Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Grading the 2022 NFL Draft Class
Our lead scout checks in with grades for each position group at the quarter mark of the 2021 college and NFL seasons.
If you’re a parent like I am, you probably got midterm report cards sent home this week. For my eight-year-old that meant a conversation about not talking so much in class, not telling classmates that “Oklahoma sucks, bruh!”, and not doing Fortnite dances in line.
But it was inspiring. If we’re all looking at report cards this week, why not assign grades to each position as it relates to the 2022 NFL draft class?
These grades are, of course, incomplete but like those midterms sent home, they’re a look at how things are going right now. Where is this class strong and where can improvement be made? And for NFL clubs, this early-season look gives them an indication of where this off-season’s draft will be strong and where it will be weak—important information to have before evaluating the trade market and in advance of free agency planning.
Let’s jump into it.
There are two quarterbacks, Matt Corral (Ole Miss) and Malik Willis (Liberty), that have consensus Round 1 grades based on conversations we’ve had around the league. Depending on who you talk to, some also still like Carson Strong (Nevada), Sam Howell (North Carolina), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) and Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) in that area. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett is having a nice season, but evaluators are torn on him as an NFL starter versus a good backup. Overall, the class has good quarterback depth but lacks a clear-cut QB1. It also lacks a quarterback who could compete with previous class’ for the top spot historically. Willis/Corral aren’t competing with Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow or Kyler Murray as prospects. That keeps the overall grade low.
RUNNING BACKS: B-
It’s not a strong running back class in terms of top-end talent nor in terms of overall depth. Breece Hall (Iowa State) and Isaiah Spiller (Texas A&M) are very good, all-around running back prospects but neither is moving the needle right now as a Round 1 type talent on NFL boards. After those two at the top, the rest of the class looks like complementary backs and not frontline starters. Kyren Williams (Notre Dame), Tyler Goodson (Iowa) and James Cook (Georgia) are talented, but don’t quite profile as RB1 types.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B+
When grading the wide receiver class, we have to keep in mind that draft fans and NFL teams have been spoiled by the riches at wide receiver in recent years. The 2022 class looks very good once again, but the word “great” will be tough to apply to a receiver class after what we’ve seen lately. This year’s group features a potential seven Round 1 receivers: Drake London (USC); Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave at Ohio State; Jahan Dotson (Penn State); Treylon Burks (Arkansas); and John Metchie III and Jameson Williams at Alabama. The non-first-round talent isn’t as exciting. Justyn Ross (Clemson) and George Pickens (Georgia) could change that as far as the top 50 goes, but both have injury histories that teams must thoroughly check.
TIGHT ENDS: C+
One year after Kyle Pitts blessed us with his talents, the 2022 tight end class is pretty weak. We started with Alabama’s Jahleel Billingsley in Nick Saban’s doghouse (he’s out now) and Texas A&M struggling to get Jalen Wydermyer involved, but did see the rise of Trey McBride (Colorado State) and strong play from veterans Cade Otton (Washington) and Charlie Kolar (Iowa State). This is a solid class, but it’s unlikely 2022 has a first-round drafted tight end.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A-
Much like the wide receiver position, we’ve seen a really nice run of offensive tackle classes, headlined by the 2020 group of six first-rounders. This year might come close to that. Evan Neal (Alabama) is a star and should be a top five selection. Charles Cross (Miss. State), Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), Nicholas Petit-Frere (Ohio State), Daniel Faalele (Minnesota), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), and Jaxson Kirkland (Washington) are all in play for the first-round as well. Cross, notably, looks like a lock top 15 selection. If the 2022 class has seven tackles in the top 35-40 picks, it’s a legitimate A class.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
The interior offensive line class is headlined by two top-20 prospects who look like Day 1 NFL starters. Tyler Linderbaum (center, Iowa) and Kenyon Green (guard, Texas A&M) are tailor-made for the pros and will be drafted very highly. The overall depth on the interior is solid, too, depending on how you view player projections of Ikem Ekwonu (some see him at tackle) and if you like the power-blocking styles of Jamaree Salyer (Georgia), Zion Johnson (Boston College) and Nick Ford (Utah). It’s rare to get a draft class with more than a few interior offensive linemen in the first round, but a collection of three to four in 2022 wouldn’t be a surprise.
