Stock Up, Stock Down on 10 Notable 2022 NFL Draft Prospects

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystOctober 14, 2021

Stock Up, Stock Down on 10 Notable 2022 NFL Draft Prospects

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    Every year, highly regarded college football prospects falter after being hyped up leading into the season. Meanwhile, others put it all together and see their NFL draft stock skyrocket.

    Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow all emerged as No. 1 overall picks in recent years after being regarded as middle-round picks heading into their final season on campus. This year's crop of quarterback prospects appears to be going in the opposite direction.

    They aren't the only prospects who have exceeded or fallen short of expectations through the first six weeks of the 2021 college football season.

    To determine who should be considered risers or fallers at this juncture, the former couldn't be included in our preseason first-round mock draft, while the latter generated first-round buzz leading up to the season. 

    As well as guys such as Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and USC wide receiver Drake London are playing, they were already considered first-round talents. They didn't have much room to rise up draft boards.

    Here, we've highlighted players whose draft stock is more volatile. 

Stock Up: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

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    While many of the top quarterback prospects have disappointed, Pitt's Kenny Pickett is doing the opposite.

    From 2018-10, the three-year starter completed 60.5 percent of his passes with a 38-to-24 touchdown-to-interception ratio. This year, he's among the top six nationwide in competition percentage (72.0), yards per pass attempt (10.3), touchdown passes (19) and quarterback rating (194.7)

    An NFL scout told The Athletic's Dane Brugler that Pickett is on a "Kirk Cousins-like trajectory." Although Cousins didn't hear his name called until the fourth round, that would still be a fantastic rise for Pickett, who was considered a late-round option (at best) heading into this season.

    Now, scouts see a confident quarterback with ample arm talent, the mobility to work inside and outside of structure and someone who excels when throwing on the move. The Pitt signal-caller currently grades as college football's best deep passer, per Pro Football Focus

    Considering the current state of the quarterback class, Pickett may end up going much higher than expected. It'll likely come down to how he fares during the tougher portion of the Panthers' schedule, starting with Virginia Tech this weekend. 

Stock Down: QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

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    Heading into this season, Spencer Rattler looked like the favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2022 NFL draft. Heading into Week 7, it's unclear whether he'll even be starting this weekend.

    The Sooners benched Rattler for true freshman Caleb Williams during their Week 6 comeback victory against the Texas Longhorns. Head coach Lincoln Riley has yet to name a starting quarterback moving forward, though Williams, who came to campus as a 5-star recruit, seems like the better bet after his three-touchdown performance. 

    "I'm looking at this like I've got two really good players in that room that are both high-level quarterbacks," Riley told reporters Monday. "I think it's a great problem to have."

    It might be a great problem for the Sooners, but it isn't for Rattler's pro prospects.

    En route to an All-Big 12 nod last year, Rattler ranked first among all Power Five quarterbacks in clean pocket passing grade, per Pro Football Focus' Brent Rollins. However, his decision-making hasn't drastically improved this season, which led to him being on the sideline during the year's biggest rivalry game. 

    If Rattler doesn't retake the job and play lights out for the rest of the season, his draft standing will likely plummet. Fortunately, the 21-year-old is only a redshirt sophomore, so he can either return to campus for another season or transfer. 

Stock Up: RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

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    Iowa State's Breece Hall entered this season as the consensus top running back in the 2022 draft class, but he hasn't been quite as effective this season. Besides, NFL offenses require ball-carriers that add a little more to the offense in regards to big-play potential instead of traditional workhorse capabilities. 

    UCLA's Zach Charbonnet fits that mold. He's a 220-pound back with great breakaway speed and excellent vision. 

    "I think he has elite vision, and if you didn't coach him, that is difficult to tell," UCLA head coach Chip Kelly told The Athletic's Bruce Feldman. "... We knew he was that big and that fast, but a lot of times, you see guys they don't have the vision. You tell them to run right, they run right and (are) going to run up the back of people. He's really unique that way."

