behind Matt Milano. 

    Grade: C

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Dylan Parham, IOL, Memphis

    Strengths: Plays within his frame with a good, solid base, fluid mover with flexible lower body, extensive starting experience at multiple positions

    Weaknesses: Lack of patience in pass set, needs better angles when getting to second level and pulling

    Dylan Parham started an impressive 50 games for the Memphis Tigers after redshirting as a freshman. His first 28 games came at left guard before he bumped out to right tackle in 2020. The first-team All-AAC performer then moved back inside to right guard last season and didn’t allow a single sack, per the school’s website.

    Yet Parham just might find himself at center. He played over the ball at the Senior Bowl. 

    “I know a lot of teams would like to see me at the center position,” Parham told reporters at the NFL combine. “That was a big question mark. I wanted to go in and show I could be a leader on the offensive line, show I could be a person that could make the tag and then show them that I could be physical. Show them that I could consistently snap so they didn’t have to worry about that.”

    No worries should exist about Parham as one of the class’ best, most versatile interior prospects. He can immediately come in and compete to start at any of the three spots, and he can win a job based on how the Las Vegas Raiders’ offensive line is currently constructed. He may be best served at center over the long term, though.

    Grade: B+

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State

    Strengths: Tremendous balance and footwork in and through the hole, excellent body control, natural receiver out of the backfield

    Weaknesses: Never a full-time back at highest level, limited pass-protection reps, can be a little too patient before seeing hole

    All prospects must put in the work to become successful and reach the point where the NFL comes calling. Some don’t have the same obstacles placed in front of them as Arizona State’s Rachaad White did. 

    He didn’t receive much interest as a high school recruit and ended up at Division II Nebraska-Kerney. After redshirting during his freshman campaign, the running back left and joined Mt. San Antonio College for two seasons. As a JUCO transfer, White found a home with the Sun Devils. 

    Even then, he didn’t become the featured back until his final month on campus when he carried the ball 96 times for 523 yards and six touchdowns against the USC Trojans, Washington Huskies, Oregon State Beavers and rival Arizona Wildcats.

    Still, he proved to be highly effective with his limited touches during his two seasons with the Pac-12 program. According to Pro Football Focus, White graded better than any other running back during that stretch. 

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed Giovani Bernard this offseason, but there’s no guarantee the veteran will be on the team’s roster once it breaks camp. Leonard Fournette is the lead back, of course. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is still trying to find his footing.

    White sneakily worked his way into RB3 in Bleacher Report’s rankings because of his feel when running and potential contributions in the passing game. 

    Grade: A

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Sean Rhyan, IOL, UCLA

    Strengths: Thick, wide and powerful frame, can displace blocking assignments

    Weaknesses: Marginal athlete particularly at offensive tackle, shorter arms than ideal

    The Green Bay Packers tend to draft collegiate left tackles and let them develop elsewhere. UCLA’s Sean Rhyan will be the latest example.

    “Overall, Rhyan is a high-level developmental prospect with a diverse athletic background and the build and play strength of a potential role player at guard in the NFL,” Bleacher Report scout Brandon Thorn wrote. “He’ll need to move inside as a pro and refine his technique there to help mitigate his below-average athletic ability and length to stick on a roster long term.”

    The Packers lineup did need some help in the trenches. With this particular selection, Rhyan will be best served working as the team’s seventh or eighth lineman as he hones his technique.

    Grade: C

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Tyrion Davis-Price, RB, LSU

    Strengths: Powerful between-the-tackles runner, tends to fall forward, good downhill speed

    Weaknesses: Lacks lateral quickness or much wiggle

    Anytime a Shanahan-led team drafts a running back, fantasy experts’ ears perk up because they know the history of the system and how it seemingly produces top backs without fail. The outside zone certainly has experienced success with making marginal backs look like stars. Thus, an investment in one, particularly earlier in the draft, signals big-time production.

    LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price is different from what those who run the system generally look for, because he’s a bigger, more physical between-the-tackles runner. Different isn’t a bad thing. But his selection came significantly earlier than his one year of production dictated.

    Grade: C

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

    Strengths: Quick release, throws from multiple arm angles, athleticism to be a running threat and extend plays

    Weaknesses: Slight frame, simplistic one-read offense, timing and anticipation

    Ole Miss’ Matt Corral is an excellent example of why the need exists to disassociate a prospect’s traits from his surroundings.

    No one can deny what Corral did in the SEC over the last two seasons. The quarterback completed 69 percent of his passes for 6,686 yards and 49 touchdowns, not including the 15 rushing touchdowns he scored, against the highest level of collegiate competition. In fact, he led the FBS with 384.3 total yards per game in 2020.

    The production speaks for itself. How Corral accumulated those numbers is a different story.

    Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin employs a quarterback-friendly, albeit simplified, scheme, which allows his offense to play much faster. It doesn’t necessarily help his quarterbacks from a developmental standpoint. Corral put up numbers, but his production won’t necessarily translate to the pros.

    Furthermore, Ole Miss listed Corral at 205 pounds. The quarterback bulked up to 212 for the combine. How much he actually carries when he’s in playing shape is unknown, but his ability to take a pounding should come into question since he started for only one fully healthy season while suffering rib and ankle injuries in 2019 and ’21.

    The Carolina Panthers did an excellent job through the first two days of the draft despite limited resources. Ickey Ekwonu was a home-run selection with the No. 6 pick. Carolina wasn’t on the clock again until 88 picks later and still landed a potential future starting quarterback in Corral.

    Like every other quarterback in the class not named Kenny Pickett, Corral’s star fell much further than expected. He still presents enough potential to push Sam Darnold and give the Panthers some hope at the game’s most important position. 

    Grade: A

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Zachary Carter, DL, Florida

    Strengths: Powerful when engaged, good lateral movement on stunts, can play all along defensive front

    Weaknesses: Narrow base, marginal first-step quickness

    Florida’s Zachary Carter enters the NFL as a man without a position. 

    “More than anything, Carter will need to improve his base and his ability to anchor in the running game,” Bleacher Report scout Derrik Klassen wrote. “He too often plays with a skinny base, which makes it tough for him to stay low, maintain proper leverage and control blocks. It also hurts Carter when he’s asked to take on double-teams, which often leads to him getting knocked off balance and out of position. That is part of why Florida played Carter a bit more on or outside the tackle rather than inside despite his size.”

    Carter should find a home at 3-technique with the Cincinnati Bengals with B.J. Hill replacing Larry Ogunjobi in the starting lineup and the team needing depth behind Hill.

    Grade: C+

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Nick Cross, S, Maryland

    Strengths: Downhill thumper with fantastic straight-line speed, comfortable working in zone coverage, thick and tightly built frame to be a volume tackler

    Weaknesses: Poor eyes, gets caught looking in the backfield, not overly fluid with lateral movement, struggles to cover in man

    Maryland safety Nick Cross brings an intriguing blind of athleticism, youthfulness and experience to the table. 

    From purely an athletic perspective, Cross is explosive. The defensive back posted a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, 37-inch vertical and 10’10” broad jump at the NFL combine. However, he’s more of a linear athlete, and anything requiring a quick change of direction can be problematic. 

    Cross is younger than most prospects in this year’s class. He’s only 20 years old, and he won’t turn 21 until the first weekend of the 2022 NFL season. But he served as a three-year starter for the Maryland Terrapins after decommitting from the Florida State Seminoles. 

    Cross finished second and third, respectively, among his teammates in total tackles over the last two seasons. It’s how he makes those tackles that impresses. Cross triggers and runs through opponents with no inkling of trying to protect himself upon contact.

    The Indianapolis Colts targeted Cross and made sure to acquire him by trading up for his services. Cross is an ideal fit in Gus Bradley’s scheme because of his ability to erase mistakes with his speed along the back end, as long as he plays disciplined football with his eyes in the right place. 

