World Cup 2022: Rest of World Team

Every four years the FIFA’s Men’s World Cup dazzles the globe. Most of the best soccer players get the opportunity to vault themselves, and their nation, into the spotlight, and maybe even the history books. However, only 32 teams get to play in the Men’s World Cup and so there are always talented players left to watch the big tournament from home. FIFA is addressing this by expanding the Men’s World Cup to 48 teams in 2026, meaning this 2022 iteration may be the last time where a glutton of big stars miss the tournament. What if we took all of those players whose nation’s did not qualify and placed them on one team? To imagine player combinations which we don’t usually see is part of the fun that international soccer provides. In this article, I am going to do just that: have some fun creating a hypothetical World Cup team comprised of player who’s nations did not qualify.

Most of the time, such imagined “Rest of World” teams only pick from the top 2-3 teams that missed out on qualification. For 2018, imagine an Italy/Netherlands combo team with a sprinkling of non-European players. In creating my own “Rest of World” team, I wanted to be a little more creative so I added a simple, yet limiting, rule: I am only allowed to pick 1 player from each country to join my team. This made for some tough choices which I will explore below.

Before sharing my team, a few more parameters: I chose a 26-man roster, as it is rumored each nation will be allowed 26 players in 2022. I did not include players whose nation qualified, but they are outside of their nation’s World Cup roster (sorry Hakim Ziyech of Morocco), as it made the pool of players almost too big, and we don’t know the official World Cup rosters yet. Also, given my 1-player-per-country rule, there are many permutations of this team. The team I name below is not a definitive team, simply the one I chose. If I didn’t pick your favorite player, or I missed a player, it’s not a knock on them. There are only so many spots on the roster and so many players deserving of a spot! I also went with a relatively standard 4-3-3 shape which affected my choices. With that, here is my roster followed by a breakdown of my choices:

Name (International team, Club team)

Goalkeeper (3): Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy, Paris-Saint Germain), Jan Oblak (Slovenia, Atletico Madrid), Odysseas Vlachodimos (Greece, Benfica)

Right-back (2): Mehmet Zeki Çelik (Turkey, Lille), Elseid Hysaj (Albania, Lazio)

Center-back (4): Guillermo Maripán (Chile, AS Monaco), Milan Škriniar (Slovakia, Inter Milan), Stefan Savić (Montenegro, Atletico Madrid), Willi Orbán (Hungary, RB Leipzig)

Left-back (2): Andy Robertson (Scotland, Liverpool), Arthur Masuaku (Democratic Republic of the Congo, West Ham)

Defensive Midfielder (3): Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria, Leicester City), Tomáš Souček (Czech Republic, West Ham), Renato Tapia (Peru, Celta Vigo)

Central Midfielder (4): Emil Forsberg (Sweden, RB Leipzig), Amadou Haidara (Mali, RB Leipzig), Konrad Laimer (Austria, RB Leipzig), Naby Keita (Guinea, Liverpool)

Wingers/Attacking Midfielders (5): Mohamed Salah (Egypt, Liverpool), Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, Algeria), Luis Diaz (Colombia, Liverpool), Elif Elmas (North Macedonia, Napoli), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia, AS Roma)

Strikers (3): Erling Haaland (Norway, Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon, FC Barcelona) Sébastien Haller (Ivory Coast, Ajax)

First of all, let’s acknowledge that, despite any limitation I put on myself, this team is *stacked like pancakes*. Almost every player plays in a traditional Top 5 league in Europe, many of which are Champions League caliber, and those who aren’t are at the very least playing on mid-table teams if not Europa League or Conference League teams. This team would pretty easily be competitive at the World Cup. Most of these players fell into one of four categories of my decision making process.

The Easy Choices. I found some national teams where one player stood out amongst the rest and made me say “Well I gotta pick him”. This includes, Salah, Aubameyang, Mahrez, Haaland, Haidara, Keita, Ndidi, Skriniar, Oblak, and Vlachodimos. While these mostly seemed like obvious choices, some did eliminate other good players from selection. For example, by picking Haaland, arguably the best young striker in the world, I eliminate the option of picking Martin Ødegaard, who isn’t at Haaland’s level, but is still a great player in his own right. Similarly with picking Mahrez over Bennacer from Algeria. Bennacer is a great player, but not as great as Mahrez. This is also where I noticed “Between, Salah, Haidara, and Keita, I have some players used to playing in a high press. Maybe I should run with that”.