    As a true freshman at Michigan, Charbonnet flashed with 726 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. But he chose to return home to California after the 2020 campaign, and he has flourished this season with 566 yards and seven touchdowns in six games. 

    A year ago, D'Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor were considered the top two backs in the 2020 draft class. Ultimately, Clyde Edwards-Helaire became the only first-round running back selected.

    The same could unfold again in 2022. Hall and another rising star in Michigan's State's Kenneth Walker III are the bigger names with more production, but some teams may still prefer the explosive Charbonnet. 

Stock Down: QB Sam Howell, North Carolina

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    Much like Rattler, North Carolina's Sam Howell received plenty of fanfare this offseason only to see things fall apart once the season began. 

    A poor effort in the season opener against the Virginia Tech Hokies immediately hurt Howell's draft standing. The three-interception performance exposed his inability to accurately drive the ball to all three levels of the field, and his decision-making came under fire. 

    Howell has cut down on his mistakes since then, throwing only two interceptions over the ensuing five weeks. However, he completed only 58.3 percent of his passing attempts in the past three games against Georgia Tech, Duke and Florida State.

    While Howell's passing efficiency has waned this season, he's making more out of his opportunity as a runner. After combining for only 181 rushing yards over his first two seasons, he already has three games with 100 or more rushing yards this year.

    Howell won't win with his mobility in the NFL, though. And his inconsistency this season highlights his inability to overcome a poor surrounding cast. 

    Based on what we've seen so far, the underclassman might have peaked as a true freshman. He should no longer be considered an elite quarterback prospect until he proves otherwise.

Stock Up: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State

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    The 2022 wide receiver class is wide open, with multiple players trying to work their way into the first-round conversation. Penn State's Jahan Dotson is chief among them. 

    The 5'11", 184-pound senior isn't a traditional first-round X-receiver. However, he's adept at creating down the field and accumulating yardage after the catch.

    "That's where the magic exists with him," Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich told reporters. "It's how he gets open, his ball skills and his ability to finish after the catch that makes him a complete receiver."

    Dotson is reliable, too. Heading into this past weekend's game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Dotson had been targeted more than any other receiver without a single drop, according to Pro Football Focus

    USC's Drake London has seemingly worked his way into WR1 status, but Dotson can establish himself as the next-best receiver prospect in the 2022 class. 

Stock Down: DT Haskell Garrett, Ohio State

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    Ohio State's performance against Oregon will stick in many scouts' minds because of how the Ducks shredded the Buckeyes' talented defensive front. 

    Last season, Haskell Garrett was a consistent thorn in the side of opposing offenses. Pro Football Focus even named him a first-team All-American. As such, he entered this season with some first-round hype. 

    Upon closer inspection, Haskell may not be the type of interior defender who demands early-round consideration.

    At 6'2" and 300 pounds, he'll likely struggle to hold the point of attack against bigger and more talented offensive linemen. That's already the case now against collegiate blockers. Because of his frame and skill set, he's more likely to be considered a sub-package defender as part of an NFL defensive line rotation. 

    NFL front offices want three-down defenders who don't come off the field when they're looking at potential first-round selections. Haskell is a talented and capable one-gap penetrator, but he falls short of that standard. He may be limited to certain schemes, which will have him all over teams' draft boards. 

    The injury he suffered against Maryland may hurt his stock as well. 

Stock Up: DT Jordan Davis, Georgia

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    Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis could have declared for the 2021 NFL draft and heard his name called relatively early. Instead, he decided to return to campus for another year and improve his standing.

    He's done so with gusto. 

    The 6'6', 340-pound Davis is now a complete game-wrecker because he's worked on his conditioning, technique and overall quickness, as Georgia head coach Kirby Smart told reporters:

    "I think he's a tremendous worker, tremendous person. I think you're seeing the side of Jordan that we had seen prior, but [defensive line coach Tray Scott], has done a great job honing in his skill set.

