The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday, April 28th in Las Vegas. Talent evaluators see this class quite differently, so Big Boards are all over the place heading into the event. My research on 340 NFL Draft prospects has come to an end. Below, I give an in-depth look at every player that earned a Day One grade from me, along with the guys on the fringe of hearing their names called in the opening round. Keep in mind, the round grade is where *i* would feel comfortable selecting each prospect. This is not an exact science, but with the amount of hours spent leading up to it, I am confident in my stance on each prospect. Without further ado, allow me to present the final edition of my 2022 NFL Draft Big Board.
Round 1 Grades (23)
1. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
The former NC State mauler made a name off of mercilessly pancaking his opponents from start to finish. Ekwonu is a superb athlete for his size, profiling as the type of left tackle that you can send out in space and move around as a pull blocker. The most important position in the NFL is quarterback, but the next one after that is arguably the blind side on the offensive line. Ickey is one of the very few blue-chip prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. I would take him over any other player in the 2022 NFL Draft.
2. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Evan Neal is the next in a long line of Alabama offensive tackles going early on Day One of the NFL Draft. Neal is an impressive physical specimen. He stands a tick taller than 6’7, weighs in at 337 pounds and moves like a player half his size. He flexed his athleticism by doing a 48 INCH box jump last offseason. Neal can play either tackle spot and is as polished as they come. Take him early and start him with confidence for the next decade.
3. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Sauce Gardner claims the throne as my favorite player out of the 340 I evaluated. Sauce is the most confident in the class, but he displays it in such a way that it never comes off as arrogance because you believe everything he’s saying. The reason it’s so authentic, is because his play on the field backs it up. He never allowed a single touchdown in college and will bring a shutdown corner mentality to the league. They don’t make ‘em like Sauce.
4. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Kayvon Thibodeaux was the top player all through high school, leading to the #1 spot on recruiting sites everywhere. Thibs chose to further his career in Eugene, Oregon. As a Duck, he terrorized opposing quarterbacks with his array of pass rushing moves and athleticism that a guy of his size shouldn’t possess. He is getting knocked for being a “selfish” person, but those claims are unfounded and border on slander. There’s not a pass rusher better than Thibodeaux in this class.
5. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Much like Thibodeaux, Derek Stingley has dealt with loads of criticism during the draft process. This at least had some footing (no pun intended). After bursting onto the scene in 2019 and helping propel the LSU Tigers to an NCAA Championship, Stingley dealt with injuries on-and-off the rest of his collegiate career. At his pro-day, he finally put most of the questions to bed. Stingley ran an easy 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, showing he is fully recovered from his Lisfranc injury and clearing the way for a fruitful stint at the next level.
6. Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton is the last of a trio of prospects that was once thought to be a lock in the top-three. Call it “prospect fatigue”, call it “rechecking the tape”, call it whatever you want but it is widely believed that Hamilton will suffer a draft day tumble down the board. Sure, he didn’t blow anyone away while working out at his pro-day, but sometimes you just have to trust the tape. Is he the best safety prospect in decades? No. Is he far and away the best in this class? Yes. Don’t overthink this one.
7. Travon Walker, DL, Georgia
Travon Walker, and the next guy on the list, are the favorites to go top-two in the 2022 NFL Draft. I wouldn’t hate it. For Walker specifically, he is raw. He did not serve as a primary part of the game plan, instead the Georgia staff smartly allowed Walker to take advantage of the fact he was on a team with a bunch of pros. It resulted in respectable numbers, but once the NFL Combine came around, it changed everything. Walker tested as good as anyone at the position has in history, causing scouts to be mesmerized by the possibilities. He’s not a top-two guy for me, but top-ten, yes.
8. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Nearly every Big Board you look at will have the Michigan pass rusher locked into their No.1 overall slot. I want to make this clear, I still love Hutchinson as a prospect. A top-eight grade does not come lightly. He is extremely refined as a pass rusher and as a run defender. He will be a favorite to win Rookie of the Year because of how well rounded his game is. It will allow him to make a difference immediately. The concern for me is where his ceiling sits. It is high enough to justify taking him in the first half of the draft, but not high enough for me to be willing to use a top-five pick.
9. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
An ACL injury in the first half of the National Title Game versus Georgia brought Jameson Williams’ breakout season to a screeching halt. Fortunately for Jameson, he was able to put a full season of unreal play on tape prior to the untimely injury. After transferring to Alabama following a brief tenure at Ohio State, Williams became the focal point of the best offense in the country. Showing a proficient route tree and speed that is matched by no one at the position in this draft, Williams is WR1.
10. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Charles Cross can get lost in the shuffle when the top offensive tackles are being discussed. It’s through no fault of his own, because Ekwonu and Neal are both worthy of the praise they receive. Cross deserves his share of it as well, though. He kept his quarterback clean, week in & week out, in a Mike Leach offense. That’s big time considering how frequently Leach likes to air the ball out. Cross held up well against SEC competition and I see him as a stalwart at left tackle for whichever team is lucky enough to get his services.
11. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Garrett Wilson is not perfect. He could be a bit bigger or a bit quicker, but the way he runs routes covers up any deficiencies. Wilson was a key contributor during his time in Columbus, capping off a successful career with his only 1000 yard season in 2021. You turn on any game with Garrett Wilson in it, and you’ll see him getting open effortlessly. He gets compared to Stefon Diggs by some, and while I’m not ready to go quite that far, Wilson should be one of the better route runners in the league from the moment he’s drafted.
12. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Most of what I said about Garrett Wilson, applies to his former Buckeye teammate — Chris Olave. Olave is a tad better as a route runner, due to a flawless release package and no wasted movement. The reason for having Wilson slightly ahead is because he is more creative with the ball in his hands. Olave can shake defenders, but he is not the after the catch threat that Wilson is. Nonetheless, both are going to be cashing NFL checks for awhile. Olave reminds me of a sleeker Keenan Allen.
13. Zion Johnson, OL, Boston College
Number 13 might feel rich for an interior offensive lineman but allow me to explain myself. Zion Johnson is a former ZERO-star recruit. After helping lead the best rushing attack at the FCS-level, Johnson transferred from Davidson to Boston College and did the same versus FBS talent. Furthermore, Zion showed up to the Senior Bowl and won scouts over with his competitiveness and willingness to learn. He’s the most coachable guy in the draft, and is still ascending as a prospect.
14. Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
Another player that I have much higher than the consensus is Arnold Ebiketie. Ebiketie is twitchy and bends well around the edge. He is explosive and has play strength that should allow him to move offensive linemen around at will. He needs to mix in a few more moves, but with his athletic package and a motor that never ever quits, Ebiketie will be a favorite of any fan base lucky enough to get the Penn State pass rusher.
15. Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
Jermaine Johnson has followed a similar path as the last two prospects featured, but with a little more moving around. He started his career at a tiny junior college, found his way to Last Chance U fame, parlayed it into a commitment to Georgia before finally landing with Florida State. Sheesh. As a Seminole, Johnson found a home. He utilizes his specialty, the bull rush, to a high degree of success. He’s a three-down player that does well taking on ball carriers. If he can add in some more secondary moves, the sky is the limit.
16. Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Treylon Burks underwhelmed at the NFL Combine, but this was only due to the unreasonable set of expectations around him. It’s true, the tape says he plays much faster than his 4.5 speed, but a human the size of Burks running a 4.5 is incredible. He is arguably the best in the class with the ball in his hands and can be used in a variety of ways. My personal favorite wide receiver to watch in this class. Get your popcorn ready if he comes to your team.
17. Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
My top rated quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft is Cincinnati Bearcat, Desmond Ridder. Ridder started 50 games in college, winning 45 of those. He has experience that few have ever had coming into the league. Ridder is a great athlete and can make every throw necessary to be a long time starter in the NFL. He must improve his accuracy early in games, but the tools he has are so enticing if he can land in a place that allows him to develop properly.
18. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Malik Willis is an even better athlete, clocking a 4.3 40-yard dash during his time at Auburn. He also has a bazooka attached to his right shoulder that can flick the football 60 yards. Because he didn’t get much on field action at Auburn, most of his tape is against defenses that look nothing like what he will see on Sundays. Willis is a work in progress, but the speed and arm combination is worth taking a chance on in the first round of the draft.
19. Daxton Hill, DB, Michigan
One of the most unanimously loved prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft is Michigan defensive back, Daxton Hill. Last season, Hill was asked to play in the slot for the majority of it. This clearly worked out well for the team, resulting in one of the most fearsome defensive units in the country. However, it made things difficult for evaluators to assess his ability elsewhere. It takes some projecting, but I see Daxton as a prospect that can play anywhere in the secondary. Giving him the rare blend of a stable floor paired with an extremely high ceiling. I’ll take that on Day One.
20. Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan
I LOVE Skyy Moore. He was targeted 125 times in the 2021 season, hauling in 95 of those passes while only dropping four. Moore has the biggest hands at the position, so it tracks. He is not a blazer, but the 4.41 40-yard dash proves he’s by no means slow. Moore doesn’t have as many spectacular plays as other pass catchers in the class, but the steadiness he brings is invaluable. I don’t like saying “sure thing” but Moore is as close as it gets.
