College coaches break down 2022 NFL draft surprises, best fits and value picks


Few were more interested in last week’s NFL draft than college football coaches.

They have coached those whose names were called in Las Vegas and game-planned against them. They have seen players rise from the high school ranks to the highest level of the sport. College coaches ultimately aren’t making decisions on draft weekend, but they have a distinct viewpoint on good picks, bad picks, surprises, sleepers, trends and how players project with certain teams.

After launching draft confidential last year, I reached out to more than 25 college coaches for their thoughts on the 2022 NFL draft. I spoke to head coaches in every Power 5 conference, as well as coordinators and position coaches who followed the draft like the rest of us, but could analyze players, position groups and team fits from direct experience.

Most coaches spoke anonymously, but Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops also discussed the impressive draft performances by their respective programs. The 2022 draft seemed to diverge from those of previous years. Quarterback picks were delayed, Georgia had arguably the greatest draft output ever and teams prioritized wide receivers, cornerbacks and pass rushers, while backing off on running backs, tight ends and some linebackers.

« It was a terrible draft, » a Power 5 coach said. « Is this not the least-hyped draft in the history of the NFL? Not a great year for top-end guys. »

Another Power 5 coach noted that NFL teams displayed more patience than in other years, especially with certain positions.

« I don’t think teams are taking reaches, drafting guys because of positions, as much as letting them go to where they fall, » the coach said. « They’re trying to work through different options of what they’re willing to give to get the right guy, and if there’s not, they’re not going to overselect or overpay. »

Here’s an evaluation of the 2022 NFL draft through the eyes of college coaches. (Note: Coaches are identified by the roles they held during the 2021 season.)

Jump to: Georgia and Dean | Pickett and QBs | OLs, WRs, DBs | Fickell and Stoops | Best drafts |Big 12 defense | Sleepers

Georgia’s national championship celebration extended into draft weekend, as the program had 15 players selected, the most ever in a seven-round draft. The team set records for the most first-round picks from a single unit — the defense had five, beginning with No. 1 overall selection Travon Walker — and the most in the first six rounds (all 15).

The Bulldogs accounted for 5.7% of all draft picks. The only teams with more selections in a single draft — 1984 Texas (17) and 1946 Notre Dame (16) — did so in drafts that included more than 300 picks (this year, there were 262).

« If Georgia didn’t win the national championship, that defensive staff should have been fired, » a Big Ten coach joked. « You’ve got backups getting drafted. »

Coaches understood the reason for the run on Georgia players, although some questioned Walker as the first Bulldog off the board. His numbers for 2021 — six sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, 37 total tackles — didn’t jump out as much as those of teammates drafted behind him.

« The kid that went first, I can’t believe that, » a Power 5 offensive coordinator said. « A lot of really good GMs out there were probably laughing behind closed doors. The cardinal rule of drafting that early is you don’t ever project. That’s where every mistake has been made. »

Linebacker Nakobe Dean’s prolonged and painful wait — through the first round and well into the third, when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him — became one of the top stories of the draft. Coaches who saw Dean become an All-American at Georgia and lead one of the most dominant defenses in recent memory shared in the surprise that he wasn’t selected earlier.

« He literally does not allow you to run the football in the SEC, » an SEC offensive coordinator said of Dean. « If you put Nakobe Dean on an edge, he would be more productive and better than [former Georgia player and first-round pick] Jermaine Johnson ever will be. That’s what’s so amazing to me about that league [the NFL]. They get so many resources and so much money, and you’re not going to take Nakobe Dean? »

Dean’s health situation and measurables — he measured 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds — likely contributed to the drop. An assistant who faced Georgia this year noted, « People don’t like short linebackers in the NFL, » but thought Dean would go early in the second round.

A Power 5 defensive coordinator attributed Dean’s situation to changes in the NFL and how teams are assessing linebackers.

« Teams want versatility, » he said. « They want length and speed, so if you’re Dean and you’re 5-11, they want to see that Tampa Bay linebacker [Devin White] speed. And he didn’t run a 40. With the wideouts now, it’s such a passing league and you’re paying DBs because you’ve got to stop the wideouts. Everything is about the pass. Your top-paid positions are quarterback, tackle, D-end and corner/wideout. »

Kenny Pickett headlines mostly unmemorable QB class

After several quarterback-centric drafts, this year featured only one QB in the first round for the first time since 2013, and none in the second round. Quarterbacks once pegged as potential top-10 picks, such as North Carolina’s Sam Howell, fell to Day 3. The draft fittingly ended with Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, who passed for more than 12,000 yards, getting the Mr. Irrelevant label as the final selection.

