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5 first-round NFL draft prospects with alarming statistics

Jermaine Johnson, FSU, NFL Draft, Senior Bowl, NY Jets
Jermaine Johnson, Florida State Football, NFL Draft, Getty Images

Which highly-ranked 2022 NFL draft prospects have worrying statistical resumes?

Statistics make up just one small piece of the pie when evaluating an NFL draft prospect, but they are important to consider nonetheless. They help us identify which players may have a steeper development curve at the professional level.

Preferably, a player being drafted to the NFL should have been dominant over his inferior competition in college. If a player was not dominant against collegiate competitors, it likely means that he has a lot of developing to do if he is going to survive against the substantially tougher competition he will face in the NFL.

These five projected first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft have concerning statistical resumes.

Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

For an injury-prone prospect to be drafted in the top 10, he’s got to be one heck of a talent.

LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is a player with major injury concerns who many draft experts view as a top 10 pick. He only played in 10 games from 2020-21, missing time due to a leg injury in 2020 and foot surgery in 2021.

However, Stingley’s production is not quite great enough to make up for his serious durability questions.

From 2020-21 (his sophomore and junior seasons), Stingley allowed 17 of 35 passes thrown his way to be completed for 210 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. That’s an 86.6 passer rating and an average of 6.0 yards per target.

Those are good, above-average numbers, but they are by no means dominant.

Plus, Stingley struggled with missed tackles. Stingley made 35 total tackles and missed eight tackles, giving him a missed tackle rate of 18.6%. That’s well above the 2021 FBS average for cornerbacks (15.3%).

Stingley’s hype is entirely based upon the promise he showed as a true freshman in 2019. However, even that season has its question marks.

The nation was captivated by Stingley’s outstanding on-ball playmaking that year. He collected six interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Stingley also allowed only 36 catches on 94 targets (38.3%).

On the downside, Stingley did give up quite a few big plays in exchange for the big plays of his own. Stingley coughed up 624 yards, an average of nearly 18 yards per reception. He also gave up five touchdowns. Missed tackles were still a problem as he had a missed tackle rate of 17.1%.

That’s certainly a lot of nitpicking when you consider Stingley’s age and experience level. It’s wildly impressive for a true freshman in the SEC to collect six picks and 15 pass breakups as part of a National Championship-winning team.

If Stingley stayed healthy, he probably would have built on that outstanding debut season and established himself a true all-around superstar over his three years in Baton Rouge.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Now, not only do teams have to worry about whether Stingley can stay on the field, but due to his lack of progression from a production standpoint, they also have to question how great of a player he truly is.

Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M

Texas A&M interior offensive lineman Kenyon Green consistently graded highly at Pro Football Focus as a run-blocker throughout his three seasons with the Aggies but never reached an elite level in pass protection.

Green’s career-high PFF pass-blocking grade of 65.7 in 2021 only ranked 225th out of 390 qualified Power-5 offensive linemen (42nd percentile). It’s going to be tough to pass-block against NFL linemen if you couldn’t do it at an above-average level in college.

Interestingly, Green’s pressure numbers in pass protection are actually quite good. He gave up only 10 pressures on 404 protection snaps in 2021, placing 77th out of 390 qualifiers (80th percentile) in pass-blocking efficiency.

When a player’s grade is much worse than his raw production, it usually means that the player’s eye test results are must worse than his statistical results. In other words, it probably means that Green’s losses tended to be very ugly plays while his wins tended to be fairly unimpressive or a product of the scheme.

Green played most of his college snaps at left guard or right guard but also played in two games apiece at left tackle and right tackle in 2021.

Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam broke out in his 2020 sophomore season with two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, and an excellent PFF coverage grade of 81.0. That put him on the map as a potential highly-drafted NFL prospect.

Elam’s production took a big step backward in his 2021 junior year. His coverage grade slipped to 58.1, ranking 202nd out of 259 qualified Power-5 cornerbacks (22nd percentile).

Penalties were the main issue for Elam. He tied for seventh among Power-5 cornerbacks with seven penalties despite ranking 73rd in snaps played (657). In addition, he saw his on-ball production decline as he amassed only one interception and five pass breakups over 10 games.

Travon Walker, DL, Georgia

Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker is a 6-foot-5, 275-pound tweener who played both inside and outside on the Bulldogs’ defensive line. In 2021, he played 61% of his snaps on the edge and 39% on the inside.

Regardless of which position you project him to play, Walker’s 2021 production was good but not dominant.

Walker had a pass-rush win rate of 10.1% at PFF in 2021. Out of qualified Power-5 edge defenders, that would rank 147th out of 224 qualifiers (35th percentile). Out of qualified Power-5 interior defensive linemen, it would rank 62nd out of 230 qualifiers (73rd percentile).

