The beginning of the 2022 NFL Draft cycle is here, which means that it is time for the first edition of my 2022 NFL Draft Big Board! Today, I will give you my current top 25 player rankings for the upcoming draft and give an early synopsis on each player. Keep in mind that things will change between now and April, but this early board will hopefully wet your appetite for what is to come and get you more familiarized with some of the top prospects.
Coming this January, the BTSC Big Board will return for a second consecutive year. Last year’s crew will be back along with three new analysts: faithful BTSC member skyfire322, BTSC podcast personality and fantasy expert Jeremy Betz, BTSC film expert and resident coach K.T. Smith (CHISAP), and Team Speed Kills writer Matt Seese. I will also provide weekly draft content, which will include five mock drafts, with the final mock being a full seven-round projection.
While some years are easier to project than others, this year is incredibly difficult to determine which direction the Steelers will go with their first-round pick. There are multiple positions of need on both sides of the football, and until free agency plays out, just about any position not named running back or tight end could make sense. Thus, getting acquainted with the top prospects at all positions combined is what Steelers fans will want to begin with when it comes to draft preparation.
If you have thoughts on these rankings, be sure to share them in the comment section below, but without further adieu, here is the first big board for the 2022 NFL Draft.
2022 NFL Draft Top 25 Big Board
1. Aidan Hutchinson / EDGE / Michigan
Kavon Thibodeaux had been my number one prospect all summer and all season, but Aidan Hutchinson’s dominance this year is just too much to ignore. While I think Thibodeaux still has the higher overall ceiling, Hutchinson has a much safer floor. He is a good athlete who converts speed to power to finish plays in the backfield. His non-stop motor and effort on every down make him a difficult matchup for any tackle, and he only gets better as the game goes on. I also love Hutchinson’s hand usage. He has extremely strong and active hands that give opposing tackles fits when they leave their chests exposed. As long as he does not bomb his testing at the combine, he has the inside track at becoming the number one overall pick.
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux / EDGE / Oregon
Thibodeaux is a freak of nature, simply put. He has the length, speed, bend, and strength that every coach salivates over. The only new concern is that he has not exactly produced in the big games. While he recorded a combined 6 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles against Fresno State, California, Washington State, and UCLA, he only recorded one sack in the two meetings against Utah. In the condensed 2020 season, Thibodeaux made big plays defending the run but struggled to turn pressures into sacks, recording only three sacks in seven games. Let me make it clear that I am not trying to knock him; he is still one of the best players in this class. It is just that his lack of production in big games may be worrisome for some teams, and it is important to keep that in mind as we determine who should go first between him and Hutchinson.
3. Kyle Hamilton / S / Notre Dame
6’4”, 220 pounds, 4.4 speed, instinctually sound—Hamilton is everything you want in the modern-day NFL. His outstanding length allows him to cover an incredible amount of ground in coverage, and his size gives him the ability to lay a big hit when the opportunity presents itself. Although Hamilton does not bring much as a pass rusher, he can come down into the box and play the run at an extremely high level. He is quick to shoot gaps, and his top-notch instincts help him anticipate which running lane the runner is wanting to enter. His play has been overshadowed by players that emerged onto the scene during the 2021 season, but he has been a consistent playmaker for the Irish throughout his career.
4. Evan Neal / OT / Alabama
Alabama had four of their starting linemen go pro in 2020, but none of them were as good as offensive tackle Evan Neal. Neal is a behemoth who possesses great power and fantastic athleticism. Longer edge rushers struggle to get around Neal because of the matching length he brings, and speed rushers cannot get around him either, as Neal’s mobility is impressive for a lineman his size. The only time he really struggles is when going against extremely bendy edge rushers. Because he is 6’7”, he sometimes struggles to get low enough to block a pass rusher that can bend and get low coming around the edge. In the Iron Bowl specifically, Neal struggled with the bendy pass rushers Auburn sent on blitzes. Having said that, there is a ton of upside with Neal, and it would not surprise me at all if he winds up a top five pick.
5. Derek Stingley, Jr. / CB / LSU
Stingley’s freshman campaign was unforgettable, recording six interceptions and fifteen passes defended. However, not much has happened since then. In the odd 2020 season, Stingley had five passes defended in seven games but failed to record an interception. In 2021, Stingley played in three games before missing the rest of the season with a foot injury, forcing one fumble and zero interceptions in those three games. While we can look at the 2019 tape and clearly see that he was the best defender in that game, one cannot dismiss the questions that come with a season of less production followed by a season shortened by an injury. We will see what can be gleaned by the medical testing at the combine to know if there are any long-term concerns, but the biggest concern is the dip in production. He has the skills to be an elite corner. We just have not seen him play at an elite level since LSU’s National Championship Game victory.
