NFLMocks’ 5 for 5: Tariq Woolen, Sauce Gardner Lead Rookie Cornerback Class That Could Be Best In NFL Draft History

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) celebrates after breaking up a deep pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) in the first quarter of the NFL Week 3 game between the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.Cincinnati Bengals At New York Jets Week 3
New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) celebrates after breaking up a deep pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) in the first quarter of the NFL Week 3 game between the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.Cincinnati Bengals At New York Jets Week 3 /

The 5 for 5 returns with a handful of fresh topics. This week’s edition highlights an all-time great rookie cornerback class led by Tariq Woolen, Sauce Gardner, and Derek Stingley Jr. Also included is the biggest surprises of the week, young NFL running backs that had a big day in week seven, and NFL Draft discussions!

Headline No. 1: Biggest Surprises of Week

•No. 1: Matt Ryan is benched for Sam Ehlinger

The Indianapolis Colts made a shocking announcement that Matt Ryan would be benched in favor of the former Texas Longhorn, Sam Ehlinger. The 16-year vet was traded to Indy this offseason with the promise of a strong offensive line and running game. Neither of those promises were upheld by the Colts.

Ryan has faced constant pressure and dealt with it as well as he could have at this stage of his career. The front office will get to see what they have with Ehlinger, but some big decisions are looming this offseason.

•No. 2: The Panthers hand Tom Brady an 18-point defeat in Carolina’s first game without Christian McCaffrey

Interim head coach Steve Wilks and new starting quarterback PJ Walker welcomed the GOAT and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Charlotte this weekend. You would have never guessed that the team fired its coach and traded their best offensive player in a span of two weeks.

Walker played within himself and took care of the football. Wide receiver DJ Moore posted the best game of his 2022 season and the running game was clicking in the absence of CMC. There’s plenty of work to do still, but the energy coming from Carolina feels infinitely more positive the past couple weeks.

•No. 3: LSU turning things around with Brian Kelly

This offseason, quarterback Jayden Daniels and head coach Brian Kelly arrived on campus as the new leaders for the LSU football program. Daniels, a once highly sought-after prospect at Arizona State, is experiencing a career renaissance of sorts.

In the past two games @ Florida and vs. Ole Miss, Daniels has accounted for 11 total touchdowns, 597 passing yards and 165 rushing yards. If the first-year starter in Baton Rouge continues this play, the Tigers have a path to a NY6 Bowl after a disastrous start to the 2022 season.

•No. 4: The New York football teams are a combined 11-3 through the first seven weeks of the NFL season

The New York Jets hit a home run with their 2022 NFL Draft class, landing high-end starters like Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall and others. They still entered 2022 with tempered expectations, but Robert Saleh’s crew sits at 5-2, putting themselves on pace to record their first 8+ win season since 2015.

The New York Giants had a strong draft class too, but their biggest addition came at head coach. Former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, assumed the role of head coach for the Giants and he has the group playing inspired football. Big Blue sits at 6-1, matching their highest win total since the 2016 season. It’s a new era for New York football.

•No. 5: Bo Nix continues brilliant 2022 season with the Oregon Ducks

Bo Nix started as a true freshman at Auburn and held that role atop the depth chart for three seasons. The former five-star recruit opted to transfer to the Oregon Ducks, a more pass happy program, to better showcase his elite arm talent.

Nix’s game still features head-scratching spurts of inconsistent play. But, as a whole, he has impressed mightily in seven starts thus far. If we remove the stinker he had in his debut against Georgia, Nix boasts the following stat line over the six games since: 74.6% completion, 1636 passing yards, 17 TDs:1 INT, 345 rushing yards, and eight touchdowns via his legs.

Nix’s evaluation will be one that either earns someone a contract extension or sends them to the unemployment line. We’ll see how things shake out when the NFL Draft process rolls around.

Headline No. 2: Young running backs terrorizing the NFL

•No. 1: Travis Etienne (Jaguars)

Clemson alum, Travis Etienne, took over the lead role for good in week seven against the New York Giants. Etienne outsnapped James Robinson to the tune of 57 snaps to 12. He made good on this increased opportunity by recording 114 yards on the ground as well as his first career touchdown. With Robinson headed to the Jets, ETN SZN is officially underway.

•No. 2: Breece Hall (Jets)

Breece Hall, an early second round pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, began making a strong claim for the Rookie of the Year award over the last few weeks. Hall scored a touchdown in four straight games, including a long scurry against the Broncos this past weekend. Unfortunately, Hall suffered a torn ACL shortly after and will be forced to miss the remainder of 2022. Here’s to hoping Hall gets back to 100% before the 2023 season.

