The NFL season is right around the corner and while all 32 franchises are trying to make their final roster decisions, I wanted to take a different approach to roster building. Inspired in part by the annual NFL Top 100 players list, voted on by the players in the league, I wanted to know who the top 100 players would be to start a team with in 2022.
There are a variety of factors that went into creating this list. Let me lay out the criteria.
First, age played a major role in determining which players made this list. Only six players over the age of 30 made the list. Positional value was the other big driving force behind these rankings. There is no doubt that Jonathan Taylor is one of the best young players in the game right now, but you wouldn’t pick him first overall to start an NFL franchise from scratch. The positional value of running backs is simply not high enough to warrant that. Neither is the longevity of the position on average. You most likely want to find a player who is going to last a long time to build your franchise around. There are a few notable exceptions to that rule. With that in mind, I prioritized quarterbacks, offensive tackles, cornerbacks, edge rushers and wide receivers. There are plenty of instances where a more talented player slid down the board a little further simply because they played a less valuable position.
There were a few other factors I considered, including years remaining on contract, contract structure and salary commitments. There is a reason why rookie contracts are so valuable, especially when you hit on a star. That player is now on a team friendly deal with several years of team control built in.
If you missed the previous entry, you can find it here.
With all of that in mind, let’s continue our countdown to No. 1. Check back Wednesday for players 45 to 41.
50. Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills Age: 27 Years remaining on contract: 4 2022 cap hit: $16.4 million I will admit, I am probably a bit too high on White, who is coming off a torn ACL. That being said, I really love his game. He has been an impact player since he came into the league, finishing as runner up for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017. He was an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in 2019 and 2020. I expect he likely would have been in 2021 as well if not for the knee injury. His advanced metrics in coverage are great every year. What sells me even more on White is his contract situation. His cap hit hovers right around $16 million for the next four seasons, which is very affordable for an elite cover corner. It ranks third for the position in 2022, but drops to 14th in 2023 and even lower beyond that.
49. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins Age: 23 Years remaining on contract: 4 2022 cap hit: $6.16 million Given what receivers are being paid in the NFL these days, getting Waddle at just north of $6 million is a bargain. Waddle became just the second rookie receiver in NFL history to haul in 100 catches, surpassing Anquan Bolden’s record of 101 set in 2003. He is a huge threat in space and excels at generating separation in small spaces. His acceleration is incredible. It is only one year of production, but in an offense that was far from prolific passing the football, Miami ranked 17th in yards per game last season, I think this was about as strong of a start as you could have hoped for.
48. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Detroit Lions Age: 22 Years remaining on contract: 5 2022 cap hit: $6.49 million Hutchinson has come a long way from the foot injury that cost him the remainder of the 2020 college season. He became the first defensive player to finish as the runner up for the Heisman since Manti Te’o in 2012. That was thanks in large part to a monster senior season featuring 14 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. I love his motor and his polish as a pass rusher off the edge. I think he is going to be a star in this league for a long time to come. I am willing to invest in that upside.
47. Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins Age: 28 Years remaining on contract: 5 2022 cap hit: $6.49 million Catch him if you can. Hill will get the chance to remind everyone that he was a great receiver before Patrick Mahomes came along now that he is with the Dolphins. He has been a Pro Bowler every season of his career and a three-time All-Pro. He has led the league in yards from scrimmage per touch in two different seasons so far as well. You might be wondering why he isn’t higher, given all of the accolades. He is clearly in the prime of his career, but I worry a little bit about his longevity as a player whose game is so heavily predicated on speed and his contract situation. Hill’s cap hit for 2022 is very easy to swallow, but balloons to over $31 million in 2023. Still, he is a game-changer with the ability to take the top off a defense at any moment. That is worth investing in.
46. Ahmad Gardner, CB, New York Jets Age: 22 Years remaining on contract: 5 2022 cap hit: $6.08 million First and foremost, happy 22nd birthday to Sauce! The Jets top pick has looked the part so far in the preseason. After not allowing a touchdown during his collegiate career, he was not even targeted during his first preseason. I am not sure how important that stat really is, but Gardner brings length, talent and swagger to a position that demands all of them to be considered elite. Gardner was my No. 2 player in this past draft class and I think he is going to be one of the best corners in the league very quickly. His rookie deal will keep him at an affordable cap hit for the foreseeable future as well.
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It is hard to believe it is already November. The first round of College Football Playoff rankings have already dropped and the second edition will already see a new top 4 following Michigan State’s loss to Purdue. While I have thoroughly enjoyed this wild college football season, I am also looking ahead to the 2022 NFL draft. This class is one of the most interesting ones we have had in recent years. Without an elite quarterback prospect, this group is dominated by elite offensive and defensive linemen. For the countless general managers who love to build in the trenches, this class is going to be a really fun one.
I already dropped my first mock draft of the year last week, but now I turn my attention to my first big board of the 2022 draft cycle. Mock drafts focus more on team fits, positional value and need. Big boards solely look at who the best prospects are to compete at the next level. While yes, it is likely that a quarterback goes in the top five picks, I do not have any ranked among my top 15 prospects. It is also unusual to see teams taking a safety in the top five, and just because Kyle Hamilton is a top-five player, it does not mean I think he will be a top-five draft pick.
This group has already been a fun one to break down and I have tons more film to go through before we reach draft day. I’ve watched at least two games for just about all of the prospects I have ranked below. This is far from set in stone. It is merely my initial assessment of where these prospects stack up. Without further ado, let’s get to these future NFL stars.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon There really isn’t anything Kayvon Thibodeaux can’t do. He is dominant as a pass rusher and disruptive against the run. He brings all of the projectables you want to see from a top-end edge rusher. With his length, bend and burst off the edge, he can line up with hand in the dirt or as a standup pass rusher. His ability to change the game makes him the top prospect in this class.
2. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama Size, speed and power. Evan Neal has it all. At 6’7”, 360 lbs, he is a mountain of a man, but moves like someone at least 100 pounds lighter than him. He has experience on both sides of the line, but has shown he is more than capable of holding his own in pass protection this year in the SEC. He has all the tools to be a franchise left tackle. He flashes some moments on film where he just flat out dominates opposing linemen. He did it to DeMarvin Leal earlier this season. I think he will be one of the top five players off the board come April.
3. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame Independent of position, Kyle Hamilton is one of the best players in this draft. Obviously, we don’t see too many safeties that go in the top three, but Hamilton could genuinely be worth the selection. Unlike Jamal Adams, he has the coverage ability to make him worth the selection this early in the draft. However, he is still a hard hitter who wraps up well and can play just about anywhere you want in coverage. His range makes him a complete player.
4. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan If it is possible, breaking his leg in 2020 was likely a great thing for Aidan Hutchinson. He was in the mix to go in the top 50 last season. Now, it will be a surprise to see Hutchinson fall out of the top 10. He is a problem for opposing offensive lines in pass protection. He has six sacks this season and the length needed to succeed in the NFL. I expect him to test pretty well at the combine and at his pro day as well to bolster his draft stock.
5. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU Injuries have started to hurt Derek Stingley Jr.’s draft stock. When he has played this year, he has not looked like the elite shutdown corner we saw in 2019 and much of 2020. He has the physical tools and tape to be a top-five pick. However, he is going to need to answer a lot of questions in the pre-draft process. Otherwise, we could see Stingley start sliding much further down draft boards.
6. Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M Pick a position on the offensive line, Kenyon Green has most likely played it. He has taken snaps at every spot except center this year. Many see him fitting best as a guard at the next level, but he has been Texas A&M’s starting left tackle for much of this season. He has not done much to indicate he cannot play tackle in the NFL, but measurements and testing numbers might dictate how teams view him.
7. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue Purdue has been a giant killer this season. George Karlaftis is a big part of the reason the Boilermakers are making noise on the national stage. He has not put up the huge pass rushing numbers so far this season, but his impact can be seen on tape. He is very capable of turning the corner and chasing down opposing running backs and quarterbacks. He is a quick-twitch athlete with plenty of upside that should land him in the top 10.
8. DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M Something of a tweener, DeMarvin Leal has plenty of experience at end and at tackle from his time at Texas A&M. I like him best on the interior. That’s not to say he cannot play out on the edge, but I think he projects best as a defensive tackle. His ability to beat interior offensive line off the snap with his quickness is incredibly impactful. He has the strength to fight through run blocks as well. Teams needing a 1-technique or 3-technique player should be all over Leal.
9. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah One of my favorite players in this draft class, I’ve been banging the drum for Devin Lloyd since 2019. He jumped out to me on film when watching Bradlee Anae. His athleticism and nose for the football stood out. He can do a little bit of everything, evidenced by his 81 tackles, 6 sacks and 3 interceptions in 2021. Sometimes, he is guilty of being over aggressive and not reading his keys, but he is usually an instinctive, downhill player with good production.
10. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa Given his size, Tyler Linderbaum won’t be for everyone. He is listed at 6’3”, 290 lbs, which is definitely a little light for interior linemen in the NFL. However, he is one of the most agile linemen in the country and has some nastiness to his blocking. For any team that runs a zone blocking scheme or one that emphasizes pulling linemen to block, he would be an excellent fit. Despite that slightly smaller frame, he is still more than capable of blowing opposing defensive linemen off the ball and putting them on the ground.
11. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati The man known as Sauce is certainly no secret. He is arguably the best player on Cincinnati. Desmond Ridder and Myjai Sanders might have something to say about that. One thing is for sure, he is definitely the best NFL prospect on this team. A big corner, Ahmad Gardner is a press man corner with experience in zone schemes. I think he has the size and traits to be a true No. 1 corner at the next level.
12. Drake London, WR, USC Despite a broken ankle, Drake London is my No. 1 wide receiver right now. He reminds me a lot of Mike Evans in his play style. Given his size and ability to catch the ball away from his body, he is a mismatch for most opposing corners. His production this season certainly points to that. He eclipsed 1,000 yards in just eight games. USC threw at him a lot too, as he recorded at least nine catches in all but one game this year. He certainly has room to improve his route running, but I like what he brings to the table.
13. Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia After watching Jordan Davis, it is fair to wonder how people that large are able to move that fast. Davis is 6’6”, 340 lbs, but he has burst off the line of scrimmage. He can collapse the pocket and stuff the run. On tape, he displays good play strength and a solid understanding of gap assignments. It is fair to wonder how much he benefits from playing with the talent around him. That being said, there is no way Georgia linebackers would look as good without him eating up blocks in front of them.
14. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State Garrett Wilson’s production won’t blow you away. It is solid, with 687 yards and 6 touchdowns on 43 catches, but far from breaking any records. However, his tape tells a different story. He has the stop-and-start ability to make defenders miss, reliable hands and a well-developed route tree. He is an all-around receiver who can fit some different roles as needed.
15. Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC When you look at Drake Jackson’s athletic profile, it is easy to see how he fits at the NFL level. He is built like a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, standing 6’4″, 255 lbs. While primarily serving as a pass rusher, Jackson does have a couple of snaps where he drops into coverage, mostly in the flats. It definitely his not is strong suit, but it is good to see him show he is capable of being a three-down player. Why teams will be interested though is because of his quick first step and tantalizing length. He understands the importance of keeping contain, but still has room to grow as a block shedder. He is an intriguing prospect.
16. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State The Athletic called him the most feared offensive linemen in the ACC. Put on the film and it is easy to see why. Ikem Ekwonu blocks to the whistle on just about every play, many of which involve him putting defenders on the ground. He shows some incredible raw power as a run blocker and is fairly polished in pass protection. There is room for improvement when it comes to his balance and footwork, but that mostly points to a higher ceiling for him to reach given all his physical gifts.
17. Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA There are a few things I really like about Sean Rhyan’s game. He always keeps the play in front of him. He slides his feet well and keeps his head up to see what he is hitting. I can’t tell you how many offensive linemen I watch that drop their heads as they lean into a block. You won’t see that very often with Rhyan. He has decent athleticism for the position but it won’t blow you away. If he can take the next step as a run blocker, he could push himself even higher up my board.
18. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss This is not the year to desperately need a quarterback. That’s not to say Matt Corral won’t succeed in the NFL. His play style and traits are reminiscent of Baker Mayfield, maybe without the same arm strength. Corral does show nice zip on his passes, but his ball placement is inconsistent. He has a good internal clock, but there are moments where he hangs onto the ball too long. He has enough athleticism to hang in the modern NFL, but he won’t be putting up huge rushing numbers. There is definitely a bit of room for improvement if he can improve his accuracy.
19. Christian Harris, LB, Alabama The latest example of the modern day NFL linebacker, Christian Harris is built like a linebacker, but moves like a safety. He has great closing speed and flashes impressive strength as a pass rusher against backs and tight ends. He is a very effective blitzer and has more than enough range to play in coverage. So far, he has not shown the awareness or ability to work through run blocks to be a middle linebacker, but he could fit really well as an outside backer in a 4-3 scheme.
20. Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson I tend to be a fan of taller corners. If you take a look at the top outside corners around the NFL, most are at least 5’11”. Jaire Alexander is pretty much the only elite corner below that threshold, and he is 5’10”. All of that to say that Andrew Booth Jr. checks all the physical boxes for a top outside corner. He has plus athleticism and good ball skills as well. This is more of a projection as to where he could end up, but there is a lot to like so far.
21. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State This offensive line class is shaping up to be a pretty good one. Charles Cross has all the physical tools to be a really good right tackle and the potential to start as a blindside protector down the line. He is physical in the ground game, even if Mississippi State’s offense does not run the ball much. Cross’ 2021 film shows some improved hand placement and technique in pass protection, but I am concerned by how consistently he is beaten across his face, a cardinal sin in pass blocking. If he can fix the problem, likely oversetting in pass blocking kick, he will move up on my board.
22. Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida Another long, tall corner, Kaiir Elam has all the traits to be a good press-man corner. He is 6’2” with good open field speed and shows physicality on film. I haven’t been able to watch too much of his 2021 film yet, but his 2020 film shows some room for improvement in zone and off coverage. He is definitely better when he is allowed to keep contact with opposing receivers. I’m excited to dig into more of his tape from this year.
23. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty Much like Trey Lance and Jordan Love as prospects before him, Malik Willis has exciting physical traits and some truly spectacular plays on film, but struggles with consistency and has a lot of developing to do before he is ready to be a starting NFL quarterback. The arm talent is clearly there, but he holds onto the ball way too long and has not learned to throw it away. Following a hot start, he has come back down to earth. He now has three games this season with three interceptions. He also took a staggering nine sacks against Ole Miss. Some of that is on his offensive line, but Willis needs to identify the rush and learn to get rid of the football when he knows the pressure is coming.
24. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama Another year, another incredibly talented Alabama wide receiver. Jameson Williams is not quite as polished or physically dominant as Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, but he is a solid route runner with good hands and a knack for the big play. He has surpassed John Metchie as the top receiver in Alabama’s offense. I will be really interested to see how he tests during the pre draft process.
25. Daxton Hill, S, Michigan Much of the early scouting process is focused on identifying traits in players that can translate to the NFL. It does not take long to start seeing how Daxton Hill’s traits could translate. He posted the highest SPARQ rating in the 2019 recruiting class and you can see his clear speed and burst when you watch him fly around in Michigan’s defense. He also has reps in man-to-man coverage out of the slot. With experience at both safety spots, he could be a versatile chess piece for defensive coordinators to move around at the next level.
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Prior to 2021, we would be reaching the halfway point of the NFL regular season right. With a 17th game, there is no clean midway point of the season, so this is still close enough. The league standings are starting to take shape and it is clear which teams should start thinking about which players they could draft come April.
I am so excited that mock draft season is heating up. With tons of college football action already in the books, we are starting to get a sense for who the top prospects in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft will be. We still have a long way to go though before final rankings are in or the draft order is even set, so this more about starting to familiarize ourselves with upcoming team needs on the NFL side and players to watch as the college season continues.
This is the most up-to-date draft order according to Tankathon through the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. The outcome of Chiefs-Giants on Monday night will likely see each team slide a couple spots in either direction.
With the trade deadline right around the corner, it will be interesting to see if any of these teams’ needs change, but for right now, this is which players I could see teams targeting when the draft rolls around.
1. Detroit Lions (0-8) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon It is hard to find much to be positive about following a 44-6 loss. However, it moves the Lions one step closer to landing an elite edge rusher in Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Oregon star has been incredibly disruptive this season, racking up sacks and tackles for loss while just generally wreaking havoc. He would immediately provide a boost to this overmatched Detroit defense. Dan Campbell will love his motor and his nose for the football.
2. Houston Texans (1-7) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU Houston’s secondary is a mess. The trio of Desmond King, Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves do not inspire much confidence for the future, nor have they done much to deserve to stick on the roster past the 2021 season. Derek Stingley Jr. will have some questions to answer in the pre-draft process after missing much of this season due to injury. When healthy though, he is a sticky cover man with good physical traits and above average instincts. If he can return to the level he played at in 2019, when LSU won a national title, he will be a very good corner in the NFL.
3. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (1-7) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan Miami is probably really regretting trading away their first-round pick right about now. Philadelphia will be happy to jump on an elite edge prospect who is drawing comparisons to J.J. Watt. He missed much of the 2020 season due to a broken leg and it might have been a really good thing for him. He has been on a tear in 2021, demonstrating good pass rush moves and overwhelming opposing offensive tackles. I would be surprised if he made it out of the top 10 with the production and tape he has put together this season.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama This is a perfect example of need meeting value and talent for the Jaguars. Evan Neal is built like a small mountain or a very large human being. Measuring in at 6’7″, 360 pounds, he checks all the physical boxes for a prototypical left tackle in the NFL. He also brings above average athleticism for the position, especially given his size. He brings a ton of experience going up against top-end competition in the SEC at both tackle spots in his college career. Trevor Lawrence needs to be protected and this is a smart move to accomplish that goal.
5. Washington Football Team (2-6) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty Another week, another lackluster showing from the Washington offense. Taylor Heinicke is not the only reason for those struggles, with the offensive line and running game failing to provide much help, but it is clear Washington needs a new quarterback. Malik Willis brings the best physical tools of any quarterback in this class. He has a huge arm with impressive elusiveness and burst as a runner. There is no question he is a bit of a project at this point. He holds onto the ball for far too long in the pocket and needs to learn when to get rid of it. Given his running ability and the lack of talent around him, he rarely works through more than one or two reads. Given time though, Willis could end up being a high-end NFL starter.
6. New York Jets (2-5) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M Despite another improbable victory, the Jets offensive is still a work in progress, especially along the interior. Greg Van Roten turns 32 this offseason and could be a cap casualty. Kenyon Green could step in and start from day 1 in his place. He has experience at both tackle and guard in his college career, which could come in handy given Mekhi Becton’s injury history. Zach Wilson has been one of the most pressured and hit quarterbacks in the league this year. Green could help solidify an improving unit.
7. New York Giants (2-5) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue The Giants will be disappointed Green lands with the team that shares their stadium, but it allows them to grab the electric George Karlaftis. He would be an excellent complement to Azeez Ojulari, giving New York an exciting young duo of pass rushers. So far this year, Joe Judge’s defense ranks 30th in pass-rush win rate. Karlaftis has a quick first step and some impressive pass rush moves. He has room for improvement in the run game, but is incredibly disruptive. Most of his reps come with his hand on the ground, but he could operate a standup rusher if needed.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame A dynamic, ball-hawking safety would be a great addition to the Eagles secondary. Kyle Hamilton could very well be off the board before this spot, given his range and versatility in coverage schemes. He has already flashed his speed this season on a couple of remarkable plays. I am always a bit skeptical of drafting a safety this high given the positional value, but Hamilton is a complete package with the ability to drastically change the outlook of this defense. Philly definitely needs to rebuild the defense.
9. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (3-5) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah Let’s keep rebuilding this defense. I expect that Philadelphia will likely trade one of these picks away, but I’m not ready to project mock draft trades in early November. Assuming they stay put, grabbing a toolsy linebacker to play at really any of their linebacker spots. I don’t think it is unfair to say that there is not an NFL starting-caliber linebacker on the Eagles’ roster right now. Devin Lloyd is one of my favorite prospects in this draft cycle. He is very aggressive and athletic. I expect him to be a playmaker at the next level with the speed to hang in coverage.
10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (3-5) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati After addressing the offensive line with their first pick of this draft, New York goes defense to find another corner to pair with Bryce Hall. There is still a chance one of their young defensive backs could develop, but Ahmad Gardner is a better prospect than anyone the Jets have in their secondary right now. He is big and long at 6’3″ with plus ball skills. He has been a major part of Cincinnati’s impressive season. While Robert Saleh’s scheme does not prioritize corners, finding two long, athletic corners to run the system with would only increase its effectiveness.
11. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (3-5) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa Five of the first 11 picks belong to the Eagles, Jets and Giants right now. Fun time to be a scout in the tri-state area. New York grabs an edge rusher at No. 7, so this time they go to the other side of the line of scrimmage. With Nick Gates suffering a potentially career-ending injury earlier this year Dave Gettleman attempting to rebuild the interior of his offensive line with castoffs on the trade block, center feels like a big need. Tyler Linderbaum is one of the fastest interior linemen that I have ever watched. He is great as a pulling blocker and operates well in space. He would be a welcome addition to the offense for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
12. Atlanta Falcons (3-4) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M Unquestionably, Grady Jarrett needs some help along the Falcons defensive line. Atlanta struggles to rush the passer and has gotten very little production from anyone other than Jarrett. DeMarvin Leal is a talented defensive lineman who can play as a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle. He sets the edge well and shows a good initial punch at the point of attack. He would definitely command some attention, which would open things up more for Jarrett.
13. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (3-4) – Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA There are a few directions the Dolphins could head here. I think the urge to move on from Tua Tagovailoa is fading slightly even though Miami continues to lose. Honestly, Tua seems to be very far from the problem right now. The Dolphins’ offensive line is the worst in the league in terms of pass-block win rate. That has to be the focal point in the draft and free agency. Sean Rhyan is an intriguing prospect with really impressive agility and technique. He keeps the play in front of him and understands blocking angles. He could potentially be Miami’s long-term answer at left tackle, Austin Jackson continues to struggle.
14. Minnesota Vikings (3-4) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson I know it is a running joke right now and fans will push back, but it is hard to see who else the Vikings truly trust at corner outside of Patrick Peterson. Neither Bashaud Breeland nor Mackensie Alexander has done much to indicate they have what it takes to start on the outside. Andrew Booth Jr. would give Minnesota a projectable starter in 2022 and beyond. Putting him in a position to learn from Peterson while he acclimates to the NFL would be a phenomenal situation for him. He checks all the boxes from a measurables standpoint as well.
