Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon burst onto the scene in 2020, and that season started the talks about his future in the NFL. It was always going to be tough to replicate his success as a redshirt freshman, but he also played fairly well in his redshirt sophomore campaign. Yet, despite his success, declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft isn’t a given.
Is Jalen Catalon declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft?
Catalon remains one of the best safeties in the country. He’s a downhill player who’s not afraid to make a play against the run or pass. As soon as he hit the field in 2020, he helped elevate the Razorbacks’ defense.
In a season where Arkansas dropped eight and kept things in front, Catalon posted nearly 100 tackles. The Razorbacks were comfortable letting teams hit chunk plays in front of them and letting their guys make tackles quickly. It also set up opposing quarterbacks to take some ill-advised shots downfield, which led to Catalon’s 3 interceptions on the year.
Barry Odom entered Year 2 as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator in 2021, and he implemented a new approach to the defense. They wouldn’t wait for teams to make plays but rather attack. Catalon was an integral part of that before his season-ending injury. In six games, he accounted for 42 tackles and 2 interceptions (on pace to beat his 2020 totals).
While there might be some uncertainty outside of Catalon’s camp, PFN’s Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline stated that the Razorback’s safety appears to have his mind made up on the “Between the Hashes” podcast. “All signs point to him entering the draft and, in the end, being one of the top safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft,” Pauline said.
Why would Catalon declare for the 2022 NFL Draft?
An unfortunate part of the game of football is that age is a factor. That’s something Catalon has going for him. He’ll be 21 by the time he gets drafted, something that teams consider when evaluating prospects. It gives him time to mold and develop into whatever system he joins.
Arkansas’ experience on defense is a big reason for their success, and even an injured Catalon is still a great draft prospect. With the safety position being asked to do so many things in this age of the NFL, Catalon fits what teams want. He’s versatile enough to cover multiple alignments, comfortable around the line of scrimmage, and flies when he drops back into coverage.
Odom asked his star safety to do a lot for the defense, and he passed each test presented. Thanks largely to a motor that doesn’t stop, Catalon brings the right attitude to the position. So that skill set will help teams overlook his lack of experience this year.
“Despite the fact that it looks like he’s only going to play half a season, I’m told, has no bearing on his draft decision,” Pauline stated. “Catalon is letting people know his intention right now is to enter the draft.”
Should he return to Arkansas next year?
Catalon’s injury produced a number of questions for Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman. He assumed his star safety would return, but he told the media that they need to ask Catalon about his decision.
The first concern is the injury. Catalon underwent surgery on his labrum after just six games in 2021, so his recovery will be under the spotlight. The easiest way to avoid a big hit to his draft stock is to return for another season. He may very well be back to 100% by draft time, but only the NFL Combine or a pro day could convince teams of that.
Pauline noted that as well, saying, “the fact he’s played a half the season, I think that, you know, it’s not going to help his draft stock.” Pauline added, “[Catalon’s] not going to, I think, shoot up draft boards the way he possibly could have if he played a whole season.”
Going back to his age also brings up a good point that he’s still young in terms of his experience. Some analysts noticed missed tackles early in the year. There’s still plenty of room for growth in his game, and some believe that going back to school for another year is Catalon’s most beneficial move.