NFL Draft

Sunday Sleeper Series: 2022 NFL Draft (Safeties)

New to Steelers Depot, we will be highlighting a few less-heralded prospects at each position group in lead up to the 2022 NFL Draft that likely won’t go until Day Three, but present potential value as sleepers in the later rounds. This week we will be listing highlighting a few safety prospects that may not be getting the same name recognition as some of their peers but have the traits to develop into quality players at the next level.

Bubba Bolden, S, Miami 

Bubba Bolden was a first-team high school All-American at high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. He signed with USC and played in 13 games his true freshman season, but ended up getting suspended in 2018 after being accused of violating the student code of conduct pertaining to underage drinking at an off-campus party. Bolden was later cleared of all accusations, but decided to transfer to Miami where he had mixed results, becoming second-team All-ACC pick in 2020 for leading the team in tackles, but missed numerous games in 2019 due to a dislocated ankle and five games in 2021 due to shoulder injury. Still, the 6’2, 209lb safety has shown to be a capable tackler in the box along with the ability to cover ground on the backend as a single-high safety.

Bolden ran well at the NFL Combine (4.47 40) and was once touted for being one of the top safety prospects in this draft class prior to the start of the 2021 season and the recent shoulder injury. The injury history, age, and lack of ball production during his time in college has surpassed his draft stock, likely making him a late Day Three or possible UDFA candidate. Still, the athletic talent is there paired with a long, well-built frame for Bolden to come in as depth and a special teams ace which he showcased during his collegiate career in attempt to make the roster as a backup as he develops his traits and minimizes his mental errors to earn playing time in the league.

Reed Blankenship, S, Middle Tennessee 

Another East/West Shrine Game invite that also is a super senior at safety is Middle Tennessee’s Reed Blankenship. Blankenship stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman for the Blue Raiders and earned honorable mention all-conference honors. He built off his successful first season and became one of the top defenders in C-USA in 2018 where he led MTSU with 107 tackles (eight for loss), intercepted four passes (one returned for a score) and broke up seven others. He would have replicated his results in 2019, but suffered a broken leg seven games into the season. He returned from the injury and was productive in his final two seasons at safety, officially becoming MTSU’s all-time leader with 419 total tackles, including 265 solo stops.

Given his age and limited athletic profile coming from a smaller school in C-USA, Blankenship is expected to fall somewhere on Day Three as special teams ace as well as a versatile DB that can play split zone, in the box, in the slot, and in some single-high looks. Still, he plays with his hair on fire and is a vocal leader on the football field that also leads by example being a three-year team captain. He willing be a willing tackler and has the instincts to put himself in position to make plays on the football in coverage. If a team is looking for a suitable #3 safety that can wear a variety of hats and potentially earn more of a role should the athletic limitations be minimal, Blankenship could be a great value pick to add to a team’s secondary.

Tre Sterling, S, Oklahoma State 

Oklahoma State S Kolby Harvell-Peel gets plenty of the headlines from the national media, but Tray Sterling is another draft-eligible safety prospect from the Cowboys that deserves his own recognition. The 5’11, 205lb senior came on strong during his sophomore and junior seasons in Stillwater, going over 70 total tackles in both seasons and racked up 19 TFLs, 12 PBUs, 3 FF, and 3 INTs during that period of time as a productive member of the Pokes defense.

Sterling set himself up to have a strong senior campaign in 2021, being recognized as a Pro Football Focus Preseason All-American as well as being named to the Senior Bowl Watch List, but a debilitating wrist injury suffered back in 2020 that was misdiagnosed as a sprain revealed multiple torn ligaments in his right wrist, limiting him to only five games played in his final season at Oklahoma State before undergoing surgery. He was invited to the College Gridiron Showcase this pre-draft season, suggesting that teams still have him on their radar, although not to the extent he was prior to the injury. Should Sterling be healthy, he could be a savvy pickup late in the draft or as a UDFA that can provide meaningful depth to a safety room.

Joey Blount, S, Virginia 

Joey Blount qualifies for this list as a name that was flying way under-the-radar up until it was announced that he would be one if the Steelers pre-draft visitors coming to Pittsburgh to tour the facilities and meet with the team. Blount took part about his visit with the Steelers in a recent interview and specifically talked about a previous encounter with HC Mike Tomlin:

Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot jumped on the pre-draft profile on Blount once news broke that he would be visiting Pittsburgh and came away very impressed with what he found stating the following:

Blount is an excellent prospect. He’s checking all the right boxes and should at least make an immediate special teams impact given his effort, speed, tenacity, and tackling ability. But his ceiling is someone who can be much more than that. I like him as a box safety who can cover over slot too, blitzing off the edge and filling the C gap against the run.

Kozora notes in his pre-draft profile that the big knock on Blount is his durability as he dealt with injuries throughout career and struggled to consistently stay on the field. Still, he has been highly effective when on the field for the Cavaliers (303 tackles, 19.5 TFL, 9 INTs, 5.5 sacks 3 FFs in his career) and just ripped off a superb Combine workout (4.45 40, 4.33 short shuttle, 6.90 3-cone, 10’7″ broad, 38″ vert, 20 bench reps at 6’1, 201lb). His name has been floated around as a late Day Three/UDFA for months now, suggesting that his value truly is suppressed by the injury history and potential stiffness in his frame. Should teams be comfortable with the medical, Blount could be the ideal dart throw on Day Three of the 2022 NFL Draft that could pay off in a big way.

What are your thoughts on the names listed above as potential draft sleepers? Do you agree that there is some intrigue with these prospects? What other names would you like to group in as potential “sleepers” at the position that aren’t getting enough attention? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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