15. Kansas City Chiefs (3-4) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama While the offense has not been good this season, the Chiefs defense might be the worst in the league. They lack playmakers at every level. Most notably, Kansas City ranks dead last in run-stop win rate this season. Bringing in Christian Harris should help get this defense back on track. He is incredibly athletic, flying around the field. 10 years ago, Harris likely would have been a safety in the NFL. He is one of those new-age linebackers that brings a ton of speed and coverage ability to the position. He has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to reading his keys and finishing tackles, but his athletic profile makes him an exciting prospect.
16. New England Patriots (3-4) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State It is a little too early for a safety and the top three corners are already off the board, so the Patriots opt to protect Mac Jones instead. Isaiah Wynn is playing well enough to keep his job, so Charles Cross could be in line to start at right tackle in 2022. Trent Brown has not played since the season opener and will be a free agent following the season. Neither Justin Herron nor Yasir Durant has done much to indicate they should be the long-term starter. Cross is one of the best run blockers in this draft with a lot to like in pass protection as well. He struggles when opponents work across his face, but he can anchor and stem pass rushing moves. With a bit of polishing, he could be a really strong starter.
17. Denver Broncos (3-4) – Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss I would be shocked if Denver went into 2022 with Teddy Bridgewater as the unquestioned starter. He has been serviceable, but far from impressive enough to indicate that he should be the starter long term. Matt Corral would be a fun prospect for the Broncos to work with. He has played at a high level in 2021, piloting a high-scoring Ole Miss offense. He is a dual threat player, scoring 23 touchdowns this season, including eight on the ground. He has cut down on the interceptions this year, which is a huge improvement, but there is still plenty of upside left for him to tap into.
18. Cleveland Browns (4-3) – Drake London, WR, USC Two years ago, the idea of the Browns spending a first-round pick on a wide receiver would have seemed outlandish. However, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry continuing to show signs that their best football is behind them, Cleveland will be searching for Baker Mayfield’s new top target. Drake London is not for everyone, but he can be a game-changing player with his ability to adjust to balls in midair and make catches away from his body. If you throw it within his zip code, he has the size and ball skills to bring it in. There is room for improvement as a route runner, but he would be a very reliable option for Mayfield to work with in this offense.
19. Carolina Panthers (4-4) – Darian Kinnard, G, Kentucky Quarterback is definitely a possibility here given Sam Darnold’s struggles this season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina targeted a veteran passer to fill the void. The team has been heavily linked to Deshaun Watson after all. No matter who is quarterback for the Panthers next year, he will need to have an improved offensive line front of him. Darian Kinnard is a vicious run blocker with plenty of power. He starts at right tackle for Kentucky, but his skill set definitely points towards him fitting best on the interior at the next level. Kinnard is a bit raw and will likely need some seasoning before he can truly contribute, but the upside given his physical traits is enormous.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia Los Angeles has struggled against the run this season. Linval Joseph is 33 and will be a free agent at the end of the season. Jordan Davis is more than capable of plugging the hole, literally and figuratively. He is a people mover with good athleticism for a man his size. He has been a menace this season in that Georgia defense. Every once in a while, he will simply bench press an opposing interior lineman to crash the pocket. That is something the Chargers desperately need.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) – Carson Strong, QB, Nevada Ben Roethlisberger is doing just enough to keep the Steelers offense afloat. While Pittsburgh assuredly needs help along the offensive line, they also need a succession plan for their 39-year-old quarterback. If Mike Tomlin wants to keep a similar playstyle, Carson Strong is an excellent fit in this scheme. He is a big, strong-armed pocket passer who can hit the far hashes. He has work to do on his deep ball, but he has nice touch on his intermediate passes. Unfortunately, Strong brings little to the table with his legs, but he can move around the pocket to extend plays, keeping his eyes downfield whenever he does. He would slot into this offensive nicely.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida While Cincinnati seems to have unearthed a diamond in the rough with Chidobe Awuzie, the rest of the cornerback room is subpar. As demonstrated on Sunday, when the Bengals surrendered more than 400 yards to Mike White, the pass defense is still a work in progress. Kaiir Elam would give Cincy a long corner with good speed to play on the outside. He still has some room for improvement in zone coverage, but his physical traits bode well for success in the NFL. If Awuzie can keep this up, the Bengals would suddenly have a pretty imposing cornerback duo.
23. New Orleans Saints (5-2) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State Quarterback is a clear need, but I don’t have a first-round grade on anyone other than Willis, Strong or Corral right now. Instead of reaching for someone like Desmond Ridder, New Orleans can grab a talented receiver. As evidenced by Kevin White leading the team in receiving yards against the Buccaneers, the Saints need help at the position, even when Michael Thomas returns. Garrett Wilson is a smooth route runner with impressive production to match. He would be an interesting addition to a receiving corps that would feature Thomas, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris when healthy.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn Quickly rising up draft boards, Roger McCreary is playing some good football in 2021. In his latest outing, he had five tackles and two pass deflections against a talented Ole Miss offense. The six-foot tall senior is turning some heads with his athleticism and production on the outside playing against top competition in the SEC. With Tampa Bay’s defense struggling all year long, especially in the secondary, McCreary would be a welcome addition. With Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting still in place, McCreary would not have to start right away, but could provide some much-needed depth and develop into a starter down the line with both Dean and Murphy-Bunting set to hit free agency in 2023.
