The final weeks of the 2021 college football regular season have not disappointed. Big wins for Alabama, Cincinnati, Iowa, Michigan and Utah not only landed them in this weekend's conference championship games but also helped their team's best players make a good impression on NFL general managers and coaches.
The 25 players spotlighted below are the top prospects for the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl. These stars, plus 25 more prospects with the talent to enter this elite list (SEE: the bottom of this article), have played well enough throughout their careers to be picked in the first two days of the 2022 NFL Draft. The proceedings are still five months away (April 28-30 in Las Vegas), so the evaluations of these players will change based on their postseason play, their results in athletic testing and, if they are fortunate enough to receive an invite, their performance at Senior Bowl week practices and the game itself (Feb. 5 on NFL Network). Invitations have already been extended and accepted by many of the prospects listed here.
One player from my initial list, Alabama edge rusher Christopher Allen, is not included here because he broke his foot while strip-sacking Miami Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King in the season opener and is unlikely to play again this year.
NOTE: Prospects are listed in ascending order. Heights and weights are via school measurements.
25) Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama (6-foot-4, 312 pounds)
Previous rank: No. 22
Mathis stood up to double teams in the Tide wins over SEC rivals Arkansas and Auburn, hustling to the ball for all four quarters (and four overtimes in the Iron Bowl). He beat single blocks throughout both games, creating opportunities for tackles for loss with his arm-over move and short-area quickness. The versatile Mathis lined up everywhere from outside the tackle to on the nose, twisting inside and outside to eat up blockers for his teammates. He's not an elite pass rusher but he provided secondary pressure against Auburn (he was credited with 1.5 sacks) when quarterback TJ Finley held on to the ball for too long.
24) Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming (6-3, 242)
Previous rank: No. 25
Muma continues to impress with his strong play between the tackles and his fluid movement and speed in coverage. Against Utah State on Nov. 20, he kept his shoulders square and sorted through trash to plug runs while also tackling the Aggies' speedy backs in the open field to prevent huge gains. Muma's blitzing ability also led to multiple pressures. Hawaii caused problems for Muma and the Cowboys' defense last weekend in a 38-14 Rainbow Warriors road victory. While he posted nine tackles on the day, stuffing runs in the box and chasing down receivers in space, the Hawaii scheme often put him in no man's land.
23) Arnold Ebiketie, Edge, Penn State (6-3, 256)
Previous rank: No. 21
Ebiketie could not get around Rutgers left tackle Raiqwon O'Neal early in their Nov. 20 matchup, though he did push the 6-4, 305-pound tackle back with a strong bull rush. In the fourth quarter, he finally got a strip-sack in the red zone to shut the door on the Scarlet Knights. The story was similar in Penn State's 30-27 loss at Michigan State, but snow-covered fields tend to slow down edge rushers. Ebiketie chased plays from behind and shifted inside to stop runs in both contests, though, showing he will do more than just rush off the edge at the next level.
22) Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan (6-1, 220)
Haskins and the Wolverines' offensive line powered through Ohio State last weekend for the school's biggest win in a decade. Haskins has carried the mail all year, squaring his shoulders, making quick steps in traffic to find space and running with good pad level. Haskins also shows patience to follow lead blockers for big gains, scoring two of his five touchdowns in that fashion against the Buckeyes. He had a nice lead block of his own for his quarterback in the second half, though it came as no surprise given his physicality as a runner and in pass protection.
21) Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State (6-1, 200)
Previous rank: No. 15
Brisker led Penn State with seven stops against Rutgers in the 28-0 win, stopping quick throws outside and filling in the run game. He knocked away a deep pass over the middle by first finding the receiver and then the ball, but later missed a sack on a blitz and gave up a reception peeking into the backfield. Brisker played in the box at times to stop Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III during the loss to Michigan State, stopping the freight train four times but getting carried into the end zone on the back's first quarter TD run. The Spartans' offense had a clear advantage over Brisker and his teammates in the snowy conditions.
