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Predicting Every NFL Team’s 2022 Surprise Rookie Gem | Bleacher Report


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    Top-of-the-line storylines each NFL season is watching which rookies emerge as surprise contributors. Inside months, we’ll know who fell further within the draft than what they need to have.

    It’s no surprise that some fall through the cracks, as setting expectations for rookies may be difficult. The physical adjustment from college to the professionals is hard enough for many, however the difference in mentality and schemes add an unknown factor. We also must consider the team’s depth chart and priority placed on developing young players.

    Players taken in the primary two rounds are sometimes counted on to play in some form of their initial season. But because the draft progresses into Round 3 and beyond, teams are taking a look at likely redshirting the rookie or asking them to play on special teams.

    Some first-year players will break through once they’ve earned the chance, and people late-round gems are easy to root for. We have sifted through every draft pick and depth chart to search out one surprise rookie for every team.

    All of those players were taken within the third round or later. Most aren’t even near the highest of their depth chart but have the talent to ascend in time. 

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    The Arizona Cardinals took a utilitarian approach to their draft class. They entered with needs at receiver, defensive end and along the offensive line. Leaving with wideout Marquise Brown (via trade), tight end Trey McBride, defensive ends Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, and two guards helped fill those holes.

    The sting help is very notable after Chandler Jones departed this offseason. For Arizona to enhance upon its surprising 11-6 season, the team will need its rookies to supply. The 6’5″, 270-pound Thomas has an even bigger frame that ought to earn him snaps along the line of defense, whereas Sanders suits the profile as a pure edge-rusher.

    He can earn his spot in a rotation with veterans Markus Golden and Devon Kennard. He totaled 13.5 sacks over his final three years at Cincinnati because of his speed. At 6’5″ and 255 kilos, Sanders is a really perfect sub-package threat.

    If he can get six or more sacks, the Cardinals’ defensive ceiling will rise. The secondary is solid, and J.J. Watt will anchor an athletic front seven. Finding that creative pass-rusher to enrich Watt is the ultimate piece.

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    The Atlanta Falcons have low expectations as they enter the post-Matt Ryan era and reset their cap sheet for 2023, but their one clear position of strength is their running back depth.

    Veterans Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams are fantastic stopgaps to assist the offense avoid disaster early within the season. Patterson enjoyed a profession 12 months in 2021 with 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 11 scores. But sooner or later, Atlanta should look to present fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier touches as a substitute of riding the 31-year-old Patterson as losses mount.

    Allgeier was a battering ram at BYU, totaling 2,899 yards and 36 touchdowns on the bottom despite starting only two years. The 220-pounder has surprising quickness for his size and might make defenders miss. He is not a flashy athlete like Patterson and Williams, but his ability to consistently drive the ball forward is required.

    There’s enough upside for Allgeier to change into greater than only a touchdown vulture and short-yardage back.

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    Lots went improper in 2021 because the Baltimore Ravens suffered a slew of injuries that modified their season. Their running back depth was lost before the campaign even began, and the franchise hoped that quarterback Lamar Jackson’s presence would open opportunities for lesser talents. Unfortunately, the Ravens learned the hard way that older backs who lack explosiveness couldn’t sustain success.

    Gone are Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and Le’Veon Bell. Baltimore added Mike Davis from Atlanta on top of welcoming back J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill off injured reserve. And yet, our pick to change into a rookie gem is sixth-rounder Tyler Badie.

    The previous Missouri playmaker has great explosiveness and skill to affect the offense as a receiver. He totaled 3,889 yards from scrimmage and 34 scores throughout his profession despite only being the first rusher in his senior season. Look ahead to his quickness and receiving ability to make a difference as he climbs the depth chart while Baltimore rotates backs in its run-heavy offense.

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    How could we not include the Punt God? The Buffalo Bills snatched up Matt Araiza with the primary pick within the sixth round. Shockingly, the San Diego State product wasn’t the primary punter taken despite his ability to boom kicks over 80 yards.

    He likely won’t often see the sector as a rookie. In spite of everything, Buffalo tied for the sixth-fewest punts within the league last 12 months with 53. Nevertheless, the Bills upgraded from Matt Haack to Araiza.