Difficult Decisions. There were some teams where I had to pick between two or three solid players of a similar level. In these cases, it depended on what positions I needed and whether I thought they would fit my “high pressing” scheme. This includes Colombia, Ivory Coast, Sweden, Scotland, Chile. Luis Diaz, Andy Robertson, and Emil Forsberg were all selected over their countrymen because each of them play on club teams that like to press. Instead of Diaz, I could have chosen Colombia’s ‘keeper Ospina. Picking Forsberg eliminated Lindeloff from Sweden as a right-back. Picking Robertson eliminated Tierney and McTominay from Scotland as a left-back and central midfielder, respectively.

Wealth of Riches. There were a few teams where I could pick almost any player from their Starting XI to fit into this roster. The obvious team being Italy who won the 2020 European Championship, and then somehow flopped in World Cup qualification for a second cycle in a row. It is perhaps because of Italy’s quality that I chose their goalkeeper, Donnarumma, as my sole Italian. A ‘keeper can often have the most influence on a game relative to any individual field player. Plus, Italy’s defensive record is a large part of what won them that 2020 Euro’s tournament. Austria also provided me with plenty of options but again my high press theme made Laimer an easy choice as he is a teammate with Haidara and Forsberg at Leipzig. Although, it wasn’t easy to leave off Alaba after he and Real Madrid won the Champions League this season.

Filling in the Gaps. Lastly I had to assess where I was missing players in my roster. This is where positional needs pushed some players ahead of others on their national team. For example, I was in need of right-backs and found Celik from Turkey. On the other hand, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Turkey’s captain, might be a “higher profile” player in the eyes of many. Then again, Çalhanoğlu doesn’t seem to fit my high press scheme, so he would likely start on my bench. Am I going to bring Çalhanoğlu as a sub and then dig deeper at the right-back spot? For me, it made more sense to bring Celik. This is also the point where I found some fun standouts who usually wouldn’t be included in these “Rest of World” teams. This included Albanian defender Hysaj, Elif Elmas of North Macedonia, and Masuaku of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Honorable Mentions. These are the players who stood out on their national teams but missed the cut for me: Omar Alderete (Paraguay, Valencia), Amir Rrahmani (Kosovo, Napoli), Yangel Herrera (Venezuela, Espanyol), Edin Džeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Inter Milan), Eldor Shomurodov (Uzbekistan, Roma), Amir Murillo (Panama, Anderlecht), Alberth Elis (Honduras, Bordeaux), Michail Antonio (Jamaica, West Ham), Lukáš Hrádecký (Finland, Bayer Leverkusen), and Mu’nas Dabbur (Israel, 1899 Hoffenheim), Chris Wood (New Zealand, Newcastle United).

Lastly, how well would this team would do at the World Cup? 19 out of 26 of these players will be playing Champions League next year with 4 more playing in Champions League Qualifying, Europa League, or Conference League. This compares relatively well to teams which are considered favorites to win the competition, such as France, Brazil, England, and Germany. Of course, this team would have much less chemistry, so they would likely not play as cohesively as the favorites. At the same time, no one can scout them since they never played together before this. I think the disadvantages of being an All-Star-style team outweigh any advantages. Therefore, I would not call them favorites, but I think you could call them contenders. I would expect them to at least make it out of their group, likely win their Round of 16 game, and put in a good fight in the quarter-finals.

That’s all I have, let me know if you have a different “Rest of World” roster of your own! Hit me up at @BeardedJack on Twitter.

NFL Draft Daily: Wrapping up my early look at the 2023 quarterback class

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 328 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

I’m finally back to wrap up these quarterbacks. Turns out I needed a little break after the draft and sometimes life has its way of throwing other things your way.

It’s time for Part 3 of my watchlist, which includes 36 quarterbacks in total. Part 1 featured a lot of big names and Part 2 had a number of guys that could make things interesting with a big year. Part 3 of this loaded class has a couple of wild cards heading into this year that I think could make some noise. My final group also includes a few guys that have a lot to prove this year or likely candidates to return to school for another season. Let’s dive into these final 10 QBs.

