With the college football season around the corner, summer scouting is all done. And although next year's draft might seem like ages away, it’s never too early to start familiarizing ourselves with some of the highest caliber players who might be in the NFL this time next year.
Thus I'm pleased to bring you Scouting Superlatives, a series that will go conference to conference (starting with the Power 5) and which dives into some of the best players 2022 draft prospects.
We have awards to give out, players to learn, and top-10 rankings for each division. Since the 2022 class is projected to be very deep with talent, I find it best to rotate offense and defense throughout this series.
So let's get things started by looking at the offensive talent in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Sam Howell, UNC (6010, 210, 4.78e)
Did you expect anybody else? While he doesn’t possess the same level ceiling that the Trevor Lawrences and Justin Fields of the world had, Sam Howell is looking like a top-10 lock next spring as long as he avoids injury or spontaneously combusts as a player.
Entering his third year as the Tar Heels' starter, Howell emerged onto the scene as a true freshman in 2019 and promptly broke the ACC rookie record for touchdown passes in a season with 38 total. That number fell to 30 in 2020, but the improvements in read-processing and accuracy were apparent.
When you look at Howell, he doesn’t quite have any crippling weaknesses. He’s not an elite athlete, and he fails to see the MIKE at times which leads to unforeseen interceptions, but he has a great all-around skillset.
His arm talent is reminiscent of a Baker Mayfield/Matthew Stafford type--he’s a guy who can make all of the throws, plus his ball placement and anticipation are outstanding. His composure in the pocket is also super impressive.
As mentioned previously, his “theoretical ceiling” isn’t very high to some prognosticators due to his sufficient yet mediocre ability to extend plays in the running game. Nonetheless, with good coaching and structure, he should be a successful player in the NFL and a long-time starter.
Best Skill Player
WR Zay Flowers, Boston College (5111, 178, 4.48e)
Boston College has one of the more intriguing quarterbacks in the country in former Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec, and Zay Flowers has a chance to put forth absurd production in what should be one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the nation.
Flowers doesn’t have that prototypical No. 1 receiver build that teams crave, nor is he the crispest route-runner in the world at this stage. Still, his ankle flexibility and explosive athleticism help him separate with ease and become a touchdown threat every time the ball is thrown to him.
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Flowers is what many scouts would call a “body-catcher.” He doesn’t possess a large catch radius, but his skill set is very reminiscent of that of Seahawks star receiver Tyler Lockett.
Best Offensive Lineman
Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State (6040, 320, 5.34e)
As is typically the case with the ACC (excluding Mekhi Becton in 2020), there isn’t a great tackle group in the conference this upcoming season, even with talented teams. The closest player is NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu, a true junior left tackle. The problem is, however, that will likely not be his position in the NFL.
Ekwonu is a massive lineman, listed at 320 pounds but looks much bigger on film. He is dynamite in the run game--an old-school mauler with brute strength plus the technique and hand usage to counter moves from opposing defensive linemen.
His biggest issue--which is prevalent on film and so crucial to good tackle play--is his pass blocking. His timing is often a split-second too late, and he doesn’t encapsulate the requisite lateral agility or foot speed to frame speedier edge rushers on the outside.
It is often a draft cliche to say a talented offensive lineman would be plenty more effective on the inside, but this rings especially true for Ekwonu. His physicality, energy, power, and technique could make him a future Pro-Bowler if he moves to one of the guard spots on any team’s offensive line.
Feels Like a Future Giant
Zonovan Knight, North Carolina State (5112, 206, 4.48e)
If you read my early 2022 Giants mock draft piece, you’ll understand why I believe Zonovan Knight would be a great fit in New York’s backfield.
Knight will likely never become a twenty-carry-per-game running back, but he's effective and efficient when he’s on the field. He has a very impressive long speed, burst, and contact balance.
More than adept at breaking tackles, he also showcased some chops catching the ball in 2020 for North Carolina State.
With Saquon Barkley likely the Giants’ starter for the foreseeable future, the team would be wise to spend a mid-round selection on a running back next draft considering current projected backup Devontae Booker is on a one-year deal.
Zack’s Top 10 ACC Offensive Prospects
- Sam Howell - QB, UNC
- Zay Flowers - WR, Boston College
- Ikem Ekwonu - OT/IOL, NC State
- Zonovan Knight - RB, NC State
- Justyn Ross - WR, Clemson
- Zion Johnson - IOL, Boston College
- Lecitus Smith - IOL, Virginia Tech
- James Mitchell - TE, Virginia Tech
- Jaquarii Robertson - WR, Wake Forest
- Tre Turner - WR, Virginia Tech