The 2021 NFL Draft is so last week. Grades have been handed out, and now we're ready to look ahead to the 2022 event. It's still a year away, but with mock drafts already up and running, it's never too early to take our best guess as to who will be selected No. 1 overall.
It's hard to go wire-to-wire as former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence did. Ever since winning a national championship as a freshman, Lawrence was pegged as the future top overall pick, which came to fruition when the Jaguars picked him up last week. 2022, however, seems a bit less solidified. Sure, there are favorites to be No. 1 overall and it starts with Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, who we'll get to later. But there are also some other challengers who could skyrocket to the top of the draft boards.
David Cobb: Georgia QB JT Daniels
Sixteen of the past 24 No. 1 overall picks have been quarterbacks. So history suggests there's a 66.6% chance a QB is going No. 1. That means there's no reason to pick a player at another position just because my colleagues have already selected a couple of quarterbacks who are presumed to be at the top of the board for the position in 2022. The trick is identifying the college QB on whom we may be sleeping.
That player is JT Daniels, in my opinion. Colleague Ryan Wilson has at least five quarterbacks going ahead of Daniels in the 2022 draft, but I wouldn't be shocked if the former wunderkind prospect takes college football by storm this season and sneaks into the conversation to be the No. 1 pick. He played in just four games at Georgia last season while on the mend from an ACL tear and looked like the star many assumed he would be as the No. 2 ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2018 behind Trevor Lawrence. Now that he's had a full offseason to master the system, Daniels is poised to open the eyes of some NFL scouts as a redshirt junior and compete to be the top quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Ben Kercheval: Ohio State WR Chris Olave
It's a bit early to know for sure which WR1 will be tops in the next draft cycle, but I'd put money on Olave. He fits the mold of today's wideout at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he's been a superstar with the Buckeyes in each of the past two seasons. Last year alone he had five 100-yard receiving games. He's a great route-runner, has speed to burn and can make contested catches.
I think of it like this: when the Bengals selected Ja'Marr Chase at No. 5 over Penei Sewell, it further solidified that the game of football is changing. Cincinnati desperately needed O-line help and Sewell could be a future Pro Bowler. But game-changing wide receivers matter nowadays, so I don't think it's that absurd to suggest a wide receiver could go first overall in 2022, especially if next year's QB class isn't as good as this one was. I also don't believe it's a problem for Olave to share the stage with Garrett Wilson; DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle were first-round picks this year after lighting it up at Alabama -- and Waddle went before the Heisman winner.
The last time a wideout went No. 1 overall was 1996 when the Jets took Keyshawn Johnson from USC. Only two other wideouts in history -- Dave Parks and Irving Fryar -- can say the same. But they were all multi-year Pro Bowlers and Johnson won a Super Bowl with the Bucs.
Barrett Sallee: North Carolina QB Sam Howell
Quarterbacks went top three this year, which tells you all that you need to know about how much of a premium the NFL puts on signal-callers. That's a big reason why North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell will be taken with the top pick. Nothing against Kayvon Thibodeaux or any other college football superstar, but Howell's ability as a downfield passer coupled with his pinpoint accuracy will be too much to pass up for an NFL team.
Sure, the No. 1 overall pick could be a team that already has a quarterback in its organization, but some eager general manager will make a bold move to draft Howell as the centerpiece of the organization's future.
Tom Fornelli: Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux
Since 1998, 18 of the 24 players chosen with the first pick of the NFL Draft have been quarterbacks. There hasn't been a non-QB chosen first since Texas A&M's Myles Garrett was selected by the Cleveland Browns in 2017. Before Garrett, it was South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in 2014. Another one will go next spring, and it will be Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux.
While there isn't a consensus No. 1 QB in the 2022 draft class yet, there's a No. 1 overall player in my mind, and that's Thibodeaux. If we were to design an edge-rusher of the modern football era in a computer program, it would strongly resemble who Thibodeaux is in real life. He's amassed 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in 21 career games, and he's only tapped into the surface of the player he can become. The 2021 season will be his coming out party.
Chip Patterson: Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler
First, this is not my opinion for the top overall prospect but a prediction of who will go No. 1. Second, while I'm not ready to commit now, Rattler absolutely could be a deserving No. 1 overall after the 2021 season. Oklahoma's offense is loaded up to, yet again, be among the nation's best, and I think the wide receiver room is about to explode in a way that will give Rattler as many top-level weapons on the outside as we've seen since future first-rounders CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown were lining up for Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. The production will lead to accolades, which will draw attention and buzz that can really power a rise in the NFL Draft -- just ask Mayfield and Murray -- and propel Rattler up to No. 1.