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The top story of the year for every team in the AP top 25
Based on the 2022 NFL Draft
The college season is over. Kind of. There are still championship games, bowl games, and a winner to be determined, but we started this season together with a lot of unanswered questions about the 2022 NFL Draft and now a few months later, we have countless new insights to explore.
Here is the AP Top 25, and a story for each team to consider as we begin to wrap up the 2021 College Football season.
1. Georgia (12-0)
The story: Welcome to the NFL, the entire defense
The Bulldogs were ranked fifth in the initial preseason AP poll, then second after defeating Clemson in Week 1, and they became first on October 10th. They are allowing 6.9 points per game, lowest in the nation. We knew that Georgia had some future NFL players on defense, but now the Bulldogs could hear their players called in the draft time and time again in the top four rounds.
DT Jordan Davis is the name most often brought up as Georgia’s lead ‘dog, but the best future player on the defense could be a linebacker. PFF currently ranks LB Nakobe Dean as the 11th-best player overall on their big board, Davis at 27th, S Lewis Cline at 41st, Edge Travon Walker at 44th, DL Devonte Wyatt at 49th, LB Channing Tindall at 68th, and CB Derion Kendrick at 71st.
Adding one more in: WR George Pickens is ranked 69th.
That’s seven players in the top 71 and this is only for the 2022 draft, not counting Georgia’s underclassmen such as DL Jalen Carter, who leads the team with 8.5 TFL. Other sites also list LB Adam Anderson and LB Nolan Smith in the top-100, with S Tykee Smith not far behind.
We’re talking about an entire defense of NFL players on a single college team. Maybe “only” three or four of them become starters-to-stars at the next level, maybe more, but few colleges have ever had this assembly of talent before, let alone on one side of the ball.
2. Michigan (11-1)
The story: Aiden abetted
DE Aidan Hutchinson’s ascent from a late first round pick to potentially the number one overall player in the 2022 NFL Draft class is no less than remarkable. After playing in only two games last year and not making one TFL, Hutchinson has 14.5 TFL and 12 sacks this season, including three in last week’s victory over Ohio State.
3. Cincinnati (12-0)
The story: You can’t get Ridder me
I would not say that Desmond Ridder is an exceptional quarterback prospect for the league. But given how disappointing most of his peers have been, Ridder might have seen his draft stock go up anyway thanks to an undefeated season and his fourth quality college campaign in four attempts. Ridder might be a fine fit as a game manager in the NFL—and that is NOT an insult. The Seahawks, for example, would love to have a “game manager” at QB right now.
4. Alabama (11-1)
The story: Bryce yourselves for 2023
Other than Kenny Pickett, I’m not sure any quarterback deserves to get picked in the first round of the 2022 draft and part of the reason for that has to do with 2023. Will teams really be willing to take a reach on a QB in the first round next year, when it pretty much excludes them from being able to do so in 2023, when the class could be as good as it has been in a long time?
Do the Lions want to risk a chance on Matt Corral or Malik Willis (or Pickett) when it means they won’t be able to pick Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud or Grayson McCall when 2023 rolls around?
In his first season as a college starter, the sophomore Young has completed 69% of his passes for 3,901 yards, 40 touchdowns and four interceptions. Compare that to Mac Jones in 2020: 77%, 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and four interceptions in 13 games.
Or Tua Tagovailoa in 2019: 71%, 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions.
Bryce Young is in line to be the number one overall pick in 2023, though Stroud and Alabama teammate Will Anderson would also be in the running as of today.
5. Oklahoma State (11-1)
The story: The Neverstarting Story
Maybe the story with the Cowboys is that somehow beyond reason, there is no story with the Cowboys. I can’t name a single 2022 NFL Draft prospect from Oklahoma State and yet they’re within reach of the CFP.
RB Jaylen Warren broke out for 1,134 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns after transferrin from Utah State, but at only 5’8 may have a difficult time getting drafted. WR Tay Martin, another transfer, leads the team with 61 receptions for 854 yards and seven touchdowns.
There’s just no real buzz about Oklahoma State, whether that be along the OL, or with some of their leaders on defense, such as ILB Malcolm Rodriguez, DE Brock Martin, LB Devin Harper, DE Tyler Lacy, or S Kolby Harvell-Peel. I could be overlooking something here, but there’s no question that OSU is a top-five team without any top-25 draft talents for next year.
Freshman DE Collin Oliver has been a terror though, recording 12.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks in his first college season. Hello, 2024.
6. Notre Dame (11-1)
The story: Bye-n Kelly
Certainly from a draft perspective, the story is S Kyle Hamilton. But we already knew that Hamilton was a special player destined to go in the top-10. On Tuesday, it was announced that head coach Brian Kelly is leaving Notre Dame for LSU, perhaps barely more than a month before the Fighting Irish are playing for a national championship.
In college football, it turns out that there are plenty of things more important than winning.
