With Super Bowl LVI in the rearview and the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine on the horizon, it's time to look toward the next group of talent to hit the pro ranks. Below is my first snapshot of the top five prospects at each major position in the 2022 NFL Draft class:
The 2022 quarterback class lacks some of the star power of previous groups, but there are certainly players at the position with intriguing talent and potential. Pickett is the headliner of the class with a combination of swagger, athleticism and arm talent that will pique the interest of coaches searching for a franchise quarterback with the intangibles to spark a turnaround. The former Pitt standout is the most pro-ready of the prospects due to his experience and expertise running an offense with pro-style concepts. Willis has boom-or-bust potential with an intriguing set of tools that will have some coaches comparing him to Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson as a possible "one-man show" at the next level. Howell flies a bit under the radar due to a slow start to the 2021 season that overshadowed a solid campaign overall. He displayed more athleticism and running skills during his final year at North Carolina, and his polished game could help him emerge as a capable starter in the right situation.
The RB class features a number of playmakers ideally suited for a rotational role at the next level. Perhaps a workhorse will emerge in time, but most of the running backs in this group will need a sidekick in the backfield to thrive. Hall is an ultra-productive runner with outstanding vision and quick feet. He displays exceptional stop-start quickness in the hole while flashing enough speed to take it the distance in the open field. With the Iowa State star also possessing soft hands and polished receiving skills, Hall is exactly what pro coaches covet in an RB1. Walker is a gritty runner with a combination of balance, body control and vision that makes him effective in any style of offense. Although he lacks elite speed and acceleration, Walker has a knack for moving the chains with the ball in his hands. Williams is the multi-purpose threat that every team needs in the rotation. He could shoot up draft boards after NFL evaluators get a better feel for his talent in workouts.
The top of the draft board at receiver is starting to resemble an ice cream shop with so many blue-chip prospects sorted and stacked by different flavors. Whether a team is searching for a big-bodied pass-catcher with dynamic red-zone skills or a shifty route runner with big-play ability, the 2022 class has it all. London is a former hooper with outstanding size, length and leaping ability. As a super-sized pass-catcher (6-foot-5, 210 pounds, per school measurements), he expands the strike zone for the quarterback and could be a dominant red-zone threat from Day 1. Williams reportedly suffered an ACL tear in the College Football Playoff National Championship, but his talent keeps him in the conversation as one of the top prospects at the position. If he receives a solid prognosis from doctors in the weeks ahead, he could shoot to the top of the charts as the premier playmaker in the class. Burks is a 6-3, 225-pound (per school measurements) playmaker with soft hands and outstanding ball skills. He is a classic No. 1 receiver with the size and athleticism to create problems for defenses featuring smaller corners.
With the tight end position gaining prominence due to more dynamic athletes carving out roles as "jumbo" receivers, offensive coordinators are searching for NBA-sized pass-catchers to anchor their aerial attacks. Wydermyer is an intriguing prospect with a combination of A+ physical tools and superb instincts. The former Texas A&M star is a nightmarish matchup with his superior size, athleticism and ball skills enabling him to dominate defenders. McBride offers excellent hand-eye coordination and underrated running skills. The tough, hard-nosed playmaker runs through arm tackles in the open field to turn short passes into big gains on the perimeter. Dulcich is a crafty player with outstanding ball skills. The former UCLA standout works the middle of the field like an NBA post player setting up in the paint. His knack for creating separation between the hashes will make him a natural chain-mover as a pro.
This year's OT class is loaded with rock-solid prospects who should be able to step onto the field as starters from Day 1. Neal is a super-sized edge blocker (6-7, 350 pounds, per school measurements) with natural skills as a left tackle. He has the length to stymie pass rushers off the edge and the strength to blow defenders off the ball. The Alabama standout is a powerful run blocker but not quite as nasty as some of his counterparts on this list. Cross is a technical marvel with the athleticism, hand skills and anchor to dominate one-on-one matchups against premier pass rushers off the edge. The Mississippi State star flips the switch from technician to brawler in the run game to bully defenders at the line of scrimmage. Ekwonu is an explosive run blocker with a nasty temperament that sets the tone for the front line. He mauls defenders with his exceptional combination of strength and power, and finishes his blocks with relentless aggression. The N.C. State product is still a work in progress as a pass protector, but his size and physical tools could enable him to quickly blossom into an elite offensive tackle.
