And just like that, it's NFL Draft Eve.
The 2022 installment of the three-day event will kick off Thursday night from Las Vegas, with Minnesota slated to have the 12th overall pick.
In advance of the draft, CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson predicted the "five biggest surprises" he could see coming out of Round 1. He topped his list of predictions by saying seven receivers will be off the board Thursday night. Wilson wrote:
We've long pegged five wideouts in the first round and those five, in some combination, are Garrett Wilson, Drake London, Jameson Williams, Treylon Burks and Chris Olave. And there are a lot of natural landing spots: the Texans, Jets, Falcons, Seahawks, Commanders, Eagles, Saints, Steelers, Patriots, Packers and Chiefs. That's 11 teams, which means demand could very well outstrip supply, assuming, of course, these teams don't address other first-round needs.
The other math to consider: Even if, say, the Packers are targeting an offensive lineman with one of their two first-round picks, there may be more value in taking WR6 over OT5. The same holds for the Chiefs, who could be deciding between a wideout and, say, an edge rusher or defensive back.
You have to go back to 2004 to find a class with seven wide receivers going in the first round. That group included future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods. With the perspective of hindsight, this year's group feels deeper at the top – but that's also why the draft is decidedly more art than science.
Wilson also predicted that a running back "will sneak into the first round," saying he sees a scenario in which Buffalo could take one at No. 25.
While Wilson doesn't think a quarterback will be drafted in the top 10, which would be the first time since 2013, he is expecting there to be a run on QBs late in the first round.
It feels like Malik Willis will be the first quarterback drafted, but after that, who knows. Different teams like different quarterbacks in the class for different reasons, which means that any combination of [Matt] Corral, [Kenny] Pickett, Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder would find their way into the first 32 picks.
And finally, Wilson opined that New Orleans will trade up – but not for a quarterback, as many might assume.
Quarterback is the obvious choice, given that Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season and Jameis Winston is coming off an ACL injury (though he should be good to go in '22). But if New Orleans has eyes for Malik Willis, he likely won't be available at No. 16, which means they'll need to package more picks to move up and get him.
Except that maybe, yeah, the Saints planned to move up all along but not for a passer but instead for an offensive lineman or a wide receiver. The Panthers, even though they're division rivals, would be an obvious trade partner, and the No. 6 pick would put New Orleans in prime position for an offensive tackle like Charles Cross (the team lost Terron Armstead to the Dolphins during free agency and there's now a gaping hole along the offensive line).
Wilson added that another possibility for the Saints would be receiver, being that Michael Thomas' future in New Orleans "remains a mystery" and there isn't much depth behind him.
PFF highlights 10 best HBCU draft prospects
According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, only one Historically Black College and University (HBCU) football prospect has been drafted to the NFL in the past two drafts: former Tennessee State standout Lachavious Simmons, whom the Bears drafted 227th overall in 2020.
PFF's Kambui Bomani said "the limited number of HBCU talent in the NFL draft circuit has been [an] unfortunate norm the past few years." He added, though, that there is a "great chance" multiple HBCU players are drafted this weekend.
Bomani spotlighted five "surefire draft prospects" out of HBCU schools, starting with Jackson State edge rusher James Houston IV. Bomani wrote:
Nicknamed "The Problem" during his lone season at JSU, James Houston IV became Coach Prime's (Deion Sanders') prized transfer portal recruit almost overnight. Following the switch from linebacker to edge rusher in his final collegiate season, the ex-Florida Gator tallied a 22.8 [percent] pass-rushing win rate and 81 total pressures across 364 pass-rushing snaps. … Houston is a relentless edge rushing specialist who has had top-30 draft visits with the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys. It isn't far-fetched to imagine Houston sneaking into the first three rounds despite a deep pass-rushing class.
Bomani pointed to a trio of defensive backs – Florida A&M safety Markquese Bell, South Carolina State corner Decobie Durant and Fayetteville State corner Joshua Williams – as well as Southern University tackle Ja'Tyre Carter.
Carter played left tackle for Southern this past season and allowed just three pressures, one sack and one hurry on 341 pass-blocking attempts.
Carter's pressure and knockdown percentage were below the 1 [percent] mark, which helped him garner a bid to the Senior Bowl this past February. As a pro prospect, the All-SWAC standout seems to be better suited playing at guard, where he held his own during a variety of interior line reps at Mobile. With further development of his technique and stout frame, Carter can morph into a quality pass-protecting guard for an NFL franchise.
Bomani additionally named five "draft gems to watch out for": Norfolk State edge rusher De'Shaan Dixon, Alabama A&M receiver Dee Anderson and quarterback Aqueel Glass, Florida A&M safety Antwan Collier and Jackson State receiver Keith Corbin III.