Kelly brought Notre Dame back into the forefront of the national picture, but he does stand greater odds of winning a championship at LSU, as well as other benefits. The Irish haven’t had a first round pick since Jerry Tillery in 2019, and not a top-10 pick since Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson in 2018. Hamilton will go in the top-10, if not top-three, but RB Kyren Williams and Edge Isaiah Foskey are looking more like late day-two picks.
7. Ohio State (10-2)
The story: You Mich’ all the shots you don’t take
Regardless of how it relates to the draft, you can’t ignore that the story of Ohio State’s season is that they lost to Michigan. It’s never a story when Ohio State beats Michigan, which is why it is such a big deal when they do—and especially when the Buckeyes seem to be as talented as ever.
Among those talents are WR Garrett Wilson (8th in PFF’s big board), WR Chris Olave (23rd), OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (56th), and Edge Zach Harrison (72nd). There are no real surprises there, but clearly the standout is QB C.J. Stroud: 71%, 3,862 yards, 38 TD, 5 INT as a redshirt freshman who will be eligible in 2023.
Another is true freshman RB TreVeyon Henderson, a player who will need to consider skipping his junior season in 2023 just to stay healthy for the 2024 draft—so long as he has another banner year. And WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba may have surpassed both Wilson and Olave—he leads the team in catches (80) and yards (1,259).
8. Ole Miss (10-2)
The story: He’s just an “OK” Corral
You know I’ve been saying it all year long in my QB rankings: Matt Corral is simply not that interesting of a prospect. The arm isn’t where it needs to be in order to be a first round pick. Corral supporters pointed to his rushing prowess but there was nothing that jumped off of the film in that area either—he was just getting good opportunities.
Over the last six games, Matt Corral has thrown for 6 TD, 3 INT, and rushed for 147 yards on 57 carries with three touchdowns. That includes games against Liberty and Vanderbilt.
9. Baylor (10-2)
The story: Abram to Remember
Abram Smith was a linebacker in 2020.
Abram Smith rushed for 1,366 yards, 12 touchdowns, 6.4 YPC in 2021.
I think he can have a role at the next level, even if he’s not an every down back, which…does not exist anymore.
10. Oregon (10-2)
The story: The Sewell School
Even though Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the number one pick in the draft next year, he may not be the best player on the Ducks’ defense. Linebacker Noah Sewell won’t be eligible until 2023, and when he is, he might also be in contention for a top-three pick.
If not becoming the first defensive player to win the Heisman since the last one. (Charles Woodson, probably.)
11. Michigan State (10-2)
The story: Yet another Kenneth reigns supreme in the sports world
Kenneth Walker III went from a virtual unknown to leading the nation in rushing (Ok fine, Lew Nichols has more, but how long do you want me to talk about the MAC?) this season: 1,646 yards and 18 touchdowns. By the way, that’s well more yards per carry and more touchdowns than Nichols.
Walker is more than just the lucky player who wound up in the right system; the Spartans are the lucky ones here.
12. BYU (10-2)
The story: Kalani Sitake
In 2016, his first year as head coach, Sitake led BYU to a 9-4 record; all four losses were by three points or less, including against Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, and Boise State. Things didn’t go as well over the next three years, but Sitake now has a 21-3 record over the past two season and he helped get Zach Wilson into the top-two of the 2021 draft.
There probably won’t be any first round picks for BYU in 2022 — maybe none in the first three rounds at all — but when will Sitake’s name be mentioned more often during these coaching carousel moments?
RB Tyler Allgeier will likely be the first BYU player drafted next year; he has 1,414 rushing yards, 5.7 YPC, and three games with at least 190 rushing yards.
13. Oklahoma (10-2)
The story: Transfer Rattler
I never cared about his appearances on Netflix or his ranking as a high school prospect or his Instagram following, so I never overrated Spencer Rattler. He never looked all that good to me at Oklahoma and this week he entered the transfer portal, so he won’t be a member of the 2022 NFL Draft class.
That’s a bigger story to me than Lincoln Riley going to USC, but obviously that’s the story of Oklahoma’s year on a national scale.
Despite the Sooners having a relatively good year by most standards, it’s not that good by theirs and we shouldn’t see any Oklahoma players on day one of the 2022 draft.
14. Utah (9-3)
The story: Lloyd-er Squad
Devin Lloyd is a beast of a linebacker.
15. Iowa (10-2)
The story: Tyler Linderbaum steps front and center, front of centers
We knew that Linderbaum was a good center, probably the best center for the 2022 class, but now he really looks like a top-20 pick at center—a rare title for anyone at his position, if he grabs it.
16. Houston (11-1)
The story: Hou-stops
Once known primarily for their offense and an air raid attack, Houston head coach Dana Holgerson has instead created defensive prospects for the next level. This year, defensive end Payton Turner was a first round pick of the Saints. Next year, it appears that DL Logan Hall (43 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 sacks) and CB Marcus Jones (45 tackles, 5 INT) will hear their names called, potentially early on day three.
Freshman RB Alton McCaskill has rushed for 844 yards and 16 touchdowns; sophomore WR Nathaniel Dell has 71 receptions for 1,027 yards and 11 TDs; junior LB Derek Parish has 47 tackles, 10 TFL, and 5 sacks; junior CB Alex Hogan, a transfer from Texas Tech, posted six passes defensed and two interceptions, including a pick-six.
