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.

2021 NFL Pro Potential Power Rankings

College football is back! With the season getting underway in earnest, this is a great time to look at the top programs for sending players to the NFL. This is my sixth year running these rankings, and while there has been a lot that has changed, some things stay the same. Alabama is still on top and has a monster lead over Ohio State. Nick Saban is running a NFL factory down in Tuscaloosa.

I love doing these rankings every year because it shows you which schools are the best at preparing players for the NFL draft. Obviously, it should be taken into account that usually these schools are also the ones that excel in recruiting, but there is a lot more to it than that. Receiving the right exposure, playing in a specific system or especially competing against the best talent all play a role in shaping a prospects’ draft stock as well. This is not a predictive measurement of how well players from these schools will do in the pros. For high school prospects with dreams of playing on Sundays, these are the best programs to get you there.

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

For those wondering 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 2017 to 2021.

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 – 343 points
Previous: 1 (315 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Quinnen Williams, 3rd Overall, 2019
Alabama continues to raise the bar. After claiming his sixth national championship since taking over for the Tide in 2009, Nick Saban tied the 2004 Miami Hurricanes when six of his players were drafted in the first round of 2021. Somehow, the Tide keep increasing their point total. After Ohio State pulled within 30 points a year ago, Alabama has stretched their lead to nearly 100 points again. No one is touching them for a while.

Ohio State Logo

2. Ohio State Buckeyes – 248 points
Previous: 2 (285 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Nick Bosa/Chase Young, 2nd Overall, 2019/2020
At first glance, it might seem like the Buckeyes had a rough 2021 draft. It was solid if unspectacular, but their massive drop in points is mostly due to losing out on a 2016 draft class that featured 12 players, including five first-rounders. Ohio State is not going anywhere, but after seeming like they were primed to challenge Alabama for the top spot a year ago, this was a disappointing follow up.

Louisiana State University logo

3. LSU Tigers – 215 points
Previous: 3 (202 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Joe Burrow, 1st Overall, 2020
The championship hangover hit the Bayou hard as LSU struggled to a 5-5 finish. Still, the Tigers had seven players drafted, highlighted by Ja’Marr Chase going in the top 5. There is already buzz about another potential top-five prospect in Derek Stingley Jr., so I think LSU is here to stay. They will need to pick it up in the first few rounders though if they want to stay in the top three.

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4. Michigan Wolverines – 170 points
Previous: 6 (144 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Devin Bush, 10th Overall, 2019
I said it last year and I will say it again, Jim Harbaugh, despite all his flaws running this program, knows how to get players to the NFL. Michigan saw eight of its football alumni have their names called across the three days of the 2021 draft in April. Kwity Paye led the way going 21st overall. There are already a few players in the top 50 conversation heading into this season, so the Wolverines could climb even higher.

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5. Florida Gators – 167 points
Previous: 5 (161 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Kyle Pitts, 4th Overall, 2021
Florida’s draft success took another step forward as Kyle Pitts became the Gators’ first top-five pick since Dante Fowler back in 2015. Pitts kicked off a good-sized draft class, with eight former Florida players coming off the board on draft day. With tons of NFL-caliber talent still on this roster and Dan Mullen still running the show, Florida is going to stick among college football elites in this category.

Clemson Logo

6. Clemson Tigers – 165 points
Previous: 4 (171 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Trevor Lawrence, 1st Overall, 2021
It feels weird that Clemson would have the No. 1 overall pick and somehow move down two spots after dropping a few points. The Tigers had a solid draft class of five players. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne were both first-round selections. This is not a huge blow for Clemson, but I think it underlines just how hard it is to produce top-end NFL prospects.

Georgia Logo

7. Georgia Bulldogs – 153 points
Previous: 9 (131 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Roquon Smith, 8th Overall, 2018
Kirby Smart feels like he is just getting started. Georgia had nine players drafted in 2021, including three in the top 50. With a loaded roster heading into 2021 with some big-name prospects already drawing national attention, the Bulldogs are primed for future success. J.T. Daniels, Adam Anderson, Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis could all come off the board in the top 50 in 2022.

Oklahoma Logo

8. Oklahoma Sooners – 138 points
Previous: 8 (133 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray, 1st Overall, 2018/2019
This was a quiet draft by Oklahoma standards. 2021 snapped a three-year streak of having a player selected in the first round and only two players went in the top 100. That should change in 2022, with Spencer Rattler in the Heisman conversation and some other prospects receiving first-round buzz. As long as Lincoln Riley is in Norman, the Sooners are going to be in the top 10.

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9. Washington Huskies – 132 points
Previous: 10 (110 points)
Highest Drafted Player – John Ross, 9th Overall, 2017
If you are a high school prospect with NFL aspirations looking to play on the West Coast, Washington should probably be at the top of your wish list. It remains to be seen if Jimmy Lake can sustain the success Chris Pederson built. If 2021 was any indication, the program should be fine. Joe Tryon snuck into the first round and Levi Onwuzurike was not far behind him. Four former Huskies heard their names called and there should be a few more to follow in 2022.

Notre Dame Logo

10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 130 points
Previous: 7 (136 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Quenton Nelson, 6th Overall, 2018
Hate on the Irish all you want, Brian Kelly is producing NFL prospects at a high level. It was the second year in a row that Notre Dame did not have a first-round pick, but they somewhat made up for that with three second-rounders. Kyle Hamilton will almost definitely snap that streak next year. With a very small draft class in 2017, the Irish should be in a good spot to add more points in 2022.

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11. Penn State Nittany Lions – 109 points
Previous: 13 (100 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Saquon Barkley, 2nd Overall, 2018
The gap between the top 10 and everyone else is apparent. Penn State has steadily made progress in these rankings in recent years. When I first started recording this, the Nittany Lions were 23rd and had not had a first-round pick in the previous five years. Fast forward to 2021 and Penn State had multiple players taken in the first round for the first time since 2003. Yes, it certainly seems like Happy Valley is back to being a hot spot for NFL prospects.

USC logo

12. USC Trojans – 108 points
Previous: 11 (104 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Sam Darnold, 3rd Overall, 2018
15 years ago, USC likely would have led these rankings. After a long lull, it seems like the Trojans are headed in the right direction. Alijah Vera-Tucker was the highest drafted player of a group of five former USC players. With Kedon Slovis and Drake London drawing first-round hype already, the Trojans could be in for an even bigger draft class in 2022.

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13. Iowa Hawkeyes – 98 points
Previous: 19 (86 points)
Highest Drafted Player – T.J. Hockenson, 8th Overall, 2019
This was definitely a down year for the Hawkeyes, yet they take a big step forward in the rankings. That is primarily because Austin Blythe was the only former Iowa player drafted in 2016 and he went in the seventh round. Hard to do much worse than that from a draft perspective. Iowa has dominated the middle rounds and have hit some highs with first-round selections in 2019 and 2020. If they are serious about staying in the top 15, the Hawkeyes will likely need to start producing first-rounders more regularly.

Miami logo

14. Miami Hurricanes – 97 points
Previous: 19 (86 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Jaelan Phillips, 18th Overall, 2021
Miami is really close to rejoining the elite schools in the country when it comes to sending players to the NFL. No one came close to matching the Hurricanes in the early 2000s, but they have fallen on hard times. Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau were the first players from Miami drafted before the third round since 2017. That is a problem. There is more talent on the horizon, but as we have seen, it is far from a guarantee that those players will crack those first two rounds.

Auburn_Tigers_logo

15. Auburn Tigers – 96 points
Previous: 12 (101 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Derrick Brown, 7th Overall, 2020
The Gus Malzahn era is officially over and the on-field results correspond with a dip in the pro potential power rankings. The Tigers dominated the 2020 draft, highlighted by two selections in the first 30 picks, but those were their only first round draftees since 2014. Anthony Schwartz was the first Auburn player off the board this year and he went 91st. It will be interesting to see if Bryan Harsin can turn things around and how long it will take before the program is back among the nation’s elite, if it ever returns.

Texas A&M logo

16. Texas A&M Aggies – 90 points
Previous: 17 (90 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Myles Garrett, 1st Overall, 2017
Despite a great season on the field, narrowly missing the College Football Playoff, Texas A&M had a really quiet draft. Only four players came off the board. Kellen Mond was the first and he went in the third round. That was a bit underwhelming, but oh boy, the 2022 Aggies draft class will likely change all of that. DeMarvin Leal, Jaylen Wydermyer, Kenyon Green and Isaiah Spiller will all be in the first-round conversation. There is plenty of depth after that. Jimbo Fisher has a good track record with sending players to the league. There is a reason Florida State has fallen off a cliff in NFL prospect production since he left.

Stanford Cardinal

17. Stanford Cardinal – 88 points
Previous: 21 (85 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Solomon Thomas, 3rd Overall, 2017
Stanford continues to produce NFL talent every year. Five players heard their names called in 2021, with all of them coming between the second and fifth rounds. Unfortunately, the quality of play on the field continues to slide and there is a chance the number of Cardinal players heading to the NFL could follow. David Shaw is a fantastic coach, but he needs to do something to revive this program.