Clayton Tune, Houston
I definitely did not pick the best game to watch for Tune. He threw four interceptions in the season opener against Texas Tech in 2021. As it turned out, it would be one of just two losses for Houston all season, in part due to Tune’s impressive play. He finished the year with over 3,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. He cannot afford to have meltdowns like he did against the Red Raiders, where he was way too careless with the ball. Decision making can be improved though.

Payton Thorne, Michigan State
This final group is definitely not among the favorites to be selected early in the draft. Thorne is no exception. Following an impressive 2021 season, he will be on the radar at least heading into the 2023 draft. He has good touch on his throws, but lacks elite arm strength. He is a solid athlete showing his ability to make plays on read options this past year. He definitely benefited from a lot of short passes and screens in the Michigan State offense. I would like to see him hit some more NFL throws more consistently this year across the middle and in rhythm with his receivers. Those throws are there on his 2021 film, but few and far between.

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State
There was a time that I was very excited for Bachmeier to be draft eligible. The excitement has dropped off some, but he put together a solid junior season and I think could be in the mix as a late-round selection. He has a strong arm and throws a nice deep ball. The ball placement is a bit spotty at times. He has struggled with injuries, but he finally put together a full season in 2021. He is a decent scrambler, but he doesn’t do it too often. A bit undersized as well, he has a lot of questions to answer, but I like what he could become.

Jaren Hall, BYU
Meet Hall, your typical fifth-year junior. COVID has really messed up eligibility for a long time to come. On first watch, my initial assessment of Hall is that he is incredibly mobile and can throw on the run, but he is much less effective playing from the pocket. His accuracy is inconsistent and he overthrew a number of receivers downfield in the game I watched. That being said, I could see him having a ton of success in an offense that moves the pocket and allows him to roll out. It plays to his strengths and helps minimize the impact of his smaller frame.

Dylan Hopkins, UAB
Here’s a name you probably haven’t heard too much. Hopkins led UAB to a strong season with 18 touchdowns in his first full season as the starter. We don’t have a huge sample size with him given that he only attempted 235 passes last year. For reference, that’s less than half the number of attempts Bryce Young had in 2021. What I have seen is a player with a solid arm and a pretty deep ball. He also uses his eyes well to freeze or hold defenders. My concerns with Hopkins come to his mobility. He is not very quick in escaping the pocket and does not look overly comfortable throwing on the run. Hopefully, UAB will let him cut it loose a bit more often in 2022.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
From a name you don’t know to one you have likely heard of. Thompson-Robinson, aka DTR, arrived at UCLA with a ton of fanfare. He has not quite delivered on the hype, but he has developed into a solid player. A clear dual-threat option, he is a really fun player to watch in the open field. His accuracy is a bit inconsistent, with him missing high on a number of occasions down the field. The throwing motion is a bit elongated as well. The physical traits are enticing, but I think he would really need to work on his mechanics to have a shot at the next level. He will need to be a bit more polished to garner attention heading into his fifth season with the Bruins.

Jayden Daniels, LSU
One of the most interesting transfers of this entire offseason, Daniels leaves an Arizona State program under fire for an LSU program that has a bit of a checkered history in its own right. One thing is undeniable though, Daniels will have weapons to work with in Baton Rouge. Kayshon Boutte and Jaray Jenkins are proven commodities at the college level. The Tigers have a few up-and-comers as well. Daniels will need to bounce back after throwing as many touchdowns (10) as he did interceptions in 2021. He has a very compact and quick throwing motion, but his footwork is a mess. The accuracy is good, but not great. I think it could improve with better footwork actually. As a runner, he is one of the best, scrambling to pick up extra yards and very capable on designed runs. He will get a chance to prove himself in the SEC this season.

Cameron Ward, Washington State
Hat tip to my favorite subreddit NFL_Draft for putting this guy on my radar. A former FCS quarterback at Incarnate Word, Ward won the Jerry Rice award. He has a very quick release and looks very comfortable playing from the pocket. Now, he will have a chance to prove himself in a Power Five conference after transferring to Washington State. He will get some real tests at Camp Randall this September and then in Pac-12 play. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed another year, but he has the potential to be an NFL quarterback.

Cade McNamara, Michigan
I had an old friend from high school reach out to me to ask why McNamara wasn’t part of my first two entries. After all, McNamara became the first Michigan quarterback to beat Ohio State since Denard Robinson. Plus, the Wolverines did reach the College Football Playoffs. McNamara undoubtedly benefits from a run-heavy scheme, but he is still talented. He lacks elite arm strength, but he has a nice deep ball. His release is a bit of a concern. His side-arm style leads to a number of passes to be batted at the line of scrimmage. I don’t think he will be garnering first-round attention, but he could be a late-round draft pick come April.

D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson
I’m going to be completely honest. I forgot about Uiagalelei when I first started putting together my watch list. He went from the dazzling replacement to Trevor Lawrence to an afterthought in just one season. I still don’t know what happened to the guy who racked up 439 yards passing and three total touchdowns against Notre Dame in 2020. Looking at his 2021 tape, his accuracy is all over the place. His throwing motion is a bit elongated. As a runner, he has a bit of wiggle, but he is not a burner by any means. He doesn’t have as much power as you would expect for a player listed at 250 pounds either. There are still some special moments on film and his physical traits are great, but none of that is going to matter if he continues to complete 55 percent of his passes and throw only nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

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NFL Draft Daily: Continuing to take an early look at the 2023 quarterback class

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 345 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Who is ready for part 2? I started my early look at the 2023 quarterback class Monday with my first 15 quarterbacks that I have started to evaluate heading into this 2022 college football season. There are still a lot of games to be played and a lot of work to be done before I am anywhere near ranking these players, but this has been a good way to start learning the names of the prospects that will make up this draft class.

As I have mentioned a few times, this is one of the deepest quarterback classes that I can remember. There are nearly three dozen quarterbacks currently on my watch list, which is simply outrageous. Not all of them will get drafted and there is a good chance many of them will return to school given the bonus year of eligibility granted to all NCAA athletes following the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this to say, I will actually be dropping a part 3 to my watchlist on Wednesday. It’s been a busy week of watching film and I don’t want to shortchange any of these prospects by not taking at least a few minutes to get to know their game. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into this second batch of quarterbacks, featuring 11 more draft-eligible passers.

Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
One of the more intriguing prospects in this draft class, Jurkovec had some big-time draft buzz surrounding him before he got hurt and missed half the season. He began his college career at Notre Dame before transferring to BC in 2020. He turned a lot of heads that season, taking over the starting job and posting some solid numbers. He has a prototypical NFL body, listed at 6’5″, 214 pounds. However, he lacks elite arm strength, oftentimes leading to him throwing short or low to his intended target. His arm is good enough to make it in the pros though. He is a solid runner, with the ability to extend plays outside the pocket. You will see some really nice touch passes on his film. I want to see how he plays fully healthy, because he did not look right when he returned last season.

Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
Armstrong took a massive step forward in 2021, accounting for over 4,449 passing yards and 40 total touchdowns. He rewrote much of Virginia’s record book in doing so. While the numbers look nice, his throwing motion does not. It is elongated and a bit unorthodox. It definitely impacts his accuracy at times and limits his ability to throw on the run. He has decent arm strength with the ability to stretch the field. Additionally, he uses his legs well to extend plays and scramble for extra yards, even if he does not possess blazing speed. If he can shorten up his throwing motion and cut down on the interceptions a little bit, I think there will be some NFL teams interested.

Tanner McKee, Stanford
It is hard to miss the latest Stanford quarterback to garner attention from NFL draft scouts. That may have something to do with the fact that he is 6’6″ and 226 pounds. McKee is a long-levered passer with a strong arm who has some inconsistencies with his accuracy and ball placement. He flashes decent wiggle in the pocket and can scramble for some extra yards when the play breaks down. I’ve only watched one game of him so far, and nothing popped that made me think he is going to be a special player, but he does a lot of the little things well. I would love to see him put a little more touch on his throws. He has a chance to answer a lot of questions in his second year as the starter.

Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
If you are looking for a gunslinger, this might be your guy. Hartman excels in Wake Forest’s wide open vertical passing game. His 508 pass attempts in 2021 were the fifth most in the country. Unfortunately, he has a career completion percentage of 57.7, including a 58.9 mark this past year. That being said, Hartman looks like an NFL quarterback. He has great arm strength, a smooth release and plus athleticism for the position. However, he is a bit undersized and struggles a bit under pressure. I am looking forward to watching more of him this season.

Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
How about some love for the Big Ten? I haven’t had too many quarterbacks from the conference pop up on my watchlist yet. O’Connell is likely the most promising after CJ Stroud. He put up some impressive numbers in his senior season. 3,712 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and a 71.6 percent completion percentage was more than enough to turn some heads. He checks the box from a size perspective and has enough mobility to be effective. Watching him against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, I like the zip he puts on his throws and his ball placement. It’s really impressive. This kid doesn’t have a ton of hype right now, but he should pick up some steam as people start watching his tape more.

Tyler Shough, Texas Tech
Yet another transfer quarterback, Shough started his career at Oregon before making the move to Texas Tech last year. His 2021 season got off to a solid start before it was cut short by a broken collar bone. Watching a little bit of him both at Texas Tech and Oregon, he runs a ton of RPOs and zone reads, but he actually does a decent job going through his progressions when asked. His arm is good, but not great. There are moments when he shows good zip on underneath or intermediate throws, but he is guilty of underthrowing deep balls on occasion. If he can stay healthy this season, I think he will be in the mix to be drafted this year.

Will Rogers, Mississippi State
Rogers is a tough evaluation. Only Bailey Zappe attempted more passes than him in 2021. However, Zappe averaged 8.7 yards per attempt while Rogers had only 6.9. And that was despite Rogers completing nearly four percent more of his attempts. Unquestionably, Rogers benefits from playing in Mike Leach’s pass-happy system often featuring four or five receivers. Many of his attempts are at or behind the line of scrimmage. That being said, he can get into a rhythm and pick apart defenses if they drop back into zone or give him too much time. He also has some decent zip on his throws and a quick release. He almost always knows where his safety net is and has no problem taking the short, easy completion. I would love to see him show off his arm a bit more regularly this season, but he already looks like a good fit for any NFL team that runs a West Coast style offense.

K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas
There are few players who made as big of a jump statistically in 2021 as Jefferson did. In very limited action through his first two seasons with Arkansas, he completed fewer than 50 percent of his pass attempts. In 2021, he completed 67.3 percent of his throws and posted a stellar 9.1 yards per attempt average, good for seventh in the country. I put on his Auburn tape, and it is kind of a mixed bag. He has some really nice throws down the field, but his ball placement is sporadic. He also seems to lack quickness. He is a good runner, but it takes him a bit to get up to speed and he is inconsistent when trying to throw on the run. I am going to need to see a lot more from him, especially playing without Treylon Burks this season.

Stetson Bennett, Georgia
I felt obligated to include Bennett even though I don’t think he has too much of a pro future. What else are you supposed to do with a player that just won the national championship and is returning to school with hopes of running it back? He does have moments of sheer brilliance on film. He is clearly a fairly smart player, willing to check it down and throw it away when it’s not there. He also showed is capable of uncorking an impressive deep ball on that throw to George Pickens in the national title game. I want to watch more of him, but my initial assessment is that he lacks elite NFL traits. I hope he proves me wrong.

Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
This name should sound familiar. Unfortunately for Taulia, he is undersized as far as NFL quarterbacks go, much like his brother, Tua. The jury is still out on the elder Tagovailoa brother as a pro, but the Maryland quarterback has a chance to write his own story. He started off at Alabama, but transferred to Maryland in 2020 for a chance at more playing time. After some early struggles, he put together a much stronger 2021 season. Like many of the quarterbacks in this draft class, he benefits from a lot of short, quick throws. However, there are some flashes on film of impressive zip on intermediate routes downfield and even some solid deep throws. He is going to have to overcome the questions about his size, so I think there is a long road ahead for Tagovailoa. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returned to Maryland for his final year of eligibility.

