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: Takeaways from Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game

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 106 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Georgia and Alabama put a bow on the 2021 college football season with Monday’s national championship game. The Bulldogs snapped a 41-year title drought as Kirby Smart finally beat his former boss and mentor Nick Saban.

If you’ve been paying attention to college football or tracking draft prospects this year, you know there were a ton of future NFL players on the field in Indianapolis. Some won’t be eligible for this season, but my goodness, Saban and Smart continue to prove that they are among the elites when it comes to attracting and developing NFL-caliber talent. Saban has a better history than Smart on both sides of the ball, but there is no denying Smart’s prowess on defense.

Having had a chance to watch the game and work back through the film again, there was a lot to like when it comes to spotting future NFL players. Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday night.

Smart has landed a top-five recruiting class each of the past four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia’s defense is on another level

The Dawgs were led by their incredible defense all year long, not allowing more than 14 points against any opponent the entire regular season. They allowed 9.5 points per game, including the SEC Championship game where Alabama dropped 41 on them. That is 6.5 points per game less than Clemson, who allowed 15 points and finished with the second-best scoring defense.

As I mentioned above, Smart is the best recruiter and developer of defensive talent in the country right now. Georgia has future top-50 picks at every level of their defense and a handful of guys who will go in the mid to late rounds backing them up. By now, you likely know names like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Derion Kendrick. However, guys like Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Lewis Cine (more on him later) are all potential top-50 selections as well. Then there are Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Neither one was a featured player or even really a full-time starter for Georgia, and yet, it would not be a surprise to see both of them go later on Day 2. Robert Beal Jr., who had 6.5 sacks this season, doesn’t even get mentioned when talking about this defense most of the time.

The next wave of talent is exciting as well. Jalen Carter could be a future first-rounder. Kelee Ringo, who had the game-sealing pick-six, will be eligible next season and will certainly have opportunities to work his way into the top 50. He had a really strong performance that makes me excited to watch more of him in the future. Smael Mondon Jr., Nazir Stackhouse and MJ Sherman should all see more action next year as this next wave of talent heads to the NFL. The pipeline from Athens to the NFL is only growing stronger.

I was wrong about Stetson Bennett

I told coworkers, friends and my very patient wife who probably tuned me out because she was not quite as invested in Georgia’s starting quarterback situation as I was, that I really thought the Bulldogs needed to turn their offense over to J.T. Daniels for the College Football Playoff. Georgia was finally tested in the SEC title game and forced to play from behind. It seemed like Bennett was not cut out to keep up with Alabama if the Tide built an early lead again. He attempted just 287 passes across 13 games. That ranked 79th among quarterbacks in FBS this season. Bennett was never asked to be the guy, and I assumed that it meant he couldn’t fill that role.

Turns out, he was more than ready to lead the team when they desperately needed someone to step up, this time on an even bigger stage. Bennett went over 300 yards passing and had three touchdowns against a good Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl, securing a rematch with ‘Bama.

With Georgia’s run game looking incredibly sluggish in the first half. Then, Bennett was strip-sacked and Alabama took an 18-13 lead, and the pressure was really on. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, the former walk-on quarterback was flawless. He tossed two touchdowns to build a lead and the defense closed it out with a pick-six. Bennett had plenty of help, but he also showed that he was capable of leading this team at a time when it needed leading.

I don’t think this makes him an elite quarterback prospect or anything, but maybe this puts him on the radar as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent, if he is even interested in going pro. He has the makings of a player who could succeed as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers or Bills, who could all be in the market for a backup quarterback this year, make sense as potential landing spots for the championship-winning quarterback.

Harris had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Christian Harris and Lewis Cine made themselves some money

Every year, there are a few players that cement their status or really capitalize on the increased attention on them to shoot up draft boards. If there are two players that I think did that better than anyone else on Monday, I would pick Alabama’s Christian Harris and Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

Let’s start with Harris. He started the year as a player many thought could go in the first round and possibly even be the first linebacker off the board. While far from an exact science and not at all indicative of how the league views him, the website NFL Mock Draft Database shows Harris dropping from the 20th ranked player overall in early October to 55th in the middle of December. He had an up and down season, struggling to sort through traffic and failing to read his keys. It was unfortunate to watch for such an instinctive and dynamic defensive playmaker.

