If you want to know how the NFL really feels about the 2022 quarterback draft class, you only need to look at the deals that were made during and after the scouting combine. Aaron Rodgers re-upped with the Green Bay Packers. The Broncos traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and three players to the Seahawks for Russell Wilson. And the Washington Commanders, for whatever reason, traded for Carson Wentz and agreed to eat a lot of Wentz’s remaining salary — which has proven to be a massive overpay when aligned with Wentz’s performance.
There’s also the Deshaun Watson situation, which is its own unique bag of badgers.
Oh, and Tom Brady un-retired. So, that was a week.
Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral, and Sam Howell. Those are the five main players at the quarterback position in this year’s draft class, trying to state their respective cases as future franchise field-tilters.
Based on everything to date, results have been mixed. The word on this quarterback class has been out for a while — you may strike gold with one of these players in the right system, and you’re just as likely to get fooled by traits over performance — or, need over reality.
As a result, this draft could just as easily be like the 2013 draft, in which 11 quarterbacks were selected, but only one — Florida State’s EJ Manuel — was taken in the first round, and either Geno Smith or Mike Glennon proved to be the best of the group. Just because quarterbacks are overstuffed from a value perspective doesn’t mean that all of these guys in 2022 are automatic first-rounders. Some years just don’t give up the best players at the game’s most important position.
This particular mock, coming as it does a few days before the 2022 league year begins and free-agency frenzy gets underway, is affected by that process, and those particular needs. There are just three quarterbacks in this first-round projection, and all I can say at this point is: Don’t be completely surprised if this is how it shakes out.
I don’t think the Jaguars’ “interesting” decision to place the franchise tag on Cam Robinson changes this pick. It was easy to put Ekwonu in the top five of your board based on his tape — from there, it was more about preference between him and Alabama’s Evan Neal when it came to your OT1. I had Ickey up first based on his technique and finishing demeanor, and now that he’s blown up the combine with strong workout numbers across the board, that decision is rendered that much easier. People standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 310 pounds with the ability to drive opposing edge-rushers into the dirt shouldn’t be able to run a 4.93 40-yard dash, but Ekwonu did, and to me, that’s just one more small thing for him to put in his quiver.
For the Jaguars and new head coach Doug Pederson, Ekwonu has the attributes that bring to mind the legendary Jason Peters, who blocked the blind side for Pederson’s Eagles from 2016 through 2020.
Does it really matter that Hamilton ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, tied with UCLA’s Quentin Lake for the slowest official time among safeties in the 2022 combine class? It’s a good test for one’s evaluative skills. You may go back to Hamilton’s tape with that in mind, looking for instances in which he’s shown slow-footed play, and you’ll likely be disappointed. Hamilton can play credibly to incredibly everywhere from the box to the slot to free, he’s the model of the modern NFL safety, and he’s probably the best player in this draft class overall. The Lions, who have a desperate need to improve their safety group, would overthink this at their peril.
“I don’t think I need to convince teams of it, but that’s the media narrative. There always has to be some narrative that’s drawn. For me, I’m an L.A. kid, and if you know the adversity I went through to get here, and the things that I had to sacrifice, and the things my mother had to sacrifice for me to be here, you’d really understand how I feel in my heart. When you talk about fire, when you talk about passion, I think you can’t really explain it. I get emotional thinking about it, because all the sacrifices it took for me to get here, I wouldn’t have made those sacrifices if I didn’t love the game. I’m blessed to be here, and I’m just happy that these teams want to talk to me, and they want to get to know me.”
That’s what Thibodeaux said during his combine media session when he was asked about the perception that he somehow doesn’t love the game. This will be part of the draft media echo chamber whether it’s true or not.