Tanner Mordecai, SMU
A former Lincoln Riley recruit at Oklahoma, Mordecai has put up some impressive numbers in his first year at SMU. He threw for 39 touchdowns and 3,628 yards with a solid 67.8 completion percentage. My initial assessment of him on film is that he is still a bit rough around the edges. He does well to step up in the pocket and is not afraid to make plays with pressure coming. However, his footwork is a bit of a mess, which leads to some wayward passes. He has a decently strong arm, but his ball placement is a bit spotty. Plus, there are definitely moments where he rushes his mechanics to try to get the ball out quicker. As of now, I see him being a late-round project with some upside.

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NFL Draft Daily: An early look at the 2023 quarterback class

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 346 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

We are still months away from the start of the college football season, but it is never too early to start looking at the prospects for this upcoming draft. Where else could I possibly start than at quarterback? After a down year without many exciting passers, the 2023 draft class has the potential to be one of the deepest classes we have ever seen. With a ton of upperclassmen quarterbacks and some super exciting juniors, this is a class we can start to be excited about.

Just to be clear, these are not rankings. I put out my Way-Too-Early 2023 mock draft a couple weeks back that at least gives a sense of how I rank the top quarterbacks right now.

Also, in the interest of not having a nearly 4,000 word post, I decided to split up the quarterbacks I am keeping an eye on this year into two separate posts. I will have part two out tomorrow. So with that, let’s start to familiarize ourselves with the quarterbacks sure to be discussed in this 2023 draft cycle.

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
My top quarterback heading into the 2023 draft cycle, Stroud put together a really strong 2021 season and should be well positioned to build off it in 2022. He posted the highest passer rating of any Power 5 quarterback in the country, tossing 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions. More importantly, he completed nearly 72 percent of his passes. He passes the eye test from a physical perspective, listed at 6’3″, 218 pounds. I will be curious to see how he does without his top two targets from a year ago. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will now be playing on Sundays. If his Rose Bowl performance against Utah, where Wilson and Olave sat out, is any indication of what Stroud can do this season, he will likely win the Heisman. Jackson Smith-Njigba might be better than Wilson and Olave, plus Marvin Harrison Jr. is ready for a bigger role.

Bryce Young, Alabama
Just behind Stroud is Young, who needs no introduction after winning the National Championship as a freshman and the Heisman as a sophomore. He is a proven playmaker who dominated the SEC, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns. Both marks were second in the country, trailing only Bailey Zappe. He will have plenty of opportunity to prove his talent without his top two targets from a year ago. Jameson Williams and John Metchie III are both in the NFL now. Hopefully, Alabama’s offensive line will be a bit better in pass protection after allowing 39 sacks a season ago. My biggest concern is his size. Young has a slight frame, listed at 6’0″ and 194 pounds. That is a bit of a red flag, but he hasn’t let it impact his game to this point.

Tyler Van Dyke, Miami
I watched Miami play Pittsburgh this past season and came away more impressed with the quarterback wearing orange and white than the one in blue and gold. That’s right, Van Dyke outplayed Kenny Pickett, who was drafted in the first round just a few weeks ago. He looked sharp down the stretch, taking over for the injured D’Eriq King permanently in October. He got off to a rocky start, but Miami went 5-1 over its final six games with Van Dyke leading the offense. From a size perspective, he checks all the boxes. At this point, he is solidly in the first-round conversation, but that is a bit of projection that he takes the next step in his development this season.

Will Levis, Kentucky
The Penn State transfer made a name for himself in 2021 with an impressive debut season for Kentucky. He posted solid numbers as the Wildcats went 10-3, including a Citrus Bowl win over Iowa. Levis looked sharp and has a lot of the NFL measurables, including a clear pro-caliber arm. Now, he does need to cut down on the interceptions, he had 13 this past season, but it is easy to see how he could translate to the next level. He has a big season to prove himself ahead, hopefully, featuring more downfield passing and less focus on throwing the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Another SEC quarterback that is on the rise, Hooker quietly had one of the best statistical seasons of any passer in 2021. He threw for just shy of 3,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions while completing 68.2 percent of his passes. His passer rating for the year trailed only CJ Stroud and Grayson McCall. He also racked up 620 yards rushing. So a clear dual threat with an NFL body who takes care of the football? Consider me intrigued.

Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
Small-school quarterbacks are in right now in the NFL. Or at least, quarterbacks from non-traditional powers, because Coastal Carolina is quickly shedding its small school persona. McCall led the nation in passer rating and yards per attempt while finishing third in completion percentage. He has the size and mobility to translate to the next level as well. I like his ability to put some touch on his throws as well. He hasn’t faced the best competition in the Sun Belt, but his accuracy is incredible regardless. His game is a bit Patrick Mahomes-esque with his ability to make plays on the run and throw off platform. His arm strength is nowhere near that of Mahomes, to be clear, but I definitely notice some similarities.

Bo Nix, Oregon
What a journey Nix has been on. He was supposed to be the savior of Auburn when he arrived. The son of Tigers great Pat Nix never quite lived up to the hype. He has yet to eclipse 16 passing touchdowns in a season and a career completion percentage south of 60 percent. Now, he will get a chance to resurrect his career and draft prospects at the school he opened the college career against back in 2019. Nix unquestionably has talent, but consistency has been a bit of an issue. We will have to see if a change of scenery at Oregon will be enough to put him back in the NFL draft conversation.

Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh
Another quarterback looking for a fresh start, Slovis burst onto the scene in 2019, but has failed to live up to the expectations that have followed. His completion percentage has slipped each of the past two seasons and he has thrown for fewer touchdown passes in the past two seasons combined than he did in his impressive freshman year. On top of that, he has struggled a bit with injuries. If he can get back on track replacing Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh, Slovis has every chance to push himself back into the first-round conversation. He has the prototypical size and good arm. The issue will be showing he can put those attributes to good use on a consistent basis.

Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
Welcome to 2022, where pretty much every quarterback has transferred. Rattler is another quarterback looking to turn his career around after things went wrong in his first stop. He entered 2021 as a Heisman candidate and a projected No. 1 pick at Oklahoma. Then he lost his starting job to Caleb Williams and ended up transferring to South Carolina at the end of the season. I am very excited to dive deeper into his film to find out why he struggled this past year and how he can get back on track.

JT Daniels, West Virginia
This is school number three for Daniels. He started at USC, lost his job to Kedon Slovis after tearing his ACL as a sophomore, went to Georgia to be the starter, struggled with injuries and lost his job to Stetson Bennett. Needless to say, Daniels needs to show he can stay healthy first and foremost. His inability to be on the field is the biggest red flag for a player that has a couple of them. When he does play, he has a strong arm with decent accuracy and enough mobility to extend plays. He has a lot to prove this season if he legitimately hopes to be drafted.

Devin Leary, NC State
A rising star in the ACC, Leary had a fantastic junior season. This came on the heels of a horrendous freshman year and an injury-shortened sophomore campaign. His 35 touchdowns to just five interceptions gave him one of the best ratios in the country in 2021. Now, Leary will be out to prove he is not a one-year wonder. He is one of the players I am most excited to watch this upcoming season. I would not be shocked if he finds himself in the first round next April.

Anthony Richardson, Florida
People are expecting big things from Richardson after he flashed some otherworldly potential in limited action this past season. He appeared in just seven games and attempted only 64 passes. He is incredibly mobile, evidenced by an 80-yard touchdown run against South Florida. He did injure himself on the play though. What’s more, he threw just six touchdown passes and had five interceptions. He will need to show growth as a passer for a team to take a chance on him in the 2023 draft, but his athleticism is something teams will be happy to bet on.

Cameron Rising, Utah
A sleeper I think people should keep an eye on in this quarterback class, Rising reinvented himself after transferring from Texas. He redshirted in 2018 and 2019 and only played in one game in 2020. He patiently waited for his chance to shine. At long last, he got a chance to showcase his abilities. He accounted for 26 total touchdowns, 20 through the air and six on the ground, while throwing just five interceptions. Entering his fourth season at Utah, he has a good grasp on this offense and should be well positioned for an even better season. I don’t know if he has elite traits, but there is enough there that I am very intrigued.

