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 OFN FIRST TEAM ROOKIE OFFENSE 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 third-down running back, or a Classic “Y” tight end or even an offensive lineman who would fit better in the swing role early on in his career.
OFN 2022 NFL FIRST TEAM ROOKIE SLEEPERS
QB DESMOND RIDDER, ROUND 3 (ATLANTA)
Ridder is a rare four-year starter who won 44 of 50 career starts for Cincinnati, never lost a home game and captained the first Group of Five program to earn an FCS playoff berth. The two-time AAC OPOY award-winner has good size for the position and the arm strength to make all the throws. While he may not possess a cannon arm, Ridder is very accurate medium to deep to compensate, rarely turns the ball over and is a very good athlete who was the fastest quarterback and top athlete for the position at the 2022 NFL Combine. Ridder also showed off his wheels in college gaining over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground, an asset that every NFL team would like their quarterbacks to possess in today’s game. What also gives Ridder a fighting chance to develop into a successful pro down the line is his impressive intangibles and leadership skills, dedication to improving his craft, and overall excellent leadership abilities which will be paramount if he’s going to turn the Falcons franchise around. Since Ridder was not taken early in round one, there will be no immediate impatient expectations on a timeline for his inevitable takeover of Marcus Mariota. But the sooner the Falcons know what they have in him, the better, this way they can use their premium draft capital in 2023 on Will Anderson Jr. and not CJ Stroud.
RB RACHAAD WHITE, ROUND 3 (TAMPA BAY)
White is the leader of our three-man running back room. The former JUCO transferred to Arizona State and exploded on to the scene in 2020 with a 10-yard average per rush which led the nation over only four games during the pandemic. White backed it up over 11 games with a 1,006-yard season in 2021 which included a career-high 202 yards and three touchdowns vs. archrival USC. White is an ultra-smooth mover with natural vision and easy cut-back ability. His effortless style can make the game look easy but he’s also a decisive runner who can use different gears along with great timing of angles to pick his lane and explode through a crease that makes him such a dangerous weapon. That, and his top-shelf ball skills in the receiving game is what can separate him from other running backs in his draft class. White was the Sun Devils second leading receiver last season with 43 receptions and 456 yards. With Ronald Jones out of the picture, White will have a good chance for serious snaps behind Leonard Fournette, and as soon as he earns the trust of Tom Brady, the opportunities are only going to increase with more frequency.
RB KEVIN HARRIS, ROUND 6 (NEW ENGLAND)
After leading the SEC in yards per game in 2020, an even bigger season was anticipated for Harris in 2021 until back surgery impeded his preparation. But following the bye week, Harris appeared to have his power game return with a 128-yard rushing effort against Florida which precipitated a strong late season surge. Harris once again invited contact, broke tackles and ended his career with a big effort against UNC in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl game which included his first 17+ rushing attempts game of the season and the most attempts of his career (31-182-TD). Harris is an effective inside power runner with a stocky, fire-hydrant build and good instincts. He packs a lot of muscle mass, likes to initiate contact, and hits the hole very fast and hard. He also played on third down packages and is a good pass protector with adequate hands, which he will need to continue to improve on to be an effective three-down back. Considering Harris will be just 21 years-old on Week 1 and has only carried the ball 358 times since high school, he should have plenty of gas left in the tank, suggesting he is an unfinished product with plenty of un-tapped potential. And with Damien Harris entering the final year of his rookie deal, there stands a chance Harris could end up with a primary role opposite Rhamondre Stevenson by 2023. Keep in mind we are also high on fellow rookie rusher, Pierre Strong Jr., who makes our ‘Best of the Rest’ team.
RB DAMEON PIERCE, ROUND 4 (HOUSTON)
Our third-down back for the first-team offense was one of the most talented yet underused rushers in the nation last season with just 100 total carries. A straight-line power leverage runner with extreme leg drive and great balance, Pierce runs hard and breaks a tremendous number of tackles. Last season alone he broke an astounding 39 of his 100 carries. While he rarely had the opportunity to become a big part of the offense or the passing game, he still managed 36 receptions over the last two seasons and has the skills necessary to become a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Recall that Pierce was a four-star recruit who rushed for nearly 7,000 yards with 92 rushing TDs in high school, breaking Georgia’s state rushing record previously held by the immortal, Hershel Walker. The talent has always been there, and the Texans will surely give him the opportunity he failed to receive with the Gators which makes him a true sleeper pick.