6. Drake London / WR / USC
London was putting up the gaudiest numbers in college football until a fractured ankle ended his season prematurely. Nonetheless, he remains the WR1 on my board. At 6’5”, 210 pounds, London was a monster on 50/50 balls, high-pointing the ball on a consistent basis. London also has incredibly strong hands and surprisingly good speed, reminiscent of Mike Evans coming out of Texas A&M in 2014. London does not have as thick a frame as Evans did, but I do expect London to try to add more weight before the combine rolls around this March. If he has a strong week at the combine from both a health and athleticism standpoint, he could sneak into the top five picks depending on which teams are in need of his services. Fans are going to fall in love with his gigantic catch radius and big-play ability.
7. Jameson Williams / WR / Alabama
Coming into the season, most draft nuts, including myself, were focused more on John Metchie than Williams, but Williams’ 21.3 yards per reception, 15 touchdowns, and 1,445 receiving yards during the regular season made him the primary focus as the season went on. Williams is an Ohio State transfer who dominated when given the opportunity at Alabama. His big-play ability is evidenced by his yards per catch, but I think we take for granted his ability to create separation with his elite speed. There are times when you see Williams running a go-route, and it looks as if there was a blown defensive assignment. Then you see a different camera angle, and there is a defender accounting for him, but he has been left in the dust. Williams was just so much faster than a lot of his competition, and his 6’2” frame allows him to take nice, long strides and increase the amount of separation. If he has a strong finish to the season in the college football playoff, he could easily become my WR1.
8. Tyler Linderbaum / C / Iowa
Centers do not go inside the top ten unless they are elite, and Linderbaum has been the epitome of elite during his time at Iowa. He may not have the heaviest hands or the strongest upper body, but he does an incredible job of gaining leverage on a defender as the play unfolds. Linderbaum also has a strong and mature lower body, allowing him to anchor in pass protection. Listed at only 290 pounds, adding weight is going to be a must as he prepares for the scouting combine. Fortunately, his 6’3” frame gives him plenty of room to pack on an extra 20-25 pounds if need be. He does not have impressive arm length, but he maintains a good pad level, moves very well, can pull, and has an extremely high IQ. I doubt that Linderbaum will be available when the Steelers pick, but even with Kendrick Green only one year into the league, Linderbaum would be tough to pass on.
9. David Ojabo / EDGE / Michigan
Ojabo was not a key part of Michigan’s pass rush until 2021, when Ojabo emerged opposite Aidan Hutchinson with 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles from the beginning of the season through the Big Ten Championship Game. In my personal opinion, Ojabo has a higher ceiling than Hutchinson. He has better speed, better bend, and more explosiveness when he is able to get a good jump off the line of scrimmage. At 6’5”, 250 pounds, Ojabo has ideal length and size to handle the edge, and I would expect him to get closer to the neighborhood of 260 pounds before the 2022 season rolls around. While I think he could succeed in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, his best fit is in a 3-4 where he can get out of his stance quickly and beat the tackle around the edge with his speed. Some fans worry that he was the beneficiary of Hutchinson’s greatness, but Ojabo was often lined up against the better tackle and still made a major impact. Michigan moved him around to make Hutchinson’s job easier, but he still produced against the tougher assignments. Expect him to light up the combine and shoot up draft boards even more.
10. Jordan Davis / DT / Georgia
Much like center, nose tackles do not go inside the top half of the first round unless they are one of a kind, but Davis may be the best nose tackle we’ve seen since Vince Wilfork. Standing at 6’6”, 340 pounds, Davis moves like linemen 50 pounds smaller than him. He gets out of his stance surprisingly quick, and he uses his long arms and superb strength to push offensive linemen back and make the pocket collapse. You don’t often hear about nose tackles being able to split gaps and get up field, but Davis is one of the rare few who can. Interior linemen that are inferior in length struggle to gain leverage on Davis, and if you do not double him, he will split either A-gap and get to the quarterback. As a run defender, he is everything you would expect him to be. He is a sound tackler while also staying low despite his height. I also love Davis’ ability to disengage. He displays tremendous hand placement, and he has instincts to know where the running back is going and when he needs to disengage from the blocker. Taking a nose tackle in the top ten may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is one of the safest picks in the entire draft.