    His rare ability to flip the sector may lack polish of punters who’re masters of pinning offenses inside their 10-yard line, however the dynamic he brings is so far more beneficial. Araiza can force opposing offenses to travel an additional 10 or more yards on every punt from inside their 30-yard line. No other team has that luxury.

    What could make him a surprise is the actual impact that occasional punts can bring. Unsurprisingly, the farther an offense has to travel to attain, the less likely they’re to accomplish that. Even a 5 percent improvement in Buffalo’s scoring defense last 12 months could have been the difference between advancing to the Super Bowl and losing to the Kansas City Chiefs within the AFC Divisional Round.

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    Dating to when Ron Rivera was head coach, the Carolina Panthers have generally made sensible decisions at linebacker. Their latest pick on the spot, fourth-rounder Brandon Smith, suits the athletic mold that has thrived on this unit.

    Last 12 months’s third-leading tackler was undersized linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. (6’1″, 225 lbs). Carolina clearly wanted more of an impact from the position, because it signed veterans Damien Wilson and Cory Littleton along with drafting Smith. With Shaq Thompson because the star of the front seven and Wilson locking down the center linebacker role, the strong-side spot could be perfect for Smith.

    At 6’3″ and 240 kilos, he’s a really perfect “Sam” linebacker because of his great length and range. His outstanding speed gives him the upside to become a top quality coverage threat as well. Search for him to earn opportunities over Littleton because of his tantalizing gifts because the season progresses.   

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    The Chicago Bears had an interesting draft haul, as they added several older prospects to a rebuilding roster. One among those is third-round receiver Velus Jones Jr. The 25-year-old possesses 4.31-second 40-yard dash speed and might produce in multiple ways. He was a second-team All-SEC kick returner and posted 807 yards and 7 scores as a receiver.

    Chicago’s lack of playmaking at receiver outside Darnell Mooney entering the draft was worrisome. Jones has an analogous athletic profile to Mooney’s and will complement free-agent addition Byron Pringle along with his downfield speed. A couple of deep completions and solid kick returns would help this team tremendously.

    The Bears need Justin Fields to have speed around him to maximise the quarterback’s ability to create big plays outside the pocket. So while his age is not ideal, Jones has the talent to be helpful in 2022 and beyond. Search for him to be given every opportunity to carve a job on this young offense.

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    One among reasons the Cincinnati Bengals outlasted their fellow AFC heavyweights and almost stole the Super Bowl from the Rams is their defense is loaded with depth.

    The one group that would use a supersub is the line of defense, though. Cincinnati bolstered the unit by signing DJ Reader and re-signing B.J. Hill. But it surely’s third-round rookie Zachary Carter who brings the right third-down pass-rush skill set.

    Carter split time between end and tackle at Florida and produced well. The 285-pounder picked up 17 sacks and 26 tackles for loss over his profession. He has a fast first step, as you’d expect from an underweight 3-technique. 

    His presence may very well be key against top AFC foes who go pass-happy in waning moments. Expect to see defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo sub Reader out for Carter in obvious passing downs, as he needs speedier interior rushers to penetrate the pocket. It’s a giant opportunity for the rookie.

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    On paper, the Cleveland Browns have one in all the NFL’s most dangerous rosters. They’ve elite playmakers all around the field on either side of the ball. This is very true for his or her young, promising defense that has been revamped during the last 4 years.

    One of the crucial fascinating prospects added this offseason was former Oklahoma defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey. The Browns properly re-signed Jadeveon Clowney but opted against investing heavily into tackle. They entered the draft knowing they needed so as to add depth at tackle due to absence of a proven playmaker.

    Now, Wimbley joins a young rotation with Taven Bryan and 2021 fourth-round pick Tommy Togiai. Bryan was a first-round bust for Jacksonville, which opens the door for Wimbley to win the job as a rookie. He totaled 5.5 sacks in his breakout 2021 season. 

    Cleveland could be thrilled to get anything near that kind of production. Wimbley should earn the workload to achieve impressive numbers relative to his draft status because of the shortage of clear competition.

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    Coming off a 12-5 season that featured the NFL’s top offense, the Dallas Cowboys bet on themselves once they let high-priced veterans go. With receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson Jr. and lineman La’el Collins headlining their offensive departures, it’s fair to wonder who will fill the void. The Cowboys’ rookie class has immense pressure on them.

    Incumbent receivers CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup shall be joined by third-rounder Jalen Tolbert. He’ll see a giant step up in competition after playing at South Alabama, but he has the skill set to make the jump. He dominated the Sun Belt Conference, totaling 178 receptions for 3,140 yards and 22 touchdowns with an eye-popping 17.6-yard per-catch average over his profession.

    Tolbert’s silky game projects well as a substitute for Cooper. The 6’1″ wideout also needs to see extra targets early since Gallup is recovering from a torn ACL. Search for him to be a Rookie of the Yr candidate if the quantity of targets stays regular all season.

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    The Denver Broncos roster is stacked with a bevy of young talent, making it hard for any rookie to interrupt into their lineup. But that may not stop fourth-round cornerback Damarri Mathis from earning a bigger role than expected.

    He’s behind veterans Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby. Surtain is a star, and Darby played well in his first campaign in Denver last 12 months. That being said, Darby has played a full season only once in his profession.

    Mathis shall be ready should Darby miss a handful of games. The Pittsburgh cornerback ranked third in completion percentage allowed since 2019, per ESPN Stats & Information. The 5’11”, 195-pounder is long and fast and physical in coverage, making him an absolute steal for general manager George Paton. 

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    The Detroit Lions knocked their draft class out of the park. Headlining acquisitions Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams ensured their status as a direct draft winner. Looking deeper into their class reveals other possible starters, though.

    Sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez is an ideal fit for this coaching staff that values toughness, instincts and energy. He joins a position group that racked up tackles but offered little other impact. The starting trio of Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes combined for just three sacks, one interception and 13 pass deflections in 46 appearances. 

    Rodriguez is just 5’11” and 232 kilos but flies around the sector making plays. He led a superb Oklahoma State defense during the last 4 seasons, capping his profession with 129 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2021. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn should unleash Rodriguez very like how Cleveland used Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as a Swiss Army knife who could flow to the ball and thrive in space.

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    Do not be surprised if the Green Bay Packers’ fourth-round rookie receiver outperforms their second-round receiver in 2022. Nevada’s Romeo Doubs was a four-year contributor in a vertical passing offense that highlighted his downfield speed, solid body control and luxury fighting through contact. The Day 3 pick is a gamer who averaged 14.8 yards per catch and 6.5 touchdowns per 12 months throughout his profession.

    His competition is less refined and comes from a lower level of competition. Second-rounder Christian Watson is an incredibly impressive athlete but lacked polish at North Dakota State. It’s fair to expect him to be slowly integrated into an offense that requires precision to earn trust from veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    Doubs is not as fast as former Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but he had just 4 drops in 2021 and won 60 percent of his contested-catch opportunities, per Pro Football Focus (via FanNation’s Bill Huber). He’s more reliable than his predecessor in tough situations. Expect Rodgers to like his toughness on the catch point and for Doubs to earn a giant role early.   

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    There is probably not a Day 3 rookie in a greater position to supply than latest Houston Texans rusher Dameon Pierce. The team must have a a lot better offensive line in 2022 after adding first-round guard Kenyon Green and free-agent A.J. Cann to a unit that gets back a healthy Laremy Tunsil. Houston also has no clear starting running back in place.

    Pierce never saw a full workload at Florida but made essentially the most of his touches. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry throughout his profession and racked up 16 total touchdowns in 2021. His ability to make defenders miss for a 218-pound back is very notable, as he finished his senior campaign second amongst Power Five rushers in missed tackles forced per attempt, per PFF College.

    Veteran Marlon Mack is the largest threat to Pierce since he was a house run hitter before his torn Achilles within the 2020 season opener. Nonetheless, Mack never earned consistent playing time in 2021 after his return and was a mere flier for the Texans. Pierce can show up on Day 1 and earn the lion’s share of snaps for this young offense.

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    Having an elite offensive line coach is an excellent advantage when developing talent. The Indianapolis Colts could have panicked this offseason when veteran Eric Fisher hit free agency, but as a substitute they stayed patient into the third round of the draft. At pick No. 77, the Colts landed their potential left tackle for the current and future in Bernhard Raimann.

    The previous tight end has only two years of tackle experience, however the Colts will depend on line coach Chris Strausser to get him into starting form. Raimann is a tenacious run-blocker who has great strength and ending ability. His large 6’6″, 303-pound frame is nimble, making him a premier athlete value investing in. 

