2022 NFL Draft recap: six Ole Miss players selected
Published 2:42 pm Monday, May 2, 2022
LAS VEGAS — Six Ole Miss players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft this weekend, tying the record for the most selections in a single draft for the program in the last 50 years.
Here is a look at where each player was selected, and how they might fit into their new schemes as they get ready to play on Sundays:
Sam Williams – Round 2 Pick 56
The first selection was a bit of a shock, as edge rusher Sam Williams went 56th overall to the Dallas Cowboys.
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Many fans expected quarterback Matt Corral to be the first Ole Miss player off the board, but Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn took an interest in Williams early in the draft process and Dallas opted to reach for the talented pass rusher late in the second round. Quinn worked with the AP third team All-American at the Rebels’ pro day on Apr. 29, and interviewed him multiple times throughout the draft process.
Williams figures to be an immediate contributor for the Cowboys as a pass-rush specialist, but the team hopes he can develop into a three-down lineman with the right guidance. He has all the physical tools to be an elite defensive end, but must now put in the work to hone his technique and round out his game in order to reach that level.
Matt Corral – Round 3 Pick 94
The Rebels’ signal-caller waited a bit longer than he might have liked to hear his name called, but eventually found a suitable home in Carolina with the Panthers.
He is the first Ole Miss quarterback to be selected in the NFL Draft since Chad Kelly (No. 253) in 2017, and the highest-drafted Rebel quarterback since Eli Manning (No. 1 overall) in 2004.
The Panthers traded up to take Corral with the 94th pick, and general manager Scott Fitterer gushed over the Ventura, Calif. native’s toughness and leadership in post-draft interviews.
“One of the things that really stood out, aside from the physical traits, was the competitiveness and toughness of him. The guy took a pounding—kept getting up, kept getting up,” Fitterer told reporters after the draft. “He sees the field well. He processes quickly. So all those things really stood out to us.”
Corral finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting last season, and was widely expected to go in the first two rounds of the draft before falling to the end of the third round.
He will compete for the starting job with fifth-year quarterback Sam Darnold. The former USC product was selected by the Jets with the third pick in the 2018 draft, but was traded to Carolina in 2021 after three mostly disappointing seasons in New York. He started 11 games for the Panthers in 2021, throwing for 2,527 yards and nine touchdowns while also tossing 13 interceptions.
Darnold is expected to be the starter come week one, but Corral could see some playing time sooner rather than later if the turnover-prone gunslinger struggles to start the season.
Snoop Conner – Round 5 Pick 154
Running back Snoop Conner became the first Rebel to hear his name called on day three as the versatile tailback went to Jacksonville early in the fifth round.
The Hattiesburg, Miss. native provides much-needed depth to a Jaguars backfield that rushed for less than 900 yards last season. The touchdown machine will see plenty of time on special teams this season, and should also get touches out of the backfield early in the year with starter James Robinson recovering from a torn left achilles.
Jacksonville head coach Doug Pederson lauded Conner’s combination of strength and speed, saying the team is eager to see what he can do on special teams before running him out with the offense.
“He can be used first, second and third down because of his size. Again, [he’s] just a back than give us that depth that we look for and give us that competition,” Pederson told reporters. “At this point in the draft special teams becomes a little bit more of a factor and he is capable of doing that.”
Conner has plenty of experience playing in a crowded backfield after spending the last two seasons splitting touches with fellow backs Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish. It may take a while for him to receive consistent touches, but the explosive power back already knows how to make the most of limited playing time.
Chance Campbell – Round 6 Pick 219
Inside linebacker Chance Campbell was one of the most intriguing and polarizing prospects in the draft throughout the evaluation process.
In 2021 the Maryland transfer became the first SEC player since Roquan Smith in 2017 to record at least 100 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks in a single season, but many scouts argued his lack of speed and athleticism made it hard to project him as an impact defender at the next level.
One trait that is impossible to deny is his nose for the football. He anchored an Ole Miss defense that was among the most improved units in the country last season, racking up 109 tackles in 13 games. He was also second on the team in tackles for loss with 12.5, trailing only Williams in defensive negative plays.
Campbell will likely only see time on special teams as he sits behind established starters David Long Jr. and Zach Cunningham, as well as second-year linebacker Monty Rice on the depth chart. However, he could develop into a regular starter in the years to come if he improves his skills in coverage and proves he has the speed to chase down NFL running backs.
Mark Robinson – Round 7 Pick 225
Another prospect that confounded scouts, linebacker Mark Robinson found a home in Pittsburgh as the Steelers selected him with the fourth pick in the final round.
A converted running back, Robinson’s journey to the NFL was anything but ordinary. The Georgia native started two games at tailback for Presbyerian College in 2017 before transferring to Southeast Missouri after his freshman season.
Robinson rushed for 908 yards in two seasons with the Redhawks, but still felt his talent was going unnoticed. He met with former high school teammate Otis Reese, who was planning on transferring to Ole Miss after seeing limited action in two seasons at Georgia.
Reese convinced Robinson to join the Rebels as a walk-on in 2020, where he made the transition to becoming a full-time linebacker while sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. He broke out with 92 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss in 2021, quickly establishing himself as one of the most vicious tacklers in the SEC.
The former running back now hopes he can keep improving as he continues to learn the intricacies of the linebacker position. He is arguably the rawest prospect in this year’s draft, but scouts and coaches rave about his potential to develop into a high-level run-stopper in the NFL.
Deane Leonard – Round 7 Pick 236
The final Ole Miss player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, cornerback Deane Leonard heard his name called midway through the seventh round when the Los Angeles Chargers selected him with the 236th pick.
A speedy defensive back, Leonard ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the Rebels’ pro day after racking up 64 tackles and 11 pass deflections in two seasons at Ole Miss.
The Calgary, Alberta native was a two-time All-Canadian at the University of Calgary before making the move to Oxford and proving his talent in the SEC.
His selection was a surprise, with most experts projecting him to fall out of the draft and sign with a team as an undrafted free agent. The Chargers obviously liked what they saw on film for him in 2021, and hope he will continue to develop with more time and coaching.
Undrafted Free Agents
Along with the six selections in the draft, Ole Miss fans saw six more former Rebels sign NFL contracts in the days following its conclusion.
Offensive lineman Ben Brown and defensive lineman Tariqious Tisdale each signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, wide receiver Dontario Drummond joined Williams in Dallas with the Cowboys, defensive back Jaylon Jones signed with the Chicago Bears, receiver Braylon Sanders signed with the Miami Dolphins and running back Jerrion Ealy inked a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of those players, Brown and Drummond are the most likely to see playing time early in their career after being passed over in the draft.
Teams were hesitant to select Brown because of a torn bicep suffered at the end of last season, but the multi-positional offensive lineman has the strength and instincts to be an effective blocker in zone schemes.
Drummond slipped in the draft because of his lack of high-end speed and burst off the line of scrimmage, but could also earn time if he refines his route-running ability and proves himself as a sure-handed receiver.