Against Georgia, Harris showcased the incredible upside that makes him such an eye-catching prospect. He racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss and looked downright explosive. He still has a long way to go when it comes to gap discipline, but he should be in the mix in the late first round or early second round.

On the other side, Cine was seemingly everywhere for Georgia’s defense. He had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass break up. Those counting stats are far from outstanding, but his play went well beyond the numbers. He made a number of key stops for the Bulldogs, which was something they could not do against the Tide in the SEC championship game. It was the type of game that I think will propel him into the top 50 conversation. With a number of teams picking at the backend of the first round or early in the second round, Cine could be in the running to be the second safety selected, following Kyle Hamilton.

Will Anderson Jr. will start the 2023 draft cycle as the No. 1 player on my big board

This guy is incredible. He showcased his full range of skills on Monday night. He batted a pass at the line, made opposing offensive linemen look silly in pass protection and set the edge against the run with authority. In my estimation, he should have won the Heisman this year. He had 34 tackles for loss in 15 games this season. That is 2.3 tackles for loss per game. Leo Chenal and Devin Lloyd tied for the second best average at 1.6. That came on top of 17.5 sacks, which was tops in the country, and trailed only Andre Carter II in terms of sacks per game. Reminder: this was playing in the SEC against some of the best college offensive linemen in the country.

His length, physicality and athleticism at one of the most coveted positions in college football make him one of the most exciting prospects in recent years. Put him in the same air as Chase Young and Myles Garrett. I am so excited to break down his film this summer.

Jameson Williams and John Metchie III should consider returning to school

This was the worst part of the game by far. Williams emerged as a legitimate contender to be the first receiver taken in the 2022 draft with his electric playmaking and field-stretching ability. The Ohio State transfer stepped into the void left by Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and flourished. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter and will now miss the entire pre-draft process and potentially the beginning of the 2022 season.

While I don’t think any team will look at him as damaged goods or take him off their board because of the injury, it will almost definitely hurt his stock. He was someone who likely would have ran well at the combine and boosted his stock even further. Williams could very reasonably still go in the first round. There is something to be said for getting paid while you rehab your surgically repaired knee.

However, he will likely be losing out on some money in the process. I could realistically have seen him coming off the board as early as No. 10 to the Jets (hard to see any receivers going before that point, barring trades) before the injury. He will likely slide some. Even falling 11 spots to the Patriots (projected) at No. 21 would cost him $7.3 million over the course of his rookie deal. If he potentially drops further to the Chiefs (projected) at No. 29, it would be about $9.3 million less.

In the end, Williams will have to do whatever works best for him and his family. If he, God forbid, got hurt again after returning to school, he could cost himself a lot more money than that. There is certainly still a good amount of risk. That being said, there are worse situations than returning to Alabama to play with Bryce Young and potentially John Metchie III again. Metchie also suffered a torn ACL playing in the SEC title game. He was not projected to go quite as high as Williams and his injury could set up a return to Tuscaloosa. Those two back at school would only bolster a team that is already the favorite to win the national title in 2022. Williams could erase any doubt about the injury and find himself in the mix to go in the top 10 in 2023. Injuries are one of the harsh realities of football and will set up one of the most interesting decisions to watch when the deadline comes up Monday, January 17th.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Georgia and Alabama players dominate first round following national championship game

College football is officially in offseason mode. While it is obviously sad we won’t have college football to fill up our Saturdays anymore, it was a thrilling season, capped off with an exciting championship game. Now, we shift our focus even more so to the upcoming NFL draft, as many players who featured in Monday’s game expect to hear their names called early on draft night.

One of the unfortunate storylines of the night though was the non-contact knee injury suffered by Jameson Williams. This came just about a month after his partner in crime, John Metchie III, tore his ACL in the SEC title game. Both were potential top-50 picks, with Williams rising into the top 10 for several draft experts. With such a serious injury this late in the season, I wonder if he might not be better off returning to school for his senior year. Williams would still likely garner significant draft interest, but this likely hurts his stock. With so much uncertainty surrounding the situation right now, I left him out of the first round until I know more.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, 18 teams are officially in offseason mode as well, with the remaining 14 gearing up for the postseason. There are definitely some changes since my last mock draft as I’ve continued to sift through film and the draft order has changed based on the final few results of the NFL regular season.

We still have a long way to go until we reach the draft in Las Vegas, but the pre draft process is just beginning to heat up. Players are accepting Senior Bowl invites, which is coming up at the beginning of February in Mobile, Alabama. Plus, the East-West Shrine Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl are also just weeks away.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my first mock of 2022. The draft order is according to Tankathon.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville had a fun Week 18, stunning the Colts to keep them out of the playoffs and still holding onto the No. 1 pick. With that top selection, it is hard to overlook Aidan Hutchinson. This Jaguars defense, outside of a surprising six-sack showing to close the season, has struggled to generate pressure. Hutchinson will give the Jags a nightmarish duo with Josh Allen playing opposite him.

2. Detroit Lions (3-13-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (4-13) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Houston could head a number of directions here. I personally love Ahmad Gardner, who has the makings of a lockdown corner. I’ve talked about it before, but it is impossible to be a true No. 1 corner in the NFL without length. The threshold seems to be right around 5’11”. Gardner is 6’3″ and moves exceptionally well for someone that size. He will need some coaching to improve his man coverage technique, but already dominates as a zone corner. He would give the Texans a talented defensive back to rebuild the defense around.

4. New York Jets (4-13) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
While the Jets might have more pressing needs, Evan Neal is too big a talent to overlook. Literally. At 6’7″, 340 pounds, the Jets could potentially bookend their offensive line with massive tackles to protect Zach Wilson now and into the future. Neal played at right tackle prior to taking over at left tackle in 2021. With Morgan Moses and George Fant headed for free agency, this makes a ton of sense as well. If one or both of them is back, then that could reshuffle New York’s priorities in the draft.

5. New York Giants (4-13) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Dave Gettleman may have retired, but the Giants could take a page out of his book and do what he always promised: build an offensive line. Ikem Ekwonu is a nasty run blocker with impressive power. He has room for growth in pass protection, but all the physical tools to excel. Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones would both greatly benefit from his addition.

6. Carolina Panthers (5-12) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Carolina needs a quarterback, but I don’t have a first-round grade on any of the passers in this class at the moment. Instead, the Panthers can rebuild an offensive line that was among the worst in the league in 2021. Tyler Linderbaum is an athletic center who can get out in space to lead the way on outside runs and screen plays. That bodes well for a team with Christian McCaffrey. Make no mistake though, Linderbaum is still capable of putting defenders on their back if they aren’t careful.

7. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (6-11) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
New York continues to build in the trenches with their second pick in the top 10. George Karlaftis is not quite on the same level as the top two edge rushers in this class, but he has a great first step off the edge and some enticing physical tools. He has the versatility to play with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 alignment or stand up on the edge in sub packages. This would give the Giants an exciting pairing on the edge with Azeez Ojulari.

8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) – Drake London, WR, USC
Will Calvin Ridley return to the Falcons? We’ve not seen the former first-round pick since October as he stepped away from his mental health. Now, there is buzz that he could be traded. That would leave Atlanta desperately needing a new No. 1 receiver. I know Kyle Pitts is already in place, but he cannot do it alone, nor has he shown an ability to produce in the red zone. Drake London should help with that. He plays a lot like Mike Evans, using his massive frame and athleticism to high point the ball and catch it away from his body. London led the nation in receptions prior to a season-ending ankle injury.

9. Denver Broncos (7-10) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Denver traded away Von Miller this season and has two pending free agents for starting linebackers (when healthy). Nakobe Dean might actually find a way to fill all of those voids to a certain degree. He is an athletic linebacker with great range and some sneaky good pass rush ability. He will be a difference maker at the next level with his closing speed. He draws comparisons to Jonathan Vilma, which the Broncos could desperately use in the middle of their defense.

10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (7-10) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
New York’s secondary was bad in 2021. The Jets allowed the third most yards per attempt, yards per game and third-highest completion percentage in the league this season. Landing Derek Stingley Jr. here could be a coup. He was assumed to be CB1 heading into the season, but injuries and some inconsistent play since that dominant freshman year make his projection a bit more murky. I sincerely hope we get to see him at the combine.

