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NFL Draft

5 Bold 2022 NFL Draft Predictions

  • The Draft Network
  • July 29, 2021
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More First-Round RBs Than QBs

Okay, so we already know how this works. Quarterbacks get wildly overdrafted for their talent level as they play a premium position and running backs get underdrafted as they’re expected to deliver exclusively on their rookie contract and nothing else. 

But we’re only a few years removed from four running backs going in the top 35—that was 2018, with Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb. Three running backs hit the top 35 just this past season. So if we get a lighter quarterback class and a stronger running back class—both of which I believe will happen—this is possible.

Among the backs, I think Eric Gray, Breece Hall, Isaiah Spiller, and Kyren Williams all have a chance to play themselves into the first-round conversation. At quarterback, I see such potential players in Spencer Rattler, Sam Howell, Malik Willis, Carson Strong, and Matt Corral. That makes it 4-5, favoring quarterbacks, but guys like Willis, Strong, and Corral have so much work to be done to play into that range, whereas guys like Hall and Spiller are pro-ready in their current play.

It’d be tough to imagine in the modern NFL meta, but I think there are more running backs destined for first-round grades than quarterbacks. Positional value may still slide the scale toward the quarterback class, but I think it’s possible we see only two passers up against three backs come April.

Carson Strong > Malik Willis

Speaking of quarterback takes, I’ve got some water to throw on a fire that I helped create. I love Willis, and he’s clearly got NFL talent as both a passer and a runner—especially as a runner, where his running back-like build and knack for modulating speeds really screw with college defenders. 

Willis’ hype has really taken off during the summer, with features in The Athletic and first-round appearances in ESPN mock drafts. It’s great news, and appropriate for his ceiling. But there is so much work to be done on Willis as a thrower. He doesn’t know yet how to modulate his throws, trying to solve all problems with velocity, and he doesn’t deliver with consistent mechanics, which throws his accuracy all over the place. Those are some legit problems, and they stand out stark relative to a player like Nevada’s Strong.

The lesser-hyped of the developmental projects, Strong doesn’t nearly have Willis’ athletic ability, but boy can he throw the football. Strong has every throw in his quiver, showing delightful touch on downfield patterns, the velocity to deliver intermediate hole shots, and consistent accuracy to all three levels. If they both came out right now, Strong should and would be the higher drafted player given his current profile as a passer; barring major strides from Willis in just one offseason, Strong will likely always have that advantage on him.

Kayvon Thibodeaux Isn’t First Defensive Lineman Drafted

Listen. He probably is. But this is an article for hot takes. So it’s important to say now, emphatically, that while Thibodeaux is wild good… the rest of this EDGE class is as well.

There’s Drake Jackson, the 4-star from USC who cut weight to win as a standup outside rusher for the Trojans and flashed tremendously last season.

There’s George Karlaftis, the hulking base end for the Purdue Boilermakers who had 7.5 sacks as a freshman before missing most of his sophomore season on the COVID-19 list.

And there’s DeMarvin Leal, the supersized defensive end for the Aggies who may play interior rusher in the league.

Throw in Zach Harrison (the next Ohio State product) and Zion Tupuola-Fetui (a favorite of mine from Washington), and the easy story is that this is a loaded pass-rush class. Thibodeaux has been crowned the king of them all—rightfully so, in the preseason process. He’s a wicked athlete, has produced as an underclassman, and has the recruiting background NFL teams will like. But there’s a lot of football left to be played, and at under 250 pounds, Thibodeaux isn’t an ideal fit for every team. If you think that doesn’t matter, remember that Rashan Gary went above Brian Burns just a few seasons ago. Thibodeaux as EDGE1 is certainly the leading bet, but it’s far from set in stone, as many would have it at this stage.

2022 Defensive Class Takes Over Top 10

We talked about how good the defensive line class is. The corner class looks like it’s gonna punch at the same weight: Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU), Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Kaiir Elam (Florida), Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (Cincinnati), and Trent McDuffie (Washington) all look like potential first-round players. Throw in a stud safety (Kyle Hamilton from Notre Dame) and linebacker (Christian Harris from Alabama), and this defensive class is loaded at the top.

That is markedly different from last year’s class, where the first defensive player only came off the board at No. 8 overall (Jaycee Horn), and only two defensive players were selected (Horn and Patrick Surtain II) in the top 10. That class had star talent at wide receiver, tight end, and offensive tackle—this year’s class seems to only have that at tackle, though it’s obviously early to say.

But we’re here for early hot takes. So here it comes. Just as there were eight total offensive players selected in the top 10 last year, there will be eight total defensive players selected in the top 10 this year. That total hasn’t been hit this century—2008 and 2019 both had seven total defensive prospects. Give the top 10 Spencer Rattler and one of the top tackles, and pepper the rest with these studly defenders.

Spencer Rattler Will Get Patrick Mahomes Comps

This isn’t really a hot take. Zach Wilson got Mahomes comps, for goodness’ sake—the bar for those comparisons is unfortunately low.

But if we want to make this a hot take… Rattler’s gonna kinda deserve those comps.

Rattler doesn’t have the size, field vision, or instinct that Mahomes does—and things like field vision and instinct are what make Mahomes, Mahomes. But when it comes to pure arm talent, players like Wilson have merely good arms. Rattler truly has a special one. The ball flies off his hand with seemingly no effort, screams through the air as if he’s forever playing at Mile High. It isn’t the same as the Josh Allen arm because it’s not a total Howitzer; it’s just the ease and speed of the release, the unteachable touch, and accuracy of the throw. There’s magic in how Rattler throws the ball, and it’s reminiscent of Mahomes.

Rattler isn’t a perfect prospect; Mahomes wasn’t either. Rattler won’t become the next Mahomes; nobody will. But when Rattler ascends to the clear top spot in this draft class overall—something I expect will happen—it will be because the throws he is capable of entice NFL personnel execs to compare him to the savant that plays in Kansas City. And for the first time since Mahomes dawned on the NFL, that comparison may be just a little bit justified.

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