The 2022 Draft is absolutely loaded but like every year some players are always going to be the top prospects and won’t slip. On the other side, there are always those few that slowly make their rise among the ranks with a great year. If you didn’t see the offensive sleepers make sure you check that out, anyway here we go with one defensive sleeper to watch in the 2021 college season.
DT: Jayden Peevy, Texas A&M (Projected Round 5)
Jayden Peevy is in an excellent spot for the 2021 season. He’s playing next to DeMarvin Leal who will garner all the attention on the A&M defensive line. The Aggies are going to run a lot of odd front and three defensive line sets which will give the 6-foot-6 295, pound Peevy a lot of one on one matchups with the smaller and weaker interior offensive lines of the SEC.
Peevy only has 4.5 sacks in four years at A&M but when it comes to run defending, Peevy could be the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the class. The 2022 class has a ton of defensive tackle talent with players such as previously mentioned Leal, Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent, Alabama’s Phildariua Mathis and DJ Dale, and the two biggest standouts in Georgia’s Jordan Davis and Clemson’s Tyler Davis (both should be first-round picks by year-end).
The NFL is clearly pass-driven so the emphasis on a gap-filling nose tackle is lower than ever but it’s still something NFL teams value. Peevy shows good hand skills and while his pass rushing isn’t the best you see some very nice traits that can be refined.
Given his low production in pass rush and his inconsistencies to stay on the field, Peevy is currently projected as only a fifth round prospect. We saw a similar thing with Alim McNeil in 2021. McNeil proved that he could be used by teams in pass rush sets which caused his stock to skyrocket from sixth round to being the Lions second round pick.
Peevy needs to show the same skill set in run defense but he also needs to make strides in his pass rush in order to see his stock climb. No one expects a ton of sacks from him but being able to consistently beat his man and provide some interior pressure will be huge for his stock. Given how loaded the 2022 class is, Peevy likely won’t see his way into a day one selection but could easily make his way to round two or three with consistent pass rushing tape.
EDGE: Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame (Projected Round 3), Michael Clemons, Texas A&M (Projected Round 6), and Tyreke Smith, Ohio State (Projected Round 7)
Ok, I know the article is titled “ONE 2022 Prospect” but It is so criminally unfair to these three for me to not give each one love. The 2022 draft class has so much EDGE talent I’m just going to list the players that will go in the first two rounds. To begin with Kayvon Thibodeaux, Zach Harrison, and George Kalaftis, and Drake Jackson should be picked in the top 15. Adam Anderson, Aidan Hutchinson, Will McDonald, Ali Gaye, Kingsley Enagbare, Brenton Cox, Nik Bonitto, Boye Mafe, Myjai Sanders, Zachary Sanders, and Ochaun Mathis should all be selected in the first two rounds.
Foskey will join those prospects mentioned earlier and he should be a first-round pick by year’s end. The Irish lost Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji to the 2021 draft class which left Foskey as the main EDGE rusher at Notre Dame. The Irish will use him in a VYPER role which is mainly used for standup rushers that can be used to drop into coverage.
Foskey has demonstrated the ability to drop into coverage multiple times for Notre Dame last year and will do more under a new defensive staff. In 12 games, he has recorded 25 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks along with three pass breakups. Foskey has great length at 6-foot-4, 257 pounds and is a violent rusher. He sets the edge in the run and also will beat anyone in a pass rush due to a nice combination of speed and power.
Foskey also spent the entire off-season training with Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and reportedly gained 20 pounds of muscle. If he can keep up his athletic profile while being able to simply outmuscle any player, Foskey will have double-digit sacks in 2021. All Foskey has to do in order to raise his stock is simply play, if he does that he skyrockets.
As I mentioned with Peevy the Texas A&M line is absolutely stacked. With Leal taking almost all the attention from opposing offenses it will leave everyone else one on one with the opposing lineman. Clemons is a massive human checking in at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds and given his change from interior defensive line to EDGE in 2020 which saw his sack numbers rise from .5 sacks in 10 games during 2019 to four in five games, only a matter of time till he shows what he can do in a full season.
Clemons has the ability to rush standing up or hand in the dirt and that will be crucial in the NFL. He has great power and while he lacks the speed element you want off the EDGE his bend and power are freaky. Clemons is great versus the run and not awful in pass rush but needs to be more consistent. Something clicked in 2020 and with a full offseason to grow and gain muscle along with having Leal take the pressure, Clemons stock will rise. He needs to maintain consistency in both aspects of his game and develop his pass rush moves a bit more and if he does he will go from day three to day two, no doubt.
Smith is entering his make it or break it season at Ohio State. He will have virtually no attention as he rushes opposite of top-10 pick Zach Harrison and alongside one of the best interior defensive line duos in the nation with Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent. Smith has the skill and is primarily best when given the opportunity to rush while standing up and use his speed and bend to run around the opponent’s tackles.
Smith does need to add strength despite being 6-foot-4, 267 pounds. Smith will either break out this year and see his stock take a massive jump due to an increase in production and better tape, or he will flop and be lucky to see the back end of the seventh round. Smith has talent but he has not been able to put it together or stay on the field and in order to see a jump in his stock he has to do both of those this year.
LB: Merlin Robertson, Arizona State (Projected Round 5)
Merlin Robertson was a great prospect if he chose to come out in 2021, but waited and we’ll see what he can do in 2021. Arizona State has a ton of talent that could potentially hear their name called during the 2022 draft but Roberston is the one who could see the biggest rise in his stock with an excellent 2022 campaign.
Robertson has a huge frame at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds with an excellent wingspan and great closing speed. In just three games last year, he racked up 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. In total, he has appeared in 28 career games recording 171 tackles, seven sacks, 15 TFL, three interceptions, four PBU, three fumbles recovered, and four forced fumbles.
Robertson has great range, sideline to sideline speed, and a great IQ in coverage. He hasn’t shown the consistency as a pass coverage linebacker to be played full time in coverage and doesn’t have the consistency either to be a full end pass rusher. He fills gaps well and plays the run amazingly but is inconsistent elsewhere. In order to see his stock rise more in 2022, he needs to show consistency as either a pass rusher or refine his coverage in order to be utilized more as a traditional interior linebacker instead of an outside linebacker. Robertson has the potential to be a star in the NFL but he has to be consistent as either a pass rusher, coverage backer or both to see his stock climb.
CB: Shaun Jolly, App State (Projected Round 6) and Terrell “TJ” Carter (TCU)
Again I know I said one at each position but Jolly and Carter are too good of prospects to overlook. In my defense, one is a potential nickelback corner in the NFL and the other an outside corner so they are in different positions. I won’t spend much time on either but here they are:
Jolly is one of the most slept on prospects in the entire draft. He was excellent in 2020 for Appalachian State and can only improve now being the sole corner on the roster with extensive experience. He is likely going to be a nickelback corner in the NFL given his 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame but that doesn’t limit him from being an excellent defender in the slot and outside.
Jolly possesses good awareness and IQ from the slot and isn’t afraid to come up and help in the run game or hit hard. He plays the ball well and could be the best defender when it comes to jumping routes. In 24 career games he has recorded 87 tackles, 5.5 TFL, half a sack, five interceptions and 13 PBU, a fumble recovery, three forced fumbles and an impressive two pick sixes. Jolly needs to show more consistency when it comes to being in a zone scheme which allows him to be better used in the NFL. If he can show the ability to keep up his play in man along with showing better traits in zone he could go as high as day two.
I was shocked that TJ Carter decided to not enter the 2021 NFL Draft. He was an amazing corner prospect that could play the boundary well and move inside in either zone or man. Instead, Carter chose to transfer from Memphis to TCU where he joins Noah Daniels, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, and LaKendrick Van Zandt as other potential 2022 NFL draft picks.
The TCU backfield has talent and that only should open the door more for Carter to show his skill set. He may work some at free safety this year which again adds to his versatility. Carter has decent size for an outside corner being 5-foot-11, 190 pounds but he doesn’t play small. He comes up and hits and is very physical when it comes to the point of attack. Carter also is great in run defense and will come up and make a play on the ball carrier. In 44 career games, Carter registered 187 tackles, six TFL, one sack, six interceptions, 33 PBU, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, and a pick-six. Carter will be able to show his versatility this year even more transitioning to free safety but in the NFL playing the corner role fits him better. If Carter can keep up his physicality and refine some zone traits he will rise for sure from a day three pick to possibly mid-second round at best.
S: Smoke Monday, Auburn (Projected Round 5)
First off, without a doubt, Smoke Monday has the best name in the 2022 draft class. He is your traditional strong safety standing at 6-foot-2, 196 pounds. He’s got the mindset of a strong safety that can only tackle and hit hard as he also has shown the ability to be solid in coverage with four career interceptions and three PBU. Two of his four interceptions were also run back for touchdowns. He added 108 tackles, eight TFL, four sacks, and a forced fumble in 31 career games.
Monday is great in man coverage especially versus tight ends but struggles with his deep zone assignments. He also can be too aggressive at times, but that can work in his favor. The 2022 draft class is strong at safety so I don’t see Monday rising his stock too much, maybe at most the fourth round, given the heavy talent stream next year. If he can refine his zone coverage and learn when to hit hard and when not to he’ll be a nice add for a team looking for a box safety with potential starter upside.