    But the fact that general manager Chris Ballard threw a future third-round pick into the mix just to get Cross is a tad rich for the 96th overall pick. 

    Grade: C

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Kerby Joseph, S, Illinois

    Strengths: Fluid hips to drop into coverage, affects passes with his long arms (33 inches), makes plays on the ball, can play sideline to sideline

    Weaknesses: Can do a better job diagnosing and reacting quicker to plays, not much of a physical presence against the run

    The incoming safety class is arguably the weakest position group in this year’s NFL draft. However, someone has to be the best. 

    Illinois’ Kerby Joseph doesn’t have the all-around skill set of Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamliton, but the former posted better numbers than anyone else among the incoming crop

    According to Pro Football Focus, the 6’1″, 203-pound defender led all of the incoming safeties in overall grade over the last two seasons and ranked first in coverage grade last year. His five interceptions tied for the second-most among defenders. 

    “Nobody is gonna get the ball like I’m how I get the ball, I’m gonna find my way to the ball,” Joseph said, per NFL Draft Bible’s Jenn McGraw. “Wherever the ball is, that’s where I’m gonna be.”

    Joseph did play a lot of split safety, but his ball skills indicate he can play single-high safety as he continues to improve his all-around game. As good as his ball skills are, they tend to be offset by his poor tackling.

    Detroit’s approach to this draft has been interesting. Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal are tone-setters. However, Jameson Williams and Joseph aren’t the same type of physical players. To be fair, the latter two play out in space and they have the necessary skill sets to succeed in their particular roles. 

    Grade: C+

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Alabama

    Strengths: Tough runner, plays through contact, better-than-expected receiver

    Weaknesses: Marginal athlete with questionable vision

    Brian Robinson Jr. bided his time before he became “the man” in Alabama’s backfield. As the lead back, he ran for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to being named a first-team All-SEC performer.

    “Robinson has the kind of size (6’2”, 225 pounds) and play strength to be a true three-down running back in the NFL,” Bleacher Report scout Nate Tice wrote. “But with his lack of true burst and only average ability to make defenders miss in space, he will need to work on his pass-protection abilities to become a consistent contributor outside of special teams.”

    The running back plays hard and gives everything he has when he’s on the field. Robinson simply lacks the juice and wiggle to be a true workhorse at the NFL level. He’ll fill a niche role as the downhill power back in the Washington Commanders backfield, which currently features Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.

    Grade: D

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    David Bell, WR, Purdue

    Strengths: Thickly built target who overpowers cornerbacks and plays through contact, smart route-runner, reliable hands

    Weaknesses: Lacks burst and top-end speed, marginal lateral quickness

    Purdue’s David Bell knows how to get open and produce when his team needs him the most. 

    Last season, Bell caught 40 passes for 624 yards against ranked competition. Three of those opponents were among the nation’s Top Four teams at the time. 

    The two-time first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver served as the Boilermakers’ clear go-to target. The team fed him time and again, and the best defenses he faced couldn’t stop him even though they keyed in on him and he’s far from an impressive athlete compared to the rest of this year’s wide receiver crop. 

    Bell tied for the second-slowest 40-yard-dash time among wideouts at the NFL combine with a 4.65-second effort. He didn’t improve upon his time at Purdue’s pro day, either. His other testing results turned out to be rather poor as well. 

    Despite all of that, Bell consistently made plays when necessary. He knows how to run routes, use his body, identify soft spots in coverage and get the most out of every target.

    The Cleveland Browns needed someone—anyone—who could do some of the things Bell can do, because the team lacked targets outside of Amari Cooper. 

    Clearly, Bell has limitations when looking at his athletic profile, but he’s a savvy player who knows how to get open. In some ways he’s reminiscent of Rashard Higgins, who signed with the Carolina Panthers this offseason. 