11. Malik Willis / QB / Liberty
In my summer breakdown on Willis, I talked about how special Willis had the chance to be, and I still stand by those comments. Every. Single. Bit. The numbers are not the prettiest, and having multiple 3 interception games is not something any quarterback wants on their résumé. However, Willis likely had the worst offensive line in the country, and it was on full display every single week. Willis was constantly running for his life before he had any opportunity to go through his progressions and make accurate reads. At the end of the day, not much has changed about my opinion of him. He is still an incredibly talented quarterback with a big arm and outstanding arm, but he needs to sit for a year. Sitting and watching on the sidelines will allow him to see the speed of the NFL game and the complexity of NFL coverages before having to face them himself. It will do wonders for his development. If a team is all in on Willis and willing to be patient, he could become one of the brightest young stars in the league.
12. Andrew Booth, Jr. / CB / Clemson
In my summer breakdown on Booth, I talked about his standout play in limited action in 2020. With Derion Kendrick transferring to Georgia, Booth became the face of Clemson’s secondary in 2021, and he lived up to the billing. While 3 tackles for loss, 5 passes defended, and 1 interception may not seem like insane stats for 10 games, he was consistently sound in coverage, bumping receivers off their route at the line of scrimmage and blanketing them downfield, one-on-one in many cases. From an athletic standpoint, Booth is right up there with Stingley. He has the size, the speed, the instincts, and the agility requisite from a press man corner. While turnover production is still a work in progress, he has not exactly had a ton of prime opportunities to force them. He is still developing his zone coverage skills, but Booth has the potential to become a top-tier corner in the NFL.
13. Ahmad Gardner / CB / Cincinnati
“Sauce” Gardner, if I remember correctly, has not given up a receiving touchdown in his entire Cincinnati career, and he is only surrendering about 20 receiving yards per game in 2021. The 6’2”, 200 pound junior from Detroit would be the number one corner in some drafts, but because of the strength of the position this year, Gardner might slide further than what he really should. He is similar to Booth in that he is your typical man press corner. In other words, Steelers fans, he was what Justin Layne could have been in the right situation and right system. Gardner does a great job bumping receivers off their route at the line of scrimmage and forcing them to re-route. He gets good position and does a good job forcing receivers to the outside. If he can develop better skills in zone, he could become a valuable asset for any team. Until then, he will be a scheme-specific prospect who really needs to go to a team that plays a healthy amount of man coverage.
14. Kenyon Green / G / Texas A&M
Green played some tackle for the Aggies in 2021 and actually did a nice job, but in the NFL I like him better at guard. While Green contained most SEC edge rushers, he did not display the prettiest kick slide and lateral movement skills. He is a good athlete, don’t get me wrong, but he just seems like a more natural fit at guard. Thus, I have him rated lower than most other sites do, because you do not take guards inside the top ten unless they are a generational talent. Green has the chance to be one of the better guards in the NFL, but he is not on the same level as a Quentin Nelson. What I like most about Green is his fantastic pad level. He keeps his pad level low throughout the snap and is consistent with it. He also uses his superior arm strength and active hands to get leverage on defenders and create holes for the running back. I would not take a guard in the first round if I am the Steelers, but Green will make some team very happy.
15. DeMarvin Leal / DL / Texas A&M
Very few interior linemen are true threats as a pass rusher in any situation. Leal, however, is an exception. He displays tremendous quickness of the line of scrimmage and uses his even pad level and strong hands to get loose and make things happen in the backfield. Much like George Karlaftis, though, I have concerns as to how clutch he can be in the big moments, as he sacked the quarterback only once in the Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn and Arkansas games combined. The three-year starter has grown each year and has looked more explosive each season, whether it be due to his above-average speed or his superb hand placement. Leal definitely has some versatility, but his best fit is likely as a 3-tech in a 4-3, where he can use his athleticism to get upfield and attack. I expect him to be off the board by the time we reach pick 20.
16. George Karlaftis / DL / Purdue
Karlaftis is another player who I have rated lower than most boards partially due to other players rising and partially due to his lack of production in big games. Karlaftis is a true disrupter who is in the backfield a lot, although he only accounted for 4.5 sacks in 12 games this season. He is a pass rusher that wins with power, but he has also displayed the ability to get small and split gaps to get to the quarterback. He has a quick first step out of his stance, and he never slows down or gives up in the middle of a play. As a run defender, Karlaftis did a great job setting the edge for the Boilermakers, and he successfully creates penetration when he gets good hand placement. My only real concern is his big-game production, as he recorded just one sack and three tackles for loss in the Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State games combined. He definitely better suited for a 4-3 defense, but if he can find a way to add more weight, a 3-4 team may be able to kick him inside on passing downs and get some value out of him.
