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ESPN Staff

With the NFL Draft just a few days away, all 2021 draft prospects have already been evaluated time and time again, and fans have already heard the scouting reports … over and over again. Although the draft hasn’t taken place yet, it’s already time to look ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft.

Our writers have selected the top 2022 NFL prospects from each of Mark Schlabach’s Top 25 teams leading up to the 2021 college football season.

The defensive line is a legacy of William Perry through Gaines Adams, Vic Beasley and Christian Wilkins. Next on the list is defensive tackle Tyler Davis, who with a strong 2021 season could easily be in the top 10 of the national drafts. He was an excellent rookie in 2019, but injuries and inconsistent production from his linemen hampered his 2020 campaign. A healthy Davis will now be surrounded by Clemson’s best group of linemen in years, which should give him a chance to showcase his productive abilities. — David M. Hale

More than half of the offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award last season – Landon Dickerson, Deonte Brown and Alex Leatherwood – is gone. But the top pro could return to bolster the line in 2022: Evan Neal. The 6-foot-4 junior is a former freshman All-American who has been used at both left and right back. According to Alabama coaches, he allowed just 1.5 sacks in 810 snaps last season and missed just six appearances. -Alex Scarborough.

After some turnover problems early in the season, including five interceptions in three games, freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler threw 15 TDs against two INTs in his final seven games, and the Sooners finished as one of the hottest teams in the country. With a rebuilt receiving corps, Rattler should do better than last season with 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns and will be draft eligible after three seasons in Norman. The NFL has learned to trust Lincoln Riley, whose last three QBs are NFL starters. Now it’s Rattler’s turn. -Dave Wilson.

Time will tell how well George Pickens recovers from his mid-season knee surgery. But when healthy, he’s one of the most talented pass catchers in college football, with great speed and leaping ability. With his 0’s, he can win his share of balls 50-50. Although he only played in eight of 10 games last season, he led the team with six touchdowns and was also the overall leader with 36 touchdowns. — Scarborough.

The answer will be a little clearer once the season starts, and it’s not easy to pick a single player at a place like Ohio State, given all the absurd talent the Buckeyes pass up every year. Thayer Munford is a good candidate here, as he’s probably the best offensive lineman in the country, but I’m going for WR Chris Olave. And that’s no disrespect to Garrett Wilson, who will also be the player coveted by NFL teams in the 2022 draft. But Olive, who led the Buckeyes in receiving yards the past two seasons and could be the top pick in 2021, is the man. — Harry Lyles, Jr.

 

Chris Olave was the Ohio State Buckeyes’ top receiver the past two seasons and could become a first-round pick if his production continues. Photo: Chris Greiten/Getty Images

Defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal is probably the first, but there is another big man he will meet during practice that could move him up a few spots. As a 6-4 sophomore, 325-pound Kenyon Green was a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy finalist at left guard. He helped solidify the offensive line, which allowed just seven sacks all season, while giving A&M a boost with a running attack that averaged over 200 yards per game. He comes into this season with a key position as a left tackle. Initial feedback has been very positive about Green’s arrival, and if he lives up to expectations, the NFL will be pleased with his arrival. — Wilson.

There’s a good chance Sam Howell will be on many 2022 selections. After a class with a lot of QBs this year, Howell will be one of the most coveted pass rushers next year, and his frequent plate heel numbers will make him the #1 overall pick. Of course, Howell isn’t the prototypical NFL body man, which would certainly yield an endless number of draft picks. Sure, small QBs are the norm now, but Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray are both better runners than Howell. Perhaps the best comparison – and the one Howell likes – is Drew Brees. Still, Howell will certainly be one of the most talked about prospects in the country until the 2022 draft. — Hale.

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The Cyclones have several offensive options returning virtually intact for the 2021 season. Quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall were both very productive in Ames, but tight end Charlie Kolar can still move up to the next level. Kolar, who is 6-foot-9 and weighs 90 pounds, is a huge target who regularly creates mismatches in the opponent’s defense. He was a two-time All-American and First-Team All-Big 12 honoree and was a finalist for the Mackey Award in 2020 after being a semifinalist in 2019. Kolar enters his final college season with 106 receptions for 1,425 yards and 17 touchdowns, including seven in each of the last two seasons. He thrives in the red zone and can go far when called upon. His experience and versatility make him an attractive option for NFL teams. — Adam Rittenberg