25. Buffalo Bills (5-2) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State Buffalo already has a super reliable possession receiver capable of giving defensive backs nightmares with his route running ability. Why not add someone capable of taking the top off? That’s not to say Chris Olave isn’t also a good route runner in his own right. He is one of the more polished players in this year’s class, opting to return to school after drawing first-round consideration a year ago. Olave is not the most physically imposing receiver in this class, but he brings an exciting blend of size and speed that has led to a very productive college career. He could take over for Emmanuel Sanders, who will be out of contract after the season.
26. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT, Ohio State The Raiders have pieced together an impressive first half of the season despite having one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Las Vegas tore apart what had been a strong unit in 2020, trading away or cutting all five of its starters and drafting Alex Leatherwood in the first round. It remains to be seen if Leatherwood can really compete at tackle or if he might be best suited for a move inside. Meanwhile, Nicolas Petit-Frere has been crushing it for Ohio State in his first season at left tackle. His experience at right tackle only increases his value. With good size and ample experience, he could continue to move up draft boards.
27. Dallas Cowboys (6-1) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan Dallas’ defense has been a revelation this year following a historically bad 2020 campaign. Still, there are definitely areas for improvement. The biggest one that stands out is safety. Donovan Wilson and Damontae Kazee are serviceable, but Daxton Hill has a much higher ceiling than either of those two players. He is the latest nickel corner-safety combo, showing an ability to disrupt plays in multiple roles. His versatility and athleticism would both be welcome in the Cowboys secondary.
28. Green Bay Packers (7-1) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC Maybe I should learn my lesson and stop mocking receivers to the Packers in the first round. Aaron Rodgers showed on Thursday he can win with pretty much anyone catching passes. While Za’Darius Smith should return from injury soon, he is also a potential cap casualty this offseason, saving the team over $15 million in cap space if they cut or trade him. Keeping him at a $28 million cap hit feels untenable. That could put the Packers in the market for an edge rusher. Drake Jackson has the body type and quickness to excel as a standup pass rusher. He could help improve a Green Bay defense that ranks 22nd in pass-rush win rate.
29. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa After trading away Orlando Brown Jr. and seeing Ronnie Stanley suffer a second-straight season ending injury, tackle feels like a pressing need for the Ravens. Alejandro Villanueva is a stop-gap solution and he has had his fair share of struggles this season. Trevor Penning could be the long-term answer at right tackle with the experience to fill in for Stanley if he were to go down again. He is powerful and should fit well into Baltimore’s run-heavy approach. He might need a little bit of time to get up to speed coming from the FCS, but he handled himself well against Iowa State, which points to that being a shorter ramp up period than you might expect.
30. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (6-1) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas No team in the league needs receiver help more than the Lions. Detroit’s top two receivers this year are T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, neither of whom are wide receivers. I am a fan of Amon-Ra St. Brown long term, but Jared Goff needs someone to target now. It is hard to miss Treylon Burks at 6’3″. At that size, it would be easy to assume he was a possession or jump-ball receiver, but he has the athleticism to be a true No. 1 option. The biggest concern is how he fares against elite competition. Georgia’s defense held him to just three catches for 10 yards, but he was hardly the only Arkansas player to struggle in that game. It seems to be an outlier in what has otherwise been a stellar season.
31. Tennessee Titans (6-2) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia Considering that the Titans are leading the AFC at the moment after wins over the Bills, Chiefs and Colts, this team does not have too many holes. However, linebacker is definitely one of them. Rashaan Evans has been very underwhelming this year and it simply feels unacceptable for a Mike Vrabel coached team to have subpar linebacker play. Adding Nakobe Dean would instantly change this defense. He is an effective blitzer with a nose for the football. He even flashed his coverage ability with a pick-six against Florida. Adding a dynamic player to the middle of this defense would help it take a step in the right direction.
32. Arizona Cardinals (7-1) – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington The Cardinals are a miscommunicated route away from being 8-0 right now. While Arizona has been one of the more surprising teams this season, especially defensively, its secondary has some question marks. Robert Alford has played well, but he turns 33 today (Happy Birthday) and is set to be a free agent after the season. Meanwhile, Byron Murphy has yet to really live up to the hype. Arizona could opt to return for another Washington corner to continue building out this group. Trent McDuffie might not be the biggest player on the field, but he meets my threshold for size when it comes to scouting perimeter corners. He also flies around the field, blowing up plays with his incredible closing speed and explosiveness. He would be fun to watch in Vance Joseph’s defense.
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Already thinking about 2022? That’s the Jets fan in me. Always getting ready for the next draft. Gives me something to talk about every December and January when New York is out of playoff contention.
Anyway, I am just starting the process of watching film of the class of 2022. A few players I am familiar with after scouting them prior to them deciding to return to school. Then of course, names like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal and Derek Stingley Jr. are known around college football because of their five-star status coming out of high school. Mix in a few quarterbacks and a bunch of receivers and we have an intriguing class.
The 2022 draft will likely look nothing like this. This is mostly just an exercise to identify some of the top players for next year and potential team needs on the NFL side. It’s also a lot of fun if you ask me. It makes it really interesting to go back and compare to the real draft a year later. I’ve been doing that with my first 2021 mock the past few days.
I did not decide the draft order. It is based on Super Bowl odds provided by William Hill. If you don’t like where your team is picking, take it up with them.
Without further ado, let’s dive into my first mock for the 2022 NFL draft.
1. Houston Texans (200-1) – Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma Apologies to Davis Mills, but if the Texans are picking first overall, I don’t see them passing on a quarterback. Spencer Rattler is the latest Oklahoma quarterback to draw national attention. He is a front-runner for the Heisman and should have the Sooners in position to challenge for the College Football Playoff. A quick glance at his 2020 tape will show some inconsistent performances early in the season, but his arm talent is impressive. It is very early in the scouting process for 2022, but Rattler has the early lead for QB1.
