Leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, IndyStar will preview prospects who could be a fit for the Colts. They’re set to first pick no. 42 overall, in the second round.
Up today is UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen.
Previous prospect previews:
Penn State WR Jahan Dotson
North Dakota State WR Christian Watson
Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore
Purdue WR David Bell
Projected round: 2-3
40-yard dash time: 4.26 seconds (2nd among CBs)
Bench press: N / A
Vertical jump: 42 inches (1st among CBs)
Broad jump: N / A
3-zone drill: N / A
20-yard shuttle: N / A
Key stats: Started 16 games between his junior and senior seasons, recording one interception and 2.5 tackles for loss in each season; honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2021; received invites to the Senior Bowl, Shrine Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
Quotable: (As a former wide receiver playing cornerback) “I felt like it helped me some at first, understanding route concepts, knowing where receivers were going to go before the snap, having that knowledge. Knowing if they line up in certain splits, at the top of the numbers, it helps you play with your leverage. “
Analysis: The NFL combine is a meeting place for the top 1% of the top 1% of football athletes in the world, and so it’s jarring when someone’s athletic makeup just dwarves the others. It’s even more stunning when he comes from a small school.
But that is the case with Tariq Woolen, one of this year’s more improbable stories. He’s long had this gawking 6-foot-4-inch frame, but he used to be a wide receiver, and despite offers to Baylor and Houston as a three-star recruit, he committed to Texas-San Antonio. There, he saw sporadic action at the receiver, but he could eventually tell it wasn’t going to extend his playing days.
So, he switched to cornerback as a redshirt junior, one last stab in the dark of potential. He played reasonably well there, making an all-conference for a UTSA team that went 12-2 and won the USA Conference his senior season. But the NFL was still a longshot.
But when he showed up to the Senior Bowl and combine, everything changed. Here was a 6-4 cornerback with too much length for receivers who played at the highest levels of football. But what really turned heads was when he ran faster and jumped higher than all of them. Not a single player at the combine could top his 4.26-second 40-yard dash speed or 42-inch vertical.
His tape shows examples of the ceiling, like when he stays in phase on a 1-on-1 fade route for 40 yards and when he breaks up a pass on an island down the field. It’s just a limited sample at a lower level of competition.
So it leaves the question of who this kid is as a football player, or at least what he can become. The college version would never have sniffed the NFL without measurables. But his lack of dominance is easily explained by having never played the position until 2020, in the middle of a pandemic.
Woolen would not be the first at his position to outlive such circumstances. Malcolm Butler played at West Alabama before he became a Pro Bowler with the Patriots. Kenny Moore II played at Valdosta State before taking the same route with the Colts.
Neither player was drafted, but neither had anywhere near Woolen’s measurables. Their abilities to learn the game as rookies in order to tap into athletic potential in the isolated lifestyle of the cornerback position give him a path, too.
Woolen’s struggles on film all seem correctable. He needs better tacking form, more functional play strength for press, tackling and avoiding injury; plus a sharper understanding of the zones around him.
The Colts might have an ideal setting for someone like that. They just signed Stephon Gilmore, who combines with Moore II for 186 career starts and six Pro Bowls. Isaiah Rodgers and Brandon Facyson will battle to start at the other outside cornerback spot. It could leave a draft pick for the fourth corner spot, with a chance to elevate to the second, where the path starts on special teams and learning from those cerebral voices in a system that has built traits-based cornerbacks into stars like Bradley’s.
The Colts are mostly fine at the cornerback right now, but they need to work on the pipelines considering Gilmore is turning 32 and Facyson is on a one-year deal. Their pipelines currently don’t include anything like the 6-4 Woolen.
Whether that’s worth an investment with the No. 42 pick is questionable. Woolen is not ready to play much defense in a passing league after just getting his first reps in the Conference USA. A high second-round pick should bring an instant impact player, and that’s a focus for a Colts team with a 37-year-old Matt Ryan but no first-round pick.
Woolen seems like a great target for the Colts if they’re able to trade back or if he falls to the third round. That would be a justifiable time to make a luxury pick, especially given the injury concerns present in Gilmore and Rogers.
The Colts hosted Woolen on a top-30 visit and should have a decent feel for whether he has the instincts and work ethic to add what’s missing in his game. If so, the route to a career in the stratosphere of Richard Sherman isn’t out of the question. The traits are that exceptional, and the role and scheme fit are that good.
Contact Colts insider Nate Atkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.