Zo Huddle
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FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – A Look Ahead At West Coast Prospects That Will Be On 2022 Draft Boards

Franchise Sports Media

 

The Zo Huddle loves two seasons: Football season and the draft season. Even though the latter season has passed, it’s never too early to look ahead to next season’s draft. And the Zo Huddle believes these guys in the West region will be getting some calls from NFL teams.

 

The Raiders Realist
Photo Credit: Tom Pennington / Getty Images

There were 259 players drafted between April 29 to May 1.

Twenty-eight of them hailed from the West Coast’s top Power Five conference, the Pac-12, including three first-rounders. Stanford and Oregon both had five former players get their name emblazoned next to the logo of their future team on television screens.

While the Pac-12 had a solid three days, the top Group of Five West Coast conference, the Mountain West had a rather quiet draft period: Only three players were taken. It began at the No. 108 pick (Darren Hall, cornerback, San Diego State to the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round) then followed with Boise State teammates John Bates (tight end, No. 124 to Washington) and Avery Williams (cornerback, No. 183 to Atlanta) getting selected.

Heading into next draft season, will we see a small number of western prospects, or will there be a high number of prospects west of the Rocky Mountains hearing their names called?

The early Zo Huddle prediction: There will be two defensive linemen going between rounds one to 32 next April in Las Vegas…followed by a stronger draft season for the MWC. And, possibly, three signal-callers west of the Rockies going in the first round.

We will break it off into these categories for this series: Potential cornerstones, potential starters, and potential sleepers. Here is an early look at what will likely be the 2022 NFL Draft crop of West Coast prospects:

 

POTENTIAL CORNERSTONES

 

Kayvon Thibodeaux, defensive end, Oregon

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: ESPN

It was Penei Sewell getting the top pick hype among the westernmost guys. While Sewell fell out of the top five, the Ducks’ left tackle still went in the top 10 at No. 7 to Detroit. Now, Thibodeaux is generating the early top pick buzz. Since his arrival to Eugene, the former five-star prospect who starred at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian has lived up to the hype with 47 solo tackles, 12 sacks, and six pass deflections in 21 games with the Ducks.

Why he’s a potential cornerstone: He possesses the first-step explosion NFL teams crave, especially the ones wanting to bolster the pass rush. The moment a blocker is beaten by him after the snap, the destruction begins. Thibodeaux is a violent finisher irrespective if he is crashing into a running back or quarterback. Along with speed, he has improved his hand-to-hand combat in fighting off blockers en route to the backfield over the course of his time with Oregon. His frame at 6-foot-5, 260-pounds mixed with elite trench speed makes him an imposing challenge for blockers.

Film review: Beginning first with Washington State in 2020. Thibodeaux shows his disruptive side in taking on the pull block by producing the tackle for loss. Here, he sinks low enough to blow up the pull attempt by the lineman and run:

 

 

 

 

Against Oregon State, Thibodeaux ends up drawing the double team on the passing play. But, his speed proves to be no match for the Beavers‘ blindside protection for Tristan Gebbia:

 

 

 

 

Lastly, against Cal, Thibodeaux draws the one-on-one and wins off of hand extension and keeping his legs moving while lined up against Will Craig, who had a 25-pound advantage over Thibodeaux:

 

 

 

 

Areas to improve: Noticed in games, particularly the 2020 Cal game, where Thibodeaux loses his cool, leading to a costly penalty. While teams will love his fiery and aggressive playing style, he’ll have to work on keeping his emotions in check as teams will likely aim to get under his skin. While he had three games of two sacks or more in his freshman debut, his sack numbers had a significant drop off in 2020 as that number dipped to three.

Also, here this rare stat: Oregon is 1-4 in games when Thibodeaux gets six tackles or more. How he reverses his sack totals from ’20 and the said record will be intriguing to see. He’ll most likely face double teams moving forward in the Pac-12, so developing more counter moves to evade those types of blocks comes into play. Right now, he gets by off of his snap quickness. But will need to resort to more hand moves.

Overall: Teams that crave a game-changer on the edge will plaster Thibodeaux’s name on top of its wish list. And in a QB-driven league, Thibodeaux’s trench speed and ability to penetrate backfields will be clamored upon. I could see a team that has to face Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or Lamar Jackson twice a year going all-in on getting Thibodeaux somewhere in next year’s top five.

 

Drake Jackson, defensive end, USC

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Draft Kings

Much like Thibodeaux, Jackson was another highly touted defensive end who thrived in the CIF Southern Section, as he played at Corona (Calif.) Centennial. One notable 2021 defensive draft pick who was on the Centennial campus when Jackson was there? One of our west coast sleepers Camryn Bynum, who was drafted in the fourth round to the Minnesota Vikings. In 17 games with USC, Jackson has totaled 66 tackles, 34 solo stops, 7.5 sacks, and one interception.

Why he’s a potential cornerstone: Jackson comes with edge quickness and a linebacker’s background…so teams will love his willingness to flip from a three-point stance to a two. Regardless of where he lines up, he brings a relentless motor for four quarters. He doesn’t take his time against blockers – he’ll use hand swipes and lower body leverage to evade blockers and get penetration. He has long arms and times his arm extension right when going for the pass deflection. His quickness to slip by gaps is another major plus. Disruptive on stunt plays.

Film review: Last year, he went against No. 2 overall pick for the 2021 draft Zach Wilson…and had one of his best games versus the New York Jet. Here’s an example of Jackson’s stunting ability. First lined up as the strong side defensive end, he keeps his motor going and forces the Wilson fumble:

 

 

 

He executed a similar play disruption against Fresno State in 2019. Jackson disguises his pursuit upfield perfectly before slicing inside and forcing the sack of Jorge Reyna:

 

 

 

 

Areas to improve: Sometimes, he comes up too high on his tackle attempts and resorts to wrestling down a ball carrier with the help needed from his other defenders. Against UCLA and Oregon, he was caught relying more on upper body strength and not hand technique when handling blocks on multiple occasions. When facing pulling blockers, he has got to be better about sinking his hips and disrupting the block versus standing up and waiting for the blocker to come to him, then resort to hand fighting. He struggled taking on pull plays.

Overall: Defenses using a hybrid 4-3/3-4 model scheme can utilize someone like Jackson. The gap shooting and background in stopping the run will be a boost for teams that struggle against RPO (Run Pass Option) or run-heavy offenses. The biggest key for him will be developing consistency with his hand moves as he often relies on edge speed to beat opponents. But Jackson is expected to be one of the more versatile defenders on the board in April 2022.

 

Kedon Slovis, quarterback, USC

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG

Slovis saved the Trojans from potential disaster in 2019: Taking over for injured J.T. Daniels and doing enough to prevent USC from blowing their 18-point lead against Fresno State to win 31-23. From there, the Scottsdale (Ariz.) three-star prospect took USC to a bowl game in 2019 and has won 11 of his 15 starts while throwing for nine 300-yard games.

Why he’s a potential cornerstone: His trust level with his wideouts and line protection is high. Slovis shows excellent pocket comfort before firing the ball, which includes the times he needed to step near the line of scrimmage while sandwiched between his tackles. Even with two defenders near his intended target, Slovis still shows a nice touch to his pass and innate trust in his receiver to haul in the catch. Has strong eyes when identifying the one-on-one scenario and immediately attacks that side. He doesn’t do a lot of play extending, but he’s quick enough to evade pass rushers and still throw the touchdown pass through the chaos. His deep ball has improved during his time in the Land of Troy. In all his starts, he averaged getting seven receivers involved every game, which shows his knack for spreading the ball around.

Film Review: One of his better nights was in Nov. 2019 against a Cal secondary that featured three future NFL draft picks. Slovis shows his knack for escaping the chaos at the line of scrimmage, extends the play, and then burns future N.Y. Jet Ashtyn Davis:

 

 

 

Here’s one of my personal favorites from Slovis: He fires the football past three Arizona State defensive backs. Not many true freshmen can make that throw, let alone have the courage to attack three deep DB’s. But Slovis does here and look at the result. A touchdown:

 

 

 

 

He pulls a near-identical play against Stanford, which was the second game of his collegiate career. Slovis drops this dime over two Cardinals defenders:

 

 

 

Finally, proof of Slovis’s pocket composure. ASU brings a delayed blitz and crowds the L.O.S with five in this 2020 contest. Slovis doesn’t escape, however. He stays inside and throws for the first down:

 

 

 

 

Areas to improve: He has got to cut down on the interceptions (16 through 16 games). Slovis shows too much trust in his arm, but with that can lead to multiple interception games as he’s thrown into tight windows. He also has a habit of locking his eyes too long on a receiver. He has four games of two to three interceptions but has struggled the most against Oregon (a combined six picks in two games versus the Ducks). Not much of a scrambler.

Overall: Could Slovis be the first QB taken in the 2022 Draft? ESPN Draft expert Todd McShay already has pegged Slovis as the first signal-caller to come off the draft board next spring. Slovis has grown comfortable running the Trojans’ Air Raid. But now will be his third season in the system…meaning there could be more astronomical numbers and a rise in his draft stock. And he’s entering a league featuring Air Raid alums as starting quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, and Baker Mayfield…boding well for the latest Air Raid star in Slovis. The Zo Huddle believes with continuing progression, Slovis will fall no further than No. 15 overall.

