With the 2022 NFL Draft just three days away, it’s crunch time before the largest draft class in NFL history begins to sort itself out.
We all know the top dogs in the class: Alabama’s Evan Neal, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, Georgia’s Travon Walker and others. However, there are many talented players who have gotten lost in the oversized shuffle.
There’s going to be a great deal of value remaining on Day 2 of the draft as these guys get pushed down the board. While there are far more than five of these players, we’re looking at a handful who have the potential to make a big-time splash for a bargain price.
Leo Chenal, Wisconsin LB
How is this guy not a consensus top linebacker in the class?
Chenal is one of the most violent players in the nation and he takes pride in working in the trenches. Chenal has no problem lifting interior offensive linemen out of their gap and making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Heavy hands and an angry play-style, it seems unlikely that his game will not translate to the next level after he tied for the best run disruption rate among all linebacker prospects.
Chenal should’ve only boosted his stock at the NFL Combine. His 4.53 40-yard dash was in the 95th percentile historically, with his splits falling in the 99th percentile. Chenal’s agilities were both above the 80th percentile and his explosiveness was on display as he jumped to a vertical jump of 40.5 inches and a broad jump of 10-feet-8.
The knock on his game is that he was not asked to do much in coverage for the Badgers throughout his career. However, when he was asked to trail a running back or tight end, the framework was there.
His elite athleticism, and top-notch eyes and instincts will help him add coverage skills at the NFL level.
Alex Wright, UAB EDGE
Wright’s pressure rates are up there with the top dogs in the class, and yet he gets little recognition because he played down in Birmingham at the Group of Five level.
Wright, who measured in at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds, can play both inside and out of the tackle box.
Even at that size, Wright shows the ability to play with a great deal of lower body flexibility to bend the outside edge and take tight angles to the quarterback. It’s not often that you see a Group of Five underclassman declare after just three years, but Wright was dominant in 2021.
He couldn’t test at the NFL Combine after straining his pectoral muscle on the bench press. That hasn’t helped his draft stock, but some team will get a steal for a price of a fringe top-100 pick.
Sean Rhyan, UCLA OL
It’s a deep offensive tackle class at the top with Alabama’s Evan Neal, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. However, it’s wide open after that with Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning and Tulsa’s Tyler Smith representing the second tier.
UCLA’s Rhyan, however, deserves to be included in that group. While he doesn’t possess ideal length, Rhyan has the athleticism to stand out and play either tackle or guard. A former state champion thrower in high school, he has the core strength and flexibility to anchor in seamlessly and control defenders at the point of attack.
His drop in draft projections has been astounding, but Rhyan is a solid and sturdy player who has an exceptional outlook as he transitions to the next level. Do not be shocked to see Rhyan starting as early as day one on his NFL team.
James Cook, Georgia RB
The top dogs in this year’s running back class are Breece Hall from Iowa State, Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III and Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller. However, Cook deserves a look on Day 2 of the draft.
Used sparingly and predominantly on passing downs, Cook has been labeled as a third-down back. But when he was asked to tote the rock inside, he showed elite agility to make defenders miss in the hole and great vision to find lanes.
He exhibited these skills by ranking second among all NFL Draft prospects (minimum 100 carries) with 4.05 yards per carry on plays that included a run disruption by the defense.
Cook is a patient runner who allows for his blockers to work for him, and he has more than enough juice to torch defenders in the open field. Playing the position with the shortest shelf life in the NFL, Cook enters the league with little tread taken off his tires as his workload was light throughout his career at Georgia.
The brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is ready to make a name for himself.
Daniel Bellinger, San Diego State TE
Speaking of light workload, San Diego State’s anemic offense could not find a way to get their best offensive player involved. Used predominantly as a blocker (which he thrives at), Bellinger caught just 31 passes in 2021 but he did not drop a single look either.
He then went to the combine and made himself quite a bit of money, testing exceptionally well with a 4.63 40-yard dash (91st percentile) and in terms of agilities and explosiveness. In a class that’s not quite top heavy but has a good deal of depth, Bellinger could become easily buried in the draft.
He should instead be recognized with the likes of Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert and Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely. Bellinger has the chance to be an every-down tight end at the next level given his prowess as both a blocker and receiver.
Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.