A Power 5 coach attributed two factors to the poor quarterback showing: An underwhelming 2017 quarterback recruiting class and the transfer portal. Other than Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Stanford’s Davis Mills, the 2017 quarterback class hasn’t really materialized in the NFL. Some struggled in college — Hunter Johnson (Clemson/Northwestern), Tate Martell (Ohio State/Miami/UNLV), Lowell Narcisse (LSU, UTSA) — while others are still looking for a breakthrough, such as Penn State’s Sean Clifford and LSU’s Myles Brennan.

« You get to that top 10, man, it’s bad, » the coach said. « For some, it’s a byproduct of the portal. And it goes back to, they never developed. It’s unbelievable. Their best football was in high school and on the [7-on-7] circuit throwing with no defensive linemen hitting them.

« Just horrible. We were looking at it before the draft and were like, ‘Look at all these misses.' »

Coaches said a lack of size also hurt this year’s quarterback draft class. They felt the right quarterback went first in Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who will stay in the same city and facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who selected him No. 20 overall.

« Pickett was by far the one true NFL guy, » a Power 5 coach said Friday. « I don’t think the rest of them are first-round guys. It would have been a stretch. »

« Super-competitive guy, playmaker, » an ACC coach added of Pickett. « He’s tough and obviously, being at Pittsburgh will be good for him. He does fumble a lot, and that’s probably the one thing that could get him. »

Several coaches expected Ole Miss’ Matt Corral to be next, but the Atlanta Falcons went with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder at the end of the third round, which also featured Liberty’s Malik Willis (Tennessee Titans) and Corral (Carolina Panthers).

« He plays scrappy, » an SEC coordinator said of Corral. « He reminds me a lot of Drew Brees, more athletic, just makes plays happen even though he doesn’t look like he should. »

Another defensive coordinator familiar with Corral noted size concerns but said he can make any throw, using different arm slots and not always needing a clean pocket to make plays.

« He’s a little bit of a gambler with the ball — that might scare some people, » the coach said. « But he can make some plays. There’s no doubt. »

After the 2020 season, Howell was widely projected as a top-five pick for the 2022 draft. But he lost many of the weapons that helped him to consecutive 3,500-yard passing, 30-touchdown seasons.

Howell was first off the board in the fifth round, going to the Washington Commanders. Several ACC coaches noted his toughness and how he had less to work with in 2021.

« I was more impressed with Kenny Pickett, but Sam Howell makes enough throws, has enough competitiveness, and he’s got enough of a frame even though he’s not tall and big, » an ACC defensive coordinator said. « He’s put together and can take a hit. He’ll be able to stay in the NFL for several years. »

Seventh-round quarterback selections are long shots, but some coaches believe Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson could latch on with the Miami Dolphins.

« He’s more prototypical, size-wise, » a Group of 5 defensive coordinator said. « If he wouldn’t have gotten hurt so much, he would have been a higher pick, because he kind of fit all the stuff they’re looking for. »

First-round intrigue with O-line, receivers, DBs and more

The first round was largely defined by record selections for Georgia’s defense (five) and the wide receiver position (six in the first 18 picks). But college coaches noted a pattern with offensive linemen — not so much the number but the players selected.

As expected, the big-school stars came off the board first: NC State tackle Ikem « Ickey » Ekwonu to the Carolina Panthers at No. 6. Alabama’s Evan Neal followed at No. 7 to the New York Giants, then Mississippi State’s Charles Cross (No. 9, Seattle Seahawks), Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green (No. 15, Houston Texans) and Boston College’s Zion Johnson (No. 17, Los Angeles Chargers). None was a major surprise.

