NFL Draft 2022: Day 3 Prospects Who Could Become Major Steals

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVApril 11, 2022

NFL Draft 2022: Day 3 Prospects Who Could Become Major Steals

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    All of the talk around the 2022 NFL draft has been about the first-round prospects. The premier names have earned their distinction, but every quality evaluator makes their money on Day 3 of the draft, as the best values in football are future starters found in the late rounds.

    Some of the league's biggest stars fell to Day 3 in their respective class. Dak Prescott is a rare Pro Bowl quarterback to be drafted after the first round. Tight ends George Kittle and Darren Waller were fifth and sixth-round selections, respectively. Stars Aaron Jones and Stefon Diggs also found their way to the latter portion of their classes.

    Players like them were overlooked due to athletic testing, inconsistent on-field performance, or miscast in a suboptimal system. The right coaching staff can unearth these steals and get the most out of their unique skill sets.

    We've looked through Bleacher Report's latest big board and found six potential Day 3 prospects who can become major steals in the right situation. Each has the athleticism needed to succeed and flashed in key moments during their collegiate career to find a reason to believe their future is even brighter.

Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 194

    At 6'2" and 209 pounds, Texas Tech's Erik Ezukanma has the ideal profile for a deep receiver who wins at the catch point. He posted a 36.5-inch vertical and 4.55 40-yard dash at his pro day, pitting him in the mold of a Kenny Golladay or Marvin Jones-type sideline specialist. Ezukanma's athletic testing verified what he showed while playing in Lubbock.

    In four years with the Red Raiders, Ezukanma totaled 138 receptions, 2,165 yards and 15 touchdowns. He wasn't the most productive or explosive player in the country, but he was consistent. From 2019 through 2021, he caught between 42 and 48 passes and tallied between 664 yards and 748 yards each season. 

    The emergence of Deebo Samuel as a ball-carrier has certainly made rival teams notice how the 49ers use their star, and this could help Ezukanma's value rise. Though Ezukanma is nowhere near the bowling ball Samuel is, he showed some running skill as he took 10 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. It's a niche role that can spark an offense.

    Though he's projected to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick, Ezukanma has a skill set and profile of a late Day 2 investment. That makes him a potentially massive steal if he lands with a quarterback who will trust him to win jump balls and back-shoulder attempts. He thrived at Texas Tech on these attempts despite never having a steady passer working with him.

Zamir White, RB, Georgia

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 137

    Despite having torn an ACL in both knees, Zamir White has continued to overcome setbacks to reach this point in his career. The former 5-star recruit didn't disappoint at Georgia, finishing his career with 2,043 yards, a 5.3 yards-per-carry average, and 25 touchdowns. The 5'11", 214-pounder was a downhill force for the national champions in 2021.

    White destroyed his athletic testing despite his severe injury history. He showed excellent explosiveness with a 4.4 40-yard dash and 10'8" broad jump at the combine. This is a player built to thrive in a one-cut system like Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur employ. 

    His journey, level of collegiate success, and lack of draft buzz are reminiscent of Jay Ajayi. Ajayi famously fell to the fifth round to the Miami Dolphins in 2015 despite an illustrious career at Boise State. He racked up 1,272 yards and eight scores in 2016 and contributed to the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl run in 2017 before injuries ended his career prematurely.

    It was clear Ajayi was a stellar talent, just like White has shown the same bursts of difference-making skill. If he can stay healthy, White can be even more productive in an offense with a healthy passing game to draw defenders away from the box.

Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 151

    Front offices often use Day 3 picks on special teamers and developmental part-timers who might have the physical traits to become slightly more over time. One of the best positions to invest in is defensive tackle since the big-bodied defenders tend to prove valuable even in smaller roles.

    Former Ohio State captain and defensive anchor Haskell Garrett is a surprising Day 3 prospect considering the level of dominance he showed in his junior season. The 6'2", 300-pounder is a quick 3-technique prospect who gets after the quarterback with ease. He was a late-bloomer but tallied 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 18 games between 2020 and 2021. 

    The knock on Garrett is his inability to serve as a competent run defender. He's not a powerful body in the slightest, so teams needing more balance out of a role player should look elsewhere. However, there isn't a better Day 3 tackle who can move quickly and penetrate offensive lines on passing downs than Garrett.

    He may only play 20 percent of snaps in any given season, but Garrett can be a force as a super-sub, even as a rookie.

Bubba Bolden, S, Miami

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 157

    The rise of split safety looks over the last two seasons in the NFL comes down to defenses needing to slow the potential of big plays. Making offenses grind out long drives increases the chances of sacks or turnovers. As frustrating as it is for fans to see defenses allowing easy underneath completions, it's a more effective strategy for preventing scoring drives than more dynamic defensive alignments.

    The value of a competent safety has risen dramatically. Those who make fast reads and finish open-field tackles can help slow offenses so dependant on receivers who create after the catch. Enter Miami's Bubba Bolden.

    The giant 6'3", 209-pounder impressed both on the field with the Hurricanes and then with his athletic testing this offseason. He blazed a 4.47 40, confirming the speed he showed as he flew around the field to hit ball-carriers. Bolden impressively logged 116 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles over his last two years.

    His confidence shows as he plays fast and loosely. Putting Bolden into a traditional strong safety role can net a defense a quality starter early in his career. His size may also allow him to cover bigger receivers and tight ends one-on-one, though that's not something we saw often in college.

Jaylen Watson, CB, Washington State

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 221

    Tall, lanky cornerbacks aren't as popular as they were a few years ago, as offenses have resorted to shorter, quicker throws to increase efficiency. That doesn't mean the need for length is dead, though. Teams like Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Seattle still favor Cover 2 and Cover 4 concepts that prefer corners who can defend vertical routes and pass off in-breaking routes.

    The best Day 3 prospect who could provide an excellent value in the right scheme is Jaylen Watson. Watson is 6'2", 197-pounds and boasts a 38-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump, giving him as much ability to defend at the catch point as any corner in the class. The issue for Watson is that he's stiff in the hips and can't reliably compete on in-breaking routes.

    Multiple defenses across the league have thrived with similar limitations from their cornerbacks. Watson is comparable to Brandon Facyson of the Indianapolis Colts. Had Facyson been in the right scheme from the start, he likely would have cashed in more than he did. Hopefully, Watson can land in the right situation so he can excel in Year 1.

Spencer Burford, OL, UTSA

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    B/R Big Board Rank: No. 116

    It's not uncommon for offensive tackles to transition to interior line positions in the NFL. The tackle position has specific arm length standards that disqualify most collegiate starters. One such athlete is UTSA standout, Spencer Burford.

    The 6'4", 304-pounder is ripe for a transition to guard. Burford had above-average relative athletic scores that project well to an interior lineman's role. Guards who can explode off the snap with quality lower-body strength fare well in the NFL, and Burford cleared every barrier that could raise a red flag.

    Plug Burford into Miami, San Francisco or the Los Angeles Rams, and he'd outproduce earlier selections in suboptimal situations. Bold front offices can bank on their scheme and offensive line coaches. Burford, who has great movement ability but needs to keep his pad level low and more squared to his assignment, is the ideal candidate to simply improve from better coaching.