Oklahoma Sooners NFL Draft Prospect Watch
The 2021 season was a tumultuous one for the Sooners. They opened up the college football season ranked at #2 in the AP poll and proceeded to rattle off 9 straight wins, including one over ranked Texas. This Texas game was a key point in the Sooner’s season, as this is when the struggling Spencer Rattler was benched for highly touted recruit Caleb Williams. Williams led the way most of the time for the rest of the season but was also benched a few times for Rattler when things weren’t working out. They ended the season 11-2, with a win in the Alamo Bowl against #15 Oregon. Their two losses were against ranked Oklahoma State and eventual Big 12 champion Baylor.
Now the Oklahoma Sooners program is undergoing a bit of a change, losing head coach Lincoln Riley and bringing in Brent Venables from Clemson to replace him. They’re also likely to lose both of their quarterbacks who saw significant snaps this year, with Rattler headed to South Carolina and Caleb Williams currently in the transfer portal. As always, Oklahoma is full of NFL talent and will lose some great players to the NFL Draft. This article will discuss these prospects, starting with a pair of running backs.
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Eric Gray(5’9, 206lbs) played the pas- catching role in this running back tandem for the Sooners this season after transferring in from Tennessee. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands, has above average explosiveness, speed, agility, elusiveness and change of direction ability. His footwork is good as well. He did not get many carries in the Oklahoma offense and his vision was part of this reason. Gray needs to be more decisive in his cuts and take advantage of his athleticism.
His small frame means he struggles with contact and ball control, and it severely limits his ability when playing against stacked boxes. Gray’s biggest strength comes in the pass game. He did not run many routes in college but displayed good pass catching abilities. He has a small catch radius, so he will need accurate passes in the NFL. Another way he provides value in the passing game is through his blocking ability. He is a good pass blocker and uses leverage well. Gray best projects as a third down scat-back type and should be a valuable member in a committee.
Early Day 3 Grade
Kennedy Brooks (5’11, 215lbs) was the primary back for the Sooners. He got most of the rushing work in their running back tandem. He possesses good footwork and doesn’t waste any steps once he’s diagnosed the hole in the line. Unfortunately, he is a bit hesitant in his decision making and needs to be more decisive in order to be more effective.
Brooks has above average top end speed but can be a bit slow to accelerate. He also lacks elusiveness and agility and will have trouble making NFL defenders miss. Brooks was used on passing downs on occasion and can be trusted with running short or dump off routes and is a decent pass catcher. He is a good run blocker and provides value for that in both the pass and run game. Brooks should be a valued member of a committee, running on early downs, but providing enough versatility to still provide value on passing downs.
Early Day 3
Despite being in the offense heavy Big 12 and being an offensive powerhouse themselves, Oklahoma has a few defensive NFL hopefuls headlined by defensive linemen Perrion Winfrey and Nik Bonitto.
Perrion Winfrey (6’4, 292lbs) generally lined up as a 3T for the Sooners and he excelled at this role. He is a great athlete for the position. He has good first step explosiveness and enough speed and acceleration to make plays in the backfield and flush out the pocket. While he needs more consistency finishing, he was a disrupting force along the defensive line and will continue to do this at the next level. He possesses an array of pass rushing moves, but his swim move is his most effective.
He is a very slippery defender and has good wiggle. His biggest struggles are his strength. Too often he gets bullied out by stronger linemen and needs almost perfect leverage to stay in the play. Balance is also an issue for Winfrey and sometimes his top half moves faster than his bottom half. Winfrey should provide some pass rushing upside immediately and with some more time he can use his length more effectively in the run game and add some more strength with an NFL training program.
Mid Day 2 Grade
Starter Potential, Role Player
Nik Bonitto (6’3, 240lbs) lined up as a stand-up edge rusher or outside linebacker for the Sooners. He was also asked to drop into coverage on occasion and showed some aptitude for that. Bonitto’s biggest strength is his speed and fluidity. He is great at wiggling through opposing blockers and can cause difficulties for slower blockers. Bonitto has a good club move that he uses in tandem with his fluidity but needs to develop a wider array of moves. He has above average bend and can collapse the pocket well.
Bonitto’s biggest issues are his play strength and balance. Too often he gets washed out in the run game and outmuscled by tackles. Even in college, he was rarely used on run downs and was a non-factor when he was on the field for runs. He uses leverage well but needs to improve on using his length and pushing out a quicker and stronger punch. Bonitto will have to be a pass rush specialist primarily for the beginning of his career. With more coaching and development, he could find himself being a good starter.
Early Day 3
Isaiah Thomas (6’5, 266lbs) lined up as a defensive end primarily for the Sooners, but also played some on the inside. He was asked to put his hand in the dirt and stand-up rush as well. He has poor length and does not use it effectively. Tackles usually beat him to the punch, and he struggles to win without using his great agility and slipperiness.
He is a strong lineman; however, he can set the edge effectively and uses his legs powerfully. Thomas also lacks pass rush moves or a plan. He needs to improve these things and his diagnosing ability to make an impact more consistently on defense. His best way to win is using his leverage properly and above average bend to get around lineman instead of through them. Thomas will need some seasoning but with some coaching up, he has the potential to be a starter.
Early Day 3 Grade