NFL Draft 2022: Final Positional Rankings
Written By: Aaron Ussery
It's nearly here, folks! We have 10 days until night one of the 2022 NFL Draft. At this point, teams have finalized their big boards and narrowed down their preferences - and I've done the same. Below I'll share my final top five rankings for each position group.
1) Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
2) Malik Willis, Liberty
3) Carson Strong, Nevada
4) Matt Corral, Ole Miss
5) Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
- I believe in Desmond Ridder as a Day 1 starter more than any other QB in this class. He has the poise, experience, athleticism, and arm strength to elevate several team's QB situations right off the bat.
- Malik Willis still has the highest physical ceiling in this class due to his arm strength and mobility, but I am slightly more concerned about his accuracy and mechanics than I am Ridder's.
- Strong is a guy I've come around on quite a bit over the last several weeks. I initially knocked him for statue-esque feet and general injury concerns, but after learning more about the nature of his knee troubles and how they limited him I'm curious to see what can happen with him if he gets a year to rehab and take mental reps. He has some throws on tape that outclass even those showcased by Ridder and Willis.
- I think Corral and Pickett both have a chance to be low-end starters but high-value backups, similar to what we've seen from the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Teddy Bridgewater.
1) Kenneth Walker, Michigan State
2) Breece Hall, Iowa
3) Dameon Pierce, Florida
4) James Cook, Georgia
5) Pierre Strong, South Dakota State
- Walker and Hall both tested much better athletically than I expected. I still am not sure I always see that level of speed and explosiveness on tape for them, and I still wish they both had shown more as pass blockers and receivers out of the backfield, but each possesses enough savvy as a pure runner to be worthy of a high Day 2 pick in my opinion. Walker edges out Hall for me due to having much less tread on his tires (480 carries in college as opposed to Halls 718).
- Pierce is exactly what an NFL running back should look like. He has a compact bowling ball frame, and possesses the best contact balance in the class. He isn't the explosive athlete that Walker or Hall are, but he brings more value on passing downs due to his elite prowess as a blocker. He projects as a physical, downhill type of runner - similar to Frank Gore - but luckily comes into the league with only 329 carries in college.
- James Cook is my favorite pass catching back in this class. I don't know that he has the frame or contact balance to project as a true every-down runner, but what he brings when catching out of the backfield and working in space is very exciting. It also helps to see such a small number of career fumbles despite his smaller size.
- Pierre Strong will need to go to the correct team (ideally someone who runs lots of Shanahan-type outside zone), but if he does I think he's got a chance to be the most productive runner from this class early on in his career. He's undersized, but possesses ELITE speed that reminds me of Eli Mitchell from last year's class. I wavered a bit on ranking him ahead of guys like Isaiah Spiller, Rachaad White, and Tyler Allgeier - but I see such a clear path to success for him that ultimately I decided to give him the nudge.
1) George Pickens, Georgia
2) Chris Olave, Ohio State
3) Jameson Williams, Alabama
4) Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
5) Drake London, USC
- Sorting through these receivers all offseason has been a nightmare, but in the end I've decided on Pickens as my personal number one. I know he won't be the first one taken, but I don't care. His tape leaves me grinning like an idiot. He plays with a different level of physicality than guys like Olave and Wilson, but is every bit the athlete they are. I also think he has the most versatility of any pass catcher in the class as well. He can win in the slot with quickness, out wide with deep speed, and in the red zone as a 50-50 ball-winner due to his height and junkyard dog mentality. Him missing the 2021 season with an injury has made people forget about him, but I think he'll quickly make us all remember exactly who he is in 2022.
- Olave and Williams rank number two and three for me because I think each possesses some elite separation ability and great deep speed. Those are both traits that translate immediately in the league, and should allow both to produce once they hit they field. Olave outranks Williams to me due to the latter's knee injury that will likely cause him to miss training camp and likely the first month or so of his rookie season.
- Wilson doesn't have the same route-refinement that Olave possesses, nor does his deep speed match that of Williams, but he does appear to have more sudden, violent quickness on tape than either of them. What keeps him below them, however, is an issue with drops. He left a lot of very easy catches out on the field, which was frustrating since he's so good with the ball in his hands. In general, his game lacks focus and discipline and he'll need to refine some things. He, Olave, and Williams are also lacking in terms of play strength, which leaves me a bit concerned about what they can offer as ball-winners and blockers at the next level.