    That he played at Central Michigan and lacked extensive experience showed in his tape. But along with his predominant competition for the starting job being Matt Pryor, an unproven talent himself, Raimann has a golden opportunity to dam Matt Ryan’s blind side. With Strausser, who has helped the event of Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith since taking the job in 2019, it’s fair to expect to see Raimann flourish by the tip of his rookie campaign.

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars have not had an awesome offensive line in years, but that wasn’t due to longtime center Brandon Linder. His surprise retirement opened a hole on a line that was getting a face-lift this offseason. With the primary pick within the third round, Jacksonville addressed its need with Luke Fortner.

    The versatile interior blocker from Kentucky was a shrewd pickup. Experienced at each guard and center during three seasons, Fortner has a skill set that may allow him to succeed early. His play style is analogous to Linder’s despite being barely smaller.

    Expect to see the 6’6″, 300-pound Fortner depend on his strength as a rookie. He’s a solid run-blocker who finishes plays through the whistle. Jacksonville added plenty of nastiness to its offensive line this offseason between Fortner and guard Brandon Scherff.

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    Sometimes the athletic numbers paint a significantly different picture than the film, which puts evaluators right into a bind. That is the case for 2021 breakout star Leo Chenal. The leader of the Wisconsin Badgers defense had elite production, including 115 tackles and eight sacks, but looked more like a straight-line athlete than what his offseason testing suggested.

    The 6’2″, 261-pounder showed he is not just powerful as he raced to a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and leapt to a 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump. He also pumped out 34 reps on the bench and ran a 6.84-second three-cone drill at Wisconsin’s pro day.

    He tested as arguably essentially the most athletic pass-rusher in the category.

    Kansas City appears to have the right role for Chenal at strong-side linebacker. At worst, if he is not comfortable in coverage, he can use his strength and power at the purpose of attack against the run or proceed to rush the passer. Being surrounded by top-notch athletes Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. will protect him from having to drop into coverage too often.

    Chenal needs to be on the sector as a pass-rusher early in his rookie season. Search for him to outperform a few of his higher-drafted peers because of the unique traits he displayed on the mix and his pro day.

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    The Las Vegas Raiders got here out of left field with a terrific offseason. Not only did they acquire All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and reunite him with quarterback and college teammate Derek Carr, but in addition they added star pass-rusher Chandler Jones. As such, the Raiders opted against investing heavily into their woeful offensive line.

    A latest coaching staff may prove to be all of the difference the unit needs to enhance. To make sure the front office didn’t completely overlook the road, the Raiders snatched guard Dylan Parham within the third round with their first selection within the draft. The Memphis product can fight for the starting left guard spot.

    Latest head coach Josh McDaniels may have options to fill holes at guard and right tackle. He coached Jermaine Eluemunor with the Patriots and pulled solid play from him at right tackle. That might open the door for Parham to start out next to star left tackle Kolton Miller and across from 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood.

    Parham is a really perfect left guard prospect. He’s more smooth than powerful and gets to the second level of defenses quickly. He has experience at each guard positions and right tackle.

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    After the Los Angeles Chargers added defensive stars Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson, the team continued to bolster its depth throughout free agency and the draft. One among those players was fourth-rounder Isaiah Spiller. The impressive Texas A&M running back should immediately challenge for snaps behind Austin Ekeler. 

    Adding depth behind Ekeler was crucial. Not only has the 27-year-old never began for a full season, however the backup tandem of Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III failed to supply at an efficient level last 12 months. Kelley averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 33 touches, and Rountree was worse with 2.4 yards on 36 carries.

    Spiller will push one in all the backups off the roster. He showed excellent hands as a receiver and is an efficient runner between the tackles. If Ekeler goes down, look ahead to Spiller to take a rare opportunity for a rookie to supply on a championship-level team.   

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    Lacking a first- or second-round pick, the Los Angeles Rams needed to get right down to business in a rush throughout the draft. The one area that just about cost the team the Super Bowl last 12 months was an offensive line that had degraded after multiple personnel changes lately. The Rams couldn’t run the ball, but they might pass block.

    With the addition of third-rounder and former Wisconsin guard Logan Bruss, it’s clear that head coach Sean McVay wants more balance for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams ranked twenty fifth in rushing yards and yards per carry. With Cam Akers back from his torn Achilles, reestablishing the run is more possible with Bruss and a star ball-carrier.

