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2022 NFL Draft: Way-too-early top 50 big board

Let’s take an early look at some of the top prospects to keep an eye on for the 2022 NFL Draft.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Pac-12 Championship Game - Oregon v USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft is about 11 months away, but for NFL teams, preparing for the draft is a year-round activity.

Luckily for the Bears, their 2022 process was made a lot easier by the selection of Justin Fields in the first round of this year’s draft. Having their potential franchise quarterback in tow, it now becomes Chicago’s job to surround the Ohio State product with young talent to ascend alongside him early on in his career.

Not having a first-round pick next year stings a little bit, but any potential pain is significantly subdued by having acquired Fields this past April. Plus, there are still plenty of talented prospects the Bears could acquire to boost their roster on Day 2 of the draft.

I’m obviously still very early in my preparations for the 2022 NFL Draft, but I have a large enough of a reference point with this class to figure out what the strengths and weaknesses are in the class.

That said, here are my way-too-early top 50 prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Early 2022 NFL Draft Top 50 Big Board

Rank Player Position School Positional Rank
Rank Player Position School Positional Rank
1 Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE Oregon EDGE1
2 Derek Stingley Jr. CB LSU CB1
3 Kyle Hamilton SAF Notre Dame SAF1
4 Christian Harris LB Alabama LB1
5 Kaiir Elam CB Florida CB2
6 Jalen Wydermyer TE Texas A&M TE1
7 Breece Hall RB Iowa State RB1
8 DeMarvin Leal DL Texas A&M DL1
9 Kenyon Green OG Texas A&M OG1
10 Evan Neal OT Alabama OT1
11 Drake Jackson EDGE USC EDGE2
12 Malik Willis QB Liberty QB1
13 Tyler Linderbaum OC Iowa OC1
14 Charles Cross OT Mississippi State OT2
15 Spencer Rattler QB Oklahoma QB2
16 Zach Harrison EDGE Ohio State EDGE3
17 John Metchie WR Alabama WR1
18 Chris Olave WR Ohio State WR2
19 George Karlaftis EDGE Purdue EDGE4
20 Sam Howell QB North Carolina QB3
21 David Bell WR Purdue WR3
22 Sevyn Banks CB Ohio State CB3
23 Andrew Booth Jr. CB Clemson CB4
24 Isaiah Spiller RB Texas A&M RB2
25 Garrett Wilson WR Ohio State WR4
26 Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson CB TCU CB5
27 Brandon Joseph SAF Northwestern SAF2
28 Zion Nelson OT Miami (FL) OT3
29 Ikem Ekwonu OT NC State OT4
30 Treylon Burks WR Arkansas WR5
31 Avery Young CB Rutgers CB6
32 Bubba Bolden SAF Miami (FL) SAF3
33 Nik Bonitto EDGE Oklahoma EDGE5
34 Tiawan Mullen CB Indiana CB7
35 Nolan Smith EDGE Georgia EDGE6
36 Owen Pappoe LB Auburn LB2
37 Perrion Winfrey DL Oklahoma DL2
38 Kedon Slovis QB USC QB4
39 George Pickens WR Georgia WR6
40 Rasheed Walker OT Penn State OT5
41 Myjai Sanders EDGE Cincinnati EDGE7
42 Zion Tupuola-Fetui EDGE Washington EDGE8
43 Kingsbury Enagbare EDGE South Carolina EDGE9
44 Derion Kendrick CB Clemson CB8
45 Devin Lloyd LB Utah LB3
46 Aidan Hutchinson DL Michigan DL3
47 Mykael Wright CB Oregon CB9
48 Daniel Faalele OT Minnesota OT6
49 Justyn Ross WR Clemson WR7
50 Ahmad Gardner CB Cincinnati CB10

Takeaways

Loaded defensive class

While 9 of my top 10 prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft were on the offensive side of the ball, next year’s class seems to be a lot more balanced in regards to high-end talent.

Each of my top five prospects in the 2022 draft are defensive players, with two other front-seven defenders in my top 11. Though teams will certainly take quarterbacks early in next year’s class, there are a handful of talented defensive prospects.

Kayvon Thibodeaux stands out as the best edge rusher in next year’s class and is arguably the best overall prospect in the group. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss in 20 games thus far and has dominated at the collegiate level. He is a freakish athlete with stellar first-step quickness, athleticism in space, length, and a red-hot motor. Though a bit lanky, he has the raw tools and the finesse as a pass-rusher to dominate in the NFL in due time.

