With the college football season getting ready to kickoff, many of the 2022 NFL Draft prospects in the country are preparing to take the next step.
Still, others are looking for breakout performances that either thrust their name into the scouting community or change the narrative on their draft stock. With that in mind, let’s take a look at our top 50 prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft entering the 2021 College Football season.
2022 NFL Draft Prospects: College Football Preseason
1. Derek Stingley CB LSU
Comments: Derek Stingley has been one of the top defensive backs in college football since he stepped foot in Baton Rouge, garnering All-American honors as a true freshman. He’s got an exceptional combination of athleticism and size and can be a dominant player in press-man coverage. Not only does Stingley have the capability of shutting down receivers on the perimeter, but he also has the ball skills to create takeaways at a high level.
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux DE/OLB Oregon
Comments: Few in Oregon history have arrived with the kind of expectations Thibodeaux did in 2019. The Los Angeles native is an uber-athletic edge player that has made it a point to be equally active against the run and pass. While he needs to develop his pass-rush arsenal further, his combination of length and burst should make for a disruptive presence in any defensive scheme.
3. Spencer Rattler QB Oklahoma
Comments: In his first year as the starter in Norman, Spencer Rattler developed rapidly, which put him at the top of the quarterback conversation heading into the 2021 season. His timing and pocket presence grew immensely through 2020, and his ability to extend plays and make throws on the move can thrive in the modern NFL. Rattler plays with a ton of confidence, and his continued development under Lincoln Riley should make him a candidate to be the first player taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.
4. George Pickens WR Georgia
Comments: Most will not have Pickens this high after an ACL injury last March threatened his 2021 season. Still, Pickens can be a special receiver if he returns to full health this fall. He’s a silky-smooth athlete that is already an exceptional route-runner. Pickens also has the size and speed that make him a big-play threat in addition to being a reliable target for quarterbacks. If he fully recovers, Pickens looks like a future number-one option in the NFL.
5. Evan Neal OT Alabama
Comments: Neal is a massive player that will be moving to left tackle as a junior. After starting his career at guard, the 6’7”, 350-pound behemoth developed by leaps and bounds in his first season at right tackle in 2020. Neal is an impressive athlete for his size, and if we see the technical part of his game continue to grow, pairing it with his remarkable strength and arm length will make for the top offensive lineman in this class.
6. Kaiir Elam CB Florida
Comments: Like Stingley, Elam had instant success to open his college career thanks to his blend of size, length, and athleticism. Elam is a highly competitive player that pushes to finish every play in highlight fashion, whether he’s getting his hands on a pass, ripping the ball from the receiver’s grasp, or getting the ball-carrier to the ground. While Stingley loves to play in press-man at the line, Elam appears more comfortable in off coverage where he stays coiled like a rattlesnake ready to strike the second a receiver’s hips give the route away.
7. Kyle Hamilton S Notre Dame
Comments: Hamilton is a player that has continued to develop ever since dawning the Golden Dome. He’s instinctual in the run game, taking great angles to the football with tremendous awareness of how to attack run lanes. Hamilton also has terrific eyes in zone coverage, diagnosing route combinations quickly before breaking on his responsibility. A bit of a long-strider, thanks to his tall, lengthy build, he won’t be the twitchy centerfielder that quarterbacks fear in coverage. Still, his awareness helps him get a quick jump on passes, and he builds up speed well.
8. Adam Anderson DE/OLB Georgia
Comments: It was easy to notice Anderson while scouting Azeez Ojulari a year ago. Anderson is a very similar player, although in a slightly more slender package. Still, I think Anderson has a better idea of how to use his length and athleticism while rushing the passer than Ojulari did a year ago. He may be better suited to stand up than put his hands on the ground. The added space really allows Anderson’s lateral quickness and change-of-direction skill to shine, leaving tackles with a tough spot to block him.
9. Sam Howell QB North Carolina
Comments: Sam Howell has a cannon for an arm and started to develop more touch on his passes as the 2020 season progressed. He’s a surprising athlete for his sturdy build and can impress with his plays on the move. There are still a lot of inconsistencies with his throwing mechanics, but when he puts it all together, Howell can make some really special throws.
10. Christian Harris LB Alabama
Comments: A bowling ball of a linebacker, Harris may not be as high on other boards because his squatty build could be a detriment on passing downs, but the guy has terrific instincts in all facets of the game. When he diagnoses, Harris hits the gas and accelerates very quickly to beat blockers to the point of attack. He’s also a terrific finisher as Harris comes in low and never forgets to wrap up. He is better suited to play in zone coverage than man, where he can quickly diagnose and spring into action. Not being able to match up on running backs or tight ends may hurt his value, but he can be a difference-maker for a defense.
