The 2022 NFL Draft is less than a week away but it is never too soon to hand out awards. Ryan Wilson, Chris Trapasso and I distributed honors to the upcoming draft class.
Quenton Nelson Award: Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Highly touted prospect who'll instantly live up to the hype
Edwards: The combination of size and speed is tantalizing but the intangibles are why his future team should be excited. The cornerback position requires a short-term memory because there will be moments where the offensive player comes out on top. Gardner is confident, not cocky. He believes that he deserves to be on the field with the NFL's best and that should lead to a smooth transition for the Bearcat.
Kolton Miller Award: Logan Hall, DT, Houston
Most likely to be considered a reach on draft day, then regarded as a fantastic pick two years later
Edwards: Last year, it was Houston's Payton Turner who was regarded as a first-round reach when he was taken by the Saints. Turner and Hall have similar frames with Hall being a little larger. The latter is a better player right now compared to where his teammate had been a year earlier. Hall was among a group ofdespite not getting deserving buzz in the media.
Damon Harrison Award: Noah Elliss, DT, Idaho
Small-school deep sleeper who will have a long NFL career
Edwards: Elliss originally signed with Mississippi State out of high school. His brother, Kaden, has been with the Saints for three seasons. A nose tackle by nature, the Colorado native always looks to be in control of the offensive line and shows some stack-and-shed ability to manipulate the line of scrimmage. He offers little pass-rush potential but can be a valuable run-stuffer.
Danielle Hunter Award: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Day 2 edge rusher who'll become a consistent double-digit sack guy
Edwards: Jackson has been one of my favorite prospects throughout this draft process. The Trojans asked him to drop into coverage and play in space more than his skill set suggested he should. Jackson shows good bend around the edge and would be best suited working vertically. If he is used in that manner, his production should climb.
Tyreek Hill Award: Danny Gray, WR, SMU
Late-round receiver most likely to become an All-Pro
Wilson: Gray is only 5-foot-11, 186 pounds, and his frame is what could contribute to him falling to Day 3. But there's so much to love about his game. For starters, he's a burner -- Gray blazed a 4.33 40 at the combine -- and more importantly, he plays that fast on tape. He's a legit home-run threat on deep balls with high-point-catch skills. He can also take a slant to the house because, despite his size, he has tackle-breaking ability, and he only needs a couple of steps to hit top end. Gray is an asset in the return game, too. He'll need to improve his precision as a route-runner, and getting stronger to fend off NFL cornerbacks should be a priority, but that's why he's not going on Day 1. The team that lands him will have a ready-made No. 3 wideout who can stress defenses down the field.
Christian Ponder Award: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Quarterback who'll go much earlier than he should
Wilson: We like Pickett, we really do. But we don't think any quarterback in this class is worth a top-10 pick. At the end of the day, we think the Panthers will go offensive line at No. 6 or trade out if possible. But let's assume they take Pickett. It's the equivalent of the Giants using the sixth overall pick on Daniel Jones in 2019. Jones was a second-round talent who, had he gone in Round 2, would've had the expectations of (wait for it) a second-rounder. Not a franchise-saving quarterback. It was unfair to put that on Jones who has been good at times but underwhelming at others. Pickett would be coming into a worse situation in Carolina, where the offensive line is in shambles and fixing it should be priority No. 1 for whomever ends up under center.
Joel Bitonio Award: Zion Johnson, OT, Boston College
Offensive tackle who'll be a Pro Bowl guard in the NFL
Wilson: Johnson is only 6-foot-2 but he took every snap at left tackle for Boston College in 2020. He moved inside to left guard in 2021 and was dominant. The Davidson transfer was an academic All-American for the Eagles in '20 and while he more than held his own at tackle, his lack of height would likely be a disadvantage at the position in the NFL (that said, he does have 34-inch arms). Johnson, who also worked at center at the Senior Bowl, is explosive off the snap, almost always wins at the point of attack, has quick feet in small areas, and is smooth getting to the second level. He sustains blocks, moves well both laterally and in space and is a Day 1 starter along the interior line. Johnson could (and probably should) sneak into the first round and would be a steal at any point on Day 2.
Andrew Whitworth Award: Marquis Hayes, OL, Oklahoma
His tape is boring because he just blocks everyone
Trapasso: Could've gone with Mississippi State's Charles Cross here, but let's dig a little deeper. Hayes utilizes his nearly 35-inch arms as weapons in pass protection. He always makes first contact with defenders, and once he latches on, it's game over. At almost 6-5 and 320 pounds with awesome knee bend, Hayes has NFL-caliber size and anchors outstandingly.
James Robinson Award: Aaron Shampklin, RB, Harvard
Most likely to be the next surprisingly good undrafted free agent running back
Trapasso: Shampklin averaged nearly 6.0 yards per carry on 323 career carries with the Crimson, and his bounce is apparent on every handoff. He runs with outstanding vision, one-cut skill when needed and the ability to make multiple defenders miss before pushing the throttle forward down the field. At a little over 5-9 and 194 pounds at the Harvard Pro Day, Shampklin ran 4.48 with a 37.5-inch vertical. He's got juice.
Derwin James Award: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Stud on film who somehow falls on draft night
Trapasso: After the LSU Pro Day, Stingley's draft stock felt as if it was resuscitated. I don't think it's been revamped as much as it should be. This is a top-five prospect in this class, when healthy. And guess what? Stingley's healthy! If he lands at No. 12 to the Vikings, it won't be widely considered as a precipitous fall but it should be. He has All-Pro abilities.