FanPost

The Smartest Prospect in the Draft

Doug Raflik / USA TODAY NETWORK

No Returns Allowed

Would you trade a 1st round pick straight up for a 3rd rounder? How about a 1st for a 6th? A 3rd for a 6th? I can't imagine any GM staying in the job long by following a strategy of swapping 1st round picks for late rounders, but effectively that's what happens sometimes in the draft. One pick could be the next Randy Moss and another the next Tavon Austin.

A GM's entire career could hinge on the outcome of a single draft pick. If Snead hadn't picked Cooper Kupp in the 3rd round, would we still be praising him today as the GM for the reigning Super Bowl Champions? Or might we be blaming him for being the reason the Rams fell short of winning the title yet again? In a similar way that a single play during a football game can be the difference between winning and losing the game, a single draft pick can swing the direction and fortunes of an NFL franchise. We just don't know in advance which pick it will be. It could be a 1st round pick (Aaron Donald), a 3rd rounder (Kupp) or a late round selection (Tom Brady).

In 2018, Sebastian Joseph Day was graded by Lance Zierlein as an UDFA prospect. He was projected to be a solid run defender, but offered little as a pass rusher. LZ thought he could be a backup. He was tied for the 27th best DT in the draft on LZ's board. Meanwhile, Taven Bryan was the 3rd ranked DT and was a 1st round pick by the Jaguars. A player I liked in that draft was Harrison Phillips from Stanford, who was a 3rd round pick. LZ ranked him as tied for the 5th best DT.

SJD recently got a 3 year $24 million contract. He has 6 career sacks. Harrison Phillips also is a pretty good player (77.4 PFF grade last season). He got a 3 year deal for $19.5 million and has 1.5 career sacks. Bryan got a 1 year contract for up to $5 million. He was a rotational backup in 2021. Decent backup type money, similar to the salary Morgan Fox got last season from the Panthers. Bryan has 5.5 career sacks.

Les Snead doesn't necessarily have a magic touch. He also drafted John Kelly, Jamil Demby and Trevon Young in the 6th round in that draft. Young is an unsigned street FA at the moment, out of the NFL. Demby has been a PS level performer. The Rams compared Kelly to Alvin Kamara and some fans thought he was going to be a steal, but he's hardly made any impact so far in the NFL. If you make a high volume of 6th round picks, odds are that eventually one of them will pay off, but that doesn't mean your next one will.

Taven Bryan was part of a draft that proved to be a disappointing one for the Jaguars. Their 2nd round pick, DJ Chark had 1,000 rec yards in his 2nd season, but has hindered by QB issues and an injury in 2021 and left in FA to join the Lions. Ronnie Harrison, a safety picked in the 3rd round, was traded after 2 seasons to the Browns for a 5th round pick in 2021. That pick ended up in the hands of the Rams after a trade down (Robert Rochell). The Rams then traded down from that 5th round slot, gaining the 7th rounder that became Jake Funk, then drafting Earnest Brown.

In the 4th round the Jags got a well regarded tackle prospect, Will Richardson, but he's only been a backup so far. They kept him on a one year $2 million contract. Compare that to Noteboom's new contract. A 6th round QB was gone quickly and a 7th round special teams LB isn't on the team anymore. One of the most valuable player the Jags got from that class was a late 7th round punter, Logan Cooke, who was 7th in gross and 2nd in net punting average in the NFL last season. Who could have predicted that out of all those picks the punter taken near the very end of the draft would be arguably the most valuable piece?

The 2017 Jaguars were 10-6, advanced to the AFC Championship game where they nearly beat the Patriots. The underwhelming results from the 2018 draft class is one of the reason they have lost momentum. The Taven Bryan pick could have been Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb or Darius Leonard. DJ Chark could have been Brian O'Neill. Harrison could have been Harrison Phillips. Will Richardson could have been JFM or Dalton Schultz. One pick can alter the direction of a franchise.

In this year's draft, Matt Henningsen, a DT from Wisconsin, is not one of the top prospects. He might get drafted on Day 3, he might not get drafted at all. He wasn't invited to the Combine, which is a sign that many NFL teams don't view him as being a good prospect. He's not Jordan Davis from Georgia. People aren't going to make splashy highlight videos about Henningsen.

Of course, that's part of why I decided to take a look at this prospect. The Rams don't have a 1st round selection. The Rams do have multiple picks from late in the 6th round to the end of the 7th round. Who can the Rams get towards the end of the draft who can contribute? Perhaps asking for the next SJD would be overly ambitious, but at least a better total return than Kelly, Demby and Young. Would Henningsen be a good pick or would the Rams be better off drafting a punter and hoping that he's the next Logan Cooke?