The class of interior blockers includes technicians with enough power and pop to play bully ball at the line of scrimmage. Linderbaum is an athletic pivot with polished skills and a nasty finishing move. The Iowa product is a rare find as a scrappy player with a versatile game. Green is an athletic phone-booth controller with strength, power and explosiveness to blow defenders off the ball in the running game. The former Texas A&M standout excels in a pin-and-pull scheme, but displays enough athleticism to thrive in zone-based or man-blocking systems, as well. Johnson can play in any system. He climbs to the second level quickly with superb balance and body control while flashing enough knockback power to push defenders out of the hole.
Teams in need of pass rushers will find plenty of intriguing options in this year's crop. Hutchinson offers A+ tools and technical skills. The 2021 Heisman Trophy runner-up combines his exceptional physical gifts and refined hand-to-hand combat ability with the relentless effort that overwhelms blockers over time. He comes with a track record of performance and production that makes him a high-floor prospect with outstanding potential. Thibodeaux is a boom-or-bust blue-chip player with a speed-rush maneuver that is very hard to stop. The Oregon product displays exceptional balance and body control turning the corner. With outstanding instincts and snap-count anticipation enhancing his speed-rush attempts, Thibodeaux could blossom into a destructive force as a pro. Ojabo is a twitchy pass rusher with the prototypical tools that routinely lead to outstanding production as a pro. While he has only one season of starting experience, his first-step quickness, closing burst and non-stop motor could make him a nightmare to face off the edges.
The class of defensive tackles features a mix of old-school pluggers and new-school interior rushers with disruptive potential. Davis is a monstrous interior defender with exceptional run-stopping skills. He occupies multiple blockers at the point of attack and completely eliminates the running game as a one-man wrecking crew at the line of scrimmage. Leal is an active interior defender with outstanding athleticism and playmaking ability. He has the capacity to neutralize the run as a power player while flashing enough agility and finesse to impact the game as an inside pass rusher. Jones could parlay an impressive Senior Bowl performance into a rise up the charts in the pre-draft process. As a power player with active hands and a high motor, the UConn product is an intriguing option as a plugger at the line of scrimmage.
The NFL's transformation into a passing league has increased the value of off-ball linebackers with the versatility and diagnostic skills to make plays against the run and pass. The 2022 class features a handful of Swiss Army Knife-types with the potential to wreak havoc on opponents from the second level. Lloyd has a nose for the ball that makes him a big-play threat in coverage. He displays the athleticism and explosiveness to create chaos as a pass rusher, too. With the former Utes star also flashing sound fundamentals as a tackler in space, he has the talent to emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber player early in his career. Dean is a high-IQ defender. He is a read-and-react 'backer with the anticipation and awareness that defensive coordinators covet in players who wear the green dot on their helmet (defensive play-callers in the huddle). Muma is an ultra-productive prospect. The Wyoming product could emerge as a dynamic playmaker in a pro scheme that maximizes his talents in coverage and as a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine with pass-rush ability.
The 2022 cornerback crop features prospects with the size, athleticism and ball skills to counter the explosive pass-catchers who are dominating the pro game. Gardner is the long, rangy cover corner every defensive coordinator is looking for to man the island. The former Cincinnati star displays exceptional bump-and-run skills, but is also an instinctive defender with the capacity to thrive as a ballhawk in zone coverage. An aggressive tackler with underrated talents as a pass rusher off the edge, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder (school measurements) is the premier CB1 prospect in the class. Booth is a rock-solid corner with a loaded toolbox for the position. The Clemson standout has the ball skills, instincts and agility to thrive in man or zone coverage while also setting the edge as a dependable tackler in space. Stingley is a five-star talent with outstanding tools (height, weight, speed, athleticism) and playmaking potential, but he has not performed like an A+ prospect since his freshman season (2019). Although the LSU standout's talent and potential certainly make him a candidate to be drafted in the top 10, scouts will need to sort through his limited 2021 tape (missed all but three games due to injury) to determine if his substance as a prospect matches the sizzle.
Safeties are underrated in the draft process unless they are impact defenders with the capacity to produce turnovers as ballhawks or create chaos near the line of scrimmage as hybrid defenders. Hamilton is a future all-star with a game built on instincts, awareness and elite athleticism. He covers ground like a center fielder while packing a punch like an All-Pro linebacker. As a middle-of-the-field defender with size, range and versatility, Hamilton is the type of player whom defensive coordinators build game plans around. Hill is an exceptional nickel defender with superb instincts for the position. He is a natural slot defender with cover corner-like skills and sneaky pass-rush ability. With more teams deploying the nickel defender in a variety of roles, the Michigan product could soar up the charts during the pre-draft process. Brisker possesses a variety of skills that could make him a Swiss Army Knife-like playmaker as a pro. He excels near the box, but also flashes the instincts and awareness to be an effective pass defender between the numbers.