2022 NFL draft: Our top 10 undrafted free agents include Carson Strong, Justyn Ross

After the San Francisco 49ers selected Iowa State QB Brock Purdy, aka “Mr. Irrelevant,” with the 262nd overall selection, it signaled the conclusion of the 2022 NFL draft.

But behind the scenes, the action remained hot as teams burned up the phone lines to line up deals with undrafted free agents. It’s a frenzied period that truthfully begins much earlier on Day 3 of the draft, and it’s considered a vitally important part of the roster-building process.

Several Pro Football Hall of Famers were undrafted, including Kurt Warner and Warren Moon, and there are several current standouts who didn’t hear their names called on draft weekend, including Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen and Buccaneers pass rusher Shaquil Barrett.

So who will be the next crop? Here are 10 undrafted players from the 2022 NFL draft whom we think have a chance to make it in the league.

When Eagles GM Howie Roseman gave Strong one of the largest guaranteed deals ever for an undrafted rookie at nearly $320,000, it essentially signaled that Strong making the 2022 Eagles roster can almost be expected. All he’ll need to do is beat out Reid Sinnett, and the No. 3 job behind Jalen Hurts and Gardner Minshew could be Strong’s.

The health of his knee, which likely hurt his chances of being drafted, remains a lingering concern. But there wasn’t a massive drop in his play level late last season compared to any 2022 QB who was drafted, including Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in Round 1.

Strong’s style as a pocket passer is vastly different to how Hurts and Minshew play, so there’s further intrigue. The feeling around Philly these days is that Hurts has the 2022 season to prove himself before the Eagles consider other options.

So while he is by no means guaranteed to supplant Hurts as the starter in 2023 — the Eagles have two first-round picks next year, after all — Strong is entering the picture early enough to make him a wild-card candidate down the road.

Another medical red flag, Ross looked every bit of a future top-10 pick when he torched Notre Dame in the 2018 playoff semifinals and Alabama in the national title game that year. But the 6-4, 210-pound wideout missed the entire 2020 college season with a neck injury, requiring cervical spine surgery that concerned most NFL teams during the pre-draft process, even though Ross played at Clemson in 2021.

It even took Ross a few days to land an NFL home, well after most other undrafted players, signing with the Chiefs on a flier.

Justyn Ross looked like a star at Clemson prior to a serious neck injury changing his trajectory. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)Justyn Ross looked like a star at Clemson prior to a serious neck injury changing his trajectory. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Justyn Ross looked like a star at Clemson prior to a serious neck injury changing his trajectory. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

He caught 46 passes for 514 yards and three scores last season for the Tigers, appearing to lack the pre-injury explosiveness that was on display his first two college seasons. Ross ran a 4.63 40-yard dash at Clemson’s pro day, with a shockingly slow 10-yard split of 1.76 seconds. His other testing numbers were sub-par, as well.

But the Chiefs might strike gold here if Ross’ health holds up. Imagine the possibilities in a Patrick Mahomes-Andy Reid offense if it does.

“I’m ready to prove everybody wrong,” Ross said after signing.

We hope he does. It would be a fantastic comeback story.

One of our favorite receivers who went undrafted, Rambo isn’t a special athlete and is fairly lean, but he ran well enough at his pro day (10- and 20-yard splits of 1.53 and 2.57 seconds, respectively) with good length (6-foot-1, 32-inch arms) that we were surprised not to have heard his name called through seven rounds, even with a deep WR crop.

He’s been highly productive on the college level, first at Oklahoma — where he played behind the likes of Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra, plus several future NFL running backs — and then at Miami last season.

Rambo peaked in 2021 with 79 catches for 1,172 yards (14.8-yard average) and seven TDs in 12 games despite the Hurricanes switching quarterbacks from D’Eriq King to Tyler Van Dyke three games into the season. With the intriguing Van Dyke at QB, Rambo was hot down the stretch, totaling 45 catches for 750 yards and five TDs in Miami’s final six games.

The Panthers have some more established receivers in DJ Moore, Terrace Marshall, Robby Anderson and Rashard Higgins on the roster, but Moore is the only truly proven one among the lot who appears to have a long-term future in Carolina. There’s a job to be earned there for Rambo if he wants it.

RB Abram Smith, New Orleans Saints

A member of Yahoo Sports’ 2022 All-Juice Team, the assumption was that Smith likely would be picked on the back half of Day 3 after switching from linebacker to running back and breaking out with a 1,601-yard rushing season.

It surprisingly didn’t happen.

Smith found a good landing spot in New Orleans, where he has a direct path to winning the RB3 job behind Alvin Kamara and 32-year old Mark Ingram, who is entering the final year of his contract this season. You could even argue that Smith is sort of a poor man’s Ingram, built similarly with more athletic spring in his step and less tread off his tires.

Smith also has a ton of special-teams experience, which should allow him an excellent chance to make the opening 53-man roster. His weaknesses — third-down duties — can be handled by Kamara and others.