•No. 3: Kenneth Walker III (Seahawks)

Rashaad Penny was placed on the IR after suffering an injury early in the team’s week five contest vs. New Orleans. Combining the rest of that game with the past two weeks, Kenneth Walker III is averaging over 100 yards per game as a runner, along with four touchdowns.

Assuming KW3 stays healthy for the final ten games, there’s a chance he owns some gaudy numbers by the season’s end. The Seahawks’ electrifying running back is a front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He could team up with Tariq Woolen to bring both rookie awards back to the Pacific Northwest.

•No. 4: Dameon Pierce (Texans)

Speaking of a front runner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year, Dameon Pierce hit the ground running to open his rookie campaign. Not only is Pierce thriving as a runner (504 yards, four touchdowns), but his 17 receptions out of the backfield highlight his versatility and impact on the Houston offense. The former Florida Gator has eclipsed 90 yards in each of the past three games and shows no sign of slowing up.

•No. 5: Isiah Pacheco (Chiefs)

Pachecho hasn’t quite reached the heights of those listed before him, but the seventh-round rookie out of Rutgers was recently named the starter for the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs offense. In his first week in the role, Pacheco still split carries, but expect for the bruising running back to get more action as the season grows older. He is a running back that runs angry and there’s a chance he becomes a regular in the end zone very soon.

Headline No. 3: NFL Draft Stock Watch (RBs)

•No. 1: Bijan Robinson (Texas)

The 2023 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a strong class at running back. Not only is it loaded with depth, but there are a few with franchise player potential at the next level. Bijan Robinson leads the way for the group. Robinson has looked like an NFL running back from the moment he arrived in Austin.

In 27 career games with the Longhorns, Robinson is averaging more than 100 rushing yards a game and has a total of 34 touchdowns to his name. The production is backed up by an ideal frame, superb athleticism, spectacular-catch ability, and top-tier vision. It’s not often that a running back gets mentioned with the best players in a draft class; Robinson is the rare outlier.

•No. 2: Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama)

Bijan Robinson is more of a traditional bell-cow running back, but Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs fits the mould of a new-age offensive weapon. Gibbs is a fabulous runner between the tackles, but out in space, and especially as a receiver, is where Gibbs butters his bread.

Gibbs’ game is the spitting image of Saints’ star running back Alvin Kamara. Gibbs possesses similar explosiveness and is capable of changing the landscape of a game on any given snap. He is going to be a factor for an NFL team next fall and will be a favorite to come off the board early in the real NFL Draft and in fantasy drafts.

•No. 3: Sean Tucker (Syracuse)

Sean Tucker is sort of a blend of Robinson and Gibbs’ style. Tucker has proven to be an efficient runner with a career 5.5 yards per carry. Tucker is also averaging four catches per game and turning those into game-breaking plays for the Cuse offense.

Tucker might get pigeon-holed as a gadget player, but I trust that NFL play callers will see what Tucker brings to the game as a runner and allow him to serve as an every down back. Tucker’s tape consists of highlight reel play after highlight reel play. This type of explosiveness typically translates well to Sundays.

•No. 4: Zach Charbonnet (UCLA)

Zach Charbonnet is a former Michigan Wolverine that found himself buried on the depth chart. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum earned the spots ahead of Charbonnet, leading the talented ball carrier to transfer to the west coast and sign on to be the lead back with the UCLA Bruins.

In Chip Kelly’s wildly fun scheme, Charbonnet has been able to showcase his talents in multiple ways. Only one time out of six games has the game-changing running back recorded less than 100 yards. He’s found the end zone seven times and is even mixing in pass catching chops with 15 receptions on the year. His stock is flying up right now.

•No. 5: Deuce Vaughn (Kansas State)

The Kansas State running back is a bowling ball out of the backfield. Deuce Vaughn gets some lofty comparisons due to his build, these include Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles, among others. It is unfair to label Vaughn as a copy of these players when he brings his own flare to the position.

Vaughn owns 16, 100-yard rushing games in his 2.5 year career. He is arguably the best pass catcher in this draft class, hauling in 93 career receptions and over 1000 yards through the air. Vaughn is already in my queue for Dynasty Fantasy Football Leagues.

No. 4: Tariq Woolen, Sauce Gardner lead rookie CB class that could go down as the best in NFL Draft history

•No. 1: Tariq Woolen (Seahawks)

The Seattle Seahawks have cashed in on Tariq Woolen and his limitless upside in 2022. Woolen, a fifth-round steal, is the best cornerback on the roster. He has improved by leaps and bounds in terms of his technique and continues to grow each week.

Even though he is learning as he goes, Woolen is already a lockdown cornerback, allowing a sub-40 passer rating on the season, including four interceptions. Seattle did it again with a late-round bullseye in the secondary.

•No. 2: Sauce Gardner (Jets)

Sauce Gardner is neck-and-neck with Tariq Woolen for the best in the class honors. As a prospect, Gardner checked every box necessary for a top-five pick. The New York Jets selected him at No. 4 overall, and like Woolen, the rookie is already the best cornerback on the roster.

Gardner has an interception to his name and allows a similarly low passer rating in coverage. He displays the moxie and confidence that all the greats have at cornerback. Sauce Island is open and if you are a wide receiver, it is the last place you want to visit.

•No. 3: Derek Stingley Jr. (Texans)

Derek Stingley Jr. came off the board one pick earlier than Sauce Gardner when the Houston Texans selected the LSU cornerback at No. 3 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. In 240 coverage snaps as a rookie, Stingley hasn’t allowed a single touchdown, matching Tariq Woolen in that department.

Stingley looks the part. His technique is refined and has zero holes. Stingley mixes his high IQ with elite physical traits and this results in very long days for those lined up across from him. The former Tiger standout finishes out a trio of cornerbacks that are already among the best in the NFL.

•No. 4: Jack Jones (Patriots)

Jack Jones is similar to Tariq Woolen because he also checks a lot of the boxes but fell in the NFL Draft anyway. Unlike Woolen, Jones’ downfall was partially his own fault. During his time at USC and Arizona State, Jones earned the reputation of a trouble maker.

Of course, the New England Patriots were the team to benefit, selecting Jones in the fourth round. Through six games, Jones is allowing a 39.1 passer rating and has picked off two quarterbacks, returning one interception for a touchdown. The burgeoning cornerback looks like the next in a long line of draft day steals for Bill Belichick.

•No. 5: Kaiir Elam (Bills)

Kaiir Elam was brought to Buffalo with the hopes that he could be the final piece to the puzzle in the secondary. Elam started off a bit slower than his predecessors on this list, but he is heating up at the right time. Like Woolen and Jones, Elam has been tasked with more responsibility as a rookie than anticipated.

A high snap count was always in the plans, but the team hoped to have Tre’Davious White back by now. In White’s absence, Elam has stepped up admirably, looking more comfortable with each passing week. Elam has two interceptions to his name, with the latest coming off of Patrick Mahomes. White and Elam will be a handful in the postseason.

Headline No. 5: Who are the five best teams in college football?

•No. 1: Georgia Bulldogs

The Georgia Bulldogs have mostly looked as dominant in 2022 as they did during their title run in 2021. The defense is still full of NFL Draft talent, and aside from a few bad stretches, the offense looks even more dangerous.

Oregon is impressing as of late, making the Bulldogs 49-3 shellacking look better and better each week. They are the defending champs and own the most lopsided victory against a top ten opponent. It’s their spot until someone snatches it from them.

•No. 2: Ohio State Buckeyes

As good as Georgia has been this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes look like their biggest potential threat in the playoffs. CJ Stroud leads a high-powered offense that scores at will and the defense is coming around. The running game needs to get it going again and Jaxon Smith-Njigba getting healthy is pivotal for the teams national title hopes, but it’s hard to bet against Ryan Day’s squad.

•No. 3: Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers own the second most impressive win this season with a thrilling 52-49 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Hendon Hooker is on CJ Stroud’s tail in the Heisman chase and Jalin Hyatt is making himself a realistic NFL Draft target.

The team will go as far as the defense allows. A showdown with Georgia takes place on Nov. 5. Get your popcorn ready for that one.

•No. 4: Michigan Wolverines

In 2021, the Michigan Wolverines got the monkey off their back by finally beating the Ohio State Buckeyes. In 2022, even after losing gobs of talent, Jim Harbaugh’s crew looks as good as ever.

Blake Corum is spearheading a devastating rushing attack and quarterback JJ McCarthy is slowly finding his footing as the starter. If McCarthy can continue completing passes at a high rate, and managing the game behind center, Michigan has a chance to make it back-to-back victories vs. their hated rivals.

•No. 5: Alabama Crimson Tide

The Crimson Tide suffered the first loss of the season against the Tennessee Volunteers two Saturdays ago. The game went down to the final play, showing how close Alabama is to the top three group on this list. Still, the lack of discipline and inconsistent play overall is enough to knock the SEC juggernaut to No. 5.

Potential first-round picks in the NFL Draft, Bryce Young and Jahmyr Gibbs, are doing everything they can to elevate a subpar offensive unit and Will Anderson Jr. is holding down the fort on defense. Alabama only has two undefeated seasons out of Nick Saban’s 16 with the school. The season is far from over in Tuscaloosa.