The G5 (Group of Five) teams produce great NFL talent, and this year is no different. There were two G5 players taken in the first round of the draft – the first was Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner (selected fourth overall by the Jets). Gardner’s well-known talent who was shoved down the throats of football consumers throughout the draft experience. The other was Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith, whom most people only heard about when his name was called 24th overall by the Cowboys. Smith and Gardner will be expected to be difference-makers for their new teams, but there were other G5 alums in this draft who have a chance to make an immediate impact for their teams, as well.
Last season Brady Christensen, an offensive lineman from BYU, started six games after being selected in the third round by the Carolina Panthers. UCF cornerback Aaron Robinson made two starts in 2021 after the Giants selected him in the third round. Philadelphia selected edge rusher Milton Williams in the third round from Louisiana Tech and he was able to make a couple starts for the Eagles, collecting 30 tackles, including six tackles for a loss and two sacks. SMU tight end John Bates made eight starts for Washington as a fourth round selection. Running back Elijah Mitchell made his presence felt as a sixth round pick for the 49ers. He finished the season with 10 starts, 963 rushing yards and six total touchdowns. There are diamonds in the G5 rough found every season, so let’s take a look at a few of the future potential G5 gems from the 2022 NFL Draft.
Luke Goedeke, OG, Central Michigan – Round 2, Pick 57, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Goedeke is a bully of an offensive linemen who plays through the echo of the whistle. He knows how to dig out defenders who are anchored down. There’s no doubt that this man wants to maul the opposition every time the quarterback says “hut!” He’s played tackle as well, but in the middle of an offensive line is where you will find more value for his skills and mindset. He has a natural guard disposition; once Goedeke gets his hands on you he is practically impossible to shake off and you are usually going on a ride that involves a lot of syrup. On the inside, Goedeke can hide his deficiencies dealing with speed rushers, although he is an athletic lineman who started his career as a tight end. That athleticism will be used to climb to the second level to block linebackers, get out into space on quick passes and screens, and pull with bad intentions. He should be an immediate plug-and-play guard. Shaq Mason was brought in to fill one guard spot and Goedeke should fill the other. Expect the run game to be much better in 2022 for the Buccaneers.
Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming – Round 3, Pick 70, Jacksonville Jaguars
Muma has a chance to be one of the most productive linebackers in this draft class. He was the highest rated linebacker on many boards going into the draft. You could argue that the reason he dropped to the third round was due to where he played, not how he played. If Muma had played at Alabama or Georgia there’s a good chance he would have been a first round draft pick. But because he played at Wyoming, many used “level of competition” as an argument against him. What we know is that Muma possesses the ideal size for an interior linebacker with the athleticism that allows him to play on all downs. He is good in coverage. He can man up backs and tight ends and he also reads well in zone coverage. As a run defender, there isn’t a tackle he can’t make on the field. He can fill holes and chase ball carriers sideline to sideline. He should fit in well with an athletic Jaguars defense.
Cameron Thomas, DE, San Diego State – Round 3, Pick 84, Arizona Cardinals
Outside of Kayvon Thibodeaux, Thomas may be the most explosive defensive end off the line of scrimmage, and he plays with an extremely high motor. He has the ability to be a 9-technique edge rusher on the weak side, a 5- or 7-technique edge setter on the strong side of a 40 front, or a 4-technique banger in a 30 front defense. That level of versatility should make him a steal in the third round of the draft. He plays well with his hands and does a good job of shedding blocks. He is also a sure tackler and is aggressive at the point of attack. With Chandler Jones leaving Arizona to sign with the Raiders, Thomas will have the opportunity to show the Cardinals’ defensive staff and front office that he can be relied on to fill the void. He should find his way on the field in some capacity early and often next season.
Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina – Round 4, Pick 139, Baltimore Ravens
Likely is in the mold of many of these modern pass-catching tight ends. At a little over 6’4 ”and slightly less than 250 pounds, Likely is a guy who is able to get in and out of breaks quickly and is explosive with the ball in his hands. He was tremendously productive while at Coastal Carolina, as he flashed the type of game that transitions perfectly into the NFL – but, once again, he was discounted because of his size and his level of play. No, he is not the best run blocker, but he is willing and not afraid to be physical. It is also worth mentioning that outside of Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle, the other elite-level pass catchers at the position leave a lot to be desired as blockers. So there is no reason why Likely cannot have success at this level. It will be interesting to see if he’s able to ascend up a tight end depth chart that is stacked and has Mark Andrews as the unquestioned TE1 – if Likely is able to show value as a moveable piece, he could be that second guy.
Tariq Woolen, DB, UTSA – Round 5, Pick 153, Seattle Seahawks
Normally when you have elite-level size for the position you rise up the draft boards. You definitely rise when you have elite-level athleticism. Woolen has both and for some reason he never shot up the draft board – it was shocking to see Woolen still available in the fifth round. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and the Seahawks were able to retrieve that treasure. At 6’4 ”and 205 pounds, Woolen has size you don’t see often at cornerback. He combines that size with 4.26 speed and a 42-inch vertical. He is still relatively new to the position, only playing corner for the past two seasons at UTSA after being converted from receiver to defensive back. But his measurables and receiver-like ball skills make him attractive in a defensive backfield, especially against these big, jump ball receivers like Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Ja’Marr Chase and more. He has smooth hips and transitions quickly, so expect a defensive backs coach to be excited to get a chance to help mold him into a premier corner. Because of the nature of the NFL and its propensity for passing, he may need to learn on the job, especially in the NFC West. He will need to improve his tackling but his DB career is still in its infancy. He should improve quickly in his early NFL career.
(Top photo: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports)