While many have begun to wind down from the hype of the 2021 NFL Draft, there is still plenty more draft to gear up for. The 2022 NFL Draft cycle is in its infancy but the evaluation process that will take place this spring and summer are crucial for players that will be draft-eligible. This next draft class could be the first class to have a normal offseason in two years and it will only benefit the players. Getting recognition in the 2021 offseason must have been difficult, considering private workouts and meetings at facilities were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When stacking our preliminary 2022 NFL Draft big board, the film from this past season is heavily used to determine top prospects. Let’s examine some of the players who stand a strong chance to hear their name called early next April.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Defensive End, Oregon
Coming off a season where he won the Morris Trophy and earned All-American honors, there’s buzz surrounding Thibodeaux’s name and the NFL Draft. He was the first Oregon defensive lineman to earn All-American honors since DeForest Buckner in 2015. His motor is relentless and he plays through the whistle. Thibodeaux also has a nice burst and can close the pocket quickly. He possesses all the traits that scouts look for in a pass-rusher and should be viewed as a first round pick.
Sam Howell, Quarterback, North Carolina
The UNC captain is a playmaker in the passing game, who excels when the pocket breaks down. His lateral movement and awareness are two of the biggest strengths of his overall game. In 2020, Howell led the ACC (sixth in FBS) with 30 touchdown passes, as well as being named All-ACC Second Team. He is set to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board next spring.
Kedon Slovis, Quarterback, USC
Some quarterbacks look smooth on tape. Everything from the pre-snap reads, to their feet in the pocket look effortless. That’s why Slovis is one of the top quarterbacks eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft. His overall game is sound and he plays with tons of confidence. His arm strength won’t intimidate you but he demonstrates excellent ball placement and touch. Look for NFL scouts to value him as a high first round pick.
Derek Stingley, Cornerback, LSU
Everyone knew Stingley was special when he became the first true freshman in LSU history to start every game as a rookie. His growth as a player certainly hasn’t hit a ceiling. We saw even more improvement from him as a cornerback in 2020, despite playing with injuries. Look for that trend to continue during the 2021 season. He possesses long arms that benefit his press coverage and he can mirror receivers well due to his athleticism.
Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Notre Dame
The All-ACC First Team selection in 2020 has received first round grades from many in the draft community. His range and size are two things that stand out when watching tape. He was also a Bednarik Award Semifinalist last season and will be a favorite to win the award following his 2021 campaign. The junior safety will be looking to improve upon his draft stock even more for The Fighting Irish this year.
Evan Neal, Offensive Tackle, Alabama
The Crimson Tide pocket protector earned Freshman All-American honors in 2019. He is a big, physical offensive lineman with plenty of room to grow. Neal has numerous traits that will transition to the NFL with ease. He was a key piece of the Alabama offensive attack, which staked claim to the top-ranked scoring offense amongst Power-Five programs, on their way to winning the National Championship. Scouts are anxious to see him continue to develop during his junior season and he could be in the first round conversation come April.
Derion Kendrick, Cornerback, Clemson
The experienced cornerback from Clemson is going to create a lot of buzz during the 2021 season. He hasn’t played his best football yet and he has an extremely high ceiling. Most draft experts expect NFL teams to consider him as a top 10-20 overall selection next year. Kendrick had 20 tackles (one for loss), six pass breakups, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. That performance translated into being named First-Team All-ACC.
Malik Willis, Quarterback, Liberty
The field general from Liberty is destined to be a top 10 pick in next year's NFL Draft. He can throw on the run with accuracy and does a phenomenal job of stepping up into the pocket to deliver the ball. Some parts of his game are still raw but he has shown the accuracy and arm strength to be viewed as a potential franchise quarterback. If the NFL valued Trey Lance as a top five pick, Willis is sure to generate some buzz as a possible high value pick.
Chris Olave, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
The most reliable receiver for the Buckeyes over the last few seasons, Olave possesses the ability to run crisp routes and get open in any area of the field. The decision to return to school definitely surprised many media observers. Does have an ability to sharpen his game even more to solidify himself as a top 10 pick? Sky’s the limit.
Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
The year is finally here where Garrett Wilson is draft-eligible. The NFL has had their eyes on Wilson since starting for the Buckeyes his freshman season. He’s a big play threat who flashes elite speed and can beat any cornerback on the outside. He catches every pass in his radius and shows the athleticism to make things happen after the catch. If your offense lacks a big play threat who can do a little bit of everything at the wide receiver position, Wilson should be your top pick on draft day.
George Karlaftis, Defensive End, Purdue
The physical Purdue defensive end is set for a huge 2021 campaign after a 2020 season that was cut short due to COVID-19. In three games last season, he totaled four tackles and two sacks. Karlaftis is a prototype hand in the dirt pass-rusher who can get after the quarterback, while also maintaining gap integrity and stopping the run. He’s the next big time defensive line prospect to hail from the Big Ten and could very well find himself inside the top ten in the 2022 NFL Draft.