When it comes to draft evaluation, there’s what we think we know, and what we can prove. What we can prove is that Thibodeaux put up his best collegiate season in 2021, with 48 total pressures and 29 stops. Even his comment about wanting to be “Jadeveon Clowney 2.0” was frequently misrepresented. Here’s what he actually said:
“Just be relentless. You look back at Clowney, he was great, but he didn’t have all the skills and the tools as far as pass rush skills. Me, I feel like I can build off of him — I’m like Jadeveon 2.0. I feel like I have the skills and I have a hunger to keep going. And I’m gonna steal pass rush moves. If I see something I like, I’m gonna add it to my tool box.”
The Texans, who took Clowney with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, would probably be okay with that, as they have needs… well, everywhere. As for Thibodeaux’s pre-draft coverage, we can expect a lot of weird stuff over the next couple of months. As always, the tape doesn’t lie.
There are no such concerns about Hutchinson’s love of the game, and that showed up both on his Michigan tape and in his combine workouts, where he looked good in all the drills, and furthered his case as a top-tier edge defender. The Jets, who struggled mightily to get any kind of pressure production from their ends after Carl Lawson lost his entire 2021 season to a ruptured Achilles tendon, would love to have Lawson and Hutchinson bookending each other and demolishing quarterbacks in Robert Saleh’s aggressive fronts.
Neal didn’t work out at the combine, choosing to wait until Alabama’s pro day to do all that, but he did show up for interviews with NFL teams and with the media. It could be said that after allowing just two sacks and 15 total pressures on 650 pass-blocking snaps in 2021 in his first year at left tackle for the Crimson Tide (he played left guard in 2019 and right tackle in 2020), there wasn’t much else to prove — especially since Neal has done his thing against most of the NCAA’s strongest defenses.
The Giants, who need to get stronger along their offensive line if new head coach Brian Daboll is to get a real shot at understanding what he has (and doesn’t have) in Daniel Jones, would benefit tremendously from Neal’s aggression, athleticism, and technique.
Matt Rhule needs a lot of help with a lot of things. He has made that plain during his two-year stint as the Panthers’ head coach. One thing Rhule REALLY needs help with is offensive line evaluation. Last year, the Panthers massively overpaid Cameron Erving and Pat Elflein in free agency with predictable results, and they selected BYU’s Brady Christensen in the third round of the draft with no real idea of where to put him, or how to utilize him, on their offensive line.
One way to solve this problem? Draft better players. Duh. Cross may be seen by some as an overdraft at six, but based on my tape study, I don’t think so. He allowed two sacks, no quarterback hits, and 14 quarterback pressures on 719 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, and when you watch Cross run-block, you know he’s more than just another Mike Leach spread guy.
The Giants are eager to remove cornerback James Bradberry and the eight touchdowns he allowed in 2021 from their roster, and though Adoree’ Jackson played well last season, he’s not really a true CB1 who can erase — or at least mitigate — the best receiver on the opposing side of the ball.
There are no such concerns with Gardner, who has the size, speed, length, and aggressiveness to top out at a Richard Sherman level if everything goes as it should. Gardner never gave up a single touchdown in three seasons with the Bearcats, picking off nine passes, and allowing just 58 catches on 135 targets. If you’re worried about the “small school” thing, consider that he allowed an opponent passer rating of 16.7 against Notre Dame in 2021, and gave up three catches on four targets for 14 yards to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
The Falcons had just 18 sacks in the 2021 season, and while sacks aren’t the only arbiter of quarterback disruption, there’s also the fact that Grady Jarrett led the team in total pressures with 36, and Dante Fowler Jr. led their edge-rushers with 30. That will not do it, and this is a team that needs disruption from every gap except for wherever Jarrett is aligned.
Walker blew up the combine with an insane set of on-field drills, looking like a 230-pound speed linebacker at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds. Not only does he have all the tools you’d want as an edge defender, he can also win from inside — basically, as he refines his tools, he’ll be a terror everywhere from the A-gap to wide 9. Walker had 34 total pressures on 381 pass-rushing snaps for the national champs in 2021, and the arrow is pointing nowhere but up in his case.
