Tuesday, May 24, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Biggest weaknesses for Aidan Hutchinson, Kyle Hamilton and the consensus top 10 prospects

Every draft season it’s a challenge to sift through the heaping praise of top NFL Draft prospects if one is curious about their weaknesses. With the most marquee talents in every draft, 90% of analysis is (rightfully) centered around how and why they are the most sought after collegiate players entering the NFL. 

But, as humans, they’re not perfect. None of them. And in completing a thorough evaluation process, of course it’s vital to pinpoint weaknesses in every single prospect, regardless of their reputation. We have to also acknowledge the flaws. Why? Because they’re the facets of a prospect’s game that need to improve (or hide) once they’re pros. 

Below are the top 10 most highly regarded prospects in the 2021 class and their most glaring weakness. No sugarcoating. 

Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson

Biggest weakness: Overall athleticism 

For nearly 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Hutchinson is a high-caliber athlete. But his massive size does naturally reduce the ceiling of his athleticism. At that height and weight, a defensive end is simply just not going to be as explosive, twitchy, and bendy as a rusher that’s shorter with less weight on his frame. 

And it’s not as if Hutchinson is drastically larger and stronger than the vast majority of NFL defensive ends. Offensive tackles at the professional level deal with 6-5, 255 pounds and up on a regular basis. Being athletic “relative to your size” only takes you so far in the NFL. Hutchinson checks the athleticism box, no doubt. Does he rush like he’s shot out of cannon before tightly wrapping the corner on a regular basis? Not exactly. If there’s one nitpick about his overall game, it’s that. 

Alabama OT Evan Neal 

Biggest weakness: Occasional lunging tendency

Neal is a ridiculous specimen. I mean, seriously, he makes 337 pounds look like 227 pounds and has Hall of Fame length. His hips are unlocked on every snap, and he knows where he needs to be for the run game. At times, though, it’s almost as if he’s moving too quickly to his assignment, gets a tick impatient, and lunges at his target, for the run game or in pass protection. 

And even in the SEC, that led to problems for Neal against, of course, defenders much smaller than him. In the NFL, getting overzealous as a blocker almost always is a recipe for disaster. Understanding when he should attack, and doing so in an under-control manner will be vital for Neal to meet the justifiably high expectations set for him early in his pro career. 

Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton

Biggest weakness: Block-defeating skills

The layup here would be to write “lack of speed” after some scouts had Hamilton in the low 4.70s at his pro day. I did not see anything that made me believe this is a 4.7 player on the field. In fact, Hamilton is a blur on the field at 6-4 and 220 pounds. However, at that size, Hamilton should, in theory, be more assertive and effective taking on and shedding blockers on his way to the football. 

It’s an area of his game that will need refinement because, despite his insane athletic fluidity, he’s not going to be able to beat every blocker en route to the ball-carrier in the NFL like he mostly did during his time at Notre Dame. 

Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux

Biggest weakness: Effectiveness in his hands

Thibodeaux is a rare cat. He looked like a future top 10 pick as an 18-year-old freshman in 2019. Seriously. Unreal talent. And who of all people understands how athletic Thibodeaux is? Thibodeaux himself, right? It led him to leaning heavily on his burst, bend, and closing speed more so than any other rushers I’ve scouted since Myles Garrett. Yes, more than Chase Young. 

All that leads me to is this — Thibodeaux’s hand work has to get better. He flashes a pass-rushing move on occasion. It’s not as if he has no plan at the snap. But when you’re as overwhelmingly athletic even against top-tier talent in college, you simply don’t have to be a fundamentally sound technician. In the NFL, you have to be. 

Thibodeaux isn’t quite Garrett athletically — and he’s about 20 pounds lighter — so the advantage he had in college on the physical front won’t be as staggering as it was in the Pac-12. That’s when the calculated pass-rush maneuvers need to be deployed. 

Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner

Biggest weakness: Lack of elite twitchiness

The same concept here as to what I wrote about Hutchinson. For Gardner’s size, he’s an amazing athlete. You know who else was a tremendous athlete for his size? Former Ohio State superstar Jeff Okudah. He went No. 3 overall in the 2020 draft at 6-1 and 205 pounds then had a dismal rookie season. Why? 

Because when you’re that big at the cornerback spot, chances are you aren’t going to be as twitched up as a smaller, lighter cornerback, and NFL wideouts today are incredibly quick and nuanced when getting off press coverage and separating at all levels of the field. 

Gardner’s nearly 6-3, and he does look bendier and more sudden than Okudah was. I just have a concern that the sheer quickness he’ll face on an island in the NFL will take some getting used to once he’s playing on Sundays. 

NC State OT Ikem Ekwonu

Biggest weakness: Dealing with counter moves

Ekwonu’s highlight reel is of No. 1 overall-caliber. For real. As a run-blocker, he’s going to mash people in the NFL out of the gate. Burst, balanced mobility, torque, it’s all there. 

As a pass protector, the same completeness and confidence isn’t quite as apparent with Ekwonu. Because he’s such a capable athlete, his recovery skills are tremendous. Flat out, though, Ekwonu is a little susceptible to a quality inside pass-rushing move, which is strange, given how impressive his lateral quickness is. In general, his pass protection is behind his run-blocking, which is not ideal in today’s NFL. 

Georgia EDGE Travon Walker

Biggest weakness: Limited pass-rushing moves, bend

Walker is a bit of cautionary “workout warrior” to me. At 6-5 and 272 pounds, he did the three-cone drill in 6.89 seconds. That, on paper, indicates he’s the bendiest, most intimidating outside speed rusher ever. On film, he’s the polar opposite of bendy or flexible around the corner. 

Does he move well for his size? Ab-so-lutely. I would’ve guessed his three-cone would’ve been closer to 7.40 than under 7.00 seconds. On top of that, I didn’t see a legitimate pass-rushing move besides him rushing well up the field, beyond the quarterback, then stopping and trying to peel back to the passer. Walker is an all-upside prospect, which may appeal to some. I like my “upside” prospects to have some technically sound flashes. 

Liberty QB Malik Willis

Biggest weakness: Pocket management 

To the point here — Willis either holds the football too long or runs into pressure too frequently. More so than his ability to read and react to coverages, his pocket management is the reason he probably shouldn’t start immediately as a rookie. Because, bad pocket management leads to more under-pressure drop backs, and the more of those early in a quarterback’s career, the more likely it is bad habits are formed. 

Contrary to popular belief, Willis is a naturally accurate quarterback who does read coverages pretty well. He’s behind when it comes to staying in the pocket and surveying the field, although that attribute is becoming less and less important for (the highly athletic) quarterbacks today. 

Mississippi State OT Charles Cross

Biggest weakness: Lack of nastiness 

Cross glides, man. I wrote in my scouting gradebook “the most natural/comfortable pass protector I’ve evaluated since Jonah Williams.” And that’s massively important. At the combine, Cross proved, beyond his film, he has the measurables and athletic profile to be a franchise left tackle in the NFL. 

Is he a mauling, mean streak, pancake blocker? No. Definitely not. I believe that doesn’t really matter as long as an offensive lineman is handling his responsibilities on every snap. But there are smart football people out there who believe overt physicality is crucial for blockers at the NFL level. That’s one area Cross needs to improve upon once he’s a pro. 

LSU CB Derek Stingley

Biggest weakness: Not as long as we all thought

Stingley looks like a super-long, gigantic pass-breakup radius type on film. At the combine, he was barely above 6-0 and his arms were under 31 inches, when the threshold many teams have had for years is 32 inches at the outside cornerback spot. Interesting. 

In that spectacular 2019 campaign, when Stingley was the best, most productive cornerback in college football at 18 years old, Stingley looked like Spiderman contorting his body to repeatedly get his hands on the football. Length didn’t look like a weakness, it looked like arguably the most impactful trait he possessed. Now we know some clubs will actually view Stingley as a corner with some length deficiency. 

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