2022 NFL Draft: Five players who could be surprising first-round selections

New Orleans, LA, USA; Baylor Bears safety Jalen Pitre (8) gestures after a play against the Mississippi Rebels in the second quarter of the 2022 Sugar Bowl at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

There's no question a team will make a surprising selection in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. But who that player is? That remains up in the air until draft day.

The Las Vegas Raiders have made a habit of taking such gambles in recent years, with cornerback Damon Arnette and tackle Alex Leatherwood both coming off boards well before they were expected to. Safety Terrell Edmunds (2018) and interior defender L.J. Collier (2019) are similar stories from recent drafts. 

Last offseason, Houston edge defender Payton Turner — who I pointed out as a potential surprise first-rounder — was among the bigger eye-openers. Could a college teammate of Turner’s hear his name called on Day 1 this year?

DI Logan Hall, Houston

Hall arrived at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at 6-foot-6 (97th percentile among interior defensive linemen) and 283 pounds (17th percentile), and his unique build is one of the first things that stands out on tape. 

That length has its pros and cons: It allows Hall to overwhelm guards but also makes it difficult for him to play with great leverage. The overall results skewed to the positive side over his last two seasons at Houston, as he earned PFF grades north of 83.0 in each campaign. 

Highest-ranked interior defensive linemen on PFF’s Big Board
Player PFF Big Board Rank
Devonte Wyatt 17
Jordan Davis 20
Travis Jones 40
Logan Hall 52
Perrion Winfrey 81

Hall slots in as DT4 and the 52nd-ranked player overall on PFF’s Big Board, while Grinding the Mocks’ Expected Draft Position has him with a similar rank (49th). 

However, positional scarcity could push Hall up boards given that Jones, Hall and (potentially) Winfrey stand out as the only interior defensive linemen with second-round grades. If a team really wants to add a 3-5 technique late in the first round, Hall will likely be their guy with Wyatt already gone. 

DI Travis Jones, Connecticut

For similar reasons as Hall above, Jones could sneak into the first round following an impressive pre-draft process. The nose tackle out of UConn was one of PFF’s highest-graded pass-rushers during the week of Senior Bowl practices, and he put up impressive numbers at the combine in the 40-yard dash (4.92 seconds) and three-cone (7.33 seconds) for a player tipping the scales at 325 pounds. 

Needless to say, NFL teams will be interested in Jones for different reasons than teams targeting Hall. Jones is the prototypical immovable object at nose tackle and one of the strongest players in this class. It’s not difficult to find an instance of him discarding an opposing offensive lineman on tape. 

Jones is coming off three consecutive seasons with PFF run-defense grades above 75.0, two of which cleared 85.0. He can make an immediate impact as a run defender, and interior defensive tackles with that skill set are becoming increasingly valuable as the league shifts toward more two-high safety shells. 

DB Jalen Pitre, Baylor

Pitre is a well-rounded defensive back with elite short-area quickness who played the “Star” role in Dave Aranda’s Baylor defense. He was one of the biggest risers at the Senior Bowl and put up PFF grades above 75.0 as a run defender, coverage defender and pass-rusher in each of the past two seasons. It’s not difficult to see NFL teams valuing his skill set in a hybrid nickel/safety/SAM linebacker role that gives defensive coordinators different solutions for different personnel groupings. 

Most run stops by an FBS defensive back in 2021
Player School Run Stops
Jalen Pitre Baylor 34
Matthew Salopek Miami (OH) 34
Khoury Bethley Hawaii 29

The biggest concern when projecting Pitre to the NFL is that he’s undersized as a true safety, but his ability to track players in space and play with force should help alleviate those concerns. 

WR Skyy Moore, Western Michigan

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound wide receiver may be on the shorter side, but he’s not small. Moore also measured in with bigger hands (10.25 inches) than any wide receiver in attendance at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. 

Moore’s “where he wins” section from lead draft analyst Mike Renner in the PFF Draft Guide reads: “In a class with some seriously shifty wideouts, Moore would be my bet to win if they all played tag. He’s not only shifty, but he’s also so strong he’s unaffected by an outstretched arm.”

That’s reflected in his FBS-high 26 missed tackles forced after the catch in 2021. You can line him up in the slot or on the outside, and he can contribute immediately as an after-the-catch weapon. 

Moore is worth a late first-round selection, especially if there’s a run on wideouts before receiver-needy teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions pick late in Round 1. 

RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

Walker carries longer odds than any player listed above of finding himself in the first round on April 28. The juice on the over/under 0.5 running backs selected in the first round prop over at DraftKings Sportsbook is heavily in favor of the under (-190). And Walker is only +200 to be the first running back to come off the board, taking a backseat to Breece Hall (-250) in that race. 

Still, all it takes is for one team to fall in love with Walker’s ability as a pure rusher. He has decent size and breakaway speed (4.38-second 40-yard dash) and is coming off one of the most elusive seasons we’ve seen recently at the college level in a high-volume role. 

Most yards after contact per attempt by FBS running back in a season since 2017 (min. 250 carries)
Player Season Yards after contact per attempt
Jonathan Taylor 2017 4.5
Rashaad Penny 2017 4.5
Kenneth Walker III 2021 4.5
Bryce Love 2017 4.3
Jonathan Taylor 2018 4.3

The bigger concerns about Walker center on his impact in the passing game, but the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah recently moved him up on his big board after seeing Michigan State practice film showing Walker getting work as a receiver. 

“Since I did my last list, Mel Tucker got me a bunch of practice video. I was able to see him catching the ball, so I could answer that question,” Jeremiah said on his podcast Move the Sticks. “Just didn’t have as many opportunities to catch it at Michigan State. Ran extremely well. He’s just a really good football player.”

The NFL is coming around to the positional value discussions on the running back position, but a team such as the Buffalo Bills could talk themselves into Walker as the final piece on a roster without many holes. 

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protect your family with fast, free will.
NFL Draft Featured Tools

Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit