Ranking the Top 10 Prospects Eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2021

Ranking the Top 10 Prospects Eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    It hasn't even been a month since the 2021 NFL draft ended, but you can bet team scouts and analysts are already working on next year's class.

    It's never too early to dig into next year's prospects, especially for teams with specific positional needs and/or contract situations. While there doesn't appear to be a can't-miss prospect like Trevor Lawrence or Myles Garrett in the 2022 draft class, knowing which positions are deep and which must be targeted early can be beneficial—even a year out.

    Here, you'll find an early look at the top 10 2022 draft-eligible prospects based on factors like proven production, physical upside and positional value. Quarterbacks, as is usually the case, will be at a premium.

    This is an early examination, of course, and draft boards are likely to look a lot different next spring. Recent No. 1 overall picks like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow emerged during the season or predraft process. A similar rise could be on the horizon.

    For now, though, these are the prospects to watch heading into 2022.

10. Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    We may not see four quarterbacks go in the top 11 as we did in 2021, but there's a good chance that at least two are off the board by the 10th pick. The 2014 draft was the last in which at least two quarterbacks didn't go in the top 10.

    The question, of course, is which quarterbacks will emerge as the top guys. USC's Kedon Slovis is the first of three signal-callers on this list, and he comes in at the bottom for a couple of reasons.

    For one, Slovis doesn't fit the mold of a modern NFL quarterback. He's a pure pocket passer with next to no scrambling ability—he's logged negative rushing yards in each of his two seasons. Secondly, the track record of recent first-round picks from Southern California has been underwhelming, to say the least.

    Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold are the last three first-round selections out of USC.

    Still, teams that are looking for a traditional dropback passer should be high on Slovis. He's thrown for 47 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over the past two years and has enough arm talent to make all the throws. Slovis went 5-1 as a starter this past season while completing 67 percent of his passes.

    Listed at 6'3" and 215 pounds, Slovis also has the size teams look for at the quarterback position. Expect his final draft standing to be heavily determined by his performance in 2021.

9. DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    While Kedon Slovis may have to lead USC to a successful season to cement his spot as a high first-round pick, Texas A&M shouldn't need to be good in 2021 for DeMarvin Leal to be coveted.

    At 6'4" and 290 pounds, Leal projects as a defensive tackle with edge-setting defensive end potential in the NFL. However, he is not simply a space-eater or run-stuffer. Leal possesses the short-area quickness and athleticism to be a disruptor at the point of attack—not unlike 2019 top-10 pick Ed Oliver.

    This past season, Leal amassed 37 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, three passes defended, an interception and a fumble recovery. He has logged 4.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss over the past two years.

    While Leal isn't a pure edge-rusher, he has shown the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. We didn't see a defensive tackle taken in the first round in 2021. With Leal as a draft-eligible prospect, we're virtually guaranteed to see one taken in Round 1 next spring.

8. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

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    Tony Tribble/Associated Press

    In a different era, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton might vie to be one of the first picks off the board. However, teams haven't been as keen on drafting safeties high in recent years, with Jamal Adams being the last top-10 safety in 2017.

    However, Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton should have a very good chance of reversing the trend in 2022. The 6'4", 219-pounder possesses a unique blend of size, length, speed, leaping ability and ball skills.

    "Hamilton's explosiveness and athleticism with that kind of height and length is rare," Bruce Feldman of The Athletic wrote.

    A true back-end safety, Hamilton projects as a ball-hawking center fielder at the next level—think a bigger Minkah Fitzpatrick. This past season, Hamilton racked up 51 solo tackles, six passes defended, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss. Over the past two seasons, he has 12 passes defended, five interceptions and a defensive touchdown.

    Barring injury or an unexpected dip in production, Hamilton should be one of the first defensive backs off the board next year.

7. Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Off-ball linebackers are back in vogue in the NFL, thanks to the emergence of dual-threat quarterbacks, spread-oriented offenses and the frequent use of backs and tight ends in the passing game. Devin White, Devin Bush, Isaiah Simmons and Micah Parsons are all non-rush linebackers taken in the top 12 over the past three drafts.

    There's a very good chance that Alabama's Christian Harris is the next off-ball linebacker to be coveted in the early first round. A true sideline-to-sideline second-level defender, he can chase ball-carriers, cover pass-catchers and occasionally pressure the quarterback.

    This past season, Harris amassed 79 total tackles (52 solo), two passes defended, 4.5 sacks and an interception.

    At 6'2" and 232 pounds, Harris isn't the biggest linebacker prospect we'll see in 2022, but he is fast, fluid and perfect for the center of a modern NFL defense.

6. Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Premier offensive-line prospects are always going to be valued at the top of the draft. Only two of the last 15 drafts have not seen an offensive lineman go in the top 10.

    Texas A&M's Kenyon Green is an intriguing prospect because he's expected to make the switch from guard to tackle this season. Green came to College Station as a tackle prospect but saw his first starting opportunity at right guard.

    "After starting at guard as a freshman and sophomore, Green will take over at left tackle this fall, a position at which he was a 5-star prospect out of high school," Hannah Underwood of the Dallas Morning News wrote.

