As we march full steam ahead into the excitement surrounding the 2021 NFL Draft, some executives and fans are always looking well down the road. Some executives might already have a rough draft list of players to watch in college football, to get a jump on the 2022 NFL Draft. Talking about 2022 NFL Draft prospects at this stage might seem a little premature.
Best 2022 NFL Draft prospects
However, if there is one thing fans of any team love to soak up, it’s optimism that their next chance to add young talent will be the start of something special.
As the dust settles from an important 2021 NFL Draft, let’s take an early sneak peek at a few prospects who figure to light up evaluators’ boards for the 2022 NFL Draft.
It’s human nature for people to gravitate towards pedigree and recent trends. In addition to his own play, quarterback Tyler Shough has a couple of things working for him with regards to background. He spent the first two seasons of his college career on the Oregon Ducks, backing up current dynamic Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
Shough didn’t get much playing time in 2019 while Herbert excelled, but had a solid first season as the full time starter in 2020. He threw for 13 touchdowns, and looks the part of a traditional NFL quarterback. He’s 6’5” and 221 pounds.
However, Shough will not spend the rest of his college career in the Pac-12.
Instead, he’ll transfer to Texas Tech ahead of the 2021 season. The Red Raiders have been known to produce a solid NFL quarterback or two, starting with none other than Kansas City Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes. Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield also spent some time at Texas Tech before he transferred. In a conference like the Big 12 that lends itself to shootouts, Shough will have an incredible opportunity to boost his draft status.
The University of North Carolina is primarily known as a school that produces elite NBA talent. However, the Tar Heels have a chance to get noticed as a football university in next year’s draft.
Quarterback Sam Howell has started in Chapel Hill since he was a freshman, and he’s put up some incredible numbers in the past two seasons. So far in his college career, Howell has thrown for 68 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. It’s not like his attempts are checkdowns either; he averaged over 10 yards per attempt last season.
Howell really has a chance to show scouts what he’s made of next year. He’s had the benefit of playing with running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, both of whom will be drafted in a few days.
Both players rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, which likely helped Howell keep linebackers plugged into the backfield during play action passes. Next year, he won’t have that talent to rely on, but can prove that he makes other players around him better.
A lot can change between now and April 2022, but it seems like a good bet that Kayvon Thibodeaux will get looked at very closely by NFL teams looking to bolster their defensive line next season.
Thibodeaux is the second Oregon Ducks player to be mentioned on this list. Unlike Shough, Thibodeaux plans to play in Oregon next season to continue building on what has been a solid start to his career.
Thibodeaux burst on to the scene as a freshman. He recorded 9 sacks in his first collegiate season, terrorizing Pac-12 quarterbacks week in and week out. He took a little bit of a step back last year, notching 3 sacks in just seven total games. However, he still recorded 9.5 tackles for a loss, which basically means he’s been good for at least one tackle behind the line of scrimmage in each game he’s played. He can provide massive upside for a team looking to improve their pass rush.
LSU has had some extremely impressive prospects come out of their school in recent seasons on offense. Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Justin Jefferson all figure to be stalwarts for many years to come in the NFL. However, with regards to the 2022 NFL Draft, we turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball for the Tigers. Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. has quietly put up a very respectable college career of his own, and will warrant consideration as a high draft pick next year.
Like Thibodeaux above, Stingley had an eye popping freshman season in college football, in arguably the toughest conference in the sport. Stingley picked off 6 passes in 2019, and had 15 passes defended, against some of the best talent the game had to offer. He also played in all 15 games the Tigers had on the schedule that year.
Last season, Stingley came back down to earth, as he did not record an interception. He still had 5 passes defended however, and looks the part as a 6’1” 195 pound shadow corner.
We round out our list of 2022 NFL Draft best prospects by switching back over to the offensive side of the ball.
Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross hopes to be selected somewhere in the range where DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase figure to go this year (in the top 7 or so picks). However, Ross will need to remind evaluators just how good he can be next season. He suffered a back injury that forced him to miss the entire 2020 season, which will make fans nervous about his durability in the pros.
However, Ross was on pace to do some amazing things for Clemson before he got hurt.
Playing with presumed 2021 number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence, Ross made some amazing plays in his first 2 college seasons. He averaged 21.7 yards per catch as a freshman, and scored 9 touchdowns that year as well. He had an impressive sophomore campaign as well. Assuming he can fully recover from his back injury, Ross figures to be a polarizing player at the top of draft boards next spring.