2022 NFL Prospects - Mid-season Report
With most teams having played a little more than half their schedule at this point in the College Football season, it’s time to take a look at who has moved up and down the “Big Boards” of the draft experts. Some of the names I’ll be mentioning were a part of the Top 50 list that I put out before the season began which you can find here (1-25) and here (26-50), others weren’t. Don’t be surprised, every year we see redshirt sophomores and juniors bloom just like we see players who were expected to perform crash and burn.
So, we’ll be taking a look at players who have made a big leap in their position, those who aren’t living up to expectations, and those small school prospects who you’ll be hearing about in the middle of January.
Movin’ on Up
Devin Lloyd – ILB – Utah – He made my Top 50 list, but just barely. The last player I listed is playing more like a First Rounder the first half of the season, racking up as many or more tackles, sacks, and INTs as he did all of last season. He’s been showing off his ability to cover as well as be a disruptor behind the line since the first game and even though the Utes are just 5-3, Lloyd is looking like a first-round pick.
Henry To’o To’o – ILB – Alabama – To’o To’o (Pronounced Toe Oh Toe Oh) didn’t make the list before the season because I felt the transition from Tennessee to Alabama would be such that he would end up thinking about the right play instead of making the right play.
To’o To’o is a smart player that refuses to be baited by strange alignments and plays downhill all the time. He’s not the biggest LB you’ll see but neither was Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoa and he’s showing that there is a place for light, mobile linebackers in the NFL
Tyler Linderbaum – C/IOL – Iowa – Linderbaum was already one of the better interior line prospects going into the season, but Iowa’s play has pushed Linderbaum into the spotlight. Generally being an interior lineman isn’t a recipe for being a first-round pick, regardless of how well you’re thought of only seven guards or centers have been First Round picks in the last five years and only one was a Top 10 pick (Quenten Nelson-2018-Colts #6). By comparison, there have been nineteen OTs taken in the same period (4 in the Top 10) so the money is clearly on the outside. Linderbaum (and NC State G Ikem Okwonu) should buck that trend.
Kenny Pickett - QB - Pittsburgh - it's not quite fair to say that Pickett "came out of nowhere" this year. What IS fair to say is that he's smashing his career-
high in TDs, has bumped his completion percentage significantly (69.2% up from 61.6%), will almost certainly set a career-high for yards passing, and is rocking an impressive 9/1 TD/INT ratio. He also has Pitt in line to play for the ACC Championship for just the second time since they joined in 2013. Pickett exemplifies why I like QBs who stick around in college. They work out the kinks in their game, refine their mechanics, and gain experience at a high level. He'll have a chance to be the first QB off the board.
Slip Sliding Away
Spencer Rattler – QB – Oklahoma – If it wasn’t for a pair of generational talents on the defensive side, Rattler would likely have been the consensus #1 Pick in 2022. As it stands now, he’s out of the first round. Beginning the season with a near miss to G5 Tulane was a surprise, but hey, teams get bit all the time and the Sooners still pulled it out and have stayed undefeated so far. Rattler, on the other hand, has been playing poorly, poorly enough to be benched during the Sooners win in the Red River Shootout and lose his job to true freshman Caleb Williams. My advice Spence? Transfer and try again next year.
Zach Harrison – DE – Ohio State – A lot was expected of Harrison coming into this season, one where he was supposed to take his place with Chase Young and the Bosa brothers as the next great OSU pass rusher. Yeah. That hasn’t panned out and aside from a strip-sack in the season opener at Minnesota (which, admittedly, cracked the game open), Harrison’s production has been almost non-existent. If he can at least match last season’s sack total he can salvage his draft stock, but for now, signs are pointing to him returning for another year to prove he can be who we thought he was.
Sam Howell – QB – North Carolina –
I’m not the only one who underestimated what losing 2/3 of his production and four of his top five receivers would do to Howell, but I do feel like the only one that thinks he can turn it around and still be in the running for a Top 5 slot in April. Yes, the Tar Heels have played poorly this year and yes, Howell has been mediocre in the losses with a 6/5 TD/INT ratio. He’s also been under fire to the tune of eighteen sacks in those losses and another twelve in the wins. The upside is that he’s developed some chemistry with sophomore Josh Downs who has five times as many receptions as anyone else on the team. The downside? The remaining schedule only has one “for sure” win on it (Wofford).
Too Cool for (a small) School
We see it every year, guys who come out of nowhere from FCS schools or lower (looking at you Quinn Meinerz – UW-Whitewater) and make us wonder how they escaped the gaze of a Power 5 program. I suppose with the number of high school seniors coming out every year, it’s near impossible to identify everyone who is three inches and a redshirt away from producing at the highest level, but still. . .
Trevor Penning – OT – Northern Iowa – We’ll start with Penning’s raw statistics, he stands at 6’7” and weighs in at 321 lbs. Eye-opening, right? Plug him in at any P5 program and he doesn't look out of place. Watch his tape here and see him bully FCS ends and linebackers, I think there’s even a clip where he mauls some poor safety.
He doesn’t just block players, he pushes them completely out of the frame, into the sideline, and, as far as I can tell, into the stands. He’s nasty, has good feet, and can anchor against a bull rush. I'm looking forward to seeing him at the Senior Bowl against P5 EDGE players.
Christian Watson – WR – North Dakota St. – Watching Watson is a little like Bo Jackson on the old Tecmo Bowl game: whatever he wants to do, he does, and there’s almost nothing you can do to stop him. Despite NFL-ready
size (6’4”, 220 lbs) and speed, he will have his doubters going into the Senior Bowl, but that’s par for FCS players. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him being talked about as a bottom of the first/ top of the second-round prospect coming out of that game. He’s versatile too, running the ball on jet sweeps and returning kickoffs in addition to playing receiver.
Markquese Bell – S – Florida A&M – It’s hard to put a bead on how good Bell is right now. Most of his highlights are just that, highlights. You don’t get a look at how he’s reacting to the offense pre-snap, where he's aligned, or anything else, just him shooting out of nowhere to mash a receiver. With that said, Bell is a hard-hitting safety with the ability to cover and get the odd INT. A sure tackler, he looks like he needs to get his head up a little to avoid targeting calls, but until I see him in the Senior Bowl workouts it will be hard to gauge where he falls.
We’ll have another update for you after Championship week and I’m sure there will be a ton of changes then too. Enjoy the remainder of the College Football season and we’ll see you then.