The deadline for college football players to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft has passed, which means everyone who hasn’t declared is returning for at least one more season before possibly making the jump next year.
But what about the players who weren’t eligible to declare for the 2022 draft but will have the option next year? Some of the biggest names in college football this past season weren’t draft-eligible due to the NFL’s rule that you must be at least three years removed from high school before declaring. With players more physically ready to compete at an earlier age than in the past, we see more early declarations every season, and today we’re ranking the top 20 players in college football who will be draft-eligible for the first time following the 2022 season.
Keep in mind that these rankings are not scientific. They aren’t based on how NFL teams will view them as prospects, nor are they based on who is necessarily better. All 20 are great. That’s why they’ll be facing a tough decision a year from now.
1. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: All Young did in his first year as Alabama’s starting quarterback was win a Heisman Trophy and lead the Crimson Tide to an SEC championship, passing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns in the process. He’ll enter the 2022 season as the favorite to win repeat as the Heisman winner while helming the team favored to win the national title. Oh, and he’ll be hyped up as a possible No. 1 overall pick, too.
2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State: Stroud will be alongside Young as far as the NFL Draft analysts are concerned, as they’ll debate between which one is the best future pro. While Stroud didn’t win the Heisman, or the Big Ten, he did finish second nationally in passing efficiency while throwing for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns. He’ll be at the helm of one of the most prolific offenses in the country again next season, and should continue posting monster numbers.
3. Will Anderson, Edge, Alabama: While he wasn’t selected as the defensive lineman to serve as a Heisman finalist — that was Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson — many will tell you Anderson was the best defensive player in the country. Some might tell you that, if he were eligible, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft. No matter what anybody tells you, though, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with, finishing as the nation’s leader in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (34.5) while finishing 102 tackles overall. He’ll be in the conversation as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.
Will Anderson could make a strong case as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
4. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State: If the Rose Bowl was your introduction to Smith-Njigba — welcome! He’s not going to catch 15 passes for 347 yards in every game, but the fact he did on New Year’s Day wasn’t a massive surprise to those who had seen him before. On a team full of NFL receivers — Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave could both go in the first round this spring — JSN was the most talented. He led the team in receiving and will be the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award next season. He’ll be viewed as the top receiver on the board by many NFL teams.
5. Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia: The national champions had more talent on their defensive line than should reasonably be allowed. Jordan Davis received Heisman votes for his ability to eliminate an opponent’s rushing attack, but he probably wasn’t even the best player on the Georgia defensive line. That honor belongs to Carter, who will be one of few holdovers from Georgia’s national title-winning defense.
6. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia: Ringo is another holdover from that Georgia defense. You may remember him as the guy who made the title-clinching pick six against Alabama, showing us how big a vertical Georgia coach Kirby Smart has. That was the play most will remember, but Ringo was fantastic the entire game — and season — for the Dawgs. Corners like Ringo become more important every year, and any defense who has one is off to a great start.
7. Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama: The rich get richer. Ricks was one of the most talented corners in the country last season, and now he’s transferred to Alabama after beginning his career at LSU. Adding a nearly ready-made future pro to your depth chart must be nice. Ricks missed LSU’s final seven games but had an excellent 2020 season and is extremely talented.
8. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas: If a running back wins the Heisman in 2022, it’s going to be Robinson. The former five-star recruit earned those five stars for all the reasons he’s shown on the field, as he rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games last season. He’s also a threat in the passing game, catching 26 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns.
9. Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss: Evans is well-traveled and extremely talented. Evans played for TCU in 2021, rushing for 648 yards and five touchdowns in six games. He’s now taking his talents to the SEC, where he’ll be playing for Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss. He’s the kind of big-play threat that should thrive in the Rebels offense.
10. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame: Every offense in the country wants a matchup nightmare at tight end — somebody who can block in the run game but is also quick and athletic enough to beat linebackers, safeties and corners alike in the passing game. Meet Mayer. He was hit with the Baby Gronk label, as so many young tight ends are, but Mayer has the potential to live up to it. The 6-foot-5, 251-pound behemoth caught 71 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Michael Mayer would be a welcome addition to any NFL offense looking for a playmaker at tight end.
11. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah: The former four-star recruit was a big win for coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes on the recruiting trail, and he’s paid off big-time ever since. Phillips’ ability to cover and help out against the run was a big part of Utah’s overall success, and it will continue to be a reason why NFL teams will view him as a possible No. 1 corner at the next level.
12. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama: Gibbs is the fourth Alabama player on this list, and he’s the second who didn’t play for the Crimson Tide last season! Gibbs was one of the big early recruiting wins for Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech, but he’s decided that moving to Alabama to replace Brian Robinson is the smart thing to do. I don’t blame him. Gibbs will provide Alabama with yet another useful weapon on offense for at least one more season, and he’s poised to explode into national relevance next year.
13. Myles Murphy, DL, Clemson: Brent Venables might have left Clemson, but a few of the monsters he helped create on the defensive line remain. Murphy was a bright spot in a down year for the Tigers in 2021, finishing with seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. He’s a disruptive force who will be a first-round pick next year.
14. Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson: From a pure talent perspective, I’d have Bresee ranked above teammate Myles Murphy and much closer to the top five on this list. There’s a reason Bresee was rated as the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 recruiting class. Unfortunately, Bresee only played four games this year before tearing his ACL. While I’m confident he’ll return at full strength and live in the opponent’s backfields again in 2022, I’m taking a more cautious approach to this ranking based on the injury. But, seriously, he’s a monster and one of my favorite players to watch.
15. Jordan Addison, WR, Pitt: Kenny Pickett is gone, but Addison will return to the Panthers next season. That’s excellent news for Pitt because Addison felt like the team’s entire offense at times in 2021. Not only did he lead the team with 1,593 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns, but he’s also a threat in the run game and special teams. Addison is the kind of do-it-all player you just know will end up on the Kansas City Chiefs somehow.
16. Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami: Van Dyke was a latecomer to the 2021 season, as he didn’t take over the starting job at Miami until late September. But he took the job and ran with it, finishing with 2,931 yards passing and 25 touchdowns while getting better as he became more comfortable in the offense. While he’ll have to learn a new offense in 2022, Van Dyke is one of many reasons Miami fans will enter next season feeling confident, and he could play his way into the top draft pick consideration.
17. Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M: Achane is one of those players most casual college football fans aren’t familiar with, but if you know, you know. He’s not big, which might hinder his NFL future, but he’s a hell of a lot of fun. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Achane is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball — whether as a running back, lined up at receiver or on special teams. You don’t often see defenders gaining ground on him.
18. Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon: Sewell’s brother, Penei Sewell, was an early first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it could become a family tradition in 2023. Sewell led the Oregon defense with 114 tackles with four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Sewell and a healthy Justin Flowe in 2022 will give the Ducks a set of linebackers that will be the envy of the rest of college football.
Noah Sewell will look to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a top NFL Draft pick.
19. Will Rogers, QB, Mississippi State: It’s become a little too easy to dismiss Mike Leach quarterbacks as system players due to the offense they play in and the number of short, easy throws, but don’t let that throw you off of Rogers’ ability. While he might not have a howitzer attached to his right shoulder, he’s got enough arm strength to make the throws required of him and softer touch than many of his stronger-armed counterparts.
20. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina: So much of North Carolina’s 2021 season was a disappointment, but not Downs. He continued to be everything you could ask for in a receiver, leading the team with 101 receptions for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns. Downs also helps out on special teams, and few others match his ability with the ball in his hands.