We are just a week away from the 2021 College Football National Championship Game and the official end of the 2021 college football season. Enjoy this moment while it lasts, folks — the sad slog of the football-less winter upon us.
On the bright side, NFL draft fanatics now get a slew of major offseason events to look forward to, including the East-West Shrine Game, the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, significant events in the evaluation process for 2022 NFL Draft prospects.
Before we get there, I’m going to take stock of the 2022 NFL Draft class as it stands right now. Below is a first-round mock draft of what I would do if I were in charge of all 32 NFL teams.
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1. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Edge Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan Wolverines
Hutchinson's disappointing game against Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal might take some of the shine off his draft stock, but that had more to do with Georgia's game plan than the players tasked with blocking him.
While Hutchinson did manage just one quarterback pressure and a season-low 62.5 pass-rush grade across 32 pass-rush snaps, over two-thirds of those plays featured either a screen, run-pass option or play-action pass — plays that go a long way to negating the pass rush. And on the few reps Hutchinson truly got to pin his ears back and get after the passer, Georgia made sure to send a double-team his way.
Despite the underwhelming night against Georgia, no college football player played better football in 2021 than Hutchinson. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound pass-rusher earned an FBS-leading 94.5 PFF grade in 2021 and did so after suffering a season-ending leg fracture during the shortened 2020 season.
With his power, get-off and advanced rush ability, Hutchinson has been virtually unblockable this season.
ladies and gentlemen, Aidan Hutchinson: pic.twitter.com/I2t7g7O9vV
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) December 5, 2021
2. DETROIT LIONS: Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon Ducks
Thibodeaux is the Michelangelo's David of pass-rushers. The 6-foot-5, 258-pound edge defender has every trait NFL teams want on the edge at the next level, and he has grown immensely from a production standpoint after earning an 80.9 pass-rush grade as an underclassman.
Thibodeaux has started to show genuine refinement within his rushes and no longer relies on tools alone. As a result, he earned a 91.5 pass-rush grade in 2021 despite missing a couple of games early in the season due to injury. Opposing teams even started to scheme away from Thibodeaux to take him out of the game entirely — just as teams did with Chase Young a couple of years ago.
3. HOUSTON TEXANS: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU Tigers
Stingley just might be the best all-around athlete in this class. At The Opening event in high school, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound corner posted a 4.3-second 40-yard dash and 42.0-inch vertical.
Stingley earned a 91.7 PFF grade as a true freshman back in 2019, allowing a minuscule 38% catch rate and combining for 21 interceptions plus pass breakups — still one of the most impressive single-season performances of the PFF era.
Unfortunately, he's played only 289 coverage snaps over the last two years due to injury, but he still performed admirably, allowing less than 1.00 yard per coverage snap over that span.
4. NEW YORK JETS: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Hamilton is one of the draft class' most explosive athletes. The 6-foot-4, 221-pound safety boasts a 42-inch vertical and pairs his physical skill set with great eyes in coverage. He has totaled 22 combined pass breakups and interceptions in his three-year college career, and only five Power Five safeties have recorded more than 15 over that span.
Hamilton should be in the cards for every team that has a top-five selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, whether they need a safety or not.
5. NEW YORK GIANTS: Edge George Karlaftis, Purdue Boilermakers
Karlaftis, who was born in Athens, Greece, is the “Greek Freak” of college football. He is one of the most powerful defensive ends in the country, and he pairs that strength with arguably the best hand usage in the class and an explosive get-off that makes life tough on opposing offensive tackles.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Boilermaker showed a lot of promise as an underclassman and maximized his full potential as a true junior, as evidenced by his 90.6 pass-rush grade this season.
Purdue edge George Karlaftis became the 1st player to earn 10+ pressures vs an Iowa OL in the @PFF_College era yesterday.
If he wasn’t doubled/chipped/cut, he was in the QB’s face. Insane power and get-off. One of the few true “game-wreckers” in #CFB. pic.twitter.com/cAV5Bn1lvm
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 17, 2021
6. CAROLINA PANTHERS: OT Evan Neal, Alabama Crimson Tide
Neal is a 6-foot-7, 350-pound mammoth with rare athleticism for a man his size. He came in at No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List this past offseason for a reason, and he has the tools and collegiate production to back it up.
Neal recorded an 80.0-plus grade in each of the last two seasons while facing stiff SEC competition. This year, Neal was the model of consistency, allowing just 16 pressures — and committing only one penalty — in 14 games at left tackle.