The 2022 draft features numerous blue-chip defensive backs, too. Derek Stingley Jr. is a well-rounded stud at cornerback, and Kaiir Elam brings fantastic fluidity for a 6-foot-2 defender — both were covered in my recent cornerback positional preview. When it’s all said and done, Kyle Hamilton could push the likes of Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick as the safety collegiate safety I’ve ever scouted. A 6-foot-4, 219-pound giant who hits hard as well as he attacks the ball at the catch point, his reliability in run support and ball skills in coverage give him a sky-high ceiling at the next level.

Other defensive prospects also stand out as potential Pro Bowl-caliber talents. Christian Harris is an incredibly athletic off-ball linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range in run support and plenty of value in coverage. DeMarvin Leal’s edge-defensive line hybrid style sees him bring fantastic first-step quickness and consistency as a gap eater, while Drake Jackson stands out as another athletic specimen with a flexible lower half and a high motor.

Don’t get it twisted: the 2022 draft has some talented offensive players. However, it’s the defensive side of the ball where the best value appears to be next year.

Good thing Bears got their QB

Anything can happen between now and next April, but it seems like the Bears truly lucked out by getting Justin Fields and not deferring until 2022 to draft a quarterback.

I had three quarterbacks in the 2021 class rated above my current QB1 for the 2022 draft. For reference, my finalized 2021 big board had Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and the aforementioned Fields as my top three quarterbacks. Again, a lot can change between now and next year, but from early observations of next year’s quarterback class, the Bears really lucked out with Fields.

That’s not to say the 2022 class doesn’t have intriguing pieces at quarterback, though; next year’s draft might be deeper in terms of pure talent at the position.

Malik Willis is my current QB1. Though he doesn’t go to a Power 5 institution, Willis has the natural arm strength and the elite athletic ability that makes him a perfect fit in today’s brand of football. His down-field touch and ability to maneuver the pocket should be enticing for an NFL team looking for a prospect who thrives outside of structure. His size is of some concern, but the physical upside is through the roof.

The two more conventional top quarterback prospects are Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell. Rattler has a strong arm and an effortless release which sees him consistently deliver the ball with tremendous velocity and distance, as well as great athletic ability. Though his decision-making is often up and down, the franchise tools are palpable. Howell is a thickly-built quarterback with a compact throwing motion, natural timing behind his throws and solid arm strength. His ability to scan the field is also inconsistent, but he looks the part of a quality quarterback prospect.

Kedon Slovis is the last of the four quarterbacks in my top 50. Though lacking in top-notch physical tools, he’s an accurate and intelligent thrower who is mechanically sound and plays tough in the pocket. Other notable quarterbacks in the 2022 class include Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Georgia’s J.T. Daniels, Missouri’s Connor Bazelak, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral.

Though the Bears won’t need a quarterback early in the 2022 draft, it’s good to have a general understanding of which signal-callers could go off the board. If enough of them have a breakout campaign, they could push gifted players at other positions down the board and into the Bears’ laps.

Pass rushers galore

The 2021 draft didn’t see an edge rusher come off the board until the No. 18 pick, when the Dolphins took Miami (FL)’s Jaelan Phillips. Don’t expect that same drought to happen in 2022.

The aforementioned Thibodeaux and Jackson bring eye-opening athleticism to the edge rusher position, and they are just two of many prospects who possess intriguing physical tools.

Zach Harrison hasn’t stepped into a full-time starting role at Ohio State yet, but he has long arms, incredible burst off the line of scrimmage, tremendous closing speed and fluidity and has reportedly run a 4.47 40-yard dash at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. George Karlaftis is more so of the opposite as a proven and powerful collegiate pass-rusher with 9.5 sacks in 14 career games. Though not incredibly mobile, he has impressive speed-to-power ability, a diverse pass-rushing arsenal and fantastic play strength. Both could find themselves in Round 1 consideration next year.

Athleticism is the calling card for many of the edge rushers in the 2022 class. Nik Bonitto is an undersized, yet extremely athletic and flexible pass-rusher with elite coverage abilities for his position. Nolan Smith fits a lot of those same strengths, and as he projects into Georgia’s starting lineup full time, he will look to put his athleticism to good use. Myjai Sanders and Kingsbury Enagbare are two big-bodied edge defenders with very good burst off the snap, too. The ruptured Achilles tendon of Zion Tupuola-Fetui should see him miss most of the 2021 season, but his 2020 tape was fantastic; he fires off the ball with great quickness and converts speed to power very well.

With both Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn over 30 years old and the latter being in danger of a potential release once his contract allows it, the Bears could look to upgrade at the edge rusher position in the 2022 draft. If a high-end talent is available for them in Round 2, they could look to upgrade their front-seven early if the value is right.