2022 NFL Pro Potential Power Rankings: Alabama stay on top, Georgia makes huge jump

Welcome to Year 7! This is one of my favorite exercises to conduct every year. It is always incredibly interesting to see which schools make the cut and if anyone can come close to catching Alabama (spoiler: hasn’t happened yet.)

Unsurprisingly, the SEC continues to dominate these rankings. Nine teams from the conference feature in the Top 25 this year. The Pac-12 is shockingly second with five. However, none of them are in the top 10 and that includes USC and UCLA, who are leaving to join the Big Ten in 2024.

For those wondering, this exercise was somewhat inspired by the Pro Potential rankings from the NCAA Football games in dynasty mode. This list is not meant to measure how successful any of these players were after reaching the NFL. It is a far better tool for high school recruits to see which schools are the best at getting players drafted.

Obviously, recruiting plays a huge role in all of this, but there is not a direct correlation between recruiting rankings and these rankings. Just ask Jimbo Fisher. Enough rambling. Let’s get to this year’s Top 25.

Previous rankings: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016

As a reminder as to how these rankings are created, I look at all the players drafted over the past five years and then score their draft spot using the scoring system below. The draft classes included in this year’s rankings span from 2018 to 2022.

The scoring system is as follows:
1st round – 10 points
2nd round – 7 points
3rd round – 5 points
4th round – 4 points
5th round – 3 points
6th round – 2 points
7th round – 1 points

Alabama Logo

1. Alabama Crimson Tide – 316 points
Previous: 1 (343 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Quinnen Williams, 3rd Overall, 2019

This was a disappointing draft, by Alabama standards. And yet, they still lead these ranks by 76 points. Still, two first rounders was the fewest for the Tide since 2016. ‘Bama dropped points for the first time since I started these rankings. Keep in mind, for any other school, this would be a really good class. I fully expect Alabama to be back in the range of four or five first-rounders next year with Bryce Young, Eli Ricks, Will Anderson and a few others in the mix.

Georgia Logo

2. Georgia Bulldogs – 240 points
Previous: 7 (153 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Travon Walker, 1st Overall, 2022

Georgia’s dominant 2021 season led to a monster draft class. The Bulldogs set a modern NFL record with 15 players selected, including five first-rounders. They broke the record set by LSU in the 2020 draft. I don’t know that Georgia will come anywhere close to that again in the near future, but they should have more than enough NFL production to stay in the top five. Kirby Smart might be the best recruiter in the country and he and his staff have done an excellent job of developing talent along the way.

Ohio State Logo

3. Ohio State Buckeyes – 232 points
Previous: 2 (248 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Nick Bosa/Chase Young, 2nd Overall, 2019/2020

It was a bit of a quieter draft for the Buckeyes with six players selected, the fewest the school has had since 2015. However, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave gave Ohio State multiple first-round selections for the sixth time in the past seven years. Ryan Day has an unquestionable eye for talent at receiver and that room is still loaded. Hopes of catching Alabama seemed to have faded for now, but a spot in the top three feels pretty secure at this stage.

Louisiana State University logo

4. LSU Tigers – 207 points
Previous: 3 (215 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Joe Burrow, 1st Overall, 2020

Brian Kelly built Notre Dame into one of the better NFL pipelines in the country. Now, he will get to prove that he can do it in the Bayou with a huge recruiting hotbed to work with. Ed Orgeron had LSU among the nation’s elite producers in NFL talent already, so it shouldn’t be too hard to maintain that. The Tigers quietly had 10 players taken in this class. However, Derek Stingley Jr. was the lone first-round selection. Kelly will need to put a few more in the top 32 if LSU is going to keep up with Alabama, Georgia and LSU.

MichiganWolverines

5. Michigan Wolverines – 145 points
Previous: 4 (170 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Aidan Hutchinson, 2nd Overall, 2022

The drop off from the top four to everyone else is massive. Aidan Hutchinson became the Wolverines highest drafted player since 2008 when Jake Long went No. 1 overall. However, Michigan lost an 11-man class from 2017 that caused them to drop in the rankings. Still, after a run to the College Football Playoff, Jim Harbaugh seems to have things headed in the right direction. He has revolutionized Michigan football and turned them into a true NFL factory. When I started these rankings in 2016, following Harbaugh’s first year in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines were not ranked. The following year, they skyrocketed to No. 11 and they have been in the top 10 since 2019.