Ever since Kedon Slovis blew up the scene as a True Freshman in 2019, he seemed destined to become the next in a long line of USC quarterbacks wanted at the top of the NFL Draft. Although his 2020 season was mixed, he led USC to a 6-0 regular season record and is poised for a big 2021 year. His quick release is what sets him apart from many of the other quarterbacks who could enter the draft next year. — Kyle Bonagura

The Hoosiers were one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten last season, and Ty Freifogle was a big reason why. He could have been eligible for the NFL Draft in 2021, but decided to return for one more season, with the Hoosiers keeping him after a spectacular 2020 campaign that was cut short by a pandemic. Shop Filor, who played opposite Fryfogle, will not return, and Indiana will have to fill the void. But look forward to another big year from Fryfogle, who will get plenty of targets while teams still have to turn their attention to Miles Marshall, Indiana’s third-best receiver in 2020. — Harry Lyles, Jr.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder led Cincinnati to a 9-1 record last season. He won the American Athletic Conference title and advanced to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, where the Bearcats lost to Georgia by three points. Knight was named AAC offensive player of the year and was a finalist for the Maxwell Award. He said he would get a fourth- to sixth-round projection if he got into the current NFL Draft. Last season, he threw for 2,296 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions and completed 66.2 percent of his passes. He has a 30-5 record in Cincinnati and now has a chance to improve that draft pick next season. -Tom VanHaren

Desmond Ridder led Cincinnati to one of the best seasons in program history in 2020. Now he will try to build on that experience in 2021 before taking the next step to the NFL. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Since Kirk Ferentz took over as NFL coach, Iowa’s offensive line has been full of talented players. They will again use center Tyler Linderbaum, who surprisingly returned to Iowa for the 2021 season. ESPN’s Mel Kiper placed Linderbaum at No. 2 in December before the Hawks made their decision. Linderbaum, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 289 pounds, was a Rimington Trophy finalist and was named to the AP All-America second team in 2020 when he played in all eight games of an offense that averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Linderbaum is entering his third season as a starter and will be the undisputed leader of the blocking line for talented running back Tyler Goodson and others. Iowa’s newest star center, James Daniels, is ranked 39th in the 2018 draft, and Linderbaum could move even higher. — Rittenberg

13. Oregon Ducks: EN Kayvon Thibodeaux

After Kayvon Thibodeau became the best defensive player in the 2019 class, it only reinforced the feeling that he is destined for a long and lucrative NFL career. He set a freshman record with nine sacks in 2019 and earned several All-American honors in 2020 despite a shortened Pac-12 schedule. He’s probably the most intriguing NFL project since the Pac-12 in 2022 and could theoretically stay in Eugene until the 2023 college season. — Bonagura

The Huskies have been among the best defenses in recent years, and that trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Trent McDuffie, a second-team All-Pac-12 in 2020, could be enticed by the possibility of going in the draft after the 2021 season. Since then, he has been a fixture in 2019 as a True Freshman and will be one of the best players in the Pac-12 this year. — Bonagura

Kyle Hamilton was a star freshman at Notre Dame in the 2019 class, and the Irish coaches were happy to have him on the roster. His potential, size, football sense and natural gifts were evident in high school, and there was little doubt he could help Notre Dame early in his career. He had four interceptions, 41 total tackles and even a touchdown in his first season. Hamilton had 56 tackles and an interception last season and is expected to be one of the best safeties in the country in 2021. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he has the length NFL teams are looking for, he’s versatile because he can be used anywhere on the field, and because he can do a little bit of everything, there’s no reason to take him off the field. If Hamilton has another good season for Notre Dame, he should be eligible for the NFL’s top project in 2022. — VanHaaren

The Gators have struggled against the NFL’s best defenders in the past, competing with several other programs for DBU’s naming rights. Kayyir Elam could be the next to continue that legacy. He has the length (6-foot-3, 193 pounds) and family experience (his uncle Matt was a first-round draft pick as a safety in 2013), and is poised to take the next step in his junior season. Elam started 12 games last year opposite Marco Wilson (a draft pick is expected in a few weeks) and had 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 pass interceptions and a fumble recovery in Goodyear Cotton’s game against Oklahoma. – Andrea Adelson