 

Jayden Daniels, quarterback, Arizona State

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland / MLive.com

This will be dependent upon if the incoming three-year starter Daniels will test the draft waters come 2022. But after becoming the top dual-threat out west for the 2019 class from San Bernardino (Calif.) Cajon, Daniels quickly became Herm Edwards’ first quarterback option in the longtime NFL coach’s transition to college coaching. Since then, Daniels has posted an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22:3 and has added seven career rushing touchdowns, all while holding a 10-6 overall record as the starter.

Why he’s a potential cornerstone: He’s the best at extending plays out west. He’s one of the more slippery QB’s to take down or rush. Sometimes, he still finds a way to settle his feet after circling around defenders and firing the football downfield for the completion. As a runner, he erases a defender’s angle pursuit with his own speed and second gear acceleration. Outside of the mobility, he throws the deep ball with a strong touch. Right away, he established himself as a proven threat to ranked teams – guiding the Sun Devils to a 3-1 record versus top 25 foes in 2019. One of his better passing outings was on Nov. 23, 2019, in the upset of then-No. 6 Oregon, when he threw for 408 yards. Knows when to take off and run and when to zig-zag, settle and fire downfield. The low number of turnovers is proof of how strong he is at taking care of the football.

Film Review: To reiterate, Daniels had a breakout night against the eventual 2019 Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champs, the Oregon Ducks. On this play, Daniels throws it to the side of two future San Francisco 49ers. Except it’s Brandon Aiyuk, not Deommodore Lenoir, who catches the ball from Daniels:

 

 

In 2020, Daniels pulled off a similar bomb but against Arizona. He masterfully fakes the handoff and finds his open tight end:

 

 

Now, on to his mobility side. Daniels does more than attack the USC run defense. He redirects and goes upfield while causing a pileup at the ASU 47, plus forces future NFL safety Talanoa Hufanga (fifth-rounder to the 49ers) to sprint 36 yards to force Daniels out of bounds. But Daniels‘ speed is no match for the nearest USC defensive players on this run:

 

 

Areas to improve on: ASU isn’t considered a quick-strike passing offense…so we haven’t really seen Daniels’ quick-release trait consistently. Can use some added bulk moving forward before taking on NFL defenses. Because of his tall 6-foot-4 frame, he has trouble staying at low pad level on QB runs, which exposes his knees.

 

Overall: Again, if Daniels posts his best season to date in Tempe, I could see an early entry to the NFL Draft. He’ll likely draw a lot of Lamar Jackson comparisons. For teams seeking a running/throwing threat at QB, Daniels could be the first option if available come next April.

 

The potential sleeper cornerstone…

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Nevada Athletics

Zach Wilson of BYU was the quarterback who came out of nowhere and shot himself up to the No. 2 overall pick. The Athletic has already labeled Liberty’s Malik Willis as a possible Wilson-type story for next season’s draft. But the Zo Huddle will keep it on the West Coast and tab Nevada’s Carson Strong as the possible draft ascender.

Strong, who starred at Vacaville (Calif.) Wood and was a three-star prospect with only one reported scholarship offer to choose, already has a strong build at nearly 6-foot-4, 215-pounds with more room to grow. His deep ball, accuracy, and footwork in the pocket make him head and shoulders above every quarterback in the MWC. Teams have got to love a quarterback who posted a 70% completion rate running a passing-centric offense.

Film review: Strong went after Fresno State’s best lockdown cornerback Bralyn Lux twice. On this play, he puts trust in his true freshman Tory Horton to win this aerial battle. But Strong’s passing touch and showing no hesitation to attack the man coverage — even against a standout like Lux — wins here:

 

 

 

Strong proves he can additionally make throws outside his tackle protection. Seen here against Utah State as he gravitates to his right before adding six to Nevada’s scoreboard:

 

 

 

But back to his pocket prowess. With four San Diego State defenders swarming the trenches, Strong still decides to step into the protection…and completes this six-pointer against one of the best defenses in the MWC:

 

 

 

Moving forward, gaining a better understanding of blitzes and calling audibles before the snap can be his areas of improvement. But Strong has an extremely high ceiling. Oh, his top target Romeo Doubs returns…so does the Wolf Pack’s best wideout from 2019, Elijah Cooks (sat most of 2019 due to injury). Throw in emerging young talent Tory Horton and Melquan Stovall returning, and the powerful backfield duo of Toa Taua and Devonte Lee, and Strong’s numbers/production could get more NFL eyes on Reno. The early call from the Zo Huddle: Strong will sneak into the first round somewhere.

 

Next: The West Coast ballers capable of not only getting drafted, but finding their way into the starting lineup. 

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

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