Oklahoma Logo

6. Oklahoma Sooners – 144 points
Previous: 8 (138 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray, 1st Overall, 2018/2019

Things are going to change a lot for Oklahoma. The Sooners had a solid seven-player draft class, but none were selected in the first round. With Lincoln Riley gone, there is no guarantee that this team continues to produce NFL draft picks at the same level. Brent Venables arrives from Clemson as a first-time head coach. He has proven himself as a developer of defensive talent. The Tigers had a bevy of first-round selections on that side of the ball during his tenure. Oklahoma actually picked up a few points this year after losing a lackluster 2017 class. This will be one of the more interesting schools to watch in the coming years with a change of leadership.

Florida logo.jpg

7. Florida Gators – 143 points
Previous: 5 (167 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Kyle Pitts, 4th Overall, 2021

A lack of on the field success and another coaching change have finally started to catch up with Florida. That being said, the Gators are still firmly entrenched in the top 10 and only two points out of the top five. With just three players selected this past season, it seems like the program is headed in the wrong direction from an NFL production standpoint. Kaiir Elam was a first-round pick, but if I had to guess, I would say it is more likely Florida falls a little further than climbs back into the top five. Billy Napier has his work cut out for him.

Penn_State_text_logo

8. Penn State Nittany Lions – 138 points
Previous: 11 (109 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Saquon Barkley, 2nd Overall, 2018

Say what you will about James Franklin, but he has turned Happy Valley into a pro prospect goldmine once again. When I first started these rankings, Penn State was on the fringes and had not had a first-round pick since 2010. Now, they’ve had six straight draft classes with at least five players selected, including four first-rounders. There is still room for improvement when it comes to producing top-end talent, but make no mistake, the Nittany Lions are well entrenched in these rankings and have a very good base to build on.

Clemson Logo

9. Clemson Tigers – 137 points
Previous: 6 (165 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Trevor Lawrence, 1st Overall, 2021

A few years ago, I believed it was legitimately possible for Clemson to start challenging Ohio State and Alabama atop these rankings. Oh how times have changed. Now, Dabo Swinney’s program is on the verge of falling out of the top 10. Just two former Tigers heard their names called in the 2022 draft. Swinney’s defense is loaded with draft prospects this year though so, CLemson should stick in the top 10.

Notre Dame Logo

10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 135 points
Previous: 10 (130 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Quenton Nelson, 6th Overall, 2018

Notre Dame continues its run in the upper echelon of NFL draft prospect production. However, Brian Kelly is now headed to Baton Rouge. Marcus Freeman will now have to prove he is just as capable of recruiting and developing top-tier talent. There is no question the Irish still offer the big stage needed to get noticed by scouts. It will be interesting to see which direction Freeman will lead this team in the coming seasons.

Washington Huskies logo.jpg

11. Washington Huskies – 123 points
Previous: 9 (132 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Vita Vea, 12th Overall, 2018

There is a bit of a gap between Notre Dame and Washington, but the Huskies are closer to the top programs on this list than they are the bottom of it. However, much like the Irish, they are undergoing a coaching change. Jimmy Lake is out and Kalen DeBoer is in. It is a rapid rise for DeBoer, who spent just two years leading Fresno State before taking the job with Washington. A total of four former Huskies were drafted in 2022, headlined by Trent McDuffie in the first round. Don’t expect Washington to go anywhere any time soon given their past draft success, but DeBoer has big shoes to fill.

USC logo

12. USC Trojans – 103 points
Previous: 12 (108 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Sam Darnold, 3rd Overall, 2018

Well hello there Big Ten-bound USC. The Trojans continue to hover outside the Top 10, but had a more transformational offseason than any program in college football. Southern Cal hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma, added his former quarterback Caleb Williams via the transfer portal and announced that it, along with UCLA, will be headed to the Big Ten. This is huge news for many of the Big Ten schools, but it is significant for USC’s to recruit the midwest. I think we could see the Trojans rise rapidly over the next few seasons as Riley takes over and the impact of the conference realignment takes hold.

iowa_wordmark

13. Iowa Hawkeyes – 97 points
Previous: 13 (98 points)
Highest Drafted Player – T.J. Hockenson, 8th Overall, 2019

Need an offensive lineman or a tight end? Iowa still remains the place to look. Tyler Linderbaum became the latest Hawkeyes lineman to go in Round 1. However, Only one other player from Iowa was selected this year. Producing first-round picks is always a good thing, but it would be good to see Kirk Ferentz’s program have more than two total prospects selected. I’m not too worried about their long-term prospects, but don’t expect the Hawkeyes to climb much higher than where they stand right now.

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14. Mississippi State Bulldogs – 92 points
Previous: 20 (77 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Charles Cross, 9th Overall, 2022

I was a bit surprised to see Mississippi State climbing in these rankings after having just two players selected in the 2022 draft. Charles Cross going in the first round obviously made a big difference, but still. The reason for the jump is that the Bulldogs were getting very little value from the 2017 class no longer being included in the scoring. That class featured just one sixth-round selection. As long as Mississippi State’s 2019 class is still relevant, which included three first-round picks, they will be in the rankings. Things look rather murky beyond that point though.

Auburn_Tigers_logo

15. Auburn Tigers – 91 points
Previous: 15 (96 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Derrick Brown, 7th Overall, 2020

Auburn is widely being described as a dumpster fire with no direction forward. That might start to catch up with them soon. The Tigers had just one player selected over the course of draft weekend this year. It was the first time since 2013 Auburn failed to produce multiple draft selections. That being said, Auburn has solid classes in the previous four years included in the scoring, so they won’t drop off any time soon, but Bryan Harsin will need to turn things around if Auburn wants to maintain its spot in the top 15.

Texas A&M logo

16. Texas A&M Aggies – 88 points
Previous: 16 (90 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Kenyon Green, 15th Overall, 2022

Jimbo Fisher has yet to really deliver on the enormous expectations heaped on him when he arrived in College Station. That applies both on the field and on draft day. Fisher built Florida State into a draft juggernaut. The Seminoles were second when I debuted these rankings back in 2016. A&M has yet to crack the top 10. It was another solid draft class for the Aggies, featuring four players, including a first-round pick. For most other schools, this would be a really good place to be. I am just surprised they haven’t climbed higher.

17. Kentucky Wildcats – 83 points
Previous: Others Receiving Votes: (60 points)
Highest Drafted Player: Josh Allen, 7th overall, 2019

Well hello there Kentucky. The Wildcats were clawing at the door last year, but finally broke though. Four more draft picks, including three Day 2 selections, pushed them into the rankings. Don’t expect them to go anywhere either. Will Levis is drawing top-10 buzz in the 2023 class. What is even more important is that Kentucky did not have a single player selected in 2017 or 2018. The only way the Wildcats will be going is up.

1000px-north_carolina_state_university_athletic_logo.svg_

18. North Carolina State Wolfpack – 76 points
Previous: 23 (72 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Bradley Chubb, 5th Overall, 2018

NC State continues to be one of the most underrated producers of NFL talent. The Wolfpack produced another first-round selection with Ikem Ekwonu this year. However, things have slowed down a bit in Raleigh in recent years. NC State’s seven-player class from 2018 won’t be included in next year’s rankings. They have only had nine players taken over the past four drafts combined. Producing first-rounders will keep them in the mix, but they need a bit more volume to solidify their spot.

Ole_Miss_Rebels_logo

19. Ole Miss Rebels – 73 points
Previous: 25 (69 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Greg Little, 37th Overall, 2019

Lane Kiffin seems to have the Rebels headed in the right direction, but it has yet to result in a ton of draft success. Ole Miss has had a bunch of mid-round selections in recent years, including a healthy 6-player class in 2022. However, it has been six years since their last first-round pick. Given a bit more time, I think Kiffin will get them back into the top 15. At the very least, I don’t think there is any reason to expect them to drop out of the rankings at this point.

Miami logo

20. Miami Hurricanes – 71 points
Previous: 14 (97 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Jaelan Phillips, 18th Overall, 2021

Given how irrelevant the Canes have been on the national stage, it is a wonder they are still in the top 25. That being said, no one has risen up to knock them out yet. This was easily the worst year we have seen from Miami from a draft perspective possibly ever. It was the first time since 2009 that the Hurricanes accounted for just one NFL draft selection. Jonathan Ford was taken in the seventh round as well. However, the window to push them out might have already passed. Mario Cristobal returns to his alma mater with hopes of restoring the program’s former glory. If he can successfully recruit South Florida and replicate the player development he displayed at Oregon, Miami will be back in a big way.

Florida State Logo

20. Florida State Seminoles – 71 points
Previous: 19 (78 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Brian Burns, 16th Overall, 2019

Much like Miami, Florida State is still trying to pick up the pieces. As I mentioned when talking about Texas A&M, Jimbo Fisher had the Seminoles among the country’s elite when it came to draft prospects. They were in the top five from 2016 to 2018. Now, Florida State is clinging to its spot in the top 25. Unlike Miami, there is not quite as much hope on the horizon. Mike Norvell has yet to get the Seminoles back to .500 and Jermaine Johnson II was the lone player from his program who heard his name called during the draft. Don’t be shocked if FSU falls out next year.

UCLA logo.jpg

22. UCLA Bruins – 70 points
Previous: 21 (76 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Josh Rosen, 10th Overall, 2018

While there was a lot more made about USC joining the Big Ten than UCLA, the Bruins are a solid addition in the college football landscape. Chip Kelly has kept them in the mix. Unfortunately, UCLA finds itself in a precarious spot when it comes to these rankings. Its impressive 2018 draft class is in its final year of inclusion. While this was a solid class with six players taken, their earliest pick came at the end of the third round. Kelly will need another really good draft class in order to stick in the rankings.

1280px-TCU_Horned_Frogs_logo

23. TCU Horned Frogs – 69 points
Previous: 24 (70 points)
Highest Draft Player – Jalen Reagor, 21st Overall, 2020

Yup. The Horned Frogs are still here. Don’t ask me how. TCU did not have a single player drafted in 2022. However, its 2017 draft class featured just one seventh-round pick, so the needle barely moved. What I think this underlines is how steep the drop off is from the top programs and the lack of depth in these rankings. Looking at the scoring past about 17, we are splitting hairs. However, TCU will be an interesting team to watch with Sonny Dykes now taking over as head coach. The Horned Frogs won’t be shut out again either with Quentin Johnston looking like a potential first-round pick in 2023.

Stanford Cardinal

23. Stanford Cardinal – 69 points
Previous: 17 (88 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Walker Little, 45th overall, 2021

Somehow, some way, Stanford is still hanging on. It was a very quiet draft weekend for the Cardinal with just one fifth-round selection this year. The future outlook for David Shaw’s program is not great. That being said, Tanner McKee is drawing some NFL buzz and if Davis Mills has shown us anything so far in his very brief NFL career, it might be good to stop doubting Shaw’s ability to find and develop pro talent.

23. Oregon Ducks – 69 points
Previous: NR (59 points)
Highest Draft Player – Kayvon Thibodeaux, 5th Overall, 2022

The quack is back. Well in the rankings at least. Kayvon Thibodeaux became the Ducks’ highest drafted player since Marcus Mariota in 2015. However, Thibodeaux was also the only Oregon player selected. On top of that, Mario Cristobal just left for Miami. However, there is no reason to panic. The 2018 draft class from Oregon was nothing spectacular and Dan Lanning arrived from Georgia. There is no question that Kirby Smart deserves credit for building that team, but hopefully, Lanning learned a lot from his former boss.

Others Receiving Votes: Wisconsin (67 points), South Carolina (66 points), Utah (62 points)

Dropped out: Utah (previous: 18), Wisconsin (previous: 22) UNC (previous: 25)

Note: All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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2022 NFL Draft Day 3 Takeaways: Patriots continue to surprise, punters are popular picks and the Ravens plan at receiver

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, the draft is finally here! Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

The Patriots drafted Mac Jones in the first round just a year ago. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interesting approach in New England continues
The Patriots have made headlines the past few days for shocking everyone with some of their early picks. Saturday didn’t generate any headlines, but it was still a surprising afternoon. New England took Bailey Zappe in the fourth round, ahead of Sam Howell. I supposed the Pats view Zappe, who broke several D-1 passing records at Western Kentucky, as a backup quarterback to Mac Jones. I definitely would have expected Bill Belichick to bring in a veteran to back up Jones. That pick was sandwiched by a pair of running backs. This made absolutely no sense to me. New England has Damien Harris and James White as veteran backs. Rhamondre Stevenson was a third-round selection last year. They also have depth with J.J. Taylor still on the roster. I can’t envision a scenario where the Patriots keep six running backs. White did miss most of this past season with a hip injury, so perhaps this is the end of his time in New England.

A run on punters
Well, that’s probably untrue. It wasn’t so much a run, as much as it was surprising to see two punters selected as early as they were. For the first time since 2007, two punters were selected in the first four rounds. Jordan Stout and Jake Camarda were joined later in the draft by Matt Araiza, the booming punter from San Diego State, and Trenton Gill. That made it the most punters taken in one draft since 2018. Not a huge storyline, but something draft nuts like me are interested in.

Speaking of punters
While the unexpected number of punters coming off the board in the fourth round was fun, it did raise some interesting questions in Baltimore. The Ravens traded away Marquise Brown on Thursday night to acquire a first-round pick, which eventually, following a trade down with the Bills, turned into Tyler Linderbaum. Lamar Jackson was notably unhappy with the decision to move on from Brown and he made it clear on Twitter.

Yeah, definitely not a good sign for the Ravens. Jackson and Brown were very close, so this was obviously tough to swallow. Baltimore could have made it a bit easier to swallow by finding a new receiver for Jackson. However, despite having seven Day 3 picks, including six in the fourth round, the Ravens did not draft a receiver. Before you panic, the Ravens are actually flush with young mid-round receivers. They have taken Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace and James Proche over the past two drafts. That is in addition to taking Rashod Bateman in the first round in 2021. It seems like they are counting on one of them to step up. There are also veterans receivers like Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton and Odell Beckham Jr. still available. I have a feeling that is how Baltimore plans to address the position.

Sam Howell has a chance to start sooner than you might think
The Commanders grabbed Sam Howell with the first pick of the fifth round, stopping the slide for a player that entered the college season as a projected first-round pick. Most quarterbacks taken in the fifth round are not taken with real hopes of starting in the NFL. Strange things happen though. Mike White, a fifth-round pick in 2018, started for the Jets this past season when injuries popped up. Gardner Minshew was a sixth-round pick in 2019. However, I think there is a chance Howell could be in contention to be Washington’s 2023 starter. First of all, he is reunited with one of his college wide outs in Dyami Brown. Second, the Commanders can release Carson Wentz after this season with ZERO dead money. It’s a move that would save the team about $26.1 million in cap space. Now, if Wentz is able to reclaim the form he showed early in his NFL career with the Eagles, this won’t even be a question. But if he struggles again like he did down the stretch with the Colts, this could get interesting, especially if Washington is not in a position to take one of the top quarterbacks in the 2023 draft. Just some food for thought regarding a quarterback I had an early third-round grade on. I think he has starter potential in the league.

Georgia sets a new benchmark
In 2020, 14 LSU players heard their name called, matching Ohio State in 2004 for the most players selected in a seven-round draft. Georgia surpassed that on Saturday. Derion Kendrick and John FitzPatrick went with back-to-back picks in the seventh round to set a new record with 15 players drafted from one school in a single draft. It underscores just how talented the Bulldogs were this season and how much Kirby Smart will have to replace this upcoming season. I have a feeling the Dawgs will be moving up in my Pro Potential Power Rankings.

The Steelers do it again
Pittsburgh made a sixth-round selection that probably didn’t turn too many heads, but continues a fun trend for this Steelers team. They selected Connor Heyward, a fullback out of Michigan State. He is the brother of Cam Heyward, the Steelers’ stalwart defensive tackle. It actually gives the team four sets of brothers on the roster. Just a fun nugget from today’s draft coverage that gives a bit more context and intrigue to the selection of a sixth-round fullback.

The Jets had a good draft
I want to close this out by talking about my team a bit. Part of the reason that I am such a huge fan of the NFL draft is because I’m a Jets fan. When your team is regularly not in the playoffs, you start to think about the future and what could be. Browns and Lions fans know what I’m talking about. There is always hope, followed by bitter disappointment. For the first time in a long time though, I think I might be willing to let myself be optimistic. The Jets crushed this draft on paper. They found value, filled needs and navigated the board with a veteran savvy that felt very out of place given how this team has been run for the past decade. I certainly don’t think the Jets are Super Bowl contenders, but they might actually be a year away from legitimately competing. They rounded out their draft by taking Max Mitchell from Louisiana and Micheal Clemons from Texas A&M. Mitchell has the potential to kick inside in the NFL, which would fill a need for the Jets. Meanwhile, Clemons brings some pass rushing depth to the roster.

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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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NFL Draft Daily: Where can Spencer Rattler rebuild his draft stock?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in Monday for another entry.

Things have changed quite dramatically for Spencer Rattler over the past four months. The soon-to-be former Oklahoma quarterback entered the season as the Heisman favorite and a fixture in the top five of NFL mock drafts. He seemed poised for a big year and almost assuredly would find himself playing pro football in 2022.

Instead, his season went a bit sideways. For the second year in a row, he was benched against rival Texas. This time though, he stayed on the bench as Caleb Williams engineered a dramatic comeback victory over the Longhorns in the Red River Showdown. Rattler did not start again the rest of the season and entered the transfer portal.

So how is it that this Heisman favorite and blue-chip prospect is suddenly off draft boards and looking for a new home? Consider it the fallacy of media hype and the assumption that players will only ever get better. Rattler had not earned that level of trust and confidence yet. Lincoln Riley had though, so we were all willing to bet on Rattler becoming the latest quarterback to flourish in his offense. He flashed high-end potential in his first season as the starter at OU, but there were also plenty of warning signs of what was to come.

In short, chalk it up to the Lincoln Riley effect finally failing. We expected Rattler to make a jump into elite quarterback territory. He didn’t. If anything, he regressed from his 2020 performance. This time, Riley just so happened to have a very capable replacement. However, this is not the end of the line for Rattler as a draft prospect. If he was capable of generating this much buzz once, he could assuredly draw the attention of NFL scouts again.

But where will he do it? Arizona State was the easy prediction early on for the Phoenix, Arizona native, but with Jayden Daniels returning to school, that rules out a move to Tempe. The list is still long. Let’s take a look at some schools where Rattler could be in line for immediate play on a big enough stage for him to reclaim the national spotlight.

Notre Dame
Let’s start with a big-name program with legitimate title aspirations. Notre Dame’s only loss of 2021 came against Cincinnati and the Irish finished one spot out of a playoff spot. Jack Coan was a serviceable starter as a grad transfer from Wisconsin, but his eligibility is up and Notre Dame will certainly be looking for a new starter next year. Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner are both four-star recruits that could be in line to start, but Rattler would be a better option than either of them for 2022. Pyne played the second half of the Cincinnati game and struggled. He finished 9-of-22 throwing, with a touchdown pass.

Buchner is seen as the future at the position, but could new head coach Marcus Freeman be interested in bringing in a veteran option with a lot more experience? This could be a bit of a risk for Rattler given that much of the coaching staff that recruited Buchner is still intact, but if he could win the job and perform well in South Bend, he would certainly have the clout necessary to generate positive draft buzz again. Notre Dame is known for having strong offensive lines and reliable run games as well. Both of those elements would likely make Rattler’s transition easier and would bode well for future success.

UNC
This is operating under the assumption that Sam Howell declares for the NFL draft. Mack Brown has put UNC back in the national spotlight very quickly. The Tar Heels did not have the kind of season they had hoped for after opening the year at No. 10 in the AP poll, but the potential for offensive success is still incredibly high. Sam Howell put up some big numbers in his second year under Brown despite having his top two receivers and top two running backs playing in the NFL this season.

The potential is there for Rattler to do the same. Jacolby Criswell would be his main competition for the starting job. However, Rattler was a much higher-rated recruit coming out of high school. Playing in a pro-style offense in the ACC should give him the stage to flourish and rebuild his draft stock. Howell was generating buzz alongside Rattler as the potential first overall pick prior to the season. There is no doubt he could rebound in Chapel Hill.

Georgia
This is an interesting and perhaps unlikely destination, but I think it could work well. Stetson Bennett is a redshirt senior, so he will not be back next season. J.T. Daniels still has one more year of eligibility remaining, but he has struggled to stay healthy and I’m not totally convinced the coaching staff believes in him at this stage. Brock Vandagriff could be in the mix as well. The former five-star recruit only appeared in two games this season though, so he will have four more years to work with.

Georgia is undoubtedly going to lose talent to the NFL, but Kirby Smart is arguably the best recruiter in the country. They will reload quickly on both sides of the ball. Putting Rattler in an offense that features Brock Bowers, a dominant running back room and maybe even George Pickens if he returns to Athens sets him up nicely to have success. If he can mature as a decision maker under Todd Monken and perform well against SEC defenses, the NFL will be lining up to watch Rattler play again.

LSU
Brian Kelly could use a quarterback. The former Notre Dame coach inherits a roster with a lot of talent, but a huge hole at quarterback following transfers by Max Johnson and Myles Brennan. Garrett Nussmeier is still enrolled at the school and could be the future at the position, but it might take another year for him to be fully ready to start. There is also the tough spot he finds himself with regards to LSU’s bowl game. With Johnson and Brennan gone, he would be in line to start, but that would officially burn a year of eligibility.

It will be interesting to track how Kelly handles that situation. I don’t think it will impact how he approaches the quarterback situation for next year. LSU has five-star quarterback Walker Howard committed for 2022, but I think Kelly could pursue Rattler to give himself a veteran option to start his first season while he turns over the program. Most of LSU’s skill players will return for next year as well, led by Kayshon Boutte. Especially if Joe Brady happens to return to Death Valley, this feels like a dream scenario for Rattler.

UCLA/Oregon
Some of this will hinge on what happens next with Chip Kelly. It looks like he is headed back to Oregon after four seasons with UCLA. However, the Bruins will still need a quarterback no matter who the coach is next year. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is graduating after a solid career and the only other quarterback in the mix right now is freshman Ethan Garbers, who transferred in from Washington this year. If Kelly leaves though, this becomes a much less appealing landing spot for Rattler.

Maybe Rattler could follow Kelly to Oregon though. Anthony Brown is done after spending five years with Boston College and Oregon. The Ducks have three freshmen that could all contend for the starting job, but the coach who recruited them there, Mario Cristobal, is now at Miami. It would not be a surprise to see at least one of them enter the transfer portal.

The bottom line is that Kelly’s offense probably bodes well for Rattler’s skillset. He is not quite as mobile as Thompson-Robinson or Marcus Mariota, who thrived under Kelly at Oregon back in the day. That is why this feels like such a good fit. Kelly has a decent track record of developing quarterbacks. Mariota went on to be the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. With Lincoln Riley headed to USC, there is also an opportunity for Rattler to stick it to his former coach. There is a lot to like about Rattler landing in the Pac-12, especially growing up in the Southwest.

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The impact of each conference championship game on the College Football Playoff

After an exhilarating college football regular season, we have finally reached championship weekend. The SEC, Big 12, AAC and Big Ten championship games all carry a ton of significance with each one featuring at least one team ranked in the College Football Playoff committee’s top six. In the case of the SEC, both teams are in the group.

While it is likely we will see all the higher ranked teams win and a fairly predictable final four, Oklahoma State would probably replace Alabama in the top 4, this season has been anything but predictable. Each game could offer a really interesting wrinkle in determining which teams will compete for a national title. Here is the impact each game from championship weekend will have on the playoff.

SEC Championship Game
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on CBS

This obviously has the biggest impact of any game this weekend. Georgia is one of just two undefeated D-I teams in the country this season, Cincinnati being the other. Meanwhile, Alabama has struggled a bit defensively in recent weeks, losing to Texas A&M earlier this season. However, the Tide have won six of the past nine SEC titles. The Bulldogs only have one SEC title since 2005. Kirby Smart has also never beaten his former boss, Nick Saban. There is a ton of the line for both sides and definitely some history to be made.

If Georgia wins…
The Bulldogs will stay at No. 1 and cruise into the College Football Playoff at 13-0. Things become tricky on the other side of the matchup. A two-loss team has never made the final four. Alabama would be 11-2 on the season with a loss. That likely eliminates them, but there are scenarios where the Tide could still get in. However, they would need a lot to go their way. Baylor would have to win the Big 12 over Oklahoma State and at least one of Cincinnati or Michigan would have to lose. That would set up a playoff composed of Georgia, Cincinnati or Michigan, Notre Dame and then one more team. Alabama would likely be up against Baylor, Ohio State and potentially Oregon for that final spot. Perhaps the committee would like to avoid a rematch. It is far from a guarantee, but ‘Bama would be in the mix if it is a close game.

The only other scenario I can think of would be if Michigan and Cincinnati both lost their conference championship games. Regardless of who wins the Big 12, Alabama would once again be in the conversation. Notre Dame could move up to No. 2 if Baylor wins while Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon, if it wins the Pac-12, would be in the mix for the final two spots. Would the committee opt for conference champions and pick Baylor and Oregon? Maybe, but it feels more likely that Alabama or Ohio State beats out one of those teams.

If Alabama wins…
The Tide almost assuredly move up to No. 1. Maybe Michigan would, but being the first team to beat Georgia would be a pretty big resume booster. That likely sees two SEC teams in the playoff. Georgia could slide down to No. 3 and face the Wolverines, assuming they beat Iowa. Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and company would all be fighting for the final spot. Georgia is pretty much the only team that could conceivably lose this weekend and comfortably make the playoff. Other teams certainly could if the right results break their way, but I don’t see a scenario where the Bulldogs are left out.

Big Ten Championship Game
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Jim Harbaugh finally got that Ohio State-shaped monkey off his back, but Michigan’s job is not done yet. Beating the Buckeyes is a huge momentum boost and should buy Harbaugh some good will with Wolverines fans, but it would be a disappointment not to see them finish the season with a conference championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. On the flip side, it was not that long ago that Iowa was in position to reach the playoff, climbing all the way to No. 2 in the AP Poll this season. Now, the Hawkeyes are just hoping to spoil the Wolverines celebrations and win their first conference championship game.

If Michigan wins…
The Wolverines will be in the playoff and Harbaugh will likely be in line for a further extension that his current deal that runs through 2025. Michigan could climb to No. 1 if Alabama knocks off Georgia, but that could also see the Tide surge right past them. For Iowa, there is not a ton that changes. They will probably be one of the top Big Ten teams to receive bowl invitations. The Citrus Bowl seems to be a likely landing spot.

If Iowa wins…
Rose Bowl baby! A win for the Hawkeyes would see them play in the “Granddaddy of them all”, surging into the top 10 of the rankings as well. For the CFP implications, there are many. Michigan would almost definitely be out. A two-loss non-conference champion stands basically no chance of reaching the playoff, but the Wolverines are ranked at No. 2 right now. If Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and Alabama all lose, there could be a way Michigan sneaks in. Unlikely, I know, but would the committee put Ohio State, whom Michigan just beat, in ahead of them? Maybe the playoff ends up being Georgia, Notre Dame, Baylor and Oregon in that scenario.

A Michigan loss opens the door for a number of other teams to get in. There will be a lot of teams rooting for Iowa to pull off the upset. That being said, it is hard to see the Hawkeyes moving all the way from No. 13 into the top four. Iowa can solely play spoiler.

American Athletic Conference Championship Game
No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Houston
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on ABC

Easily the biggest AAC title game ever, Cincinnati hosts this monumental showdown with Houston. It will be the fifth time that the game will consist of two ranked teams, but this time, there are legitimate College Football Playoff implications. That has to matter. In a year where the ACC has no shot and the Pac-12 needs about six different things to break their way, it is pretty interesting to see the AAC’s place in college football’s national hierarchy. Unfortunately, both these teams are heading to the Big 12 in 2024. Enjoy it while it lasts.

If Cincinnati wins…
Then the Bearcats should be in. It is far from a guarantee. The committee has an unrelenting bias against Group of 5 schools. If Cincinnati were to struggle a bit in the victory and Oklahoma State looks strong against Baylor, we could see the Cowboys leapfrog Luke Fickell’s team. If Alabama beats Georgia, then there is a good chance Cincinnati would get frozen out yet again and the nation would go into an uproar over expansion. Houston will likely find itself playing in some meaningless bowl game despite an 11-2 season.

If Houston wins…
Told you so. That’s what the committee will be feeling. They have questioned Cincinnati’s strength of schedule all year long despite the Bearcats owning one of the best wins in the country. A loss would end Cincinnati’s playoff hopes and potentially drop them out of the top 10. The door would unquestionably open for Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and others to move up and maybe even Alabama to stay in the mix even if it loses. Houston would likely vault into a better bowl game, but don’t expect to see them in a New Year’s Six game. They would likely be playing after Christmas though.

Big 12 Championship Game
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Baylor
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET on ABC

Quietly the only conference outside of the SEC to feature two top-10 teams, the Big 12 is hoping to send a team other than Oklahoma to the playoff for the first time ever. Oklahoma State being ranked above Notre Dame in Tuesday’s rankings definitely opens the door for Cowboys to get in with a win. Baylor could also crash the party, although the committee moved the Bears down a spot after a narrow victory over Texas Tech.

If Oklahoma State wins…
The Cowboys could be in the playoff. Mike Gundy also might be named the mayor of Stillwater. Oklahoma State is going to need just a little bit of help. If Georgia beats Alabama, that likely opens up a spot. As the top ranked team outside the top four, OK State will almost assuredly get the nod. There is even a scenario where the Cowboys could jump Cincinnati, which I touched on earlier. The committee definitely feels Oklahoma State is facing better competition with Baylor at No. 9 and Houston at No. 21. A convincing win could see them get in if Cincinnati struggles. Plus, the Cowboys would have three wins over top-10 opponents.

If Baylor wins…
Things will get really murky. The Bears winning is not enough to get them in. They would certainly need some help. However, beating a top-five team would definitely give their resume a boost and put them in the conversation. If Michigan, Cincinnati and Alabama all lose, unlikely, but possible, Baylor should have a legitimate shot. A Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Baylor playoff could make sense at that stage. If we have learned anything over the years, it is that the committee tends to favor conference champions. Maybe Alabama or Michigan would still get in over Baylor, but it is not out of the question.

However, there is something to be said for the Bears dropping to No. 9. More significantly, they moved behind Ole Miss. The Bears will have a chance to redeem themselves, but that clearly indicates that the committee is not overly impressed by their resume at this point. We have never seen a team jump from this far back into the playoff in the final week of the rankings.

Pac-12 Championship Game
No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 17 Utah
Friday, 8 p.m. ET on ABC

Maybe just leave ABC on all weekend, with four conference championship games airing between Friday and Saturday. I already mentioned that the ACC title game has no bearing on the College Football Playoff. There is a chance that the Pac-12 doesn’t either. Oregon and Utah both have at least two losses entering Friday’s game. There is still plenty to play for with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, but the implications on the national landscape are more peripheral.

If Oregon wins…
Could the Ducks make the playoff? Probably not, but apparently anything goes in 2021. Let’s say Georgia beats Alabama while both Michigan and Cincinnati lose. The door suddenly opens for Oregon. Notre Dame would be in. The Big 12 champion likely would be, too, even if Baylor wins. Would the committee take Alabama or Michigan fresh off a loss? How about Ohio State, whom Oregon beat earlier this season? It gets a bit unclear. Likely, Alabama would get the nod, but a Power 5 conference champion would certainly be in the conversation. There is also something to be said for the Ducks avenging their most recent loss of the season.

I’m not saying it is likely, but at that point, the committee would be picking between two-loss Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Ole Miss and Oregon. It becomes an interesting discussion. The fact that Oregon is ranked behind all of them and facing a team outside the top 10 makes it feel unrealistic. Maybe a win by Oregon makes Ohio State’s resume look better? I don’t know. This year has just been so confusing.

If Utah wins…
Go enjoy the Rose Bowl and revel in beating the Ducks twice. Utah will not be in the playoff. This year is weird, but not weird enough for a three-loss team to somehow reach the final four. Mario Cristobal could be headed for Miami though as a result. Food for thought.