21. Drake London, WR, USC
Drake London likely would have rivaled the numbers that Devonta Smith put up in his Heisman winning campaign. London tallied 88 catches, 1084 yards, and seven touchdowns in only eight games. He stands right around 6’4, weighs in at 219 pounds and has a suitable wingspan of 33 inches. London played primarily out of the slot, and will likely need to do the same in the NFL to ensure he can consistently get separation. As a late first round grade, he needs to land somewhere with a savvy play caller to maximize his potential.
22. Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA
I’ll be the first to say it, this one is bold. I found Tariq Woolen way back in January while working on a Senior Bowl piece. I’ve been enamored with his athletic profile ever since. Woolen showed that he belonged during the Senior Bowl, constantly improving after a rough start to the week. The NFL Combine was more of the same as he ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at 6’4, 205 pounds, while also jumping an astonishing 42” in the vertical. Woolen must clean up and refine his technique, but with these traits, he can be molded into a superstar. The confidence he brings to the position is something that defensive coordinators will fall head-over-heels for.
23. George Karlaftis, DL, Purdue
My sixth and final edge rusher that gets a first round grade is George Karlaftis. He spent the bulk of his childhood in Greece, even earning a spot on the National Team for Water Polo. Following a personal tragedy, he and his family moved to the US. Here, Karlaftis found his true calling on the gridiron. He excelled every step of the way, attending high school and college in the same town of West Lafayette. Karlaftis has a lot to learn, but a drive to succeed and a physical package that doesn’t come around often.
Round 1-2 Grades (9)
24. Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Jordan Davis may not become an every down player in the NFL but, at a minimum, he is going to be a force in the middle on early downs. Davis has the athleticism to be among the best at the position, as long as he remains as conditioned as he was at the Combine. NFL coaches will keep him accountable. I’d take my chances late in the first that he can find some pass rush upside to mix in with his run stuffing ability.
25. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
It is not often that I mention “first round” and “running back” in the same breathe. I’m not one of those peoples that believes elite running back play doesn’t matter, but starting talent can be found yearly in middle rounds. That being said, Breece Hall is an exception. He is not quite a Jonathon Taylor-type of prospect entering the draft, but he’s not far behind in terms of ability. Breece has elite vision, patience, and contact balance. Additionally, Hall can catch passes and block. A three-down bellcow is worth a later first for a contender.
26. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Trent McDuffie is the most cerebral cornerback in this class. He always knows what’s going on, has textbook form at all levels, and plays with an edge you love to see at the position. He has short arms, causing concern towards his long term viability on the outside, but with slot defenders becoming so crucial to defenses, why wouldn’t you take the best one late on Day One or early on Day Two?
27. Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Devonte Wyatt can fill more positions on the defensive line than his former teammate, Jordan Davis. He is a player that pressures the quarterback in a number of different ways, and holds up even better in run support. I’m not one to penalize prospects for age unless it’s egregious, so I can live with Wyatt being 24 years old already with a pick late in the first/early in the second. He will step in as a 1- or 3-tech most likely, depending where he ends up.
28. Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin
Leo Chenal is the top rated linebacker on my Big Board. This one is rather bold too, considering most have Devin Lloyd or Nakobe Dean Sharpie’d into the top spot. Chenal has the size to match Lloyd and easily surpass Dean, and is a better athlete than both guys. Chenal is polished and was a team leader for the Wisconsin defense. A great prospect for the middle of any defense.
29. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Yea I know, I went on that tangent about why Chenal is better than Lloyd, but they’re ultimately side-by-side in overall rankings. The fact that Lloyd didn’t test as well as expected, and Chenal tested way better than expected, is what broke the tie for me. Lloyd is a little more versatile than Chenal, so he can be used in blitz packages among other creative options.
30. Lewis Cine, Safety, Georgia
Lewis Cine is the hard hitting safety from Georgia. He set the tone weekly with his infectious energy and willingness to throw his body around with reckless abandon. He is not as much of a chess piece as Daxton Hill is, but still showed an ability to line up all over the field. He can spend time in the box and over the top as a deep safety.
31. Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
Kyler Gordon falls into a similar category as Devin Lloyd and Treylon Burks in terms of not living up to unreasonable Combine expectations. Gordon had one of the highest RAS at cornerback in the draft, but because he ran a 4.5 and was expected to run a 4.3, he still gets unfairly knocked. My reason for having him on the fringe is because he’s still learning how to get his technique to match his intangibles. He has the potential to be an above-average starter in the NFL.
32. Tyler Linderbaum, Center, Iowa
My final fringe first rounder is Tyler Linderbaum. This ranking does not do justice to the caliber of player Linderbaum is. He is slightly undersized, but checks every other box with flying colors. He is athletic, nasty, and a culture leader for the locker room. If I am a playoff team that needs center help, the back end of round one makes a lot of sense.