11. DeMarvin Leal DL Texas A&M
Comments: Leal is a scheme-versatile defensive lineman that fits best as an under tackle in a four-man front or an interior-shaded end in an odd-man front. At 290 pounds, he’s an exceptional athlete, thanks to his ability to change direction and accelerate. Texas A&M plays him as an edge player often, yet Leal does not look out of place in space. He plays with a great pad level and balance. The guy is also a violent finisher, and his motor is always running.
12. Tyler Linderbaum C Iowa
Comments: We’ve seen some athletic centers over the years, and Linderbaum certainly fits that mold. His feet are terrific, his handwork is exceptional, and the fourth-year junior fights to stay on blocks as well as any offensive lineman on this list. Linderbaum isn’t going to drive anyone off the line, but he’s going to lock onto them and keep them out of the play. At the second level, he takes good angles and plays with impressive balance to adjust to smaller, more elusive players.
13. Sevyn Banks CB Ohio State
Comments: Ohio State took a cautious approach while breaking in a new secondary last season, often lining up in off-coverage with a patient approach that didn’t highlight Banks’ tremendous burst. Still, it doesn’t take long to notice Banks is an exceptional athlete when allowed to play with more aggression. He’s also very comfortable in press-man, and while his size is just above-average, his sturdy build and ability to elevate make him seem bigger than he is. With a more experienced bunch returning on the back end, I’d like to see Ohio State trust him a little more on an island.
14. Jaxson Kirkland OT Washington
Comments: Kirkland uses outstanding balance and foot quickness to make him more of a positional blocker than a mauler. In fact, he needs to get stronger for this lofty ranking to hold up. Still, Kirkland’s ability to take proper angles and position himself accordingly with the design of the play is tremendous. I’d like to see him lock on and fight to finish blocks more often, but his ability to mirror a defender will be very intriguing for a zone-heavy scheme.
15. Chris Olave WR Ohio State
Comments: It’s not often that we see two highly-adept route-runners at the top of the class at the position, but that’s what we have in Pickens and Olave. Olave runs with terrific balance allowing him to transition well in his break and accelerate out to gain separation. He also sets up defenders well with his release and angles, and I love his concentration at the catch-point. I’m not sure his physical testing will blow anyone away, as his deep speed will be good, not great, and his size will follow suit. Still, he’s a polished player that reminds me of a smaller version of Justin Jefferson.
16. Aidan Hutchinson DL Michigan
Comments: Hutchison is similar to Leal with his scheme versatility, but his best fit is to be a five-tech end in an odd-man front. His length and power are impressive, and he moves extremely well for a player his size. Had he declared in 2020, he would have been an instant contributor against the run. Still, with him returning to Ann Arbor, I want to see him develop as a pass rusher to justify this ranking.
17. Jalen Wydermyer TE Texas A&M
Comments: An old-school tight end with the athleticism to be a star in today’s game, Wydermyer is already an accomplished blocker for the position. He’s violent with his punch and is just as good as a positional blocker as he is a strike-and-drive player. As a receiver, he needs to improve as a route runner but has the strength and focus to out-muscle his opponents at the catch-point. If he adds the polish necessary to gain separation out of his routes, I see plenty of T.J. Hockenson comparisons on the horizon.
18. Nakobe Dean LB Georgia
Comments: Dean comes in a Devin Bush-esc package in that he has a short, compact build with an exceptional ability to accelerate in pursuit. He always seems to be involved because he’s rarely not in motion on the football field. Offensive linemen rarely get their hands locked onto him, and his low center of gravity and strength make it difficult to jar him on the move.
19. J.J. Enagbare OLB/DE South Carolina
Comments: Enagbare is a powerful edge player that has seen his pass-rush repertoire get more diverse each year at South Carolina. His hands are active, he plays with tremendous balance, and he has a terrific closing burst to finish. We rarely see him try to blow by his opponent, as Enagbare prefers to attack the blocker with his long arms and strong hands. He likely fits best as a strong-side outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
20. Ahmad Gardner CB Cincinnati
Comments: Gardner is a confident, lengthy corner that has been making plays ever since he arrived at Cincinnati. He’s not exactly a strong player, but his length can be disruptive in coverage, and ball skills make him a tough player to throw at when he’s on a receiver’s hip. Gardner has very loose hips and accelerates well, making him a natural fit in a press-man scheme. As a tackler, he attacks ball carriers like an enforcer, although he doesn’t exactly have the strength of one. Still, he gets the job done.
