2022 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: The Most Overlooked Player at Every Position

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    The NFL draft process is a tricky beast.

    Every year, thousands of analysts, scouts, coaches, front-office types and fans dive deep into each prospect. Yet, teams are still wrong on several players annually. 

    Detroit receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown didn't go until the fourth round last year and posted 90 catches for 912 yards and five touchdowns. Kansas City's Trey Smith was a sixth-rounder who wound up being a solid starter on the offensive line of a Super Bowl contender.

    Whether it's because they are from a small school, didn't have great college production or are coming off an injury, overlooked players exist at each position.

    Based on where they rank on the B/R Scouting Department's big board and general placement in mock drafts, these players could wind up being great value picks in the April 28-30 draft.

Quarterback: Sam Howell, North Carolina

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 82

    Scouting Report

    Sam Howell is a prime example of how fickle a player's draft stock can be. Heading into the 2022 season, the North Carolina signal-caller was widely considered a no-brainer first-round selection. 

    "If the draft were tomorrow, he'd be the only first-round quarterback on our board," a director of scouting told The Athletic's Dane Brugler before the season

    Fast-forward to the month before the draft, and Howell is the fifth quarterback on the consensus big board tracked by NFL Mock Draft Database

    Howell cast doubt on his transition to the pros with his final season at North Carolina. After throwing for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 2020, he threw for just 3,056 yards, 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions and saw his completion percentage drop to 62.5 percent from 68.1 percent. 

    Context matters, though. The North Carolina offensive line ranked 124th in the country in sack rate allowed on passing downs, per Football Outsiders. The Tar Heels had to replace running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter and receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome after each was taken in the 2021 draft. Howell's stock took a major hit from his downgraded supporting cast.

    He is likely to go in the second round and needs to head to a team that has an offensive line that will allow him to throw in rhythm. The Lions have the foundation for that with Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker at the tackle spots and multiple Day 2 picks to work with. 

    Best Fit: Detroit Lions

Running Back: Dameon Pierce, Florida

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 128

    Dameon Pierce only got 100 carries for Florida in his senior season but scored 13 touchdowns. That's an absurd ratio. 

    He added three scores on 19 catches, giving him 16 touchdowns on 119 touches and making him an Antonio Gibson-like scorer in college. 

    What's interesting is his minimized workload both helps and hurts his draft stock. The likely fourth-rounder has been part of the backfield rotation in Florida since he was a freshman but was never given the reins and had just 329 carries across four seasons. 

    But when he had the ball, he looked like an NFL runner. He led the nation in Pro Football Focus rushing grade and forced 39 missed tackles on his 100 attempts. 

    Ultimately, Pierce has shown a pro-ready skill set and doesn't have the wear and tear of a back who was the focal point of his college offense. It's fair to wonder where his stock would be if he had the same featured roles of Breece Hall (scouting report) and Kenneth Walker III (scouting report). 

    The Falcons could use a physical between-the-tackles runner such as Pierce to pair with receiving back Cordarrelle Patterson. 

    Best Fit: Atlanta Falcons

Wide Receiver: Alec Pierce, Cincinnati

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    B/R Big Board Rank: 45

    Scouting Report

    The B/R Scouting Department is relatively high on Alec Pierce compared to the rest of the industry. The consensus big board at NFL Mock Draft Database has Pierce ranked 78th and a projected third-rounder, while B/R has him at No. 45. 

    This draft class has plenty of options when it comes to big-bodied receivers who are also vertical threats. Drake London (scouting report) is the prized prospect, but Justyn Ross (scouting report), George Pickens (scouting report) and Christian Watson (scouting report) also fit the bill. 

    Pierce shouldn't be discounted among those options. The 6'3", 211-pound receiver was integral in the Bearcats offense as a vertical threat with 17 yards per catch. 

    He's an incredible athlete too. He placed in at least 90th percentile or higher in 40-yard dash, speed score, burst score and catch radius, per Player Profiler.

    Pierce is a great fit for any team in need of a big, physical deep threat to round out its receiving corps. Justin Fields was the third-most accurate deep-ball passer but only completed 10 passes of 21 or more yards, per Johnny Kinsley's Deep Ball Project. 

