• Alabama's Bryce Young: Through three games, the Crimson Tide signal-caller hasn't exceeded expectations, making more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws.
• Texas' Bijan Robinson: The running back remains the position's top prospect after breaking 27 tackles on only 51 rushing attempts so far this season.
• Clemson's Bryan Bresee: With Georgia's Jalen Carter lacking some playing time due to injury early on, Bresee has gained some ground in the DI1 battle.
We are a quarter of the way into the 2022 college season, so let's check back in on how the top prospects on our preseason draft board are faring. While we’ll be updating our draft board midway through the season, let’s also highlight those at each position who are showing out early on in a way that can challenge for those top spots on the update.
Top QB: Bryce Young, Alabama
Challengers: C.J. Stroud (Ohio State)
There’s certainly been an adjustment period with a brand new receiving corps for Young. He’s earned only a 77.6 overall grade through three games with more turnover-worthy plays (3) than big-time throws (2). It’s not too worrisome through only three games, but if this is what he looks like all season, his draft stock will significantly slip. Still, the “it” factor was on full display in a tight comeback win at Texas.
mobile QBs are sooo valuable this was a game saving play by Bryce Young pic.twitter.com/z0NQGcn2nq
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 10, 2022
Stroud has graded out better overall with a 90.0 mark but has been similarly callous with the football. He’s made four turnover-worthy plays himself despite none of them resulting in interceptions. Stroud has also had the advent of an offensive line that’s yielded pressure on only 13 of his 89 dropbacks this season. There’s a lot of ballgame left in the QB1 race.
Top RB: Bijan Robinson, Texas
Challengers: Tank Bigsby (Auburn), Blake Corum (Michigan), Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama), Zach Evans (Ole Miss)
There are a lot of challengers to the RB1 throne at the moment, with a number of backs balling out early in the season. Robinson stands clearly at the top still, leading college football with 27 broken tackles on only 51 rushing attempts. Others have stood out, but no need to overthink this one.
Bijan Robinson is always a good play call. pic.twitter.com/entTIQUVwD
— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) September 19, 2022
Top WR: Kayshon Boutte, LSU
Challengers: Jordan Addison (USC)
It has been a decidedly ugly start for the LSU receiver. Through three games, he has all of 10 catches for 93 yards without a score. He’s added three drops, gone 0-of-2 on contested-catch opportunities and not broken a single tackle. That’s about as rough a start as you’ll see at the position, and it will be reflected in the mid-season PFF draft board update.
Coincidentally, WR2 Jaxon Smith Njigba of Ohio State hasn’t done much himself with only 32 yards so far (although injuries have limited him to only 27 pass snaps). That leaves Jordan Addison as the lone top-five receiver putting up numbers at the moment. He hasn’t missed a beat after transferring, hauling in 18-of-20 targets for 295 yards and five scores already.
Jordan Addison in space is a tough assignment for defenders pic.twitter.com/GeVoZ5JPBU
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 18, 2022
Top TE: Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Challengers: Luke Musgrave (Oregon State)
Mayer's pro prospects won’t suffer from the disastrous quarterback play Notre Dame has had, but it’s not helping his stat line. He has 15 catches for 145 yards and two scores but has been missed on a number of possible big plays. He’s not falling down anyone’s board anytime soon.
Musgrave certainly qualifies as a riser, already surpassing the halfway mark of his 2021 yardage total after two games. He’s an athletic 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and has hauled in 11 balls for 169 yards so far. He’ll likely test out better than Mayer come NFL combine time and looks like a Day 2 pick at worst if he stays healthy.
Luke Musgrave hauls in the catch for a TD pic.twitter.com/IaQ1x4bTGl
— WalkTheMock (@WalkTheMock) September 4, 2022
Top OT: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Challengers: Broderick Jones (Georgia)
He’s got challengers, but my word has Skoronski elevated his game to another level this fall. The junior hasn’t allowed a single pressure on 155 pass-blocking snaps this season and sports an FBS-leading 90.4 overall grade.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 1, 2022
Broderick Jones will have a chance to get in the OT1 conversation with Skoronski as the season wears on, though. He hasn’t played a ton of football (only 605 career snaps), but he’s got a level of power and physicality that Skoronski can’t match. He’s earned a 78.0 overall grade and allowed one pressure through three games at left tackle so far.
Top IOL: Cooper Beebe, Kansas State
Challengers: O’Cyrus Torrence (Florida), Andrew Vorhees (USC)
Beebe moved to guard this season after starting at left and right tackle the past two years. It’s good to see that he hasn’t missed a beat on the interior. He’s allowed only one pressure in three games so far.
That being said, he’s got some competition for tops on the interior. Especially O’Cyrus Torrence, who’s been outstanding after transferring from Louisiana to Florida. He’s currently the highest-graded offensive lineman in the country, at 92.4 overall. He moves so gracefully for a 347-pounder, blocking out the sun while doing so. Torrence has allowed one pressure across 93 pass-blocking snaps at right guard this season.