Utah_Utes_logo

18. Utah Utes – 86 points
Previous: 20 (90 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Garrett Bolles, 20th Overall, 2017
It is not time to panic in Salt Lake City. Not having a single player drafted in 2021 is startling, but that comes on the heels of a strong seven-man draft class in 2020. There is hope on the horizon with Devin Lloyd likely to generate some first-round buzz. This past draft class is still incredibly disappointing, but I wouldn’t expect Utah to completely drop out of the rankings right away.

Florida State Logo

19. Florida State Seminoles – 78 points
Previous: 23 (80 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Brian Burns, 16th Overall, 2019
Florida State has struggled to keep up their NFL factory tag in the post Jimbo Fisher era. The Seminoles drop a couple points but move up because of other teams struggling around them. If the season opener against Notre Dame was any indication though, there is a chance there is some more NFL talent on the roster than initially thought. 2022 could be a huge inflection point one way or the other in determining which direction FSU is headed in these rankings.

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20. Mississippi State Bulldogs – 77 points
Previous: 16 (91 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Jeffery Simmons, 19th Overall, 2019
This was not ideal. Only two Mississippi State players were drafted in 2021. Both were seventh rounders. That is not going to get it done in these rankings, at least not long term. The Bulldogs should hang around bolstered by a 2019 draft class that featured three first-round picks, but this is a red flag. There is a chance their days in the top 20 are coming to an end.

UCLA logo.jpg

21. UCLA Bruins – 76 points
Previous: 14 (98 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Josh Rosen, 10th Overall, 2018
Another small draft class sees the Bruins take a major tumble down the rankings. Osa Odighizuwa and Demetric Felton were the only players drafted from UCLA this past year. Early signs point to Chip Kelly having this team headed in the right direction. In his fourth season in L.A., Kelly finally has his own recruits running the show. Zach Charbonnet is off to a hot start and there are a few other prospects already earning top 100 buzz. Perhaps the Bruins are primed for a bounce back and better days ahead now that Kelly is settling in.

Wisconsin logo

22. Wisconsin Badgers – 74 points
Previous: 25 (73 points)
Highest Drafted Player – T.J. Watt, 30th Overall, 2017
It was another ho-hum draft class for the Badgers. Three former Wisconsin players were drafted, but none of them were selected prior to the fifth round. Another year like that could see Paul Chryst’s program slide out of the rankings. There are a number of teams all within 15 points of Wisconsin at this stage. Its 2017 draft class was also a strong one, so they will need to have a better 2022 to help replace it when next year rolls around.

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23. North Carolina State Wolfpack – 72 points
Previous: 22 (83 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Bradley Chubb, 5th Overall, 2018
Alim McNeil was the lone North Carolina State player taken in 2021. He was a third-round pick, but one-man draft classes don’t really do much in these rankings. Considering the Wolfpack’s on-field success, it was a bit of surprise no one else joined McNeil. NC State has a good history of producing NFL talent, so they could be in line for a turnaround, but it will need to happen quickly.

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24. TCU Horned Frogs – 70 points
Previous: 24 (79 points)
Highest Draft Player – Jalen Reagor, 21st Overall, 2020
TCU is lucky to stay in these rankings. The Horned Frogs only had two players taken in 2021. However, they could be in line for a resurgence in 2022. Their 2017 draft class consisted of just one seventh-round selection, so it will be hard for them to really drop more points in next year’s rankings. There are a few players on the 2021 roster that should come off the board in the top 100, so the top 20 is definitely within reach.

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25. Ole Miss Rebels – 69 points
Previous: 15 (93 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Evan Engram, 23rd Overall, 2021
The biggest drop of any program in the 2021 rankings, Ole Miss is hanging on for dear life. Their two players selected were in the second and fourth rounds, which is solid. However, that was replacing a 2016 draft class that produced three first-rounders. Now Evan Engram is the only former Rebel taken in the first round in the past five years. Maybe Matt Corral could change that, but it would take a big season for him to break into the top 32 prospects come draft day.

25. North Carolina – 69 points
Previous: NR (46 points)
Highest Drafted Player – Mitchell Trubisky, QB, UNC
2021 was a solid year for UNC both on the field and in terms of draft production. Their five players selected replaced a 2016 draft class featuring zero NFL prospects. That is a big part of the reason for the Tar Heels’ surge. It also helps that Mack Brown is attracting big-time talent to Chapel Hill. Sam Howell will have to prove himself in 2021 to solidify his first-round draft stock. There could be a few other players that work their way into the top 100 when all is said and done.

Others Receiving Votes: Virginia Tech (64 points), South Carolina (60 points), Kentucky (60 points)

Note: All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons