Sports

NFL Draft 2022 hidden gems: Which college football standouts are teams sleeping on?

here on The Athletic‘s college football team, all of us have covered plenty of great college players who might get a jersey with their name on it and a training camp per diem before getting on to their life’s work. But there are also players we’ve watched that NFL teams are sleeping on and can make a roster.

With the first 100-plus picks of the 2022 NFL Draft in the books, national college football writer David Ubben, Florida reporter G. Allan Taylor and Iowa reporter Scott Dochterman break down 15 players not selected in the first three rounds who have been overlooked.

Perrion WinfreyDT, Oklahoma: It’s hard to believe he’s still on the board. The new Big 12 is dominated by defense, and few dominated like Winfrey. Despite facing double teams and working most often at nose guard in the interior of the Sooners’ defensive line, I have logged 11 tackles for loss last season. He was one of the standouts at the Senior Bowl, and at 6-foot-4 and a shade under 300 pounds, he has great length to keep blockers off of him and is much quicker than his size would suggest. It’s a great combination of attributes, and he may not be waiting long to hear his name from him on Saturday. —Ubben

Coby BryantBC, Cincinnati: All he did last year was win the Thorpe Award as college football’s best defensive back. No non-power conference player had done that since 1995. Defenses had to challenge him when the alternative was throwing at No. 4 pick Willow Gardner, but Cincinnati had one of the most mentally tough teams in the country last year, and Bryant personifies that. In the Bearcats’ biggest game of the regular season, a road win at Notre Dame, he broke up three passes. He was productive throughout his career and yes, he’s named for who you think he’s named for. He certainly showed Mamba mentality at the college level. —Ubben

Isaiah SpillerRB, Texas A&M: A 4.63 time in his pro day 40 was startling, though Spiller’s camp said his training was interrupted by abductor and hamstring issues. (I don’t think the 40 time is disqualifying; remember that former All-Pro Arian Foster ran at 4.69.) Spiller’s college film is more reassuring. He posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Texas A&M and showed reliable pass-catching skills as a three-year starter. He runs with patience, balance and vision, and carried a second- to third-round projection on several mock drafts, though our Dane Brugler has him as a fourth-rounder. Brugler also thinks Spiller can become a three-down back in the NFL, and I concur. He’s no track star — just a capable running back in a league that finds plenty of hits at the position late in the draft. —Taylor

Carson StrongQB, Nevada: This quarterback class is a crapshoot, and Strong’s tools could reward a team that rolls the dice on him. Ultimately, he makes good decisions, has a huge arm and is very accurate. What else do teams need? His surgically repaired knee from him could produce problems down the line, which likely scared teams off using a high pick on him, but he’s decisive and puts the ball where it needs to be. Those are the two most important attributes for a solid NFL starter. He carried the Wolf Pack offense, and no quarterback drafted so far had a better completion percentage. —Ubben

Christopher AllenEdge, AL: Don’t forget that Allen topped the SEC in tackles for loss during 2020 and then opened 2021 in cahoots with Will Anderson and Christian Harris as part of a ridiculously deep linebacker trio. But his senior season ended abruptly in the opener against Miami, thanks to a broken right foot he suffered while strip-sacking D’Eriq King. Allen already had recovered his explosiveness from an ACL injury that sidelined him for the entirety of 2018, but the medical issue with his foot is trickier to assess. At 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds with strong hands and a 77-inch wingspan, Allen holds up well against the run and shows effort on chase-down plays. He delivers situational productivity with starter potential, something teams are looking for on Day 3. —Taylor

matt araizaP, San Diego State: Ask the Seattle Seahawks, who used a fifth-round pick on punter Michael Dickson in 2018, if they regret it. They don’t. They just signed him to a four-year, $14.5 million extension last summer. Araiza is the best punter to come through college football since Dickson, and he’s certifiably better. He’s more accurate and has an indisputably bigger leg. The Punt God earned his nickname. He broke the NCAA record for scoring average at 51.2 yards and had 39 punts longer than 50 yards. He had 18 points longer than 60 yards. Both are NCAA records. He had two punts longer than 80 yards, and most importantly, he pinned opponents inside the 20 on 38 occasions. He’s a game-changer and a sure thing. The only question is how high teams are willing to take him. Spoiler alert: If a player becomes a 15-year starter, there’s no such thing as taking them early. That’s what whoever drafts Araiza is getting. —Ubben

Tyler BaddieRB, Missouri: He almost singlehandedly carried Missouri’s offense, averaging six yards a carry on his 268 carries. I have logged five 200-yard games as a junior in 2021 and handled a massive workload late in the season. Doing that in the SEC is no small task, and he only had one season as a featured back for the Tigers. There’s still plenty of tread on his tires, and that kind of production in that league does not happen by accident. —Ubben

