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USATSI

The 2021 NFL Draft has concluded and work has already begun on the 2022 NFL Draft class. As a sampler for next week's drop of CBS Sports' top 100 prospects, we break down a positional watch list. The five players listed at each spot are not necessarily the five best, but the reasoning for each inclusion is fleshed out in the blurb below. Several, but not all, of the players mentioned will appear in next week's early prospect rankings.

Quarterback

Sam Howell, North Carolina
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Malik Willis, Liberty
Carson Strong, Nevada
J.T. Daniels, Georgia

Howell is the Baker Mayfield-type of this class. He does not possess the premium athletic traits that have become so popular in the modern NFL, but he is a talented quarterback with arm strength and touch. Rattler's mobility is a little bit better and he can rip the ball. Willis has the most upside of the bunch. He has to learn when he is trying to do too much and when it would benefit him to check down. The old adage says that you never go broke making a profit. Daniels and Strong both have arm talent but there are some rough edges that need to be polished. Daniels has had a small sample size of playing time.

Running back

Zonovan Knight, N.C. State
Breece Hall, Iowa State
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

Knight has great speed and is bouncy in and out of alleys. Hall and Spiller have been consistent for their teams. Ealy is as explosive as they come. He had the opportunity to pursue a career in baseball and elected to follow his passion of playing football. When given a large workload, Williams made the most of it averaging over five yards per carry. 

Wide receiver

Joe Ngata, Clemson
Justyn Ross, Clemson
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Chris Olave, Ohio State
Georgie Pickens, Georgia

Clemson has been loaded at wide receiver so it is no surprise when a star wide receiver seemingly comes out of nowhere. Ngata shows the promise of a potential first-round pick. Ross is returning from a devastating injury that cost him the 2020 season and a chance to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson is finally eligible and arguably the most efficient prospect at his position in his class. Olave was a borderline first-round pick that returned to school. Pickens is a long, lean talent that has the ability to attack jump balls and utilize his breakaway speed.

Tight end

Cole Turner, Nevada
Will Mallory, Miami (Fla.)
Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
Sam LaPorta, Iowa
Keaton Upshaw, Kentucky

It is tough to shake some of the similarities between Travis Kelce and Turner. The former wide receiver is not a traditional inline blocker but rather a long option with strong, but soft hands and range. Mallory looks like the Greg Olsen's of the world to come from Miami. He should receive a larger target share with Brevin Jordan moving on to professional pursuits. Wydermyer is one of those athletic but physical tight ends like Vernon Davis but Wydermyer is a little taller. LaPorta impressed as a freshman and has only seen his role expand. He is a mobile tight end that possesses good size. Upshaw is not going to be viewed as highly as others at this position right now but I believe he has the potential to elevate his stock. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen should open up the passing game and allow Upshaw to exercise his legs.

Offensive tackle

Zion Nelson, Miami (Fla.)
Charles Cross, Mississippi State
Evan Neal, Alabama
Rasheed Walker, Penn State
Nick Broeker, Ole Miss

Nelson looks like a future All-Pro if he can fine tune his technique. He moves so well for his size. Cross does well handling stunts but sacrifices his angle too much. He has the potential to be really special. Continuing with the theme, Neal and Walker have the athletic attributes to be high-end players. The incoming offensive tackle talent over a three-year period is catching up to the edge rusher production. Broeker is certainly worthy of the early hype that he has received. 

Interior offensive line

Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State
Darian Kinnard, Kentucky
Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Alec Lindstrom, Boston College

Green is a massive mauler that does not compromise mobility. He is fun to watch for anyone that appreciates the position. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman did a great job profiling Ekwonu, who has a lot of promise. Kinnard was a right tackle last season but is making the move to left tackle. His future is best served inside. Linderbaum, like LaPorta, was impressive as a freshman. Although a bit undersized, he displays really good technique to counter some of the bigger interior rushers. Lindstrom is the younger brother of Chris Lindstrom, who was taken in the first round by the Falcons in the 2019 NFL Draft. 

Edge rusher

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
George Karlaftis, Purdue
Drake Jackson, USC
Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, EDGE, Washington

Thibodeaux is a twitchy edge rusher that needs to continue developing his lower body. He is one of three first-round grades that I have handed out early in the process. Karlaftis is a heavy-handed rusher that uses his power to control offensive tackles. Former Hawkeye A.J. Epenesa had a similar strategy. Jackson is inching closer to being a prospect with All-Pro potential. Enagbare was highly productive. It is tough to fathom how South Carolina gave up so many points last season with so much future NFL talent. Tupuola-Fetui was intriguing leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft but he opted to go back to school. Unfortunately, he suffered a ruptured Achilles in April.

Defensive line

DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Haskell Garrett, Ohio State
Chris Hinton, Michigan
Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
D.J. Dale, Alabama

The defensive line class lacks a truly elite interior defensive lineman but I believe Leal is close. The defensive line as a whole has a lot of potential, but potential is production unrealized. I am curious to see where players like Michigan's Hinton and South Carolina's Zacch Pickens end up. Hutchinson is coming off of leg injury that cost him most of the 2020 season. Garrett looked like a better prospect than teammate Tommy Togiai, who was taken in the fourth round by the Browns. Dale is next in line to receive more repetitions at Alabama.

Linebacker

Christian Harris, Alabama
DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
Merlin Robertson, Arizona State
Drew Seers, Lindenwood
Amari Gainer, Florida State

Off-ball linebacker is another position that lacks an elite talent. Harris is probably the best of the bunch but Overshown is not far behind. The latter has a frame more reminiscent of a safety. Robertson is a more traditional linebacker but it was difficult to maximize exposure last year having played only four games. Seers has drawn rave reviews from his coaching staff, who was happy that he returned to school. Gainer has the athletic profile of a destructive linebacker. 

Cornerback

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Kaiir Elam, Florida
Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Dishon McNary, Central Michigan
Kyler Gordon, Washington

The cornerback position is loaded in 2022. Clemson had four players that would warrant early consideration until Derion Kendrick was kicked off the team. His situation is interesting. Will he transfer elsewhere or enter the Supplemental Draft? Stingley is like Trevor Lawrence in the sense that NFL teams have been waiting for him to become eligible. He is a really talented player. Elam is a physical cornerback with the promise of being one of the best in his class. Gardner has almost everything coveted at the position but I wanted to see how his speed fared against Georgia. McNary is a name that is likely unfamiliar to most but he has above average speed, good size and is a press man corner. He followed D'Wayne Eskridge -- a third-round pick by Seattle -- in the Western Michigan game and only had mild struggles. Gordon, along with Trent McDuffie, form one of the best cornerback tandems in college football.

Safety

Jordan Battle, Alabama
Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Bubba Bolden, Miami (Fla.)
Kolby Harvell-Peel, Oklahoma State
Nolan Turner, Clemson

Hamilton is a big, instinctive player that can make plays in coverage or play downhill. Bolden, similar to former teammate Jaelan Phillips, showed a lot of improvement last season despite the circumstances. His stock will continue to rise. Battle is still relatively young but has been productive in a Nick Saban defense that commands the most. In 2019, Harvell-Peel contributed to nine plays that resulted in a turnover. Turner has been the model of consistency in that Clemson defense.