Jake Haener, Fresno State
One of the older prospects in this draft class, Haener turned 23 in March and will be 24 by the draft next year. Age is less of a factor with quarterback prospects, but Haener will need to show he is pro ready, because a 24-year-old developmental quarterback might be a tough sell. Good thing is, he seems like he will be pretty close. He threw for over 4,000 yards this past season and an impressive 67 percent completion percentage. On top of that, he had 33 touchdown passes. He started his college career at Washington and has grown into a solid prospect over the past two seasons at Fresno. He faced some good competition and I’m excited to watch more of him.

Malik Cunningham, Louisville
Possibly the best runner in this draft class, Cunningham has been a solid player at Louisville capable of dazzling at any moment. 20 touchdowns on the ground is incredible. He has the ability to throw passes on a rope, but he needs to improve his accuracy. His completion percentage dipped down to 62 percent in 2021. I really like his game, but I think he needs a bit more polish to push him into the conversation with the top quarterbacks in this class.

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NFL Draft Daily: How an injury helped Aidan Hutchinson make nearly $30 million

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 351 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Aidan Hutchinson’s 2020 season had barely gotten started when it abruptly ended. The junior outside linebacker suffered a broken ankle against Indiana that required surgery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten did not start its season until October after initially canceling it altogether. In the end, Hutchinson had appeared in just three games, recorded nine tackles, no sacks and no tackles for loss. For a player hoping to make the NFL leap, there was not much positive momentum.

Still, there was some draft buzz surrounding Hutchinson. If memory serves, he was projected to go somewhere in the mid-to-late second round. Perhaps if he hadn’t hurt his ankle, he would’ve finished a bit stronger. A chance to test at the combine could have secured himself in that middle part of the second round. Even with the injury, Jim Nagy thought he would have been a Day 2 pick in June of 2021.

At this point, we all know what happened instead. Hutchinson underwent surgery on his leg, returned to school and finished as the runner up for the Heisman as Michigan made its first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff. He posted 14 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He wound up being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft and will suit up for his hometown team this season.

We’ve seen it happen so many times before where a player is on the cusp of reaching the league, but an injury sends them back to school and their draft stock drops significantly. Hutchinson clearly bucked that trend, and that was not lost on him.

“I did have an opportunity to leave my junior year,” Hutchinson said in an interview with ESPN Radio’s Spain & Fitz. “That injury was the greatest blessing that happened to me in my life.”

It turned out that the injury ended up making Hutchinson about $30 million dollars. That’s right, the injury made him money, not lost him. It’s hard to know exactly where he would have been selected in 2021 had he come out, but make some assumptions and take a look at the finances.

Hutchinson helped lead Michigan to its first College Football Playoff appearance. (Wikimedia Commons)

If we assume that Nagy was right with his projected draft range, which he often is, Hutchinson could have come off the board instead of Dayo Odeyingbo in the second round. The Colts took the Vanderbilt defensive end coming off a torn Achilles, so I can’t imagine that a broken ankle alone would have prevented the front office from taking Hutchinson.

Odeyingbo signed a four-year deal worth roughly $6.17 million. According to Spotrac, about $2.8 million of that was guaranteed. Under the assumption above, that’s approximately what Hutchinson was in line for as far as contract compensation goes had he come out in 2021.

Instead, Hutchinson’s stellar senior season propelled him to the second pick in the draft and he cashed in. Hutchinson signed his rookie deal with the Lions on Monday for $35.7 million, including a $23.1 million signing bonus. By the way, that deal is fully guaranteed. That’s a difference of $29.5 million. He will be paid $23.8 million in cash this year, which is the second most in the entire league among defensive ends, second only to Travon Walker, who went No. 1 overall. Danielle Hunter is third at $19.7 million. Odeyingbo ranked 53rd among defensive ends last year. He ranks 106th this year.

That’s a staggering difference. And that’s just a rough estimate of the difference because Hutchinson could have slid even further if he was unable to participate fully in the pre draft process, including the combine and his pro day. Maybe teams would have knocked him for a lack of production. He only had 4.5 sacks during his 2019 season and didn’t record one in 2020 before he got injured.

It was a miraculous year for Hutchinson and I have no doubt his talent would have eventually won out. That being said, this is a truly unusual situation and it is nice to see an injury lead to something positive for once. Way too often, we see injuries derail careers. Hopefully, we will get more stories like Hutchinson’s in the future.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.