NFL Draft News & Analysis

Three-year NFL draft position rankings

Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) reacts after a sack in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Contextualizing talent is one of the most difficult things about scouting college football players. For example, the scouting reports for Aaron Donald and Sheldon Rankins coming out would have both said “impressive get-off,” but that’s not truly indicative of the fear Donald’s first step strikes into opponents.

Being able to properly compare a player’s talents across draft classes and to the NFL as a whole can provide better insight into how a player should be valued in the draft. With that in mind, here’s how the position rankings would stack up on the PFF board for the past three draft classes.

*Bold players come from the 2022 NFL Draft class

Quarterback

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
  2. Joe Burrow, LSU
  3. Zach Wilson, BYU
  4. Justin Fields, Ohio State
  5. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
  6. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
  7. Mac Jones, Alabama
  8. Justin Herbert, Oregon
  9. Malik Willis, Liberty
  10. Sam Howell, North Carolina

There's very little surprise at the top and also very little surprise in where the 2022 class falls. You can quite clearly see why a) Last year’s class was considered so special, and b) Only one quarterback was selected in the first two rounds in 2022. This year’s class was chock-full of quarterbacks who would have been QB3-QB6 in any respectable class, and the NFL treated them as such. 

Running Back

  1. Javonte Williams, North Carolina
  2. Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
  3. Breece Hall, Iowa State
  4. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
  5. Najee Harris, Alabama
  6. Travis Etienne, Clemson
  7. Zack Moss, Utah
  8. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
  9. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
  10. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

While the 2020 class had the best depth of any over the past three years, the rankings quite clearly show that we thought highly of the top two in this year’s class. That really shouldn’t be too hot of a take given how productive each of Walker and Hall was over the course of their careers. Walker led the Power Five in rushing last year, and Hall led the Power Five in rushing back in 2020. 

The one player we want a do-over on is quite obviously Jonathan Taylor, who was far too low on PFF’s draft board coming out of college. We clearly overrated his underutilization in the passing game at Wisconsin. I don’t think the Colts could give a darn about his hands now.

The scary thing is, if I were to do this list again in a year’s time, the 2023 class may very well have multiple backs usurp Javonte Williams for the top spot. It’s going to be a loaded position to watch this fall.

Wide Receiver

  1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
  2. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
  3. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
  4. DeVonta Smith, Alabama
  5. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
  6. Jameson Williams, Alabama
  7. Drake London, USC
  8. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
  9. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
  10. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

This list gives a pretty good indication of where the 2022 class fell in line with the past few. The first five receivers on this list averaged 1,035 yards as rookies, with all five going over 850 yards in their first NFL season. The top end of this year’s class, however, sits behind those five, with Nos. 9 and 10 on this list both not even eclipsing 550 yards as rookies. That should temper expectations for what was a deep receiver class, but not necessarily one chock-full of No. 1-type wide receivers. 

The one glaring miss on this list is Justin Jefferson. Before he set the rookie receiving yards record, he was only the 32nd-ranked player on PFF’s draft board. 

Tight End

  1. Kyle Pitts, Florida
  2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
  3. Trey McBride, Colorado State
  4. Greg Dulcich, UCLA
  5. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame
  6. Hunter Bryant, Washington
  7. Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
  8. Jelani Woods, Virginia
  9. Adam Trautman, Dayton
  10. James Mitchell, Virginia Tech

It has been slim pickings at the tight end position the past handful of years. Outside of Kyle Pitts who was a top-five player on PFF’s draft board, no other tight end has cracked the top 50 of any PFF draft board in their respective draft class. The 2020 class was especially unimpressive at the time and hasn’t looked any better in retrospect. Through two seasons, only one tight end in the class has over 500 career receiving yards — Cole Kmet, with a measly 855. 

Offensive Tackle

  1. Penei Sewell, Oregon
  2. Andrew Thomas, Georgia
  3. Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
  4. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
  5. Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
  6. Charles Cross, Mississippi State
  7. Icky Ekwonu, N.C. State
  8. Evan Neal, Alabama
  9. Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
  10. Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

I harped all draft season on the fact that the 2022 tackles were high on the PFF big board as a matter of circumstance, not necessarily because of their quality. There just weren’t a ton of elite players in the draft class. That’s quite evident from these tackle rankings, where the 2022 class slots in behind the top groups from both 2020 and 2021. With how those guys at the top have fared in the NFL, though, that’s nothing to be too concerned about. All five have already turned into quality starters in their short time in the league.