17. Pittsburgh (10-2)
The story: Yet another Kenny reigns supreme in the sports world
It seems like Bryce Young or Aidan Hutchinson must be frontrunners for the Heisman at this point, but Kenny Pickett has been as good or as valuable as any player in college football. He’s the only quarterback who I would draft in next year’s first round. When WR Jordan Addison is eligible in 2023 (85 catches, 1,353 yards, 17 TDs), he could be a top-15 pick.
18. Wake Forest (10-2)
The story: Wake Forest
I think we were all hoping that Wake could do even better than this, but a 58-55 loss to UNC in Week 10 ended those dreams. Two weeks later, it was a flop against Clemson that pushed them out of the top-20, but Wake Forest can win the ACC win a victory against Kenny Pitt-kett on Saturday.
This was Wake’s first 10-win season since 2006, a team that featured Aaron Curry as its best player. And 2006 was Wake’s first 10-win season…ever.
Will QB Sam Hartman not only be drafted, but be one of the first quarterbacks off the board? Do WR A.T. Perry and WR Jaquarii Robinson have NFL futures? What about DL Rondell Bothroyd (14.5 TFL), DB Traveon Redd (3 INT), or DB Luke Masterson (72 tackles, 11 TFL)?
19. San Diego State (11-1)
The story: It’s the punter. No wait, it’s the kicker. Oh wait, that’s one person
All due respect, there is absolutely nothing interesting about San Diego State’s season other than hybrid K/P Matt Araiza, perhaps the best punter in the entire country—and he also happens to be 39-of-39 on extra points. Don’t think he can do both jobs in the NFL, but he’s going to the NFL.
20. Louisiana (11-1)
The story: The rise of OT Max Mitchell
I don’t find it that interesting that Louisiana goes 11-1 or 12-1 as an obviously superior team to an inferior schedule. They did defeat Iowa State last season, it’s a fantastic program right now, but there’s not a ton to gain from what Louisiana is doing from a draft perspective; they aren’t in the same class as Coastal Carolina in that regard, a team with a good number of NFL prospects.
But Louisiana does have OT Max Mitchell, a player who has gone from a round five projection to potentially an early day two pick.
21. NC State (9-3)
The story: N.C. stands for Not Counted
The highest that NC State has been ranked all year is 18th, and they haven’t had much in the way of nationally-recognized stars, even though they do have players enjoying great seasons: QB Devin Leary (35 TD, 5 INT), WR Emeka Emezie (60 rec, 802 yards), RB Zonovan Knight (753 yards is disappointing, but 5.4 YPC), and Drake Thomas (99 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 INT) among them. Of course, it’s iOL Ikem Ekwonu who is expected to be a first round pick—though for some reason, PFF doesn’t have him in the top 100.
22. Clemson (9-3)
The story: The QB play was Uiagalelei
From Deshaun Watson to Trevor Lawrence to this stat line by D.J. Uiagalelei: 54.7%, 6.0 Y/A, 9 TD, 8 INT
Clemson lost to good teams, but they didn’t beat anyone other than Wake Forest. Though CB Andrew Booth and WR Justyn Ross could be relatively early picks, Clemson isn’t going to have the draft class that they had become accustomed to recently.
23. Arkansas (8-4)
The story: What once was won, is now lost
Arkansas was the team to root for in September after wins against Texas and Texas A&M, both of whom were ranked in the top-15 at the time of those contests. Next, the Razorbacks suffered a 37-0 blowout to Georgia that few couldn’t predict, then a 52-51 instant classic against Ole Miss.
Despite a 4-2 record and not being ranked at the beginning of the season, Arkansas was still 17th in the polls ahead of a Week 7 game against the Auburn, which turned into a 38-23 loss.
Though the Razorbacks do have wins against Texas, Texas A&M, and LSU, none of those teams are better than Arkansas; Texas is 5-7, LSU is 6-6, and the Aggies are up next. It’s a bit odd that Arkansas hangs onto a ranking at 8-4, but they did stay in reach of Alabama for three-and-a-half quarters recently.
On the bright side, WR Treylon Burks should be a first round lock and he’s had 15 catches for 308 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama and Missouri in the last two weeks.
24. Texas A&M (8-4)
The story: They beat Alabama
Another ho-hum season for a program that consistently puts good-to-great players in the NFL. That probably continues with the likes of DL DeMarvin Leal, TE Jalen Wydermyer, RB Isaiah Spiller competing for first round spots next year.
25. Kentucky (9-3)
The story: It’s offense now
Though Jamin Davis, Josh Allen, and Bud Dupree were all recent first round picks on the defensive side, Kentucky has had an offensive player drafted on day one since Tim Couch in 1999.
I don’t know if anyone can end the streak in 2022, but offensive lineman Darian Kinnard could get there with a strong draft season, while WR Wan’Dale Robinson and RB Chris Rodriguez, Jr. have gone well above and beyond Kentucky football expectations.