Background

Matt Henningsen is probably the most intelligent player in the 2022 draft. He graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA in Electrical Engineering from Wisconsin. After getting his undergraduate degree, he was in an accelerated Master's program in EE and computer engineering. He was involved in research projects about brain modeling and detecting cerebral hemorrhaging on MRI images. He had the highest GPA out of all of the players named to the NFF National Scholar Athlete class, better than Troy Andersen (3.91 in ag business) and Charlie Kolar (3.99 in mechanical engineering, maybe we need to open an investigation as to how Kolar fell just short of a 4.0 and let Iowa State and Wisconsin debate who has the better engineering program.) Henningsen's interviews are impressive, he's well spoken. He was a Campbell Trophy finalist and was an Academic 1st team All American.

6'3 3/8'' tall, 289 pounds (295 pounds at Shrine Bowl), 33 1/8'' arms (32 3/8'' at SB), 9 3/8'' hands, 82 1/8'' wingspan (81 3/8'' at SB)

Pro Day numbers: Like most PDs, results depend on the reporting source

1.67 to 1.75 sec (10 yard split), 22 bench reps, 37.5'' vert jump, 9'11'' broad jump, 4.07, 4.22 or 4.29 sec (shuttle), 7.02, 7.16 or 7.19 sec (3 cone).

There is no 40 yard dash time, because he reportedly had some type of hamstring injury, only the split time was given.

The top vert by a DT at the Combine this year was 33 inches. He would have had the 2nd best broad at the Combine,and the best shuttle and 3 cone. Devonte Wyatt had the best 40 time at the Combine among DTs and his 10 yard split time was reported to be 1.66 seconds, so if we went by the lower number given for Henningsen, he would have been right up there with Wyatt. Granted, at 289 pounds Henningsen is undersized to be a DT (he says he can comfortably play at 300 pounds), but even if we compare him to say Logan Hall, who is 283 pounds, Hall ran 4.88 sec in the 40 with a 1.68 sec split, jumped 30'' in the vert, ran 4.44 sec in the shuttle and 7.25 sec in the 3 cone.

Henningsen is a former preferred walk-on at Wisconsin, staying in-state at his dream school instead of going to Princeton or taking a scholarship from FCS or mid-major schools. He was listed at 6'5'' and 265 pounds as a recruit.

After redshirting, Henningsen started 15 games over the course of the next 2 seasons. Early in the 2020 season he tore his left bicep, ending his season prematurely. In 2021, he had 33 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and 3 sacks. He was used primarily as a 4i defensive end.

ESPN 184th overall (early 6th round)

Tony Pauline not ranked at all on board, I'm not sure why.

Ian Cummings 144th overall (late 4th to early 5th rd)

Oliver Hodgkinson 173rd overall (late 5th rd)

Shane Hallam 328th overall (UDFA)

Brian Bosarge 349th overall (UDFA)

Drafttek 275 overall (UDFA)

Strengths

Plays with good pad level. Knocked OT flat on his rear end with bull rush.

Good motor, gives consistent effort play to play. Doesn't quit in the middle of the play, continues to try get free and get to the ball, uses countermoves if stalled by blocker. Pursues plays outside of his area and takes smart pursuit angles. Team oriented.

Has adequate and effective length, can use his arms to defeat and get off some blocks. Uses hands to protect his legs and stay on his feet. Tries to get hands up in passing lane to deflect passes. Disengages from solo blocks. Bench pressed OT, shed and got to QB. Has some basic effective moves, including push pull and spin.

Surprisingly effective defender in short yardage situations. Smart angles, can use quickness to get by edge of lineman and gain superior leverage, penetrating into backfield. Creases OL, then uses hands to finish off the blocker. Wins a gap on short 3rd and 4th down plays.

Disciplined and smart on field. Play action pass and QB semi rolls out. DE senses possible screen developing to the opposite side of the field stops and smartly reacts instead of chasing after the QB and being out of position. Stayed home against option play in proper position.

Weaknesses

Testing numbers don't translate well to the field. Lacks play strength. Doesn't have explosive movement. Lumbering style, not a flexible and dynamic athlete. Possesses neither elite upper body strength nor great lower body power.

Hands not violent. Doesn't excel as a pass rusher and he's not big or strong enough to be a run stuffer. Tweener who is undersized to be a 5 tech DE in a 3-4, but lacks the quickness to be a good 3 tech.

100% unblocked due to assignment error by offense, but unable to finish sack on the QB, insufficient closing burst and when QB dodges not able to mirror and wrap up to bring to ground.

Appears to get winded and tired of required to play too many consecutive snaps.

Could be extremely successful off the field even without football in his life. Is he committed to being a pro football player or will he pursue a career elsewhere?

Pro Comparison and Grade

Michael Hoecht (2020 UDFA Rams, Brown University), Late round grade.

Henningsen has a low ceiling. He's a "worker bee" type player who likely won't be more than a backup in the NFL, a similar profile as Louis Trinca Pasat, who was an UDFA in 2015 with the Rams.

Henningsen's testing numbers are very similar to the scores posted by Michael Hoecht in 2020. An Ivy League school player, Hoecht is very intelligent, like Henningsen.

Hoecht, Jonah Williams and Earnest Brown are the types of players Henningsen would be competing with on the depth chart for a roster spot. Henningsen has enough versatility that he could provide depth at both 5 tech and also play 3 tech on passing downs.