« Evan Neal was the best guy we faced all year, » an SEC West defensive assistant said. « Cross was really good, too, a big, long guy. In the [Mike] Leach offense, you get plenty of opportunities to pass-set. »

But the end of the first round brought a run on offensive linemen from smaller schools: Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa, No. 19 to the New Orleans Saints), Tyler Smith (Tulsa, No. 24, Dallas Cowboys) and Cole Strange (Chattanooga, No. 29, New England Patriots). Several coaches were surprised New England didn’t wait longer for Strange. A Power 5 coach who watched Penning at the Senior Bowl came away surprised that the Saints were so aggressive to select him.

« He’s a good player, but boy, even at the Senior Bowl, he was hitting late, he caused several fights, » the coach said. « The Chattanooga kid surprised me to go that high, that was probably a stretch. And the one the Cowboys took [Smith], that one didn’t make a lot of sense to me. »

A Power 5 coordinator was more bullish on Smith, calling him, « Elite-elite, » while an AAC defensive coordinator said Smith can be dominant with his footwork and size (6-foot-5, 324 pounds).

« Particularly in the O-line position, there’s so much projection taking place, » an SEC coach said. « There’s room for really, really good evaluation, and it’s still an imperfect process. »

Coaches thought the selection order of receivers made sense: USC’s Drake London (No. 8, Atlanta), Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson (No. 10, New York Jets), Ohio State’s Chris Olave (No. 11 to New Orleans) and Alabama’s Jameson Williams (No. 12, Detroit Lions).

Several coaches marveled that Wilson, Olave and Williams all once occupied the same receiver room at Ohio State, before Williams transferred to Alabama. A Power 5 defensive backs coach said Olave’s speed is deceptively good — « Watch him on tape is one thing, but seeing him in games is another, » the coach said, but noted that Alabama’s John Metchie III is the best route runner of the bunch. Metchie, who tore his ACL in the SEC championship against Georgia, slipped to the second round before Houston selected him No. 44 overall.

Coaches linked the surge in receivers drafted in the early rounds to an increase in NFL-ready players from college, schematic changes in the NFL and less willingness to pay established pro wideouts.

« There might have been a little statement made: ‘Hey, we don’t believe you receivers are worth $20 million. We’re going to trade you and start over with a kid who’s going to cost us $3 million,' » a Big Ten coach said. « Think about what Tennessee just did. They went and got a rookie receiver [Arkansas’ Treylon Burks] who they think is going to be comparable for $3.5 million, and [Philadelphia] is paying $22 million a year [for former Titans star A.J. Brown]. »

Coaches generally agreed with the selection order of cornerbacks, as Houston picked LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 3, followed by the New York Jets selecting Cincinnati’s Ahmad « Sauce » Gardner at No. 4.

Several coaches also singled out Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie (No. 21, Kansas City Chiefs).

« Really smart football player, » a Pac-12 coordinator said. « He’s going to pick up that scheme. The Chiefs really wanted some physicality in the secondary. »

Some defensive front players who had fluctuated in draft projections ended up going late in the first round, including Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson (No. 26, New York Jets) and Utah’s Devin Lloyd (No. 27, Jacksonville). Both had been pegged as potential top-10 picks earlier in the pre-draft process.

An offensive coordinator who faced Lloyd was surprised he dropped in the first round, adding, « It’s too bad he went to Jacksonville; they can’t get out of their own way. »

« I think he’ll be very good, » the coach added. « He’s got great talent, and everything it takes to keep getting better and be a great pro. Very squared away, smart guy. »

Fickell, Stoops break down strong draft classes

Georgia’s historic draft picks dominated attention, and LSU, one of the most consistent NFL producers, finished second in players selected with 10, despite a 6-7 record last season. But the No. 3 team on the draft podium wasn’t Alabama, Ohio State or Oklahoma. Cincinnati, which last year became the first Group of 5 program to reach the College Football Playoff, finished with nine draft picks.

The Bearcats’ output marked the most draft picks for a non-Power 5 school since Houston had nine in 1975, and broke the team record of six set in 2009.

« You used to sell a dream, something you couldn’t really see, and now you can sell some reality, » Cincinnati’s Fickell said Saturday night. « These kids see better than they hear. You try to tell them what it’s going to be like, but now all of a sudden, you can put the reel behind it. »

As expected, Gardner headlined Cincinnati’s draft, but the team also produced Ridder, who went No. 74 overall to Atlanta. Cincinnati had six players drafted off its signature defense. Cornerback Coby Bryant, the Thorpe Award winner, went in the fourth round to Seattle.

