2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Loaded draft of defensive players, one quarterback cracks Top 25

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We are slowly creeping closer to draft week and I am working on finalizing grades and rankings for players. The more time I spend looking at this class, the more I realize how deep it is on defense. It is a really good year to need edge rushing or cornerback help. There are also a couple of great linebackers in this class as well.

A few things to note about how I do my big boards. I rank the best players in the class based on talent and ability to translate to the NFL, not necessarily where they will be drafted. Let’s use Malik Willis as an example. I expect him to be drafted well above where I have him ranked, but that is because the league puts a premium on the position he plays. Same thing goes for Kyle Hamilton, but in reverse. He is a top-five player in this draft class, but he will probably drop out of the top 10 on draft day because the NFL does not value safeties as highly.

Here are my top 25 players. I will have my next 25 players out tomorrow.

1. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
An absolute mountain of a man, I love Neal’s physical traits, experience and versatility. He has above average arm length as well. He started 40 games over three years at Alabama, featuring at left guard, right tackle and left tackle in that span. On top of that, he went up against some of the best competition the country has to offer in the SEC. He is nimble on his feet and brings good play strength for the position. He has Pro Bowl potential at any offensive line position other than center.

2. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
I love long, tall corners. Gardner is a long, tall corner who can run and play shutdown coverage. The popular stat you will see regarding his play was that he did not allow a receiving touchdown during his time in college. He didn’t always face the best competition playing in the AAC, but he stepped up in big games for the Bearcats throughout his career. He mirrors well in coverage and has the length to break up passes. I think he has the potential to be a top-5 corner in the league.

3. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
In a draft full of talented edge rushers, Hutchinson is the most pro ready of the group. He has a full array of pass rush moves, dominates at the point of attack and showcases good play strength on film. His short area quickness for the position is elite and he has the versatility to play with his hand in the ground or stand up as an outside linebacker. If you are looking for a knock on him, it is that he lacks the length teams typically look for in edge rushers, measuring in the eighth percentile among edge rushers, according to Mockdraftable. He might not have the highest upside of any edge rusher in this class, but he seems to have the highest floor.

4. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Much has been made about the former Oregon superstar in this draft cycle. We’ve heard that he didn’t interview well, and teams were disappointed by his lack of fire. I know he didn’t live up to the lofty expectations we all set for him heading into this season, but he still has all the physical ability in the world. Also of note, he had 19 career sacks at Oregon, including seven this past season. He has a tendency of stepping up in big games as well, posting 4.5 sacks in three Pac-12 title games. There are definitely elements of his game you would like to see him improve (consistency at the point of attack, reading his keys in run defense), but I like the upside and talent to win out at the next level.

5. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
If you like nasty, physical offensive linemen, Ekwonu is just the man for you. Known as the “Most feared player in the ACC,” he routinely pancakes defenders with his impressive play strength and great pad level. However, for all the highlight plays he puts on film, there is still some work to be done. His footwork and technique are a bit inconsistent and he will need to be more disciplined about not leaking downfield on passing plays too early at the next level. That being said, few players offer the type of raw power with upside that Ekwonu does.

6. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Hamilton might have ranked even a bit higher had he turned in a better pre draft performance. His lackluster 40-yard dash time has been picked apart, but he played faster on film, so I’m not too concerned with a lack of speed. He takes good angles in coverage and against the run, which pairs well with elite size at the position. I believe he can still play single high along with dropping into the box and even playing nickel linebacker. The versatility along with the production and “wow” plays on his film make him an elite prospect.

7. Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Reportedly, the NFL is all over this guy. He was a workout warrior at the combine, sending scouts back to the tape. I like what I saw from him a lot, but I’m not putting him in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. Walker has tons of talent and versatility, but there is still a bit of refining that needs to come in his game. What is great is that he can conceivably line up at defensive tackle, defensive end or outside linebacker, depending on what scheme he lands in. I like the upside a lot. He might not have the biggest impact as a rookie, but two years from now, he could be a top-25 defensive player in the league, regardless of position.

8. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
One of my favorite players in this draft class, Lloyd is a dynamic playmaker with great physical tools. He could play inside backer or outside backer, potentially even lining up on the edge for some pass rushing snaps. Utah put him in that spot on occasion early on in his college career. When watching his tape, I think he played better as a sophomore than he did as a junior, but his combined tape impressed me overall. I think he will probably slide a bit on draft day because the league does not value off-ball linebackers as highly, but he will be an instant impact player.

9. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
One of the most polarizing prospects in this draft class, Stingley is a really tough evaluation. He dominated his freshman season at LSU, shutting down pretty much everyone he faced, including teammates Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in practice. Unfortunately, his career got derailed from there. He only played 10 games over his final two college seasons, missing time with injuries. He also never returned to that 2019 form that made him look like the best corner prospect since Jalen Ramsey. A solid pro day rebuilt his draft stock a bit. If he can stay healthy, he has immense potential given his size, speed and coverage skills.

10. Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
A late riser in the draft process, Johnson’s season went under the radar as Florida State struggled again in big moments. A closer look at Johnson’s tape shows an elite run defender with room to grow as a pass rusher. He sorts through traffic so well and shows great play strength against the run. He tested very well at the combine and has ideal length for the position. I don’t know if he is quite ready to post double-digit sacks in the NFL like he did this year in college, but I think the physical tools make it easy to project. With some coaching, he might turn out to be the most well-rounded edge rusher in this class.

11. Drake London, WR, USC
The first receiver on my board is a big body playmaker with good hands and impressive yards after the catch ability. At just a shade under 6’4″ with 33-inch arms, London has the makings of a great jump ball receiver. His size and ability to make contested catches makes it easy to project a role for him in the NFL. I think he can be more than just a red zone target. He showed at USC his ability to be a high-level possession receiver as well, catching 88 passes in just eight games before suffering an ankle injury. The concern with him is whether he can generate separation at the next level. He is a solid route runner though, so I think he will be at least average in that department. Give him some bonus points for being a solid run blocker.

12. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Trying to rank the top receivers in this class is like splitting hairs. It really comes down to what teams value in a player’s skill set and scheme fit to determine where teams will rank them. Wilson is a proven receiver with tons of production and good physical traits. He is just a shade under six feet tall and ran an impressive 4.38 40 at the combine. That speed shows up on tape as well. The biggest red flag I have in evaluating Wilson was his shuttle time at the combine, which was in the 20th percentile per Mockdraftable. He also gets redirected on some of his routes. In the right system, Wilson could be a superstar. Put the ball in his hands and let him go to work.

13. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Another wide receiver, Williams would probably have been the top receiver in this class if he had not suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game. One of the best ways to quantify his skill set is that Alabama’s offense fell off significantly after his departure. He is a speedster with good size. He has some room to fill out his frame a little bit, which I think he will need to do in order to survive in the NFL. His big-play ability is through the roof and just about unparalleled in this class, especially among the other top receivers. There are some drops on his film, which is a problem he will need to address at the next level.

14. Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean got the early season hype, but Wyatt has steadily risen up draft boards as more people dove into his film. He is rock solid against the run and an asset on pass rushing downs as well. He didn’t get home too often, posting just 2.5 sacks this season, but he is more than capable of collapsing the pocket. He is also scheme versatile, with the size, strength and speed to line up as a 3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 defensive tackle. He feels like a very safe pick that can contribute right away.

15. Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Another Georgia defender here, Davis turned heads all season long with an impressive season for the Bulldogs. He is an elite run defender with some occasional pop as a pass rusher. He only posted seven sacks in four seasons. While it is clear that Davis is an incredible athlete, I do have concerns with his weight. He tipped the scales at 341 pounds at the combine. He will need to be disciplined at keeping that number in check throughout his career. That much weight usually takes a toll on a player’s joints before too long. If he can, he might end up being great value for whoever drafts him.

16. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
One of the most tested pass blockers in draft history, Cross played in a Mississippi State offense that threw the ball an absurd 704 times this past season. On the flip side, Cross is very untested as a run blocker, with the Bulldogs rushing just 270 times. There is a lot to like about Cross’ game. He displays good balance and anchors well in pass protection. However, there are some concerns for me when watching his tape. He lets his hands get outside a little too often and has a tendency to get beat across his face in pass protection. In my mind, he is a bit of a project, but he should be impactful in any pass-heavy offense from Day 1.

17. Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
My top interior lineman in this class, Green has experience playing at every position other than center along the offensive line. He actually started at least one game at left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle this past season. I like what I’ve seen from Green in pass protection. He has good pad level and good footwork, especially as an interior lineman. He is a little limited as a run blocker with some struggles to reach the second level. On top of that, he tested in the fourth percentile for the 20-yard shuttle, per Mockdraftable. Not super important, but I think he could struggle to fit in outside zone or screen-heavy offensive systems.

18. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Robin to Wilson’s Batman, Olave plays a similar style, dominating in open spaces with his speed. He put up impressive numbers this past season, scoring 13 touchdowns in 11 games for the Buckeyes. He has good hands, but he did measure in a little shorter than ideal when it comes to arm length and he posted a well below average 32-inch vertical for receivers. (Take a second and think about the fact that 32 inches is in 12th percentile for receivers. I would be thrilled to have a 32-inch vertical!) I think he could be a solid No. 1 receiver or elite No. 2 receiver in an NFL offense.

19. Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The latest Northern Iowa star set to make the leap to the NFL, Penning will be the highest drafted player in program history, barring something unforeseen on draft day. He checks every box from a size perspective, measuring in at 6’7″ and 325 pounds at the combine. He also has 34.25-inch arms and tested in the 97th percentile for the 40-yard dash and the 98th percentile in the 3-cone, according to Mockdraftable. In short, a great athlete with impressive measurables. He is a bit raw as a run blocker in space and he needs some refining as a pass blocker, but he finishes plays well and shows really good play strength. He is a bit of a project with tons of upside.

20. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
At long last, our first quarterback. Willis is my favorite passer of this group because of his physical tools and the upside he brings. He is not going to be like Lamar Jackson at the next level, but he has good mobility and a penchant for making plays on the run. He needs to improve his pocket awareness and learn to throw the ball away. In 2021, he took an outrageous 51 sacks. Some of that can be attributed to a less than stellar offensive line, but Willis desperately needs to improve his internal clock as well. He has a strong arm with solid accuracy and showed on film that he can hit every throw required at the pro level. He won’t be a Day 1 starter, at least he shouldn’t be, but his ceiling is a borderline top-10 NFL quarterback.

21. Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
A player that I think could have pushed his way up draft boards if he had been healthy enough to test, Booth brings all the requisite length to be a starting outside corner in the NFL. Unfortunately, he underwent sports hernia surgery in March, which kept him from participating in drills at the combine or his pro day. He showed at Clemson that he has the athleticism to compete at the position as well. He adjusts well to the ball in the air and uses his hands well to break up passes.

22. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
I’m breaking one of my own rules by giving McDuffie a first-round grade. Pretty much every elite NFL corner that lines up on the boundary is at least 5’11”. Jalen Ramsey and Trevon Diggs are 6’1″. Marlon Humphrey, Marshon Lattimore, Xavien Howard, Stephon Gilmore are 6’0″. Tre’Davious White is 5’11”. There are two notable exceptions to that rule. Jaire Alexander and J.C. Jackson are roughly 5’10”. That’s where McDuffie falls as well. I think his talent and play style supersedes my concerns over his height. In truth, he is only a quarter inch under 5’11”, so I’m probably splitting hairs. Still, he plays bigger and is very physical. I think he has what it takes to survive on the outside at the next level.

23. Zion Johnson, G, Boston College
NFL teams love versatility from an offensive lineman. Johnson brings plenty of it with the ability to play either guard spot and potentially center at the next level. He took some snaps there during Senior Bowl week. Throw on the tape and you will see a very fundamentally sound blocker who can hold his own in pass protection or the running game. He is a seasoned option having spent two years at Davidson before transferring to Boston College. Expect him to be a Day 1 starter wherever he lands.

24. David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Ojabo was knocking on the door of the top 10 before he suffered an Achilles injury at his pro day. The injury will cause him to miss most if not all of his rookie season in the NFL. Truth be told, Ojabo might have benefitted from something akin to a redshirt season anyway. While the athleticism is unquestionable, Ojabo is a bit raw as an overall prospect. He didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school, previously running track and playing soccer and basketball. There are moments of brilliance on film, but they are not consistent enough to think Ojabo would have been much more than a situational pass rusher in his first season. If he can recover and develop as a pass rusher, some team at the end of the first round is going to get a steal in this draft.

25. Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
A fun prospect to watch, Hill is the latest safety/slot corner hybrid to make his way into the NFL draft. Think of players like Jevon Holland from last year’s draft as an example. Hill moved around in Michigan’s defense quite a bit under Jim Harbaugh and could bring that same type of chess piece flexibility to an NFL defense. He is best as a strong safety allowed to attack downhill and make plays in the backfield and in the flat, but he has the range to drop into coverage more. I wouldn’t be shocked if a team tested him out at outside corner either given his size, speed and length.

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