The best picks in the third round


After a first round in which one quarterback (Pitt’s Kenny Pickett) was selected, and a second round in which no quarterback was selected, there was finally a third-round run on what NFL teams clearly saw as the weakest class at that position in at least a decade.

But the real story for NFL teams in the second day of the draft was the ridiculous array of talent available in the second day of the draft at every position.

The 2022 class has been regarded as one of the deepest in the later rounds in years, in part due to players returning to the NCAA in 2021 after COVID opt-outs, and that has shown itself to be true already — when you look at the best picks in the second round of this draft, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of these guys in the first round of this draft, or drafts in the past.

This is where teams start to get better up and down the roster, and here are my best third-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Luke Fortner, C, Kentucky

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Last season, on 429 pass-blocking snaps, Fortner allowed two sacks, but just five total pressures. The Jaguars have a need for a franchise-defining center, and Fortner fits the bill in every way you want.

Fortner is one of the smartest and technique-sound offensive linemen in this draft, regardless of position, and he reminds me of Alex Mack as a center who can do everything from getting to second-level targets to picking up stunts at the line of scrimmage .

Jacksonville Jaguars: Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming

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The Jaguars also have a need for a linebacker who can crash in to stop the run AND cover credibly, and Muma is quite the steal in both departments. He has shown the ability to take on rushers from sideline to sideline…

Muma could match the effect of another Wyoming linebacker, Logan Wilson of the Bengals, in all areas. .

Seattle Seahawks: Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State

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Lucas needs some work with his power and finishing ability, as seen on this rep against Kayvon Thibodeau, and it’s interesting that in Lucas and Charles Cross, Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have taken two tackles who are better at pass-blocking than they are at demolishing ends on run plays. But Lucas has a ton of potential, and he can be a Day 1 starter at right tackle right off the bus.

Lucas also deserves a bump for his musical taste — and defiance as a guitarist.

Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

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We haven’t seen a draft in which quarterbacks have dropped to this degree since I don’t know when — maybe the early 1970s — but Ridder, who the Falcons took with the 74th overall pick in the third round, was the second quarterback off the boards, following Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who the Steelers took with the 20th overall pick.

It’s a big surprise to see Malik Willis available, but as for Ridder, he’s a heady, smart quarterback with a decent deep arm and some accuracy issues that need cleaning up. Perhaps he’s in for a redshirt season behind Marcus Mariota, but at his best, Ridder could become an Alex Smith-style game manager with plus potential.

Chicago Bears: Velus Jones, WR, Tennessee

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FINALLY, Justin Fields gets himself a receiver, and a pretty good one at that. Jones spent four years at USC before transferring to Tennessee in time for the 2020 season. In 2021, Jones caught 62 passes for 807 yards and seven touchdowns, also showing potential as a rusher and returner. If you need a receiver who can vaporize defensive backs on go routes to the boundary (and the Bears very much do), Jones can do that all day. He’ll be a great target for Fields’ developing deep-ball skills.

Tennessee Titans: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

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Of all the quarterbacks in the 2022 draft class, none are more effectively mobile, and none have a better deep arm, than Willis. Why did he drop to the 86th pick in the third round? Liberty’s offense was dead-simple, and Willis led the NCAA in interceptions against two-deep coverage with eight. Not great when the NFL is become more of a two-high league. But with Ryan Tannehill as the starter for now, Willis gets the opportunity he needs to sit and learn, and over time, things could get really interesting for a quarterback who has Jalen Hurts potential on the low side, and some Russell Wilson on the high side.

Philadelphia Eagles: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

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Speaking of prospects whose slides to the third round have been a major surprise… Dean showed absolute first-round talent as an off-ball linebacker and in coverage for the Bulldogs’ dominant defense, and the Eagles have serious linebacker needs. Dean’s medicals pushed him down the boards, but his 2021 tape was incendiary, and at his best, he can help define a defense.

Dean’s Georgia teammate, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who was taken with the 13th overall pick by the Eagles, was quite happy to see his old friend in a new place.

Pittsburgh Steelers: DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M

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Injuries prevented Stephon Tuitt from playing for the Steelers in 2021, and that was a big problem — especially for future Hall of Famer Cameron Heyward, who had to put his Superman suit on every week. That wore even Heyward out as the season progressed, so it makes sense that Pittsburgh took an inside/outside disruptor in Leal. He’s not the traditional rockhead tackle at 6-foot-4 and 283 pounds, but he lined up everywhere for the Aggies to great effect when asked to pressure the quarterback, and to stop the run. Watch him knife through line slides to get to the ballcarrier, and imagine a happier Mr. Heyward.

Detroit Lions: Kerby Joseph, S, Illinois

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The Lions waited a while to address a need at safety that’s been around since Matt Patricia gave Quandre Diggs to the Seahawks for no good reason, but Joseph — who profiles a lot like Diggs as a top-flight single-high safety — could solve that big problem. Last season, Joseph allowed nine catches on 19 targets for 134 yards, 32 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, five interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 66.4. Joseph moves to either side of the field quickly and with purpose, and he’s more than happy to take the ball away when he gets there.

Arizona Cardinals: Cameron Thomas, EDGE, San Diego State

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

No NCAA defender in this draft class had more pressures in the 2021 season than Thomas’ 77, and his 44 stops prove that he’s more than just a one-trick pony. At 6-foot-4 and 267 pounds, Thomas projects as an NFL speed rusher in the Trey Hendrickson mold, crashing in off the edge and collapsing the pocket.

Miami Dolphins: Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia

(Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, it should be no surprise that any Georgia defender in this class was coveted and selected in the first three rounds of the draft, and among the linebackers (Quay Walker, Nakobe Dean, and Tindall), it might be Tindall that has the most explosive potential as a sideline-to-sideline ‘backer, with the ability to spy and rush the quarterback. The athleticism is off the charts here from No. 17.

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