7. NEW YORK JETS (via Seattle): LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia Bulldogs
Dean was the best player on the field in the College Football Playoff semifinal, earning a 90.0 PFF grade on the back of five pressures, six defensive stops, a forced fumble and -2 yards allowed in coverage.
Dean may be on the smaller end for the linebacker position, but he makes up for it with his freak athleticism and instincts. His blitzing prowess and coverage ability are second to none, as he has recorded a 90.0-plus grade as a pass-rusher and in coverage this season, something no Power Five off-ball linebacker has accomplished in the PFF College era.
Nakobe Dean now owns a 92.7 PFF grade in 2021 after the CFP semifinal, the second-best in the PFF College era behind Reuben Foster in 2016 (92.9).
Easily the best performer in either game yesterday pic.twitter.com/GB1UVGHzgc
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) January 1, 2022
8. NEW YORK GIANTS (via Chicago): C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa Hawkeyes
Linderbaum went from defensive tackle to the best offensive lineman in college football in just two years.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Iowa product played both sides of the ball in high school and was recruited to play on the interior defensive line, where he logged 18 snaps in his first college season. He then flipped to center for the 2019 campaign, where he started and recorded the fifth-best grade in the FBS at the position (81.7). Linderbaum then claimed the No. 1 spot in 2020 before making history in 2021, closing out his fourth and final year as a Hawkeye by tying for the highest single-season PFF grade from a Power Five center (94.4).
9. WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM: QB Sam Howell, North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina may have endured a double-digit upset loss to South Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl, but that was in no way Howell’s fault. In fact, the Tar Heels quarterback earned a 92.4 PFF grade in his team's bowl game, recording three big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays in the process.
After losing four marquee weapons to the NFL prior to the 2021 season, Howell was forced to make up for a one-dimensional skill position group by making plays with his legs. He thrived while doing so, even if he doesn't possess the same kind of athleticism as other quarterbacks in this class, generating the second-most runs of 10-plus yards among FBS quarterbacks with 45.
And despite the lackluster supporting cast, Howell still earned a 93.2 passing grade on 10-plus-yard throws in 2021, tying with Ole Miss QB Matt Corral.
10. ATLANTA FALCONS: iOL Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State Wolfpack
Ekwonu is one of the nastiest run-blockers of the PFF College era and boasts a 93.8 run-blocking grade for the 2021 season, the highest mark in the Power Five.
Ekwonu laid down a whopping 18 big-time blocks this season, which not only leads every Power Five offensive lineman in 2021 but is also the most in a single season since 2014.
The N.C. State product has been that kind of a monster in the run game in all three of his years at NC State, but now he's starting to improve as a pass-protector, too. After posting a poor 55.3 pass-block grade in 2020, Ekwonu improved that to a solid 78.3 mark in 2021.
11. DENVER BRONCOS: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss Rebels
Corral’s 2021 season took a nosedive mid-season when injury struck the quarterback and his top wide receivers. Yes, the Ole Miss quarterback fought through his ailments and played, but the output wasn’t up to his standards. His 91.1 PFF grade through Week 7 was the fourth-highest in the FBS, but that mark fell 20 grading points to 70.6 from Week 8 on. Then, when Corral finally got healthy for the Sugar Bowl, he suffered an unfortunate ankle injury that knocked him out of the game.
The good news for teams in need of a quarterback is that his recent injury shouldn’t affect his draft stock. Corral was in a very friendly offense at Ole Miss, but he operated it with pinpoint timing and accuracy while making plays through the air and on the ground.
12. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati Bearcats
The pass defense was the only glaring positive for the Bearcats in their CFP semifinal loss to Alabama, as they held the Crimson Tide to their lowest successful pass rate since Week 1 of 2017.
The impact of Sauce Gardner, who allowed zero yards to Alabama, played a big part in that. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound corner’s performance in that final outing capped off what will forever be known as one of the best seasons — and careers — from a collegiate defensive back. He allowed 117 yards across 14 games and 482 coverage snaps this year. And what makes that even more impressive is that he did that playing mostly on an island in press-man coverage.
Gardner closed out his three years playing over 1,100 coverage snaps without a touchdown allowed. He has the length, movement skills and mentality that NFL teams covet.
13. CLEVELAND BROWNS: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State Buckeyes
Wilson is a route-running savant. He’s sudden and fluid, and he ranked in the 93rd percentile in separation percentage against single coverage for the 2021 season. The 6-foot, 192-pound receiver played primarily in the slot in 2020 before transitioning to the outside for 2021, yet he still managed to average more than 3.00 yards per route run each year.
14. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (via Miami): CB Trent McDuffie, Washington Huskies
McDuffie earned an 80.0-plus PFF grade as a true freshman, sophomore and junior and will enter this year's draft as one of the most underrated players in his class. The Washington product allowed just 111 yards across 296 coverage snaps this year. He is a fantastic zone cover corner, and his awareness, athleticism, physicality and tackling ability make him an issue for any underneath passing offense.
Washington CB Trent McDuffie in 9 games this year
???? 86.8 coverage grade
???? 65 yards allowed (only 2 1st downs)
???? 4 forced incompletions
???? 7 passing stops
He should be a finalist for the Thorpe Award.pic.twitter.com/YDr7N6NntS
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) November 18, 2021
15. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama Crimson Tide
Cincinnati managed to limit Alabama’s passing attack better than any team this season, which subsequently hurt Williams' production in the CFP semifinal. Still, the 6-foot-2, 189-pound wideout is one of the class' fastest players at the position, making him an explosive play waiting to happen. His 12 touchdowns of 20-plus yards even led the Power Five this season.
The Ohio State transfer's separation rate sits in the 94th percentile among FBS receivers, and his speed helped him gather 9.4 yards after the catch per reception over the year.
16. BALTIMORE RAVENS: S Jaquan Brisker, Penn State Nittany Lions
Brisker has been one of college football's top safeties since he transferred from JUCO in 2019, as he has just earned his third straight 80.0-plus single-season PFF grade with the Nittany Lions.
Brisker's performance against the run dipped a bit in 2021 due to playing closer to the line of scrimmage than in previous years, but he’s hardly made a mistake in coverage. He recorded a couple of interceptions and four pass breakups en route to an 89.5 coverage grade this season. He’s a smart player who has a high floor.
17. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati Bearcats
Very few players have seen their draft stock rise as much as Ridder's has over the last four months. The Bearcats quarterback took his physical gifts and put them into action this year, ending 2021 with a 90.4 PFF grade that sits 13 grading points above his previous career-best.
Ridder ranks among the nation's top-10 quarterbacks in accurate-pass rate and deep passing grade this season, and he tossed 24 deep big-time throws without recording a single turnover-worthy play on those passes.
18. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State Buckeyes
Olave is a seasoned route-runner, just like teammate Garrett Wilson. Since 2019, Olave has come down with 53 10-plus-yard receptions that have come with at least two steps of separation, the most in the Power Five by 12. His wheels have also led to 19 deep touchdowns over the last three years, the most in the Power Five by five.
19. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah Utes
Lloyd finished his final game as a Ute with one of the lowest grades of his career, as he missed three tackles and gave up 124 yards and one touchdown en route to a 46.8 PFF grade on first review. Still, he'll finish the season with a grade of 85.0-plus. He has all the traits to be a high-impact player at the next level.
Utah LB Devin Lloyd in #CFB W10
???? 93.3 PFF grade
???? 9 defensive stops
???? 3 TFL vs run
???? 1 sack
???? -5 yds allowed in coverage
???? 1 pick six
One of the most impressive performances from an off-ball LB in some time. Easily a top 3 player at the position. pic.twitter.com/zSumhCccLX
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) November 7, 2021
20. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: DI Jordan Davis, Georgia Bulldogs
Davis is a fit for a two-high team in need of a dominant run-stuffer. He is a rare specimen at 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds and has been a force against the run since he stepped foot in Athens in 2018.
Davis has earned an 89.2 run-defense grade while collecting 47 run stops and 17 tackles for loss or no gain over the last three years and missed just four of his 75 tackle attempts against the run over that span.
21. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (via Indianapolis): WR Drake London, USC Trojans
London was running away with the Biletnikoff Award before fracturing his right ankle in Week 9. Despite not playing a full season, he still might — and probably should — take home the award, given his routine dominance before the injury.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound receiver earned a 91.8 receiving grade this year. He dominated in one-on-one scenarios and put up monster numbers due to his physicality and ball skills. London totaled 19 contested catches and 22 broken tackles in eight games — the former is six more than any other Power Five wide receiver through Week 12, while the latter is the second-most.
USC WR Drake London has 18 contested catches at the halfway point of the 2021 season.
The highest single-season total since @PFF_College began collecting such data in 2017 is 22.
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 13, 2021
22. MIAMI DOLPHINS (via San Francisco): OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Cross is one of the most improved players in college football. After allowing 44 pressures in the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense in 2020 — his first year starting at the Power Five level — he has given up just 16 in 2021 despite playing well over 100 more pass-block snaps. This year, the 2019 five-star recruit has earned a grade above 84.0 as a run- and pass-blocker and even kept a perfectly clean slate in pass protection against Alabama.
23. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: CB Roger McCreary, Auburn Tigers
McCreary has had one of the best cornerback careers of the PFF College era, and his 2021 campaign is his best yet. The Auburn corner earned 78.0 and 80.8 PFF grades in 2019 and 2020 before posting an FBS-leading 89.9 mark in 2021. He’s always at the catch point and rarely loses, as only Derek Stingley Jr. has forced more tight coverage than McCreary since 2019. He’s smart, fast and scheme-versatile.
24. ARIZONA CARDINALS: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson Tigers
Booth doesn’t quite have the lockdown numbers as some of the other top corner prospects in this class, as he allowed 329 yards across 288 coverage snaps in 2021. However, he does have the tools worth taking a swing on in the first round. The 2019 five-star recruit has exceptional feet, good length and brings the physicality out on the field. Booth also made up for lost time down the stretch of 2021, as he combined for five interceptions plus pass breakups in his final three starts.
25. BUFFALO BILLS: iOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M Aggies
Green is going to be highly-coveted because of his physical tools and versatility. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound offensive lineman recorded a start at every position on the line outside of center in 2021. Despite that, Green allowed multiple pressures in just one of his 12 games, and he did that while recording an impressive 83.6 run-block grade.
26. CINCINNATI BENGALS: OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan Chippewas
Raimann went from Austrian foreign exchange student in high school to Central Michigan tight end to star offensive tackle and PFF MAC Offensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot-7, 305-pound lineman earned a 94.3 PFF grade in the regular season, with a 93.3 run-block grade and 88.7 pass-block grade to boot. He has been virtually flawless in pass-protection over his last six games, too, with zero pressures allowed in that span.
27. DALLAS COWBOYS: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida Gators
Elam dominated so much as an underclassman — earning 89.8 and 81.0 coverage grades as a true freshman and sophomore in 2019 and 2020 — that opposing offenses largely avoided him in 2021. This year, Elam was targeted three or fewer times in over half of his games played. He has allowed only three explosive receptions over 15-plus yards while making six plays on the ball in 2021. Elam is fantastic at the line of scrimmage in press-man coverage, but he can thrive in multiple schemes.
28. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas Razorbacks
Thanks to his size, physicality, and speed, Burks has made a name for himself as a big-play threat over the last couple of years. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver has averaged 8.6 yards after the catch per reception and broken 24 tackles on 115 receptions since 2020. He’s hauled in all 21 of his catchable vertical route targets in that span for 792 yards and 10 touchdowns.
29. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Edge Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State Nittany Lions
Ebiketie had a mini-breakout campaign in 2020 with the Temple Owls and has since become one of the premier pass-rushers in the Power Five at Penn State. He is fantastic with his hands and has stepped up in Shaka Toney and Odafe Oweh‘s absence by earning a 90.5 pass-rush grade this season.
30. DETROIT LIONS (via Los Angeles Rams): QB Malik Willis, Liberty Flames
From a tools perspective, Willis is in a class of his own. He is the most dangerous quarterback in college football from an athleticism perspective, and he possesses outstanding arm strength. He has recorded an 11% big-time throw rate and 94.5 rushing grade this season, both of which lead all FBS quarterbacks by a substantial margin.
At the same time, though, Willis is still fairly raw and going to be a bit of a project at the NFL level. This risky pick bodes well for a team like Detroit, who will have to stick with Jared Goff for the short term.
Liberty QB Malik Willis has 51 broken tackles in 2021, 6 shy of the @PFF_College record for most in a season by a QB.
He’s on pace to shatter that mark by a couple of dozen.pic.twitter.com/6mtJdiu61Q
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 26, 2021
31. TENNESSEE TITANS: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State Nittany Lions
Dotson has improved his speed and explosiveness while becoming a strong route-runner with elite ball skills. He earned an 87.5 PFF grade in 2021 and dropped only two of his 138 total targets. The Nittany Lion is a promising receiver despite not being the most physical player at his position, at 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds.
32. GREEN BAY PACKERS: DI DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M Aggies
The former five-star broke out as a sophomore with an 88.3 PFF grade in 2020 while playing predominantly on the edge. He then split time between the interior defensive line and edge in 2021, and his production diminished as a result.
Leal has earned a 60.7 pass-rush grade when inside the tackles while posting an 80.4 grade from the edge. He has legit power and juice but may take a minute before making a significant impact in the league.