11. Washington Football Team (7-10) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
This is still too early for a quarterback if you ask me. Instead, Washington can attempt to address its very underwhelming defense. Supposedly the strength of this team, Washington allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game this season. Landon Collins had a rough season at safety, but seemed to excel when he moved into a hybrid linebacker role. He could be a post-June 1 cut to save cap space as though. Kyle Hamilton is essentially a better, more well-rounded version of Collins. Adding him to save money and upgrade at the same time makes a ton of sense.

12. Minnesota Vikings (8-9) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Minnesota will be disappointed to see Hamilton off the board, but Andrew Booth Jr. is an excellent consolation prize. With Jeff Gladney gone and Patrick Peterson turning 32 in July, the Vikings need some new blood at corner. Yes, they have spent a number of premium draft picks at the position, but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Booth is a projectable starter in the NFL. I know it is important to scout the player, not the helmet, but the development of A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen in the NFL makes optimistic there is still untapped potential for Clemson’s No. 1 corner.

13. Cleveland Browns (8-9) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
There buzz continues that Baker Mayfield could be done in Cleveland, but this is not the draft to try to replace him. Instead, the Browns should put their former No. 1 pick in the best position to succeed. Adding Garrett Wilson would do just that. He is a proven playmaker with good hands, above average quickness and a nose for the end zone. Cleveland’s wide receiver room is fairly deep, but lacks a true No. 1 option. Wilson could develop into just that.

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-9) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
With the top three corners off the board and the Ravens set to get a number of key players back in the secondary from injury, I think they should target the defensive line. Jordan Davis is a disruptive people-mover and space eater. He is massive, listed at 6’6″, 340 pounds. Brandon Williams turns 33 in February and is a pending free agent. Davis would step into that run stuffing role with some added pass rushing ability.

15. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (9-8) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
I know, the Eagles don’t prioritize linebackers, but maybe they should. Avery Genard and Alex Singleton are both replaceable. Devin Lloyd is a dynamic off-ball linebacker who can rush the passer. He has the range to make plays sideline-to-sideline and hang with backs and tight ends in coverage. After a slow start to the season, he finished the year strong. There is room to improve as a block shedder, but I really like what he brings to the table.

16. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Might as well continue to retool that front seven. David Ojabo has an underwhelming performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but the upside he brings is still apparent. His athleticism pops off the charts. Still relatively new to the sport, he is just scratching the surface. He could contribute early on as a third-down sub package player as he continues to develop his technique as a pass rusher.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
The Chargers defensive line is in desperate need of a boost. DeMarvin Leal projects best as a three-technique tackle, but he has the versatility to kick outside as well. He flashes some exciting potential as a pass rusher, but disappeared at times as well. Playing alongside Joey Bosa should allow him to have a larger impact. He will be someone I am eager to see test in Indianapolis.

18. New Orleans Saints (9-8) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With Terron Armstead unlikely to be back in 2022, the Saints will have a huge hole at left tackle. Charles Cross is a good candidate to be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. There will be some growing pains with limit run snaps and some concerns about how grabby he is in pass protection. That being said, he is a fluid mover and anchors well against power rushers.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
After going defense with their first two picks, the Eagles turn to the offense to find another weapon for Jalen Hurts to work with. DeVonta Smith has proven himself thus far as a reliable target, but the rest of the receiving corps is a bit more suspect. Treylon Burks brings an exciting combination of size and speed. He was a bit inconsistent against some of the top teams he faced this year, but flashed the potential to be a quality receiver in the NFL.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Finally, we have a quarterback come off the board. The likelihood is that one will go before this point, but I don’t think any should. Pittsburgh unquestionably needs to find its quarterback of the future with Ben Roethlisberger headed for retirement. Kenny Pickett obviously gets to stay home, but he also has the best resume of any of the draft eligible quarterbacks. He has a live arm with impressive accuracy. He has enough athleticism to compete in the modern NFL, extending plays with his legs. His ceiling might be a bit lower than others in this class, with Pickett set to turn 24 in June, but that works well for a Steelers team that is otherwise ready to contend now.

21. New England Patriots (10-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
If Trent Brown returns, then there is no reason to target a tackle here, but if Brown leaves, then New England will need someone to take over at right tackle. Trevor Penning could be the perfect candidate. He is a large human being, measuring in at 6’7″ and 320 pounds. He moves really well for a player that size and shows a lot of requisite skills to succeed in pass protection in the NFL. There will unquestionably be a learning curve coming from the FCS level, but we’ve seen plenty of players make the jump in recent years.

22. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (10-7) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT Ohio State
Miami’s offensive line is still a patchwork unit with a lot of holes. Maybe the Dolphins will give the young unit another year to gel, but they had the worst pass block win rate in the league this season. Reinforcements are likely needed. Perhaps a move in free agency will be required, but until then, Nicolas Petit-Frère seems like a worthy option at this spot. He looked strong against George Karlaftis this year, which underlines his talent. He also struggled mightily against Aidan Hutchinson, which highlights areas for growth. Either way, he likely won’t be much worse than Miami’s current tackles.

23. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Unfortunately, Henry Ruggs is done in the NFL. That means the Raiders once again have a need for a receiver. Chris Olave can help fill the void. While he is not quite the speedster that Ruggs was, he does have some wheels. He is capable of stretching the field, can work the middle of the field on crossing concepts as well. Adding him alongside Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow would give Derek Carr a solid complement of weapons.

24. Arizona Cardinals (11-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Cardinals’ defense has stepped up in the second half of the season while the offense has slumped a bit. However, the loss to Seattle points to Arizona’s clear offseason needs in the secondary. Roger McCreary would give the Cards a long, rangy corner with the ability to develop into a true No. 1 option. He put together an impressive season against good competition.

25. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
While the Bengals feel good about drafting Ja’Marr Chase, the pressing need for offensive line help has not disappeared, especially on the interior. Kenyon Green has experience all over the line and should be a plug-and-play option to help protect Joe Burrow. He has plenty of reps against elite defenders playing in the SEC. Cincinnati gave up the third-most sacks in the league this season.

26. Buffalo Bills (11-6) – Sean Rhyan, OL, UCLA
As the season has worn on, it has become clear that Buffalo needs to revamp the interior of its offensive line. Sean Rhyan is your classic college tackle who might be better off playing guard in the NFL. He is a steady operator, but lacks the elite athleticism needed to contend on the outside with pro-caliber edge rushers. His history as a tackle likely boosts his value though because he could start there in a pinch.

27. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (12-5) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
While this is not a great quarterback class, the Lions can take a crack at the one with the highest upside. Malik Willis is cut from the same cloth as Lamar Jackson with his electric running ability in the open field and dazzling arm strength. However, Jackson was likely a bit further along in his development as a passer than Willis is at the moment. The Liberty star hangs onto the ball for way too long and tends to play hero ball. He struggles with accuracy. That being said, his upside is worth gambling on in this spot. If Detroit ends up with a top-five pick next season, they can always move Willis for additional draft capital and take a more proven prospect like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

28. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Dallas’ defense has been one of the most surprising stories of the year, but it is unlikely to sustain this success without reinforcements. Daxton Hill is a versatile safety who can line up in the slot. He has the speed to track down players on the boundary and the physicality to make plays in space. Given the Cowboys’ salary cap constraints, there is a good chance Damontae Kazee will not be back and Donovan Wilson is heading into a contract year.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Jahan Dotson has the explosive playmaking ability and proven production that puts him in the conversation to go in the first round. He has great hands and can separate from defenders. He is not the biggest receiver, but he is still capable of playing on the outside. While that might feel a bit redundant given Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman filling similar profiles, Dotson can operate as a bit more of a possession receiver than either of them.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Tampa continues to stay ahead of future needs by drafting for its front seven. While Vita Vea is locked in to a long-term deal, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston and Steve McClendon are all pending free agents. Devonte Wyatt cannot replace all of them, but he can soften the blow. Often overlooked, he has been one of the key contributors to this Georgia defense. He would help the Buccaneers continue to stay stout against the run and offer some interior pass rush ability as well.