The newest member of the Florida Gators offensive line is a mauler. OG O’Cyrus Torrence taking on 90 here. pic.twitter.com/dQKy3fqqeD
— Brandon Carroll (@itsbcarroll) January 17, 2022
Top DI: Jalen Carter, Georgia
Challengers: Bryan Bresee (Clemson)
Carter is still that dude despite a 73.5 overall grade through three weeks. He has been dealing with an ankle injury while barely playing so far (59 total snaps). That’s opened the door slightly for former No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee. The Clemson defensive tackle looked much improved as a pass-rusher in two games (82.9 pass-rushing grade) before missing last week after a death in the family.
Jalen Carter just bulldozes the RT out of the way. Sheesh pic.twitter.com/ohta9ChZYd
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 3, 2022
Top EDGE: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Anderson hasn’t necessarily made the leap into the unblockable stratosphere, but he’s still pretty darn close. He has eight pressures on 59 pass-rushing snaps this season while being thoroughly game-planned around. I don’t see anyone realistically challenging him at the top of the class.
Top LB: Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Challengers: Jack Campbell (Iowa)
After being more of a hybrid slot defender last season, Simpson is now a more traditional stack linebacker. Of his 135 snaps, 104 of them have come between the tackles. He’s been the same high-end impact player for the Tigers with eight stops already and 18 tackles with one miss.
Trenton Simpson covered that screen PERFECTLY ???? pic.twitter.com/NuHvQLgu2r
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 6, 2022
However, Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell is making a run at LB1 with his consistency so far, although you’d ask him and Simpson to play different roles. He’s allowed only 39 yards on nine targets in coverage so far this season and has 11 stops in three games.
Top CB: Kelee Ringo, Georgia
Challengers: Christian Gonzalez (Oregon), Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State)
Ringo has been a touch shaky in the early going this season. He’s already allowed nine catches on 11 targets for 86 yards. While that’s still only slightly above 1.0 yard per coverage snap, having no ball production to go with it is far from the dominance we’d hoped to see from the Year 2 starter.
Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez is hot on his heels after two pass-breakups and a pick the past two weeks. He’s allowed seven catches on 12 targets for 77 yards on 86 coverage snaps this season. He’s a long, toolsy cornerback who is starting to play to his physical attributes.
#Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez had twice as many pass break-ups (2) than catches allowed (1) on Saturday vs. BYU.
He was a top-10 player overall for me preseason and hasn’t disappointed. Legit CB1 candidate with big time NFL traits. pic.twitter.com/dnJnWdMthf
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 19, 2022
S: Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
Challengers: Brian Branch (Alabam), J.L. Skinner (Boise State)
Johnson is still primarily manning the slot in the Aggies' defense. And he’s doing it at a high level. He’s racked up 10 stops through three weeks already. His length and closing speed are going to translate to almost any alignment.
Brian Branch is doing his best to make this a conversation, however. Branch may not have Johnson's freakish attributes, but he’s lights out on the football field nonetheless. Also playing the slot, Branch has allowed only 27 yards on five catches and nine targets through three weeks with a pass breakup. The best tackling safety in the country, Branch has now missed just two tackles on 99 career attempts.
What’s On Tap
Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer vs. North Carolina LB Cedric Gray
Gray has been a considerable riser after racking up 14 stops through three games. The undersized linebacker will be put to the test by the physical route-running of TE1.
SMU WR Rashee Rice vs. TCU CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
The leading receiver in all of college football, Rice is set to face his toughest matchup yet. He’s racked up 489 yards through three games due to his all-around physical game. Rice will be a sure-fire top-100 player on the next draft board update, if not considerably higher.
TVT was already a top-100 board member in the preseason and can put a stamp on that with a big game against Rice. The story will be how the 5-foot-9, 180-pound corner fares against the 6-foot-3, 206-pound wideout.
Kansas State EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah vs. Oklahoma RT Anton Harrison
This is speed versus speed. Anudike-Uzomah is one of the best edge-benders in the draft class, although he has been relatively quiet through three games this season with a 72.8 pass-rushing grade. He was a preseason top-20 player on the PFF draft board.
Harrison is a top-50 tackle himself and has the feet to be able to mirror Anudike-Uzomah’s get-off. This is tape NFL evaluators will be going back to repeatedly next spring.
Rookie Linebackers Ready to Play
Rookie linebackers have been under siege the past couple of seasons. With COVID-shortened offseasons, there have been rough starts for many early linebacker selections. That hasn’t been the case so far in 2022.
The best tackling linebacker in the draft class has been just that for the Packers. He’s missed just once on 16 attempts so far and is tied for the rookie lead with seven defensive stops. Walker still isn’t your quick-diagnose/play-on-the-other-side-of-the-line type of backer (hasn’t had a tackle for no gain or loss yet), but he doesn’t have to be in Green Bay's defense.
If you want to know how the Jags shut out the Colts, look no further than this man. He racked up three stops as well as a pick and two pass breakups in the win. He’s been making plays from sideline to sideline the same way we saw last year at Utah.
Sixth-rounders aren’t supposed to do what Rodriguez is doing. He looks like a wily veteran two weeks into his NFL career. He’s playing at a speed right now that’s unparalleled for a rookie. At only 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, Rodriguez has to do so to avoid getting taken out of plays by opposing linemen. He carries a top-10 overall grade among starting linebackers (76.7) and is the highest-graded rookie defender.