Here is our in-depth report on our top rookie sleeper class for the 2022 NFL season. You can check out our video here… 2022 FIRST TEAM DEFENSE ROOKIE SLEEPERS
We broke down our top sleepers into three groups and by using four key categories…
Talent, Team, Scheme and most important of all, Opportunity!
As you will see going forward, the players we assigned to their position groups were not always based on pure talent.
Some of them were assigned to a role like a 5-tech lineman, a slot corner or even a hybrid DB/LB who could fit better in this specialty role early on in his career.
OFN 2022 NFL FIRST TEAM ROOKIE SLEEPERS
EDGE CAMERON THOMAS, ROUND 3 (ARIZONA)
Our first-team defense starts with our top overall sleeper defender and edge rusher who was a three-time First-team All-MWC defender, 2021 MWC DPOY and Second team All American. Thomas has been a very consistent, versatile and disruptive leader during his San Diego State career that included a huge final season with 71 tackles, 20 ½ TFL (ranked fourth nationally) and 11 ½ sacks (ranked seventh nationally). Thomas is very strong, as evidenced by his leading all defensive ends at the NFL Combine with 24 reps in the bench press. He’s also tall and long with a well-developed upper body, plays a relentless, high effort game and always seems to be around the ball. Thomas is equally effective in the run and pass game as good as any player in his class which probably came about from playing defensive tackle until early 2020. His experience in playing anywhere along the line in the Aztecs three-man front should serve him well in Arizona’s 3-4 defense. But because Thomas does not possess the mass to make a difference inside in the NFL or the elite speed to be a pure edge rusher means it will take a creative coordinator to maximize his potential, and I believe Vance Joseph is more than qualified to figure it out.
EDGE DEANGELO MALONE, ROUND 3 (ATLANTA)
Malone is a two-time CUSA DPOY who broke school-records in TFL (59) and sacks (34) while adding 349 career tackles over his five-year career and will get to play for his hometown team in Atlanta. Malone played defensive end in college but will line up as a 3-4 edge rusher for the Falcons which will free him up of bigger blockers. He is a good all-around player who changes direction quickly, tackles well and has the athletic ability to develop. Combined with the excellent opportunity to receive a ton of playing time while playing for a rebuilding team and to be coached by a longtime successful coach (Dean Pees) who will maximize his abilities, we are confident Malone will be able to carve out a solid if not spectacular pro career.
EDGE MICHAEL CLEMONS, ROUND 4 (NEW YORK)
Like Malone, Clemons enjoyed a long college career and at 25 is older than your average prospect. And with an evolving skill set due to his hand work and rush moves he can impact the Jets defense much earlier in his career than most other rookies. The two-time team captain plays strong and heavy handed with well-distributed muscle and plus length. His aggressive nature is his main asset as he will out-fight, out-hustle and out-power his man while playing a nasty, physical game.
DT PERRION WINFREY, ROUND 4 (CLEVELAND)
Winfrey is a player on the rise with elite-level length and an explosive upper-body who proved it with a monster Senior Bowl performance. He took the long road, but the talent was always there evidenced by him being ranked the top-rated JUCO recruit for 2020. In two seasons and 22 games with Oklahoma he was honored as an All-Big 12 Second-team performer even though his overall stats never measured up. But stats are not always an indication of a player’s talents, and his strong play did not go unnoticed which is why he was recognized accordingly. That was of course until he blew up the competition with several big plays including a pair of sacks at the Senior Bowl and earning MVP honors. Winfrey is not a complete player, and he may never become one due to his run defense limitations, but he is an energy stick who plays through the whistle, shoots gaps and shows a relentless desire to win. It is important to note that Winfrey never had the opportunity to practice during the last two Springs due to the pandemic which means he hasn’t received the necessary daily coaching that will help him become a better player. Yet, his growth has been noticeable over the past two seasons and his techniques are developing nicely and that is a positive sign moving forward.
DT TRAVIS JONES, ROUND 3 (BALTIMORE)
Looking like he was made in a factory that specializes in defensive tackles, Jones combines excellent first step quickness with an elite initial punch that strikes the blocker with his wrecking ball for hands causing heavy impact with anything they encounter. For a man his size (6-4, 326) he carries himself with ease and led his team in sacks last season with four and a half. Jones is not a finished product, and it could not have helped his game to have played for a such a poor program which usually equates to poor coaching. I mean look at how much he improved his stock after being tutored by pro coaches during Senior Bowl week which translated to a good showing during practices and in the game. Jones will also have plenty of opportunities to develop into a major piece along the Ravens defensive front as the franchise looks to add quality young talent to an aging unit. I can imagine the coaching jump from Connecticut in college to Baltimore in the NFL. That’s a heck of a culture shock for the better.
NT NEIL FARRELL JR., ROUND 4 (LAS VEGAS)
Farrell Jr. is a feisty, competitive, big-time power presence who can hold the point of attack and control two gaps with his use of leverage and ability to attach himself to the ground. He does a good job holding his blocker long enough to diagnose and make plays. Farrell Jr. is not only very strong but is also quick for his size (6-3, 338). The Raiders coaching staff are confident that his best football is yet to come, and we agree.
DL EYIOMA UWAZURIKE, ROUND 4 (DENVER)
Starting with Uwazurike, we decided to include a pair of 5-tech lineman to our teams. The 2021 First-team All-Big 12 lineman broke out with 42 tackles, 12 TFL and nine sacks. Uwazurike has an incredibly unique body and skill set with versatile tools and a high motor. He ranks second with 34 ½ TFL in program history and added 15 career sacks while starting in 46 games over four seasons.