21. Kedon Slovis QB USC
Comments: Slovis isn’t going to wow anyone with his size, arm strength, or athleticism, but there is no doubting that he can be a starter in the NFL. His balance and throwing mechanics are outstanding, giving him possibly the best accuracy in this class. He shows good touch and anticipation, and Slovis’ ball placement is usually spot-on. There are going to be plenty of comps to Kirk Cousins, and with the right cast around him, that’s not a bad thing.
22. Nik Bonitto OLB Oklahoma
Comments: There is still a lot of projection to Bonitto, as he is currently more of a finesse player that must add strength to consistently get pressure off the edge. Still, he’s got a unique skillset for an outside linebacker, with tremendous athleticism that will show up more once he’s strong enough to play through contact. He’s got a nose for the ball, and there is some scheme versatility to his game.
23. Zion Johnson OL Boston College
Comments: After starting at guard in 2019, Zion Johnson moved to left tackle last fall and looked fine despite not being built for the position. He mirrors well with a patient approach in pass protection, and his athleticism makes him a terrific positional blocker against the run. He will likely have to kick back inside at the next level, but his mobility and balance will shine for a team that likes to pull their guards or release them to the second level.
24. Brandon Joseph S Northwestern
Comments: Joseph had a breakout season in 2020 with six interceptions in nine games. He fits best on the back end, where he can roam in single-high or two-deep coverage. While he’s not exactly an enforcer coming downhill, Joseph takes a disciplined approach against the run, preferring to guarantee getting the player to the ground instead of going for the punishing blow.
25. John Metchie WR Alabama
Comments: Metchie is likely to be a favorite by many because of his approach to the game. Stuck behind the litany of future NFL receivers on that roster over the past two years, Metchie committed himself to some of the less-heralded skills of playing the position. He blocks his tail off, runs precise routes, and has reliable ball skills. Coaches and scouts will love that kind of team approach from a player with the ability to be a top-three receiver on a roster.
26. Kenyon Green OL Texas A&M
Comments: This is another ranking based on extreme physical gifts. Kenyon Green has rare strength that showed up at the guard position each of his first two years in College Station. Now, he will get his chance to kick outside, and should he prove capable, this ranking may be too low. There is still plenty of room to clean up the technical aspect of his game, which will be necessary to survive at left tackle in the SEC.
27. Andrew Booth CB Clemson
Comments: Another corner that excels at the line of scrimmage, Booth has terrific feet and loose hips that give him the ability to recover against a good release. He may have the best awareness of any corner on this list when it comes to understanding when to turn his head, and with his ball skills, it should result in high-interception totals at the next level. If there is one complaint, he needs to trust his physical gifts when receivers get a step on him, as he can get a little grabby.
28. Drake London WR USC
Comments: London is a fun player to watch, as he was often tasked with doing the dirty work over the middle for USC. A reliable possession option, London is a good enough athlete to get separation against NFL corners, and he competes at a high level. Yet, another terrific route-runner in this bunch, he has the versatility to line up in the slot or on the perimeter.
29. Noah Daniels CB TCU
Comments: Daniels’ draft stock comes from his exceptional athleticism and the comfort level he shows in both press and off coverage. However, a shoulder injury and a torn ACL have limited him to less than a handful of games over the last two seasons. When healthy, Daniels plays with a confident aggression that comes from him not being threatened by the size, athleticism, or speed of the man across from him. A healthy 2021 would go a long way to justifying this ranking.
30. Justyn Ross WR Clemson
Comments: Like Daniels and several other players on this list, scouts will closely monitor Ross’ health and medical checks between now and next April. Ross was on track to be one of the top receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft when his career suddenly came to a halt when doctors found a congenital fusion in his spine. Still, he’s fully cleared and exceptionally gifted. Not many receivers that combine his size and length, play with his level of athleticism. Ross has a history of making insane catches that few can haul in. If the medical checks come back favorably, this ranking will be too low.
31. Malik Willis QB Liberty
Comments: This class has quite a few talented quarterbacks that could shoot up the board with a strong year, and Willis is in that mix. He’s a dynamic athlete who can make defenses pay when he gets into the open field, and Willis has a ton of arm strength. However, he must improve the consistency of his throwing mechanics to make that big jump as a passer. Willis throws off balance and alters his throwing motion far too often, and his ball placement and overall accuracy suffer. Scouts will get an honest look at his upside as a passer if he can clean that part of his game up.
