No fewer than nine players from the Big Ten earned a spot on PFF’s Preseason Top 50 — only the SEC had more.
Ohio State is again leading the way from a draft–talent perspective, but there are potential first-rounders littered across the Big Ten. So, whether your NFL team needs an after-the-catch threat, a stalwart offensive lineman or a penetrating pass-rush force, there is a reason to keep an eye on this conference ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft.
1. WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (Junior)
Wilson isn't the most physically imposing wideout, but he’s WR1 in PFF’s early receiver rankings because there just aren't many holes to poke in his game. He’s a very loose all-around athlete who can run a full route tree at a high level and make plays after the catch. He’s got serious springs and ball skills to make plays well outside his frame.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) April 7, 2021
During his time as a Buckeye, Wilson has hauled in 73.0% of his targets despite a 13-yard average depth of target. Last season, he racked up 723 yards in only eight games while averaging over 3.00 yards per route run.
We can’t wait to see what kind of numbers the rising junior puts up with a full season’s worth of snaps.
2. IOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (Redshirt Junior)
Linderbaum would have easily been the top true center in the 2021 class had he declared, but he returned to put a definitive stamp on his college career. After starting on the defensive side of the ball, Linderbaum switched to center, where he immediately started as a redshirt freshman. That season, Linderbaum looked more like a tight end than an offensive lineman, but despite weighing in the 260s, he still earned an 81.7 overall grade.
Great cutback by true fr Goodson, Tyler Linderbaum with the absolute pancake pic.twitter.com/sp5uR7PM4O
— MASK ON 4 HEAVENS SAKE (@HeavensFX) September 7, 2019
After packing on the mass and getting into the 280s last offseason, Linderbaum made his case for being the best center in college football in 2020, earning a position-leading 91.5 PFF grade. While he doesn’t have much more to prove, the added muscle could take his game into uncharted waters as a center prospect.
3. WR Chris Olave, Ohio State (Senior)
It truly is neck-and-neck with Wilson and Olave for WR1 in the 2022 class at the moment, and you’d be hard–pressed to find a consensus between analysts. Olave has the edge on Wilson both in terms of route running and pure speed — he is the single best separator at the deep and intermediate levels in college football this fall.
Chris Olave is the best WR returning to College Football ????
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 19, 2021
Despite being on the skinny side for the position at 6-foot-1, 188 pounds, Olave has been far from a liability when asked to play through contact. He’s got some of the best hands in the country, with only four career drops on 115 catchable targets, and has gone 8-for-17 in contested situations over the past two years.
When both were healthy, it was quite clear that Olave was Justin Fields’ favorite target, given that he saw 59 targets as opposed to 49 for Garrett Wilson, but we’ll see if that holds up with a new signal-caller this fall.
4. S Brandon Joseph, Northwestern (Redshirt Sophomore)
Interceptions can be flukey within the sample size of one season. That said, some players quite obviously create turnovers on their own by playing at a different speed than everyone else. Put simply: Joseph’s FBS-leading six picks last season were no fluke.
Yes, there was a “gimme” thrown into his gut mixed in there, but the vast majority were no layups. Here he is high-pointing better than a tight end.
Add me to the Brandon Joseph fan club. This is an NFL-ready player right now. Incredible football IQ for a rising RSoph with elite ball production/skills, ability to cover WRs/TEs in the slot in man, versatility, and physicality on the run game. #BlueChipSummer pic.twitter.com/DxqwQmBwwu
— Jared Feinberg (@JRodNFLDraft) July 31, 2021
Joseph not only has ideal ball skills for the position, but he also has NFL-caliber range. This is the kind of guy you want roaming the back end of your defense in a single-high scheme — he can shut down the hashes with ease from a middle-field alignment.
While we’ve only seen him as a starter for one season, and not even a full season at that, Joseph already looks like a possible first-rounder.
5. EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (Senior)
Hutchinson has the type of game that’s very easy to project to the next level — you just have to understand what you’re getting.
At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Hutchinson isn’t going to be mistaken for Khalil Mack or Von Miller anytime soon. He’s not the traditional “bend the edge” type of rusher. Instead, the Michigan senior is a power player who will collapse pockets and consistently reset the line of scrimmage.
Aidan Hutchinson (@aidanhutch97) strikes & resets the LOS by knocking his block back. Ends up making the tackle. Hutchinson’s play gives me JJ Watt vibes! #stoptherun @LanceZierlein pic.twitter.com/HiKVyCtVQ6
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) June 3, 2021
He may very well be the best run–defending edge in the class and earned an 88.8 grade in that regard in two games before a leg injury last season. Hutchinson has inside-outside versatility and took 39.1% of his snaps head–up or inside the tackles in his last full season of 2019.
Editor's note: PFF's mock draft simulator has been updated with 2022 NFL Draft prospects, giving you the opportunity to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in style. You can also learn more about these prospects by downloading the PFF 2022 NFL Draft Guide, which is available to all EDGE and ELITE subscribers!
6. EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue (Junior)
Much of what I just wrote about Hutchinson also applies to Karlaftis. The one key difference I’d highlight is that Karlaftis may even be better suited to play on the interior full-time than Hutchinson, who has more of a 3-4 defensive end body type.
Karlaftis was bullying Big Ten offensive linemen as a freshman.
Bull Snatch (push/pull) by George Karlaftis III@TheGK3 bull rushes, wins with inside hand placement & then violently snatches the blocker. A great move for any power rusher who especially excels at the bull rush #BoilerUp #PassRush pic.twitter.com/POvNvKTT0l
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) October 28, 2019
He’s quite easily one of the strongest defensive linemen in college football — and that was two years ago. Back in 2019, Karlaftis played a ridiculous 843 snaps and registered 55 total pressures. We didn’t get to see much of a next step in an injury-plagued 2020 in which he played only three games. We could be in store for a big leap this fall.
7. S Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (Redshirt Senior)
After two years at Lackawanna Community College, Brisker made his way to Happy Valley. And after a season spent as a sub-package safety, he took the reins as the starter this past fall and didn’t disappoint. The Penn State safety made a name for himself as arguably the best box safety in college football, racking up 19 defensive stops, one pick and five pass breakups in only nine games for an 82.8 overall grade.
A 1st-year starter with good size/speed for the position, PennSt S Jaquan Brisker made a nice play on this ball for an INT -even though he fumbled it back to Mich St. He's prevented TDs in the back end while also serving as an effective blitzer vs. run and pass. #SnapScout21 pic.twitter.com/tzGYil1rOo
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) December 14, 2020
There was never any doubt that Brisker was the best tackling safety in college football. He missed only one of his 60 tackle attempts on the season and laid the wood for some big hits on several occasions. And at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, he has ideal size to continue his role at the NFL level.
8. OT Thayer Munford, Ohio State (Redshirt Senior)
Munford was much-maligned his first two years as a starter for the Buckeyes. Few even considered him to be a genuine prospect. Then 2020 came around, and Munford looked like a different player entirely in the Buckeyes' seven games. He earned a 91.8 overall grade after earning only a 76.9 in 2019.
OhSt LT Thayer Munford eclipses defenders in pass pro with sheer size. Brings attitude as a run blocker, often manages to get the correct angle (like on this play) despite his large frame. Fully utilizing length to keep his chest free will help him start on Sundays. #SnapScout21 pic.twitter.com/NjJrOW2jQo
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) December 3, 2020
While he still has the balance issues that plagued him early on in his career, Munford was far more consistent with his hands and feet. He’s still not the most fleet of foot, nor is he much of a power player, but he more than checks those boxes to stay at tackle in the NFL.
9. OT Rasheed Walker, Penn State (Redshirt Junior)
Walker possesses one of the more impressive physical profiles at the tackle position in college football. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, the Penn State product is such an easy mover for a man that size. It’s the combination of those movement skills and unabashed brute strength that makes him such an intriguing prospect, though.
Penn State OT Rasheed Walker (6’6” 320) is only a Redshirt sophomore but there’s a lot to like. He’s has great size, footwork, and athleticism. pic.twitter.com/tMWCXwxDGO
— Seth Mitzel (@SkolMitzel) August 11, 2020
Walker falls to ninth on this list because those physical tools have only translated to overall grades of 69.6 and 70.6 in his two seasons as a starter. His tape suggests he simply needs more reps, as he’s often visibly surprised by unexpected movement from defenders (blitzes, stunts, slants, etc.). His processing speed could stand to improve, too, and it will be something to look for in 2021.
10. DI Haskell Garrett, Ohio State (Redshirt Senior)
Garrett is your quintessential penetrator. Between his quicks and hand usage, Garrett has the kind of skill set that can live in opponents' backfields. And he did just that in his first season as a starter in 2020, earning an 88.1 overall grade with a particularly impressive 88.9 pass-rushing grade.
Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett is a wound-up defensive lineman… Quick twitch 1st step that can get vertical/penetrate immediately. Tough to pull OL in front of him expecting a pin back – he's too quick
Garrett can lined up at 1T, 3T, 5T on any given play pic.twitter.com/IrmJYkUOHu
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) June 21, 2021
To find out why he’s not higher on this list, though, one need look no further than his tape against Alabama in the national championship game. Teams unwilling to give him free one-on-ones at his 3-technique position essentially took Garrett out of the game. His versatility, ability to hold up to double-teams and ability to play with power are all big question marks he needs to answer in 2021.