The Badgers have several players in that category, including linebacker Jack Sanborn, who has 132 tackles over the past two seasons, but tight end Jake Ferguson also looks poised for a big year. Ferguson had 305 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 30 receptions last season and led the team in all categories. He’s 6 feet tall and weighs 246 pounds. He had the opportunity to enter this year’s NFL Draft. However, he was considered a probable pick on Day 2 and elected to return to Wisconsin. This move will help the Badgers next season, but it could also help Ferguson improve his draft stock if he and quarterback Graham Mertz spend more time together. — VanHaaren

If North Carolina’s Sam Howell is the best quarterback in 2022 – and no one is claiming otherwise – then Matt Corral deserves a mention. Even though he’s only 6-foot-4 and doesn’t have the strongest arm, he has two things every quarterback needs. He’s accurate, shot 70.9% last season, and he’s positioned well to make big plays. His yards per dropback (combination of passing and yards and subtraction of sacks) is 9.19, which is the highest of any Power 5 QB and almost half a yard higher than Howell’s 8.74. — Scarborough.

Matt Corral could supplant Sam Howell as the top potential quarterback for the 2022 NFL Draft. AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

The Ragin’ Cajuns have two draft picks that will split time at running back with Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas. Behind him was Chris Smith, who was also one of the best kickers in college football. Texas A&M transfer Jacob Kibody (taller back at 6-foot-2, 220) is a likely rotation candidate with Smith, but he hasn’t played since 2019, so there’s a chance Smith will still see more playing time than Mitchell and Ragas. Smith was also the team’s fourth receiver last season, so he can do a little bit of everything. If the offensive line maintains the high standards of former joint offensive line coaches Rob Sale and D.J. Looney, Smith could see his stock rise. — Liles Jr.

20. IPSAS-Tiger: CB Derek Stingley Jr.

At the end of 2019, Derek Stingley Jr has put down a level of play that few rookies have experienced. He intercepted six passes, broke up 15 others and became one of the most reliable elements in the sport in 2020. However, the 2020 season was disappointing: He spent most of the fall battling injuries and illnesses and struggled accordingly. It doesn’t matter: His potential is clear, and all indications are that he will be back to 100% form in 2021 and be a top 5 player again. — Bill Connelly

In seven seasons in Washington, the Longhorns’ new defensive coordinator, Pete Kwiatkowski, has contracted 17 players. He gets a new versatile defender in Austin this season with DeMarvion Overshown. Overshown, a 6-4, 217-pound former safety, showed flashes of brilliance in his first season as a linebacker, culminating in MVP honors in the Alamo Bowl after six tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries against Colorado. With another year of experience, Overshaw could start to move up in the rankings. — Wilson.

The Lions haven’t had a first-round offensive lineman since Levi Brown was selected fifth overall in the 2007 draft. Rasheed Walker hopes to end the drought when he returns for the 2021 season. Walker started 22 games on the left side and played in 26 games for PSU in his first three seasons. In 2020, he won his third Big Ten title. At 6-foot-1 and 90 pounds, Walker looks like a pro, but he should strengthen Penn State’s line and offense this season under new coordinator Mike Jurcic. Rasheed has a chance to dominate, defensive line coach John Scott, a former NFL assistant, told reporters this spring. Reminds me of something we had with the New York Jets.

He might have to stay in school in 2022 to prove again that he’s not the best pro-style offender in the world, but sophomore redshirt Grayson McCall is eligible after this fall, he has relative NFL size (6-3, 200), and he might not prove again in 2020. McCall has completed 69 percent of his passes with 26 TDs against just three interceptions; he is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in college football; and he will have two other intriguing prospects to throw to in 2021 – receiver Javon Haley and tight end Isaiah Likely. — Connelly.

He’ll likely still need to grow (he’s 6-foot-11 and weighs 80 pounds) and prove he can play at outside linebacker, but Darrell Johnson was immediately injured after transferring from ASA College last fall. The junior college All-American recorded 11 tackles for loss and six runs, while notching 8.5 sacks and forcing seven fumbles or interceptions on 240 pass attempts. He was also versatile: It has been treated 33 times. He wears many hats for LU, and he could have another great season in 2021. — Connelly.

 

Left tackle Zion Nelson moved up a few spots in the draft after his performance in the second half of 2020, when he emerged as a dominant force on Miami’s offensive line and started the last six games. He started all 13 games as a true freshman, but was much more variable as he learned the ins and outs of the college ball game. With all of his success in his current junior season, Nelson has a chance to cement his status as a potential first round pick with a consistent and dominant performance from start to finish. — Adelson.

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