    Giving him a receiver who can go up and catch those deep balls should be a top priority. 

    Best Fit: Chicago Bears

Tight End: Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State

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    B/R Big Board Rank: 49

    Scouting Report

    It's hard for an Ohio State prospect to go under the radar, but when he plays in an offense that features Chris Olave (scouting report), Garrett Wilson (scouting report) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, it becomes a lot easier. 

    As with Alec Pierce, the B/R Scouting Department is much higher on Jeremy Ruckert than the consensus. The Buckeye is 81st on the consensus big board at NFL Mock Draft Database and carries a third-round projection. 

    That's a good valuation if you take what he did at Ohio State at face value. However, he could have a better pro career than a college one because he was buried in the offense. He only had a 10 percent share of the targets in his final season at Ohio State, per Player Profiler, and was primarily used as a blocker, where he really excelled. 

    He's NFL-caliber in that area, but it's unfair to conclude he can't become a better receiver. He's a scoring threat, having posted 12 touchdowns in his career with the Buckeyes. 

    He would be a great fit with the Green Bay Packers, as he could step into Marcedes Lewis' role as an in-line blocker right away and blossom into a much better receiving threat. 

    Best Fit: Green Bay Packers

Offensive Line: Zach Tom, Wake Forest

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 142

    Scouting Report

    The fact that Zach Tom doesn't get more hype is confounding. 

    Tom is a tackle from a Power Five program who registered a pass-blocking grade of 92.1 from Pro Football Focus on 633 passing snaps. 

    The common knock on him is his size. He's only 6'4" and 304 pounds, which might mean he has to kick inside to guard. However, from an athletic standpoint, he's a near doppelganger for the Chargers' Rashawn Slater. 

    He has nearly identical measurements and actually had slightly better athletic testing. Their relative athletic scores are almost the same, with Tom holding slight advantages in the broad jump and shuttle time. 

    That isn't to say that Tom will be as good as the 6'4", 315-pound Slater, but there is precedent for a prospect like him to stick at tackle, given how athletic he is. 

    He would work best in a system that uses a zone running game and could shift him to center, where he started 14 games before moving to left tackle in 2020. 

    The Dolphins have filled their need at left tackle with Terron Armstead but could still use an athletic right tackle to complete the offensive line. Center is a question, too, as Michael Deiter is in the final year of his contract. 

    Best Fit: Miami Dolphins

Interior Defensive Lineman: Neil Farrell Jr., LSU

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 57

    Scouting Report

    The defensive tackle group didn't have a ton of hype after the season. However, several standouts have arisen in the predraft process. 

    Jordan Davis (scouting report) dominated the combine. Travis Jones (scouting report) and Perrion Winfrey (scouting report) had great Senior Bowl showings. 

    Those predraft all-stars have left players such as Neil Farrell Jr. in the shadows. He was at the Senior Bowl, too, but didn't generate much buzz, and his athletic testing numbers were bad.

    Still, the B/R Scouting Department is much higher on him than most. He's No. 161 on the NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board. 

    The predraft process is not made for a prospect like Farrell, though. He's a true run-stuffing nose tackle who used his 6'4", 330-pound frame to lead the SEC in run stops since 2019, per PFF. Fellow draft prospect Kenyon Green said the toughest defenders he had to face were Farrell and Will Anderson Jr. of Alabama. 

    His ability to do the dirty work of eating blocks and shutting down running lanes doesn't draw attention but is incredibly valuable to a team that runs a lot of odd fronts. He makes sense as an heir apparent to Tyson Alualu for the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

    Best Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers

Edge-Rusher: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 83

    Scouting Report

    The bottom line for edge-rushers in the NFL is whether they can get to the quarterback. That's what gets them paid. 

    Nik Bonitto proved at Oklahoma he can wreak havoc. The 6'3", 248-pound outside linebacker may be limited in his role because of his size, but he racked up 16 sacks and 65 hurries over his final two seasons with the Sooners, per PFF

    But he isn't the prototypical pass-rusher who's going to put his hand in the dirt and play defensive end. According to Sports Info Solutions, he was a stand-up outside linebacker on 98 percent of his snaps but ranked first in pressure rate among edge-rushers (h/t Dan Pizzuta of Sharp Football Analysis). 

