2022 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Get Drafted Much Higher Than Expected

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2022

2022 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Get Drafted Much Higher Than Expected

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    The NFL draft thrives on unpredictability. 

    After all, the event comes down to names being read off a card. There's no other way it could become a television spectacle. 

    For months, NFL fans will pore over every mock draft, scouting report and highlight reel they can find. Yet there are still shocking picks every year. 

    For example, Alex Leatherwood only appeared in 40.5 percent of first-round mock drafts and was ranked 43rd on the consensus big board put together by NFL Mock Draft Database. The Las Vegas Raiders stunned everyone by taking the Alabama offensive lineman at No. 17. 

    This year will inevitably feature more surprises. Each of these players shows up in less than 40 percent of first-round mock drafts at NFL Mock Draft Database, but they have the ability to go much earlier than expected based on either his athleticism, production or projected role. 

QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    It's hard to recall many less heralded quarterback classes than 2022. Mock drafts with a quarterback in the top three are few and far between. 

    There isn't even consensus about who will be the first quarterback taken. The NFL Mock Draft Database consensus has Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett coming off the board to the Carolina Panthers at No. 6. But even then, only 26 percent of mock drafts have that selection, and he is QB3 on the B/R Scouting Department Big Board.  

    The top quarterback on that board is Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder (scouting report here). However, that ranking is far from widespread. He only appears in 30.6 percent of first-round mocks.

    If the Bearcats quarterback is the first passer off the board or even taken in the first half of the round, it's going to be more surprising than it should be. 

    NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky recently highlighted Ridder's tape against Indiana as the best among the class. Orlovsky highlighted his ability to communicate, run the offense and handle multiple defensive looks. It also doesn't hurt that Ridder posted a 9.8 out of 10 relative athletic score at the NFL Scouting Combine, per Kent Lee Platte of RAS.football. 

DT Travis Jones, UConn

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Travis Jones (scouting report here) can probably thank Georgia's Jordan Davis that he hasn't gotten as much buzz as he deserves. 

    Davis' legendary combine performance overshadowed many defensive tackles, but Jones is one of the most impressive. At 6'4" and 325 pounds, he ran a 4.92-second 40-yard dash and 7.33-second three-cone drill, contributing to a 9.4 relative athletic score. That's scary good for a man of his stature. 

    Most importantly, his athleticism and agility match up with what you see on tape. He's a mauling run-stuffer with enough pass-rushing juice to get first-round consideration. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, Jones played in 50 or more snaps in nine of his 11 games and had 25 pressures on the season. 

    Anyone who misses out on Davis in the first round might be looking to make up for it by taking Jones. That could mess up a lot of mock drafts. He's only on 6.2 percent of first-round mocks. 

S Jalen Pitre, Baylor

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    Like moths to a flame, today's defensive coordinators are drawn to versatility. 

    With the expanded use of nickel and dime sub-packages, the more skills a defender has in his tool belt, the more helpful he can be. That's why Jalen Pitre (scouting report here) is a dark-horse candidate to go in the first round. 

    Pitre played under one of the best defensive minds in college football in Dave Aranda. The Baylor head coach had Pitre playing all over the field with at least 100 snaps on the defensive line, in the slot and as a box safety, per PFF

    Wherever he was deployed, he was a disruptive presence. He held opposing passers to a 55.2 passer rating and racked up 47 stops on the season. 

    Matt Miller of ESPN recently noted that Pitre drew attention at Baylor's pro day and that he could sneak into the back end of Round 1. He's only in 5.8 percent of all first-round mock drafts. 

WR Skyy Moore, Western Michigan

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    There are a lot of reasons why Skyy Moore (scouting report here) is getting overlooked. He's not from a Power Five conference. He did not have elite athletic testing, and he does not bring a big frame to the table (5'9", 195 lbs). 

    But he's really good at playing wide receiver, and that still counts for something to a lot of teams. 

    Moore had a breakout age of 20 and a target share of 39.5 percent at Western Michigan, per Player Profiler. Both are good indicators of NFL success. 

    Teams are going to love his ability to win with his routes and make plays after the catch. Only 28 percent of Moore's catches were within five yards of the line of scrimmage, per Austin Gayle of PFF. For context, 46 percent of Drake London's and 40 percent of Treylon Burks' catches were on those kinds of passes. 

    Once he does make the catch, he's tough to corral. He broke an FBS-leading 26 tackles, per PFF

    Moore was able to win in the slot and on the outside in college. It shouldn't be surprising if a team like the Kansas City Chiefs—looking to retool after trading Tyreek Hill—makes Moore a first-round selection. 

CB Tariq Woolen, UTSA

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Never underestimate an NFL front office's ability to fall in love with size and speed. Tariq Woolen (scouting report here) is arguably the best combination of both in the entire draft class. 

    Woolen only appears in 3.4 percent of first-round mocks, so it would be a stunner if he winds up getting taken even in the early second. Then again, how many corners have come into the league at 6'4" and 205 pounds and can run a 4.26 40-yard dash?

    B/R NFL Scout Cory Giddings compared Woolen to Ifeatu Melifonwu in his scouting report. However, as Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski noted, it's going to be difficult for teams not to see some Richard Sherman in the corner. 

    His height and history as a former wide receiver are going to draw those parallels in front offices as well. 

    NFL coaches are not generally humble. Woolen is raw but has only played the position for roughly two years. The draft is about projecting forward, and the odds that a coaching staff feels it can turn Woolen into an All-Pro is probably higher than most think.

T/G Tyler Smith, Tulsa

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    Tyler Smith (scouting report here) encapsulates the mindset of an offensive lineman. He might not always have the best technique, but he approaches every block like he's out to pancake his assignment. 

    Oftentimes, he's successful in moving his man. According to PFF, he led the FBS in "big-time blocks" in 2021. While he's not the most polished pass-blocker, he allowed just two sacks on 896 pass-blocking snaps across three seasons. 

    There could be some 2021 Connor Williams to his game, though. He accounted for 16 penalties for Tulsa this season.

    Those are things that can be corrected, though. He is one of the youngest players in the class and doesn't turn 21 until this month. 

    Still, some team may love his run-blocking and size (6'4", 324 lbs) enough to take him earlier than expected, with the hope of starting him at guard and potentially developing him into a tackle with some seasoning.