But the Bearcats also had wide receiver Alec Pierce taken in the second round (Indianapolis Colts), while running back Jerome Ford went in the fifth (Cleveland Browns).

« You do sometimes get those stereotypes, and to have it well-rounded, it shows the whole program, » Fickell said. « Georgia’s a whole program, but people start to talk, ‘They’re a defensive team, they have five guys [picked] in the first round.’ The well-roundedness helps your program in a lot of ways. »

Coaches that scouted or faced Cincinnati weren’t surprised with the draft success. Gardner jumped out, but so did players such as Pierce and Ford, who one AAC defensive coordinator singled out for their play. Even coaches in Cincinnati’s future league, the Big 12, took notice of the big draft weekend.

« How they develop them, it’s obvious, but they’re getting Big Ten-type guys over there, » a Big 12 coach said. « Guys are going to Michigan State, going to Michigan or going to Cincinnati. That’s what it looks like. They’ve been able to make that push. »

A Mountain West coach added: « I saw all those Cincinnati guys at the Senior Bowl and that was super impressive, their overall athleticism. »

The SEC’s draft list featured the usual programs up top, but Kentucky generated an impressive output with four picks in the first five rounds. The Wildcats had two second-round selections in wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and defensive end Joshua Paschal, while center Luke Fortner led off the third round and All-America tackle Darian Kinnard followed in the fifth.

« We’re not a team loaded with four- and five-star recruits, » Stoops said. « We have to develop our players. Our players embrace that. We have some things in place that really make our players very self-aware of their strengths and their weaknesses, and we work extremely hard at it. I’m proud of them and our staff and the way we develop our players. »

Kentucky is starting to enter a desirable group of teams — Iowa, Wisconsin, Utah — that outperform their recruiting rankings on draft weekend. The recruiting ceiling for Kentucky could be higher, too, as the team signed ESPN’s No. 15 class for 2022.

The Wildcats had four draft picks in the first five rounds three times in team history, but twice since 2019. UK’s offensive line continues to be a consistent source for the NFL, but the emergence of players such as Robinson can help perception. Quarterback Will Levis likely will be on the draft radar for 2023.

« That says a lot because a few years ago, it was mostly defensive guys, » Stoops said. « We’ve always had a strong offensive line, but it’s nice to see the skill, Wan’Dale going so high. It is starting to balance out. »

Added an SEC assistant: « The brand of football Kentucky plays is special. »

Drafting by Ravens, Jets, Seahawks, Chiefs stand out to coaches

College coaches mostly view the draft through an individual player prism, but some also note which NFL teams collect the best hauls.

The Ravens’ draft impressed many. Baltimore added 11 players, starting with Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, regarded as the best college prospects at their respective positions. Hamilton had been projected in the top five for much of the season but fell to No. 14, likely because of a midseason injury and a slower 40 time.

« The problem is when the 40 time and the film don’t coincide, » a Power 5 coach said. « I honestly don’t think a lot of people really understand what game speed is. Hamilton, you can’t tell he’s not fast enough. He’s instinctive. He looks like a 400-meter runner, he’s got a long stride, so it looks like he’s not running fast, but he’s covering a lot of ground. »

Linderbaum, the Rimington Trophy winner and an All-American, had to overcome some concerns over measurables, namely his shorter arms, but still went No. 25 overall.

« That guy’s a 10-year-plus pro, he’s like [former All-Pro] Jeff Saturday, » a Big Ten coach said. « He’s so athletic and tough, and he’s proved it year after year after year. You can overanalyze. It’s like, ‘Guys, don’t overthink this. It’s not that complicated.’ They talk about short arms. I don’t care. I get it for an offensive tackle, the arm length. For a center, it’s an absolute overreach to criticize him. »

Coaches also praised Baltimore for selecting Michigan defensive end David Ojabo in the second round. Ojabo, who had five forced fumbles and 11 sacks during a breakout 2021 season, was projected in the first round until rupturing his Achilles’ tendon at pro day. He reunites with Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who held the same role at Michigan last season.

« That was justice, » a Power 5 defensive assistant said. « If Mike Macdonald didn’t pick him, I’d look at him like, ‘Come on, man.' »

Baltimore’s later selections also were popular, including Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar and Daniel Faalele, the 400-pound Minnesota offensive lineman, in the fourth round.