DL DEMARVIN LEAL, ROUND 3 (PITTSBURGH)
Leal, a 2021 First-Team All-American is also extremely versatile with big time power and explosion along with quick feet and easy change of direction. Leal is a talented kid who has excellent use of his hands and can display a great spin move as part of his repertoire. But he is a very inconsistent player who tends to take downs and sometimes games off at a time. On top of that he was arrested in December for pot possession which is a reminder that he is your classic ‘boom or bust’ type of talent. For us though, he is a good fit as a third-round pick and a player who can mature and become the player he was meant to be all along. It doesn’t hurt to end up with a winning franchise either.
LB CHAD MUMA, ROUND 3 (JACKSONVILLE)
Muma is a true complete playmaker who plays hard and fast. He has excellent size and athletic ability for an inside linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range, the skill to diagnose plays in a hurry and a nose for the football. A two-time First-team All-MWC and 2021 Third-team All-American, Muma is not only one of the top tacklers for his position for his draft class but also made big plays in coverage with three career interceptions and two returned for scores last season.
LB CHANNING TINDALL, ROUND 3 (MIAMI)
Our No. 2 inside linebacker is an outstanding athlete with elite speed, closing ability and explosiveness. Tindall was part of an outstanding linebacker rotation for the best defense in college football last season and was still very productive for someone who played limited snaps. His toughness and effort were on display throughout his career at Georgia as Tindall needed time to adjust from playing on the edge in high school while transforming into a standout inside linebacker in college who ended his time with the Bulldogs with an outstanding national title game which included eight tackles and a sack. Still a work in progress, Tindall has a ton of athletic ability and overall potential to become a quality three down defender in the pros.
LB LEO CHENAL, ROUND 3 (KANSAS CITY)
Chenal is a high-energy, run-stuffing linebacker who stops ball carriers in their tracks with exceptional power and toughness. He was a Second-team All-American and Big 10 LB POY last season who led one of the best defenses in the country in tackles (115) and TFL (18 ½), while adding two forced fumbles and eight sacks. His addition to the Chiefs unit alongside Nick Bolton and Willie Gay should be an important asset for years to come.
LB TERREL BERNARD, ROUND 3 (BUFFALO)
Bernard is an extremely productive and explosive tackler with outstanding lateral agility, a great work ethic and instincts that go along with big play and leadership skills that show up in the biggest games and on the biggest stages. Bernard was honored as the Big 12 DPOW in Baylor’s win over No. 4 Oklahoma with nine tackles and two sacks and added 20 tackles and two more sacks playing in his final college game in the Bears Sugar Bowl win over Ole Miss. With Tremaine Edmunds entering his contract season and never living up to his first-round status, the writing was probably on the wall as soon as the Bills selected Bernard as Edmunds potential replacement.
CB MARCUS JONES, ROUND 3 (NEW ENGLAND)
Our top cornerback is a playmaker in the truest sense of the word and was honored as both the 2021 AAC defensive back and ST POY. Not only did Jones tally 18 pass breakups - which was third in the nation last season - but he added five interceptions and a forced fumble on defense + one touchdown on offense and four kick return scores. This was a perfect section for a team who needed both a good young defensive back and a quality kick returner. The Patriots were able to upgrade two spots with one pick.
CB COBY BRYANT, ROUND 4 (SEATTLE)
Bryant was not only the Thorpe Award-winner (nation’s top defensive back) in 2021 on one of the top defenses in the nation, but he is also a two-time First-team All-AAC and a 2021 2nd-Team All American. He’s highly competitive with good size, leadership skills, football smarts and always has his hands around the ball and will even use his hands after a catch to punch the ball out as evidenced by his 35 career pass breakups, 10 career interceptions and five career forced fumbles.
CB SHAUN JOLLY, UNDRAFTED (CLEVELAND)
We decided to include a slot corner for each team and thought Jolly was a solid first choice. The three-time First-team All-SBC performer
has very good instincts and ball skills as well as elite tackling ability that helps him to compensate for his lack of size. He missed just one tackle in each of the last two seasons combined.
S NICK CROSS, ROUND 3 (INDIANAPOLIS)
Our top safety is a physical player that combines outstanding recovery speed to his game. Cross broke out last season for Maryland with 67 tackles, 4 ½ TFL, 4 PBs, 3 sacks, 3 INTs and 2 FFs. He is going to have an immediate opportunity for starting reps following the retirement of Khari Willis.
S LEON O’NEAL JR., UNDRAFTED (SAN FRANCISCO)
O’Neal Jr. is a physical hard-hitting intimidator type of defender who could help energize the 49ers defense. He brings a good combo of coverage skill and physicality to his game and should have a shot at making the team based on the underwhelming players he will be competing with for playing time.
HB DANE BELTON, ROUND 4 (NEW YORK)
Because he played a hybrid nickel position for the Hawkeyes defense and was outstanding in that role, we felt good about making Belton our top hybrid defender. Belton has top versatility after playing nickel more than half of the time last season as well as the slot, linebacker and both safety spots. And it’s that versatility that will be an asset for the Giants defense along with his productive ball skills that included five interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2021
By Greg DePalma
The Draft Apprentice and Executive Producer of the Ourlads’ Football Network at Ourlads.com.