Ty FryfogleWR, Indiana: Fryfogle did not have a good year. Indiana did not have a good year. In 2021, Fryfogle was tabbed honorable mention all-conference, and the Hoosiers didn’t win a Big Ten game. But in 2020, Fryfogle (6-2, 205) was the Big Ten’s receiver of the year when the Hoosiers finished in the top 15. In eight games, Fryfogle caught 37 passes for 721 yards and seven touchdowns at 19.5 yards per catch. Coinciding with IU’s 2021 backslide, Fryfogle’s production plummeted to 512 receiving yards and only one touchdown on 46 receptions (11.1 yards per catch) last year. Fryfogle is strong, fast and explosive, and 2020 was no fluke. He’s got lottery-ticket potential for an NFL team in the late rounds or as an undrafted free agent. — Dochtermann

charlie kolarTE, Iowa State: The 6-foot-7 Kolar — who grew up in Norman, Okla., but was’t recruited by the Sooners — wound up in Ames and became an All-Big 12 player anyway. Across the last three seasons, he has made 157 catches for 2,044 yards and finished with 23 career touchdown catches. His tough, leaping grabs in traffic became a weekly happening even though defenses knew he’d be targeted. He ran a 4.67 and won’t be a deep threat, but some NFL team is going to draft itself a long-armed, strong-handed savvy route-runner who will make money in the red zone. —Taylor

Verone McKinley IIIS, Oregon: As dangerous as any DB in the country, McKinley tied for the national lead with six interceptions and also broke up six passes. With numbers like that, getting overlooked could be considered a surprise, especially as a first-team All-American. But many analysts believe McKinley (5-10, 198) lacks ideal size, and a 4.65 40 time knocked him down a few rounds. But with the Ducks, McKinley played everything from boundary corner to nickel to deep safety, and no defensive back was more aggressive against the run. More quick than fast, McKinley could play anywhere in the secondary. He’s also the type of player who will win over his coaches and teammates on his first day of training camp with effort and toughness. — Dochtermann

Dane BeltonDB, Iowa: At the forefront of Iowa’s ball-hawking secondary was Belton (6-0 1/2, 205), who tied for the Big Ten lead with five interceptions. Belton, a first-team All-Big Ten defensive back, alternated from cash (a strongside linebacker-slot corner hybrid) to strong safety when the defense flipped from 4-3 to 4-2-5. He handled everything from slot receivers and tight ends in space to providing run support along the line of scrimmage. He started 26 games over three seasons, and last year he broke up seven passes, recorded five tackles for loss and was credited for three quarterback hurries. At the combine, Belton posted the second-fastest 40 time by an Iowa defensive back at 4.43 seconds. —Dochterman

Kingsley EnagbareEdge, SC: Had signing day gone differently in 2018, Enagbare might’ve been another talented component of Georgia’s historic 2021 defense. Instead, he chose South Carolina, where his production was OK (24 career TFLs and 15 sacks) and the team’s record was n’t (20-28). The thing about Enagbare is that he has an enticing 6-4, 258-pound frame, an 83-inch wingspan, and an impressive motor. He offers 3-4 and 4-3 versatility, and if he can show an ability to move inside on passing downs, he’ll be a quality middle-rounds pickup. —Taylor

Thayer MunfordOL, Ohio State: As much of an Ohio State stalwart as any player in Buckeye history, Munford (6-5 1/2, 328) made 45 career starts and played in 54 games over five seasons. For his first three seasons as a starter, Munford anchored the offensive line as the left tackle. Last year, Munford slid inside to left guard for 11 starts. A two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection with 35 1/8-inch arms, Munford has enough size to play tackle at the next level. He needs to become more consistent as a pass protector, but Munford has the intangibles and physical skill to become a team asset and develop into a four-position backup in his first NFL season. —Dochterman

cade yorkK, LSU: After Bengals fifth-rounder Evan McPherson emerged as “Money Mac” by going 14 of 14 on postseason kicks, it’s York’s turn to enjoy some Day 3 love. I watched the dude cut through the Gainesville fog while crushing a 57-yarder to upset Florida in 2020 (a night on which McPherson misfired from 51). York was accurate in college on short kicks and a weapon on lengthy ones, going 15 of 19 from 50-plus. All that while kicking on natural turf. Put him in a dome with narrow hash marks, and he’ll approach automatic. —Taylor

Nick Zakelj, OL, Fordham: As a high school junior, Zakelj played linebacker, stood 6-foot-6 and weighed about 220 pounds. As an invited offensive lineman to the NFL combine two months ago, he had gained four inches and 96 pounds. In that six-year period from the Cleveland suburbs to Fordham, Zakelj became only of only 24 players in Patriot League history to earn all-conference honors for four consecutive seasons. Some NFL teams see him at guard, others at tackle. Either way, Zakelj can adapt mentally to any scheme or position, as his master’s degree in business analytics might indicate. He just needs a chance. —Dochterman

(Photo of Tyler Badie: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button