- Will Levis‘ stock remains top prospect despite down 2022: The Kentucky QB is still being mocked as a top-five pick despite his notable struggles in 2021.
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba‘s injuries could hurt draft stock: After a dominant end to his 2021 campaign, injuries prevented JSN from continuing to dominate college cornerbacks, which could cause him to fall out of the first round.
- Eli Ricks‘ stock is plummeting: Even though he was one of college football's top cornerbacks as a freshman, Ricks hasn't been able to replicate that level of play since.
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Despite only taking place during a three-day period in late April, the NFL Draft is a year-round process that starts as soon as the previous year’s draft ends. Many pundits will have their general consensus rankings ready to go on the next crop of prospects as soon as the draft ends, but a lot can happen in a year, making some of those early rankings look silly in hindsight.
Here we have a list of 10 players who, at one point or another, were being considered as potential first-round picks but may not have lived up to the billing over the course of the 2022 season. This list is in order of where they currently stand on the latest PFF's current big board.
QB Will Levis, Kentucky (Big Board Rank: 4)
2022 PFF Grade: 68.6 (698 snaps)
Levis is the only player on this list whose draft stock, despite having a disappointing 2022 season, didn’t drop. In fact, Levis’ stock may have actually improved in some scouts’ eyes, as he's been mocked as the first overall pick. His supporters will point to his outstanding 2021 season, where he posted a 90.6 PFF grade due to his strong arm and running ability (he posted an 88.0 running grade in 2021). His detractors will point to how he couldn’t beat out Sean Clifford for the starting job at Penn State, causing him to transfer. I’d like to present a blind resume comparison between Levis and another QB from a recent draft class.
|Season||Will Levis PFF Grade||Player B PFF Grade|
As we can see, Player B’s grades are a bit better. However, like Levis, he also had his feet dragged through the coals for being unable to replicate his one elite season that didn’t occur during his final year in college. Both guys were praised for their elite arm talent and general athleticism while having question marks surrounding their ball placement and inconsistent play. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Player B is Justin Herbert, whose success with the Los Angeles Chargers likely has teams feeling better about a “one-year wonder” like Levis than they might have otherwise.
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (20)
2022 PFF Grade: 55.1 (60 snaps)
In 2021, Smith-Njigba played third fiddle to Chris Olave and future NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson at Ohio State. With Olave and Wilson sitting out the Rose Bowl to prepare for the draft, Smith-Njigba was given an opportunity to show what he can do as the team’s No. 1 receiver. The result was the most dominant receiving performance in Rose Bowl history, as he hauled in 15 passes for a seemingly impossible 347 yards and three scores. Expectations were about as high as they could be for JSN heading into 2022 as the team’s clear-cut top receiving threat. However, a hamstring injury suffered early in the season caused him to only play 60 snaps all year, roughly the equivalent of one game. This injury compounded concerns about JSN's lack of high-end athleticism, as he wa never a burner anyway. As it stands right now, JSN is still projected to be a first-round pick, but it’s not a certain now as it was back in August.
EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State (46)
2022 PFF Grade: 74.6 (663 snaps)
Anudike-Uzomah suffers from a similar situation as Levis in that he had a monstrous 2021 season but was unable to repeat that performance in 2022. In 2021, Anudike-Uzomah posted an 85.4 overall PFF grade with an 89.9 pass-rush grade to go along with 13 sacks and six forced fumbles. In 2022, those numbers all fell to a 74.6 overall grade, 73.0 pass-rush grade, eight sacks and two forced fumbles on over 100 more pass-rushing snaps. While most edge defenders would kill for Anudike-Uzomah's 2022 season, his dropoff in production despite receiving significantly more opportunities will raise some eyebrows. Anudike-Uzomah went from a borderline top-10 pick early in the pre-draft process to a current second-rounder.
WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU (56)
2022 PFF Grade: 64.8 (572 snaps)
Boutte is one of the more fascinating cases in this year’s draft class, as his fall down the board is not just related to a decline in play this past season but also a mysterious departure from the LSU program ahead of their Citrus Bowl victory over Purdue. As a freshman, Boutte burst onto the scene in a big way, including a record-breaking performance against Ole Miss where he caught 14 passes on a whopping 21 targets for an SEC-record 308 yards and three touchdowns. An ankle injury cut his 2021 season short after he was off to another torrid start, posting over 500 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in just six games. Boutte was considered by many to be the top receiver heading into the 2023 draft and a surefire top-10 pick. However, he only recorded 538 yards receiving and two touchdowns in 2022 despite playing 5 more games. He did put up a strong performance in the SEC championship loss to Georgia with six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in what would be his final game at LSU. However, a lot of confusion and mystery surrounded Boutte following this game. He initially announced his intentions to return to LSU for his senior season, citing a desire to win a national championship as his main reason for staying. However, just days later, Boutte seemed to have a change of heart and decided to declare for the draft mere hours after head coach Brian Kelly announced he would not be playing in the Citrus Bowl. The lack of clarity surrounding the situation will have some teams wary and despite his talent and production, Boutte is steadily falling down draft boards.
LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson (59)
2022 PFF Grade: 68.7 (622 snaps)
For most of the draft process, Simpson was considered the top linebacker prospect in the class, as he has pretty much all the traits one could ask for in a modern NFL linebacker. He has ideal size (6-foot-3 and 230 pounds) and is athletic enough to cover slot receivers. He presents a lot of versatility as well, as he lined up as an off-ball linebacker 404 times, at the line of scrimmage on 129 snaps and in the slot 88 times. His 2021 season was his first as a full-time starter, and he really delivered, putting up a 73.2 overall grade to go along with 31 QB pressures, seven of which resulted in sacks. Expectations were high for Simpson to build on that performance in 2022, but he never did. All of Simpson’s grades declined in 2022 except his run-defense grade, which improved from 65.2 to 70.3. His pressure total was almost cut in half to 16 despite totaling 19 more pass-rushing snaps. While he still ranks as LB2 on PFF's current big board, losing his top spot to Washington State’s Daiyan Henley, his overall rankings have plummeted to possibly the third round.
CB Eli Ricks, Alabama (63)
2022 PFF Grade: 69.9 (384 snaps)
Nobody’s draft stock has been as volatile as Ricks’ in 2022. During the preseason, he was considered one of the best cornerbacks in this class, as many believed he was going to be a top-10 pick. At some points during the season, some analysts dropped him as low as a Day 3 pick. His stock rose again late in the season, as he currently sits as a Day 2 option. Ricks got off to a hot start as a freshman at LSU, putting up an 82.8 overall grade, including an 85.6 coverage grade. Nevertheless, he regressed significantly as a sophomore, garnering a 67.6 overall grade and a 68.8 coverage grade. After the coaching change at LSU, Ricks transferred to Alabama and posted very similar numbers to his sophomore season. With the exception of a big game against Mississippi State in Week 8, where he put up an 83.1 PFF grade and a 83.2 grade in coverage, Ricks didn’t have a single game all year 70.0-plus game grade, leading to some concern that perhaps Ricks’ freshman season was a fluke after back-to-back average seasons.
CB Cam Smith, South Carolina (69)
2022 PFF Grade: 65.1 (591 snaps)
Smith is in a similar boat as Ricks in that his draft stock has not only fluctuated mightily during this draft process, but he also has just one season of high-level production that didn’t come during his final collegiate season. Also like Ricks, Smith only had one game all season with 70.0-plus PFF and coverage grades, which came in Week 4 against Charlotte. However, Smith’s 2021 season was about as dominant as you’re going to find for a corner. He was not only good against the pass with an 89.7 coverage grade, but he also held up very well against the run with an 82.4 grade (88.4 overall grade). That season, 80 of the 184 yards he gave up in coverage came against the eventual champion Georgia Bulldogs. Nevertheless, Smith still proved that offenses still needed to respect him, as Levis didn’t target him a single time on 21 coverage snaps when the two squared off in Week 6.
CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia (75)
2022 PFF Grade: 71.4 (823 snaps)
Unlike all the other players on this list, Ringo has two national championships to his name, including one where he recorded the game-sealing pick-six as a redshirt freshman. Ringo was billed as the top corner in the class — a title he held for much of the season. Ringo’s game grades weren’t bad by any means, but they didn’t improve at all between 2021 and 2022. Below are Ringo’s grades in each category for both of his seasons at Georgia.
|Season||Overall||Run D||Tackling||Pass Rush||Coverage|
As we can see, he didn't develop much between the two seasons. On top of that, there have been growing concerns over Ringo’s ability to track deep passes, as he often looked lost trying to find such throws, something that NFL quarterbacks and receivers will feast on.
OT Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland (84)
2022 PFF Grade: 61.7 (804 snaps)
At 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Duncan looks like an NFL tackle; however, his 2022 performance left scouts with a lot of questions heading into the 2023 draft. As a pass blocker, it’s hard to find a more volatile performer than Duncan, as he had three games with sub-50.0 pass-blocking grades yet produced four games over 80. Nonetheless, those three sub-50.0 game grades came against the three best opponents he faced all season, posting 21.8, 41.9 and 30.9 pass-blocking grades against Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State, respectively. Additionally, six of the seven sacks he allowed in 2022 came in those three games. If you eliminate those performances, Duncan allowed just one sack from 344 pass-blocking snaps against lesser competition. This leads to some questions about Duncan’s ability to transition to the next level, as he played very well against weaker competition but struggled mightily against NFL-caliber opponents.
DI Jaquelin Roy, LSU (93)
2022 PFF Grade: 71.4 (675 snaps)
At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, Roy is a physical freak, but you wouldn’t know it based on his 2022 performance. Like Ringo, Roy didn't grade poorly, but given his build and 2021 play, he was expected to play a lot better. In 2021, Roy recorded an 81.2 overall grade that included an 89.1 pass-rushing mark. However, both numbers dropped to 71.4 and 70.3, respectively, in 2022. It also doesn’t help that Roy’s only game grade over 80.0 came against FCS opponent Southern University. That is not something you want to see given that Roy was supposed to be a top-15 overall pick at the start of the season. Based on his ranking on PFF's current big board, he’s in danger of falling to Day 3 of the draft.