32. Trent McDuffie CB Washington
Comments: McDuffie is a fun player to watch as he’s got a natural feel for the game that keeps him involved. He’s an aggressive corner with the mentality of a safety once he locates the ball carrier. At 5’11” and 195 pounds, he doesn’t have great size, but he plays bigger. I wouldn’t be shocked if teams targeted him with a hybrid role in mind that asks him to play in the slot and as a safety. No matter where he lines up, McDuffie brings a ton of effort and energy to the field.
33. Zach Harrison DE Ohio State
Comments: When he signed to play at Ohio State, Harrison was touted as the next great pass rusher, following in the steps of Joey and Nick Bosa, as well as Chase Young. At 6’6” and around 270 pounds, he’s got tremendous size, as well as tremendous speed for his size. However, he hasn’t exactly developed at the same pace as some of his predecessors and doesn’t make the most of his incredible skill set. Still, if Harrison can make a jump with his technical ability and overall feel for the game, he’s going to shoot up draft boards.
34. Jordan Davis DT Georgia
Comments: Davis is a massive nose tackle that can really make his presence felt when he keeps his pad level down. There are times where teams have no choice but to double him because his size and strength are too much to handle one on one. Davis also moves surprisingly well for a player listed at 340 pounds, but keeping his weight under control will be a constant focus during his career.
35. George Karlaftis DE Purdue
Comments: Karlaftis is a smart, high-energy player whose been making plays ever since he showed up on campus. He plays with great leverage and strength, and his motor never stops. The Greek-born pass rusher may not have some of the natural gifts that others on this list possess. Still, his hands are always active in his rush, and once he gets an edge, Karlaftis shows the desire to finish.
36. Breece Hall RB Iowa State
Comments: My top running back heading into 2021, Hall will not blow anyone away with his big-play ability. He’s a determined runner that shows terrific vision and contact balance, as well as the will to grind out tough yards. He may never be more than a check-down option in the passing game, but he does have the build to hold up in pass protection.
37. Jarrett Patterson C Notre Dame
Comments: Patterson is an athletic center that has been a part of a talented offensive line for the past two years. Now, he’s the veteran of that group and looking to follow in the footsteps of Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Brooks, who were drafted in the second round last April. Like my top center, Linderbaum, Patterson should fit best in a zone-heavy scheme where his technique and mobility can shine. One area I’d like to see him improve is with his balance, as he can sometimes be too aggressive and lunge.
38. Zion Nelson OT Miami
Comments: Nelson is a highly athletic left tackle with great length. However, his overall strength and refinement have been an ongoing development during his time at Miami. He’s up over 300 pounds now, but there is still room for his frame and lower body to add strength, which will be essential for his draft stock to remain this high. I love his mobility at the position, and ideally, Nelson fits best in a zone-blocking scheme.
39. Mike Jones LB LSU
Comments: After starting on and off during his time at Clemson, Jones transferred to LSU, where he will play a more traditional linebacker position. Still, I think the transition will see him have a breakout campaign. A former quarterback and safety in high school, Jones has outstanding speed and quickness to make plays from sideline to sideline. Like Jabril Cox, who transferred to LSU a year ago before being drafted by Dallas, Jones can be a game-changer in coverage and should bring energy and leadership to LSY this fall.
40. Drake Jackson DE/OLB USC
Comments: Jackson has a lot to prove in 2021 for this ranking to be accurate, but to be fair, USC has bounced him around a lot. He’s got 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 17 career games, but there are too many snaps where Jackson isn’t lined up on the edge, his natural position. He’s explosive with great length, and Jackson can change direction seamlessly, making him a terror for opposing tackles. If they keep him on the edge, he should have a breakout campaign in a conference with several top-end tackle prospects.
41. Garrett Wilson WR Ohio State
Comments: I see flashes of Jerry Jeudy when watching Garrett Wilson as an elusive receiver that can change direction and accelerate on a dime. Having Wilson and Chris Olave in the same offense actually limits both because they are each so dangerous in the slot. Still, it’s not a bad thing for Wilson to have to line up on the perimeter, considering it opens him up to the entire route tree. I’ve got Olave ranked higher because he’s more experienced and proven to be more versatile at this point, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Wilson has pulled even with him by the season’s end.