    Bruss suits the standard Wisconsin offensive lineman mold. He’s powerful and technically refined enough to start out immediately. He also has excellent short-area quickness to go along with his power, making him a possible diamond within the rough for general manager Les Snead.

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    With just 4 selections within the 2022 draft and two of them coming within the seventh round, the Miami Dolphins were mostly observers throughout the three-day event. Nonetheless, they nabbed a formidable athlete from the nation’s top defense last 12 months at a position of need. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier will need to have been ecstatic when Georgia’s Channing Tindall was still on the board along with his first pick.

    The third-rounder can take early snaps on Miami’s woeful run defense. His range is implausible from sideline to sideline, and he’s a sure tackler within the open field. He also has upside in coverage because of his long 6’2″ frame and movement ability at 230 kilos.

    Miami already has a longtime starter in Jerome Baker but could use more athleticism next to him. Elandon Roberts is a downhill hammer but is stiff within the open field. Tindall can earn a substantial role if his coverage ability and pass-rush impact develop throughout the preseason.  

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    The Minnesota Vikings’ latest coaching staff inherited solid veteran talent on either side of the ball but is making schematic changes on defense. Meaning churning personnel and opening the door for young players who can thrive in a selected role.

    Fifth-round defensive lineman Esezi Otomewo was a comparatively unheralded prospect after he notched just 7.5 profession sacks in 4 seasons for the Minnesota Golden Gophers but has an awesome opportunity in front of him.

    At 6’5″, 282 kilos, Otomewo is healthier suited as a 3-4 end and 4-3 under tackle than a base 4-3 end who rushes the passer. He has ready-made NFL strength and keeps blockers off his frame because of his length. Otomewo is stiff so he is not a stand-up edge threat, however the positive is he doesn’t should compete with Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith for snaps.

    As an alternative he’ll play in relief of Harrison Phillips and Armon Watts. Phillips just got here over from Buffalo but has posted limited profession production. It’s possible Otomewo can beat out a player with 1.5 sacks in 4 years, and one of the best case for the Vikings is that they landed a rookie starter within the fifth round.

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    The one positional group that fantasy football players rarely want to speculate into is the Latest England Patriots backfield. They’ve rotated running backs on a weekly basis at times throughout the years, frustrating those that were counting on Damien Harris, James White or whichever talented back has cycled through Foxborough. It appears as if 2022 will proceed that trend.

    The Patriots shockingly drafted two rushers this 12 months. Fourth-round pick Pierre Strong Jr. and sixth-round pick Kevin Harris have drastically different styles. Strong is the more impressive raw athlete but isn’t able to assist in the passing game, making him more more likely to redshirt for 2023. Nonetheless, Harris has a pro-ready skill set.

    Kevin Harris was a dominant rusher at South Carolina before a back injury derailed his collegiate profession and drastically hurt his draft stock. He’s much like incumbent starter Damien Harris. Considering Damien Harris missed two games in 2021 and that he’s a free agent after this season, the door is open for his substitute to earn a solid workload.

    If Kevin Harris’ final collegiate game (182 rushing yards and one touchdown) was any indication of his health, the Patriots have one other impactful starter for the foreseeable future.

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    The Latest Orleans Saints only had two selections after the second round, but that doesn’t suggest we didn’t choose from talented players. Latest Orleans has done a superb job of identifying talented athletes on the defense under general manager Mickey Loomis, making fifth-round linebacker D’Marco Jackson especially noteworthy. Jackson is the one FBS player this century to supply 120 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, six sacks and 6 pass breakups. 

    The important thing for the 6’1″, 230-pound Appalachian State product to post similar production is to maintain him moving downhill or backward and forward. He has range and solid speed but is stiff within the hips and uncomfortable in coverage. He has to see what’s happening to be effective.

    Jackson is joining a linebacker corps with two standouts in Demario Davis and Pete Werner. It’s unlikely he’ll start, but in greater formations with three linebackers, head coach Dennis Allen can get Jackson exposure by having him on the sector. Ideally, Jackson will become a substitute for Davis.