OT Obinna Eze, Detroit Lions

Another big UDFA check ($20k signing bonus, $150k base salary guarantee) went to Eze, a three-year starter at left tackle at Memphis and TCU with rare length. He’s a legit 6-foot-6 1/2 with 36-inch arms and a wingspan more than 86 inches. Even lacking some lateral quickness, Eze was a draft-caliber prospect in our eyes.

Although the OL depth chart is a bit tight in Detroit, Eze could show enough to earn a role as a swing tackle or as a developmental guard. His power and length are rare enough traits to give him a long look this summer in Allen Park.

Falcons OT Dare Rosenthal

We really can’t figure out why Rosenthal wasn’t drafted. He was marred by suspensions at LSU prior to transferring to Kentucky, but former LSU staff members lamented that he was caught in the undertow of what they believed to be a draconian drug-testing policy at the school after he tested positive for marijuana.

All the 6-foot-7, 306-pound Rosenthal did for the Wildcats in 2021 was start every game at left tackle — and play well — prior to an injury that held him out of the bowl game, followed by a 4.88-second 40-yard dash and some respectable jumping numbers at the NFL combine.

Rosenthal might have some growing up to do, teams told us, but the fact that he wasn’t drafted feels strange to us. He’s in a good spot in Atlanta, where there’s a long-term need at tackle and where Rosenthal’s athleticism and length could be well-placed.

LB JoJo Domann, Indianapolis Colts

The son of two NFL agents, Domann was a do-it-all performer for the Huskers — and an underrated one.

Even still, it’s not stunning Domann wasn’t drafted. He’s not very big (6-1, 230), lacks take-on strength and will turn 25 years old in August. On top of that, we truthfully didn’t see Domann flash a ton at the Senior Bowl.

JoJo Domann has been one of the brighter spots for Nebraska the past few years. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)JoJo Domann has been one of the brighter spots for Nebraska the past few years. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

JoJo Domann has been one of the brighter spots for Nebraska the past few years. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But his athletic-testing numbers were all well above average, with excellent times in the 40 (4.62) and 3-cone drill (6.88). And in college, Domann made big strides as a prospect the past few years and wore a lot of hats, covering the slot a ton, blitzing occasionally and stepping up as a run defender.

With a special-teams mentality and good versatility, Domann has a path to make the Indianapolis roster. They don’t care where you came from, how old you are or whether or not you were drafted. The Colts have shown the past few years that they’ll keep players who can help their football team. Domann can — and Indy is a bit thin at linebacker after not drafting one the past two years.

CB Ja’Quan McMillian, Denver Broncos

There will always be size questions with the 5-10, 181-pound McMillian, and his 4.59-second 40-yard dash likely didn’t help his cause.

But all you need do is look at his three-year production at East Carolina, breaking up 40 passes, intercepting 12 more, forcing two fumbles and recovering two more in 33 games. McMillian also led all of FBS in passed defensed last season with 21 and led his conference in picks with five (one returned for a TD).

He got beat a few times, too, but that caliber of nose for the ball is the kind of instinct that can’t be taught. McMillian’s secondary coach, Steve Ellis, was his biggest backer in the pre-draft process, imploring anyone who would listen that McMillian is the real deal. Ellis also did the same thing a few years ago with another undrafted gem who turned out well: Charvarius Ward. Perhaps we should listen this time.

The biggest question: Can McMillian adapt to the nickel? It’s a spot he’s played sparingly in college, and almost not at all since his freshman season, but his size almost certainly will push him inside.

S Markquese Bell, Dallas Cowboys

Bell received some third-round summer grades entering the 2021 season given his size (6-2, 220), athleticism (4.41 40, 36.5-inch vertical) and past production (five INTs, 14 PDs in 2019). And that was even after FAMU’s 2020 season was canceled because of COVID.

But Bell had a quiet final season for the Rattlers, with only one pick and two passes defended, along with some overaggressive lapses in his tape. He also came with some character questions based on his past, brief stays at Maryland and in junior college.

That’s likely a big reason why he went undrafted. Still, there are some intriguing traits to develop here, and we wonder if Bell might not be tried as a subpackage linebacker in Dan Quinn’s defensive system if he doesn’t prove to fit at safety.

This is an undeveloped prospect, but there’s a heck of a lot of ability to work with. If Bell can take to some good, hard coaching, and Dallas’ staff can be patient, it might end up striking gold here.

S Verone McKinley, Miami Dolphins

McKinley didn’t test especially well and didn’t meet ideal height-weight thresholds for the position. But how do you go undrafted after a six-INT season (11 total over the past three seasons) in a Power Five conference?

Known as “The General” out west, McKinley earned a reputation as a bit of a headhunter in the Pac-12, but we never felt he was a dirty player. Rather, McKinley is just a tough hombre who packs a lot of punch in a below-average-sized package.

He’s also a smart, instinctive player who has the experience and instincts to crack a secondary that features a growing star in his former college teammate, Jevon Holland. The Dolphins do have good depth at the position, but Eric Rowe is a 2023 free agent (with a cap hit north of $5 million this year) and it’s hard to classify their other safeties, such as Sheldrick Redwine or Clayton Fejedelem, as irreplaceable.