31. Tennessee Titans (12-5) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
With Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans both headed for free agency, Tennessee has a need at linebacker. Christian Harris feels like great value to fill that need at the back end of the first round. Harris is a bit like an attack dog, when you let off the leash, he is capable of wreaking havoc. However, he also locks in sometimes and loses track of his assignment. There is also room for improvement when it comes to block shedding. That being said, his ability to shoot the gap and make a big play is enticing.

32. Green Bay Packers (13-4) – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Another Georgia defender in the first round. Travon Walker is built like Za’Darius and Preston Smith, Green Bay’s two current edge rushers who could both be cap casualties this offseason. Walker will help fill the void. He was a consistent performer on the Bulldogs’ championship-winning defense, producing six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2021. His versatility, lining up on the interior, on the edge or even as a stand up backer, would make him an intriguing chess piece for Joe Barry to deploy.

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Dolphins made a critical mistake in firing Brian Flores

Monday after the regular season ends is usually a busy day for front offices across the NFL. It is when coaches and general managers are let go following the end of the season. The Vikings, Bears, Giants and Dolphins all moved on from either their general manager, coach or both after missing the postseason. That came in addition to Vic Fangio losing his job on Sunday when the Broncos’ season ended on Saturday night.

Most of these firings were predictable. Pressure had been building in Minnesota, Chicago and New York all season. Denver stumbled down the stretch and perhaps Fangio took too much blame for a team whose fatal flaw was at quarterback. That was not something he had control over. That being said, the Broncos went 19-30 in his tenure.

Flores went 9-9 against the rest of the AFC East in his three years. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is what happened in Miami, which cannot be classified as anything other than a colossal mistake. Brian Flores took a young, developing roster to the brink of the playoffs two years in a row. He posted back-to-back winning seasons, overcoming uneven drafting by the front office. Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Liam Eichenberg have all gotten off to rough starts in South Beach. Then there are free-agent decisions like signing Will Fuller, who played in two games and recorded four receptions, and releasing Kyle van Noy, who had six sacks in 14 games for the Dolphins in 2020.

Sure, you can hold not reaching the playoffs over Flores’ head at this point, but that feels incredibly unreasonable. Tua Tagovailoa has struggled at times early in his career, but seemed to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem down the stretch for Miami. Just as he was finally settling into his role as franchise quarterback, this now removes any sense of stability for him heading into his third season.

Beyond any of that, Flores was beating the Patriots! He went 4-2 over his three seasons against his former team, including sweeping them in 2021. Former Bill Belichick assistants have rarely had success against him. It is truly inexplicable for the team to move on from him, especially at this point. Yes, the Dolphins started the season terribly, but they have so many young players in key positions. I think the second half of the year is closer to what that team really is right now: a wildcard-caliber team that seemed to be headed in the right direction.

This is just hard to understand. Miami does not need to look far to see what true futility looks like. The in-state Jaguars had the biggest distraction in the league as their head coach, secured their second consecutive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and largely wasted the first year of Trevor Lawrence’s career. Then there is the team in their own division. The Jets have had one winning season since 2010, have finished last in the AFC East in five of the past six seasons and are in the midst of at least their third rebuild in the past 12 years.

Tua Tagovailoa threw 16 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions while completing 67.8 percent of his passes this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Flores is one of the most-respected leaders in the NFL. He inherited a team headed nowhere with a huge question mark at quarterback and a roster that needed to be torn down. This is going to be an attractive head coaching opening with a young quarterback, tons of cap space and a talented defense.

For Flores, I hope he gets picked up right away. The Bears, Vikings, Giants, Broncos and Jaguars should all have him on their shortlist of coaches to interview. He would be an upgrade over most of the coaches that were previously in place, with Mike Zimmer and Fangio standing out as potential outliers.

As a Jets fan, I should be thrilled by this news. I don’t really see someone well-suited to take over this franchise and guide them to immediate success. More likely than not, the new coach will likely run Tagovailoa out of town and send the Dolphins into another rebuild.

However, I am more disappointed that a good coach was unjustly fired. I think Flores had done enough to deserve at least one more year to show he could get this team over the hump and into the postseason. If he failed to do that again in 2022, then I think it would have been fair to make a change.

All in all, this is a shocking move. Miami will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason as they search for a new coach and look to take the next step.