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    While the Latest York Giants have a deep, talented receiving corps that encompasses a number of effective skill sets, their tight end room is lacking proven playmakers. Latest head coach Brian Daboll got essentially the most out of Dawson Knox in Buffalo last 12 months, and he likely looks at fourth-round pick Daniel Bellinger as a possible difference-maker. His other options, Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins, have had limited success.

    Bellinger may very well be the rare rookie tight end who puts up solid numbers if he’s featured enough. At 6’5″, 253 kilos, Bellinger is a giant goal for quarterback Daniel Jones to hit up the seams. Despite producing only 68 profession catches for 771 yards and five scores at San Diego State, Bellinger showed strong hands and great post-catch effort. He opened eyes along with his 4.63-second 40-yard dash on the mix.

    A willing blocker and possibly untapped athlete, Bellinger needs opportunities to develop for this offense to achieve its ceiling. With defenses more concerned about Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard, Bellinger should get loads of advantageous looks. Look ahead to the Day 3 pick to earn steal status quickly.

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    The Latest York Jets built a formidable draft haul because of their aggressive maneuvering. Still, with only three selections after the second round, our options are limited for his or her surprise gem candidate. The perfect one may not accumulate impressive stats due to stacked depth chart at his position, though. 

    Third-round tight end Jeremy Ruckert joins a loaded offense that has invested heavily into playmakers during the last two years. He’ll join Ohio State teammate Garrett Wilson as one in all Zach Wilson’s pass-catchers. Considering the Jets just signed veterans C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, Ruckert could also be reserved for more blocking assignments than pass routes.

    Ruckert can still be a surprise gem even in a reduced role. He finished each of his last three seasons at Ohio State within the 77th percentile or higher in PFF‘s run-blocking grades for tight ends and dropped just two passes in his profession (h/t Jet X’s Michael Nania). He’s used to benefiting from his opportunities in a small-volume role and shall be in an analogous position to start out his NFL profession. 

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    One mark of an awesome general manager is finding key backups on Day 3 of the draft. The worth in paying a rookie contract for a reliable role player is big. the Philadelphia Eagles’ depth chart, it appears sixth-round rookie Grant Calcaterra is in line to fight for the second tight end spot in 2022. 

    Calcaterra was a dynamic receiving tight end in SMU’s pass-happy offense. He’s fast off the road for a 6’4″, 240-pounder and may feast against the zone coverages that Jalen Hurts draws as a scrambling quarterback. The Eagles didn’t depend on a second tight end much in 2021 behind Dallas Goedert, but expect an even bigger emphasis on the passing game after receiver A.J. Brown was added to assist Hurts’ development.

    One possibly underrated usage of Calcaterra is as a slot receiver, with Brown and DeVonta Smith flanking him. Since each Brown and Smith are screen threats, Calcaterra could find advantageous matchups against smaller slot defenders or big linebackers who don’t expect him to be targeted. Look ahead to head coach Nick Sirianni to rejoice with this chess piece.   

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    Two things open doors for rookies greater than the rest: injuries and contract disputes. Pittsburgh Steelers star defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt missed the 2021 season because of a knee injury and opted against showing as much as OTAs last week. Departing general manager Kevin Colbert said the 2 sides have been involved, however it’s possible Tuitt returns a distinct player after a serious injury. He‘s also entering the ultimate 12 months of his deal in 2022.

    Pittsburgh already has a possible substitute should Tuitt get off to a slow start in 2022. Third-round pick DeMarvin Leal is a big-bodied athlete who profiles as a really perfect 3-4 end. His 6’4″, 290-pound frame has surprising quickness out of his stance and has powerful hands that may disarm blockers.

    Leal needs to point out consistency to earn trust, however the talent is there for him to take Tuitt’s job in 2022 and beyond. He’ll no less than work into the rotation because the Steelers evaluate his ability to assume a bigger role.

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    It is not unusual for offensive tackles to transition to interior line positions within the NFL. The tackle position has specific arm-length standards that disqualify most collegiate starters. Former UTSA standout Spencer Burford passed the popular threshold of arm length at 34.375 inches but the 6’5″, 300-pounder is ripe for a transition to protect for the San Francisco 49ers.

    With the 49ers already possessing star veteran tackles in Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey, moving Burford inside to assist cover the lack of Laken Tomlinson is smart. The fourth round pick had above-average relative athletic scores that project even higher to an interior lineman’s role. Guards who can explode off the snap with quality lower-body strength fare well within the NFL, and Burford cleared every barrier that would raise a red flag. 