Given that the Seahawks just released Bobby Wagner, and made the questionable move to select Jordyn Brooks with the 27th pick in the 2020 draft (not to mention the fact that there is now a rather glaring need at quarterback), Pete Carroll and John Schneider taking a linebacker with one of the two first-round picks they got in the Russell Wilson trade will go over in the Emerald City like a certain skinny slant in Super Bowl XLIX.
The outrage might be valid, given this team’s draft history over the last half-decade, but you can’t separate Pete Carroll from his love of linebackers, and the Seahawks have had a pipeline to Utah schools since Wagner himself was selected in the second round out of Utah State in the 2012 draft. Lloyd, who Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has called the greatest player he’s ever coached, gives Seattle’s brain trust three things they need as they try to pull themselves out of their self-imposed rebuild: A middle linebacker with outstanding field awareness, a second-level defender who can cover (for one less first-round pick than Jamal Adams, who maybe can’t), and an occasional edge-rusher who had seven sacks and 30 total pressures in 2021.
Seattle fans won’t like this pick, and Seattle’s front office has very little equity at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that the Seahawks could do better, which is par for the course these days.
Beyond the Lisfranc injury that prevented him from working out at the combine, the question people will have about Stingley as they assess his NFL potential is, which version are you going to get? Is it the guy who intercepted six passes and allowed an opponent passer rating of 51.4 in 2019, or the player whose coverage metrics have declined in each of the last two seasons? There’s enough on tape to forward the idea that Stingley can be a top-tier defender in the NFL, but there is an element of buyer beware here. Hopefully, a workout at his pro day will provide some clarity.
Does anybody actually believe that Carson Wentz is the future at the quarterback position for the Washington WhateverTheirNameIsThisWeeks?
No? We’re past that? Good. Now, onto Malik Willis. When he was the Panthers’ head coach from 2011-2019, Ron Rivera’s efforts were amplified by Cam Newton — a big, mobile quarterback who was just as much of a threat as a runner as he was as a passer in his prime. Rivera’s quarterback situation in Washington has not been as clear — from Alex Smith to Dwayne Haskins to Kyle Allen to Taylor Heinicke, Rivera has not had that franchise guy at the game’s most important position.
If the Commanders take Willis with the 11th overall pick, Rivera might not have that franchise guy right away — Willis is the most gifted quarterback in this class, but there are some things to fill in. But the investment over time, perhaps augmented with a reliable veteran to pick up the short-term slack, could be well worth it. It’s now clear that Washington thinks Wentz can be that stopgap… we’ll just have to wait and see about that.
Mike Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota ended with some truly abysmal cornerback play, which is an unfortunate way out for one of the best secondary coaches of his era. Only Cameron Dantzler played at an above-average level among the Vikings’ cornerbacks in 2022, and if new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell is going to succeed at his position, he’ll need at least one more potential star at the position.
McDuffie certainly qualifies as a possible future star. The interception totals won’t blow you away — he’s got two in three seasons with the Huskies — but he’s also given up just 56 catches on 100 targets for 502 yards, 173 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 74.7. Over the last two seasons, his opponent passer ratings allowed have been 52.1, and 52.0. If you want consistency (and the Vikings really need it at the position), that’s a pretty good indicator.
The Amari Cooper trade gives the Browns one top-tier receiver, and we’ll just see if Kevin Stefanski figures out how to use those objects in his passing game. If he does (and the time is now, please), Cleveland would do well to not stop with Cooper. This is Baker Mayfield’s “prove it” season, and it’s a good opportunity to give him (or whomever is the Browns’ quarterback in 2023 and beyond) more explosive targets. Acquiring Wilson from a couple hours down I-71 would certainly be a step in the right direction, as the Ohio State alum has the play strength, downfield speed, and after-catch ability to turn a pedestrian passing game into a winner.
