2022 NFL Draft sleepers: Day 2 standouts and Day 3 hidden gems to target

Last week, we used the Next Gen Stats Draft Model to compile our can't-miss prospects -- a rundown of the top talents who possess ideal traits. Today, we're gonna lean on the model once again, but this list is different.

Only 32 players come off the board on the opening night of the NFL draft, but that doesn't mean you can't find starters -- even Pro Bowlers -- on Days 2 and 3. Predictive modeling can help us unearth those diamonds in the rough. By combining Daniel Jeremiah's top 150 prospects ranking and the results of the NGS Draft Model, we've identified starter-caliber players who will likely still be available after Round 1.

This is the third year we've provided Day 2 standouts and Day 3 hidden gems. In 2020, our top Day 2 standout was Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor, who just earned first-team All-Pro honors in Year 2 after running away with the league rushing title. In 2021, it was Green Bay Packers CB Eric Stokes, who actually ended up going late in Round 1 -- justifiably so, judging by his promising rookie play.

But there's intel to be gleaned beyond the featured players at the top. Don't overlook the "More names to know." Over the past two years, those lists have correctly identified a raft of instant-impact players, including Jordyn Brooks, Jeremy Chinn, Chase Claypool, Kyle Dugger, Willie Gay Jr. and Logan Wilson in 2020 alone.

Alright, enough preamble. According to our calculations here at Next Gen Stats, these are the Day 2 standouts and Day 3 hidden gems with the best chance of becoming starters at the NFL level.

(NOTE: Players who did not participate in drills at the NFL Scouting Combine were given an estimated athleticism score based on their size and projected time in the 40-yard dash.)

DAY 2 STANDOUTS

Rank
1
Jaquan Brisker
Penn State · S · 22 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 53
  • Production Score: 87
  • Athleticism Score: 76
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 88
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 76%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 13%


The ideal NFL safety is multi-dimensional. He must be fast and instinctive enough to cover in space, while also possessing the strength, toughness and football smarts to diagnose and make plays in the box. Brisker fits the bill, offering tremendous value as a do-it-all safety on Day 2.


The JUCO transfer-turned-Penn State team captain earned 2021 second-team All-American honors from the Associated Press. The NGS Draft Model gave him an 87 production score, second to only Kyle Hamilton (91) among safeties in this year's class. Brisker showed off his movement and play-strength skills at the combine, posting a 4.49 40-yard dash and 22 bench reps at 6-foot-1, 199 pounds. His pro day measurables were even more impressive.


If Brisker is picked on Day 2, DJ's No. 53 overall prospect will be just the fifth safety since 2016 to enter the draft with an 85-plus overall draft score and make it past Round 1. The previous four were all selected in the second round: Budda Baker, Jeremy Chinn, Kyle Dugger and Xavier McKinney. Chinn and Dugger were members of this same list two years ago.


NOTE: Projected first-round picks Kyle Hamilton (90 overall score) and Daxton Hill (88) will qualify if either prospect falls to Day 2.

Rank
2
Trey McBride
Colorado State · TE · 23 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 62
  • Production Score: 83
  • Athleticism Score: 80
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 85
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 78%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 26%


As the NFL's line between a tight end and a big-bodied receiver continues to blur, it is rare to find a complete TE prospect who can catch, run and block. Enter McBride, the top tight end in this class according to the NGS overall draft score. The 2021 John Mackey Award winner and consensus first-team All-American set single-season school records for receptions (90) and receiving yards (1,121) as a senior. His 90 receptions were more than double the next closest player on the team (44). A 4.56 40-yard dash at Colorado State's pro day cemented the evaluation.


McBride is the ninth tight end since 2018 to reach at least 85 in overall draft score. The eight tight ends to enter the draft with a score of 85 or higher were all top 50 picks: Kyle Pitts (98), T.J. Hockenson (95), Noah Fant (89), Irv Smith Jr. (88), Mike Gesicki (87), Dallas Goedert (87), Hayden Hurst (85) and Cole Kmet (85).

Rank
3
Kaiir Elam
Florida · CB · 20 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 47
  • Production Score: 74
  • Athleticism Score: 80
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 82
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 62%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 2%


Every team seeks a rare combination of size, speed and strength at the cornerback position. It's difficult to find all three characteristics in one prospect, especially after Round 1. But this Florida product with NFL bloodlines -- his father (Abraham) and uncle (Matt) both spent time in the league -- boasts the coveted trifecta of traits.


At 6-1 1/2 and 191 pounds, Elam posted a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine, and followed it up with a 37 1/2-inch vertical, 6.98 three-cone drill and 4.21 short shuttle at Florida's pro day. All were threshold-meeting marks, according to our model. Elam is one of just five cornerbacks since 2018 to measure over 6-1, run a sub-4.42 40 and enter the draft with an overall score of 80-plus. The three who are already in the pros: Jalen Ramsey, Greedy Williams and A.J. Terrell. The other is Sauce Gardner, our No. 5 can't-miss prospect in this year's class.

Rank
4
Leo Chenal
Wisconsin · LB · 21 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 59
  • Production Score: 78
  • Athleticism Score: 90
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 82
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 76%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 6%


A linebacker's size and speed are far from the only prerequisite traits for success at the pro level. But when you combine consistent three-down production at the college level with size, speed and explosive testing numbers? Yeah, you're cooking with gas. History shows value can be found on Day 2 of the draft, and according to the NGS Draft Model, this Wisconsin linebacker could be one of this year's top value picks.


At 6-2 5/8 and 250 pounds, Chenal blazed a 4.53 40-yard dash and jumped 40.5 inches in the vertical leap at Lucas Oil Stadium. Those are both elite marks for any linebacker, no matter the size. And then he put up 34 reps on the bench press at his pro day. Those numbers were good enough to earn Chenal an NGS athleticism score of 90, tied for the third-best mark among 36 linebackers invited to this year's combine.


Five linebackers entered the draft between 2019 and 2021 with a 90-plus athleticism score and 80-plus overall score. All five were first-round picks: Devin White, Isaiah Simmons, Devin Bush, Jamin Davis and Kenneth Murray. Chenal and Channing Tindall are two qualifiers from this year's class. Tindall, is another Day 2 name to know ...

MORE NAMES TO KNOW IN THE DAY 2 RANGE: David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan; Christian Harris, LB, Alabama; Cole Strange, OG, Tennessee-Chattanooga; Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA; Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia; Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston State.

DAY 3 HIDDEN GEMS

Rank
1
Charlie Kolar
Iowa State · TE · 23 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 106
  • Production Score: 77
  • Athleticism Score: 86
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 83
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 71%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 26%


The 2021 recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy -- also known as the "Academic Heisman" -- was as consistent on the field as he was off it. Kolar racked up at least 590 receiving yards and six touchdowns in each of his final three seasons at Iowa State, earning high marks for his prowess in contested catches over the course of his college career. Running a 4.62 40-yard dash at 6-6 1/2 and 252 pounds during Iowa State's pro day certainly helped alleviate athleticism concerns.


Kolar is one of only two tight ends in this year's class to eclipse 75 in our production, athleticism and overall marks. Colorado State's Trey McBride, a Day 2 standout above, was the other. Kolar would be the first tight end with those marks in our historical data set (since 2003) to fall to Day 3.

Rank
2
Marcus Jones
Houston · CB · 23 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 123
  • Production Score: 80
  • Athleticism Score: 78
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 80
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 58%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 2%


On Day 3 of the draft, prospects who check every box are far and few between. Size concerns can often play a factor, limiting the player's upside -- in talent evaluators' eyes -- no matter the on-field production. At 5-8, Jones is one of those prospects.


Agnostic of size, Jones was an all-around playmaker across his two seasons at Houston, both as a cornerback and return specialist. As a senior in 2021, Jones was named the American Athletic Conference's Special Teams Player of the Year, while also earning second-team All-AAC honors as a cornerback. Big plays are the name of the game for Jones, who not only had two kickoff return touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns last season, but also led Houston with five interceptions. Let us not forget about his 10 receptions and a TD on offense, for good measure. What he lacks in size, Jones makes up for with agility and ball skills. A savvy team in need of an immediate return specialist would likely be happy with this investment on Day 3.

Rank
3
Khalil Shakir
Boise State · WR · 22 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 102
  • Production Score: 80
  • Athleticism Score: 71
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 79
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 55%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 12%


Enough good can equal great. While Shakir does not stand out in any one area, the Boise State receiver meets every baseline when it comes to his size, athleticism and college production.


A model of consistency throughout his college career, Shakir registered at least 700 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns in each of his final three seasons at Boise State (which includes a shortened 2020 season of just seven games). That consistency also shows up in the receiver's NGS profile. Shakir is one of only four wide receivers in this year's class to enter the draft with a 75-plus overall and production score, coupled with a 70-plus athleticism score. The others -- Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Skyy Moore -- are projected top-50 picks.

Rank
4
Pierre Strong
South Dakota State · RB · 23 years old
  • DJ's Big Board Ranking: No. 114
  • Production Score: 66
  • Athleticism Score: 99
  • OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 76
  • STARTER PROBABILITY: 32%
  • PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 4%


A Next Gen Stats athleticism score of a 99 represents a true athletic anomaly relative to historical players at the same position. Among running backs, Strong is one of those outliers.


Checking in at 5-11 and 207 pounds in Indy, Strong posted a 4.37 40-yard dash, 10-foot-4 broad jump and 36-inch vertical leap -- all upper-echelon marks for a running back. Strong's 10-yard split time of 1.50 is what truly separated the runner from the pack -- well, with the exception of DJ's top-rated RB prospect, Breece Hall. Among running backs to work out at the combine over the last 10 years (since 2013), Hall and Jonathan Taylor are the only other backs to earn a max athleticism score of 99.

MORE NAMES TO KNOW IN THE DAY 3 RANGE: Damone Clark, LB, LSU; Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU; Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia; Malcolm Rodriguez, LB, Oklahoma State.

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