2021 NFL Draft Breakdown and Future Bearcats in the NFL

Four Bearcats, the most since 2012, heard their name called on the stage in Cleveland and four others have signed with NFL teams, what’s their positional outlook for this season?  Will we hear a record for most Bearcats picked in the 2022 draft?

After two chilly evenings and a nice warm May day in the sun, the NFL Draft saw 4 Bearcats “walk across the stage” and into the next step of their football careers.  Four others received calls to join teams as Unrestricted Free Agents, a chance to impress in OTAs and training camp with the opportunity to make the 53 man roster or 12 man practice squad.  We’ll break down where each of these guys stands based on that team’s roster.  What will the 2022 Draft have in store for the Bearcats?

The first Bearcat to hear his name called played only 11 games for the Bearcats, after transferring from Michigan and an ugly transfer waiver case.  James Hudson started the 2019 Birmingham Bowl and didn’t relinquish his starting position until a targeting call ended his Bearcats career in the 1st half of the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.  Hudson was the first Bearcat selected, going 110th overall to the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round.  Hudson was an enigma after the season ended, as mock drafts had him going as high as the second round, but when it was all said and done, he’ll be making the trek across the Ohio turnpike from Toledo to play for the Browns.  Hudson looks to back up last year’s first round pick Jedrick Wills Jr.  Hudson will need some time to develop to the NFL game with his lack of experience on the O Line.

The second Bearcat selected went in the 5th round to the Washington Football Team.  Darrick Forrest Jr, a stand out Bearcats safety was selected 163rd overall.  WFT could use some help at safety, former All-Pro Landon Collins was injured last year and only played in 7 games.  Forrest had an incredible Pro Day in the bubble and propelled his draft stock, moving him ahead of James Wiggins on many teams boards.  I look for Forrest to cut his teeth on Special Teams this season and get some snaps as a back-up, but when his name gets called, I have a hard time believing he’ll want to give that spot up.

The next Bearcat picked was part of something that’s never happened in the NFL Draft before.  James Wiggins was the first of the two back to back Bearcat picks in the 7th Round.  With the 16th pick in the Seventh Round, number 243 overall, the Arizona Cardinals called James “The Freak” Wiggins name.  Wiggins had a lauded, but also injury prone career in Clifton, which absolutely hurt his draft stock.  After the 2018 season, in which he had four game sealing interceptions, most thought he would be an early day two pick in the draft, but a freak injury days prior to the 2019 season derailed those plans.  Wiggins projects to back-up Budda Baker and fight with former Bengal Shawn Williams for the back-up role.  Look for Wiggins to make the team as a special teams stand out, with potential as a punt returner.

The last Bearcat selected went number 244 overall, in the 7th Round to the Miami Dolphins.  This is an interesting pick for me as the Dolphins really lacked a rushing attack last year.  The Dolphins return Myles Gaskin, who really lacks the size to be an every down back, and signed Malcolm Brown from the Rams, who has had a disappointing NFL Career.  The only thing that will be holding back Doaks will be the Dolphins dreadful offensive line.  I think Doaks may end up being the second most successful Bearcat on the list here, this season.  I think Doaks gets some early carries in the Red Zone, gets a couple touchdowns early and ends up taking over the starting role before the end of the season.

Four other Bearcats, to this date, have signed Undrafted Free Agent contracts with teams.  Punter James Smith, who is sure to love the scenery in Nashville, signed with the Titans and will likely be the most impactful Bearcat from this draft class.  RT Darius Harper joins Cortez Broughton in Los Angeles with the Chargers.  TE Bruno Labelle will join James Wiggins and Korey Cunningham with the Arizona Cardinals.  DT Elijah Ponder looks to push for a job with the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Harper, Labelle, and Harper have a longer road to making their respective rosters, but have a good shot at landing on each team’s practice squad.

Looking forward to the 2022 NFL Draft, Cincinnati hopes to break it’s record of 6 Bearcats taken, which happened in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Bearcats also have a legitimate shot at doubling their number of 1st Round Draft picks, which currently stands at 2, and none since 1971. In a lot of “Way Too Early” Mock Drafts, the Bearcats have Desmond Ridder and Myjai Sanders listed as first round players. Third Year Cornerback Sauce Gardner is another who could hear his name called on Day 1 in Las Vegas. His biggest knock is his playing weight and he’s looking to get up to 200 lbs for this season. Some other guys you might hear called next season are TE Josh Whyle, TE Leonard Taylor, LB Darrian Beavers, RB Jerome Ford, and WR Michael Young Jr. Expectations are high this season on the field and for the future of these guys in the NFL.

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