When NFL executives send love notes from the podium to individual draft prospects during their combine media sessions, it’s good to pay attention to that. Here’s Ravens EVP and general manager Eric DeCosta on Iowa center Tyler Linerbaum last week:
“We’ve had very good luck with Iowa players over the years. Marshal Yanda, to me, a Hall of Famer someday. When we look at a guy like Tyler Linderbaum, we see a lot of the same qualities: tough, gritty, very, very athletic, very intelligent and smart. [He’s] the type of guy that can really be the centerpiece of your offensive line. So, teams picking in the Top 15, I think they have a chance to get themselves a really good offensive lineman.”
DeCosta also name-checked Evan Neal and Charles Cross, perhaps knowing that neither one of them would be around when it was time for the Ravens to pick. But Linderbaum might be, and his combination of toughness, technique, and athleticism would drastically improve a center position that didn’t really hold up last season. It’s not a sexy pick, and yes, we know the Ravens need all kinds of pass-rush help. But if you want to lead with a multi-faceted run game as the Ravens do, your center had best be on top of everything.
Out first trade in mock season has the Chargers moving up with the first-round pick-rich Eagles to nab Davis, whose combine performance and tape could have him going even higher than this. But for the sake of Brandon Staley’s run defense (which was atrocious in 2021), the addition of Davis would certainly help. The Chargers allowed 4.61 running back yards per carry last season, and if you watched that defense in 2021, it would not surprise you that the Chargers went with a light box on 56% of their plays, ranking 31st in Positive Play Rate allowed. They also went with a two-high shell on 71% of their snaps, and ranked 30th in PPR there.
Staley isn’t going to change his stripes; he’ll have to get that big mauler in the middle. Davis overqualifies as that, and he also brings enough pass-rush juice to be a special player as long as he holds on from a durability standpoint.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said at the combine that he doesn’t necessarily need to make all three of his team’s current first-round picks, which means you could see a trade up if there’s the right player to fill a need. But if Roseman and his staff do stay put, there’s a ton they can do to shore up what needs fixing. Let’s start with a receiver corps that was defined to a point by 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith, but question marks still abound behind him.
If quarterback Jalen Hurts is to realize his full potential, he’ll need better targets. And while Burks, the No. 1 receiver on a lot of boards, didn’t test off the map in Indianapolis, all you have to do is to go back to the tape to see a 6-foot-2, 225-pound receiver with fluid movement skills, aggression at the catch point, and the ability to make things happen after the catch. Pairing him with Smith would give a ton of clarity to what was an iffy passing game before.
Let’s continue the Eagles overhaul with a group of edge defenders that didn’t exactly wow last season — Josh Sweat led the outside guys with 46 total pressures. Johnson also had 46 total pressures for the Seminoles in 2021, but when you watch his tape, you see a guy who can blast through blockers with speed and quickness just as easily as he can take an offensive tackle and push him right into the quarterback. Johnson spent 2019 and 2020 trying to get on the field in Georgia’s stacked defense, so that transfer was the best thing that could have happened to him — and he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.
The Saints’ need for a quarterback is one of the NFL’s most obvious, because when your QB depth chart consists of Taysom Hill, Blake Bortles, and Ian Book… well, that ain’t it. And there’s not a lot the team will be able to do in free agency, given the cap situation. Which leaves the draft, and a class of relatively unspectacular quarterbacks. Especially if Malik Willis is off the board here.
Pickett has proven to be a high-floor, decent-ceiling quarterback whose alleged hand size issues haven’t really shown up during his high school days in New Jersey, nor during his college time at Pitt. He’d be playing in a dome a lot of the time with the Saints, and he’s more than a bridge quarterback at the NFL level with his experience and ability to read the field. Think of Kirk Cousins with the Saints, and that’s what a Pickett pick could turn out to be.
“The definition of what our linebackers are doing have changed with [defensive coordinator Jonathan] Gannon And we have to find players that fit our coaches’ scheme. That’s the most important thing, that we’re finding players that fit what we’re trying to do offensively, defensively and on special teams.”
