The NFL Draft is an unstable creature, and it’s always the case that there are both late-round surprises who develop into long-term starters and first-round busts who don’t stick around for long. Evaluation is an imperfect science, after all.
But sometimes, evaluation isn’t necessarily at fault. Instead, a specific front office’s laser focus on a particular prospect is at odds with the larger draft community. This often happens near the top of the draft as players like Blake Bortles, Baker Mayfield, Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold all went well ahead of their consensus rank. It happens at other positions, too, as teams have disagreed when drafting players like Clelin Ferrell, Dante Fowler, Justin Gilbert and Ereck Flowers.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean teams are wrong to think the way they do. Josh Allen, Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes were all drafted ahead of the consensus. Outside of quarterback, players like Ryan Kelly, Byron Jones, Kolton Miller and Garrett Bolles proved to be justifiable reaches, as well.
But it seems like, more often than not, players drafted well ahead of that consensus tends to underperform. The two teams that have been off the consensus the most in the past several years have been the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks—two franchises with excellent recent histories on the field but not in the draft room, where they have produced several mediocre classes.
We don’t know what teams will do in the draft, but those with their ears to the ground have an idea of what might happen at various points. Using that information, dozens of mock drafts have been produced, and we can compare that data, gathered by Benjamin Robinson at Grinding the Mocks, to see which players are mocked higher or lower than their consensus grade. Let’s see if we can find some steals or warn about potential reaches in the 2022 NFL Draft:
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame (No. 4 by consensus, No. 10 by mocks)
It’s pretty rare to see a player identified as a steal who still might get drafted in the top 10, but that’s exactly what’s happening to Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. His disappointing 40-yard dash times at the NFL combine and his pro day seem to have scared prognosticators off making Hamilton with a top-five pick, content instead to let him fall to 10th on average. Hamilton is a safety who traffics on his ability to get to every point on the field quickly, and his impressive range vaulted him up boards before the offseason draft process. The slow 40-yard dash didn’t deter evaluators but could deter teams.
Cole Strange, OL, Chattanooga (No. 68 by consensus, No. 115 by mocks)
One of the most athletic linemen in the class, Strange has multiple obstacles in the way of his NFL ascendancy. The first is that he’s projected to play center by most analysts but only played that position for one game in six years of college football. Not only that, his age (23.7 years old on the day of the draft), level of competition and relative lack of power might scare some NFL teams. But his workouts and athleticism have impressed evaluators nonetheless.
Damone Clark, LB, LSU (No. 97 by consensus, No. 192 by mocks)
It isn’t surprising to see this split given the news that Clark will be undergoing spinal surgery that will likely keep him from playing in 2022. Some boards have yet to incorporate this information, but the ones that do often place Clark a little ahead of where he goes in mock drafts. Although he’s a second-round talent with chase skills, teams could well worry about missing his first year of a rookie contract and have long-term concerns about durability. But other teams might use that to pounce on him earlier.
Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU (No. 118 by consensus, No. 225 by mocks)
Ranking 225th in the mock draft rankings essentially tells us that he often didn’t appear in mock drafts, even large ones. Nevertheless, analysts like Allgeier, the fourth running back on Dane Brugler’s board. Allgeier is a bigger back who tested well outside of the 40-yard dash. He plays exactly how a back with his athletic toolset should play, with power and patience, and evaluators like that. But they aren’t convinced the NFL will fall in love. Given how many NFL teams are now attempting to design running plays to produce big chunks rather than short yardage, this might be an accurate judgment.
Alex Wright, Edge, UAB (No. 125 by consensus, No. 206 by mocks)
Sometimes, when a set of traits is rare in a class, it can push a player up draft boards. For Alex Wright, that’s his flexibility, size, length and power. Many edge rushers in this class have size and power, but Wright’s ability to corner and bend around tackles might be what earns him favorable marks from draft analysts. He injured himself at the NFL combine, so we don’t have a full set of workouts, but analysts have liked what they’ve seen. But they might also see an injured player who has to develop before he can meaningfully contribute — and drop him in their mock drafts.
JT Woods, S, Baylor (No. 140 by consensus, No. 219 by mocks)
One of the fastest players in the draft regardless of position, Woods adds height and length to that athletic profile as well as phenomenal testing in every category. He played every role on Baylor’s defense and could transition from safety to corner depending on the team. If he doesn’t, he projects to a free safety role so that his light frame doesn’t become a liability in the run game. That said, he’s better against the run than in coverage despite his excellent on-ball production (eight pass deflections, six picks last year), and that uncertainty might push him down in the draft.
Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia (No. 9 by consensus, No. 2 by mocks)
Reports keep flooding out that Walker is a likely top-five pick in the draft despite being the rare edge rusher in the first three rounds to have fewer than 10 career college sacks. By now, fans have heard enough of the debates surrounding Walker, whose incredible athleticism translates well to the edge-rusher position. The NFL certainly seems to like him, and third-party evaluators do, too. But they don’t like him nearly as much as they think the NFL does and have slotted him just inside the top 10.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (No. 29 by consensus, No. 9 by mocks)
Quarterbacks always get pushed up these boards and some of them succeed in big ways, but even by those standards, it seems like Willis is getting quite a bit more attention than he deserves. A fantastic athlete who has some significant development ahead of him, Willis might be getting pushed up boards because of how successful “high-ceiling” quarterbacks before him have been — and because it’s a relatively weak quarterback class. Analysts have generally been pessimistic about the value he’ll ultimately provide but have projected him to go fairly high. Generally speaking, every quarterback has been pushed up this year, and the consensus will be lower on them than the mocks, but Willis is the clearest example.
Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa (No. 49 by consensus, No. 30 by mocks)
With one of the longest wingspans in the draft, Smith is the kind of high-upside player who can sometimes cause disagreement between analysts, especially given his high penalty count and poor technique. Add in the fact that he didn’t play against many high-level rushers, and it’s understandable why some analysts are down on him. But he moves well and has an impressive physique to go with it. That can sometimes be enough for an NFL to buy in on the ceiling and snag him early.
Cam Taylor-Britt, NCB, Nebraska (No. 101 by consensus, No. 67 by mocks)
Brugler already detailed why he thinks Taylor-Britt is going to go higher than analysts rank him. Taylor-Britt is a remarkably physical player with a filled-out frame who tested extraordinarily well in almost all of the workouts and has a strong history of on-ball production. But there is some question about the position he’ll ultimately play in the NFL, and if he’s going to play exclusively in the slot, he’s destined to fall. Otherwise, he could be relegated to safety, often a less-premium position.
Justin Ross, WR, Clemson (No. 113 by consensus, No. 82 by mocks)
After a great true freshman season, Ross failed to make good on his hype and develop into a star. The spinal surgery that caused him to miss the 2020 season was another red flag for some draft analysts who didn’t see a return to form in 2021. But the NFL has shown a willingness to ignore the most recent year of production and use a peak level of performance from a few years prior — think Jadeveon Clowney, Walker Little and Laquon Treadwell among others. So, it’s not a surprise to see someone like Ross mocked earlier than he has been ranked on draft boards.
(Top photo of Kyle Hamilton: Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)