« He’s gotten better every year and he’s still learning how to play football, » a Big Ten offensive coordinator said of Faalele. « He’s a big human being, and he’s a good athlete. That’s a pretty interesting pick. They stacked up picks, and that wasn’t an accident. »

Several coaches praised the Jets’ draft class, which led off with Gardner, Wilson and Johnson in the first round, but also included Iowa State running back Breece Hall and Louisiana offensive tackle Max Mitchell.

« The Jets were outstanding, » a Power 5 coach said. « Got essentially one of the top pass rushers, one of the top tackles, one of the top running backs. »

Seattle drew good reviews from college coaches, as it landed two potential impact offensive linemen in Cross and Washington State’s Abraham Lucas, as well as Cincinnati’s Bryant and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III in the second round. Coaches liked Seattle’s other second-round selection, Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe, who had seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2021.

« He’s a player, » a Power 5 coach said of Mafe. « He got some pub during the draft prep, but he was really underrated coming into it. I remember turning on his film, watching him and was like, ‘He’s going to be an issue,’ and he was. »

Kansas City added several bruising defenders whom coaches liked, including McDuffie and Purdue end George Karlaftis III in the first round, as well as Cincinnati safety Bryan Cook and Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal.

« He can change the game, » a Big Ten coach said of Karlaftis. « When [NFL teams] draft that position, they worry about pass defenders that can’t be run defenders, but he can be both. I think he’ll be exceptional in the league. »

After losing Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, the Chiefs bolstered their receiving corps with Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore in the second round. Moore had 95 catches last season.

« He’s legit, a real guy, » a MAC coach said. « And he landed into a great situation. You’re a receiver and you’re going to play with Patrick Mahomes, that’s a win-win. »

Coaches also credited the Colts, Giants, Packers and Titans for strong drafts.

Big 12 gets defensive in draft

No league experienced a more noticeable shift in style of play last fall than the Big 12, which had four defenses rank in the top 25 in points allowed. The draft reflected the change, as 15 of the league’s 25 draft picks came on defense, including seven of the first nine.

« The league’s changed, » a Big 12 coach said. « Everybody wants to still believe that narrative [about Big 12 offenses], but it’s a defensive league. »

Several coaches called Baylor safety Jalen Pitre, a second-round pick of Houston, as one of the draft’s best selections. An offensive coordinator who faced Baylor described Pitre as « a super-disruptive force » who had to be accounted for on every snap.

« He’s one of the best players I remember coaching against, » the coach said. « He’s a little undersized for the NFL, but wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him be a great player. »

Oklahoma led the league with seven draft picks, five on defense, including linebackers Nik Bonitto and Brian Asamoah and tackle Perrion Winfrey, who, as a Big 12 coach noted, « can be really dominant when he wants to turn it on. »

The league’s collection of linebackers and edge rushers stood out. In the third round, the Buffalo Bills drafted Baylor’s Terrel Bernard, who drew good reviews despite being undersized (6-foot-1, 224 pounds). Oklahoma State standout linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez (Detroit) and Devin Harper (Dallas) went in the sixth round. Oklahoma end Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland) — « A guy that will play for a while, » a Big 12 coach said — went in the seventh.

« He’s got such instincts and such a low center of gravity with pop, leverage, » a Big 12 coach said of Rodriguez. « He’s going to find his way to play [in the NFL]. How fast he is and how smart he is, he was the heart and soul of that defense. »

Coaches make sleeper picks

The selection of potential sleeper selections is an integral part of post-draft analysis. Coaches take part in the fun, too, identifying players outside of the top-50 picks who could turn out to be very wise choices for their new employers.

« The NFL draft is all about the value picks you’re going to get in rounds three through five, » a Big 12 coach said.

Here are some of their sleeper picks:

Purdue wide receiver David Bell (third round, Cleveland): The Boilermakers’ star was one of the most polarizing draft prospects entering the weekend. He dominated in the Big Ten, recording 232 receptions for 2,946 yards and 22 touchdowns in three seasons with the Boilermakers.

But poor pre-draft testing, especially in the 40-yard dash, cast doubt about his NFL potential.