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said that during his combine media session about a Philly linebacker corps that didn’t exactly set the world on fire in 2021. It’s a clear need in this draft, and Dean, one of the primary fire-starters in Georgia’s incredible 2021 defense, would take care of a lot of those problems. He’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, but that’s not far off from the prototype of the modern do-it-all linebacker, and Dean’s tape shows from run defense to sideline speed to coverage, that he has every other asset to be a major difference-maker in any defense.
“I think it’s a quality class. It might not be the number of players at that position that there have been in the past but it’s certainly good quality and there’s going to be starting NFL quarterbacks coming out of this class for sure.”
That’s what Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in Indy as he continues to get ready for his final draft with the team. Right now, the Steelers have very little clarity at the position between Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph, and if they’re not able to enhance the position in free agency, it’ll be all about getting the best fit.
There are legitimate concerns about how much Corral had to rely on RPOs in 2021 — his 110 RPO dropbacks ranked sixth in the FBS, but when he was reliant on those concepts, he did just fine, completing 170 of 278 passes for 2,474 yards, 1,073 air yards, 17 touchdowns, and five interceptions. So, let’s not automatically throw him in the one-trick pony bin.
It’s also true that under offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2021, the Steelers ranked third in the NFL (behind the Chiefs and Dolphins) with 83 RPO dropbacks, so the Corral-Steelers merger could be a successful one from that standpoint. Corral might have a Baker Mayfield-style impact in the right system, and Pittsburgh’s could be it.
Let’s talk about Mac Jones and the deep ball for a minute. In his rookie season of 2021 for the Patriots, the Alabama alum attempted 63 passes of 20 or more air yards, completing just 24 for 763 yards, four touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.4. That’s a lot of bottom-five rankings among starting quarterbacks, and while Jones has a good arm, he’ll need receivers who can help him with those long bombs by creating defined openings with deep speed and acceleration.
Which is where Jameson Williams comes in. Had Williams not suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game against Georgia, he’d probably be a top-five prospect and the No. 1 receiver in this class on just about every analyst’s board. An afterthought for Ohio State in 2019 and 2020, Williams absolutely exploded with the Crimson Tide in 2021. Williams caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns, adding two kick return touchdowns. The Patriots would have to wait a tick for Williams to hit the field, but given what he could do for Bill Belichick’s offense, it’d be worth the wait.
Speaking of Patriots coaches with the need for speed in their receiver corps… New Raiders head coach and offensive shot-caller Josh McDaniels has most of what he needs for a dynamic passing game. He’s got a plus quarterback in Derek Carr. He’s got his next Julian Welker in Hunter Renfrow, his dominant receiving tight end in Darren Waller, and backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake to amplify that passing game with their own efforts.
What McDaniels does not have at this point is a deep threat receiver who will force opposing defenses off their preferred game. Olave isn’t the biggest or most physically imposing receiver in this class, but as today’s NFL is a spacing league on both sides of the ball, he does bring one attribute of particular import — the ability to get open. Olave may struggle with press coverage, but if you want to stop him at the line of scrimmage, you’re going to have to catch him first — which opposing defenses found difficult to do last season, especially with deep passes. In 2021, Olave caught 10 passes of 20 or more air yards on 24 targets for 354 yards — and seven touchdowns. He’d add aerial assault aspects to McDaniels’ offense, but he’s also got the knack for finding empty spaces on the field, and that could make him Carr’s new best friend.
Last season, the Cardinals’ cornerbacks allowed 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Few teams (even the really bad ones) have a more glaring need, and this is something general manager Steve Keim has been trying to get right for a while. The current contractual schism with Kyler Murray aside, this team is going to find it tough to be taken seriously in the NFC West until the secondary gets sorted out. Byron Murphy aside, this just isn’t working.
So, let’s give the Cardinals another Kyler, at least while they have the other one. This Kyler, one of two Washington cornerbacks taken in the first round in this mock, gave up just 21 catches on 41 targets last season for 243 yards, 70 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 49.1. Gordon is a big, aggressive defensive back who’s still putting his overall coverage plan together, but when it works, it’s pretty tough to deal with. He’d be a great Murphy bookend in a defense with desperate needs here.