    Grade: B

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Myjai Sanders, Edge, Cincinnati

    Strengths: Explosive first-step quickness, accelerates around edge to the quarterback, hangs tough against much bigger offensive linemen, shoots his hands with legit pop

    Weaknesses: Linear frame, lack of bulk, bit stiff in the hips, often too eager and gets called for offsides

    Myjai Sanders is the perfect example in this year’s draft class to differentiate between those who box-score scout and those who actually watch film. 

    Sanders put together a disappointing senior campaign statistically with only 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. However, coaches in the American Athletic Conference still named him to the All-AAC first team because they saw an edge-defender who consistently made an impact and disrupted opposing offenses by flying off the ball to beat blockers. 

    Cincinnati’s coaching staff also admitted to playing Sanders out of position, per ESPN’s Jordan Reid. The 6’5″, 228-pound defender is at his best when he’s asked to play a hybrid role and come screaming off the edge. However, the Bearcats often used him in a head-up alignment over opposing offensive tackles. 

    Sanders held his own and never complained because his team needed him to do so. But he should thrive when he’s placed in more traditional edge situations in the NFL.

    Sanders’ frame remains a concern because he doesn’t have the bulk to consistently hold the point of attack. He weighed only 228 pounds at the combine, although he was dealing with an illness at the time and was “having trouble keeping food down,” per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

    The back-to-back selections of Cameron Thomas and Sanders provide the Arizona Cardinals with a significant boost to their defensive front. Thomas can serve as Mr. Inside, while Sanders takes the mantle of Mr. Outside. 

    Markus Golden is getting older at 31. The Cardinals don’t have another true edge-rusher on the roster with Chandler Jones now playing for the Las Vegas Raiders. Sanders’ lightning-quick burst should give Arizona a true edge presence.

    Grade: A

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State

    Strengths: True Y-tight end, consistent physical presence in blocking schemes, can threaten the seam and make tough catches outside his frame

    Weaknesses: Limited usage in passing game, overaggressive at times, can get out of control, lacks fluidity in routes

    The Ohio State Buckeyes offense hasn’t featured the tight end position for decades. Rickey Dudley, whom the Oakland Raiders drafted in the first round in 1996, is the last Buckeyes tight end to eclipse 500 receiving yards in a season.

    So, Jeremy Ruckert’s 615 career receiving yards in four seasons shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of his receiving skills. Instead, his ability to haul in 26 receptions for 309 yards this past season in a wide receiver-friendly offense that featured three first-round talents in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (not eligible until next year) is impressive.

    The 21-year-old has the ability to grow into a featured Y-tight end in the NFL. That designation is important, because the 6’5″, 250-pounder can immediately help an offense as an in-line option and lead blocker, which is where he excelled for Ohio State. 

    Ruckert has the physical ability to be a better receiver. However, NFL coaches know what they’re getting when it comes to him doing the little things at the position to be successful.

    The New York Jets have done very well for themselves during the first days of the draft, and the franchise ended Day 2 strongly with the addition of Bleacher Report’s TE1. 

    With Ruckert, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin on the roster, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur can lean into 12-personnel packages with Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson now working outside the numbers.

    Grade: A

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia

    Strengths: Runs like a deer, plays through blockers and ball-carriers despite smaller frame, special teams ace

    Weaknesses: Lacks natural instincts for position, gets lost in coverage, struggles to redirect when necessary

    Good things happen for those who wait. Just ask Georgia’s Channing Tindall.

    Tindall waited three years before he became a starter on the Bulldogs defense. He needed time to transition from a high school edge-defender into a capable and reliable off-ball linebacker. 

    “I didn’t know a lot about inside linebacker,” Tindall told reporters in September. “I just knew it was going to take me a little while to understand it. I didn’t try to use it as an excuse to leave or anything like that.”

    Once in the lineup, Tindall’s sideline-to-sideline speed became a critical component to Georgia’s run to the national championship. The 230-pound linebacker ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. 

    Tindall doesn’t need to be in the starting lineup to impact a game, though. His energy can be beneficial as a sub-package defender or on special teams, where he excelled during his time in Athens.

    The former Georgia linebacker isn’t likely to unseat either Jerome Baker or Elandon Roberts, but he may be able to contribute in some of the Miami Dolphins’ sub-packages. Tindall can make his mark early on special teams, as he did during his Bulldogs career. 

    As he gets more comfortable and takes advantage of his speed, he can probably push Roberts out of the lineup.

    Grade: C+

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin

    Strengths: Blows up blockers and ball-carriers, elite run defender, excellent blitzer with potential to become full-time edge

    Weaknesses: Coverage liability, guesses too often, not much of a sideline-to-sideline defender

    Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal is a living, breathing anachronism. In a world where NFL teams want fast, lithe and super-athletic linebackers to play every down in a pass-first league, Chenal is an old-school hammer ready to destroy anything in front of him. 

    There are certain advantages to Chenal’s approach. In some ways, he can be a lesser Micah Parsons, who can play off the ball and then blitz or move up near the line of scrimmage in obvious passing situations. However, if he gets thrust into a consistent coverage role, he’ll likely fail in that regard. 

    Chenal’s flaws in coverage can be overlooked to some degree since he’s an elite run defender. According to Pro Football Focus, the 250-pound wrecking ball posted a better run-defense grade than any other player in the country last season (h/t Smart Football’s Adam Carter). The first-team All-Big Ten selection also finished second on the Badgers with eight sacks. 

    Chenal is an exceptional athlete with an elite relative athletic score. His speed and explosiveness just don’t translate well to pass coverage.

    The Kansas City Chiefs have athletes at linebacker, and Chenal is a pretty good one in his own right. Although, he’ll provide a new level of physicality to Steve Spagnuolo’s defense as a soul-crushing, downhill hitter. Think of him as the new Antonio Pierce within the system.

    Grade: A

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Logan Bruss, IOL, Wisconsin

    Strengths: Plays strong, wide base, tackle and guard experience

    Weaknesses: Poor foot quickness and lateral agility

    After general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay laughed off the New England Patriots’ decision to select Cole Strange in the first round, the Los Angeles Rams still found a quality blocker to fortify the trenches in Wisconsin’s Logan Bruss. 

    Bruss began his career at right tackle. His game seemed to drastically improve once the Badgers coaching staff moved him to guard. 

    “Bruss fits best at guard in the NFL with the base, body control, strength and technique to become a quality backup inside,” Bleacher Report scout Brandon Thorn wrote. “He should also offer the ability to play right tackle in a pinch.”

    The Rams are likely looking for more than a quality backup as their top pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Granted, Los Angeles wasn’t on the board until the back end of Round 3, but the team has worked wonders with its mid- and late-round selections in recent years. Bruss could easily slot into right guard and give the Rams three former Badgers in the starting lineup. 

    Grade: B

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Danny Gray, WR, SMU

    Strengths: Elite speed, moves well after the catch, good at tracking the ball

    Weaknesses: Limited route-runner, thin target who can struggle with more physical defensive backs

    Some might see the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to take a wide receiver with the last pick of Day 2 and think it may have something to do with Deebo Samuel’s standing. It doesn’t. Gray has a completely different skill set. 

    “Gray’s speed and explosive potential are exciting,” Bleacher Report scout Nate Tice wrote. “He is dangerous both with and without the ball, and he theoretically has the size and movement skills to develop into a complete receiver. However, Gray will need to expand and refine his skills as a route-runner and pass-catcher. He projects best as a speed threat from the outside off the bench while he works to clean up the rest of his game.

    Gray’s skills can help accentuate Samuel’s play, as long as the latter remains with the team. At the very least, his 4.33-second 40-yard-dash speed should help open up the entire offense and create space for others to work.

    Grade: B