As the end of the regular season approaches, college football players hoping to be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft are putting their final performances on tape. In essence, they are dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the most important section of their football résumé.
The 25 players spotlighted below are the top prospects for the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl. These stars, plus 25 more prospects with the talent to enter this elite list (SEE: the bottom of this article), have played well enough throughout their careers to be picked in the first two days of next April's proceedings.
The 2022 draft is still more than five months away (April 28-30 in Las Vegas), so the evaluations of these players will change based on their play as the season unfolds, their results in athletic testing and, if they are fortunate enough to receive an invite, their performance at Senior Bowl week practices and the game itself (Feb. 5 on NFL Network). Invitations have already been extended and accepted by some of the prospects listed here.
One player from my initial list, Alabama edge rusher Christopher Allen, is not included here because he broke his foot while strip-sacking Miami Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King in the season opener and is unlikely to play again this year.
NOTE: Prospects are listed in ascending order. Heights and weights are via school measurements.
25) Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming (6-foot-3, 242 pounds)
Muma has the speed to cover all parts of the field for the Cowboys. In losses to San Jose State (Oct. 30) and Boise State (Nov. 12), he matched up against running backs in the flat and on wheel routes. He also showed his ability to track down runs from sideline to sideline. He fought through double-teams as an A-gap blitzer, forcing bad throws by passers not wanting to feel his wrath. Muma didn't cover star Colorado State tight end Trey McBride (No. 18 on this list) in their matchup a few weeks ago, but adjusted nicely to a tipped pass in that game for his third interception of the year.
24) Josh Paschal, Edge, Kentucky (6-3, 278)
Paschal plays up and down the line for the Wildcats, occasionally dropping into coverage. He faced Mississippi State left tackle Charles Cross and Tennessee right tackle Cade Mays over the past few weeks, but always worked forward to attack the backfield with his thick overall build and heavy hands. Paschal leads Kentucky with 13 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks -- two of which came against Vanderbilt last week when he shed blocks and exploded into the backfield. He's a scheme-diverse defender who does the dirty work of taking on double-teams; he'll be even more dangerous when he's part of a rotation at the next level.
23) Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama (6-1, 194)
Previous rank: No. 24
Jobe aggravated a turf toe injury in practice before the LSU contest (Nov. 6), so he stayed on the sideline until an injury forced him into action. He broke up a pass early and made a nice open-field tackle on a quick screen, but also missed a stop and failed to keep containment on a jet sweep. Jobe started against New Mexico State last week, fighting his man to knock away a 50/50 pass, tackling his man on a shallow crosser and stopping a quarterback scramble in limited action during the 59-3 rout.
22) Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama (6-4, 312)
Previous rank: No. 21
Mathis made an impact in the team's 20-14 win over rival LSU on Nov. 6, battling the Tigers' three senior interior linemen. He pressured quarterback Max Johnson throughout the game, beating right guard Chasen Hines (who got the better of Mathis at times) to force an incompletion. Mathis shed his man when two-gapping and regularly hustled to plays outside the hashes -- even recovering a fumble after several players in the area failed to grasp it. His services were not required by the Tide after the team stormed ahead early against New Mexico State.
21) Arnold Ebiketie, Edge, Penn State (6-3, 256)
Though the Nittany Lions came up short against Michigan last weekend, Ebiketie's pass-rushing skills were on display. Standing up on either side of the line, the former Temple Owl got upfield quickly and turned the corner. His explosive first step and quick hands helped him beat the left tackle and strip quarterback Cade McNamara late in the game. Ebiketie isn't afraid to attack inside gaps, either, and gets under the pads of tackles with a long-arm rush. He's willing to play the run and lines up with his hand on the ground at times, but his lack of bulk makes him a better rush 'backer prospect.
20) Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor (6-0, 197)
The dish on Pitre (pronounced pea-tree) is that he's a playmaker as a blitzer, run defender and in coverage. Consecutive plays in the third quarter of the Bears' victory over Texas three weeks ago sum up his game: First, he pushed two blockers into the backfield, which allowed his teammates to tackle star back Bijon Robinson for a loss. Next, he reached in front of an open receiver to knock down a pass and prevent a first down. Baylor lost at TCU the following week, but Pitre made his presence felt with three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three pass breakups. He mostly played in coverage in the home win over Oklahoma last week but twice brought down running back Kennedy Brooks for losses on plays where he could attack the line of scrimmage.
19) Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota (6-9, 380)
Previous rank: No. 13
The Gophers dominated Northwestern in the trenches three weeks ago, running for 308 yards in the 41-14 win. Faalele drove his man backwards on many plays, engaging up top and moving his feet. He did the same in losses to Illinois and Iowa over the past two weeks, using his massive frame to protect his quarterback from edge rushers with smooth kick-slides and single-arm blocks. He was push-pulled to the ground a couple of times against Illinois, though, when overextended in pass pro and finished one goal-line play on his back in that game, mainly because his height makes it difficult for him to stay low in short-yardage situations.
18) Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State (6-4, 260)
Previous rank: No. 23
McBride caught 23 passes for 282 yards in losses to Boise State, Wyoming and Air Force over the past three weeks, but hasn't found the end zone since Week 2 because of a lack of red-zone targets. He nearly scored on a 30-yard reception against the Cowboys, but stumbled after separating from his defender and snatching the high throw. Rams coaches do find ways to get McBride the ball away from the goal line, whether it is his staple 7-yard out, slants and seam routes as an outside receiver, or center screens and shovel passes. He exhibited his athleticism against Boise State by jumping over a would-be tackler and has been a solid run blocker throughout the season.
17) Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia (6-4, 325)
Previous rank: No. 18
Salyer excelled against talented edge players Zachary Carter and Brenton Cox Jr. in the Bulldogs' 34-7 win over Florida three weeks ago. Carter's bull rush attempts got nowhere, and even when Cox spun out of initial contact, Salyer pushed him around the edge so his quarterback was safe. He collapsed the edge on Zamir White's long touchdown run, walled off back-side pursuit, won his man-up battle on the line and was effective on a receiver screen and counter run against the Gators. Salyer missed the Missouri and Tennessee contests with a foot injury over the past couple weeks, but he is expected to return soon.
16) Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (6-4, 215)
Previous rank: No. 20
Ridder has grown as a passer this year, attacking the middle of the field from the pocket in wins over Tulane (Oct. 30), Tulsa (Nov. 6), and yet he stayed patient to work underneath USF's soft coverage last week. He continues to put deep touch throws in areas where his receivers can make plays, and moves the chains on the run with his long strides. Ridder's accuracy is uneven when chased off his spot, though, and his need to add strength is also evident when trying to get tough rushing yards. He's thrown an interception in each of the last four games, took a safety against Tulane and fumbled a snap near his own goal line against Tulsa, forcing his defense to stand strong to seal the win.
15) Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State (6-1, 200)
Previous rank: No. 14
Brisker was a physical force in the Nittany Lions' win over Maryland on Nov. 6, stopping explosive plays with secure open-field tackling and attacking the sidelines from the middle of the field. In losses to Ohio State (Oct. 30) and Michigan (Nov. 13), however, Brisker could not make himself a significant factor. He hustled across the field to prevent a long touchdown run by Buckeyes freshman back TreVeyon Henderson, though, and attacked a couple of runs at or behind the line of scrimmage against the Wolverines. He struggled to bring down bruising Michigan runner Hassan Haskins in the open field, a difficult task for any single defender.
14) Kingsley Enagbare, Edge, South Carolina (6-4, 265)
Previous rank: No. 7
South Carolina handled Florida two weeks ago, with the firings of Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach Todd Hevesy following the 40-17 decision. Enagbare bulled tackles in the run game and spun off blocks as a rusher in the rout. He flushed quarterback Emory Jones on one play that eventually led to a fumble and a Gamecocks scoop-and-score. Missouri handled Enagbare, for the most part, the following week, limiting his impact. He was limping by the end of game and was fortunate to not to draw a flag for a late hit on the quarterback that would have cost his team a late turnover.
13) Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington (6-7, 310)
Previous rank: No. 12
After missing a couple games due to injury, Kirkland returned against Oregon and its star edge rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux, on Nov. 6. Washington used two-tight end sets, and "KT" regularly lined up away from Kirkland to maximize his effectiveness. Kirkland stood up to Thibodeaux well in their limited skirmishes, however, stoning the end's bull rushes but losing ground on one run and getting shed once on a quarterback scramble. For the most part, the Huskies' left tackle moved people in the run game and stopped pass-rusher advances against both Oregon and Arizona State (Nov. 13).
12) Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa (6-7, 321)
Previous rank: No. 11
Penning dominated FCS foes in recent weeks, effectively pass protecting (with one hand or two), finishing blocks regularly, per his usual modus operandi, and moving to linebackers and safeties in the run game. Against Illinois State on Nov. 6, he had two pancake blocks on one second-quarter possession, with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties negating both plays (the second flag was on Penning, who continued to block his man after the whistle). Penning missed a couple of twists and gave ground a couple of times when pass blocking, but he's tough to beat when playing under control. UNI coaches shifted Penning to the right side for some unbalanced line looks last week against Missouri State.
11) Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky (6-5, 345)
Previous rank: No. 8
Kentucky lost to Mississippi State (Oct. 30) and Tennessee (Nov. 6), but Kinnard was solid in both matchups, bouncing back from an injury suffered against LSU on Oct. 9. He controlled his man in the run game, especially in the first half against the Volunteers. Kinnard also combo-blocked to linebackers regularly in that contest, as well as in a dominant performance last week against Vanderbilt. Commodore rushers were stonewalled on pass plays, and he put his target on the ground multiple times while pulling on counters, blocking downfield and on zone runs. He had two false start penalties against Tennessee, though, and left that game in the fourth quarter after being poked in the eye on a pass play.
10) Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (6-3, 235)
Previous rank: No. 16
Lloyd was suspended for the first half against UCLA on Oct. 30 because of a controversial targeting call against Oregon State a week earlier. He came back to rack up a team-high nine tackles (with five for loss) in the 52-7 rout of Stanford on Nov. 5. He shed blocks, exploded through open gaps and attacked throws to the flat. Lloyd intercepted a pass near the Cardinal's end zone, jumping up to grab the ball before plowing in for a score. He made some big plays last week against Arizona, as well, including an open-field tackle for loss in the red zone. He also provided tight coverage in the end zone, which proved critical in the 38-29 win.
9) Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 188)
Previous rank: No. 3
Olave and quarterback C.J. Stroud connected three times against Penn State on Oct. 30, once for a 38-yard touchdown. With Buckeyes receiver Garrett Wilson out against Nebraska two weeks ago, Olave scored once among his seven catches, shuffling to keep both feet in-bounds after a nice fade-to-comeback route for a TD. Wilson returned for the Purdue contest last week, but Olave still had nine receptions, including a five-yard score in the 59-31 victory (he had a longer touchdown negated due to a penalty). Olave dropped one pass against the Huskers and missed on two catchable passes thrown behind him against Purdue. He extended to grab throws at times, though, and got physical with cornerbacks, showcasing a nice stiff-arm in the open field.
8) Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College (6-3, 316)
Previous rank: No. 15
Johnson played left tackle (where he started in 2020) late in the win at Syracuse on Oct. 30 and against Virginia Tech on Nov. 5 due to an injury to Tyler Vrabel. Johnson was solid in pass protection, only occasionally missing his punch and getting off-balance. He was dominant in his return to left guard against Georgia Tech last week, regularly turning his man out of the hole and hitting second-level targets to create space for running backs and quarterback Phil Jurkovec to gain 195 yards on the ground and score three times.
7) Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State (5-11, 184)
Previous rank: No. 17
Dotson moved the chains effectively in losses to Ohio State (Oct. 30) and Michigan (Nov. 13), picking up first downs with his excellent short-area quickness. He had the biggest day of his career the week between those contests, catching 11 throws for 242 yards and three scores against Maryland. He shook defensive backs with quick moves down the seam for two touchdowns and took advantage of schemed rub routes against man coverage for long gains. Running through contact and fighting for contested catches are issues for Dotson, but his strong hands, body control and agility make him the best receiver in the class with the ball in space.
6) Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn (6-0, 190)
Previous rank: No. 9
McCreary broke up four passes in the last three games, in addition to recovering a fumble against Texas A&M on Nov. 6 after hustling across the field to stop a long run. Scouts saw his ability to stay with most any route, as he broke up passes on dig, slant and short sideline routes, as well as a deep throw where he was perfectly in phase and found the ball. McCreary's average size hurt him against Mississippi State, being pushed at the top of one route and missing an open-field tackle to give up big plays. But his stickiness outside also forced Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers to find an alternative target on multiple occasions.
5) Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (6-6, 340)
Previous rank: No. 5
Davis once again generated movement at the line of scrimmage in wins over Florida, Missouri and Tennessee, pushing back his man with his strong upper body and taking on double-teams to free up his teammates. He shed blocks to stop a running back coming into his area against the Gators and Tigers, and made two stops away from the line against the Volunteers. Davis is limited as a pass rusher, but nearly caused a safety against the Gators by dominating the center in the end zone, and he forced a poor throw late in the Tennessee game by stalking QB Hendon Hooker in the pocket.
4) Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State (6-5, 262)
Previous rank: No. 10
Johnson was a bright spot in the Seminoles' 30-20 loss to Clemson on Oct. 30, beating the Tigers' right tackle with a push-pull move, stripping the ball from quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and getting the scoop-and-score. He bettered North Carolina State left tackle Ikem Ekwonu on most plays (barring one rush where the big man put him down) and stood his ground against the run in a 28-14 loss on Nov. 6. Johnson exploded for three sacks last week in the Seminoles' win over rival Miami, in addition to two tackles for loss on plays where he was not blocked. He literally spun the right tackle in a circle on one sack, stripping the ball to create a turnover.
3) Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (6-1, 225)
Previous rank: No. 2
Willis played in Weeks 9 and 10 despite suffering a foot injury in Week 8. That stretch included a prime matchup with Ole Miss junior quarterback Matt Corral on Nov. 6. Willis showed the plethora of NFL scouts in Oxford a strong arm that can stretch the field, the ability to pick up yards running between the tackles and in the open field, as well as a propensity for taking sacks and turning the ball over when trying to make big plays. Willis took nine sacks and threw three interceptions against the Rebels, although one was wrestled away from his receiver. His competitive nature was on display in front of those scouts, too, as he led a second-half comeback attempt. The Flames came up short, though.
2) Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (6-3, 220)
Previous rank: No. 6
Pickett is in full command of Pitt's offense. He checked off another box for scouts over the past three weeks by twice throwing touchdowns while moving to his left. Pickett's two interceptions in the Oct. 30 loss to Miami were costly, however, and he fumbled in the first quarter in a victory over Duke on Nov. 6 before making some poor decisions in the second half of the game. Once the heavy rains came against North Carolina last week, Pickett took off the glove on his left hand and switched to a different glove on his right (throwing) hand in overtime before throwing a dart for the winning score. That should help allay any potential fears about how he would fare in inclement weather.
1) Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan (6-6, 265)
Previous rank: No. 1
Hutchinson racked up several quarterback pressures and drew multiple holding calls while facing double-teams on a regular basis against Michigan State (Oct. 30) and Indiana (Nov. 7). He finally broke through with three sacks last week in the win at Penn State. He also beat Nittany Lions tackles on several other plays with a superior combination of power and quickness. Hutchinson was strong on run containment during these contests, only getting caught inside on one of Michigan State Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III's long touchdowns. NFL defensive coordinators will appreciate his mental acuity; he kills bootlegs to his side and snuffed out Indiana's attempt for a throwback pass to the quarterback.
Twenty-five more to watch
Listed in alphabetical order:
- Amaré Barno, Edge, Virginia Tech (6-foot-6, 245 pounds)
- Markquese Bell, S, Florida A&M (6-3, 205)
- Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor (6-1, 222)
- Logan Bruss, OL, Wisconsin (6-5, 316)
- Zachary Carter, Edge, Florida (6-4, 285)
- Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State (6-0, 194)
- DJ Coleman, Edge, Jacksonville State (6-6, 245)
- James Cook, RB, Georgia (5-11, 190)
- Luke Fortner, C, Kentucky (6-6, 300)
- Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State (6-2, 300)
- Logan Hall, DL, Houston (6-6, 275)
- Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan (6-1, 220)
- Brad Hawkins, S, Michigan (6-1, 221)
- Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Iowa State (6-3, 210)
- Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut (6-5, 333)
- Velus Jones Jr., WR, Tennessee (6-0, 200)
- Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State (6-6, 260)
- Quentin Lake, S, UCLA (6-1, 205)
- Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati (6-3, 213)
- Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan (6-7, 305)
- Myjai Sanders, Edge, Cincinnati (6-5, 255)
- Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia (6-2, 230)
- Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama (6-3, 190)
- Eyioma Uwazurike, DT, Iowa State (6-6, 320)
- Tariq Woolen, CB, Texas-San Antonio (6-4, 205)