August 8, 2022

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Getty’s Brian Rothmuller

The 2022 NFL Draft is complete, which only means that it is time to turn our attention to the next draft class. In an effort to put some players on the radar, CBS Sports examines each position group and some players inspiring a lot of early conversation. 

There is a lot of context necessary for this article. It is May and most of these early impressions are based on a small sample size. The lists below are not necessarily the five best players at their position but rather a watch list of sorts. More comprehensive conference previews will come out prior to the start of the college football season. 

Quarterback

  • C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  • Bryce Young, Alabama
  • Will Levis, Kentucky
  • Tyler Van Dyke, Miami 
  • Devin Leary, NC State

Stroud was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football last season. Young is an instinctual and impromptu playmaker who makes good decisions. Levis is a strong-armed quarterback with plus mobility. Van Dyke has great size for the position, never panics and throws with touch down the field. Leary was a productive player last season. His passes have good zip and the ball placement is usually good.

Running back

  • Bijan Robinson, Texas
  • Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
  • Zach Evans, Ole Miss
  • Tank Bigsby, Auburn
  • Kenny McIntosh, Georgia

The conversation of running back placement is often intermingled with positional value. The value of a running back can not be maximized without having the pieces in place to ensure that success and the career span of a running back is shorter than other positions. Time is of the essence. With that being said, Robinson and Gibbs are going to challenge those beliefs that running backs do not belong in the first round. Evans, a TCU transfer, is another likely starter with Bigsby and McIntosh rounding out the list. It was nearly a clean sweep for the SEC, which also boasts Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez and Texas A&M’s Devon Achane. McIntosh is the latest Bulldogs running back stepping into a spotlight role. The program has been a factory for NFL talent.

Wide receiver

  • Kayshon Boutte, LSU
  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
  • Josh Downs, North Carolina
  • Quentin Johnston, TCU
  • Jordan Addison, Transfer portal

Boutte is a physical wide receiver much like his former teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. Smith-Njigba was buried behind first-round selections Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson at Ohio State but he amassed 60 receptions for 958 yards and six touchdowns over the final five games of the season. Downs and Johnston are total opposites from a size perspective but are two of the best sophomores in college football. Addison is a highly regarded player who recently announced his transfer from Pittsburgh. 

Tight end

  • Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
  • Arik Gilbert, Georgia
  • Sam LaPorta, Iowa
  • Will Mallory, Miami
  • Jaheim Bell, South Carolina

Mayer is a physical tight end with soft hands and an ability to turn upfield quickly. Not known for his explosive traits, the Kentucky native is a great blocker. Gilbert did not play last season but has the size and athletic profile of someone who is going to terrorize opponents. Bell has room for improvement as a blocker but is fluid with the ball in his hands. Mallory and LaPorta have been reliable outlets for their respective programs. Each has great size. 

Offensive tackle

  • Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
  • Courtland Ford, USC
  • Anton Harrison, Oklahoma
  • Broderick Jones, Georgia
  • Blake Freeland, BYU

Strength often happens naturally for young prospects as they mature physically. A lot of these young offensive line prospects are no different. Harrison is a hulking figure at left tackle for the Sooners. Ford shows some traits that suggest he will be a good prospect with a bit more development. Freeland is a high-cut player who is physically imposing. Jones was regarded as one of the best high school prospects in his recruiting class.

Interior offensive line

  • Cooper Beebe, Kansas State
  • Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame
  • Chris Murray, Oklahoma
  • Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
  • John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

Beebe is a prospect who I watched late in the process. He is the definition of a lineman that plays with a mean streak. Johnson is a bit of technicality because he is expected to make a move to left tackle after previously playing guard. Schmitz was one of the top center prospects in the nation before electing to go back to school. Patterson has played a lot of snaps. Murray is the latest from a hot bed of offensive linemen in Norman.

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