Insider Buzz: NFL Scouts Dish on Most Underrated Prospects (plus our picks)
We previously dished on the most overrated prospects in the early portion of the 2022 draft class, so now it’s time to look at those players who aren’t getting enough attention and love from the national media.
Of course, a lot can, will, and should change as the season gets here. And while every NFL team already has a preliminary grade on the top senior prospects, we know all too well that grades change as players progress, regress and deal with injuries.
But, that’s no fun. You want the inside scoop on the most underrated prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft class, so we asked a handful of scouts for their picks. And then we added our own.
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LB Christian Harris, Alabama
Scout’s Take: “‘Bama linebackers get a bad reputation, but he’s unique and really good. Great range and athleticism. Also the hardest damn hitter in college football. We rarely put high grades on guys before the season but he’s a high first-rounder.”
Scout’s Take: “He’s the best linebacker in college football and it’s not even close. He’s the best linebacker they’ve had since [Reuben] Foster and has none of the off-field (issues).”
OG Zion Johnson, Boston College
Scout’s Take: “Guards don’t get a lot of early love but my gosh he’s impressive. Excellent strength and mobility. I’d call him a Round 1 lock.”
Scout’s Take: “Love that he can play guard and tackle, but for us he’s an inside player. He’s mean, too, which I love.”
CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Scout’s Take: “Oh, you’re going to like this one! He’s long, fast, instinctive. They’re going to have a huge season and he’s a big reason why. Sleeper Thorpe (Award) winner.”
Scout’s Take: “He’s a little lean but he’s the second-best cornerback (behind Derek Stingley, Jr.) in the class. His ball skills are clean and he’s been well-coached.”
OT Darian Kinnard, Kentucky
Scout’s Take: “We thought he would enter last year and be a top 50 pick. He’s a great athlete. Might remind people of Mekhi Becton if he develops a little bit.”
Scout’s Take: “He lights it up at tackle and has super, super strong hands. His movement skills are unreal for his size (6’5”, 325 lbs).
QB Carson Strong, Nevada
Scout’s Take: “I don’t know why people aren’t all over him yet. He’s my pick for the breakout quarterback prospect this year. Huge arm, big kid, and he’s a senior so he’s experienced more than the other guys.”
Scout’s Take: “He’s only gotten better in his two years (as a starter) and has a damn good team returning around him. Could have a Joe Burrow-like final season and shoot up boards.”
QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The 2022 draft is loaded with a big group of talented quarterbacks, but to date no player has risen to the top of the list from an NFL perspective. Desmond Ridder has the tools to be that player. The senior quarterback made a huge leap in 2020 and returns as a threat both as a passer (19 TDs) and runner (12 TDs) in just 10 games. With a full, non-Covid season coming, Ridder could break out.
RB Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
Ian Book is gone at quarterback, leaving Notre Dame with Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan behind center. His job will be to hand the ball off to Kyren Williams as much as possible in 2021. The junior back (5’9”, 195 lbs) doesn’t have a ton of fans among NFL scouts as we polled opinion makers, but his balance and power plus ability as a receiver makes up for his lack of elite athleticism. Williams may not be a Round 1 or Round 2 prospect for teams, but he has the look of an NFL starter and three down back.
OW Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
Offensive weapon Ainias Smith just needs touches. He showed in 2020 with 49 rushes and 43 receptions the type of weapon he can be when he totaled 857 yards from scrimmage. The goal for A&M’s offense will be to feature he, RB Isaiah Spiller and TE Jalen Wydermyer early and often. And while Spiller and Wydermyer get a lot of national recognition, Smith is an electric weapon to watch as a draft prospect and potential late first-round pick.
CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
With Jimmy Lake coaching, you know Washington will be loaded with defensive backs each draft cycle. This year it’s time for Kyler Gordon to shine as he looks to replace Elijah Molden as the team’s top cornerback. Gordon (6’0”, 190 lbs) is a top-level athlete with the speed and agility to shoot up draft boards. He has an easy Round 2 grade on my initial big board.
OT Cordell Volson, North Dakota State
Volson, who slid to left tackle for NDSU’s spring season after Dillon Radunz declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, is a strong and talented prospect with excellent poise, strength and patience at both right and left tackle spots. He has the size (6’6”, 312 lbs) and film to be viewed as a potential late first-round prospect.
LB Aaron Brule, Mississippi State
While Miss. State is loaded at cornerback (Martin Emerson and Emmanuel Forbes are studs), it’s linebacker Aaron Brule who looks like the best prospect on the defensive side of the Bulldogs’ roster. Lining up at weakside linebacker, Brule has shown the athleticism and awareness to be the team’s main defensive weapon. And at 6’1” and 235 pounds, he has easy range to make plays outside the tackle box. Brule comes in with an early Round 2 grade on my big board.