Biggest NFL Draft steals from 2022: Brock Purdy to 49ers, Tariq Woolen to Seahawks among 15 best late-round picks

Biggest NFL Draft steals from 2022: Brock Purdy to 49ers, Tariq Woolen to Seahawks among 15 best late-round picks

The 2022 NFL Draft once again proved there are no throwaway late-round picks. Several successful teams in the ’22 season have had key immediate contributions taking on Day 3 — in Rounds 4 through 7.

But which of these surprising rookie steals stand out the most? Here’s taking at look at 15 best going into the final month of the season, starting with the Seahawks and 49ers:

MORE: Ranking the NFL’s best rookies so far in 2022

Best rookie NFL Draft steals of 2022

1. Tariq Woolen, CB, Seahawks (UTSA, fifth round, No. 153 overall)

Woolen is in a battle with higher-profile Jets first-rounder Sauce Gardner for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Leading the league with six interceptions while his 6-4, 205-pound frame is drawing coverage comparisons outside to a young Richard Sherman in Seattle helps. Woolen has started and dominated since Week 1.

2. Brock Purdy, QB, 49ers (Iowa State, seventh round, No. 262 overall)

Purdy turned out to be a much-needed “Mr. Irrelevant” with the regular-season ending injuries to Trey Lance (fibula) in Week 2 and Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) in Week 13. Purdy has stepped in with confidence, taking advantage of an elite support system and smart scheming to facilitate his passing distribution.

His quick understanding of the offense and young leadership garnered the key great respected from his talented and more experienced teammates.

MORE: Revisiting the 49ers’ savvy Brock Purdy draft pick

3. Jack Jones, CB, Patriots (Houston, fourth round, No. 121 overall)

Jones has been incredible as an ace nickel back with ideal size for the slot at 5-11, 175 pounds. The Patriots now need to hope he won’t miss his instinctive, active inside-outside coverage for long after Jones sustained a knee injury in Week 14’s Monday night game at Arizona.

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4. Dameon Pierce, RB, Texans (Florida, fourth round, No. 107 overall)

Pierce’s impressive season is likely finished after 13 games because of the ankle injury he suffered against the  Cowboys in Week 14. It would end with 934 yards rushing and 4 TDs at 4.3 yards per attempt. Pierce was the brightest spot of a depleted and shaky Houston offense while averaging a workhorse-level 19 touches per game. He will fare better matched with an improved line, better supporting weapons and a true young franchise QB in Year 2.

5. Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, Titans (Maryland fourth round, No. 143 overall)

The Titans needed another athletic and versatile passing game cog as they haven’t gotten much from their wide receivers when rookie first-round Treylon Burks isn’t healthy. “Chig” has been that guy, as a big-play and intermediate staple of the offense since Week 9. He broke out catching 6 of 6 targets for 45 yards and a TD against the Jaguars in Week 14 while Burks was out again with a concussion. Okonkwo (6-2, 244 pounds) will form a special nice-sized playmaking duo with Burks going forward.

MORE: A short list of Mr. Irrelevant QBs in NFL Draft history

6. Jamaree Salyer, OT, Chargers (Georgia, sixth round, No. 195 overall)

The Chargers targeted Salyer, projected to play inside, for some versatile offensive line depth late in the draft. He ended up needing to play a lot in a critical spot when star left tackle Rashawn Slater went on the shelf with a biceps injury. Salyer (6-4, 325 pounds) has held up well in front of Justin Herbert to keep the Chargers from a pass protection disaster.

7. Braxton Jones, OT, Bears (Southern Utah, fifth round, No. 168 overall)

Jones has been solid run blocking as the Bears’ starting left tackle, even though like the rest of the line, it’s a work in progress in pass protection. It’s difficult to find a keeper so late at that position, but Jones will be around in front of Justin Fields for a while and will get better as he gets more developmental experience with his 6-5, 310-pound frame.

Isiah Pacheco

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8. Isiah Pacheco, RB, Chiefs (Rutgers, seventh round, No. 251 overall)

Pacheco has given the Chiefs a solid relentless power back at 5-11, 215 pounds. He’s worked well with Jerick McKinnon serving as the committee change of pace to help replace ineffective Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Pacheco’s carries have ramped up down the stretch, with double digits in five consecutive games during which he’s averaging 14. He’s up to 591 yards rushing and 3 TDs and is slowly getting a little more receiving work.

9. Isaiah Likely, TE, Ravens (Coastal Carolina, fourth round, No. 139 overall)

Likely, much like Okonkwo, was a hot sleeper prospect at his position during the draft because of wide receiver-like athletic upside. His filling in for an injured Mark Andrews as the starter in Weeks 8 and 9 was key to Baltimore victories. Whoever’s at QB, the Ravens need to ramp up Likely’s usage when healthy with the wide receiver corps limited.

MORE: How much money do Mr. Irrelevant draft picks make in NFL?

10. Spencer Burford, RG, 49ers (UTSA, fourth round, No. 134 overall)

The 49ers had to shuffle their starting offensive line with left guard Laken Tomlinson (Jets) leaving in free agency and center Alex Mack retiring. Burford, from the same Texas-San Antonio program as Woolen, has been sound handling the duties next to steady right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Burford’s athleticism at 6-4, 300 pounds has been a good fit for Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking.

11. Zonovan “Bam” Knight, RB, Jets (NC State, undrafted)

Knight, with a nice blend of power and quickness at 5-11, 210 pounds, was overlooked despite a strong carer with the Wolfpack. But the Jets stashed a gem behind second-rounder Breece Hall and Knight has come through as a fine all-around back to help replace the dynamic Hall much better than Michael Carter, James Robinson and Ty Johnson. Knight and Hall should provide quite a 1-2 punch in 2023 and beyond.

Zonovan Knight

(Getty Images)

12. Jack Sanborn, ILB, Bears (Wisconsin, undrafted)

When the Bears traded Roquan Smith to the Ravens, they needed someone to cover a lot of ground and do a little of everything on the second level. A star was born in Sanborn at the prestigious middle linebacker spot in Chicago, once anchored by Hall of Famers such as Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher.

Sanborn, at 6-2, 235 pounds, is a ferocious upfield player, capable of getting to the quarterback and blowing up running plays in the backfield. He’s a very reliable tackler with a nose for the ball, headed to be the long-term anchor of a rebuilding defense.

13. Malcolm Rodriguez, OLB, Lions (Oklahoma State, sixth round, No. 188 overall)

Rodriguez, a star on “Hard Knocks”, has followed through on the attention he got in training camp as an active, well-rounded second-level playmaker with standout pass-rush skills when needed.

14. Coby Bryant, CB, Seahawks (Cincinnati, fourth round, No. 109 overall)

Woolen and 2019 fifth-rounder Mike Jackson (taken by the Cowboys) have delivered to give the Seahawks stout outside coverage. But Bryant also has been good with unique size (6-1, 198 pounds) for the slot. He worked well off Gardner in college for the Bearcats and has continued as a valuable inside complement to Woolen.

15. Kingsley Enagbare, EDGE, Packers (South Carolina, fifth round, No. 179 overall)

Enagbare has seen a promotion to the starting lineup with Rashan Gary lost for the season. He had two sacks early as a situational pass rusher but now he’s a regular disruptor for a defense needing a spark.