The Cowboys are desperately trying to clear cap space, which is why they traded Amari Cooper to Cleveland, and why tackle La’el Collins is now similarly on the market. With that in mind, and given the fact that future Hall of Famer Tyron Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015, it’s time for the Jones boys to get some help in the trenches.
Raimann, the former tight end, brings the athleticism required from his former position, and adds the nastiness needed in his present spot. He’ll need a bit of time to develop the more advanced techniques required against the NFL’s speed-rushers, but there is a plug-and-play aspect to his game that belies his relative lack of experience.
The Bills come into the 2022 league year with a Zen-like state of needlessness — there are few positions of weakness on this roster, which gives general manager Brandon Beane the freedom to gather depth, and drill down to those positions that could move Buffalo from contender to champion.
Buffalo’s guard play was specifically unspectacular last season, which Josh Allen was able to mask to a certain degree. But if the Bills want to stop over-relying on their quarterback and put a slightly more balanced offense on the field, getting a blocker like Green would be quite a net positive. Green played both guard and both tackle positions for the Aggies in 2021, but where you really want him is inside, where he can use his brute strength and impressive quickness to dominate defensive linemen in all kinds of situations.
In 2021, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill took 48 sacks (only Joe Burrow had more with 70), and he was pressured on 34.4% of his dropbacks, throwing seven touchdown passes and six interceptions when he was thrown off his ideal spot. Right tackle David Quessenberry was the primary issue in this department, as he allowed a league-high 11 sacks and 60 total pressures. Quessenberry was a decent run-blocker, but if the Titans are going to separate themselves in an AFC that is absolutely stacked at the top, they’ll need better protection than that — and they also need a blocker who can amplify Derrick Henry’s efforts in Tennessee’s power run game.
Penning, who really became a name during the Senior Bowl with his spirited play style, would be a great fit. He’s a natural road-grader, and he allowed just one sack and 11 total pressures last season. Strength of competition might be an issue in the short term when Penning makes his NFL transition, but he’s got the tools to be an ideal mauling tackle at the next level. As long as Penning maintains his leverage as opposed to looking for a fight, he’ll be fine.
The recent retirement of Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet, as well as the free agent statuse of fellow Bucs guard Alex Cappa, means that Bruce Arians needs some help in the middle of his offensive line. Johnson was a star at the scouting combine in the drills, and his tape shows a force-ready phone booth mauler who isn’t going to win any agility awards in space, but can negate opposing defensive linemen pretty quickly as a pass-protector, and in the run game. Johnson allowed just one sack and six total pressures on 364 pass-blocking snaps last season, and running backs were generally pretty happy when they were headed to his gaps.
And hey, it appears that Johnson will be blocking for a former Boston-based quarterback, so that’s nice. Also, that news development brought back center Ryan Jensen on a three-year deal.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Ojabo came late to American football, but the potential is clear and obvious, and should really show up with more experience at the NFL level. While Aidan Hutchinson was the star of Michigan’s defense last season, Ojabo gave opposing offensive lines just as many headaches as the season went on, and he finished with 11 sacks, seven quarterback hits, 24 quarterback hurries, and 26 stops.
The Packers could use this help. Za’Darius Smith missed all but two games last season due to injury, and Smith has a rather considerable $27,661,250 cap hit in 2022. That could be restructured or partially eliminated, but as Smith has been the Packers’ best multi-gap pass-rusher, it’s time to get the next guy on board — and that’s true even with Rashan Gary’s progress.
If new Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel wants to get the most out of one Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa, giving his quarterback as many gifted receivers as possible would be a good start. Miami’s personnel group did a very nice job of that with the selection of Jaylen Waddle with the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft, and adding London as well would give Miami another big-bodied target to go along with franchise-tagged tight end Mike Gesicki. London isn’t a speed freak on the field, and there are legitimate questions about his ability to consistently separate from better defenders, but if you need one more guy who can body his way through an RPO screen for 10-20 extra yards on the regular, London would be an excellent choice.