20) Kingsley Enagbare, Edge, South Carolina (6-4, 265)
Previous rank: No. 14
Enagbare did not sack Auburn quarterback TJ Finley in South Carolina's 21-17 win on Nov. 20, but the Gamecocks star won several times on the edge with a nasty arm-over move. He disengaged from blockers to stack the run and showed discipline by staying home on a reverse late in the game. Enagbare was flagged for disconcerting signals to cause a false start by the left tackle late in the second quarter. Clemson ruined his home finale last weekend, winning 30-0 by running the ball effectively to keep him from pinning his ears back to attack the passer. He stood his ground, though, and shed a few blocks to grab ball-carriers but could not get involved in enough plays to stem the tide.
19) Logan Hall, DL, Houston (6-6, 275)
Hall faced an undersized but tough foe in Memphis right guard Dylan Parham in the Cougars' 31-13 home win two weeks ago. He didn't push around Parham but bulled the Tigers' other guard into the pocket to share a sack. Hall did the same against UConn's left guard and center last weekend, also displaying his patented swim move to regularly get into the backfield. Hall has mostly played inside for the Cougars this year but he has lined up outside in the past; my guess is that he will line up at five-technique in the NFL, shifting inside on passing downs.
18) Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan (6-7, 305)
Raimann protected his quarterback and was an effective positional blocker in the run game in wins over Ball State and Eastern Michigan. The former tight end is predictably agile in space, looking like a guard against EMU by finishing blocks at the second level and leading the way on screens and off-tackle runs. Raimann has learned to engage edge rushers with his upper body and move his feet as they try to get past him. Stronger Cardinals and Eagles defenders ripped off his blocks after initial contact at times, but he should continue to improve his functional strength and ability to come off the ball low at the next level.
17) Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State (6-4, 260)
Previous rank: No. 18
McBride caught six passes in losses to Hawaii (89 yards) and Nevada (113). He lined up on the outside and caught seam and slant passes, while also sitting down in the middle to provide a safety valve. Against the Wolf Pack, he caught a tipped sideline pass as he was falling to the turf. McBride led his squad in rushing against Nevada, too, as he took a direct snap on a fake punt 69 yards for a score. That was a fitting ending to McBride's Senior Day, as coaches did not want him to suffer an injury that could jeopardize his draft status during a lopsided loss.
16) Damone Clark, LB, LSU (6-3, 240)
LSU topped Louisiana-Monroe before gaining bowl eligibility with a home win over Texas A&M last weekend, with Clark the clear defensive leader in both games. He made a huge play early against ULM, shedding a block on the goal line and stopping a runner cold. Clark's speed and coverage ability were crucial against the Aggies, taking away tight end Jalen Wydermyer and receivers in the red zone. He chased plays all over the field and fittingly ended the game with two sacks, attacking A&M's scrambling quarterback as he left the pocket in desperation mode.
15) Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington (6-7, 310)
Previous rank: No. 13
The Huskies' season came to a merciful end with losses to Colorado and rival Washington State. Kirkland played well against the Buffaloes, save for a holding penalty in the third quarter (his first penalty of the year). He stoned pass rushers with a wide base and good balance and got off the ball in the run game. His foot quickness showed when getting inside angles to cut off backside pursuit. His performance was uneven in the Apple Cup, though, oversetting, getting shed and lunging at his opponent early on before settling down to provide solid pass protection and a strong edge on run plays.
14) Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn (6-0, 190)
Previous rank: No. 6
Alabama tested McCreary often in the Iron Bowl, with mixed results. He broke up four passes against the Tide, using his off hand to reach in front of receivers and fighting through wideout John Metchie III's hands on an underthrown sideline pass. McCreary stayed with Metchie and Jameson Williams (before Williams was ejected for targeting on punt coverage in the second quarter) at times, but Williams was faster off the line and Metchie's strong go, dig and comeback routes left McCreary behind even if the ball didn't come his way. Metchie finished off the contest by beating McCreary on a jerk route to the left pylon for the winning two-point conversion.
13) Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota (6-9, 380)
Previous rank: No. 19
Indiana and Wisconsin had no luck against the stone wall wearing the No. 78 jersey in the Gophers' back-to-back wins. Faalele attacked defenders in the run game, keeping his feet moving on zone runs and when attacking smaller defenders in space. He missed second-level targets in the Wisconsin game, however, and was called for holding in the red zone when an edge defender got him off-balance and then tried to chase an outside run. Still, the Gophers regularly ran behind Faalele's crushing blocks on the edge and he showed scouts he could get low in short-yardage situations as his team won back Paul Bunyan's Axe.
12) Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 188)
Previous rank: No. 9
Olave caught all seven of his targets, including two touchdowns in the middle of the field, during the first half of the Buckeyes' 56-7 blowout win over Michigan State on Nov. 20. He grabbed a throw over his shoulder for his first score and later looked like Willie Mays tracking a deep sideline pass over his head to set up yet another Ohio State touchdown. Olave's day was less eventful against Michigan, only getting five yards after the catch on seven receptions. He missed chances to grab a low pass and one thrown behind him but impressed by going over a Michigan corner to grab a 50/50 ball in the fourth quarter.
11) Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky (6-5, 345)
Previous rank: No. 11
Kentucky won big the past two weeks, beating New Mexico State 56-16 and defeating in-state rival Louisville 52-21. Kinnard stoned pass rushers throughout both contests whether they went outside, spun inside or tried a power rush. The Wildcats were very right-handed in the run game because of their senior tackle, as he mauled linemen with strong hands, got to linebackers on inside runs and even led an off-tackle play against NMSU. Occasionally, Kinnard will be out-quicked off the snap, but his thick overall build and agility are tough to beat when he's playing with urgency.
10) Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa (6-7, 321)
Previous rank: No. 12
Penning dominated defenders throughout the Panthers' 41-3 win over Western Illinois and their first-round playoff loss at Eastern Washington. He drove his man off the ball several times against WIU, once creating a hole for a 99-yard rushing touchdown. The first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection spent a lot of time on EWU's rain-soaked red turf after finishing many blocks to the ground, as he's done all year. He was stood up on the goal line during that game, though, and was penalized for holding and being too far downfield on a pass play during the opening series.
9) Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (6-4, 215)
Previous rank: No. 16
SMU and East Carolina found out the hard way what happens when giving Ridder time in the pocket. When able to align his upper and lower body, he drilled passes to the sideline and over the middle while also finding receivers over the top for big plays. Ridder also made the Mustangs and Pirates pay when leaving the pocket, including on a 40-yard run for a score and a trick-play touchdown reception against SMU. He was inconsistent making good throws on the move, however, which led to two interceptions against ECU.
8) Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State (5-11, 184)
Previous rank: No. 7
Dotson got things rolling in the Nittany Lions' Nov. 20 win over Rutgers with a pair of catches late in the first half. He faked inside moves on both, grabbing a high throw on the left sideline and then an eight-yard touchdown to the right sideline. Despite the snowy field in East Lansing last weekend, Dotson still looked quick in the loss to the Spartans. He slipped once after a catch but otherwise stayed upright on the slick field. Dotson exhibited strong hands bringing in off-target throws and excellent body control catching a Cover 2 hole shot while staying inbounds and reaching the ball over the pylon for one of his two scores.
7) Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College (6-3, 316)
Previous rank: No. 8
Johnson had a tough assignment taking on Florida State's defensive line two weeks ago, but he handled his duties with aplomb. He consistently moved his target out of the hole with his upper body or by driving his legs after contact, opening big lanes during his team's fourth-quarter comeback attempt that came up just short. Johnson also shoved linebackers to the ground when moving to the second level. He displayed the same strength, agility and technique last weekend against Wake Forest, playing extremely well despite the Eagles' offensive struggles in the 41-10 defeat. Johnson should garner similar draft grades to 2021 first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker.
6) Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (6-6, 340)
Previous rank: No. 5
Davis started the 56-7 dismantling of Charleston Southern but didn't need to play many snaps. He did rush for a touchdown on the Bulldogs' first series, reaching across the goal line despite getting hit low. Davis also displayed his versatility by conducting the pep band after the win. Georgia Tech was steamrolled 45-0 by the Bulldogs but Davis played three quarters to prime him for the SEC Championship Game. In addition to eating up double teams and pushing his man into the backfield, as he did against the Yellow Jackets, NFL scouts want to see Davis find the ball regularly in Saturday's highly anticipated matchup against Alabama.
5) Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (6-1, 225)
Previous rank: No. 3
Willis had another tough outing against Louisiana on Nov. 20, throwing two picks and giving defenders a few other chances. He threw late into double coverage but faced constant pressure and often did not have a checkdown option. Willis was also harassed in the pocket by Army in the first half last weekend, taking four of his five sacks in the first two quarters and showing regression to poor footwork. He had better protection in the second half, when he threw absolute lasers to all parts of the field and was more effective as a scrambler. Liberty receivers also had several drops on the day that took points off the board.
4) Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (6-3, 235)
Previous rank: No. 10
Lloyd showed scouts a bit of everything in Utah's final two regular-season games. The Utes squashed Oregon's playoff hopes with a 38-7 win as Lloyd attacked runs and brought heat as a rusher later in the game. Lloyd was a force against Colorado, as well, missing a couple of open-field tackles but bringing the wood when squaring up his target. He took away receivers in coverage in both games, stopping the Buffaloes from converting third downs and preventing a touchdown late against the Ducks. He looked a bit like the Cowboys' Micah Parsons with his hand in the dirt, beating tackles and getting to quarterbacks as they unloaded passes.
3) Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State (6-5, 262)
Previous rank: No. 4
Boston College's tackles could not block Johnson during the first half of their matchup at Chestnut Hill because of his violent hands and speed around the corner. He also forced a quick throw from the end zone, which led to a safety, and consistently stopped runs to his side of the field. He had less of an impact in the second half, as the Eagles ran the ball more effectively. Johnson got a sack against Florida in a losing effort last Saturday, winning on the edge at times to force poor throws. He chased plays downfield, as well, but was not a significant factor against the run game (by the Gators' design) in the fourth quarter.
2) Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (6-3, 220)
Previous rank: No. 2
Pickett was in rhythm early in Pitt's 48-38 win over Virginia two weeks ago, zipping passes across the field and into tight windows. He kept his eyes downfield when avoiding rushers, throwing a touchdown to an open Jordan Addison at the back of the end zone in one such instance. Pickett threw interceptions on consecutive possessions, however, turning the ball over on a 50-50 pass at the end of the first half and when double-clutching a throw into Cover 2 at the start of the third quarter. Efficient in a 31-14 road win over Syracuse last week, he matriculated the ball down the field with short passes before impatiently launching a deep jump ball despite having a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.
1) Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan (6-6, 265)
Previous rank: No. 1
College football viewers who were getting their first look at Michigan this season finally saw Hutchinson's special talent as the Wolverines hit a home run on head coach Jim Harbaugh's sixth try against Ohio State. Shifting from one side to the other, Hutchinson kept both of the Buckeyes' tackles off-balance throughout the game, winning early with inside moves and then using his speed and quick hands to rack up three sacks. Hutchinson's power put Thayer Munford on his back on one play midway through the fourth quarter. His overall skill set was on display as he lined up at five-technique at times, stood up to double teams, showed major lift to nearly tip away a quick pass and chased plays to the sideline.
Twenty-five more to watch
Listed in alphabetical order:
- Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis (5-foot-9, 162 pounds)
- Amaré Barno, Edge, Virginia Tech (6-6, 245)
- Logan Bruss, OL, Wisconsin (6-5, 316)
- Zachary Carter, Edge, Florida (6-4, 285)
- Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State (6-0, 194)
- DJ Coleman, Edge, Jacksonville State (6-6, 245)
- Luke Fortner, C, Kentucky (6-6, 300)
- Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State (6-2, 300)
- Brad Hawkins, S, Michigan (6-1, 221)
- Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama (6-1, 194)
- Velus Jones Jr., WR, Tennessee (6-0, 200)
- Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State (6-6, 260)
- Quentin Lake, S, UCLA (6-1, 205)
- Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State (6-7, 319)
- Josh Paschal, Edge, Kentucky (6-3, 278)
- Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati (6-3, 213)
- Dameon Pierce, RB, Florida (5-10, 215)
- Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor (6-0, 197)
- Myjai Sanders, Edge, Cincinnati (6-5, 255)
- Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia (6-4, 325)
- Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia (6-2, 230)
- Eyioma Uwazurike, DT, Iowa State (6-6, 320)
- Cordell Volson, OL, North Dakota State (6-7, 313)
- Jaylen Watson, CB, Washington State (6-3, 204)
- Tariq Woolen, CB, Texas-San Antonio (6-4, 205)