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Three things Terez Paylor loved in the football world: the NFL draft, impact defensive players and the Michigan Wolverines. All of which would have put the eighth annual All-Juice Team squarely into his wheelhouse.
Not only could the University of Michigan see defensive end Aidan Hutchinson become the school’s second No. 1 overall pick of the Super Bowl era (joining Jake Long in 2008), but the draft’s top four picks could all be defenders. The 2022 selection process is also expected to be more about quality depth than top-heavy star power, teasing one of the more exciting and unpredictable first rounds in many years.
As one AFC general manager put it, “If you compared the [draft] boards this year, they’re going to be all over the place. You could be picking a player in the 50s who is legitimately in the top 20 of other boards. Or you could be taking someone in the top 20 that other teams have in the 50s. There are a lot of similarly talented players in the top 60-ish range, so it’s really going to come down to what your flavor is.”
If that’s not befitting of Terez characterizing the draft “Nerd Christmas,” nothing is. Especially when reaching into a maelstrom of opinions, film and analytics and emerging victorious with the right player for the right team.
As we spent time canvassing NFL coaching and personnel staffs over the last month — as well as collecting a few anecdotes from the college ranks — there were no shortage of nuggets that pushed players toward All-Juice status. Using Terez's staple criteria (“Effort, Attitude and Performance”), along with a simple question he often employed (“Who are the players that simply have the goods?”), the 2022 edition pulled together nicely.
One of the stories Terez might have enjoyed: How trainers told Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt that his Senior Bowl experience was over late in the practice week due to a quad injury — which is usually a guaranteed shutdown situation for a draft pick. Cam thought otherwise. Not only did he show up for practice the next day, he finished the week and played in the game. That kind of toughness is an All-Juice trait.
Or how about the strong consensus on a single player? You’re prepared when it comes to someone like Hutchinson, who is at the top of most boards. But at one point making calls and asking for lists of names, Baylor safety Jalen Pitre was on 12 lists in a row. In a draft of so many varying opinions, that was astounding. For a while there, we thought Pitre might be a unanimous pick amongst everyone we spoke to. And he almost was.
But hands down, the one thing we believe Terez would have enjoyed most during his All-Juice work would have been the completely wide open range of opinions on the quarterback spot. If you asked 10 evaluators to rank the top five in the class — or even the top three — it was producing 10 different combinations. And strikingly, many disagreed on who the top quarterback was, too. Picking this spot would have been a fun exercise for Terez. Keep reading and you’ll see where we landed. If you look back at the quarterbacks Terez favored in his All-Juice Teams, they often leaned into where the NFL is headed at the position. We think we stayed true to that.
So we once again hope you enjoy this edition of the All-Juice Team in honor of our late friend and colleague. Please don’t hesitate to help us keep his memory alive and pick up one of the All-Juice Team T-shirts or hoodies, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Terez A. Paylor Scholarship at Howard University. The funds will help establish a scholarship for journalism students in Terez’s name, helping to provide some of the same opportunities that Terez had on his trek to becoming an influential NFL reporter both in Kansas City and on the national stage.
As always, we utilized a system similar to the one Terez followed, building the team similarly to personnel staff across the seven-round draft, rather than just making it the best player at every position. Based on NFL evaluator and coaching staff feedback, we chose two players per "shelf" and built a full 22-man team (plus one extra). The one extra is a shoutout to an earlier edition of one of Terez’s All-Juice Teams where he added an extra defensive player to account for a nickel spot while also maintaining a traditional seven-man box. We chose to use the additional spot to add a preferred free agent player that was put onto our radar by sources.
Enjoy the team. We hope Terez would have approved of the work.
Here are the shelf breakdowns along with how the talent is currently projecting across a seven-round draft:
Top 10 — Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson & Cincinnati CB Sauce Gardner
Nos. 11-20 — Liberty QB Malik Willis & Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning
Nos. 21-32 — Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt & Georgia LB Nakobe Dean
Top of second — Penn State EDGE Arnold Ebiketie & Georgia WR George Pickens
Bottom second — Baylor S Jalen Pitre & Nebraska C Cam Jurgens
Top third —Tulsa OT Tyler Smith & Nebraska CB Cam Taylor-Britt
Bottom third —Memphis WR Calvin Austin III & UCLA TE Greg Dulcich
4th round — Boise State WR Khalil Shakir & UCLA OG Sean Rhyan
5th round — Baylor RB Abram Smith & LSU LB Damone Clark
6th round — Tennessee OG Cade Mays & Iowa State DT Eyioma Uwazurike
7th round — Georgia Tech S Juanyeh Thomas & Houston CB Damarion Williams
Priority Free Agent — Montana State LB Daniel Hardy
Well, this was quite the debate. Of the NFL people we polled, we didn’t receive too much overlap, but a few vehement voices (and Juice Team admirers) made separate pleas for Willis, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder … and even Brown’s EJ Perry. But in the end, we wanted to gamble on traits — and Willis’ are just more enticing than the rest of the lot, even if he’s unrefined now. He’s also earned praise for his quiet but charismatic “follow me” leadership. We think Terez would have been fascinated with Willis, just as he was Jalen Hurts for the 2020 All-Juice Team.
We were tempted to slot a higher pick here for Iowa State’s Breece Hall, the juiciest of the top backs. But the real value of this RB class is in the middle rounds. Smith is a terrific story — a former special-teams grunt who switched from running back to linebacker in the middle of the 2019 season … and then back to running back in 2021. All the 5-11, 212-pound bowling ball did last season was rush for 1,601 yards in only eight starts, and Smith opened eyes at the Senior Bowl, too. He’s not perfect, but he loves steamrolling defenders and offers surprising burst as a one-cut runner.
The arrow is pointed back upward for Pickens, who has used a strong pre-draft process to remind people how special he looked as a freshman in 2019. Injuries marred his 2020 and 2021 seasons, but Pickens fought back to contribute a few deep balls in the Bulldogs’ championship run in January. He’s got some alpha bulldog in his play style, and in his temperament off the field, as Pickens was guilty of some immature moments in years past. But there’s some excitement for the player again, and there’s a feeling that Pickens has grown enough to harness his immense talent as a go-up-and-get-it playmaker.
Memphis has been cranking out under-the-radar skill players in recent years, including former Juice Teamer Darrell Henderson. The diminutive Austin is the latest to earn the honor, and the size concerns (he’s 5-8, 170) are allayed by the track star’s speed (4.30 40), ball-tracking ability, toughness (gutted through an ankle injury) and special-teams value (two punt-return TDs in 2021). Regardless of where he lands, Austin just feels like a fan favorite from the first preseason game in August. He’s a blast to watch, and we think Terez would have loved him.
Every receiving unit needs that glue guy, and Shakir — a two-time captain for the Broncos — is our pick. He’s not exceptionally fast or big, and he’s had some drops. But what makes Shakir special is that he does a lot of things well — catching passes at all three levels, running the ball, throwing it and returning kicks and punts. Although Shakir is not a dynamic athlete, his natural route-running creativity, sudden separation, selflessness and consistency (five-plus touches in 25 of his final 26 games) make him — even with an occasional dropped pass — a reliable WR3 here.
A true underdog story, Dulcich went from zero-star recruit to preferred walk-on to likely top-100 selection. Forget the 4.69 40 time; this cat can roll. You can see his juice on TD catches of 69 (2020 at USC) and 75 yards (2021 vs. LSU) — and in his incredible hair. Dulcich outworks everyone and might be able to add mass to his 243-pound frame. We see a player on the rise, able to provide a big catch zone and add yards after the grab. From our view, he’s discount-store David Njoku, basically, but Dulcich also has a smidgen of Travis Kelce at the top of his routes, and Terez always had his eye on potential Chiefs matches.
