Ranking Each Positional Group in the 2022 NFL Draft

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 29, 2022

Ranking Each Positional Group in the 2022 NFL Draft

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    Talent fluctuations make each and every NFL draft class vastly different. 

    A year ago, Trevor Lawrence ran the table as the projected No. 1 pick. In total, five quarterbacks heard their names called among the initial 15 selections. Conversely, no team selected an edge-rusher in the top half of the first round. 

    Both are premium positions, yet one proved to be far more valuable based on availability. 

    The incoming crop sits on the opposite side of the spectrum. Spoiler alert: The current group of quarterbacks is marginal at best with few standing out as first-round options. Meanwhile, pass-rushers will be at a premium. 

    All the pieces will eventually fit neatly into place even though the puzzle isn't the same. Franchises must decide how to piece together their boards and attack their need areas while weighing the quality of prospects and the depth of each position. In doing so, every front office will determine the strongest and weakest positions in the class. 

    Coincidentally, the 2022 class starts and finishes with the defensive front. 

11. Defensive Line

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    A shift seems to have occurred in the past year or so where teams are once again in need of bigger or more powerful interior defenders since certain offenses are taking advantage of defenses trying to go smaller and faster. 

    Granted, a defensive tackle still isn't as valuable as an edge-rusher, unless they're a true three-down option capable of holding up at the point of attack and consistently collapsing the pocket. This year's class lacks true all-around interior defenders and the depth is even worse. 

    Georgia's pair of potential first-round defensive tackles is the only reason this group isn't a complete flop, and even some questions exist there. 

    Generally, Jordan Davis is considered the top prospect at this position group. He's a difference-maker as a mountainous 6'6", 340-pound defender. The reigning Outland Trophy winner is exceptional at taking on double-teams while stacking and shedding blocks. But his explosive qualities as a pass-rusher and his usage rate are worrisome since he may be nothing more than a two-down defender at the NFL level. 

    Teammate Devonte Wyatt is a more complete option and could ultimately surpass Davis on draft day as a result. Wyatt shows the best first-step quickness among the position class and can be a three-down threat.

    Beyond those two, only a handful of prospects look like future contributors. Houston's Logan Hall and Georgia's Travon Walker are more likely to play base end while reducing down in certain sub-packages. Phidarian Mathis is yet another well-coached Alabama defensive lineman. Texas A&M's DeMarvin Leal didn't meet preseason expectations. Connecticut's Travis Jones is a 333-pound space-eater. 

    Still, there's just not much at the position this year.  

10. Safety

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    The safety class is essentially built around one individual, but what a prospect to claim since Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton should be considered the unicorn in this year's incoming crop. 

    The 6'4', 220-pound Hamilton is perfect for modern defenses, and could reasonably be a top-five pick—maybe even top-three. He's capable of playing at all three levels and presents immense growth potential since he'll be a 21-year-old rookie. 

    Teams are searching for versatile defenders who don't need to be taken off the field when certain sub-packages are deployed. Hamilton can immediately step into any situation and serve as a defensive eraser thanks to his size, range and versatility. 

    Other safety prospects may have to wait until Day 2 to hear their names called. 

    Penn State's Jaquan Brisker played exceptionally during his final season on campus. Currently, he's viewed as a fringe first-round option, according to Bleacher Report's grading scale. The second-team All-American cleaned up some areas as a senior, but his overall excellent play continued as the highest-graded in coverage since the start of the 2019 campaign, per Pro Football Focus

    Georgia's Lewis Cine and Oregon's Verone McKinley III will help populate what looked like a significant dearth of talent beyond Hamilton and Brisker since both declared early for the draft. 

    Baylor's Jalen Pitre definitely deserves to be mentioned as the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of Year, who like others in the class can contribute in multiple different areas. However, he's a slightly older prospect, as he's set to turn 23 before the start of training camp. 

    Michigan's Daxton Hill is interesting as well, but his value derives from playing nickel corner. 

9. Quarterback

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    The 2022 quarterback class is best represented by the "Stop trying to make 'fetch' happen" GIF

    No matter how much those on the outside want to force the situation, a clean top-10 prospect doesn't exist among the incoming signal-callers. Sure, a few have enough upside to warrant a first-round selection, but this group isn't anywhere near last year's prospects. As a result, no clear-cut top option exists. 

    For Bleacher Report, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is QB1 and a top-20 prospect. 

