With the all-star games having passed and the Scouting Combine approaching quickly, it’s a good time to take a look at the updated big board for the 2022 NFL Draft.
While many question how working out without pads can significantly impact these players’ final grades, I argue that it’s not so much the testing numbers as much as living up to the expectation. These workouts are like the final exam at the end of a school year. The process is vital. It’s much more than the “Underwear Olympics,” as some have deemed them.
With that in mind, here are my top 2022 NFL Draft prospects leading up to the next month and a half of workouts.
2022 NFL Draft Prospects: 1-20
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, OLB/DE, Oregon
I’m not sure there will be a consensus top-overall prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, but Kayvon Thibodaux has the best combination of untapped potential and three-year production. With 35.5 TFL and 19 sacks in 30 career games, the big plays are on tape, but Thibodeux’s success as a pass rusher came primarily from his exceptional physical gifts.
As he continues to develop his pass-rush repertoire, Thibodeaux’s game will transition to that of a constant disruptor. Still, he’s outstanding against the run and his burst off the line, mixed with his power and ability to accelerate should make him a terror of the edge in the NFL.
2. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
I’ve heard plenty of scouts hype up Kyle Hamilton as the top overall prospect in this class simply because he’s the safest of anyone in the conversation. I can’t say I disagree, as the word “potential” heavily impacts many of the top 2022 NFL Draft prospects’ stock.
However, Hamilton is as proven as anyone in my top ten. He played in 31 games during his three years at Notre Dame, collecting 138 tackles, eight interceptions, and 16 pass deflections. He made his mark all over the field with a keen eye for play designs and terrific speed and discipline. With the size to match up against tight ends and the range to fit in numerous spots in zone coverage, Hamilton shouldn’t last long on draft night.
3. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
It sounds like NFL teams are split on the top tackle in this class, but I’ve got Evan Neal slightly ahead of North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross because he is the most polished of the bunch.
Ekwonu may have a little more upside than Neal, and Cross may be the better athlete, but Neal is the most NFL-ready. He is a massive player that has grown with his technique each year at Alabama. His patience, power, and balance in pass protection are terrific, and he’s worked hard to improve his pad level over the last three years.
4. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
As I said above, Ikem Ekwonu has slightly more upside than Neal, thanks to his freakish combination of size and mobility. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Mekhi Becton for Ekwonu, but he’s much more polished than Becton was coming out of Louisville.
Still, Ekwonu is a mauler who can knock people to the ground with his strike or shut them down with his grip strength. He can be a star at left tackle once he learns to play with better patience and balance (like Neal). However, there is work to be done before that becomes a reality.
5. Aidan Hutchinson, DL, Michigan
I’ve been on the record as stating that Aidan Hutchinson’s natural position is as an interior-shaded end. However, after watching his 2021 tape closely, I’m convinced that he can fit as an end in any scheme. His violent hands and ability to convert speed to power are outstanding for an edge player, and that will make up for the fact that he’s not likely to test as well as some of the top edge players we’ve seen in recent years.
Neither of the Bosa brothers tested particularly well, yet they employ some of the same strengths as Hutchinson to wreak havoc on NFL offenses. At the end of the day, his NFL position will be determined by the team that drafts him, and whether they want him to bulk back up or stay at his current weight, he’s capable of doing it.
6. Derek Stingley, CB, LSU
Derek Stingley’s name is sliding down boards for several reasons, including the list of injuries that plagued him the last two years and the lack of progression we saw from 2019 to 2020. Still, in a class that may not garner as many top-ten grades as we typically see, Stingley’s potential should keep him in the conversation of the top ten.
If Stingley plays up to his enormous potential, he will be one of the best players to come out of the 2022 NFL Draft at one of the most challenging positions to find a star. His pure athleticism, size, and length are tailor-made for what NFL teams covet at cornerback, and his ball skills are outstanding. Someone is going to swing for the fences on Stingley high in this draft, just like we’ve seen so many times with gifted corners.
7. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
There will be concerns about Tyler Linderbaum’s size, but too many teams favor zone concepts in today’s game to overlook his tremendous skill set. He has excellent mobility for the position that allows him to consistently execute reach blocks and hook his opponent, as well as make blocks on the second level.
Linderbaum’s history as a wrestler also shows up with his balance and play strength, and I love how he fights to finish blocks. He’s had an outstanding career at Iowa, and in 2021, Pro Football Focus gave him the top grade they’ve ever given a center.
8. Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
Like Stingley, most have mixed feelings about Andrew Booth. He’s got some of the best feet and hips in this class but also has a tendency to be over aggressive, which has resulted in some bad stretches. Still, there were far more encouraging reps over the last two seasons, and Booth also has tremendous ball skills.
His upside is that of a shut-down corner, and he’s got the ability to play press-man, off, or zone coverage. While teams will need to clean his game up, the upside is bound to entice someone early on day one.
9. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
My third tackle in the top 10, Charles Cross had a tremendous fall, pushing his way up to nine on my board. He trusts his athleticism in pass protection, showing exceptional patience and balance. Cross also shows terrific hand placement, although I wish he did a better job locking on.
Cross needs to get stronger in general, though he may never be a road-grader in the run game. Still, he’s the best athlete among the top tackles in this class and a natural fit on the left side.
10. DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
The 2022 NFL Draft is blessed with quite a few versatile defensive linemen, and DeMarvin Leal is one of the best. He played up and down the line at Texas A&M and wasn’t out of place, no matter where he was aligned.
His explosion off the snap is impressive, and the power in his hands and leg drive makes him a problematic defender to handle. His future defensive coordinator will have to employ some creativity to make the most of Leal’s flexibility. He is going to be a mismatch nightmare in the nickel.
11. Travon Walker, DL, Georgia
Travon Walker is another defensive lineman that can line up in a variety of spots. While I’m not sure if his play strength is quite up to par with Leal’s, he may have a little more torso and ankle flexibility to consistently get pressure off the edge.
Still, his hands are impressive, whether he’s showing off a strong punch or fighting to get free. I also love the hustle and pursuit speed we see from him. Overall, Walker is a long-armed defensive end that can fit in any system.
12. David Ojabo, DE, Michigan
While Thibodeaux is my top-ranked edge rusher, David Ojabo might be the most polished of anyone that could hear their name called in the top ten. It’s not always easy to evaluate pass rushers when you’ve got a pair of guys like Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson teeing off on quarterbacks together.
Still, the more I watched Ojabo, the more obvious it became that he is a skilled pass rusher. He combines his terrific athleticism and handwork to get after the quarterback and has an advanced mix of pass-rush moves that he implements. I won’t be shocked if he is one of the top rookie sack producers in 2022.
13. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
So often, players return to school because they want to improve their draft stock, but few take the leap Devin Lloyd did in 2021. After being a tackling machine for his first several years, thanks to his disciplined approach and keen instincts, Lloyd proved to be a three-down linebacker this past fall.
His eyes and burst started aiding him in coverage, and when he was getting his hands on pass (4 ints, 6 PD), Lloyd was getting pressure on the passer (8 sacks). He’s also a leader that infuses energy into the defense every time he gets near the ball.
14. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
It will be interesting to see the order these top cornerbacks go in this April. While Stingley and Booth have the twitchy athleticism to play in almost any coverage, Gardner is a little less versatile. Still, Gardner might be the safest of the bunch for a team that wants to consistently put their corners at the line of scrimmage.
He’s got the size, length, and smooth hips to be disruptive at the line or flip and accelerate. While Gardner does play straight up in off coverage at times, making him stiff in his transitions, some NFL coaching should help him improve in that area.
15. Drake London, WR, USC
Despite an ankle injury that brought his incredible season to an end in October, it appears Drake London may be able to take part in workouts at some point this spring. However, I’m not sure his stock will take much of a hit with no ligament damage.
London is a tall, reliable pass-catcher who runs terrific routes for a big receiver. His production through eight games rivaled some of the greatest single-seasons we’ve seen in recent history, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see London lead a team in receptions as a rookie.
16. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
There isn’t much difference in the grades I have on Drake London and Garrett Wilson, and I could see either being the first receiver selected based on their contrasting skill sets. While London’s size and length help aid him with his release and at the catch point, Wilson is just a twitchy receiver that is tough to mirror.
The former Buckeye consistently wins at the line of scrimmage with his burst and agility, and his feet and balance are outstanding at the top of his routes. While Wilson is much smaller than London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, I could still see him being a target magnet early because of how often he separates from coverage.
17. Arnold Ebiketie, OLB, Penn State
Arnold Ebiketie is another player who took his game to another level in 2021. After a solid career at Temple, he was outstanding last fall. Not only did he record a career-high 9.5 sacks, but he was also terrific against the run with 62 tackles, including 18 for loss.
His strength at the point of attack is good enough for him to play on the strong side of the formation, and his incredible athleticism would also allow him to run down plays from the backside. That athleticism is bound to shine during the pre-draft process, which is why I’ve got him ranked in the top 20.
18. Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
It didn’t take long for me to figure out why former Northern Iowa tackle, and current Buffalo Bill, Spencer Brown played primarily on the right in college. Trevor Penning has the size, arm length, and mobility teams want in a franchise tackle, and he’s more polished than you’d expect from a small-school prospect.
He does play too high at times and can also be overly aggressive, but those can be cleaned up by NFL coaching. One thing that was evident during his time at the Senior Bowl is Penning likes to put his man on the ground.
19. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Jameson Williams has a very similar grade to Drake London and Garrett Wilson, though his medical checks will play a big part in that after tearing his ACL in the National Championship. Teams will look into the extent of the damage suffered and his progress since having surgery.
It’s expected that he will regain his sub-4.4 speed, but when will be up in the air. Outside of the injury, Williams has some of the best explosion off the line in the 2022 NFL Draft, as well as some of the best deep speed.
I’m not sure he’s the complete route-runner that some of the other first-round hopefuls are in this receiver class. Still, the way he plucks the ball away from his body and turns on the gas with the ball in his hands, I wouldn’t be shocked if some teams had him as their top pass-catcher.
20. Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
McCreary is going to be a polarizing player for many teams. He’s a twitchy athlete that is terrific in off coverage thanks to his quick feet, smooth hips, and burst. However, his long speed maybe just good, not great.
In addition, he has just average size at 5’11, and his 29-inch arms won’t help matters. Some teams may limit his role to slot duty, but I’d point out that Asante Samuel had similar measurements a year ago and handled himself fine on the perimeter as a rookie. It will be interesting to see how teams view him and if the issues stand out more than the strengths.