TE GREG DULCICH, ROUND 3 (DENVER)
Heading up our tight end duo is a raw athlete who brings a high-effort and no-nonsense style to the field that can create mismatches and turn those mismatches into big plays. That’s because Dulcich has a unique blend of burst, speed, and the ability to play an acrobatic brand of football in part due to his wide catch radius and big hands that allow him to swallow up balls on contact. Dulcich is a menace after the catch and a legit downfield threat, which most of all, is why I am confident he will make a serious mark in the league at some point over his career.
TE JELANI WOODS, ROUND 3 (INDIANAPOLIS)
Our No. 2 tight end is a completely different type of prospect compared to Greg Dulcich. Woods won’t keep opposing coordinators up at night, but his value as a Classic “Y” tight end is important, nonetheless. He has elite size and the prototype frame and body type for the role and will compete hard in the trenches. What really makes him an intriguing prospect though is that Woods is not a finished product by far. The former state champion high school quarterback recruit needs to refine his overall footwork and continue to grow into the position. Last season, which included a First-Team All-ACC honor with 44 catches and eight TDs, was just a small sampling of the type of contributor Woods can end up being for the Colts. He demonstrated his excellent combination of strength and speed during the NFL Combine when he led all tight ends in the bench press and was also second fastest. The long-term promise of Jelani Woods is strong. He has the ball skills, frame, long stride speed and competitive streak to enjoy a long career in this league. In my opinion, his ceiling is unknown. Which is a good thing.
WR VELUS JONES JR., ROUND 3 (CHICAGO)
Moving along to our top selection of wide-receivers, Jones Jr. is a natural playmaker with speed to burn, good vision, easy change of direction and contact balance, which all together makes him a very dangerous weapon in the open field. First and foremost, Jones Jr. will instantly provide the Bears with an electric kick and punt returner after he ended his USC career ranked second all-time in kick-return yards for the Trojans program and then ranked second nationally last season with a 15-yard punt return average with Tennessee, helping him earn the SEC STPOY award. But there is more to Jones Jr.’s game than that of a return specialist. After working hard on developing his route-running, he showcased his receiving skills last season with the help of talented first-year quarterback Hendon Hooker, breaking out with 62 receptions, 807 yards and eight touchdowns and was naturally a menace in the open field every time he touched the ball. That’s because Jones Jr. has a running back’s body and mentality when he touches the ball and possesses a unique body thickness that makes him hard to bring down. If you combine that with his low center of gravity, elite contact balance and a never quit mentality, you have yourself a dangerous weapon who can line up anywhere from the slot, in the backfield and on the outside. Throw in his elite 4.31 speed - which ranked second for wide-receivers at the NFL Combine – and Jones Jr. has the necessary ingredients to become a legitimate NFL playmaker. And as a bonus, he couldn’t have landed on a team more desperate for impact receivers than Chicago.
WR JALEN TOLBERT, ROUND 3 (DALLAS)
Our No. 2 wide receiver was ultra-productive for South Alabama setting and re-setting school records while averaging 17.8-yards per catch over the last three seasons with 22 touchdowns and was named the SBC OPOY in 2021. Tolbert is a silky-smooth athlete with exciting natural gifts and is a dangerous threat on all levels of the route tree.
WR ROMEO DOUBS, ROUND 4 (GREEN BAY)
The two-time First-team All-MWC performer is very polished after appearing in 45 games over four seasons with 339 targets. The second of three rookie wide-receivers taken by the Packers in the 2022 NFL Draft, Doubs is a hard-working playmaker, with good length and excellent speed. In 2020 he proved to be a dangerous downfield threat, leading the nation with seven receptions of 50 or more yards. Then in 2021, his average took a three-and-a-half-yard dip as he concentrated more on working on his route-running to maximize his full future potential, even though his skill level remained at an all-time high. It didn’t help that his quarterback was dealing with a season-long ailment too. Doubs is also a quality punt returner, scoring a touchdown on his first career return in 2018, and then adding First-team MWC punt returner to his resume last season. The icing on the cake, so the speak, in deciding whether Doubs was worthy of this selection, is the opportunity he is going to get to play with Aaron Rodgers. And out of the three rookie wideouts he will be competing with - who are all quality additions - Doubs is the most experienced at the highest level, which should give him that edge he’s going to need to earn the trust of Rodgers and the coaches from the very start.