- London rounds out my top five. He's a much different player than Olave, Williams, or Wilson - dwarfing them in size and playing with a much meaner attitude. He doesn't run terribly crisp routes, and I'm wary of his speed after he chose to avoid running the 40 at all during the scouting process. There have been a lot of "possession only" receiver types who have quickly washed out of the league in recent years because they simply couldn't win with size and physicality at the same rate they did in college, but I think London shows better playmaking instincts and lower body fluidity than guys like N'Keal Harry or JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He's also absolutely lethal out of the slot, which you almost never can say about 6'4" 220lb receivers.
1) Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
2) Greg Dulcich, UCLA
3) Trey McBride, Colorado State
4) Jelani Woods, Virginia
5) Cade Otton, Washington
- Ruckert is a notch above the others in my TE rankings due to what I perceive as untapped pass catching potential mixed with elite blocking traits. He has some absolutely devastating blocks on tape, against some high profile pass rushers as well (certain reps against guys like David Ojabo and Arnold Ebiketie will leave you chuckling). His production was limited in Ohio State, but that's easy to understand when you look at that receiver room. He plays with the type of will you want to see from your true Y tight ends, and reminds me of Pat Freiermuth from last year's class.
- Dulcich is easy to get excited about. He's likely the best "pure receiver" tight end prospect in the class. He can operate inline and kill defenses with his ability to win at the top of routes when working in the seams, and can also dominate as a "power slot" type similar to Mike Gesicki or Mark Andrews. He doesn't offer much as a blocker, but can be a terror as a mismatch weapon.
- McBride and Otton both project as prototypical Y tight ends with a bit less physicality than what is displayed by Ruckert. I think both can win as possession receiving threats, with limited upside after the catch. Otton is also down the board a bit further for me do to his nagging ankle issues.
- Jelani Woods is a complete physical projection, but it's hard not to get excited when you look at his measurables. He stands 6'7" and weighs 255 lbs, and showed great athleticism for that frame during testing. His body control when the ball is in the air is likely his best trait. He projects to me as a Y tight end, but has some good blocking upside and experience after playing an H-Back type role during his time at Oklahoma State (he transferred to Virginia in 2021).
1) Evan Neal, Alabama
2) Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
3) Charles Cross, Mississippi State
4) Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
5) Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
- In the end, Evan Neal has stuck to the top of my rankings over Ikem Ekwonu and Charles Cross. I think he possesses the ideal blend of size, power, length, and bend. He doesn't have the agility when moving laterally that Ekwonu and Cross possess, but I'm less concerned about that than I am with the drawbacks those two players come with. Neal is going to be a very solid left tackle in the NFL due to just how difficult it will be to go either through or around him. He plays measured, focused, and with excellent discipline (he had only one penalty called on him in all of 2021).
- Ekwonu is the best run blocking player in this class, whether that be amongst tackles or interior players. He finishes every single play with violent passion, which coaches obviously love. His main drawback is sloppiness in his pass sets, which could actually mean he needs to be kicked inside to guard if he can't clean things up out there. If that does happen, I think he'll be fantastic there - but coaches will likely want to fail him outside first, which could mean his career gets off to a rocky start.
- Cross is a better pass blocker than either Neal or Ekwonu, but doesn't have the same type of mass or play strength. Adding good mass will be crucial for him, as he'll be susceptible to the bull rush and won't offer plus-level play when run blocking until he does. If he can do that, however, then watch out. He's already so good with his pass blocking technique that some added functional strength might just make him the best overall tackle in the class when its all said and done.
- Trevor Penning has a reputation as a nasty player, but it unfortunately can sometimes come after the whistle -- and after he's lost the rep. He has the size, length, attitude, and agility of a starting tackle, but his fundamentals are a mess. He needs to focus more on the mechanics of his game, and less on trying to bully his opponents into submission -- which won't be as effective in the NFL as it was in Division-II college football.
- Raimann is a bit similar to Cross, in that he offers plus-level balance and fluidity in his pass sets. What he lacks is the same lateral agility, and still doesn't quite have the level of play strength you want to see. To make things more complicated, he'll turn 25 during the season -- making him very old by NFL rookie standards.
1) Zion Johnson, Boston College
2) Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
3) Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
4) Jamaree Salyer, Georgia
5) Darian Kinnard, Kentucky
- Zion Johnson is, for my money, one of the best overall players in this class. He's got everything you want from a guard, both physically and mentally. He is quick, controlled, and very powerful. He reminds me of David DeCastro, and I think he could be a similar instant Pro Bowl-caliber player from the moment he hits the field.
