We have just two weeks of college football left before we get to conference championship week, and the 2022 NFL Draft is continuing to shape into a deep class. Which players could become household names by the time we get to April? You are about to find out.
As you will see over the next couple weeks, I am going to increase the amount of names mentioned when it comes to players who are improving their stock. With only a few weeks remaining in the 2021 season, it is time to become familiarized with as many draft-eligible names as possible.
It was a very positive week when it comes to the overall depth of the draft class, specifically at EDGE. There were a boatload of pass rushers that had breakout games in Week 11, while others who had already broken out continued their dominance and their rise on draft boards. As we near the end of the year, we will begin to narrow our focus toward players who are trending in the right direction and less on players who are struggling and will likely need to return to school.
As of right now, quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, and defensive back still seem to be the biggest areas of need for the Steelers in 2022. Pass rusher may not be high on the list of priorities, but depth could be an issue for the Steelers at that position, and many of the names listed this week are players that the Steelers could potentially grab later on in the draft.
If you have any thoughts on the Steelers’ team needs for 2022, be sure to share them in the comment section below. But before that, let’s take a closer look at who improved their draft stock in Week 11.
Carson Strong / QB / Nevada
I did an offseason breakdown on Strong this summer, mentioning him as a player to keep an eye on in 2021. Not many people have been bringing his name up when discussing the top-tier quarterbacks in the 2022 draft, but he has quietly put together an incredible statistical season. Strong’s best performance came this week against a top-25 San Diego State team, as he completed 34 of 48 passes for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. He did fumble the ball once, but he had zero interceptions against the 10th best scoring defense in all the FBS.
Strong is fourth in the country with 3,547 passing yards, and he currently has 28 touchdown passes compared to 7 interceptions. His competition level is obviously not as good as most of the other draft-eligible quarterbacks, but a 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is still impressive. He has gone six straight games with at least 300 passing yards, and he threw for at least 350 passing yards in five of those games. Strong has led Nevada to a 7-3 record in 2021, and all three losses came against quality opponents in Kansas State, Fresno State, and San Diego State.
Strong is a traditional pocket passer who has a prototypical build and average athleticism. His arm strength is no secret, but I would like his release to be a little quicker. His motion seems slow when you watch him on TV, but that is one of only a few negatives that can be taken away from Strong’s play in 2021. His ball placement has improved from last season, and he is doing a better job of going through his progressions inside the pocket. If he can get a signature win in Nevada’s bowl game, I think he will safely be a first-round pick. I also expect the Steelers to take a close look at him this spring considering their history of preferring prototypical pocket passers rather than dual-threat quarterbacks.
Deane Leonard / CB / Ole Miss
Leonard is not a known commodity, but he may be in the near future. Leonard was busy in Ole Miss’ win against Texas A&M, but he held up well overall, recording 9 tackles and 3 passes defended. The Calgary transfer is an athletic cornerback who prides himself on being the hardest worker on the team. At 6’0”, 195 pounds, Leonard has enough size to play on the perimeter in the NFL, and speed will not be an issue for him either, as he should safely run under 4.5 in the 40. I am curious to see how well he can display his agility in the on-field drills at the combine, but a performance as good as last week’s will definitely have me looking deeper into his tape this spring. There seems to be a good bit of upside here.
Aidan Hutchinson / EDGE / Michigan
There is no reason to elaborate much on Hutchinson, as he will be long gone by the time the Steelers are up to pick. However, his outstanding play is deserving of recognition, and he continued his All-American caliber season last weekend with 7 tackles and 3 sacks against Penn State. Hutchinson is a good athlete, but what stands out most is his grit and relentlessness. He is a powerful force that can rarely be contained one-on-one, and he has not slowed down at any point this season. If he can finish the final portion of the season strongly, he could easily find himself being selected inside the top ten picks.
Jermaine Johnson / EDGE / Florida State
Last week against rival Miami, Johnson had one of the best individual performances of the season in the ACC, recording 7 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss. Zion Nelson and Jarrid Williams are no slouches, but Johnson made them look foolish, consistently beating them around the edge. Johnson is a long, athletic pass rusher who displays tremendous burst off the line of scrimmage. His first-step quickness makes him difficult to defend coming around the edge, but his terrific bend is what allows him to actually get around the edge. If Johnson runs a sub-4.5 40 and puts up monster numbers at the combine like many expect, he will soar on draft boards and likely become a first-round pick.
Others who improved their stock:
David Ojabo / EDGE / Michigan (4 TCKL, 2 SCK, 2 QB HUR)
Terrel Bernard / LB / Baylor (9 TCKL, 2 SCK)
Perrion Winfrey / DT / Oklahoma (2 TCKL, 1.5 TFL, 1 QB HUR)
Wardalis Ducksworth / EDGE / Memphis (8 TCKL, 2.5 SCK)
Micah Baskerville / LB / LSU (12 TCKL, 2 SCK, 3.5 PD)
Cameron Thomas / EDGE / San Diego State (10 TCKL, 2 SCK, 3.5 TFL, 1 QB HUR)
Ahmad Gardner / CB / Cincinnati (1 TCKL, 1 SCK, 1 PD, 1 INT)
Russ Yeast / SS / Baylor (4 TCKL, 3 PD, 1 INT)
Ali Fayad / EDGE / Western Michigan (5 TCKL, 1.5 SCK, 2.5 TFL)
Arnold Ebiketie / EDGE / Penn State (7 TCKL, 2 SCK)
Jamal Hines / EDGE / Toledo (7 TCKL, 2 SCK, 3 TFL)
Romeo Doubs / WR / Nevada (9 REC, 127 YDS, 2 TD)
Chris Autman-Bell / WR / Minnesota (5 REC, 109 YDS, 1 TD)
Rasheed Walker / OT / Penn State
I have always been intrigued by Rasheed Walker’s upside, but he has struggled to be a consistent pass protector. Not long after beginning to rise on draft boards, Walker is now headed in the wrong direction after struggling to contain Michigan pass rusher David Ojabo on Saturday. Both Michigan EDGE rushers feasted on Penn State’s tackles, and it did not really slow down for any extended period of time during the game. Walker was only one of several legitimate tackles that struggled last weekend, and the tackle class as a whole is continually proving to be much weaker than last year’s.
Zion Nelson / OT / Miami
We already talked about Jermaine Johnson above, and that is about all you need to know when it comes to Zion Nelson’s performance. Nelson is a good athlete, but Johnson made him look absolutely foolish on multiple occasions, beating him around the edge on a regular basis. Nelson’s habit of playing over his feet and leaning too far forward in his pass sets was exposed against the Seminoles, and he also struggled to do anything positive as a run blocker, struggling to get any sort of push. One game is not going to define Nelson’s season, but he is far from a finished product, and it may not be a bad idea for him to return to school and wait to declare for the draft until 2023. The talent is there, but the man is extremely raw and needs to develop a little more before thinking about the NFL.
Ja’Sir Taylor / CB / Wake Forest
Taylor has been one of the better players on Wake Forest’s defense, but the Wolfpack receivers got the better of him on Saturday. Taylor was able defend one pass and record one tackle for loss, but the combination of Emeka Emezie and Devin Carter was too much for the Wake Forest secondary to handle, as those two combined for 265 receiving yards. Taylor was not the worst defensive back in the game by any stretch of the imagination, but his lack of size definitely worked against him, and it was a reminder to all of us that he will likely be limited to the slot in the NFL.
Which players caught your eye last weekend? Are any of them potential fits for the Steelers? Which players do you plan on paying close attention to this week? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on not only the aforementioned players, but all things NFL Draft!