The 2022 NFL Draft season is underway. There have been a flurry of invites to All Star games sent out the past few weeks. This year in particular, there are quite a few names invited who will be hedging on the side of late first round to early Day Two selections. Here is a look at some the names you should become acquainted with come Senior Bowl week:
Defensive Back Jaquan Brisker, Penn St.
- Almost a member of last year’s Senior Bowl group before ultimately returning for another year, Jaquan Brisker is a playmaker. If not for Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame’s unicorn center fielder in a strong safety body, Brisker would without a doubt be the top safety in the class. The Nittany Lion is a surefire tackler who doesn’t shy from contact. He benefits from terrific acceleration and speed to expand his range all over the field. Pair that with his impressive instincts and ball skills, and you have a do-it-all safety who is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the class. I’m looking forward to Brisker bringing his talents to Mobile and seeing him show why he is exactly the kind of versatile safety the league is looking for.
Guard Zion Johnson, Boston College
- Zion has played like an elite guard this year, an excellent mover with great feet to go with solid hand use. He has taken it up a notch this season. As if his impressive mean streak when finishing these athletic blocks wasn’t enticing enough, Johnson has yet to allow a single sack in pass protection this season and has only conceded two pressures on over five hundred snaps. There is a good mix of both disruptive and stout defensive tackles making the trip to Alabama this year; how Zion handles this pass rusher cornucopia would go a long way in solidifying his status as one of the top options at interior lineman come April.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd, Utah
- In what pre-draft was a pretty murky inside linebacker group to determine the pecking order of, Devin Lloyd has consistently made his case for the number one linebacker at every turn imaginable. His biggest competition thus far in Stanford and Oregon have actually been his most impressive games. Former Utes such as Jaylon Johnson, Julian Blackmon, Leki Fotu, and Bradlee Anae were all asked who the next guy coming down the pipeline was on that defense, and unanimously the answer was Devin Lloyd.
Lloyd’s coverage in particular has really improved this season, which is highlighted by his eye-catching instincts. He is consistently hitting gaps like a pin missile in the run game while also showing the flexibility to put his hand in the ground as a rusher on obvious passing downs screams three down linebacker ability. A good week of practice over at Hancock Whitney Stadium could turn all of this buzz and chatter into consensus LB1 status.
Cornerback Roger McCreary, Auburn
- Of the accepted invites so far, Rodger McCreary is the corner with the best chance of going early in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s had success lining up against LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Georgia’s George Pickens, Arkansa’s Treylon Burks, and this weekend he will be wrestling with Alabama’s Jameson Williams and John Methie III. Regardless of the competition, McCreary has looked like he belongs; he is in the discussion for being one of the best prospects in Mobile come Senior Bowl week. I expect him to be one of the first five corners off the board and, as it stands right now, the Senior Bowl will go a long way in making people forget about “Sauce” Gardner, no matter how cool his name is.
Defensive Tackle Travis Jones, UCONN
- Similar to last year, it’s looking like slim pickings year in terms of true inside defensive tackles, with a shade nose being the universal top option over the budding disruptive three techniques the league typically fancies. However, in this shallow class, one technique Travis Jones is a name most people might not be familiar with, considering the lower status of a school like UCONN. But make no mistake, Jones has been an absolute game wrecker this year for the Huskies. While a true space eater, Jones has also shown a knack for putting together rush plans and has maintained his solid play despite being the priority target for opposing offensive lines’ game plans. After mammoth Jordan Davis, the spot for second best defensive tackle is up for grabs; I’d put my money on Jones after teams see him against some better competition.
Wide Receiver Khalil Shakir, Boise St.
- He may not go early, but Khalil Shakir is going to be playing in the NFL for a while. He’s an excellent route runner who knows how to set up defenders, Shakir also boasts unreal body control and hand coordination that allow him to reel in tough highlight reel catches on a weekly basis. There are plenty of wideouts to get excited about this year, but don’t be surprised if you see reports of Shakir making big plays on the perimeter one-on-ones.
Quarterback Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
- Like a vagabond careening through the desert for an oasis, NFL and Twitter evaluators alike have been clamoring to find a worthy quarterback who can be successful in this class. You’ve seen a flurry of names thrown at the wall, hoping their talent will stick, in guys like Spencer Rattler, Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett, and Carson Strong. Zappe is absolutely one of the guys I’d be keeping an eye on for a Day Three dart if I’m a team hesitant on pulling the trigger early on in the draft.
After following his coach from Houston Baptist all the way to Western Kentucky, Zappe has continued his solid play and is even putting together a career season that’s on pace to topple Joe Burrow’s touchdown numbers from his Heisman season. His physical profile and his ability to progress through his reads to read the defense are the reasons why he isn’t getting the same buzz as the previously mentioned guys.
Bailey Zappe checks a lot of boxes you like to see from a future franchise signal caller. However, there have been conflicting reports about his actual height being reported in some places at 6’2” and mentioned as ‘barely’ over 6’ tall elsewhere. To say Zappe doesn’t give off less mullet-y Gardner Minshew vibes would be a disservice. I love watching him play and the way he attacks the field, but it is fair to question whether arm strength and size are going to limit his upside on Sundays. Not unlike Minshew, Zappe may prove himself to be somebody you wouldn’t mind starting a game for you but not necessarily someone you would peg as the future to build around. A good week at practice and maybe even a Senior Bowl MVP honors could help the world realize Zappe is closer to the names at the top than they realized.
Offensive Tackle Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
- If that school name sounds familiar, it’s because Penning’s teammate, Spencer Brown, was drafted last year by the Buffalo Bills after essentially breaking almost every athletic mark for a tackle on top of his one-of-a-kind physical dimensions. Trevor Penning is not the same physical marvel as Brown, but he did hold off his blindside job while they were both at school together; that has scouts raising their eyebrows. I don’t think there are a ton of questions when it comes to Penning’s play strength or leverage, but he hasn’t really seen a true speed rusher of the caliber that will be presented to him come Sundays. Thankfully that’s something this Senior Bowl will have in abundance.
Tight Ends, Etc.
- Unlike last year, when it was Kyle Pitts, Pat Friermuth and then a bunch of project cases, the ‘21 tight end class is proving to be a deep crop of talent. While a generational freak like Pitts won’t be available this year, there are a lot of big names who will be in attendance in Mobile. I’m very curious to see of the pecking order that comes out of that practice week.
Charlie Kolar from Iowa State. Trey McBride is getting a lot of love out) from Colorado State. Cole Turner of Nevada is Carson Strong’s release valve. Isaiah Likely, who projects as a Mike Gesicki slot type out of Coastal Carolina. Jake Ferguson from Wisconsin. SMU’s Grant Calcaterra, who has a chance to really boost his stock with a good showing. That’s not even including other tight ends getting some attention, such as Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert or Washington’s Cade Otton, both of whom have stolen some glances from evaluators. Seeing some apples to apples comparisons in drills with these top guys could go a long way in sifting through a crowded tight end class.