    "Overall, Ridder is a competitive player who showed a leap in improvement throughout the 2021 season," scout Nate Tice wrote. "He's athletic but doesn't just rely on his legs to make plays happen and constantly showed an advanced understanding of Cincinnati’s offense with his pre- and post-snap operation. His ability to operate from the pocket with his polished movement and balance, while still maintaining the athleticism to create plays when things break down, is a fun package."

    Ridder is merely one option. Talk to others, and their answers when asked who QB1 is could be Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis, Ole Miss' Matt Corral or North Carolina's Sam Howell. The uncertainly makes this a highly volatile year to need help behind center. 

    Interested parties can't overlook Ridder's erratic ball placement, Pickett's marginal physical tools, Willis' lack of development in a simplistic passing offense, Corral's slight frame or Howell's regression as a passer. 

    Some teams will still take a chance on upside. But the boom-or-bust quotient among these options, with very few deserving of later-round consideration, places an eyeball emoji firmly on this position class. 

8. Linebacker

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    Don't expect another Micah Parsons to be in this year's draft class. In fact, don't expect another Micah Parsons to show up ever again. 

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and NFL teams adore copying successful programs, plays, setups, etc. Unfortunately, the idea of this year's linebackers following what Parsons did is too much to ask. Yet the group has multiple first-round options in the pipeline. 

    Generally speaking, Georgia's Nakobe Dean has been considered the best linebacker prospect after being a playmaker and team leader on the nation's best defense. ESPN's Matt Miller heard otherwise. Of those who talked to Miller about current linebacker rankings, none of them had Dean as the best at his position based on his smallish frame. Instead, Alabama's Christian Harris received plenty of positive reviews. Utah's Devin Lloyd should be in the mix as well. 

    Again, none of those mentioned should be considered elite prospects. All three are more than capable of being first-round picks and using their skill sets to fly all over the field next season. 

    The real issue with his position is what happens beyond those three names.

    Wyoming's Chad Muma is a safety convert who's gained interest throughout the season. He will likely be a Day 2 selection. Penn State's Brandon Smith is excellent in coverage but inconsistent. Cincinnati's Darrian Beavers is at his best working between the tackles. Georgia's Channing Tindall was a one-year starter. Wisconsin's Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal are both reliable tacklers and smart players, but they must prove capable of doing more. 

    The good thing about a linebacker investment is they don't just contribute on defense. They usually participate in special teams as well. Looking at this group, it has plenty of talent up top and others who can help in some manner or another.  

7. Tight End

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    The tight end position has been hit or miss over the past few years. 

    In two of the past four classes, a tight end heard his name called among the top-10 selections. Kyle Pitts and T.J. Hockenson lived up to expectations. During even years, the first tight end either wasn't taken until later in the first round or in the second frame.

    The 2022 crop certainly fits in the vein of the latter. No slam-dunk first-round prospect exists. But this does not mean teams should bypass the position altogether. While a premium prospect doesn't exist, plenty of depth does. 

    Texas A&M's Jalen Wydermyer and Colorado State's Trey McBride should vie to become the first selected. What makes both intriguing is they're true Y-tight ends who can play on or detached from the line of scrimmage. They're athletic enough to make plays in the passing game yet still serviceable when asked to perform in-line. 

    The same can be said of Washington's Cade Otton and Ohio State's Jeremy Ruckert. Neither emerged as a big-time weapon, but they were never used in that manner. Both should be more prevalent threats at the NFL level where tight end mismatches are emphasized. Even if one or neither does more than already do, they can contribute by doing the little things required of the position. 

    On the flip side, the San Jose State Spartans featured Derrick Deese Jr. in the passing game more this past season, yet the tight end carries the genes of a long-time NFL offensive lineman and it shows. 

    More than anyone in this position class, Coastal Carolina's Isaiah Likely is the most interesting prospect, because he's clearly a pure F-tight end. Don't ask him to block in-line. However, Likely did real damage as a receiver with 89 receptions for 1,513 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Whoever drafts the 6'4", 240-pound target must have a specific plan for his usage, though. 

6. Running Back

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    So many exhaustive arguments can and have been made about a running back's value in the modern NFL. Whatever anyone chooses to believe, the position still produces stars, with certain teams sinking early-round picks on ball-carriers. 