- I feel the same about Linderbaum, though I'm not sold he'll be a fit in every offense. He doesn't have great length, and doesn't possess the same level of strength as Zion Johnson. But as a center, he gives you everything you want from a mental and intangible side. His eyes are particularly impressive, both when identifying pressure packages before the snap and when seeking defenders out while blocking downfield. I like him more in a zone scheme than I do in power/gap-power.
- Green has everything Johnson possesses from a physical standpoint, but plays a bit more out of control and is susceptible to penalties and some lapses in technique (particularly with getting out over his toes and letting rushers take advantage of his imbalance).
- Salyer is a projection, as he primarily played tackle while at Georgia. He has a clear IOL frame, however, with a very wide base and a shorter overall height. He's very quick when moving laterally, and when he was able to sink his hips and anchor there was no getting past him. Like Green, he struggled with balance and penalties - and his lack of experience at guard will make his transition slightly murkier.
- Kinnard also was a college tackle who likely will kick inside. He does have some tackle projection (strictly on the right side), so it will depend on where he goes. Kinnard is much top-heavier than Salyer is, with none of the lateral mobility and much sloppier hands. But he comes with the most raw strength and power of any of the names I've mentioned thus far. When Kinnard wants to move people, they will be moved.
1) Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
2) Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
3) Travon Walker, Georgia
4) Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
5) George Karlaftis, Purdue
- Not much more to say on Hutchinson. His production in his final year at Michigan was eye-popping, a testament to his devotion, discipline, and balanced athleticism. Hutchinson's quickness off the snap is elite, his array of pass rushing moves is extensive, and his alertness on the field is immaculate. He's going to be a very good pass rusher in the NFL for a long time. The only real concerns with him are some below average bend and length, as well as a little bit of an injury history.
- I've swung back and forth on Thibodeaux, but in the end I can't rank any other pass rushers above him. He might have some other interests beyond football, such as chess and cryptocurrency, but that doesn't matter to me as long as he continues to terrorize offensive linemen. And he will. He is quick off the snap, violent with his hands, and has some of the best speed-to-power conversions I've ever seen from an EDGE prospect. His awareness on the field could use some improvement, as he can get caught napping every once in awhile when defending the run, but it's hard for me to see a scenario where he doesn't produce in the NFL.
- Walker's athletic ceiling has been highlighted time and time again at this point, and it's hard to argue with his numbers. But his pass rushing plan is limited, and he's going to need a lot of grooming. He could very well grow into a Myles Garrett caliber of player in a few years, but it's going to take patience and hard work.
- Johnson has the prototypical body type to succeed as a base defensive end, but doesn't show the same type of burst off the snap that you see from any of the three players listed above him. He's got a strong array of pass rushing moves and is elite at setting the edge when defending the run, but I don't think he has quite the same ceiling as Hutchinson, KT, or Walker.
- Karlaftis is in a similar boat as Johnson, while additionally lacking ideal length. He wins with powerful hands and a quick first step, similar to Michael Bennett, and I could see him making a similar impact in the league. He's a clear first round talent in my eyes, despite ranking as my fifth edge rusher -- a testament to the strength of this class.
1) Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
2) Jordan Davis, Georgia
3) Travis Jones, Connecticut
4) Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma
5) Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
- Davis and Wyatt will be the first two IDL taken, though the order will depend on teams' preferences. Davis is the most athletic nose tackle prospect that I've ever seen. He is fluid enough and quick enough at such a rare size that he can completely reset the line of scrimmage every time he lines up. His impact could be blunted by limited reps in order to keep him fresh, but that's really my only concern. His teammate Wyatt is a different type of player, projecting more as a true 3-tech up field penetrator with an upside similar to Fletcher Cox.
- Travis Jones is something of a blend between the two. He has the mass and strength to succeed as a two-gapper early on in his career, and flashes up field penetration ability that - while not as consistent as Wyatt's - showcases a similar pass rushing upside.
- Winfrey is a messy projection, as Oklahoma primarily asked him to play nose tackle in their scheme. In the NFL, he projects more as a 3-tech than he does as a two-gapper. Despite the role, his backfield production was really impressive in college, and he has the quickness and length to do the same in the NFL.
- Mathis is another in a long line of rock-solid Alabama run-stuffing IDLs. He has very little upside when rushing the passer but is so stout against the run that it's easy to see him carve out a lasting role for himself in the league the way names like Raekwon Davis, A'Shawn Robinson, and Dalvin Tomlinson have done before him.