17. Desmond Ridder / QB / Cincinnati
Ridder’s best attributes are his arm strength and athleticism. He puts good velocity on all his passes, whether they be short, intermediate, or deep. He struggled to accurately throw the ball when he was banged up in 2019, but he was much more accurate in 2020 and placed balls where only his guy could get them. He did not turn the ball over as much in 2020, and ball placement was a big reason why. Much like we talked about with Zach Wilson this past season, Ridder can effectively deliver the ball from many different arm angles, which allows him to make the most difficult throws with ease. There is a lot of upside with Ridder as a passer, but he is also lethal as a runner, as evidenced by his 2,000 plus rushing yards during his collegiate career. The primary concerns with Ridder are accuracy and patience. Too often you will see Ridder tuck it and run if he does not like his first read, and it has cost Cincinnati some big plays that could have been had downfield. His accuracy is also sporadic, and that is something that will need to improve once he gets to the next level. You can check out my summer breakdown of Ridder here.
18. Nakobe Dean / ILB / Georgia
Dean is a bit undersized at 6’0”, 225 pounds, and he will definitely need to add a little weight, but you can’t help but love what he has done in 2021. From the beginning of the season through the SEC championship game, Dean recorded 61 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and 2 interceptions, flying from sideline to sideline and doing a little bit of everything. He should run a fast 40, which is likely what will move him up draft boards, but speed is not the only thing Dean brings to the table. Despite his size, Dean takes good tackling angles and displays a nice form and posture when going in to make a tackle. He just lacks the bulk to prevent bigger ball-carriers from shaking him off. He is also an effective blitzer, displaying good instincts as well as the closing speed needed to turn a pressure into a sack. Size is something teams will need to factor in, but Dean has all the tools you want.
19. Charles Cross / OT / Mississippi State
Projections for Cross are all over the place. Some have him close to or inside the top five, while others peg him as a fringe first-round pick. The biggest reason for this is inconsistency. Cross definitely does not lack talent, but he is very streaky, and that is not a good thing when you are trusted with protecting the quarterback’s blindside. He has sweet feet and displays an ability to mirror in pass protection, and he comes across as a smart player who understand the game well. Unfortunately, those are about the only consistently positive things about his game. He does not create the greatest leverage as a run defender, and he gives up his chest too often in pass protection. The jury is still out on Cross, but he is one of the most boom-or-bust linemen in this class.
20. Ikem Ekwonu / OL / North Carolina State
Ekwonu played extremely well in 2021 at left tackle, but where will he play in the NFL? While nobody can take away what he did this past season, I just do not think he has the quickness to hold up at left tackle in the NFL. He is a nasty hitter who will play through the whistle and drive you to the ground, but he lacks the finesse to be an NFL tackle. He does not have great awareness either, as too often he underestimates the speed or quickness of an edge rusher and gives him too much room to work with. Other times he leaves his chest exposed and allows power rushers to either push him back and collapse the pocket or knock him off balance and beat him to the inside. He just uses his athleticism better at guard. At guard, the consequences of being sluggish out of your stance are not as hurtful, and his ability drive defenders backward will help open more running lanes for a team that wants to run in between the tackles. There is a decent amount of upside here as well, but can he play tackle in the NFL? That is the big question he will have to answer in the coming months. If he can’t, he will likely be taken in the back half of the first round.
21. Trevor Penning / OT / Northern Iowa
Penning will be a hot commodity at the Senior Bowl, and that is likely where he will either make or break his draft stock. Penning has been an FCS standout, overpowering defenders and showing an ability to get to the second level of the defense as a run defender. Granted, he was not playing against the greatest competition, but that is why the Senior Bowl will be so important for him. He pass sets are clean, and his footwork is solid. His greatest strength, however, may be strength itself. When he latches onto a defender, he drives them back at will, and he moves defenders off the ball with ease in most cases. Again, we have to keep in mind that he was going against FCS competition, but it gives every lineman aficionado in America a reason to tune into the Senior Bowl and the combine. When it is all said and done, he could easily be the second offensive tackle off the board.
