Every year, around this time, there are piles upon piles of yellow legal pads filled with notes milling around Ray Didinger’s home. Probably more so than normal. That’s because the Hall of Fame football writer and NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles’ analyst and 94WIP broadcaster seemingly goes over every player, on every down, in every college football game played the previous season.
No one will ever question how meticulous Didinger is when it comes to evaluating football talent—at every college level to the NFL. A recent recipient of the prestigious Francis “Reds” Bagnell Award by the Maxwell Football Club, Didinger took the time to speak with Bleeding Green Nation about five sleepers the Eagles could look at in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft.
Christian Watson, North Dakota State, WR, 6’4,” 210 pounds
“I first took notice of him last year when I was looking at film of Trey Lance. I kept noticing this real tall receiver catching everything. I took note of him and filed it away, thinking, let’s see what he looks like the next year with a different quarterback. He was still good. He came into my purview as a sleeper, so I’m going to keep him there, but he is rising. From an Eagles’ standpoint, I like him. I think the Eagles still need a receiver. Watson is very good. He’s 6-4, 210 and he returned kicks in college. He runs better than you would think, like a 4.47. He’s a big guy, with a small-man’s quickness. He reminds me of Jordy Nelson. He had another real good year at North Dakota State, and he got invited to the Senior Bowl. Down in Mobile, I wanted to see how he would do against the better Division I corners than he did at the (FCS) level. The fact of the matter is he was beating the top cover guys as badly as he was beating the defensive backs at North Dakota State. I think he’s legit.”
Daniel Faalele, Minnesota, OT, 6’8,” 384 pounds
“What I’m struck by is that he is 6-8, 380 and the similarity between him and Jordan Mailata. He really looks like Mailata and comes from the same background as Mailata. He became an all-Big Ten offensive lineman. I read an interview with him a couple of months ago where he said Jordan Mailata was his hero. The Jordan Mailata story about where he came from and how he made it to the NFL has really been the inspiration for Faalele. He’s hoping to follow the same path as Mailata. Watching him play, they are very similar. He’s not quite as fluid an athlete as Mailata, who has great feet for someone that big. He’s not quite as nimble as Mailata, but he has the same size and power. He has an awful lot of ability that can be developed. If I were the Eagles, I would draft him and put him in a locker next to Jordan Mailata and let him learn from him and Jeff Stoutland every day. Let him hone his skills for a couple of years and when Lane Johnson is ready to retire, you have your right tackle right there.”
Quentin Lake, UCLA, Safety, 6’ 1,” 205 pounds
“The Eagles need help at safety. Quentin Lake is the son of Carnell Lake, who was a very, very good safety for many years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The son isn’t exactly the blue-chip prospect his father was, but it’s obvious he grew up around the game, he’s a very smart player and a good safety, and very good against the run. He’s a very good open-field tackler and at 205, he be a little on the light side, but he certainly doesn’t give anything away to the physical part of the game. He’s the kind of player who can come in and be on special teams immediately, and possibly work his way into a nickel or dime role in the secondary.”
Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State, ILB, 5’11,” 230 pounds
“Rodriguez is a true sleeper from Oklahoma State. I know he’s not going to get drafted high because of his size, he’s 5-11, around 225, which is not your classic NFL middle linebacker, but he can be someone who can be a really good special teams player. If you watched Oklahoma State play, Rodriguez was all over the field on defense. He’s smart, relentless, has great instincts, knows how to find the football—and never misses a tackle. He’ll immediately upgrade your special teams. I think he has a chance to work his way into a role on your defense. To me, he’s a true sleeper, where he was a really, really good college player that the pros will look at and say he’s too small. He’s all football player.”
E.J. Perry, Brown, QB, 6’2,” 210 pounds
“E.J. is an outlier. I don’t see him in the Eagles’ plans, but I’m fascinated by E.J., because I had heard good things about him and saw he was picked to play in the East-West Shrine Game. I was curious to check him out. I heard some people say, ‘You know he’s from the Ivy League, which is not exactly a breeding ground for NFL quarterbacks,’ but, E.J. is pretty good. He played in the Shrine Game and was the MVP (passing for 214 yards and three touchdowns almost leading the East All-Stars back from a 19-0 deficit), and I wasn’t expecting that. I like his size. He doesn’t have a great arm, but he has a good enough arm, and he moves around. You would think he didn’t have a lot of mobility, but he does. We saw Ryan Fitzpatrick come out of the Ivy League and develop a long, long, long NFL career. Sometimes it happens. Perry has just enough tools that he might be able to do the same thing. I don’t know if he’s going to play for 15 years the way Fitzpatrick has, but I can see him being a quarterback with the right situation making a team.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.