Saturday, May 28, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Chargers’ Isaiah Spiller, Ravens’ Charlie Kolar, other Day 3 picks who’ll have instant impact

The phenomenon of Day 3 draft picks surprising as rookies takes form every year in the NFL.

Last year, it was Amon-Ra St. Brown, Evan McPherson, Elijah Mitchell, and Trey Smith.

In 2020, it was L’Jarius Sneed, Gabriel Davis, and Darnell Mooney. Two years ago, Gardner Minshew, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Maxx Crosby were instant hits. In 2018, Taron Johnson, Genard Avery, and Avonte Maddox proved they could play out of the gate. 

The season before it was Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, and George Kittle. In 2016, the group consisted of Dak Prescott, Jordan Howard, and Tyreek Hill

While all the 2022 Day 3 selections listed below aren’t guaranteed to thrive as rookies, they have the best chance to make an instant impact due to their talent and opportunity on their new teams. St. Brown, Jets running back Michael Carter, Panthers ball carrier Chuba Hubbard, and Bears cornerback Thomas Graham were among my picks before the 2021 season

Snoop Conner, RB, Jaguars 

Round 5, No. 154 overall

Conner is a ready-to-go punisher who plays significantly more explosively than his 29 1/2-inch vertical would indicate. He’s a slashing, one-cut type tailor-made for Doug Pederson’s system. And he only totaled 304 carries in college. He doesn’t necessarily seek out contact but delivers a thumping pop on contact and there’s some wiggle to his game.

GM Trent Baalke was part of the Jaguars staff when they landed James Robinson as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and of course was the GM who drafted Travis Etienne in Round 1 last season. 

But Pederson calls the shots on game-day, has no pre-existing ties to either veteran back and was a major running-back committee advocate while in Philadelphia. Conner will produce as a rookie.

Isaiah Spiller, RB, Chargers (#123 overall)

Round 4, No. 123 overall

Austin Ekeler stands in the way of Spiller having a monster rookie season. But hear me out on picking the former Texas A&M star as a Day 3 instant impact type. Ekeler only had three games with more than 15 carries in 2021. Sure, much of that was due to the Chargers having the fourth-highest pass rate (63%) in football.

Ekeler also ran over 400 routes in 2021, fourth-most among all RBs. The Chargers want him as that “wide back” option in their offense. Spiller is a more traditional, between-the-tackles back. He has the frame, vision, and cutting skill to be that asset in Los Angeles.

Spiller’s film was as impressive as both Ken Walker’s and Breece Hall’s. He’ll formulate a fun, dynamic duo with Ekeler in 2022. 

Romeo Doubs, WR, Packers (#132 overall)

Round 4, No. 132 overall

Christian Watson was a bubble screen and go-ball guy at North Dakota State with verified 4.36 speed. Doubs was one heck of a long-ball specialist too, over a pair of seasons, at Nevada. He averaged right around 15.5 yards per grab in 2020 and 2021 combined.

There’s good suddenness to his game and he tracks it like Byron Buxton in center field. Because of his draft position, most of the initial attention will be on Watson, which bodes well for Doubs seeing lesser cornerbacks down the field. I trust Matt Lafleur to scheme open deep shots for Doubs, who’s plenty fast enough to be a vertical option for Aaron Rodgers

Charlie Kolar, TE, Ravens (#128 overall)

Round 4, No. 128 overall

Believe it not, the Ravens actually weren’t a big “12 personnel” — two tight end — team in 2021, and I think they want to be, they just didn’t have the horses at TE. Now they do. And given that their receiver room is Rashod Bateman and not much else, they may have to be.

Kolar is Mark Andrews 2.0. I’m telling you. Maybe not quite as dynamic after the catch, but it’s close. Everything else about Kolar’s game screams Andrews. The subtle route-running brilliance, the explosion, the flexibility, the ultra-reliable hands. The Ravens have to replace 43.1% of their targets from 2021, the sixth-most in football. Kolar is going to produce. 

Tyreke Smith, EDGE, Seahawks

Round 5, No. 158 overall 

If the NFL is obsessed with pass-rush ability, I have no idea whatsoever why Smith was still available in the fifth round. He had a pressure-creation rate of 13% in 2021. That was right around the same rate as Falcons second-round Arnold Ebiketie and Cowboys second-round Sam Williams. And not significantly lower than Kayvon Thibodeaux. If you count the last two seasons, Smith’s 16% pressure-creation rate is on par with Aidan Hutchinson’s and higher than his new teammate Boye Mafe.

And those pressures weren’t of the schemed-up variety. With Smith, advanced pass-rush moves are there. There’s some bend to his game. He’s a pass-rush specialist. Seattle desperately needs that.

Perrion Winfrey, DT, Browns (#108 overall)

Round 4, No. 108 overall

Winfrey is precisely what the Browns need. A long, active high-energy defensive tackle to push the pocket with Myles Garrett flying around the edge. They’ve had the block-eating types. They’re useful but how did that defensive-line setup turn out for those defenses? 

Interior push is vital in today’s NFL, particularly when you have an elite edge rusher. With the lightning-quick first step and immense length of Winfrey, teams will eventually have to focus attention on the inside when facing Cleveland’s defense. Initially though, Winfrey should see plenty of advantageous one-on-one scenarios, which will catalyze a fast start to his career. 

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