    There's never really a shortage of capable running backs, either. How highly they're drafted falls almost solely on how they're viewed by each individual organization. Some still believe a workhorse can be valuable even in a pass-first league, while others feel significant investments are unnecessary since production can be found almost anywhere. 

    For those looking in the draft, they'll find quality. 

    Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III burst onto the scene as a potential Heisman candidate. The 2021 Doak Walker Award winner led all Power Five backs with 1,636 rushing yards. More importantly, he displayed an important combination of toughness and explosivity to generate chunk plays. Walker led college football with 89 broken tackles during the 2021 campaign, per Pro Football Focus

    Iowa State's Breece Hall, on the other hand, relies on excellent vision and contact balance to thrive as he did in the Big 12 with 3,044 rushing yards and 46 total touchdowns over the last two seasons. Hall is only 20 years old, too. 

    BYU's Tyler Allgeier moves like a runaway freight train. The 5'11", 220-pound back tied for the most rushing touchdowns last season with 23, but he's not just a between-the-tackles runner.

    Notre Dame's Kyren Williams and Michigan's Hassan Haskins look like early contributors on third down for entirely different reasons. Williams is a natural pass-catcher, while Haskins is the class' blocking back. 

    These five prospects fit immediate roles. But multiple others will come in and provide a roster with quality reps as part of a rotation. 

5. Interior Offensive Line

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    A bevy of interior blockers should start for NFL teams in short order. 

    Typically, a guard or center isn't worth a pick in the top half of the first round unless they're Quenton Nelson. Then again, Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum might be the highest-drafted center of the modern era. The Miami Dolphins chose Mike Pouncey with the 15th pick in the 2011 draft. 

    Bleacher Report's scouting department had Linderbaum graded as the class' ninth-best player on its end-of-season draft board. 

    "With only a couple of true top-five talents in this class, positional value or lack thereof becomes less of a concern since Linderbaum is arguably one of the best overall players," scout Brandon Thorn mentioned

    "What makes Linderbaum special is what he does as a run-blocker, using a rare blend of play strength, power, athletic ability, tenacity and technique. This combination makes him an immediate impact player that a play-caller can build a run game around."

    Lindenbaum is the headliner while others look like early contributors. 

    Boston College's Zion Johnson is a plug-and-play starter, particularly for a gap-heavy offense. Texas A&M's Kenyon Green is a former 5-star recruit who can play all over the line of scrimmage. Virginia Tech's Lecitus Smith and Oklahoma Marquis Hayes are extremely physical run-blockers. Georgia's Jamaree Salyer, Kentucky's Darian Kinnard and Central Michigan's Luke Goedeke should make the transition from high-level collegiate tackles to guard. Memphis' Dylan Parham will intrigue suitors because of his position versatility as a tackle, guard or even center. 

4. Offensive Tackle

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    Offensive tackle gains a slight edge over its interior counterpart for a very simple reason: A pair of tackles are counted among the class' top four prospects, according to Bleacher Report's rankings

    Alabama's Evan Neal and North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu can both stake a claim why they should be this year's No. 1 pick. 

    Of the two, Neal is the more traditional left tackle option because of his size (6'7", 350 pounds), length and unbelievable athleticism for a blocker of his stature. At 21 years old, he's already a relatively smooth pass protector and a potentially devastating force in the run game. To make the first-team All-SEC performer even more enticing, he's only played left tackle for one season after starting his career at left guard before moving to right tackle and ultimately settling as a blindside protector. 

    Whereas, Ekownu is an already dominant force in the run game. He easily displaces defenders at the point of attack and graded as the best run blocker among offensive tackles since the start of the 2019 campaign, per Pro Football Focus. Like Neal, Ekwonu presents experience at guard, but the difference lies in pass protection where the latter still has some issues with oversetting and aiming points. Plus, his 6'4" frame won't be preferred by every scouting department. 

    The offensive tackle portion of the draft isn't a two-horse race. Yes, Neal and Ekwonu are elite talents.

    At the same time, Mississippi State's Charles Cross is the best pure pass blocker of the three and should also be a top-10 selection. Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning is another first-round option who plays with unbridled physicality. Central Michigan's Bernhard Raimann is an older prospect (24), but his potential is tantalizing since he came to the game late. Minnesota's Daniel Faalele is man-mountain at 6'9" and 380 pounds, yet he moves extremely well. 

    The position may seem a tad top-heavy but that's not a bad thing. 