    "He initially was a block striker and anchor. I would say, an immovable object. And that was great. But that only gets you so far, and to get tackles for loss, you've gotta be quick. You've gotta stunt step, you've gotta have twists, you've gotta have gains."

    A defensive tackle's value increases exponentially once he consistently plays in an opponent's backfield and collapses the pocket to make life easier on his team's edge-rushers. Although Davis has only 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss this season, he serves as the spearhead for the nation's best defense.

    The mountainous defensive tackle must be accounted for at all times, usually by two or even three blockers, and he still finds ways to disrupt opponents' offensive flow. 

Stock Down: Edge Drake Jackson, USC

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    During his first two seasons with the Trojans, Drake Jackson posted 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks despite being miscast as a hybrid defender. Considering he's only 20 years old with a maturing 6'4", 250-pound frame, his overall production was expected to take off this fall. 

    Now used in a more traditional defensive end role, his development hasn't progressed as much as expected. 

    Jackson leads USC with four tackles for loss and three sacks, but he isn't an overly explosive edge-defender who can consistently beat offensive tackles off the snap or turn the corner. Instead, the Trojans often ask him to reduce inside to 3-technique in certain packages. 

    "I'm just a step late, a step off of having multi-sack games," Jackson told reporters earlier this month. "But I'm not there yet. Until I get there, until I have my multi-sack game, I'm not nothing."

    He posted two sacks the following day against the Colorado Buffaloes. Still, his three sacks came in only two games. 

    Maybe Jackson is a step behind where he should be at this juncture, but he's still athletic enough and has the potential to develop into something more. NFL teams must take a wait-and-see approach to see if he ever reaches what initially looked like high-first-round upside.

Stock Up: Edge Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State

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    Jermaine Johnson II spent two years as a rotational piece for the Georgia Bulldogs before transferring to Florida State for his final collegiate season. The move allowed the 6'5", 262-pound defensive end to blossom into one of the nation's most dynamic edge-rushers. 

    Through six weeks of play, Johnson is first among Power Five defensive linemen with seven sacks and tied for third with nine tackles for loss. 

    Johnson fits the prototype of an NFL defensive end. He's long, lean, athletic and quick off the snap. He uses his hands well, works half a blocker and shows good bend and closing speed toward opposing quarterbacks. Bigger blockers can overwhelm him, but he's still physical at the point of attack. 

    Johnson is also very active. He leads all defensive linemen with 44 total tackles. 

    The fifth-year senior turned his life around after posting a 1.9 GPA in high school. He enrolled at Independence Community College, got his associate degree, played two seasons at one of college football's best programs and took all his previous experience to become a leader for the Florida State program.

    "He learned that life can get bad pretty quick if you don't make the right decisions," Johnson's brother, Vadell, told the Macon Telegraph's Brandon Sudge in 2019. "It definitely shifted his paradigm and mindset at the jump. It has made him into an amazing person."

    Johnson knows how to make the most of his opportunities, and he's clearly done so this fall.

Stock Down: LB Mike Jones Jr., LSU

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    Mike Jones Jr. was supposed to be next in line among the highly regarded safety/linebacker hybrids who are taking over football. 

    From Isaiah Simmons to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a second-line defender's ability to play in space is more valuable than ever. In fact, some NFL staffs will sacrifice downhill physicality so they can cover more of the field without consistently substituting defenders. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, Jones earned the highest coverage grade among Power Five linebackers last season. He performed slightly better than Owusu-Koramoah, who won the Butkus Award and continues to be a standout as an NFL rookie. 

    Jones knew he had more to show scouts after being a part-time contributor with the Clemson Tigers. He transferred to LSU in an attempt to become a more well-rounded defender. 

    "I left Clemson to try and find a new role in a (new) system," Jones told reporters in August. "I wanted to play more in the box, and it's been great here." 

    The plan was sound in theory. The execution backfired, though.

    Jones has played in all six games so far, but he's barely made an impact and often isn't seen on the field. However, he does have three years of eligibility to prove he's the type of defender he believes he can be. 

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