    Kyle Shanahan’s zone-based offense requires athleticism and a certain nastiness to succeed. Burford is the right fit for his scheme and can immediately challenge to start out at guard. The previous UTSA bulldozer is competitive and seems to enjoy ending plays with emphatic strength.   

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    The “other” Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback on this class remains to be a talented force. Although Coby Bryant went three rounds after teammate Ahmad Gardner, Bryant is a candidate to start out for the Seattle Seahawks. The 6’1″, 193-pounder wins with instincts, disciplined eyes and excellent self-awareness.

    Seattle saw D.J. Reed depart in free agency but kept Sidney Jones and added nickel corner Justin Coleman to its young unit. Bryant will compete with a bevy of recent additions, including veteran Artie Burns, 2021 fourth-rounder Tre Brown and 2022 fifth-rounder Tariq Woolen. But none of those players have shown the consistent technique to beat out Bryant.

    With nine profession interceptions and 35 pass deflections, Bryant checks the boxes as an extended zone corner Seattle has all the time coveted. His long-term potential is probably not as tantalizing as Woolen’s because of his lack of clear athletic upside, but corner is a position more depending on mindset than outright speed. There have been times he was more impressive than even Gardner in college, so he has the talent to emerge as an NFL starter.    

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers avoided the potential disaster of losing quarterback Tom Brady this offseason, however it’s unclear whether Rob Gronkowski will return for 2022. If Gronk hangs up his cleats again, then there shall be a large hole behind Cameron Brate on the second tight end spot. O.J. Howard already bolted in hopes of finding greener pastures in Buffalo.

    Enter fourth-round pick Cade Otton. He’s nowhere near the athlete Gronk is, but he’s a large 6’5″, 247-pounder with an enormous catch radius. He’s tough through contact and has strong hands to complete plays with defenders draped on him. Don’t expect him to make many guys miss or to create much separation, but Brady is the right quarterback to get the ball to where it must be for Otton to return down with it.

    Brate produced just 245 yards but 4 scores behind Gronk in 2021. Otton can achieve those numbers, especially if star receiver Chris Godwin’s recovery from a torn ACL spills into the season. The rookie will even help Tampa’s run game as he’s a willing in-line blocker.

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    The Tennessee Titans turned over almost their entire receiving corps in a single 12 months’s time. A.J. Brown is gone. 2021 draft picks Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath couldn’t help the team despite a necessity last 12 months, opening the door for 2022 fifth-round pick Kyle Philips to earn a job. The slot receiver looks to be a pro-ready complement next to Treylon Burks and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine while Robert Woods rehabs from his torn ACL.

    Philips is not especially fast and is on the smaller side at 5’11”, 189 kilos. He has good quickness and fluidity to his motions, though, very like Hunter Renfrow of the Raiders. Attempting to guard him one-on-one in space proved difficult for UCLA’s opponents.

    He may prove to be a red-zone and third-down specialty weapon, but even that’s an awesome role for a fifth-round investment. Tennessee has snaps to fill, and Philips has essentially the most dynamic and reliable skill set of their candidates.

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    Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera has had success developing late-round and undrafted cornerbacks throughout his coaching profession. He favors a scheme that keeps corners protected against too many over-the-top deep throws and keeps their eyes within the backfield without losing their project. This enables less gifted players to thrive, since their list of responsibilities is reduced.

    Former Oklahoma State cornerback Christian Holmes had solid measurables to be a top quality boundary NFL cornerback. He’s 6’1″, 205 kilos with 4.54-40 speed and a 39-inch vertical, and there is not many receivers who shall be a clearly higher athlete. He’s stiff within the hips while turning to run but not bad enough to be a serious liability.

    Yet, he went within the seventh round due to his lack of ball production. With just three interceptions and 28 pass deflections over his profession at Missouri and Oklahoma State, he is not a giant playmaking threat. This shouldn’t stop him from fighting for enjoying time in Washington.

    The Commanders are razor thin on the boundary corner spot. They may easily slide Kendall Fuller to the slot and have 2021 third-rounder Benjamin St-Juste battle Holmes for the starting job across from William Jackson III. Considering St-Juste’s struggles as a rookie, it’s possible Holmes could start early in his profession.

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