2022 NFL Draft: Non-Quarterbacks who Could be First Overall

2022 NFL Draft

Happy opening College Football Weekend! We now have consecutive football weekends until the beginning of February.  These are the months that many consider their happy place. With the inaugural kickoff of college football, comes the hope of the new crop of NFL prospects.

Much is made of who will be the first overall pick which is often referenced to a quarterback. Many point to Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Spencer Rattler as a likely choice for the first overall pick. This quarterback draft class is not as strong as the 2021 class. This lack could actually have a non-quarterback drafted first overall. This analysis will discuss four non-quarterback prospects who have a good chance of being the first pick. 

1. Demarvin Leal, Defensive Tackle, Texas A&M

As it stands, Demarvin Leal plays an interesting role at Texas A&M, playing outside five and seven tech in some games, but also as a nose tackle (one tech) and three tech! His versatility on the defensive line is reminiscent of Solomon Thomas, who was an interesting prospect. Leal already has got two pro-ready moves in a nice push-pull which pairs nicely with his body control. The second move is his powerful bull-rush, which drives guards back.

Moreover, Leal has the potential to be more impactful in the right system. In a penetrating scheme where Leal can use his quickness to get upfield and beat guards or tackles. Leal is only 290 lbs and will certainly draw comparisons to any athletic defensive tackle. He shows lots of nice power moves in the run and as mentioned before, in his bull rush.

Leal would thrive in a similar role as Philadelphia Eagles’ rookie, Milton Williams, who has played outside edge (5 tech or even 7 tech!) on early downs then inside on pass-rushing snaps (3 tech) this preseason. Leal needs to be given the ‘go’ to get the passer as he’ll be extremely effective this way. There would be little worry about a run-first system that makes Leal 2-gap (be responsible for 2 gaps between offensive linemen in the run), as this does not fully utilize his skills.

Overall, Leal has legitimate first overall pick potential due to his versatility and athleticism, mixed with penetrating technique that helps win in pass-rushing downs. The explosive run-stopping ability as a penetrator will be an added bonus that helps and improves any defense. 

Team Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Learn the name Kayvon Thibodeaux, because he’s an absolute stud with pro-ready size. His length and ability to convert leverage to his advantage are underrated and will give taller tackles problems. Thibodeaux’s bend, lateral quickness, and burst allow him to threaten linemen with a bevy of pass-rushing tools and subtle tricks. His speed is excellent for outside moves. The power in his hand makes this a deadly primary method to get the passer. 

The outside bend and leverage will be coveted by many. It makes for a nice highlight reel and is extremely difficult for offensive tackles to stop. It is also so quick, it will move the internal clock of most quarterbacks, forcing them to get the ball out sooner than they really need to. In addition, the moves will force quarterbacks to move up in the pocket, and likely make quarterbacks aware of his presence. What’s most impressive is the intelligence of rushing with a plan. Thibodeaux’s outside moves make many tackles overset as they just can’t/ get into position to stop him, but then he uses impressive counters inside, keeping offensive linemen on edge. Once he develops a power move or a long arm move, he will have 12+ sacks potential year after year. 

He’s best used as a 4-3 down linemen where a team will be able to have him line up on the edge on all three downs. There would be some concern if he was to be an outside linebacker his first year, due to weight/ athleticism. It is not that he can’t play outside linebacker, but he will be more effective rushing the passer. 

Team Fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, New York Jets

3. Derek Stingley Jr., Cornerback, LSU

It is not usual for cornerbacks to be considered for the first overall pick, but Derek Stingley Jr. has been highly touted ever since his freshman year. His tools are everything you want in a lockdown island corner. In addition, the level of competition for him at LSU shows there should be some pro-ready play. This is why he’s a candidate for the first overall pick. There hasn’t been a cornerback drafted first overall since 1956 when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected … Gary Glick?

Corners aren’t drafted first overall largely because of the difficulty of selecting a elite one, the amount of time they take to adapt to the game, and there are often times none worth the pick. Stingley is the only cornerback aside from Jalen Ramsey in the last decade who will make General Managers consider the first overall pick. 

He excels with athleticism and reports suggest he’ll run in the high 4.2s (forty yard dash) making him reminiscent of Champ Bailey‘s play style. He is a press-man corner who has the speed to take risks and make a play on the ball, but can make simple mistakes because of the speed. The athleticism will be elite when Stingley hits an NFL field, which will help him adapt to the NFL quicker. His ball skills are excellent when the ball is in the air too.

Simply put, Stingley’s upside is a top three in the league, and he is eerily reminiscent of a faster Jaire Alexander (That is the authors pro comparison). He draws the comp because of the mirroring ability which is one of Alexander’s most instinctual and best traits. Stingley just gets how to match and mirror receivers, and can always stay one step ahead. Very rarely does he allow himself to get fooled, but when he does, he has the quickness and speed to make these mistakes. Stingley could very quickly make a poor defensive secondary good, as he can blanket one side of the field, or remove a top target. 

Best fits: Anything, but the press-man system is ideal – New York Jets (not the best fit, but Saleh could make it work), Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles

Kenyon Green, IOL/OT, Texas A&M & Evan Neal, OT/IOL, Alabama

I’ve combined both offensive linemen because they both have similar versatility which will make them more valuable. Both can play anywhere in year one of their careers, allowing for both to be brought up and developed in any manner the coaching staff would like. Both guys are dynamic in the run game and bring consistency in the passing game for being so young. 

Listen, Evan Neal is likely going to draw the most eyes due to his athleticism (see below), mixed with his size (6’7″ 360 lbs).  He’s going to be 21 for the draft but is still building muscle. The most notable comparison will be Mekhi Becton purely based on size, but Neal isn’t as big. It’s fine that he’s not as big, because Neal is more athletic, and has dynamic movement skills. 

Based on films, the sets have improved year to year, which is something coaches love to see. Ultimately, Neal has a nice floor as a tackle because he’s so long and has nice body control, along with excellent balance. Balance is key for most offensive linemen, and Neal maintains his body position extremely well. His ceiling will likely be considered higher than Kenyon Green due to his sheer athleticism, making him a likely contender for the first overall pick. 

Green is only 20 and will be 21 for the draft. He has performed at an extremely impressive level for being so young. The upside and development discussion will likely be part of his analysis, as many will state he can still add muscle and quickness.

In a phone booth (or a tight space like when he played guard), he’s aggressive and a mauler who can take on the strength of college defensive tackles. The power is there, as he can take down large defensive tackles in the run, but also stands up bull rushers with a nice anchor. Green will be playing tackle this year for Texas A&M gives scouting a vision of what could be. Thus, as a versatile prospect, he may be in the discussion for first overall depending on the team. 

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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