2022 NFL Draft: New-age traits and skills at each position that prospects must have in today’s NFL

The first step in scouting prospects is knowing what to look for. And the NFL evolves faster than any other billion-dollar entity, so knowing what to look for is a moving target.

Each year, it’s important to stand back and examine the latest trends and themes from the previous seasons to see how clubs will attack the draft, and then how they use their players in new, tweaked roles from even what they were asking of those players a season or two ago.

Below we’ll outline the new-age traits and skills for prospects as they enter the NFL in 2022. The trait I identified in 2021 for each position is also listed. 


New-age trait: High-end arm talent
Trait listed in 2021: Improvisational expertise 
The prototypes: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert

What do I even mean by “high-end arm talent” anyway? Arm talent and arm strength are not the same. The former is a graduated version of the latter. It’s one thing to be able to throw a ball really far or really fast. It’s something else to do those things while a quarterback’s feet aren’t set, while he’s on the run, with a defender diving at his legs, or when a has to change his arm angle. 

Arm talent and improvisational expertise are tied together. Mobility is key in today’s NFL for quarterbacks. Being capable of eluding a rusher, escaping the pocket, then throwing a missile down the sideline on a scramble drill is the ultimate secret weapon at the position. 

Sure, offensive coordinators can scheme receivers open, thereby creating efficient offenses. But the arm-talent specimens take their offenses to the next level, especially against top defenses in the regular seasons and the playoffs. To win games in the NFL, is it absolutely necessary for your quarterback to have a rocket? No. But I wouldn’t recommend lacking it. 

Running backs

New-age trait: Speed
Trait listed in 2021: Legitimate route-running skill
The prototypes: Jonathan Taylor, Dalvin Cook, Rashaad Penny, Raheem Mostert

Yes, receiving ability is becoming increasingly critical for NFL running backs. But let’s not overrate that skill, as running backs are, at best, the third or fourth passing option in an offense today. And no, listing “speed” as important for backs isn’t groundbreaking. But let me expand on the idea of speed, a fundamental element of playing football, as my new-age trait selection entering the 2022 season. 

It’s a simple thought. Because running backs aren’t touching the ball as frequently as they used to, speed maximizes the yards they can accumulate. Being elusive is still the most crucial skill needed to excel at the position. But the backs that can take a well-blocked play to the house are more valuable than ever before, and that’s not going to change for a long time. 

Wide receivers/Tight ends

New-age trait: YAC skills
The prototypes: Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson

This trait remains the same as a year ago. Couldn’t change it. Had to highlight it again. Assuming NFL receivers can regularly catch a football, yards after the catch is only behind separation skill in terms of importance at the position. 

With screens and RPOs more prevalent than ever, YAC talent is more vital than ever. And even on a traditional dig route or post, the ability to absorb contact or avoid it altogether is huge. The NFL has moved from a running back’s league to a quarterback’s league, and receivers are the new sidekick to all passers. Teams are aggressively accumulating three and four quality pass catchers to accentuate their quarterback’s statistics. And a big part of that accentuation is getting the absolute most out of high-percentage throws. That’s done by refusing to go to the turf on first contact or making that first contact not occur until after a few yards have been accumulated. 


New-age trait: Coverage ability
Trait listed in 2021: Blitzing/pass-rushing acumen
The prototypes: Fred Warner, Eric Kendricks, Matt Milano, Demario Davis, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Micah Parsons personified the trait listed last year. He went from off-ball linebacker prospect to elite edge rusher in a matter of months as an NFL player. Incredible. 

This year, I’ll revert to a trait I’ve been zeroing in on when watching linebacker prospects for years now — coverage talent. While most college linebackers still don’t have vast coverage responsibilities in their job descriptions, more keen coverage defenders are popping up on draft-eligible lists every year. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to fall in love with an athletic, rangy linebacker who makes impact play after impact play against the run. And, heck, those linebackers still find their way into the first round. But more so than anything else at the linebacker position, being able to cover matters more to the defense than anything else. Why? Offenses try to isolate linebackers as mismatches in the pass game. An aware and twitch linebacker with outstanding ball skills is worth his weight in gold. 


New-age trait: Recovery skill
Trait listed in 2021:
The prototypes: Marshon Lattimore, A.J. Terrell, Tre’Davious White, Denzel Ward, Darius Slay, Xavien Howard

Cornerbacks are going to get beaten at all levels of the field today. The proliferation of ticky-tack defensive holding and pass interference calls have made it exceeding difficult to truly lock up an opposing receiver, and frankly, there are just more super-sudden wideouts today who enter the league with major route-running talent. 

Therefore, recovering is key at corner. What happens when you’ve lost track of your assignment? Can you hit the accelerators and dive to make a pass breakup that a split-second earlier looked like a big play? Can you quickly change directions and find the football? 


New-age trait: Slot coverage
Trait listed in 2021: Legitimate versatility
The prototypes: Jimmie Ward, Taylor Rapp, Tyrann Mathieu, Jeremy Chinn, Derwin James

The all-encompassing term “versatility” is great and all but let’s shrink that idea here. Mostly because the truly versatile safeties are few and far between. Sure, defensive coordinators can align them in multiple spots on the field, but are they actually good in each of them? Usually not. 

Being more specific, reducing down into the slot and playing quality coverage on a small, springy wideout, a running back, or athletic tight end is critical for the modern-day safety. And it’s a duty that comes with essentially everyone playing the position today. Kevin Byard played 161 snaps in the slot. Antoine Winfield Jr. played 127 of them. Micah Hyde 185 of them. And those are three of the best “free safeties” in the game. 

Safeties need to brush up on their man/zone cornerback-like coverage skills in the slot to maximize their impact on a defense in today’s NFL. 

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button