42. Myjai Sanders DE Cincinnati
Comments: Sanders has exceptional burst off the snap, and like Jackson, he can change direction without issue. He’s also got terrific length for the position, and he brings a ton of energy to the defense. Still, Sanders has to get stronger. When blockers get their hands on him, we see him struggle to have the same impact, and he won’t be able to blow by everyone at the next level. Adding the requisite strength and learning how to blend it with his athleticism will be his challenge in 2021, and it could vault him into the first-round conversation.
43. Rasheed Walker OT Penn State
Comments: This offensive line group doesn’t have many maulers behind Evan Neal, but Walker fits that category. He’s got tremendous lower-body strength, and when Walker gets under his opponents and drives his feet, defenders are at his mercy. He can be a little over-aggressive, and I’d like to see him lock on more often. Still, as Walker gets more consistent, his natural athleticism and strength will be an irresistible combination that could shoot him ahead of some of the other tackles on this list.
44. Isaiah Spiller RB Texas A&M
Comments: Spiller does a lot of things really well, but I’m not sure if there is one particular area that he’s great. Still, when a running back plays with good vision, balance, and strength, it’s a good recipe for a productive NFL runner. Spiller also plays with an urgency about him, constantly looking for one last crease to grind out extra yards. Like my top back Breece Hall, Spiller needs to work on what he offers on third downs, but he’s got the athleticism and strength to develop in that area too.
45. Jordan Battle S Alabama
Comments: Battle is an old-school box safety that has an enforcer’s mentality in pursuit. He can occasionally be too aggressive, and I’d like to see his over angles improve, but Battle is a strong finisher when he gets to the ball. Against the pass, he’s much more comfortable in zone coverage, especially when he’s closer to the line of scrimmage. I’m not sure he’ll ever be great in man coverage, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he played more of a linebacker role on obvious passing downs.
46. Perrion Winfrey DT Oklahoma
Comments: A JUCO-transfer, Winfrey got his first taste of Big 12 football last fall, where he impressed as a rotational player. He’s explosive off the snap, while driving his feet and shooting his hands to get penetration into the backfield. At 290 pounds, Winfrey is a terrific athlete, and that shouldn’t change if he bulks up to play on the interior full time. If not, I could see him being a better fit as a five-tech end in an odd-man front. He must continue to develop more of a plan rushing the passer, and his violent approach can sometimes pull his eyes off the play. Still, the upside is there to be one of the top interior linemen in this class.
47. Romeo Doubs WR Nevada
Comments: While most of the receivers on this list have diverse skillsets, Doubs is more of a one-trick pony. Still, few in the country can match his long speed and ability to track the ball, making him one of the most dangerous deep threats in college football. I’m not saying he’s an incompetent route-runner, but he’s got more of a Will Fuller-esc skillset where he’s much more dangerous running in a straight line than relying on his change-of-direction ability. His quarterback, Carson Strong, narrowly missed out on making this list, and the pair should be in for a big year in 2021.
48. Darian Kinnard OT Kentucky
Comments: While many are quick to predict Kinnard shifting inside in the NFL, I’ve not yet given up on him remaining at tackle. Yes, the lateral movement, hand placement, and timing need to get better. Kinnard can also slip into phases where he becomes more of a shover instead of locking onto his opponent. Still, he’s a powerful player with a similar build and skillset to La’el Collins, who was able to stay at tackle when many (including me) had his best NFL position being at guard. After spending the last two years at right tackle, Kinnard is shifting back to the left for his senior year. If he can prove capable on the blindside, his stock could shoot up from here.
49. Desmond Ridder QB Cincinnati
Comments: There are times I see a little of Justin Herbert in Ridder. He’s got a smooth, quick delivery, and the ball really pops off his fingertips. Ridder is also a terrific athlete that can extend plays and even make defenders pay in the open field. Still, there’s room for him to develop into a more consistent passer, despite being a three-year starter. For starters, his feet are quick, but his base can be inconsistent, and his accuracy can suffer. I’d like to see him throw with touch and anticipation more often as well, and his ball placement needs to get better in general.
50. Abe Lucas OT Washington State
Comments: Lucas is a massive right tackle that thrives in pass protection thanks to his length and patient, technically sound approach. Even against top-notch pass rushers like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Drake Jackson, Lucas trusts his size and technique to keep him in the play, despite having less-than-desirable lateral quickness. Where Lucas really needs to grow is in the run game. They rarely ask him to fire off the ball or perform combo blocks at Washington State, and he’s very limited in his ability to execute blocks in space or on the second level. Still, with the NFL becoming so much more of a pass-happy league, Lucas could be an instant starter on the right side.
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