« David Bell is a long-term NFL guy, » a Big Ten coach said. « I know he didn’t test well, but I could care less. He catches everything. He just gets open. I know he’s not fast or this or that. He is really, really good. »

Added another Big Ten coach: « He’s a possession guy who will be really good in the league. »

Washington State offensive tackle Abraham Lucas (third round, Seattle): Teams taking local/regional prospects became a theme for this draft, and the Seahawks delivered with Lucas, a native of Everett, Washington. A former Washington State assistant said the buzz inside the program was that Lucas, a first-team All-Pac-12 performer at right tackle, could end up being a better pro than former Cougar Andre Dillard, a first-round pick of Philadelphia in the 2019 draft.

A Pac-12 defensive coordinator said Lucas isn’t overly skilled and could struggle with speed rushers in the NFL, but his massive frame (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) will help him.

« Man, is he long-levered and a big body, and he actually moved well at the combine, » the coach said. « That surprised me. He’s so long that he can cause problems for some people. »

Arizona State running back Rachaad White (third round, Tampa Bay): This year’s running back draft class wasn’t overly deep, especially after Hall and Walker, but coaches liked Tampa Bay’s pickup of White, who eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards and had 456 receiving yards last season. He also showed big-play ability during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

« You still see a lot of guys in the league that are third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks that end up making it, and he’s one of those guys, » a Pac-12 coach said. « He’s a physical runner, he’s a pass-protector and has a chance to be an every down back, even if he’s a No. 2 back. »

Maryland safety Nick Cross (third round, Indianapolis): Cross emerged as a playmaker for Maryland, leading the team in interceptions in two of the past three seasons and finishing his career with six picks and 15 pass breakups. He recorded the fastest 40 time among safeties at the combine (4.34 seconds).

« He stood out, » a Power 5 coach said. « The Cross kid could really run. He played freeform. »

Texas Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma (fourth round, Miami) and Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III (fourth round, Pittsburgh): A Big 12 coach noted that the 2022 draft was « big-time saturated » at positions such as wide receiver. But the first-round push for pass-catchers opened up midround values for players. Ezukanma, who recorded remarkably consistent numbers his past three seasons at Memphis, will join former Texas Tech star wideout Wes Welker, the new Dolphins receivers coach.

Austin had consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards and one punt return touchdown.

« He’s little but he is so dynamic, » an AAC defensive coordinator said of the 5-foot-9, 162-pound Austin. « His catch radius is really good for his size. He can do so many things, and he’s legit, legit fast. Since Tyreek Hill and those guys have been doing some damage, a guy like him might. »

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier (fifth round, Atlanta): Another potential value pick at running back, Allgeier was prolific and productive in a pro-style system at BYU. In the past two seasons, he recorded 2,736 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns on 426 carries, while adding 42 receptions.

« I’m surprised he lasted that long, » said a coordinator who faced Allgeier. « He’s a good all-purpose player, good blocker, a good receiver and obviously a good runner. And he’s durable. He ran for a ton of yards. »

Miami (Ohio) outside linebacker Dominique Robinson (fifth round, Chicago Bears): Robinson had an interesting path to the NFL, as he started at Miami early in his career before becoming a reserve. He had 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2021, but has a profile of skills that coaches think could project well to the NFL.

« He was a good player on tape, a guy who can really get to the quarterback, » a MAC coach said. « It will be interesting to see how that turns out. »

LSU guard Chasen Hines (sixth round, New England): Patriots coach Bill Belichick started and ended the Patriots draft with offensive linemen, adding Hines and Michigan’s Andrew Stueber late. Hines started two seasons at guard for LSU after serving as backup center on the Tigers’ national title team in 2019.

« His best football is ahead of him, » a Power 5 coach said. « He reminds me of [former LSU offensive lineman] Damien Lewis with Seattle. Chasen is built the same way, has that same ability. »

Cal safety Elijah Hicks (sixth round, Chicago): Few players showed more excitement about getting drafted than Hicks, who waited until the end of the seventh round to hear his name (No. 254 overall). Hicks had 213 tackles and five interceptions in 46 starts for Cal, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors last year.

« He’s a good player. I was surprised he went that low, » a Power 5 offensive coordinator said. « He’s not real tall, like 5-11. They probably like taller safeties, but I like him a lot. »


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