2022 NFL Draft: What returning college players are the best pro prospects going into the 2021 season?
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2022 NFL Draft Top Pro Prospects: Pre-2021 NFL Draft
How crazy is it to try figuring out the best pro prospects a year or two in advance? If you’re an NFL general manager, you’ve got to know what’s coming down the road to judge the value of the upcoming draft.
And then Joe Burrow happens. Or Mac Jones.
We almost didn’t have a 2020 college football season. Just imagine, Zach Wilson probably wouldn’t be a first rounder much less the No. 2 overall pick, Jones would be just another promising quarterback, and DeVonta Smith wouldn’t have the same juice without that season.
However, opting out didn’t make too much of a difference for the best of the best prospects. Any GM worth his salt already knew what Penei Sewell and Micah Parsons could do.
The idea here is to create a starting point and a set of expectations. In last year’s version of the Top 32 Pro Prospects piece, for every Trevor Lawrence on the list there was a KJ Costello. For every Justin Fields and Trey Lance, there was a Walker Little and a Chuba Hubbard who slid in the process.
With the understanding that this can and will change over the next few months much less the next year – and understanding that at least 32 others could’ve made this list – 32 of the top pro prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft are …
32 LB Ventrell Miller, Florida
The Gators’ leading tackler came up with 86 stops with 3.5 sacks in his 11 games of work, and now he’s going to be on the radar as a dangerous outside linebacker with the speed to get sideline-to-sideline and be used even more as a pass rusher. He’ll work inside, but with his 6-1, 225-pound size, he’ll have to be used on the outside at the next level.
31 WR John Metchie, Alabama (Jr.)
No one’s expecting DeVonta, or Jaylen, or Ruggs, or Jeudy, but Metchie is the next dangerous Tide receiver. The 6-0, 195-pounder finished second on the team with 55 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns as he stepped up in a big way when Jaylen Waddle went down.
30 DE/EDGE Merlin Robertson, Arizona State
A true hybrid for the outside, he’s a linebacker who can do anything you need, but he’ll be at his best when allowed to take off and get in the backfield. He made 151 tackles with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons, and came up with 20 stops in three games last year.
29 QB Tyler Shough, Texas Tech (Jr.)
Please by kind here for potentially underestimating him. With his size, arm, and mobility, he’s one great season away from possibly being No. 1 on this list.
The 6-5, 220-pounder was a huge recruit for Oregon as the next great Duck QB after Justin Herbert moved on. He got his shot last year, but was just okay hitting 64% of his throws with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions with 271 rushing yards and two scores in seven games. He led the team to the Pac-12 title, though.
Now he gets to operate the Matt Wells offense at Texas Tech.
28 QB JT Daniels, Georgia (Jr.)
There was some concern early on last season that his knee wasn’t quite ready after injuring it at USC, but the transfer took over late in the 2020 season and Georgia became a different team. The former super-recruit got to USC after his junior year, and while he was fine, he played like he needed the seasoning.
The arm talent is great, the deep ball ability is there, and after throwing for 1,231 yards and ten touchdowns with two picks in his limited time with the Dawgs, he could move up the draft charts in a hurry.
27 OT Rasheed Walker, Penn State (Soph.)
Already a great veteran with All-Big Ten honors and 22 starts in his first two years, he’s just getting going. Just a third-year sophomore, he’s a 6-6, 312-pound left tackle who can move, can pound, and is still growing into the job. He’s still a project, but if he takes that next step up in his third year as a starter – if he’s a steady force as a pass protector – the NFL will be ready for him as a starting left tackle.
26 DE George Karlaftis, Purdue (Jr.)
He’s coming off a rough year after getting hit with COVID and suffering a leg injury, but when he’s right, he’s an NFL pass rusher who’s always working to get behind the line. He has to get back his groove, but at 6-4 and 275 pounds, he’s got the size, and he’s got the talent – he made 7.5 sacks with 17 tackles for loss as a freshman.