22. Devin Lloyd / ILB / Utah
When you talk about wrecking balls, Lloyd takes the cake. He may not have elite speed, but he is all over the field, making splash plays in coverage, making sure tackles in the run game, and adding some occasional juice as a pass rusher. From the beginning of the 2021 season through the PAC-12 Championship Game, Lloyd amassed a whopping 107 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 4 interceptions, and 6 passes defended. Production like that is not something to sneeze at, as it did not just come against cupcake opponents. Lloyd had a big time pick-six against Oregon in the PAC-12 Championship, and he had a timely sack as well as a defended pass against UCLA. Against a San Diego State team that finished the regular season inside the top 25, Lloyd racked up 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1 fumble recovery, and against a well-balanced Arizona State unit, he came in clutch with 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 1 pass defended. All of that to say, Lloyd produces no matter the situation. He has great instincts and plays the run at a high level, and he is one of the better tackling linebackers in this draft. If he can put together a combine workout that outperforms expectations, he will become the premier linebacker in this draft.
23. Kenny Pickett / QB / Pittsburgh
I have been a big fan of Pickett’s ever since he stepped foot on campus at Pitt. I stood up for him when fans were disgruntled with the offense, and before he decided to return to school for 2021, I was a big proponent of taking a late-round flier on him. I was not surprised when he had his breakout season in 2021, but he has risen too high on the national draft boards for my liking. Pickett is a very solid quarterback who has a decent arm and sneaky good athleticism, but he is older than some of the other quarterbacks in this class, and he does not have an incredibly high ceiling as a pro. The biggest issue, especially for teams that play in cold weather, will be his incredibly small hands. Rumor has it that his hands are not much more than eight inches, which would be historically small. We will have to wait for the official measurement at the combine, but as BTSC film guru Geoffrey Benedict pointed out to me in a conversation, hand size is one of those things that doesn’t matter, until it does. Pickett’s accuracy improved by heaps and bounds this season, but he sometimes struggles to get off his first read and get through his progressions before the pressure gets to him. His upside is likely that of a Matt Ryan or Derek Carr if he can overcome the hand size issue, but the big question will be, “Is he capable of anything greater than that?”. That is what teams are going to have to determine over the next few months when it comes to Pickett and how high he should be taken.
24. Jahan Dotson / WR / Penn State
Dotson was one of the most explosive players in the country this past season, recording 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns on 91 receptions during the regular season. Dotson set a school record for receiving yards in a single game when he caught 11 passes for 242 yards and 3 touchdowns against Maryland. His wiggle in the open field makes him dangerous after the catch, and his sideline awareness coupled with outstanding body control allows him to make the most difficult catches near the sideline. I would like to see him display a little more quickness out of his stance at the line of scrimmage, but he is a polished route-runner who uses his 4.4 speed to create separation late in the route. Dotson is not the biggest receiver at just 5’11”, 185 pounds, but he is a relatively competitive blocker, showing a willingness to do the dirty work as well. The Steelers cannot likely afford to spend a first-round pick on a receiver, but Dotson will be a nice pickup for some team in the middle-to-late first round.
25. Carson Strong / QB / Nevada
In my summer breakdown of Strong, I talked about a knee injury he suffered in high school, and that injury has now become the biggest question mark surrounding his draft stock. As a prospect, the first thing that stands out about Strong is his arm strength. He puts good zip on short and intermediate throws and can sling it 60 yards down the field with ease. Over the past two seasons, he has learned to make quicker decisions with the football, and his delivery has become cleaner and quicker as well. Strong has also improved his accuracy, taking yet another step forward in 2021 with an impressive 70.2% completion percentage. Although his poise in the pocket has contributed to his success, his improved footwork has really been the thing helping him become a more consistently accurate passer. At 6’4”, 215 pounds, Strong is primarily a pocket passer, but he has enough mobility to move around in the pocket and make an occasional play on the ground. Just don’t expect any designed quarterbacks runs with him at quarterback. People close to him have also raved about his high IQ. The issue with Strong is his knee problems, and that could be what keeps him from going in the top half of the first round. Fortunately for him, the latest reports indicate that teams do not see his knee issues as something that could plague his career. If his medical testing goes well in Indy, he could be the first or second quarterback taken off the board.
There is your first big board for the 2022 NFL Draft cycle! We are only getting started here at BTSC, as we are just weeks away from the beginning of the BTSC Big Board. I will also be back with my first mock draft in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
Which players do you think were ranked in the right range? Who makes the most logical sense for the Steelers at this point? Be sure to light up the comment section with your thoughts on this and all things NFL Draft!