Another NFL Draft has come and gone. With five players taken by the 161st pick, the 2022 NFL Draft marked the fastest instance the Sun Belt reached five selections in conference history. In total, six players from the league were chosen. Let’s dive into who they are.
Wide Receiver, South Alabama
Dallas Cowboys (#88, Third Round)
The 2021 Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year was taken off the board on Friday when he selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 88th overall pick.
Tolbert finished his career as the most prolific receiver in South Alabama history. He is now the school’s career leader in receptions (178), receiving yards (3,140), and touchdown catches (22). The thing that’s most intriguing about Tolbert is he looks to be peaking at the right time to get his pro career started. While he was a two-star prospect coming out of high school and fought through injuries in the early part of his college career, he looked more than ready for a pro opportunity in his final college season.
Offensive Tackle, Louisiana
New York Jets (#111, Fourth Round)
At 6’6” and 307 pounds, Mitchell was considered one of the top-20 offensive linemen in this draft class. He put up 21 reps on the bench press at his pro day. Like most linemen who earn an opportunity in the later rounds, Mitchell has knowledge of multiple positions on the line. During his time with Billy Napier at Louisiana, he started games at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard. At left tackle, Mitchell was a first team. All-Conference pick in 2021. Jet’s GM Joe Douglas had the following to say about the pick:
“We feel like Max can be a versatile piece on our offensive line,” Douglas said shortly after the selection was made. “The guy was at the Senior Bowl. He’s very competitive. He’s been practicing at tackle and guard and snapping the ball at center. We feel like he could be another versatile piece to put on the offensive line.” -- via NewYorkJets.com
Washington Commanders (#113, Fourth Round)
Butler turned in a phenomenal junior season during his final college campaign in Lafayette. Lafayett was third on the team with 61 tackles, 6 TFLs, one interception, two fumble recoveries, four breakups and a blocked kick. He was a second-team all conference selection in 2021.
In Washington, Butler will likely have to earn his keep on special teams before seeing meaningful action on defense, but he hits exceptionally hard and made a substantial impact on the league’s top-rated scoring defense.
Tight End, Coastal Carolina
Baltimore Ravens (#134, Fourth Round)
A program on the rise, Coastal Carolina owes a portion of the credit for their recent momentum to the Massachusetts native Likely. Originally recruited to play receiver, the 6’4” tight end saw his draft stock continually rise throughout his college career as he totaled 27 receiving touchdowns over his four seasons in Conway.
Heading to Baltimore, Likely has a good situation ahead of him in an offense that creates plenty of opportunities for the tight end. With Mark Andrews on the roster, Likely wouldn’t be first on the depth chart, but should still get a decent number of snaps early in his pro career.
Inside Linebacker, Appalachian State
New Orleans Saints (#161, Fifth Round)
Jackson was a huge piece of App State’s formidable rushing defense last season. The Mountaineers allowed just 126 yards per game on the ground.
In 2021, Jackson ranked fourth in all of FBS with 19 TFLs and was his team’s leader in total tackles with 119. He also racked up six sacks, one interception and five pass breakups in 14 starts. The 6’1”, 233-pound Spartanburg, SC native was last season’s Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-Conference Selection. Jackson adds to a saints linebacker room that doesn’t yet appear to have much depth past the second string for 2022.
Defensive End, Coastal Carolina
Cincinnati Bengals (#252, Seventh Round)
One of the final selections of the draft, Gunter had 12 starts in 2021 with 41 tackles, 10 for loss with 6.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
A linebacker/defensive line hybrid which many defensive systems refer to as a “bandit,” Gunter will likely have to fight for a roster spot with the Bengals in training camp. Cincinnati is a team that is exceptionally deep on the defensive line following a run to the Super Bowl in 2021. The good news for Gunter is that he appears to be physically peaking at the right time, so never say never.