The Most Overrated Players in the 2022 NFL Draft

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 20, 2022

The Most Overrated Players in the 2022 NFL Draft

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    Overrated is a relative and nasty term often applied during the NFL draft process. 

    Its usage typically means a prospect's status is seemingly trending upward even though significant concerns exist within his scouting report.

    In this case, the overrated label is based on film evaluation, athletic traits and potential upside. The final two categories often become the sticking point. Five of our six featured prospects are here because their projection skews too far toward upside based on athletic traits instead of on-field performance. The other goes in the opposite direction.

    When speaking about Georgia's Travon Walker, who is in the conversation for this year's No. 1 overall pick, one NFL general manager told NBC Sports' Peter King, "Again, I like him—but I prefer to base the grade on how he played football."

    The crux of whether a player should be considered overrated couldn't be put more succinctly.

    A big swing on a toolsy project on Day 2 is completely different from investing a top-10 pick in a boom-or-bust type. The following six are all projected first-round selections who could go much higher than they really should.

QB Malik Willis, Liberty

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    While the need for good quarterbacks will always exist, the teams that aren't settled behind center can't force the situation at the top of the draft because there isn't a Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence in this year's crop.

    Liberty's Malik Willis is generally considered the top 2022 quarterback prospect. The reason is simple: His upside is greater than that of any other option. The Auburn transfer is the best athlete among the bunch and has elite natural arm talent.

    Both of those traits showed up in his performance too. The dual-threat quarterback ran for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns during his two seasons with the Flames. During that span, Willis led all quarterbacks with 133 forced missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus. The senior also led all FBS passers in 2021 with 13 big-time throws against the blitz.

    The physical tools and raw upside are obvious.

    But he played in a simplistic system that doesn't require many NFL-caliber reads or throws. As such, Willis is much further behind other prospects in the decision-making process and knowing where to throw. The setup isn't his fault, of course. His coaching staff did what it thought best to win and capitalized on Willis' skill set.

    But his overall accuracy, ball placement and decision-making paled in comparison to his contemporaries. His overall and 10-plus-yard uncatchable pass rates were among the worst in the class, per Smart Football's Adam Carter and PFF's Austin Gayle, respectively. He ranked among the bottom three in the accuracy outside the numbers, over the middle of the field and under 10 yards, as charted by The Orange & Brown Report's Cory Kinnan.

    Willis is a nice developmental project. He shouldn't be viewed as a first-round franchise-type unless he's placed in a situation where he can grow and learn behind a veteran option.

WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State

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    Once again, the wide receiver class is loaded. The incoming crop doesn't feature a Ja'Marr Chase-level prospect, but upward of seven targets could find themselves in this year's first round. North Dakota State's Christian Watson might be counted among those after he blew away the predraft process.

    Typically, six wide receivers—Alabama's Jameson Williams, Arkansas' Treylon Burks, Penn State's Jahan Dotson, USC's Drake London and Ohio State's Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson—are viewed as first-round possibilities. However, that group could be off the board within the first 25 picks or so. The Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions could still be looking for a new target beyond that point.

    Watson is intriguing at that juncture based purely on his athletic profile.

    The FCS product is an awesome athlete. That descriptor isn't used lightly, either. Watson is a 6'4", 208-pound target with 4.36-second 40-yard-dash speed, a 38.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot, 4-inch broad jump. His relative athletic score placed him among the 12 most athletic wide receivers over the past 35 years, per Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte.

    The two-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection can stretch the field, having posted a career average of 20.4 yards per reception. However, he's not a polished target, produced minimally coming out of a run-first scheme and displays suspect hands.

    The Bison's success has been built on a rugged style of play that helped the program win eight FCS titles over the last 10 years. The setup doesn't necessarily help talented receivers, though. Watson never managed more than 801 yards in any season. Also, he has a 12.7 percent career drop rate, per Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey, which is scary.

    The ability is certainly present. The consistency isn't. Any team considering Watson in the first round must know it's getting an athletically gifted project.

OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

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    Some franchise will likely fall in love with and draft Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning much sooner than expected for three reasons. Those reasons will overshadow the real concerns found in his technique.

    First, the 6'7", 325-pound FCS product has 34 ¼-inch arms and sports all the physical traits a team could want in a left tackle. His build is coupled with elite athleticism. He ran a 4.89-second 40-yard dash at the combine and posted elite numbers in the short shuttle and three-cone drill, making him sixth-most athletic offensive tackle of the last 35 years.

    Second, this year's tackle class is top-heavy. Alabama's Evan Neal, North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu and Mississippi State's Charles Cross are expected to be top-10 selections. From there, the class peters out, with Penning being arguably the best of the rest. Tackle remains a premium position because teams need to protect their quarterbacks. As such, Penning could easily find himself among this year's initial 15 selections.

    Lastly, he plays with a nasty demeanor.

    "Teams that want that kind of nasty edge? It's a huge part of my game," Penning told reporters at the combine. "You want to make the defender across from you feel it. You want him at the end of the day to be exhausted. He wants to get on that flight, get the hell out of there."

    A combo of elite athletic traits, positional value and attitude make a sought-after prospect. However, Penning is far from a polished blocker.