When it comes to the run game, Walker recorded a stop on 5.8% of his snaps against the run. That would rank 109th out of 235 qualified Power-5 edge defenders (53rd percentile) and 109th out of 244 qualified interior defensive linemen (56th percentile).

So, either way, Walker wasn’t an incredibly destructive force.

Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida St.

Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson is a player generally seen as a borderline first-round prospect, but his impressive week at the Senior Bowl has his stock rising.

Johnson had a very productive box-score year in 2021 with 11.5 sacks to lead the ACC. It also ranked as the seventh-best total in the nation.

However, Johnson’s overall pass-rush consistency isn’t as impressive.

Johnson’s pass-rush win rate of 14.1% ranked 73rd out of 224 qualified Power-5 edge rushers (68th percentile). His pass-rush win rate in “true pass set” situations (one-on-one reps on long-developing passing plays without a quick pass, screen, play-action, bootleg, rollout, etc.) was 19.8%, ranking 91st out of 224 qualifiers (60th percentile).

An extremely high sack conversion rate helped Johnson look better in the box score than he did from an overall pass-rush-win standpoint. A whopping 30.4% of Johnson’s total pressures were converted into sacks. That is nearly double the 2021 FBS average for edge rushers (16.8%).

There is definitely a great degree of skill involved in finishing sacks, but when a player has that high of a sack conversion rate, it could be a warning sign that he had an outlier year of sack production and will crash down to the mean in the future.

In Johnson’s case, this seems especially possible when you consider the disparity between his outstanding sack numbers and his good-but-not-great pass-rush-win numbers.

For perspective, here are the 2021 pass-rush win rates of the other four edge rushers projected to be drafted in the first round:

  • Aidan Hutchinson: 24.8% (4th / 224)
  • George Karlaftis: 23.6% (5th)
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux: 23.1% (6th)
  • David Ojabo: 18.9% (23rd)
  • Jermaine Johnson: 14.1% (73rd)

There’s a sizable gap between those four players and Johnson. That’s not to say Johnson wasn’t good – he was excellent – it’s just that his peers in the first-round conversation were markedly better.

It’s also worth noting that Johnson was a redshirt senior in 2021 while the four players listed above were juniors, so not only were they significantly more dominant than Johnson, but they did it at a younger age.

If Johnson couldn’t crack the top-30% of Power-5 edge rushers in pass-rush win rate as a redshirt senior, perhaps he is further off from quality NFL pass-rushing production than his 11.5 sack total suggests.

None of these prospects should be written off, but keep an eye on their development curve

These five prospects were all great college football players who will deservedly be taken high in the draft and should have a good chance at forging strong NFL careers. By no means were they “bad” players nor should their futures be written off just because of their stats.

They just weren’t quite as dominant against college-level competition as most of their fellow first-round-worthy prospects were. That is something worth noting. It could suggest that they may have more room to grow than some of the other players who will be drafted around them.

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2 years ago

Michael…as always, superb article. Btw, your ranked table of stats on prospects and FA players are always really helpful, so looking forward to them this year. With respect to the data in this article, context is helpful in synthesizing the info. For example, I suspect Hutchinson and Ojabo likely benefitted from the attention that the other commanded while other Edges with lesser complimentary colleagues faced more attention from OLs. Walker from GA should’ve been better imo playing within his cast. I watched Fla State a bit and Johnson was the man on that line, opposing OLs knew that and I wonder what his double team rate was in relation to his better graded contemporaries. The other factor with him was his relative inexperience after not getting consistent playing time pre transfer when he was with Georgia.

2 years ago

Fascinating. Outside of Johnson I want no part of these guys. Johmson possibly if we can trade down from 10 and add a couple extra picks.

2 years ago

I’m not a draft expert but I just don’t get it with Stingley. I think this is a guy everyone fell in love with early and just don’t want to let go of the hype. I hope he doesn’t end up a Jet. I’m glad you wrote about Walker, I just started to wonder if he’s a better talent than Karlaftis? Daniel Jeremiah seems to like him a bit better and I wonder if he’s one of those players that has more athletic ability and will blossom in a Saleh type defense. Like you say don’t write him off but you present a nice perspective. Green has never been as high on my list as Zion Johnson who has always been a better prospect to me. I’m from that area so I do watch BC, but again I’m not a talent evaluator. Of course there is such a long way to go on these guys, the combine will tell a lot. We all have our favorites at this point. I have been wondering what is more valuable in the top 10, the upside of the actual player, or the value of the position? I’d love to get your opinion on that? For example: is the top rated DT considered the “best player in the draft” (we have had a couple who were considered the “best player in the draft”) better than let’s say the 2nd rated WR? I mean in terms of impact to the game, and salary cap down the road? Everyone wants Aaron Donald but how many are there compared to players who were the 2nd best or worse WR wrecking the league?

2 years ago

Excellent article. And, personally, reinforces my stance that the Jets should draft Ekwonu at 4 and Ojabo at 10.