Interior Offensive Line

  1. Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
  2. Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
  3. Zion Johnson, Boston College
  4. Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
  5. Netane Muti, Fresno State
  6. Jonah Jackson, Ohio State
  7. Landon Dickerson, Alabama
  8. Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
  9. Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater
  10. Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan

The NFL seemed to agree with our estimations of the 2022 interior offensive line class. It’s not often you see three interior players taken in the first round, let alone in the top 25 picks. It also helps by comparison that the 2020 interior offensive line class was dreadful. That was one of the few interior classes ever analyzed by PFF where no one ended up with a first-round grade.  

Defensive Tackle

  1. Christian Barmore, Alabama
  2. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
  3. Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
  4. Derrick Brown, Auburn
  5. Jordan Davis, Georgia
  6. Jordan Elliott, Missouri
  7. Travis Jones, Connecticut
  8. Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
  9. Alim McNeill, N.C. State
  10. Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma

There’s no denying the slight dry spell when it comes to top-tier defensive tackle talent. We stuck our neck out a bit when we put Christian Barmore as the 12th-ranked player on the 2021 PFF draft board. That doesn’t look so crazy anymore after he put up 48 pressures last year — the most by a rookie defensive tackle since DeForest Buckner‘s 48 in 2016. 

The one player who has been surprisingly quiet on this list is Javon Kinlaw. He checked in at 13th on the PFF draft board back in 2020, yet he’s barely made a peep for the 49ers. While he did end up on injured reserve last year, he notched all of five pressures in the four games prior.

Edge Defender

  1. Chase Young, Ohio State
  2. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
  3. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
  4. George Karlaftis, Purdue
  5. Travon Walker, Georgia
  6. Kwity Paye, Michigan
  7. Odafe Oweh, Penn State
  8. A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
  9. Jaelan Phillips, Miami (FL)
  10. Jermaine Johnson, Florida State

This is what I meant when I touted the 2022 edge class as such a strong position group. Those top guys are all high-end prospects for one reason or another. Any of the best four guys in the class would have been EDGE1 only a year ago. That’s not a high bar to clear, given what we saw from that class as rookies. Even though five still went in the first round, no one in the class ended up with a pass-rushing grade higher than 71.3 last season (Kwity Paye).

Linebacker

  1. Micah Parsons, Penn State
  2. Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
  3. Devin Lloyd, Utah
  4. Nakobe Dean, Georgia
  5. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
  6. Patrick Queen, LSU
  7. Nick Bolton, Missouri
  8. Leo Chenal, Wisconsin
  9. Zaven Collins, Tulsa
  10. Quay Walker, Georgia

I called Micah Parsons the best linebacker prospect in the PFF era prior to him opting out back in 2020, so it’s no surprise that he tops this list. The rest has been a mixed bag, as PFF’s linebacker rankings haven’t meshed too well with how the NFL has drafted them the past few years. Notably absent from this list are first-rounders Kenneth Murray, Jordyn Brooks and Jamin Davis, who all fell outside the top 40 on PFF’s draft board in their respective draft classes. Considering none of those three has a career grade over 54.5, our rankings have held up so far.

Cornerback

  1. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
  2. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati
  3. Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
  4. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
  5. Trent McDuffie, Washington
  6. Kristian Fulton, LSU
  7. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
  8. Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
  9. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
  10. C.J. Henderson, Florida

It was as top-heavy a 2022 cornerback class as I can remember, which is why you saw them come off the board so early. Stingley and Gardner were nothing short of elite prospects in their own respective manner. And so was the guy right behind them on this list, although it hasn’t quite worked out for him through two seasons. Jeffrey Okudah allowed a 76.0% completion percentage as a rookie before tearing his Achilles tendon in the first game last season.

Kristian Fulton is the one player who sticks out on this list considering he wasn’t drafted until 61st overall and is ahead of multiple top-10 picks over the past three seasons. He was the 12th-ranked player on PFF’s draft board back in 2020. After a breakout second-year campaign in which he allowed only 30 catches on 62 targets for 444 yards, though, he’s on his way to justifying that high ranking. 

Safety

  1. Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
  2. Trevon Moehrig, TCU
  3. Grant Delpit, LSU
  4. Lewis Cine, Georgia
  5. Xavier McKinney, Alabama
  6. Jalen Pitre, Baylor
  7. Daxton Hill, Michigan
  8. Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
  9. Ashtyn Davis, California
  10. Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota

Safety was one of the strongest position groups in this year’s class, and that’s very obvious from these rankings. This is yet another position that’s seen a dearth of talent entering the league in recent years. The NFL seemingly agreed, as no team drafted a safety in the first round in either 2020 or 2021. 

The one player I’d love a do-over on is now the Dolphins' Jevon Holland. He was so impressive through his first two seasons, but after he opted out as a junior, we never got to see the next step in his game. It’s why he checked in at only 50th on the PFF board in 2021. That was far too low, as his 84.7 overall grade last season is one of the best we’ve ever seen from a rookie safety.

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