    "Penning tends to turn his hips early toward widely aligned speed-rushers who attack the corner with high pads, leaving his inside shoulder vulnerable to getting lifted and pried open," Bleacher Report scout Brandon Thorn wrote. "He also needs to work on resetting his hands quicker when his punch lands high on defenders to prevent getting fork-lifted and shed."

    High pad level and inconsistent hands—i.e. poor technique—will get any blocker into trouble no matter how talented or nasty they are.

OT Tyler Smith, Tulsa

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    A ripple effect will likely ensue when the top three offensive tackles are taken in the top 10. As mentioned, Penning will likely follow soon thereafter, and Central Michigan's Bernhard Raimann is expected to draw first-round consideration as well.

    From there, the pool starts to dry up, though Tulsa's Tyler Smith remains an intriguing option late in the opening frame for some franchise with a good offensive line coach and time to develop a blocker in dire need of technical refinement.

    Smith is a 6'5", 324-pound tackle prospect with good movement skills. However, he may be forced to play guard at the onset of his career as he hones his craft.

    Against lesser competition, Smith graded as the best tackle in the American Athletic Conference, per Pro Football Focus. He flourished as a run-blocker thanks to his overwhelming size, strength and length. He led the FBS in big-time run blocks, according to PFF's Anthony Treash.

    Quite simply, Smith is a bully at the point of attack. But his overaggressiveness, hand placement and mentality won't necessarily translate to the next level because of his faulty technique. He could become a holding machine because he tends to stand straight up in his set and has poor hand placement.

    "Smith's pad level is high and hand carriage low in his pass sets, causing him to wind up and wrap his hands on contact, routinely giving up his chest," Thorn noted. "He has an upkick out of his stance that forces his hips to open toward wide rush angles, creating a soft edge and easy access to the corner.

    "Smith's footwork, pad level and use of hands are painfully raw in the run game. He struggles to consistently create and sustain leverage on blocks, which causes him to fall off blocks way too often."

    A first-round investment in Smith must be accompanied with a long-term plan that may require a position switch—or at least some cross-training at guard—if he hopes to play on the island at tackle after reworking everything from the ground up.

DL Travon Walker, Georgia

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    Myles Garrett is the standard-bearer among edge-rushers and for what a first overall pick should look like at the position.

    Physically, Georgia's Travon Walker stacks up well with the 2017 class' top selection.

    Both are right around 6'5" and 272 pounds with 35-plus-inch arms and 10-plus-inch hands. Garrett posted a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical and 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump. Walker registered an impressive 4.51-second 40-yard dash with a 35.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump. Both managed 9.99 (on a scale of 10) relative athletic scores, according to Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte.

    That's where the similarities stop, because Walker didn't have the same type of collegiate production as Garrett, particularly as a pass-rusher.

    The Cleveland Browns star registered 32.5 sacks in his three seasons with the Texas A&M Aggies, while Walker managed only 9.5 with the Bulldogs. Granted, the Georgia staff employed its defender far differently, and he spent a majority of his time working along the interior. So, pure sack production isn't the best indicator of what he can become.

    However, advanced stats don't show a defender regularly beating his block, either. According to Pro Football Focus' Kevin Cole, Walker ranked 473rd among edge prospects since 2014 in overall pressure rate. For comparison, Garrett was ninth. As PFF's Austin Gayle noted, Walker fell among the class' worst in 3rd-and-long situations and from an inside alignment.

    Clearly, immense potential exists for Walker to blossom into an elite defender. His physicality, versatility, length and athleticism may turn him into a productive professional. Yet a No. 1 overall investment for a prospect still in the early stages of figuring out what he could become is a high-risk proposition.

LB Devin Lloyd, Utah

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    Unlike the previous five prospects, Utah's Devin Lloyd isn't overvalued because of his physical tools. In fact, he disappointed slightly with his workout, particularly his 40-yard dash.

    Lloyd's inclusion stems from his lack of a top gear, the position he plays and where some have projected him.

    Overall, Lloyd is a good athlete. He can contribute in all phases and has the versatility to play any of the three off-ball linebacker spots. He excels in coverage and shows a good feel for filling running lanes and blitzing opposing quarterbacks.

    The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year amassed 111 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four interceptions and six passes defended. He's a three-down linebacker, but he doesn't have the true sideline-to-sideline speed teams crave.

    Lloyd ran a disappointing 4.66-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Zaven Collins posted the same number a year ago before being selected with the 16th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. The difference? Collins weighed nearly 25 more pounds than Lloyd. Leighton Vander Esch ran a 4.65 four years ago, but he was nearly 20 pounder heavier. He heard his name called with the 19th pick.

    Their selections are important to note, considering some have had Lloyd rated as a top-10 overall talent.

    First, off-ball linebackers aren't typically viewed as elite prospects. The position has been devalued over the years, and few are worthy of such lofty consideration. Lloyd has the skill set but lacks the physical tools to truly be considered that high.

    The Utah product may not even be the top linebacker in the class, with Georgia's Nakobe Dean and Alabama's Christian Harris capable of making arguments.

    The idea of Lloyd being a top-of-the-first-round talent is a tad rich.