We’re looking at sleepers for the 2022 NFL Draft this week. Today, it’s safeties and slot corners.
I’ve been grouping slot corner with safety for a while now as I feel like the demands of the slot position are more similar to that of a safety than to that of an outside cornerback. Slot and safety also share a pretty similar market.
Yesterday, we highlighted some tight ends but this slot/safety group looks significantly stronger. Kyle Hamilton is fantastic while Jordan Battle, Trent McDuffie, and Brandon Joseph could all be first-rounders as well. The following three players could also ascend to the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft with a breakout season.
Shaun Jolly – Appalachian St, 5’ 9” 175
We’ve seen Jolly exclusively at outside corner but he’s simply too small to maintain success at that position in the NFL. His future is as a slot defender and he projects quite well to that role. When we’ve seen Jolly lose at the collegiate level, it’s been against big bodies and fast long-striders.
Jolly would see much less of that in the slot – depending on the matchup. He wins with fantastic short-area movement skills and great mirror ability. Jolly times his breaks perfectly. He can close on the ball in a heartbeat and has an innate ability to read the QBs eyes.
Arguably his most impressive trait has been his ability to make plays on the ball. He’s forced 3 fumbles and combined 19 INTs and PBUs over the last two seasons. Jolly has also been much more successful against the run than we’d expect. He gets in on every play that he can and has missed just three tackles.
Still at 5’ 9”, 175-lbs, he’ll be quite small for the slot position. Getting his weight above 180 pounds would make a huge impact on the minds of NFL GMs. If Shaun Jolly can do that and maintain his high-level play, he might hear his name called earlier than expected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Cam Bright – Pittsburgh, 6’ 220
He’s listed at 6-foot but Bright may be closer to 5’ 11”. That lack of length has hindered his ability to take on blockers while coming downhill from a linebacker position. If he’s less than his listed weight, however, he’ll have even more issues maintaining a LB role at the next level. It’s possible that Bright would have more success in a permanent slot defender role.
It’s a role that Bright is familiar with and has had success in. He’s shown fantastic instincts in zone coverage. Whether he’s facing the quarterback or has his back to him, Bright is always in position to either shutdown a throwing lane or make a quick tackle on a short completion. He’s allowed just 5.1 yards per target over the last two years.
Still, we’d like to see more ball production from Bright. We also have serious questions about his abilities in man coverage, as we’ve rarely seen him in that role. The lack of reps combined with the lack of length and average athleticism leaves a lot of question marks regarding his projection to man coverage at the slot.
Where we don’t have any questions is in Bright’s ability to defend the run from the slot. He may struggle to take on blocks but he can shoot a gap with great acceleration and is a confident, effective playmaker. Cam Bright is the definition of non-traditional but he should be an efficient slot defender in the NFL.
Smoke Monday – Auburn, 6’ 3” 200
Smoke Monday is a big-bodied safety prospect that lines up all over the defense and has an awesome name. He’s proven to be a versatile defender that can impact the passing game in a number of ways. Smoke has recorded 3 sacks and 9 pressures on just 30 pass-rushing attempts.
His calling card is timing the snap while approaching the LOS. That helps him not only as a pass-rusher but also as a penetrating run-defender. Smoke might not be the reliable tackler that you want on the backend but he can make plays that many defenders wouldn’t even attempt.
While the highlights have been impressive, the lowlights have been quite disappointing. Smoke has shown lapses in coverage at every level of the field. He’s missed too many tackles and allowed far too many completions. He has his eyes on the backfield and easily falls for play-action.
One could argue that Smoke is a selfish defender. In the right locker room, that won’t be an issue. But because of that, Smoke Monday will likely enter the 2022 NFL Draft with the boom or bust label.