    He's not a typical block-shedding run defender either, but he was disruptive. He collected 26.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. 

    Bonitto will need to go to a place that will run multiple looks defensively and utilize him as a blitzer. The Carolina Panthers had the third-highest blitz percentage in the league, per Pro Football Reference, and need to replace Haason Reddick, who left in free agency. 

    Coincidentally, Reddick was B/R NFL Scout Derrik Klassen's pro comparison for Bonitto.  

    Best Fit: Carolina Panthers

Off-Ball Linebacker: Troy Andersen, Montana State

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 143

    Scouting Report

    It's fair that Troy Andersen is being overlooked among the off-ball linebackers. After all, it was the fourth position he played while at Montana State. 

    He was an All-Big Sky performer in 2018 as a quarterback and played running back and fullback before ultimately finding a home at linebacker. He was also a standout safety in high school. That's a strong example of the kind of athleticism Andersen brings.

    At 6'3½" and 243 pounds, he has the kind of tall, long frame that can be beneficial in coverage. While he's still raw in the fundamentals of the position, the ingredients are all there for him to become a weapon in the right system. 

    Andersen is one of the biggest winners of the athletic testing cycle. With his performances at both the combine and his pro day, he earned a 9.98 relative athletic score. His top athletic comparisons include Von Miller, Bruce Irvin and Luke Kuechly, per Smart Football

    It will be important for Andersen to go to a team with a defensive staff that is creative enough to cover for his deficiencies as he progresses. As Klassen noted in his scouting report, Brandon Staley's defense would make a lot of sense. 

    After allowing Kyzir White to walk in free agency, the Chargers would be wise to take him on as a developmental prospect who could hit big. 

    Best Fit: Los Angeles Chargers

Cornerback: Josh Jobe, Alabama

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 115

    Scouting Report

    It isn't often that a defensive back from Alabama is underrated or overlooked, but Josh Jobe is in a relatively unique situation. 

    His 2021 numbers were not good. According to PFF, he gave up a passer rating of 109.9 in his final season in Tuscaloosa, allowing 529 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. However, it's important to note he had a toe injury that required surgery by the end of the season. 

    It's an injury he says impacted his game. 

    "I was hurt the whole season. It affected me a lot. I had to change my game; I had to change my technique. But I just had to deal with it," he said, per Mike Rodak of AL.com.

    When you consider a healthy Jobe locked down receivers to a 63.4 passer rating and just 209 yards across 13 games in 2020, that statement holds water. 

    Instead of looking at Jobe's 2021 as an indicator of the kind of player he is, teams should consider this an opportunity to get a Nick Saban-coached defensive back at a bargain price. 

    Several teams fit that profile, considering the value of good corners. However, the Patriots make a lot of sense given the lack of long-term solutions at cornerback there. Jalen Mills' contract has an out after the upcoming season, as does Malcolm Butler's deal.  

    Best Fit: New England Patriots

Safety: JT Woods, Baylor

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    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 139

    Scouting Report

    Range, versatility and ball skills. Those are three things that every NFL defensive coordinator would love to have in their safeties, and JT Woods features all three. 

    At 6'2", 195 pounds and with a 6'5⅜" wingspan, Woods brings a great frame for a deep safety. But he's not so small that he can't come up and help in the run game. His 4.36-second 40-yard dash speed allows him to cover a huge portion of the field. 

    Woods' versatility was a feature of head coach Dave Aranda's defense at Baylor. He primarily lined up as the deep safety but also had over 200 snaps in the slot and in the box, per PFF

    The 49ers would make sense. They are fairly light on safety talent outside Jimmie Ward. George Odum signed a reasonable three-year deal and is ostensibly San Francisco's second starting safety after making seven starts for the Colts last season. 

    Woods could be a special teams contributor and rotational safety before challenging for a starting spot in 2023. 

    Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers