2022 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 13, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Every year, some NFL draft prospects get overlooked because they didn't play at a top-tier program, failed to ball out until their final year on campus, dealt with injuries, became a surprise early entrant or didn't get the respect they deserved for their overall performance. 

    Ultimately, those players still rise in the NFL draft process, though they're not as well-known as their classmates. 

    An "overlooked" prospect is relative to how much a person follows the draft. Those considered for this particular conversation aren't currently projected as first-round picks, and none of them rank among Bleacher Report's top 35 prospects.

    However, all of them have the potential to rise over the next three months through All-Star efforts, combine performances and pro day workouts as they supplement what's already seen on tape. 

    B/R's scouting department identified one player at every position who's currently overlooked but should receive far more attention throughout the draft process.

Quarterback: QB Brock Purdy

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Brock Purdy took over as Iowa State's starting quarterback as a true freshman and helped build the program into a ranked squad with national appeal. Coming out of the 2019 season, early projections had him as a potential first-round draft pick going into his junior campaign. 

    Although he was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2020, he didn't play as well as expected. Quarterbacks who start for an extended period of time are often placed under a microscope, which allows scouts to slowly pick apart their games.

    In Purdy's case, questions about pocket presence and overall arm talent came to the forefront. Still, he displays good mobility to evade rushers, climbs the pocket and makes plays outside of structure. He played in 48 games against high-level competition and helped to elevate his program's standing. 

    Two stats stick out in Purdy's favor. From an overall standpoint, he threw for more yards than any other quarterback since the start of the 2018 campaign, per Pro Football Focus. More importantly, Purdy ranked second behind only Joe Burrow in highest accurate pass percentage from a clear pocket over the last six draft classes (h/t Smart Football). 

    The overall quarterback class may be disappointing, and the 6'1", 220-pound Purdy may not be the most impressive prospect from a physical standpoint, but he's well worth a middle-round investment as a developmental starting option.

Running Back: RB Tyler Allgeier

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    Every running back is a little different in how they run. Some glide and cut, others show tremendous vision and patience, and others are just freight trains barreling through opposing defenses. 

    BYU's Tyler Allgeier is the latter. The 5'11", 220-pound ball-carrier is the most physical runner in this year's draft class.

    However, Allgeier isn't just a downhill, between-the-tackles type. According to NFL Network's Ben Fennell, he tied for third over the last two seasons with 25 carries of 20 or more yards. He also led those in that category by averaging 4.3 yards per attempt after contact. 

    Iowa State's Breece Hall and South Dakota State's Pierre Strong Jr. finished first and second in 20-plus-yard runs, respectively. Hall relies on excellent vision and contact balance, while Strong is arguably the fastest straight-line back in the class. Both are very different stylistically when compared to Allgeier. 

    A year ago, Allgeier's potential was obvious. The BYU back finished with 1,130 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He reached another gear in 2021 with 1,606 yards and a nation-leading 23 rushing touchdowns. He also became a bigger threat in the passing game with a career-high 28 receptions. 

    Allgeier should be able to make an immediate impact in the NFL as a short-yardage/red-zone back, and he has the potential to develop into a full-time starter as he continues to improve on third down. 

Wide Receiver: Khalil Shakir, Boise State

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    Bleacher Report currently has seven wide receivers graded as first-round options, though Jameson Williams' torn ACL puts a slight damper on the position's outlook. 

    As exciting as Ja'Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson have been right away, teams have found instant-impact contributors outside of the first round in recent years, too. Over the last three drafts, the likes of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr., Chase Claypool, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, Terry McLaurin and Hunter Renfrow all heard their names called after Round 1.

    Due to the prevalence of multi-receiver, pass-first offenses, legitimate receiving threats are more plentiful than ever.  As such, certain prospects get lost in the shuffle if they aren't high-profile options.

    Boise State's Khalil Shakir is a prime example of an excellent wide receiver with an ideal skill set to contribute in the NFL despite not being considered a first-round option. 

    As a senior, Shakir set career highs with 77 receptions for 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns. B/R's Nate Tice named him the class' best slot receiver in the B/R Scouting Department's latest position rankings, though he has inside-out versatility along with some kick and punt returning experience. 

    At 6'0" and 190 pounds, Shakir isn't the biggest target. However, the first-team All-Mountain West performer is a smooth route-runner with excellent body control and some of the strongest hands in the class. Boise State also manufactured numerous touches since Shakir is quite capable of creating in space.

Tight End: Cole Turner, Nevada

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    Tom R. Smedes/Associated Press

    Nevada's Cole Turner is a wide receiver in a tight end's body.

    Usually, that cliche derogatorily suggests that a tight end contributes in the passing game but is a terrible blocker. In this particular case, Turner is a wide receiver-convert and a tight end in name only as a significant receiving threat in Nevada's Air Raid-based offense. 

    He's a wonderful target for any quarterback, too. Turner is a 6'6", 240-pound detached threat capable of creating mismatches based purely on his size. His height coupled with a massive wingspan and catch radius could make him a quarterback's best friend, though he can be more consistent with his hands. 

    Turner did miss a game while in the concussion protocol and didn't play in Nevada's bowl game, but he still tied for third among tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions. 

    An obvious concern will arise about Turner's lack of bulk if he's ever going to be a true in-line option. At worst, he looks like a big target capable of being an immediate red-zone threat, as well as a big slot option and a way to stretch the seam. 

    The second-team All-Mountain West performer certainly retains his wide receiver mindset. 

    "I don't tell [the quarterback] to throw me the ball when I'm open," Turner told NSN's Chris Murray, "but I'm saying, 'If it's a one-on-one matchup, come to me.' You've got to have that mindset that you always want the ball. I think that kind of makes the difference."

    The NFL is a mismatch league. Turner is a potential threat in any offense. He may never become a well-rounded tight end, but he'll have a place in the league based on what he already does.  

Offensive Tackle: Max Mitchell, Louisiana

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    Go ahead and guess which offensive tackle graded better than anyone else at his position during college football's regular season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

    Alabama's Evan Neal may very well become this year's No. 1 overall pick, but it wasn't him. 

    North Carolina's Ikem Ekwonu was absolutely dominant, particularly as a run-blocker, but he falls a little short. 

    Mississippi State's Charles Cross is the most natural pass-blocker among his classmates, but it wasn't him, either. It was Louisiana's Max Mitchell, who earned an impressive 95.6 (out of 100) grade.

    Mitchell's growth potential makes him an exciting prospect.

    The Louisiana native entered the Rajun' Cajuns program with no fanfare as a hometown 270-pound offensive line recruit. Mitchell became a full-time starter in 2019 with experience at both tackle spots. He's now a listed 299 pounds with room to add bulk, which would help in a few key areas. 

    His play strength and anchor are questionable. However, he has good athletic upside with quickness out of his stance and zone-blocking capabilities. He's still growing and learning, but he's more than capable of holding his own, even against a higher level of competition. 

    Due to where Mitchell currently stands in his maturation, he'll be more valuable to certain teams than others, specifically those that employ a zone-heavy approach. As such, his draft status will likely vary between organizations. For some, he'll be an ideal developmental prospect to serve as a swing tackle with long-term starting potential. 

Interior Offensive Line: Lecitus Smith, Virginia Tech

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Tight end converts typically move to offensive tackle, where their athleticism can be on full display against ferocious edge-rushers. However, Virginia's Lecitus Smith isn't typical.  

    Smith started as a 255-pound tight end recruit and developed into a 6'3", 320-pound masher. He looks like he's played guard his entire life because his playing style is completely different from others who've made the transition. 

    The late-blooming lineman found a home at left guard, though he did start one game at left tackle in 2021. Some of his remaining athleticism can be seen when he's asked to pull and block defenders in space. But his real strength is his barroom-brawler mentality. 

    Smith is both powerful at the point of attack and through contact. He's especially adept at combo blocks and driving defenders off the ball. Whomever the 37-game starter faced each weekend was in for a long day at the office. 

    Smith will require some refinement as a pass-blocker, especially since NFL interior defenders are more than capable of consistently working half a man. But his attitude, approach and strengths in the run game, particularly for a physical, downhill running attack, are significant feathers in his cap that coaches will love.

Defensive Line: Jayden Peevy, Texas A&M

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    The Texas A&M Aggies boasted multiple NFL prospects, particularly along the defensive line, which is why Jayden Peevy didn't receive the same recognition as others on the same unit. 

    DeMarvin Leal has been considered an early-round prospect since well before the 2021 campaign began. Opposite Leal, Micheal Clemons is a legitimate edge prospect in his own right and finished his final season with seven sacks in 10 appearances. 

    Even so, it was difficult not to notice Peevy working hard along the defensive interior as he freed up others and muddled opposing game plans.

    "He was a one-man wrecking crew against the run," a scout told The Athletic's Bruce Feldman. "He's big. Long. Heavy-handed. Got quicks off the ball. Can chase laterally. This guy is too big and too athletic not to play, whether it's a 4-3 or a 3-4."

    The 6'6", 315-pound defensive tackle can be a consistently disruptive force on all three downs, though he excels against the run. He should fit as a 0-, 1- or 3-technique, depending on the system. 

    "Reliable anchor, sees blocks in well, flashes the occasional juice to get into the backfield," Bleacher Report's Derrik Klassen said. "Feels a little like he just got buried playing next to all the other NFL dudes."

    Make no mistake: Peevy is an NFL dude, too. He just does the dirty work in the middle that's crucial to a defense's success yet often goes unnoticed. 

Edge-Rusher: Cameron Thomas, San Diego State

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    Certain prospects tend to grow on an evaluator over time. San Diego State's Cameron Thomas certainly fits the bill. 

    Upon initial viewings, Thomas didn't look like an explosive or flexible edge-defender. While that's still somewhat true, he has clear ways to win in the NFL.

    Thomas is never going to be mistaken for Myles Garrett with his first-step quickness or Robert Quinn with his bend around the edge. However, he can be successful based on having a pass-rushing plan at all times, working his hands consistently, the length and power to be a straight-line pass-rusher and, most importantly, a relentless motor to never give up on plays. 

    Not every defensive end wins against blockers in the same manner. T.J. Watt continues to show his best attribute is a nonstop motor that accentuates his physical capabilities. Thomas isn't on Watt's level, even as a prospect, but his approach to the game should make him effective in the NFL.

    The reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year was a former interior defender who bumped out to end and continued to succeed. In 2020, Thomas finished second among all interior defenders with 37 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. As a redshirt junior, he accumulated 20.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. 

    The 6'5", 270-pound Thomas looks like an instant contributor as a base end with the ability to reduce down to defensive tackle in sub-packages. 

Linebacker: LB Chad Muma, Wyoming

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    The Wyoming Cowboys haven't been appointment viewing since Josh Allen resided in Laramie. That's a shame, because Chad Muma emerged as one of the nation's best linebackers this fall. 

    Sure, the Georgia linebackers are fun to watch, and they're going to receive far more recognition as national champions and members of the nation's best defense. Wyoming also produced another NFL linebacker in Logan Wilson between that stretch, but Muma is even better. 

    "I reached out to Logan about him," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy told The Athletic's Bruce Feldman. "He told me the minute this kid showed up on campus, he knew how to work. He was all about football. He said he's gonna test off the charts. There are not a lot of holes in this kid." 

    Muma didn't receive the same type of help as other top linebackers. Yet he was as effective and maybe more so than some of the bigger names currently found at the second level. 

    Muma finished second nationwide this season with 142 total tackles. However, his ability to play in space is what should most attract NFL teams. 

    As a former defensive back, the two-time All-Mountain West performer is comfortable in passing situations. He doesn't look out of place in either phase of the game. The 6'3", 242-pound Muma may not be the most physical defender, but he's more than comfortable playing downhill while maintaining solid run fits. 

    True three down-linebackers can be difficult to find. Muma is one of them. 

Cornerback: Kyler Gordon, Washington

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    Most scouting departments concentrate on upperclassmen unless a prospect is clearly expected to declare for the NFL draft. Washington's Kyler Gordon is an obvious example of an underclassman who flies under the radar because he wasn't a lock to declare.

    As a redshirt sophomore, Gordon wasn't guaranteed to enter the draft. He's since done so, which means scouts will give him a closer look in the coming weeks. 

    Gordon looks like an ideal candidate for zone-heavy defensive schemes. At 6'0" and 200 pounds, he has the size and physicality to fly up against the run and reroute receivers. He's at his best when identifying route combinations in front of him and driving on the ball.

    As a full-time starter for the first time in 2021, Gordon led the Huskies with seven pass breakups and two interceptions. The Washington secondary also featured Trent McDuffie, who is a potential first-round pick. 

    According to Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle, Gordon trailed only his teammate in average yards allowed per coverage snap among the 2022 draft class. 

    Gordon still has significant upside as a young prospect early in his development. His hip fluidity will come into question, though. As a slightly thicker corner, Gordon isn't as natural turning and running with wide receivers, so his effectiveness will decrease when he's asked to lock onto targets in man-based coverages. 

Safety: Kenderick Duncan, Louisville

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Not a lot of safeties look and play like Louisville's Kenderick Duncan. At 6'3" and 225 pounds, the Georgia Southern transfer is an imposing figure in the secondary. 

    Even before Duncan joined the Cardinals program, coaches around the country knew Louisville had something in the hulking defensive back. 

    "Coaches think Duncan can be an All-ACC player thanks to his extremely high football IQ, tackling ability and surprising coverage skills," The Athletic's Bruce Feldman wrote last June.

    Duncan fell short of those expectations, but the logic behind the early praise was sound.

    Louisville took advantage of Duncan's physicality and often played him in or near the box. He finished third on the team with 76 total tackles and certainly made his presence known. 

    Because of his size and usage in college, some scouts may project Duncan purely as a sub-package linebacker or even full-time linebacker convert. To do so would be short-sighted. 

    His size belies the capability to identify routes and coverage of both running backs and tight ends. Does Duncan play a little tight and lack fluidity as a bulked-up safety prospect? Sure. However, he isn't a complete hindrance in this particular area. 

    Duncan should be viewed as a prospect with positional versatility to play multiple roles if properly utilized. No one other than Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton, who is expected to be a top-10 pick, brings quite the same size and accompanying skill set to the safety class.  

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