One of the better free-agent signings of the 2021 league year was the Chiefs giving former Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed a one-year, $7 million contract. Once Kansas City was able to acquire former Steelers edge-rusher Melvin Ingram, that allowed Chris Jones to move back inside from his misbegotten edge position, and whammo — Steve Spagnuolo had his defense back.
Reed is now a free agent, and while the Chiefs might re-sign him, maybe it’s time to give Spags an even more gifted and versatile man in the middle. Wyatt, a key cog in the NCAA’s best defense last season, was one of many Georgia defenders who absolutely demolished the scouting combine, and the 6-foot-3, 304-pound war daddy has the speed, strength, and gap agility to help the Chiefs scale the preposterous quarterback talent in the AFC West — and beyond. Pairing him with Jones on the inside would be unfair, and both Wyatt and Jones can play all over the line.
Bengals general manager Duke Tobin was asked about the status of his offensive line right off the bat at his combine media session.
“Like every position on our team, we always will look at it and see how we can improve,” Tobin said in response to the first, and third, and seventh, and 10th questions. “I know it’s a big story, I know they’ve taken some heat but I’ll just give you some data points that I think are worth considering. We had two receivers go for over a 1,000 and a third get close. We had a running back go for over 1,000 yards, our quarterback was first or second in the league in passer rating, we’re a top-10 scoring team and I think we’re a top-10 yards per play team. The five guys up front, that’s all on them too. There’s a lot more to it than just the sack numbers.
“We weren’t the only ones to get sacked by Tennessee, Oakland, Kansas City and especially the Rams. Those guys did a lot of good work this year but in terms of analysis and whether we can improve, we’re obviously going to look to improve but it’s not just that position. We’ll look to improve everywhere. We’re not going to be satisfied with where we were, we feel good about where we are, we feel like we got the building blocks to be a perennial contender but you know with that position, it will be like every other position, we’ll see what’s available to us.”
And then, Tobin went back to his bunker, watched some Isaiah Prince tape, drew up a heavy glass of whatever, and knew what he REALLY had to do.
Tyler Smith is a mammoth (6-foot-5, 324-pound) run-blocking savant with some things to work out in pass protection — you’d like to see more ideal placement and more aggressive hands — but when he’s on (as he was against Ohio State in 2021, allowing just one pressure on 41 pass-blocking reps), he’s someone who could drastically improve Joe Burrow’s health prospects — especially on the right side.
“I just think it fits our personnel better. Look, we’ll still have elements of what we originally did last year, so I don’t want to say that this is a 100% wholesale change, it’s just, we’ll be a little bit heavier that way. It just, I think with what we’ve got, I think it just fits us a little bit better if you will. Gives us more flexibility in the front. I think for example, somebody like Levi, as he continues to grow and develop, he can play anywhere from a three technique to a nose, to defensive end in what the structure of our defense, so that just helps. The more versatility you have with what you’re able to do defensively, it helps you. And it helps you find players, too.”
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said that at the scouting combine about his team’s switch to more of a standard four-man defensive front. What Campbell also knows is that among his edge-rushers in 2021, Charles Harris led the Lions with 52 total pressures — after that, it was the Okwara brothers, Julian and Romeo, with 20 and 16 respectively.
Karlaftis would add to that profile in a number of ways. He had 54 total pressures and 29 stops last season for the Boilermakers, and while he doesn’t necessarily jump off the tape as a speed-rusher, he does check all the boxes as a plus edge defender with gap versatility and the ability to stop the run. The easy comparison here is Ryan Kerrigan, given that both players went to Purdue. I think that Kerrigan was more purely explosive coming out of college. Karlaftis reminds me more of an estimable end who did his primary damage with the Titans from 2005-2009 and ended his NFL career with the Lions — Kyle Vanden Bosch.