2022 NFL Draft: Prospects Who Could Become Trade Targets in 1st Round

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Prospects Who Could Become Trade Targets in 1st Round

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The NFL draft is a constantly evolving entity and unpredictable. Just when outsiders think they have a handle on how the early rounds will unfold, a trade can toss every carefully constructed mock draft out of the window.

    And there will be trades on draft day. Last year, there were three during Round 1, and the number could be much higher in 2022. The most notable reason is that draft boards appear to differ greatly from team to team.

    "I've heard this from a couple of draft rooms: Because of [a] wide variety of opinions on board-stacking throughout the league, some team drafting in the 50s could see its 12th-rated player still alive at 30 and be motivated to jump up there," Pro Football Talk's Peter King recently wrote.

    Positional runs can also precipitate trades as teams look to avoid missing out on a specific need.

    With this in mind, we're going to dive into the 2022 draft prospects most likely to become trade targets on opening night in Las Vegas on April 28. These are prospects who could slide, may be much higher on some draft boards than others or who are simply expected to be available near the back end of the first round.

    Each situation is a little bit different, and you'll find an in-depth look at them below. Prospects are listed in alphabetical order.   

Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

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    Arkansas' Treylon Burks is the third-ranked receiver on the latest big board by the Bleacher Report NFL Scouting Department. USC's Drake London and Ohio State's Chris Olave are second and third, respectively. However, he might be the top receiver on some boards after racking up 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 66 receptions in 2021.

    Other teams, however, might not even have a first-round grade on Burks. His production is impressive, but he's unpolished and tested poorly at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The 6'3", 225-pound Burks ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash and a 7.28-second three-cone drill.

    "The tape is extremely exciting with real NFL skills jumping off the screen, but his potential to become a high-volume, three-level target is a little more cloudy after a relatively disappointing showing at the combine," NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote.

    Burks is only going to be the right fit for certain teams and schemes, which could lead to him tumbling down in the first round. If so, a franchise could trade up to stop his slide.

    The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, could use a big-bodied receiver on the perimeter. They have been eyeing taller receivers, according to The Athletic's Diante Lee, and hold the Nos. 29 and 30 selections. Trading up to secure Burks could make plenty of sense.    

Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

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    Georgia's Nakobe Dean is the top-ranked linebacker on the B/R board and has the proven production that NFL teams love. Last season alone, he tallied 72 tackles, six sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.

    However, Dean is an undersized defender at just 5'11¼" and 229 pounds, and he won't be high on every draft board.

    "The questions with Dean come down to size and how many coverage tools he will need," Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He handled himself well from a physical standpoint in the SEC, but the NFL is a different level, and Dean's shorter frame could pose more issues than cropped up in college."

    Some teams will undoubtedly have a second-round grade (or lower) on Dean based on his size alone. 

    "While most coaches and scouts value production at a premium, the NFL draft definitely has a beauty pageant aspect to it. Typically, top prospects must pass the eyeball test to earn high marks in draft rooms," NFL Media's Bucky Brooks wrote.

    Dean could be a top-10 prospect to some teams but is likely to fall toward the bottom of Round 1. If that happens, we might see a squad jump back into the first round to land him. The New York Jets, for example, ranked 29th in run defense last year and hold the 35th pick. Trading up for a prospect like Dean will be tempting because first-round picks carry the fifth-year option on their contracts.

George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Purdue's George Karlaftis is the second-ranked pass-rusher on the B/R big board and the eighth overall prospect. However, he could go outside of the top 10 for a couple of reasons.

    For one, the 6'4", 275-pound Karlaftis is more of a power-rusher than a versatile edge, and he may only appeal to teams looking to rush from the end position. Secondly, he's relatively inexperienced and doesn't come from one of the traditional marquee programs.

    "He's a force-based rusher with anchor-busting power and the ability to get to his counters when the rush begins to stall," Zierlein wrote. "With just two full seasons under his belt, there will be more development headed Karlaftis' way."

    It also seems likely that Michigan pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson—who is ranked just behind Karlaftis on the B/R board—will be a top-10 pick. Georgia's Travon Walker is a late riser who will also impact the pass-rusher market. With Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux in the top-10 mix as well, Karlaftis could be pushed into the middle of Round 1 or later.

    If Karlaftis starts to slide, a team like the Arizona Cardinals could move up to grab him. They lost defensive end Chandler Jones in free agency and hold the 23rd pick in the first round.

Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    An early run on quarterbacks and receivers could push offensive linemen like Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum down the board. According to ESPN's Matt Miller, Linderbaum could even land in Round 2.

    "One source I spoke to this week expected notable names to be available 'into the teens' as quarterbacks and wide receivers dominate the top 15," Miller wrote. "Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum is the consensus top center in this class, but the same source told me that mock-draft scenarios have been run in which Linderbaum is available in Round 2."

    If Linderbaum, who is the 12th-ranked prospect on the B/R board, falls to the bottom of Round 1, it would be a shock if a team didn't trade back into the first round to grab him. As previously mentioned, first-round selections come with an extra year of team control, which is appealing from a cap-management standpoint.

    The Baltimore Ravens could be a squad to watch. They traded back into Round 1 to grab Lamar Jackson and his fifth-year option in 2018. They also lost 2021 starting center Bradley Bozeman in free agency. If the Ravens can move up from 45th overall to land Linderbaum in the first, they may make the jump—assuming, of course, that Baltimore doesn't take him at No. 14.

    Other teams will undoubtedly be interested in Linderbaum too, so if he starts heading to the second round, don't expect him to actually make it there.

David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Michigan edge-rusher David Ojabo might have been a top-15 selection if the draft were held a few months ago. He was only a one-year starter for the Wolverines, but he was fantastic in 2021, finishing with 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 35 total tackles and five forced fumbles.

    Ojabo is exactly the sort of high-upside prospect teams love.

    "Ojabo's ability to fly off the ball, stutter his feet right before contact and explode in either direction makes him a nightmare for offensive tackles in space, especially considering his ability to bend and move through contact is among the best in this class," Derrik Klassen of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

    Unfortunately, Ojabo suffered a torn Achilles at his pro day March 18 and is expected to miss up to six months, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Because of this, Ojabo will likely be off some first-round boards.

    However, other teams will be willing to take a flier on him. We've seen similar moves pay off in recent years. In February 2019, defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons tore his ACL while training ahead of the draft. The Tennessee Titans still took him 19th overall, and three years later, Simmons was in the Pro Bowl. 

    If Ojabo is still available at the bottom of Round 1, a team like the Cleveland Browns—who need a pass-rusher opposite Myles Garrett and don't have a first-round pick—could be tempted to jump up to secure him.


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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    For the sake of saving time, we'll examine quarterbacks as a group instead of individually. Teams frequently trade up to take a signal-caller, which is something we saw in 2021. The San Francisco 49ers traded up to No. 3 before the draft to grab a quarterback, eventually settling on North Dakota State's Trey Lance, while the Chicago Bears moved up to grab Justin Fields.

    According to King, Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder are all likely to be top-20 picks.

    "One GM told me he sees three in the top 20," King wrote. "... Those three are likely Kenny Pickett of Pitt, Malik Willis of Liberty and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder. I've heard very good things about Ridder's exchanges with teams over the past month, but each QB has his critics."  

    Teams likely view each quarterback differently, and it's difficult to predict which pick and which player will be involved in a trade. However, it would be a surprise if at least one team doesn't move up to secure the top signal-caller on its board.

    We may also see a team trade up to make a fourth quarterback a first-rounder. Mississippi's Matt Corral and North Carolina's Sam Howell could be in play there. Again, the fifth-year option is a significant factor.

    Lamar Jackson, for example, is set to make $23 million on the fifth-year option in 2022, according to Spotrac. That's far below the going rate for high-end quarterbacks. The top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks are each set to make at least $33.5 million annually.

    If a quarterback-needy team picking near the top of Round 2, like the Seattle Seahawks, believes that Corral or Howell can be a franchise quarterback, moving into the first round for him is logical.

Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is the seventh-ranked prospect on the B/R big board and the top player at his position. However, there's a chance that he'll fall outside of the top 10 and not be the first cornerback off the board.

    Injuries (non-COVID 19 illness, leg, foot) and inconsistent play over the past two seasons will hurt Stingley's value in the eyes of some evaluators.

    "[A] uniquely gifted cornerback with rare blend of size, speed and explosiveness that will have teams willing to judge his upside off of tape from two seasons ago," Zierlein wrote. "Stingley played in just 10 games over the last two years, offering flashes of his upside rather than sustained play."

    While some teams will have questions about Stingley's ability to return to form, others won't.

    "As menacing as the injury list above looks, his upside is too good to ignore. Stingley should still be a top-three pick," Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus wrote.

    If Stingley does fall to the bottom of the top 10, a cornerback-needy team could pounce. The Minnesota Vikings (28th in pass defense last season) and Houston Texans (23rd) could both use a cornerback and are sitting at Nos. 12 and 13, respectively.

    The rebuilding New York Jets hold the 10th pick and could be inclined to trade down to acquire more draft capital. That's a spot to watch if Stingley is still on the board.  

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon

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    Andy Nelson/Associated Press

    Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is the top-ranked prospect on the B/R big board and a player with immense upside.

    "It may take a year or two for Thibodeaux's technique and pass-rushing plan to catch up to his talent, but the fact that he has been as effective as he has to this point while only showing adequate hand usage is a testament to all the other tools he has," Klassen wrote in his scouting report. "Thibodeaux can be a good player in any scheme right out of the gate and has the long-term potential to be an All-Pro."

    However, Thibodeaux hasn't shown an ideal level of consistency. Not everyone is as high on his floor.

    "I don't see it, man. He's good. He's not great," one source told The Athletic's Bruce Feldman.

    Yet, if Thibodeaux starts to slide, there will come a point where his potential is too great to ignore. And for teams that do believe in Thibodeaux, moving up to secure him will be an option. Say, for example, a team loves Thibodeaux and believes the Atlanta Falcons will take him at No. 8. The New York Giants' seventh overall selection would become a sensible trade spot.

    "I believe [general manager Joe] Schoen of the Giants, for instance, wants to come out of this draft with an extra first-round pick next year, even if it costs him this year's seventh overall pick," King wrote.

    Thibodeaux is the sort of polarizing prospect who could be at the top of one team's board and outside of the top 10 on another. And that's precisely the kind of scenario that can lead to a draft-day trade.