    Green is excited for the opportunity.

    "Right now, I'm 100 percent playing tackle, Green said, per Jeff Tarpley of 247Sports. "I'm loving it right now. Getting back in the groove of being on the outside and everything."

    By the end of 2021, Green will be a three-year starter for a premier program who possesses positional versatility and physical upside. At 6'4" and 325 pounds, he's a mammoth of an O-line prospect who should hear his name called early on opening night.

5. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell could conceivably push his way into the QB1 slot by the time the 2022 draft rolls around. Howell possesses a rare blend of arm strength, accuracy and anticipation, allowing him to deliver laser-focused deep strikes like this one.

    While not a true dual-threat, Howell also has a good amount of quickness and elusiveness, which enables him to evade rushers and pick up yards when he has to—he rushed for 146 yards and five scores this past season.

    The biggest knock against Howell right now is his size. The 6'1", 225-pound Howell doesn't boast the archetypal height that NFL teams generally look for.

    Still, Howell is a mobile, accurate, strong-armed passer who has regularly carved up opposing defenses. Over the last two years, he has thrown for 7,227 yards with 68 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

    Teams have been more willing to gamble on shorter quarterbacks—Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were both No. 1 overall selections—and a strong campaign could vault Howell into the No. 1 spot.

4. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    We've seen a cornerback selected in the top 10 in each of the past two drafts, and this past April, South Carolina's Jaycee Horn was the first defender off the board. While LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. may not be the first defender taken in 2022, he should continue the trend of cornerbacks in the top 10.

    A two-time first-team All-SEC selection and 2019 All-American, Stingley projects as a top-end cover corner who can defend all areas of the field.

    This past season, Stingley amassed 27 total tackles, five passes defended, 2.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. He had 15 passes defended and six interceptions in 2019, which made him a defender best avoided by opposing quarterbacks.

    According to Pro Football Focus, no cornerback has been better at defending passes of 20 or more yards over the past two seasons.

    It won't be a shock to see Stingley go in the top five. That's high for a corner, but it is far from unprecedented. Jeff Okudah and Denzel Ward were both top-five draft selections.

3. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Like Kenyon Green, Alabama's Evan Neal is a former starting guard making the move to left tackle this offseason.

    "The 6'7", 360-pound Neal was a 5-star recruit who started immediately as a guard in 2019 before transitioning to right tackle in 2020. He is expected to start for a third consecutive season as a junior this fall at left tackle," Mike Rodak of AL.com wrote.

    Assuming that Neal's latest transition goes according to plan, he'll likely be one of the first players off the board. In addition to having archetypal size for the left tackle spot, Neal also has the positional versatility needed to make him a fit for any team.

    While blindside protectors are the most valued of linemen, not every team will need one right away. A team with an aging franchise left tackle could start Neal at guard or on the right side immediately before moving him over down the line.

    Playing for Alabama also helps Neal's draft stock, as we saw a whopping six Crimson Tide products go in the first round this year. 2008 was the last year in which an Alabama player wasn't selected in the first round, and Neal should keep the streak alive next year.

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    While there might not be a "sure thing" pass-rushing prospect in the 2022 draft class, Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux is pretty darn close. He is a viable candidate to go No. 1 overall.

    "No player on Oregon's defense is better, and [defensive coordinator Tim] DeRuyter said he sees Thibodeaux in a role similar to how he used Von Miller when he was coordinator at Texas A&M," The Athletic's Tyson Alger wrote.

    This suggests Thibodeaux will be showcased as a pure pass-rusher in 2021. Should he add heavily to his already impressive career sack total, Thibodeaux will find himself at or near the top of many draft boards.

    Through 21 career games, Thibodeaux has already racked up 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and six passes defended. In short, he's adept at short-circuiting plays at the line of scrimmage.

    Listed at 6'5" and 250 pounds, Thibodeaux has more than enough size and length to be a terror off the edge in any base alignment. A lot can change in a year, but Thibodeaux heads into 2021 looking like the safe pick to be the first defender taken in 2022.

1. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    There's no guarantee that a quarterback will be the first player taken in the 2022 draft, but this has been the case in the last four drafts. Given the importance and value of the position, a quarterback tops this list—even if he doesn't have the highest floor among all prospects.

    Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler has the potential to be the third Sooners signal-caller to go No. 1 overall in five years. Like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray before him, the 6'1" Rattler isn't the tallest quarterback. Like those two, though, he does have top-notch throwing ability.

    "Rattler doesn't have a huge frame, but he does have an elite arm. His arm talent is unbelievable—he can throw 50-yard strikes with a flick of the wrist," ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. wrote.

    Rattler has also shown that he can throw from multiple platforms, create throwing lanes and avoid pressure. This past season, he threw for 3,031 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 games. He also rushed for 160 yards and six more scores.

    Rattler is the early favorite to be the first quarterback off the board and, by extension, is the top prospect to watch heading into 2021. While another prospect could overtake him in the coming months, Rattler, at a minimum, should join Mayfield, Murray and Jalen Hurts as former Oklahoma quarterbacks starting in the NFL.

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