Talking technique with 2022 NFL Draft talent
Our goal at Pro Football Network has always been to offer honest, insightful analysis. As we inch closer to the 2022 NFL Draft, we’re offering you a weekly glimpse inside the process that leads to the content you see on our site. In my Weekly NFL Draft Scouting Notebook, you’ll find my thoughts on some of the prospects — in this class and in future classes — that have caught my eye and some of the backstories that don’t make it into my articles.
Talking technique with 2022 NFL Draft talent
Our scouting reports are packed full of analysis and opinions of what a player has showcased or demonstrated the potential to achieve. Conversely, we shine a light on areas that they’ve struggled with or haven’t displayed an ability that will translate to the next level.
However, it’s often enlightening to speak with the 2022 NFL Draft talent to see how they see the strengths and weaknesses of their game, or to break down how they saw a specific play from their college career. Not all of these examples have made it into our interview articles. I thought this would be a great place to share some of these insights.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Appalachian State wide receiver Corey Sutton — who you’re going to hear a little more about later — and we talked about a 2021 toe-drag swag touchdown catch against Marshall that would become the No. 1 play on SportsCenter that week.
“We called that post corner route to me,” Sutton said. “They were in a Cover 3 look. So I went to the post, and he didn’t really bite that much. So when I came out, I didn’t come down flat because he was sitting, kept it kinda high. I just knew Chase [Brice] was going to put it in the back corner of the end zone. When he put it in the back corner, the DB jumped for the ball. So I jumped through him and grabbed it and tried to get my foot down. I was like, ‘Wow! I know that is gonna be a good play!’”
Talking routes with Miami’s Mike Harley, and making improvements with Missouri’s Akayleb Evans
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Mike Harley broke the program record for career receptions in his final game of his college career. He’s a speedy wide receiver prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft who told me he can go under 4.31 seconds for the 40-yard dash at the Miami Pro Day. Harley also talked about his favorite routes to run, after working with renowned route technician Stefon Diggs.
“My favorite route to run is the slant, and a corner, and a post,” Harley said. “With the slant, I can dice it up, put my own flavor on it, create separation with my breakaway speed and acceleration. My speed out my breaks is intense and fast. Same with the post, eat up that cushion. With the corner route, definitely my ball-tracking skills. Wherever the quarterback throws the ball I’m going to track it.”
While it’s interesting to hear how a player won on a play from their own perspective, or how they excel on their favorite routes, I’m always keen to discuss areas for improvements that players see in their game. Missouri cornerback Akayleb Evans is a physical prospect with impressive athletic ability. Yet, he knows there’s work to do on his game.
“I’ve been working on my double transitions, double moves, and things like that,” he told me during our recent interview. “I’ve definitely been working on that aspect of my game.”
5 NFL Draft prospects you need to know
Let’s take a look at a few under-the-radar prospects you might want to look at, including a few from the 2023 NFL Draft.
Raheem Blackshear, RB, Virginia Tech
One of my scouting report assignments this week was Virginia Tech offensive tackle Luke Tenuta. While you can’t miss the gargantuan lineman on tape, the real must-watch, eye-catcher is running back Raheem Blackshear.
The former Rutgers man had by far the most successful season of his career in 2021, tallying 757 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s not a name that you hear much hype for, potentially because of his stature. However, he’s a speedy back who has natural pass-catching ability and could be a late-round steal.
Corey Sutton, WR, Appalachian State
Appalachian State wide receiver Corey Sutton is a tall, physical, productive wide receiver who showcased his skill set to NFL teams at the NFLPA Bowl. In addition to his size advantage, Sutton possesses excellent functional length, showcasing the ability to pluck the ball out of the sky with impressive catch radius. Multiple offensive coordinators during his football career have seen Sutton align all over the formation, making him a versatile 2022 NFL Draft WR threat with deceptive speed for his size and after-the-catch ability.
Dennis Houston, WR, Western Illinois
There’s something in the wide receiver water at the FCS level in this 2022 NFL Draft class. Christian Watson is obviously making headlines, and Isaiah Weston is emerging too. However, don’t sleep on Western Illinois wide receiver Dennis Houston.
An explosive athlete on tape, Houston set an impressive 39″ vertical jump at his pro day. A smooth route runner who can create separation with decent speed, Houston also showcases great ball skills and the ability to go up and get it. He’s been a constant feature on my Top 300 Big Board.
Olusegun Oluwatimi, C, Michigan (2023 NFL Draft eligible)
Outside of the impressive Tyler Linderbaum, the 2022 NFL Draft center class leaves a lot to be desired. Several top prospects returned to school, including Olusegun Oluwatimi.
The former Virginia man has transferred to Michigan for his graduate senior season. Landing with a program whose offensive line room boasts the Joe Moore Award is exciting for the potential growth of the 6’3″, 310-pound center. Oluwatimi is strong, aggressive, and flashes the athleticism to be a threat at the second level. He flashed while studying Jelani Woods.
Leonard Taylor, DT, Miami (FL) (2024 NFL Draft eligible)
Miami defensive tackle Leonard Taylor is the difference-maker you’re going to want to watch out for in the upcoming college football season. The 6’3″, 305-pound soon-to-be sophomore is an absolute monster at the point of attack. He’s explosive, long, and already showcases some technical refinement.
Taylor’s not draft eligible until 2024, so he’s got plenty of time to develop. But with 1.06 tackles for loss per game, he’s already one of the most productive defensive linemen in college football.
5 prospects I’m watching next
Here are the draft-eligible players I’ll be taking a look at in the coming days.
James Mitchell, TE, Virginia Tech
Due to a season-ending injury, James Mitchell has flown a little under the radar in this 2022 NFL Draft tight end class. A natural pass catcher whose basketball experience is evident in how well he high points the football. In limited exposure, Mitchell appears to be a great athlete with impressive body control at the catch point. I’m looking forward to digging into his film to conduct his scouting report in the coming days.
Jerreth Sterns, WR, Western Kentucky
As the primary receiver in Bailey Zappe‘s record-breaking season, Jerreth Sterns led college football in almost every conceivable receiving statistic last season. However, his diminutive size means he’s — literally — being overlooked as a pass-catching prospect in this 2022 NFL Draft class.
Sterns is an explosive WR threat who can create yardage after the catch easily with elusiveness. He also showcases exemplary pass-catching and route-running ability.
Ali Fayad, EDGE, Western Michigan
One of the big snubs from the NFL Combine, Western Michigan 2022 NFL Draft edge rush prospect Ali Fayad was expected to test well at his pro day. However, the numbers weren’t released to the media. I’m intrigued to dive into his tape to see if it backs up the exceptional college production and the explosion that he showcases as a pass rusher when watching the Broncos during the 2021 season.
Micah McFadden, LB, Indiana
While Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden doesn’t have great size for the next level, he proved at his pro day and the NFL Combine that he has an exceptional athletic profile. While there are some holes in his games and limitations that are apparent watching broadcast footage, linebacker is one of the positions where a lot more can be revealed about how a player reads and reacts to the game from a deeper tape study.
Cortez Davis, CB, Hawaii
Senior Hawaii defensive back Cortez Davis finished second only to ECU’s Ja’Quan McMillian in passes defensed by a 2022 NFL Draft prospect last season. Additionally, his 18 pass breakups were the most of any player in college football.
Davis is a smaller prospect with some middling testing numbers. However, armed with some pro day and positional drill footage and whatever Rainbow Warrior tape we can find, I’ll see if the production has NFL potential.