3. Cornerback

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    Cornerback was already considered a premium position, and the number of quality prospects is starting to meet demand. During the past two drafts, 11 cornerbacks—five last year and six during the previous event—came off the board in the first round. 

    This year's class could surpass both with the possibility of seven or eight opening-frame options. Who exactly the top cornerback is remains in question, though. 

    Derek Stingley Jr. has been tabbed as that guy since he thrived as a freshman during LSU's national championship run. However, the choice isn't so obvious for NFL scouts. According to ESPN's Matt Miller, Stingley isn't considered the top corner among the five he asked. 

    A big part of the questions swirling around Stingley deal with his injured foot, which required surgery, and how he'll hold up at a listed 195 pounds on a 6'1' frame. 

    Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner may be made of slightly sturdier stuff. The 6'3", 200-pound defensive back is both physical against the run and exemplary in coverage, allowing a 26.7 completion percentage last season, per CFB Film Room. He could leapfrog Stingley and find himself among the top-10 selections. 

    Those are just the top two options. Florida's Kaiir Elam, Washington's Trent McDuffie, Clemson's Andrew Booth Jr., Georgia's Derion Kendrick, Washington's Kyler Gordon and Auburn's Roger McCreary will be in the first-round conversation. If any slip out of the opening frame, a slight slide will create a cascading effect with other quality corners being driven down the board.

2. Wide Receiver

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    Loaded wide receiver classes are now a regular occurrence. 

    In the past four drafts combined, 133 wide receivers heard their names called. There's no reason to believe the same won't happen again this year, especially with a strong group stacked with the first-round options. 

    Last year, Ja'Marr Chase established himself as WR1 as the draft neared. He proved he was well-worth the designation by setting the Cincinnati Bengals' single-season and overall rookie record with 1,455 receiving yards. 

    The current group doesn't feature a similar elite talent, though one might be close. 

    USC's Drake London looks like the complete package as a 6'5", 210-pound target who moves like a much smaller receiver when working in and out of his breaks. Obviously, he excels at the catch point. The former member of the Trojans basketball team displays outstanding footwork and body control. How he runs after suffering a fractured ankle last season will go a long way in determining how high he's drafted. 

    London has the best shot at establishing himself as WR1, but the class features talented options of all shapes and sizes. 

    Ohio State's Chris Olave is a silky-smooth route-runner, while former teammate Garrett Wilson has been a big-play machine since he stepped onto campus. The 6'3", 225-pound Treylon Burks is fantastic at beating man coverage and creating after the catch. Penn State's Jahan Dotson is a dynamic receiving threat and punt returner. Alabama's Jameson William could have been the first wide receiver drafted if not for a torn ACL in the national championship game. 

    Those mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. Wide receiver may not have a top-five talent counted among its ranks, but it's still deeper than any other position. 

1. Edge

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    The 2022 NFL draft will be defined by its edge-rushers. 

    The trio of Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Purdue's George Karlaftis could very well be off the board among this year's initial five selections. 

    Thibodeaux and Hutchinson, in particular, are in the conversation to become the No. 1 selection depending on what the Jacksonville Jaguars decide to do with the pick. The two are both excellent prospects, though they present differing skill sets. 

    Thibodeaux is a more traditional top-tier edge prospect thanks to his fluidity, explosivity and flexibility. He can fly past blockers, turn the edge and harass opposing quarterbacks. Hutchinson's isn't as bendy, but he presents an impressive combination of power, pass-rush plan and relentlessness that should make him quite effective as well. 

    The 20-year-old Karlaftis, meanwhile, retains significant upside. The same could be said of Michigan's David Ojabo, who came to the game later in life after coming to the United States from Nigeria with a plan to play basketball. Ojabo's raw athleticism and potential could easily make him a top-15 selection. 

    Pass-rushers of all skill sets can be found in this year's class. 

    As stated earlier, Houston's Logan Hall and Georgia's Travon Walker are potential first-round picks with inside-out versatility. San Diego State's Cameron Thomas, USC's Drake Jackson and South Carolina's Kingsley Enagbare are straight-line pass-rushers with developing skills. Cincinnati's Myjai Sanders, Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto and Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie may be best working from a two-point stance. 

    Throw Florida State's Jermaine Johnson II, Kentucky's Josh Paschal and Texas A&M's Michael Clemons into the mix, and Bleacher Report will have at least 15 edge-rushers graded with first- or second-day grades.