There was no way we were putting this squad together without Penning, a Taylor Lewan clone, at left tackle. The 6-7, 325-pound Penning is highly athletic and the embodiment of a road grader in the run game, and his game-day mission is to dominate his opponent mentally and physically. At the Senior Bowl, Penning described his mentality as “wanting to make the guy across from you quit. You want to get him thinking about the plane ride home (in the) first series.” By the end of the week in Mobile, most of his opponents appeared happy to be done dealing with him.
With Penning and now Smith, we have two tackles who combined for 30 penalties in 2021. What would Terez’s reaction have been to people questioning that? Something along the lines of: “I grew up watching Lions football, you think penalties bother me?” But Smith lands here because he’s a diamond in the rough — a moldable hunk of clay who really could be something in a few years. He’s big and utterly nasty, and once he breaks his habit of bear-hugging opponents, he could be a tail kicker and, eventually, a real problem to deal with.
An above-average athlete who played mostly left tackle in college, Rhyan has the body type and grip strength to be a very good guard in the NFL. He’s reliable (31 straight starts), provides good power and has enough movement skill to reach the second level with regularity. Rhyan has a diverse sporting background in surfing, rugby and track, in addition to football, providing him the type of leverage, balance and reactive quickness to make a strong left guard.
He’s been stung by injuries in college but has played through a lot of pain to establish himself as one of the better drive blockers in the SEC when healthy. A tackle in 2021, Mays has true five-position versatility but best fits as a guard, we feel, where his broad frame, length, strength and toughness can be harnessed inside. He came from a football-steeped family and reminds us of a slightly less athletic version of the Packers’ Jon Runyan Jr. — a solid right guard projection.
The converted tight end switched to center prior to the 2019 season, and his game has flourished ever since. Credit Scott Frost and his staff for envisioning how Jurgens’ toughness and unusual movement skills could be weaponized. He can pull and work up to the second level and wins with a highly aggressive temperament. Jurgens also brings a great dose of toughness and intelligence to the position. And how do you not love a guy who races 50-plus yards to make a tackle after an interception, as Jurgens did — on his 86th snap of the game, no less — in overtime at Michigan State?
The Juice Team creed is as follows: “Effort. Attitude. Performance.” With Hutchinson, it’s check, check, check. As one NFL GM we polled said, “He’d better be your first pick.” Terez was an admirer of Michigan, and we’d find it hard to believe that Hutchinson wouldn’t have been a player he’d have embraced. The Heisman Trophy finalist might not quite be on a Bosa-esque or Watt-like level as a pass rusher, but he’s not far off. Hutchinson profiles as one of the surest things in this draft with his burning desire, outstanding quickness and rare nose for finishing. An easy pick as co-captain for the Juice “D.”
The Temple transfer has come from virtually nowhere to become one of the country’s best pass rushers and energy guys. Born in Cameroon, Ebiketie only started playing football as a sophomore in high school and was around 200 pounds when he joined the Owls. After a breakout 2020 season, he transferred to Penn State and was terrific, logging 17 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. People around the program say Ebiketie made an instant impact with his uplifting personality and tenacious play style.
Even a novice scout can find talent on Georgia’s defense. But identifying which Bulldogs defenders can thrive on the next level is a tougher chore. Wyatt is a fascinating study, and he profiles as a more productive pro than he was in college, partly based on what he was asked to do as a 5-technique. But when he was allowed to test guards with his outstanding speed, pop and effort, Wyatt opened a lot of eyes. He’s steadily grown into a scheme wrecker after coming up from junior college, and if he can add a shade of finesse to his game, Wyatt could be an outstanding pro.
Terez was a Detroit guy, through and through, and he would have loved that Uwazurike touts his Motor City upbringing as a badge of honor, overcoming true adversity as a youth to become an impactful interior defender. Uwazurike has rare length for a nose tackle at 6-foot-6 with 35-inch arms, and he crafted himself into a fine player over a 60-game college career, elevating to a nine-sack season in 2021.
At 5-11 and 229 pounds, Dean faces major questions about his size and could slide out of Round 1. All that would mean is that some team is going to get one of the smartest, most instinctive players at a cheaper cost. Dean has been hailed as a program-changer for Kirby Smart’s defense, setting the tone for a historically good defense with leadership, energy, speed and intensity. In addition to being a run-sniffing demon, Dean also can blitz and cover. As long as he’s protected up front, he can thrive in the same way that Deion Jones, Roquan Smith and David Long do.
We are cheating a bit here, as Clark was a likely Round 2 selection prior to undergoing spinal surgery; his draft whereabouts are unknown, but his rookie year could be wiped out. Still, there is a terrific football player we’d be willing to wait for here. LSU people raved about Clark’s burning desire and work ethic — earning the cherished No. 18 jersey there as a result — and he’s a terrific athlete who really flourished once the Tigers changed coordinators in 2021. Clark, who followed Devin White around like a puppy as a freshman, is a tenacious ball hunter and a mudder who doesn’t mind mixing it up.
Every Juice Team needs an underdog, and it doesn’t get much more so than Hardy. We were watching Hardy’s teammate — Troy Andersen, a likely Day 2 pick — when No. 44 (Hardy) kept popping off the tape. Hardy is an undersized pass rusher at 6-2 and 235 pounds (after previously playing linebacker), and he’s a likely priority free agent. But he was the best player on the field in the Bobcats’ playoff win over South Dakota State and had a whopper of a pro-day workout: a 1.57-second 10-yard split, a 40-inch vertical and a scalding 6.71 3-cone drill. We see a sleeper worth grooming in the mold of the Broncos’ Malik Reed.
There was just no way we were going to have this year’s Juice Team without a dollop of “Sauce.” The Bearcats corner has filled out his frame over the years, bringing elite length and confidence to one of the toughest positions to step into as a rookie. Gardner has an unabashed belief in his ability to shut down the man lined up opposite him, and why shouldn’t he? In three years for an ascending program, Sauce didn’t allow a single TD and had nine interceptions. Per PFF, he allowed 17 catches in 14 games in 2021, none longer than 17 yards.
Taylor-Britt’s tape is littered with plays on the ball, surprising strength and physicality, and his combine testing (highlighted by a 4.38 40) has pushed him into the Day 2 conversation. He’s a thick-skinned performer who will get beat on occasion but always delivers a message — either off the line in press coverage or when he meets the ball as a bloodthirsty tackler. With technique improvement (or perhaps a move to safety, where he played as a sophomore), Taylor-Britt’s skills should translate somewhere in the NFL. He was a playmaking threat (six INTs, 150 return yards, TD) with the ball in his hands.
His teammate, Marcus Jones, is likely to be drafted first. But there was something about Williams’ gritty play style, versatility to play multiple spots and elite competitiveness that stood out to us. His size likely makes him a nickel candidate in the NFL, but Williams plays bigger than his size and won’t back down from a challenge, even if he lacks elite quickness and could use a little more muscle on his frame.
When we farmed out Juice Team requests to NFL scouting people, one name kept coming back to us more than any other: Pitre. He was a nearly unanimous selection, and it’s not hard to see why. Pitre was the heart and soul of the Bears’ defense the past two seasons, bringing frenetic energy, terrific athleticism and an outstanding nose for the ball every time he takes the field. Pitre is an easy player to like — a hybrid safety who can cover backs and tight ends, knife into the backfield as a run defender and be a core member of special teams. He studies hard, plays hard and will make his next team better immediately.
The underrated Thomas was described as an “A-plus kid” by a scouting director, both in terms of his football acumen and personal character. He burst onto the scene as a freshman with three long returns for TDs — a 95-yard INT and kick-return scores of 100 and 77 yards — and has been a productive starter ever since. Thomas had solid athletic testing scores, and he maximizes his ability in his play with keen instincts, a fearless approach and nice versatility. Plus, Thomas is a special teams ace who’ll make a living off that ability if needed.