OL BERNHARD RAIMANN, ROUND 3 (INDIANAPOLIS)
One of six offensive lineman on our First team, Raimann is a former Austrian exchange student who has the athleticism and rawness to his game the Colts are excited to work with including good smarts, quick feet and a country strong grip. Look for Raimann to compete hard for the starting left tackle spot against Matt Pryor during camp. And if he wins the job early, his lack of experience will be lifted by playing alongside All-Pro left guard Quinton Nelson.
OL ABRAHAM LUCAS, ROUND 3 (SEATTLE)
Our No. 2 tackle could end up starting right away at right tackle opposite fellow rookie Charles Cross. Lucas was a four-year productive starter at right tackle for Washington State garnering All Pac-12 honors for each season due mainly to his superb pass blocking ability. He checks all the boxes when it comes to his tools and physical skill set and is a sound technician with consistent footwork and body control, which will take him a long way in the NFL.
OL LOGAN BRUSS, ROUND 3 (LOS ANGELES)
This selection is mainly about opportunity, as Bruss is already penciled in at right guard as the Rams Week 1 starter. When you scout Bruss you must consider his 25 starts for Wisconsin at right tackle vs. only six at right guard. And when you do, you can see glaring weaknesses to his game as an outside pass protector. But the Rams are using him inside and that is where his best traits will be on display including quality footwork and a strong base that helps him stay square to his target. Bruss has excellent initial movement post-snap that helps him to get off the ball and on to his man quickly and is also a violent feisty fighter who brings a strong mental approach to the game as well as excellent leadership. Bruss must have impressed the Rams coaching staff with a solid athletic showing at the NFL Combine in the vertical (3rd), broad jump (3rd), shuttle (3rd) and 3 Cone (5th) enough to make him their first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
OL JUSTIN SHAFFER, ROUND 6 (ATLANTA)
Alongside Bruss at guard is Justin “Pac-man” Shaffer, a local kid from Cedar Grove High School via the national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Shaffer is really what a true sleeper represents. Not highly recruited, he needed to consistently fight back more talented players over the years while earning 26 of 27 starts the last two seasons at left guard including 15 during the national championship season, earning himself a Second-team All-SEC honor. Shaffer is a square-built ox with tremendous thickness from head-to-toe, along with big, long arms that help him to gobble up the competition. His immense power and explosive upper body allow him consistent push off the ball in the run game, where he can control a gap and finish off blocks while anchoring himself to prevent defenders from pushing him back into the quarterback on passing downs. Considering Shaffer’s high energy/hard-working/technically sound nature, I feel confident he will defy the odds once again and chisel out a nice long pro career.
And keep in mind, Shaffer battled daily at practice against the most talented defenders in the nation the past two seasons. That sort of preparation was a gift that kept giving and will set him up nicely during training camp and give him a real chance to win starting job as early as 2022.
OL LUKE FORTNER, ROUND 3 (JACKSONVILLE)
Anchoring the line for us is a 2021 First-team All-SEC center from Kentucky and former team captain. Fortner played in 54 games over his career while earning 35 consecutive starts. He played solidly over his 23 starts at guard and then raised his game to another level following a switch to center last season where he made another 13 starts. Fortner plays a power-game at a high-level which helped him block for three of the Wildcats top-10 all-time leading rushers during his tenure there. Fortner is equally adept as a run and pass blocker and his versatility inside will be a good asset for him and the Jaguars, who can use all the young prospects up-front they can get their hands on.
OL DYLAN PARHAM, ROUND 3 (LAS VEGAS)
The final player on our first-team offense will be our swing tackle and overall versatile lineman. This selection has a lot to do with the Raiders current weakness along the offensive line which will allow Parham the opportunity to earn playing time early in his career at multiple spots. And while Parham has four years of starting experience, those years were the first four he spent playing the line as he entered college as a tight end recruit, which explains his unique tool set, body and athleticism for the positions. Much of that can be traced to his powerful thick lower body that can produce top tier explosion and speed. His versatility is another key asset as Parham started one-year at right tackle and the other three inside at guard. Heck, he even dabbled a bit at center during Senior Bowl week. Let’s keep in mind, there are still inconsistencies to Parham’s game as he is relatively new to the position and is early in the progression scale. But the opportunity is wide-open in Las Vegas and the new staff invested early in him for a reason. Most of all, it’s his versatility that wins the day and is the reason he hits the board with our first-team offense for 2022.
By Greg DePalma
The Draft Apprentice and Executive Producer of the Ourlads’ Football Network at Ourlads.com.