Charlie’s Way Too Early 2022 NFL Draft Big Boardby Charlie Parent May 7, 2021 0 comments
With the 2021 NFL Draft now behind us, it’s time to look ahead. This next year’s cycle of players demonstrated a really fun and electric group. We have a lot of experienced guys in this year’s class and some surprise players who came back for an extra year. Here, we’ll go through my way too early top 25 players for the 2022 NFL Draft cycle. Let’s dive in.
1) Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
The number one spot almost has to go to Thibodeaux. He is an incredibly talented edge rusher and the former number one overall recruit in his high school class. He’s disruptive in all ways and is a super athlete. He’s totaled 12 total sacks in his two-year career. After missing out on an elite edge in the 2021 cycle, we get right back to it again in 2022. Thibodeaux joins the likes of Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett as edge rushers who are expected to be selected in the top three. Look for Thibodeaux to ramp up the production for Oregon this year and solidify himself as the number one player in this draft.
2) Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Once again, we have quarterbacks up high in the ranks. Howell isn’t any Trevor Lawrence type prospect but he’s a really good player. The Tar Heels’ signal-caller has been at the helm since his true freshman season and has improved ever since. Going into his junior year, Howell looks to put up even better numbers than he has before. In a class of some really flashy prospects, Howell is a true pocket passer guy. He has a rocket for an arm and has shown a solid ability to run through his progressions early on. Look for Howell to make a nice jump this year and even challenge Thibodeaux for the number one spot.
3) Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Willis is electrifying. He reminds me of a prime Michael Vick. The guy has an absolute cannon of an arm and is far and away the most athletic quarterback in this class. His pure playmaking ability is outstanding. He’ll need to get better with his reads and accuracy as he’s pretty average in those respects but everything else is just so fun to watch. It’s hard to get drawn into being a scout on this kid because you just want to be a fan and sit back and watch him go crazy. If Willis can keep up the production and tighten up his play, we’ll be seeing some really top-10 pick talks come next April.
4) Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Stingley has been on our radar since high school. He was the highest-rated defensive back in his class and proved why early on. He’s seen great success in both his freshman and sophomore years of college and is a true shutdown cornerback. While he has gotten beat a couple of times by high-end receivers, Stingley has shown the ability to be the guy for LSU’s secondary. His man coverage ability is really exciting and he just plays with such a classic cornerback swagger. Another really fun player to watch, if he sees success in 2021, he could be a top-five selection next year.
5) Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
We have yet another quarterback for you here in the top five. This seems a bit familiar to the 2021 class but this year could be even better. Rattler got the starting job for the Sooners last year after Jalen Hurts departed and he’s had a bit of a bumpy ride. In his first few games, he was bad. As the season went on, however, he improved mightily. There’s still a good amount of inconsistencies that we’d like to see be cleaned up in 2021, but Rattler has already shown some serious raw potential. There’s almost no doubt we’ll see this guy in the Heisman Trophy running this season because of the scheme he’s in and the playmaking ability he has.
6) Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
To no one’s surprise, Alabama is putting another star offensive lineman into the NFL next year. Neal is a more athletic version of Alex Leatherwood. He’s a very clean blocker and has a mammoth frame. He’s already played at both guard and tackle throughout his Alabama career and it’s expected that he’ll flip over to left tackle to protect their starting quarterback’s blindside. If Neal sees the same success he’s seen throughout his career, he’ll easily be the number one offensive lineman in this class.
7) Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
After a bit of a hiatus from elite safeties in the draft, they are back and better than ever. Hamilton is just an incredible prospect. He’s 6’4” 215 pounds and is an absolute freak on the field. While stats aren’t all that matter, this one is pretty important: If quarterbacks were to spike the ball on every play, they’d have a better quarterback rating than if they threw at Hamilton in coverage. He’s not just incredible in coverage, however, he has super range and has demonstrated the ability to play in the single-high safety spot. Watch for Hamilton to elevate his game next season and look to be the first safety taken in the top-10 since Jamal Adams.
8) Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
Nelson is a tackle who has got the stats and the experience. He’s allowed zero sacks on over 325 protections and could be the first tackle off the board. He comes in with an average frame of 6’5” but has shown he can be a clean pass blocker and has experience protecting a quarterback’s blindside. This class doesn’t have any Penei Sewell-type players but Nelson could be in that range in terms of where each is selected.
9) Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
We could be looking at another superb wide receiver class in the 2022 cycle. There are at least three guys with the first-round talent so far and we could see even more coming in later. Olave is one of these guys. The best word to describe him would be fluid. He is so smooth in his change of pace, his cuts, and his body control. Many believed Justin Fields’ top target would actually depart for the draft in the last cycle, but he chose to stay a year and now looks to keep his production up enough to be a top-15 pick.
10) Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Ekwonu is a bit of a lesser-known player but boy is he good. He can play tackle but may make a switch to guard because of his smaller frame. He’s best known for his explosiveness and power off the line. He just explodes right into the pads and can easily dominate a rep and just knock guys over. Ekwonu is a bit of a wildcard but he’s played well enough so far to earn himself a top-10 spot here. If he can continue to prove that he can handle bigger guys, he could be next year’s Rashawn Slater, a smaller tackle who gets selected in the top-15.
11) Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
We aren’t done with the wide receivers. Ross is a big-time unknown but he has the talent to be really good. His freshman year he was making headline catch after headline catch from Lawrence but then he got injured. He had a spinal condition since birth that held him out all of last season. He didn’t think he would play again but now he is back. He’s a huge deep threat standing at 6’4” with a massive catch radius and dynamic speed on the outside. If Ross is good to go, he could be picked within the Ja’Marr Chase range.
12) Drake Jackson, DE, USC
There are already two edge rushers in the top-15 here which is much different from the last draft class. Jackson is a true speed rusher off the edge but he has a very nice frame for a guy with such a quick play style. Jackson possesses an elite bend from what we’ve seen so far and can continue to improve his counters and hand movement this upcoming offseason. There’s already some real chatter that Jackson could be a top-10 pick but he’ll need to really play up to this standard to solidify himself. If he doesn’t play well enough, he could tumble down boards and not draw consideration until day two.
13) Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Florida pumps out elite, athletic, defensive backs like it’s nothing. After a year away from this tradition last year, Florida is back yet again with Elam. Elam could very well be the highest cornerback selected out of Florida since C.J. Henderson. He has elite ball skills and is a super athlete on the outside. His location of the ball is absurd and he made over 15 plays on the ball last season. He needs to tighten up his true cornerback skills a little bit (Route recognition and processing in zone for one) but look for Elam to be at the height of discussions come next year’s draft.
14) Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
A theme of this draft class early could be the defensive line and there’s more to come. Hutchinson was a guy who would probably have gone in the late first round of last year’s draft if he didn’t fracture his fibula. Now, if he’s healthy, he can cause some real problems for an offensive lineman. He’s a true 4-3 edge rusher who gets off the line nicely and gets into his moves effortlessly. He doesn’t wow you with athleticism but he still is a good athlete. He’s shown the ability to set the edge pretty well in the run game but now it all comes to putting it together. It will be interesting to see how Hutchison performs without Kwity Paye on the opposite side of him.
15) Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
We are really building the trenches here in this top-15. Cross is another tackle who we could see off the board early. He has experience in different schemes and started pretty much every game for Mississippi State in 2020. Currently listed at 305 pounds, he’ll need to bulk up and add some functional strength to his play but so far this guy looks like he can be a future first-round talent.
16) Demarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
Another guy on the front-seven here, Leal is the early front runner for the top defensive tackle in the class. He’s moved around the line quite a bit at Texas A&M but he’s better off at the tackle spot. He’s only 290 pounds as of now so if he could bulk up a little without losing his lightning-quick explosion, lookout. Like the 2021 class and Christian Barmore, the top tackle as of now is mainly a pass-rushing guy. And just like Barmore, Leal stuffs the stat sheet and could even have 10 sacks per season potential.
17) Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Wilson is a human highlight reel. His plays have been seen all over social media, but obviously, it’s not all about the highlights. The best part of Wilson’s game would have to be his elite body control. This guy can make so many different adjustments through the air and it’s just a testament to his elite athleticism. Compared to his teammate in Olave, he’s a bit more inexperienced and needs to develop a stronger route-running ability. If he can do this, there’s really no stopping him at the college level and he should be in for a monster year.
18) George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Karlaftis is a menace off the edge and he possesses an elite frame as well. He stands at 6’4”, 275 pounds, and has elite pass-rushing ability. That being said, there’s a bit of a limited film option on him. Purdue had some Covid-19 issues in 2020 and Karlfatis was a guy who tested positive. Because of this, he only played in three games. He needs to have a huge 2021 season to show that he hasn’t lost a step in his development and put up the numbers he did in 2019.
19) Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Corral could be the biggest hit-or-miss quarterback in recent memory. Last year, there were some games where he threw six touchdowns, and somewhere he threw six interceptions. And no, those numbers are not exaggerated. If this guy can clean his reads together and just start being smarter with the football, we could be seeing a really good prospect on our hands. The flashes he’s shown from his season last year demonstrate how good he could be but the inconsistencies are just horrendous. It’ll be fun to watch how Corral evolves this year in Lane Kiffin’s offense.
20) John Metchie, WR, Alabama
And yet again, we have another Alabama receiver. In an offense with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, Metchie really performed well. He got himself a lot of touches and his fair share of touchdowns as well. This guy just always gets open and he is set up to be the next best true route-runner out of Alabama. He’s fluid in and out of his cuts and now Metchie will just need to put together a solid 2021 campaign to hear his name called on day one.
21) Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
Every year it seems we have an Ohio State cornerback up in the top-25. They seem to be relatively hit or miss. In 2019 it was Jeff Okudah, who was the number three overall pick. Last year, it was Shaun Wade, who fell out of first-round talks altogether and went to the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round. Banks has all the tools to be a first-round pick next year. At 6’1”, he has the prototypical length that the NFL loves these days and he’s a really fluid athlete. If he can lock down the boundary position for the Buckeyes this year then he’ll undoubtedly be one of the best cornerbacks in this class.
22) George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Everything was looking great for Pickens’ draft stock until he tore his ACL back in late March. He was originally expected to be out for the season but head coach Kirby Smart has stayed optimistic about him playing this year. Before the injury, Pickens was regarded a lot higher than this spot. He has a massive catch radius and is probably the best pure jump ball receiver on this list. He doesn’t have the long speed that some others do but he’s certainly not a bad athlete by any means. If Pickens does declare for the draft, someone will be getting a steal assuming he falls due to his injury.
23) Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State
Ohio State is just running up the score here. Harrison is another prospect who was very highly regarded out of high school. He is a super athlete who measures in at a massive 6’6”. The problem with Harrison thus far is his production. He’ll need to really ramp it up come this season to get into this first-round conversation. Right now, however, he’s a super raw athletic edge rusher that could shoot up this board by the time it’s all said and done.
24) Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M
It wouldn’t really be a big board without a running back would it? Spiller has the potential to be a workhorse back in the league and he is really versatile. At 6’1” 225 pounds, you’d think he’s more of a power back but he is not. He possesses elite speed and a unique receiving ability. He is constantly making guys miss out in space. After a 1,000 yard season last year, Spiller has can ramp up his production, even more, this year. Look for this guy to be involved in this Heisman race at some point this season. If he produces the numbers he’s capable of, he will definitely be the number one running back come draft time.
25) Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Ridder marks the fifth quarterback on this list and there are still so many more in this class. For example, Kendon Slovis is a prospect that a lot of people seem to like right now, but I am waiting to watch his 2021 tape because I’m not sold on him just yet. However, Ridder, I am sold on. This guy can do it all. He’s got a 6’4” stature but has an excellent running ability that reminds you a bit of Trey Lance. He’s been a three-year starter at Cincinnati where he’s seen great success and will go into his senior year looking to improve even more. Ridder will have to get a bit smarter but his dual-threat ability has shined for the Bearcats in big moments and he’ll try to continue his success this year, where he’ll be put under the eyes of everyone.