2. Detroit Lions (150-1) – Sam Howell, QB, UNC Detroit opted not to take one of the quarterbacks in the 2021 draft, passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones. If the Lions ended up with the second pick in the 2022 draft, you can bet that Jared Goff did not transition well to the Motor City. Sam Howell is a bit undersized, but has a live arm and is not afraid to air it out. It will be interesting to see how he fares with so much of his supporting cast now in the NFL. Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome all were drafted over the weekend.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (100-1) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU Possibly the best cornerback prospect to come out since Jalen Ramsey, Derek Stingley Jr. is a reliable, sticky cover corner. He locates the ball well in coverage and does an excellent job pressing off the line. There are a few instances in his play where he grabs receivers after getting beat off the line, but overall, he is a great player. For Cincinnati, who lost William Jackson III in free agency this year, he would fill a huge need.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (100-1) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama When you have your franchise quarterback, it is best to invest in protecting him. Evan Neal is a mountain of a man who moves like someone 100 pounds lighter than him. He has yet to play left tackle at Alabama, but should take over the position this season with Alex Leatherwood heading to the NFL. Jacksonville can get by for a year with Cam Robinson playing on the franchise tag, but he will likely be gone next year, creating a huge opening on Trevor Lawrence’s blindside.
5. New York Jets (100-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon Independent of position, Kayvon Thibodeaux is the top player in this class. After dominating his freshman season, Thibodeaux had a much more modest 2020, posting three sacks in seven games. His size and speed make him one of the most coveted prospects in this class. New York has been in search of a dominant pass rusher for well over a decade. Thibodeaux has the potential to wreak havoc in Robert Saleh’s scheme.
6. New York Giants (75-1) – Kedon Slovis, QB, USC If the Giants are picking this high, Daniel Jones’ days in New York are likely numbered. Dave Gettleman has surrounded him with a lot of offensive talent, signing Kenny Golladay and drafting Kadarius Toney. There are no more excuses. Assuming New York is searching for a new quarterback, Kedon Slovis could be a great fit. He wowed as a freshman before turning in a rockier sophomore campaign. If he can cut down on his turnovers and regain his 2019 form, he will be challenging for the top quarterback spot in this class.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (75-1) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida Philly missed out on the top corners in the 2021 draft. This team has a huge need across from Darius Slay. Kaiir Elam could be the perfect player to fill it. He is long at 6’2″ and has good speed in the open field. His eye discipline is impressive from the limited film I’ve watched so far. I’ve also appreciate his willingness to make contact as a tackler. He is not afraid to hit people.
8. Las Vegas Raiders (70-1) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M After cutting Maurice Hurst and ignoring the position in the draft, the Raiders have a massive need at defensive tackle. Enter DeMarvin Leal. He is built like a prototypical three-technique tackle. His first step is good and he has a nose for the football. Even if he doesn’t get home, his presence is felt as a pass rusher. Las Vegas would benefit big time from having him on the interior of its defensive line.
9. Carolina Panthers (60-1) – Zion Nelson, OT, Miami I thought the Panthers might select an offensive tackle early in this past draft. They did grab Brady Christiansen in the third round, but that is not enough to make me think they couldn’t use more help. Zion Nelson worked his way into the starting left tackle role at Miami in 2020 and excelled. He brings all the size teams are looking for at the position and could be Carolina’s starting left tackle in 2022 in this scenario.
10. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (50-1) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama After selecting a quarterback, Dave Gettleman turns to the defense here. Christian Harris is a do-it-all playmaker. He can drop in coverage like a safety or make plays around the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. He already has two years of experience as a starter in Alabama’s defense under his belt. The Giants would benefit from his sideline-to-sideline range.
11. Atlanta Falcons (50-1) – Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State I like what the Falcons did in the 2021 draft, but they still have yet to address their need on the edge. Zach Harrison has been used primarily as a situational rusher up to this point, but has the length to excel in a 4-3 defensive end role. He came on strong towards the end of the year for the Buckeyes and could be poised for a true breakout season in 2021.
12. Washington Football Team (50-1) – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati Washington crushed the 2021 draft, at least on paper. They filled some needs and built quality depth across the roster. However, they still do not have a plan for the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke are currently the only two options on the roster. Desmond Ridder earned some late first-round love before opting to return to school. He is big and mobile. Without question, there are some mechanics you would like to see him improve, but he has enough tools to be in the first-round conversation.
13. Minnesota Vikings (40-1) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame The last time Minnesota drafted a safety from Notre Dame in the first round worked out pretty well for them. Harrison Smith is now 32 though and Anthony Harris departed in free agency. Kyle Hamilton led the Irish in tackles this season. At 6’4″, 219 pounds, he could probably fit into a hybrid linebacker roll in today’s NFL. He started all year at safety for Notre Dame, but he can move around the formation and make plays. The Vikings will sign up for that.
14. Arizona Cardinals (40-1) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC Arizona is relying on a number of veteran players to produce in pass rushing situations this year. J.J. Watt is 32 and Chandler Jones is 31. The team could use some youth on the outside. Drake Jackson had a quieter 2021 season after picking up 5.5 sacks as a freshman. He is a bit of a tweener, able to line up as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. His versatility could boost his draft stock as the year rolls on.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (35-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State Few teams need offensive line help like the Steelers. Charles Cross started all 10 games at left tackle for Mississippi State in 2020. He checks all the boxes from a physical perspective and should be set for another year of facing elite competition in the SEC.
16. Los Angeles Chargers (35-1) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State Chris Olave was a borderline first-round player before returning to school. He was Justin Fields’ favorite target and will form one of the nation’s best receiver duos with Garrett Wilson in 2021. It will be interesting to see if Olave can gel as quickly with Ohio State’s new starting quarterback.
