It is hard to believe it is already November. The first round of College Football Playoff rankings have already dropped and the second edition will already see a new top 4 following Michigan State’s loss to Purdue. While I have thoroughly enjoyed this wild college football season, I am also looking ahead to the 2022 NFL draft. This class is one of the most interesting ones we have had in recent years. Without an elite quarterback prospect, this group is dominated by elite offensive and defensive linemen. For the countless general managers who love to build in the trenches, this class is going to be a really fun one.
I already dropped my first mock draft of the year last week, but now I turn my attention to my first big board of the 2022 draft cycle. Mock drafts focus more on team fits, positional value and need. Big boards solely look at who the best prospects are to compete at the next level. While yes, it is likely that a quarterback goes in the top five picks, I do not have any ranked among my top 15 prospects. It is also unusual to see teams taking a safety in the top five, and just because Kyle Hamilton is a top-five player, it does not mean I think he will be a top-five draft pick.
This group has already been a fun one to break down and I have tons more film to go through before we reach draft day. I’ve watched at least two games for just about all of the prospects I have ranked below. This is far from set in stone. It is merely my initial assessment of where these prospects stack up. Without further ado, let’s get to these future NFL stars.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
There really isn’t anything Kayvon Thibodeaux can’t do. He is dominant as a pass rusher and disruptive against the run. He brings all of the projectables you want to see from a top-end edge rusher. With his length, bend and burst off the edge, he can line up with hand in the dirt or as a standup pass rusher. His ability to change the game makes him the top prospect in this class.
2. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Size, speed and power. Evan Neal has it all. At 6’7”, 360 lbs, he is a mountain of a man, but moves like someone at least 100 pounds lighter than him. He has experience on both sides of the line, but has shown he is more than capable of holding his own in pass protection this year in the SEC. He has all the tools to be a franchise left tackle. He flashes some moments on film where he just flat out dominates opposing linemen. He did it to DeMarvin Leal earlier this season. I think he will be one of the top five players off the board come April.
3. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Independent of position, Kyle Hamilton is one of the best players in this draft. Obviously, we don’t see too many safeties that go in the top three, but Hamilton could genuinely be worth the selection. Unlike Jamal Adams, he has the coverage ability to make him worth the selection this early in the draft. However, he is still a hard hitter who wraps up well and can play just about anywhere you want in coverage. His range makes him a complete player.
4. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
If it is possible, breaking his leg in 2020 was likely a great thing for Aidan Hutchinson. He was in the mix to go in the top 50 last season. Now, it will be a surprise to see Hutchinson fall out of the top 10. He is a problem for opposing offensive lines in pass protection. He has six sacks this season and the length needed to succeed in the NFL. I expect him to test pretty well at the combine and at his pro day as well to bolster his draft stock.
5. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Injuries have started to hurt Derek Stingley Jr.’s draft stock. When he has played this year, he has not looked like the elite shutdown corner we saw in 2019 and much of 2020. He has the physical tools and tape to be a top-five pick. However, he is going to need to answer a lot of questions in the pre-draft process. Otherwise, we could see Stingley start sliding much further down draft boards.
6. Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Pick a position on the offensive line, Kenyon Green has most likely played it. He has taken snaps at every spot except center this year. Many see him fitting best as a guard at the next level, but he has been Texas A&M’s starting left tackle for much of this season. He has not done much to indicate he cannot play tackle in the NFL, but measurements and testing numbers might dictate how teams view him.
7. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Purdue has been a giant killer this season. George Karlaftis is a big part of the reason the Boilermakers are making noise on the national stage. He has not put up the huge pass rushing numbers so far this season, but his impact can be seen on tape. He is very capable of turning the corner and chasing down opposing running backs and quarterbacks. He is a quick-twitch athlete with plenty of upside that should land him in the top 10.
8. DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Something of a tweener, DeMarvin Leal has plenty of experience at end and at tackle from his time at Texas A&M. I like him best on the interior. That’s not to say he cannot play out on the edge, but I think he projects best as a defensive tackle. His ability to beat interior offensive line off the snap with his quickness is incredibly impactful. He has the strength to fight through run blocks as well. Teams needing a 1-technique or 3-technique player should be all over Leal.
9. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
One of my favorite players in this draft class, I’ve been banging the drum for Devin Lloyd since 2019. He jumped out to me on film when watching Bradlee Anae. His athleticism and nose for the football stood out. He can do a little bit of everything, evidenced by his 81 tackles, 6 sacks and 3 interceptions in 2021. Sometimes, he is guilty of being over aggressive and not reading his keys, but he is usually an instinctive, downhill player with good production.
10. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Given his size, Tyler Linderbaum won’t be for everyone. He is listed at 6’3”, 290 lbs, which is definitely a little light for interior linemen in the NFL. However, he is one of the most agile linemen in the country and has some nastiness to his blocking. For any team that runs a zone blocking scheme or one that emphasizes pulling linemen to block, he would be an excellent fit. Despite that slightly smaller frame, he is still more than capable of blowing opposing defensive linemen off the ball and putting them on the ground.
11. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The man known as Sauce is certainly no secret. He is arguably the best player on Cincinnati. Desmond Ridder and Myjai Sanders might have something to say about that. One thing is for sure, he is definitely the best NFL prospect on this team. A big corner, Ahmad Gardner is a press man corner with experience in zone schemes. I think he has the size and traits to be a true No. 1 corner at the next level.
12. Drake London, WR, USC
Despite a broken ankle, Drake London is my No. 1 wide receiver right now. He reminds me a lot of Mike Evans in his play style. Given his size and ability to catch the ball away from his body, he is a mismatch for most opposing corners. His production this season certainly points to that. He eclipsed 1,000 yards in just eight games. USC threw at him a lot too, as he recorded at least nine catches in all but one game this year. He certainly has room to improve his route running, but I like what he brings to the table.
13. Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
After watching Jordan Davis, it is fair to wonder how people that large are able to move that fast. Davis is 6’6”, 340 lbs, but he has burst off the line of scrimmage. He can collapse the pocket and stuff the run. On tape, he displays good play strength and a solid understanding of gap assignments. It is fair to wonder how much he benefits from playing with the talent around him. That being said, there is no way Georgia linebackers would look as good without him eating up blocks in front of them.
14. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Garrett Wilson’s production won’t blow you away. It is solid, with 687 yards and 6 touchdowns on 43 catches, but far from breaking any records. However, his tape tells a different story. He has the stop-and-start ability to make defenders miss, reliable hands and a well-developed route tree. He is an all-around receiver who can fit some different roles as needed.
15. Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
When you look at Drake Jackson’s athletic profile, it is easy to see how he fits at the NFL level. He is built like a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, standing 6’4″, 255 lbs. While primarily serving as a pass rusher, Jackson does have a couple of snaps where he drops into coverage, mostly in the flats. It definitely his not is strong suit, but it is good to see him show he is capable of being a three-down player. Why teams will be interested though is because of his quick first step and tantalizing length. He understands the importance of keeping contain, but still has room to grow as a block shedder. He is an intriguing prospect.
16. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
The Athletic called him the most feared offensive linemen in the ACC. Put on the film and it is easy to see why. Ikem Ekwonu blocks to the whistle on just about every play, many of which involve him putting defenders on the ground. He shows some incredible raw power as a run blocker and is fairly polished in pass protection. There is room for improvement when it comes to his balance and footwork, but that mostly points to a higher ceiling for him to reach given all his physical gifts.
17. Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA
There are a few things I really like about Sean Rhyan’s game. He always keeps the play in front of him. He slides his feet well and keeps his head up to see what he is hitting. I can’t tell you how many offensive linemen I watch that drop their heads as they lean into a block. You won’t see that very often with Rhyan. He has decent athleticism for the position but it won’t blow you away. If he can take the next step as a run blocker, he could push himself even higher up my board.
18. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
This is not the year to desperately need a quarterback. That’s not to say Matt Corral won’t succeed in the NFL. His play style and traits are reminiscent of Baker Mayfield, maybe without the same arm strength. Corral does show nice zip on his passes, but his ball placement is inconsistent. He has a good internal clock, but there are moments where he hangs onto the ball too long. He has enough athleticism to hang in the modern NFL, but he won’t be putting up huge rushing numbers. There is definitely a bit of room for improvement if he can improve his accuracy.
19. Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
The latest example of the modern day NFL linebacker, Christian Harris is built like a linebacker, but moves like a safety. He has great closing speed and flashes impressive strength as a pass rusher against backs and tight ends. He is a very effective blitzer and has more than enough range to play in coverage. So far, he has not shown the awareness or ability to work through run blocks to be a middle linebacker, but he could fit really well as an outside backer in a 4-3 scheme.
20. Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
I tend to be a fan of taller corners. If you take a look at the top outside corners around the NFL, most are at least 5’11”. Jaire Alexander is pretty much the only elite corner below that threshold, and he is 5’10”. All of that to say that Andrew Booth Jr. checks all the physical boxes for a top outside corner. He has plus athleticism and good ball skills as well. This is more of a projection as to where he could end up, but there is a lot to like so far.
21. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
This offensive line class is shaping up to be a pretty good one. Charles Cross has all the physical tools to be a really good right tackle and the potential to start as a blindside protector down the line. He is physical in the ground game, even if Mississippi State’s offense does not run the ball much. Cross’ 2021 film shows some improved hand placement and technique in pass protection, but I am concerned by how consistently he is beaten across his face, a cardinal sin in pass blocking. If he can fix the problem, likely oversetting in pass blocking kick, he will move up on my board.
22. Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Another long, tall corner, Kaiir Elam has all the traits to be a good press-man corner. He is 6’2” with good open field speed and shows physicality on film. I haven’t been able to watch too much of his 2021 film yet, but his 2020 film shows some room for improvement in zone and off coverage. He is definitely better when he is allowed to keep contact with opposing receivers. I’m excited to dig into more of his tape from this year.
23. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Much like Trey Lance and Jordan Love as prospects before him, Malik Willis has exciting physical traits and some truly spectacular plays on film, but struggles with consistency and has a lot of developing to do before he is ready to be a starting NFL quarterback. The arm talent is clearly there, but he holds onto the ball way too long and has not learned to throw it away. Following a hot start, he has come back down to earth. He now has three games this season with three interceptions. He also took a staggering nine sacks against Ole Miss. Some of that is on his offensive line, but Willis needs to identify the rush and learn to get rid of the football when he knows the pressure is coming.
24. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Another year, another incredibly talented Alabama wide receiver. Jameson Williams is not quite as polished or physically dominant as Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, but he is a solid route runner with good hands and a knack for the big play. He has surpassed John Metchie as the top receiver in Alabama’s offense. I will be really interested to see how he tests during the pre draft process.
25. Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Much of the early scouting process is focused on identifying traits in players that can translate to the NFL. It does not take long to start seeing how Daxton Hill’s traits could translate. He posted the highest SPARQ rating in the 2019 recruiting class and you can see his clear speed and burst when you watch him fly around in Michigan’s defense. He also has reps in man-to-man coverage out of the slot. With experience at both safety spots, he could be a versatile chess piece for defensive coordinators to move around at the next level.
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