Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus
Phillip McGruder @McGruderPMac
Here’s a list of five 2022 NFL Draft Sleepers offensive skill players who caught my attention during the Combine weekend. In every draft, there are a few players who end up being selected on Day 3 and wind up becoming stars in the NFL. Classic examples include Tyreek Hill (fifth round), Dante Hall (fifth round) and Jared Allen (fourth round). Today, I am looking at players who will likely be selected after the top-100 picks who could be high-end starters sooner rather than later, especially for the Chiefs.
- Zamir White, RB, Georgia
One running back that could be better in the NFL than in college is Georgia’s Zamir White. As a redshirt freshmen, he too the back seat to star running back D’Andre Swift but was a vital part of the three-headed committee backfield the Dawgs used in 2019. He had a much more featured role as the lead back in 2020 and 2021 but was still one-half of a one-two punch in the latter season with the emergence of NFL draft prospect James Cook (Top 75 pick).
Still, White was still productive and efficient, finishing as the National Champion Bulldogs’ leading rusher for the second straight season, with 856 yards on 160 carries (5.3 avg.).
White has ideal size at 6-foot, 214 pounds, and has great burst (4.4 40 time), agility, runs with power, but his lateral quickness and explosiveness were much improved in 2021. His solid showing at the NFL combine has helped boost his stock.
His speed and ability to the hole for a big run will remind scouts of Raheem Mostert. He has the frame to be good in pass protection but needs better technique. He would operate best in the Chiefs zone run scheme. The staff developing him is excellent and could help him realize his potential as a runner and receiver. He could be good value if the Chiefs address running back on day three.
- Velus Jones Jr, WR, Tennessee
The NFL is obsessed with speed and size and can’t get enough of it. That is why we saw someone like Ja’Marr Chase be the No. 1 receiver selected in the 2021 NFL Draft who ran a 4.38 at 6-feet-0, 200 pounds. If you can run your 40 in the 4.3s (or better), you can bet that NFL teams will be interested.
One player in this year’s class with that type of speed and size is Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. Jones has the rare combination of size, elite speed (4.31) and quickness. But not only is he fast, but he’s incredibly productive, as well.
A 6-foot, 200-pounder, Jones was a 2019 All-Pac-12 performer at USC before becoming a 2021 All-SEC selection with the Vols, where he was a multi-talented receiver and a return specialist at Tennessee.
In 2021, Jones had 62 receptions for 807 yards and seven touchdowns for the Vols. He also finished the 2021 season as the FBS active leader with 2,973 kick return yards.
He took part in the Senior Bowl. He’s nearly impossible to tackle due to his twitchiness and has natural receiving ability.
Look for him to come off the board sometime on Day 3 — but I can easily see his transition like Tyreek Hill with him making big plays right away on both offense for Andy Reid and shining on special teams for Dave Toub as a rookie. Did I forget to tell you he was college teammates with Chiefs right guard Trey Smith with the Vols (2020)?
- Kevin Austin Jr, WR, Notre Dame
Another wide receiver that could be better in the NFL than in college is Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr.
He might be on the radar as a high end receiver prospect. Still, this past season, the Notre Dame football team got a big contribution from Kevin Austin Jr., who was finally healthy enough to compete on a consistent basis. Leading the team in receiving yards, Austin Jr. was one of five members of the program invited to this year’s 2022 NFL Combine, and he did not disappoint.
Austin Jr. has ideal size at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, and aside from his solid 4.43 40-time, Austin Jr. tied third in the high jump with a mark of 39.0, fifth in the broad jump, and first in the three-cone drill. Overall, it was the kind of performance that should take him from a fringe draft pick to a possible late Day 2, or early Day 3 selection.
Austin Jr. is a homerun hitter that is a threat every time he touches the ball. He fits the mold for what the Chiefs like to do, and he could potentially play outside. He might not look ready to contribute 50 snaps a game like what we expected from Cornell Powell, but if the Chiefs wanted a day-three developmental player, Austin Jr. fits the bill.
- Chig Okonkwo, TE, Maryland
The 2022 tight end class might not be as deep this year like the 2021 class, with but this class has talent and value in every round after the early 2nd round period passes. But if you are searching for a Day 3 option with some developmental upside, Chig Okonkwo is a name to watch.
Okonkwo was third on the Terps with 433 receiving yards and tied for the team lead with five touchdowns, earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention. Much of that production came in November, when he became a bigger part of Maryland’s offense due to a slew of injuries to receivers.
He appeared in every game his first two seasons, combining for 270 yards and three touchdowns across both campaigns. Okonkwo was expected to take a leap forward as a starter in 2020, but he sat out the pandemic-shortened season with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle often caused by viral infections.
The diagnosis briefly threatened to end his career, but he worked back in the offseason to take on a leading role in a revamped tight end room. Now, he has a chance to impress at the next level.
The Chiefs are one of the few teams that utilize a fullback. Chiefs fans remember watching 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk give the defense trouble in Super Bowl 54. Okonkwo has the potential to be that type of player in the Chiefs offense. The 49ers line Juszczyk up all over the place and use him as a pass-catcher and slip him out in the passing game. In a high-powered offense like ours, Okonkwo could be the type of player that does the little things.
- James Cook, RB, Georgia
Cook spent his four years at Georgia splitting time with talented running backs, from D’andre Swift to Zamir White and everyone in between. Still, Cook emerged as one of Georgia’s best running backs because of his versatility. Cook lined up in the slot, out wide, and in the backfield, skills that many NFL teams are looking for in running backs.
James Cook finished his Georgia career with 1,012 total yards and 11 total touchdowns and a national championship. He was huge for the Bulldogs throughout the College Football Playoff and showed his versatility against Michigan. He had over 100 receiving yards against the Michigan Wolverines, who had no answer for him. Cook boosted his NFL draft stock with an impressive 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL combine. Cook additionally looked smooth throughout drills as a receiver. He is considered one of the top receiving backs in the 2022 NFL draft.
Cook finished with the eighth best official 40-yard dash time among running backs at 4.42. In fact, James Cook bested his brother, Dalvin Cook, in the event. Dalvin Cook was a second-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the 2017 NFL draft. Dalvin Cook ran a 4.49 40-yard dash in the 2017 NFL combine.
There’s a chance that Cook could be good value on day two of the draft. He has the physical profile and talent to play to the level of anyone in this class. Cook would benefit from the offensive scheme and culture the Chiefs can provide him and, in turn, they could potentially have a bell-cow running back for at least Cook’s rookie contract.