17. Tennessee Titans (30-1) – George Pickens, WR, Georgia Tennessee built some quality depth with Senior Bowl standouts Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath in the 2021 draft. Maybe one of them will develop into a quality starter, but outside of A.J. Brown, this team is lacking in proven options. George Pickens is a bit of a question mark at the moment. He had surgery on a torn ACL in April and will likely miss most, if not all of the 2021 season. His game tape from the previous two years is impressive though and at 6’5″, he will have plenty of suitors in the NFL.
18. New England Patriots (30-1) – Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama Rumors continue to fly about the future of Stephon Gilmore. The team could be betting on the development of 2019 second-round pick Joejaun Williams, but I think corner will be one of the team’s top needs next year. Josh Jobe is a physical corner with good size. He will get a chance to be Alabama’s No. 1 option with Patrick Surtain II now in the NFL.
19. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (28-1) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia At 6’6″, 330 pounds, Jordan Davis is a problem. Philly can continue to rebuild its defense with a high-upside space eater. Davis is quicker than most people his size should be. He is routinely double teamed and does well at not allowing offensive linemen into his body. He could be in for a monster season at Georgia.
20. Dallas Cowboys (28-1) – Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State Dallas missed out on the top corners in this draft class, so I have to imagine they would target one next year if given the chance. Sevyn Banks is a long, fluid defensive back coming off a solid season at Ohio State. He needs to work on his open-field tackling. The effort and form is lacking right now. His coverage skills are well above average. I am looking forward to watching more of him.
21. New Orleans Saints (25-1) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State The Saints went heavy on defense in the draft, but they still need to find a receiver to complement Michael Thomas. Why not return to his alma mater? Garrett Wilson was arguably the better Ohio State receiver this past season. His production took a dive in the second half of the year though. If Wilson can replicate his hot start and this time maintain it, he will be in the conversation to be the first receiver selected.
22. Indianapolis Colts (25-1) – Thayer Munford, OT, Ohio State Indy essentially passed on the offensive tackle class this year. I expect Chris Ballard will find a veteran stop-gap option, but a long-term solution is still needed. Thayer Munford enters his fifth season with the Buckeyes having already played in 46 collegiate games. He has been rock solid and should be among the top linemen selected next year.
23. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (25-1) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M Building in the trenches is often a recipe for success. After grabbing the top edge rusher in the class, Joe Douglas grabs the top interior linemen. Kenyon Green has a mean streak and was an All-American in 2020. He certainly passes the eye test to be an NFL lineman and looks like a reliable pass blocker in the limited tape I’ve watched so far. He would continue to solidify the Jets offensive line in an effort to protect Zach Wilson.
24. Denver Broncos (20-1) – Perrion Winfrey, DL, Oklahoma Anyone else surprised to see the Broncos picking this late? Who am I to doubt Vegas though. Denver’s biggest need is an edge rusher, but there aren’t any I think are worth going here that fits Vic Fangio’s scheme. Instead, they grab a versatile defensive lineman to prepare for the future. Perrion Winfrey picked up steam as the 2020 season rolled on. He finished the year with six tackles for loss and solidified himself in the starting lineup.
25. Cleveland Browns (18-1) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan It is hard to find many clear needs for this Browns team on paper. Jadeveon Clowney is on a one-year deal though, so finding a replacement would make sense. Aidan Hutchinson is a prototypical 4-3 end. He had his season cut short in 2020 due to injury, but should be ready to bounce back.
26. Green Bay Packers (16-1) – John Metchie, WR, Alabama Another Alabama wide receiver goes in the first round. John Metchie will get his chance to shine after sitting behind an all-star group of receivers over the past two years. That’s not to say Metchie hasn’t made plays either. He finished 2020 with close to 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. This year, he will be “the guy” though in this offense. For Green Bay, he would be a great No. 2 option across from Davante Adams with every single receiver, other than recently-drafted Amari Rodgers, set to be a free agent next offseason.
27. Baltimore Ravens (14-1) – Cade Mays, G, Tennessee The Ravens took big Ben Cleveland to develop along the interior of the offensive line. Kevin Zeitler is 31 and Bradley Bozeman is a free agent after the season, so this is still a potential need. Plus, building in the trenches is always smart. Cade Mays is a former five-star recruit with great size and tons of experience. He would be up for the task of keeping Lamar Jackson healthy.
28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams (14-1) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas Detroit grabbed its quarterback of the future and now can find him a weapon to develop with. Treylon Burks was one of the top receivers in the SEC in 2020. He has a big frame with good run after the catch ability. He could be primed for a huge season and a rise up draft boards.
29. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (14-1) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah One of my favorite players in this draft class, I’ve been tracking Devin Lloyd since 2019. He is fast and diagnoses plays well. Utah moves him all over the formation to create confusion. He is best as an off-ball linebacker, but he has shown some ability to rush the passer as well. For Miami, I think Lloyd would challenge for a starting spot right away and that Brian Flores would get the most out of him.
30. Buffalo Bills (13-1) – Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M Buffalo stacked up on defense in 2021, but still has a clear need at tight end. Jalen Wydermyer is the best one in the class and has the production to back it up. He would be another receiving option for Josh Allen and could cause headaches for opposing defenses with his size and speed.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-2) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue Even after drafting Joe Tryon, Tampa could go edge rusher again to help lessen the blow of impending free agents. George Karlaftis had a truncated 2020 season between injury and COVID-19. However, he absolutely dominated in 2019, posting 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a true freshman. If he can get back to that type of disruptor in 2021, he will not still be on the board by pick 31.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (21-4) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson Kansas City rebuilt its offensive line this offseason, which means it can turn its attention back to the defense. Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are both free agents after this season and the Chiefs do not have much proven depth. Andrew Booth Jr. could step in as a potential starter at one of those two corner spots. He is incredibly athletic and should have a chance to prove himself this year as Clemson’s top corner.
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