DEFENSIVE ENDS: A+
Whoa, Nelly, this is a fun group of pass-rushers. Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) is one of the most physically talented edge-rushers in quite some time and while he’s missed time with injury this season, scouts are in love with his ability. While Thibodeaux has been out, Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan) has been owning offensive line prospects and has played better than any defensive end in the nation. Both players look like top 10 locks. Following the top two are DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M) and George Karlaftis (Purdue)—two players I believe are top 10 prospects in their own right. That’s four top 10 prospects at one position—hence the A+ grade. The depth here is also impressive with fellow first-round prospects Jermaine Johnson (FSU), Zach Harrison (Ohio State), and Ali Gaye (LSU) projected in the top 50. For a little later in the draft, Tre Williams (Arkansas) and Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati) are popping off the tape.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: B-
Georgia’s big man Jordan Davis returned to school for his senior season and has seen his stock rise in a big way. Outside of Davis, there aren’t many interior prospects to get excited about. Haskell Garrett (Ohio State) hasn’t lived up to expectations yet. The same goes for Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey. Both have talent and potential, but not elite production yet. Davis is the lone hope for a Round 1 pick as of now.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A
How you rank the outside linebacker class depends on if you view players as defensive ends or outside linebackers. For organization, I rank players at outside linebacker if they could play off-ball ‘backer in the pros. No matter how you slice it, this is a very good class led by Drake Jackson (USC) and Adam Anderson (Georgia). Both have first round talents and are seen as such from the NFL. In terms of depth, Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), Jordan Strachan (South Carolina), Brandon Smith (Penn State) and Brian Asamoah (Oklahoma) are all very intriguing Day 2 players. While there isn’t an Isaiah Simmons-type in this group, the top-end talent and depth make it an A class.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A
What looked like an elite class when the season began has faded some, but there is still a lot to like here as other players have risen up the board. Alabama’s Christian Harris is the top prospect on the board but Utah’s Devin Lloyd is climbing weekly. Perhaps the most impressive linebacker last week was Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, and he’s a Round 2 ‘backer that continues to turn heads and catch my eye. As for depth and potential risers, Alabama’s Henry To’o To’o has been incredibly productive and an immediate impact since transfering from Tennessee.
A group with a ton of potential has been affected by injury as LSU’s Derek Stingley, Jr. has missed considerable time and will have ankle surgery that will further sideline him this season. The rest of the first round caliber cornerbacks in the class are talented, but not special. Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati), Andrew Booth (Clemson), Roger McCreary (Auburn), Trent McDuffie (Washington) and Kaiir Elam (Florida) have all played well but lack the overall game of Stingley.
Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is arguably the best player in college football currently and has the look of a potential top three prospect. He leads off a group that shows very good depth and first-round talent—including Arkansas cover man Jalen Catalon and Penn State striker Jaquan Brisker. Three safeties with potential Night 1 grades is great, which is why the grade is so high, but the talent-level on Day 2 will be good as well with Lewis Cine (Georgia), Jordan Battle (Alabama) and Daxton Hill (Michigan) all solid players.
What else is in this week’s Scouting Notebook?
* Scout’s Report: What are NFL teams saying about Devin Lloyd? How do Matt Corral and Malik Willis compare to current NFL quarterbacks?
* Updated Top 25 NFL Draft Big Board
* Parting Shots: 10 final thoughts to wrap up the week, including NFL and CFB game picks; rising, falling and sleeper prospects; plus our Game of the Week scouting pick
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