1) Devin Lloyd, Utah
2) Nakobe Dean, Georgia
3) Quay Walker, Georgia
4) Leo Chenal, Wisconsin
5) Chad Muma, Wyoming
- Lloyd ultimately takes the top spot due to possessing the best blend of traits in the class. His tape shows him doing just about everything, from manning run gap assignments to succeeding in zone coverage drops to winning as a pass rusher both on dog blitzes and even standing up off the edge. He projects as an instant starter with Pro Bowl upside.
- There's been some debate on who really is the superior Georgia product between Dean and Walker as of late. For me, Dean still edges his teammate out. I think his instincts are superior, his range and closing speed flash more on tape, and he has a demonstrable track record as a leader in Georgia's defense (one of the best college defenses EVER, let's not forget). What Walker does have over Dean, however, is better size and length. He's a developing player, and there's scenarios where he reaches a higher ceiling in the NFL. Dean is undersized and has some trouble getting swallowed up by blockers at the second level - something you don't see often with his 6'3" 240 lbs running mate.
- Chenal and Muma both have excellent size - each standing over 6'2" and weighing over 240 lbs. They are a pair of high energy open field tacklers, with high level instincts but not quite the same level of closing speed as Lloyd, Dean, or Walker once they are actually in pursuit. I see both as very good starters, but I give Chenal a slight edge over Muma due to his versatility.
1) Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
2) Derrick Stingley, LSU
3) Trent McDuffie, Washington
4) Andrew Booth, Clemson
5) Kaiir Elam, Florida
- Gardner remains my number one corner over Stingley due to remaining concerns I have regarding the latter's foot. Both project as high-end man cover corners with the ability to hold up outside in one-on-one coverage against the best the league has to offer. I believe Stingley has the higher ceiling of the two, but two straight years of injury-addled play have me worried about his long-term durability. I think Gardner needs to improve his play strength or some of the league's more physical receivers (DK Metcalf, Cooper Kupp, etc.) might end up bullying him a bit. But each has a Pro-Bowl ceiling in my eyes.
- McDuffie is a different sort, projecting to me more as a high-end starter in the slot. He has impeccable instincts, possibly even better than those of Gardner or Stingley, and his quickness and athleticism matches theirs. I don't like him as an outside corner due to his limited arm length. He won't matchup well against downfield ball-winners, but if you need someone to hang with the Hunter Renfrow's and Keenan Allen's of the world - McDuffie's your man.
- Booth has slid for me due to some injury concerns I have that outweigh even those of Stingley. He has a laundry list of knee and lower body injuries, including some that knocked him out of the pre-draft testing process altogether. Turn on the tape, however, and you see the most aggressive ball hawking corner in the class. Booth plays with an entitlement to the ball, and if he can overcome his injury troubles I see a player who reminds me of Xavien Howard.
- Elam rounds out my top five. He's got textbook size and length, and I think will fit well as a starter for a team that likes running a lot of press-man. Zone is where he struggles, however, as he often doesn't trust his eyes and can be late to the ball due to that slow processing.
1) Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
2) Daxton Hill, Michigan
3) Lewis Cine, Georgia
4) Jalen Pitre, Baylor
5) Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
- Hamilton hasn't had an awesome pre-draft process, as his testing numbers have raised concerns about his speed. I'm not terribly concerned, personally. His play speed looks just fine on tape, aided by his impeccable recognition skills and explosive short area movement. When covering large areas of the field, long open strides help him cover lots of ground in a short amount of time. I wouldn't trust him in deep single high coverage, but that's about the only place I don't like him. Everywhere else, from the slot to the box to Cover 2 deep looks, I think he will excel in the NFL. He's a top-five player in the class for me, hands down.
- Hill and Pitre each both similar versatility, though in different roles. Each has the capacity to lock down deep hashes and hold up in man coverage as nickel defenders. Hill in particular has very impressive short area quickness and closing speed. Pitre doesn't match him athletically, but his coverage instincts are just as good. Both are "big nickel/safety" types in the Tyrann Mathieu mold.
- Cine and Brisker are both "true" safety prospects, showcasing good range in coverage and a willingness to fly up and make aggressive tackles when defending the run. Cine has a gear and burst that Brisker is missing, but Brisker has a stronger track record of ball production. I see both as high-end Day 2 players.