With college ball under a month away, it’s no longer ‘too early’ for 2022 NFL Draft projections. I’ll be releasing my top 50 in the weeks leading up to the regular season – starting with the Top 5.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux – Edge, Oregon
Thibodeaux hasn’t worked himself up to ‘generational’ status yet but he absolutely has the potential to. With his size (6’5”, 250), length, and athleticism, Thibodeaux has the best natural tools of any pass rusher in the NCAA.
He’s put them on display consistently for the Ducks, netting 34 pressures in each of his first two seasons, with a little over 500 attempts over that time frame. There’s really nothing Thibodeaux can’t do as a pass rusher.
— Lorenz (@ScoutingLenz) August 3, 2021
In the run game, he’s been equally destructive, utilizing his length to keep separation from blockers and his short-area quickness to sharpen pursuit angles. The only real concern thus far has been his tackling but that can be cleaned up if he puts in the work.
There is no ceiling for Kayvon Thibodeaux. He’s the purest pass-rusher in this class and should make an immediate impact in the NFL. Even if he takes a step back this season – which I doubt he will – he’s still a lock to be selected in the top-5 of the NFL Draft.
2. Sam Howell – QB, North Carolina
Sam Howell has the type of skillset that fits into any NFL offense. He’s athletic with great pocket awareness and mobility. He’s got great deep-ball placement and one of, if not the, strongest arm in this draft class. He’s also shown accuracy at every level of the field.
What we like most about Howell is that he’s turned North Carolina into a winning program again. I have faith that he’ll be able to win on Sundays as well. Those are desirable traits but there’s room for Howell to improve his game.
When he escapes pressure, he tucks and runs, rarely ever looking for that long play downfield. While he’s had success carrying the ball, he’s missed out on some big-play opportunities. We would also like to see Howell adjust his ball speed on short throws to allow his receivers the chance to create after the catch.
Still, those are just details that even some starting NFL QBs are still struggling with. Howell has shown more up to this point than any other QB in the 2022 NFL Draft class. That’s why he’s QB1 and my second-rated prospect overall.
3. Spencer Rattler – QB, Oklahoma
But it’s very close! Rattler and Howell are in a tight race for QB1 and QB2. There’s plenty that Spencer Rattler hasn’t proven yet but we love the skillset he’s already developed. Rattler has great footwork that’s always in concert with his arm. He has a lightning-quick release and pinpoint accuracy that allows him to place the ball wherever he wants on the field.
— James Daniels (@MrOutcourage) August 3, 2021
His athleticism allows him to create huge plays outside of structure, which has been his calling card up to this point in his career. What we need to see more of, however, is consistency from inside structure.
Processing speed and pre-snap reads aren’t exactly positives for Rattler right now. His average time to throw of over 3 seconds supports that. It seems that he’s willing to pass up the easy throw to allow time for the big play to develop.
Rattler needs to show some growth from within the pocket and limit his ball-control mistakes. If he can do that, there’s a decent chance that he becomes the #1 prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft.
4. Derek Stingley Jr – CB, LSU
It’s a tale of two seasons for Derek Stingley Jr. As a true freshman in 2019, he displayed all the traits that NFL DCs covet in their #1 corner. Stingley showed loose hips and great long speed at 6’ 1”, 195-lbs. He partnered that with great explosion and leaping ability.
He rarely lost in contested catch situations, even against NFL-caliber length. He was an anomaly that season, allowing just 36 passes completed into his coverage on 94 attempts with 6 INTs for a 52.8 quarterback rating against.
But we can’t just act like 2020 didn’t happen – though many of us would like to. Not to say that Stingley was bad but he definitely took a step back. He failed to make plays on the ball consistently and his catch-allowed percentage inflated to almost 50%. Stingley was impacted by multiple injuries/illnesses, which needs to be considered.
We’ll forget all about that season if Stingley gets back to his 2019 form. If he can do that, Stingley may vault himself up the big board.
5. DeMarvin Leal – EDGE/IDL, Texas A&M
It’s too early to decide where Leal will lineup at the next level. He’s being considered a tweener by most, but not for what he can’t do, rather what he CAN do. What Leal can do off the edge at 290-lbs is beyond impressive.
He’s shown elite flexibility and explosion for an edge rusher which he partners with an extremely effective bull-rush. Leal blows up plays against the run as well, while also successfully maintaining the edge.
I’m gonna go ahead a put a plus next to DeMarvin Leal’s block shedding… pic.twitter.com/p2lCvuMFKT
— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 4, 2021
There’s work to be done yet on his hand technique. We also need to see Leal actually impact the game more. While he’s been able to help others get home as a pass-rusher, we still need to see him accomplish Leal himself. The sack numbers are low for Leal and he’s only generated 1 INT, FF, and FR each, throughout his career.
That could be due to the fact that protection was consistently schemed against him. Leal rarely ever gets a clean one-on-one opportunity but he’s shined in those that we’ve seen. He has rare traits and should be highly coveted come the 2022 NFL Draft.