NFL draft top 5 prospects at each position group

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis runs through passing drills during Liberty Football Pro Day in ...

Top five quarterback prospects:

Malik Willis, Liberty

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (7) runs upfield past Coastal Carolina linebacker Teddy Gallag ...
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (7) runs upfield past Coastal Carolina linebacker Teddy Gallagher (34) during the first half of the Cure Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)

The most upside of any quarterback in a class widely considered to be lacking in top-end talent. Willis has an unbelievably strong arm and the ability to make plays with his feet. Accuracy and polish are areas of concern along with a tendency to telegraph his reads. He is the only quarterback in this class a team could draft who could worry divisional opponents.

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

He burst on the scene with a very improved 2021 season for the Panthers, but the previous tape didn’t offer much that would suggest first-round talent. He throws the ball very well on the move, which could prove valuable considering he holds on to the ball far too long at times. And, oh yeah, the small hands thing.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Plenty of experience as a four-year starter for a very successful Bearcats program. Ridder should impress coaches with his comprehension of the passing game and ability to process information quickly, though he tends to take far too many sacks.

Sam Howell, North Carolina

He’ll probably get docked for the North Carolina offense taking a big step back this season, though it really wasn’t his fault. Howell has elite arm talent and loves to throw the deep ball, almost to a fault. He will need to work more on finding his second and third reads at the next level.

Matt Corral, Ole Miss

A very good athlete who might need to land in the right offense to reach his full potential in the NFL. Corral found great success on RPOs and in the play-action game. He needs to develop his passing skills beyond just zipping everything into the receiver.

Top five running back prospects:

Breece Hall, Iowa State

Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) gets past Kansas State linebacker Wayne Jones (4) duri ...
Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) gets past Kansas State linebacker Wayne Jones (4) during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

There wasn’t a situation where Hall wasn’t used in college, as the Cyclones rarely took him off the field. What he might lack in breakaway speed, he tends to make up for in his refusal to go down at the end of runs. He also has very good skills as a receiver out of the backfield.

Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

If an NFL running back’s only job was take handoffs and run with the ball, Walker would probably be a first-round pick even in this era of devaluation at the position. Walker doesn’t do a whole lot in the passing game, however. His lack of work as a receiver could also have a great deal to do with his struggles in pass protection. Either way, that’s a problem in the NFL.

James Cook, Georgia

His ability to maintain speed through his cuts makes Cook a home run threat when he gets in space. He should be particularly effective at the next level in the passing game, where he can make the first guy miss and then get downfield in a hurry. Not as big as his older brother Dalvin, he might not be able to maintain the same kind of workload.

Dameon Pierce, Florida

He might have the fewest question marks of any back on this list. Pierce has decent speed and is strong enough to break tackles consistently. He wasn’t overused at Florida, which has led to some questions as to why. One thing that does show up over and over on tape is how willing Pierce is to mix it up in pass protection.

Brian Robinson, Alabama

He should be very effective almost right away in short-yardage situations, where he tends to get to the hole quickly and force the issue. He doesn’t have true breakaway speed but will wear down a defense until the yards are there if given an opportunity. He didn’t play much behind star backs early in his college career, so he should have plenty left on his legs.

Top five tight end prospects:

Trey McBride, Colorado State

Colorado State tight end Trey McBride in action against Boise State. (Colorado State athletics)
Colorado State tight end Trey McBride in action against Boise State. (Colorado State athletics)

While last year’s unquestioned top tight end prospect, Kyle Pitts, was more of a new-school player at the position, McBride is a bit of a throwback. He should excel from a traditional spot just off the tackle where he can take advantage of linebackers in the middle of the field. He presents a big target with more than enough speed to win those battles consistently.

Greg Dulcich, UCLA

A bit of a tweener in the sense that he doesn’t quite have the size to be an every-down tight end in the NFL just yet. He could be a valuable asset should he be able to add bulk and not lose any of the athleticism that has made him a smooth route runner who can get open just about anywhere on the field.

Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina

He is far more a receiver than a tight end for all intents and purposes. Likely has tremendous hands and can line up just about anywhere and get open. The problem is that he’s not dynamic enough to actually play wide receiver, so he’ll have to put on size to find a place at the next level. He’s a long way off from being an NFL-level blocker.

Charlie Kolar, Iowa State

The son of two college professors and brother of a quarterback, Kolar won the so-called Academic Heisman for his combination of success in the classroom and on the field. His intelligence leads to a very strong understanding of passing concepts, which helps create openings to get him the ball. He has great hands and should continue to evolve as a blocker.

Jelani Woods, Virginia

The positives for Woods are his size and physical traits. Every tool suggests he has the ability to evolve into a very dangerous weapon at the position. He hasn’t done it yet, though, and is still a work in progress. That’s not a great sign for a prospect who is already 24 years old.

Top five wide receiver prospects:

Jameson Williams, Alabama

Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) runs by Arkansas defensive back Simeon Blair (15) wi ...
Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) runs by Arkansas defensive back Simeon Blair (15) with a touchdown reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

He’s not at the top of most rankings for this draft class, but there’s not much argument against him being the best of the group. The only real question is his health after suffering a torn ACL in the national championship game. He is on track to fully recover and could be a superstar in the NFL after one standout season for Alabama.

Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

An elite route runner who is terrific with the ball in his hands in space after the catch. He very well could be the first receiver taken from a very deep class at the position. Expect defenses to make him prove he can beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage, at least until he gets a bit stronger.

Drake London, Southern California

A former two-sport player at USC whose basketball background really shows up in his ability to win physical battles at the catch point. He is good at presenting a target and making a play, which NFL quarterbacks will love on third down. A lack of top-end speed and some issues with drops are concerning, though he’s very effective on back-shoulder throws.

Chris Olave, Ohio State

It’s difficult to envision Olave not being at least a good player at the NFL level. He runs very clean routes and rarely drops a catchable pass. He should be a very reliable player, even right away, though he might not be a true game changer at the next level.

Christian Watson, North Dakota State

Don’t look at his college stats. Watson was an unheralded recruit and went to a successful program that really doesn’t throw the ball. He used his time on campus to vastly improve. His drops are the only real concern on film, but he was great at the Senior Bowl and is also a willing downfield blocker as evidenced by how much he was asked to do it in college.

Top five cornerback prospects:

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati

Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner (1) reacts after intercepting a ball thrown by Murray State ...
Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner (1) reacts after intercepting a ball thrown by Murray State quarterback Preston Rice during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Sept. 11, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

One of the cleanest prospects in the entire draft. He is tall for the position, though he moves with the fluidity of a shorter player. He rarely gets beat, but when he does he can usually recover with his long strides and reach to break up passes. As anyone who follows draft coverage knows, he never allowed a coverage touchdown in college.

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

He had an unbelievable season that should have him in consideration to be the rare cornerback to go No. 1 overall. But that was in 2019. The past two years have been plagued by injury and inconsistency that have now made him a bit of a polarizing prospect. At his best, he will be a perennial Pro Bowler and lockdown corner. The question teams must ask is how often he will be at his best.

Trent McDuffie, Washington

While the top two players at the position are known for their elite press-coverage skills, McDuffie thrived in the zone. That doesn’t mean he can’t play man, but he hasn’t been asked to do it much. He’s a sure tackler and has great conceptual instincts, but he also has short arms that might have limited his ball skills.

Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson

Booth projects as a better man-coverage corner in the NFL, though he played a great deal of zone in college. He possesses incredible agility and still has plenty of room to grow after getting just one truly full season as a starter for the Tigers. His tackling skills are troubling and will need to improve.

Kaiir Elam, Florida

He is known for the physical presence he brings to the position, but he did run a sub-4.0 time in the 40 at the combine so he has some speed in his game as well. That physicality did get him into some trouble this season as he was consistently called for penalties. He will have to clean that up, but he will definitely frustrate receivers.

Top five safety prospects:

Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

FILE - Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) plays during an NCAA football game against Florida ...
FILE – Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (14) plays during an NCAA football game against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., in this Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, file photo. Hamilton was selected to The Associated Press Midseason All-America team, announced Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough, File)

He’s not good at running the 40-yard dash from a three-point stance. His disappointing performances at the combine and pro day in the sprint have led to all sorts of speculation about a tumble down the draft board, but here’s a news flash: He’s not going to play out of a three-point stance. Teams now have access to GPS information, and those numbers suggest Hamilton is plenty fast. The tape backs that up. Hamilton plays much faster than he is. It’s difficult to find film where he’s not around the ball no matter where tackles are made.

Daxton Hill, Michigan

He played a great deal of slot corner in college but really lined up all over the field. The biggest knock is probably his lack of size, so he will probably have to play deep safety or in the slot. But Hill is more than willing to mix it up when the situation warrants.

Jalen Pitre, Baylor

He might be higher on this list and even attracting more first-round buzz if he were a bit bigger. At 5 feet, 11 inches and less than 200 pounds, Pitre became one of the best slot corners in the nation and was perhaps even more effective at eluding blockers and throwing his body into ball carriers to shut down the outside run game when he was challenged.

Lewis Cine, Georgia

He probably projects as more of a box safety because of his ability to diagnose a play and get the ball carrier to the ground. But he shouldn’t be limited because those instincts can translate to other spots on the field. Coaches will love him for his football IQ and limited mistakes.

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State

Another prospect who projects as more of a box safety. Brisker loves to play downhill where he can find the ball and go get it, but he has shown to be very capable in coverage when called upon. When he does get beat, however, it’s often for a big play.

Top five offensive line prospects:

Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State

North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu prepares to block a player during the first h ...
North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu prepares to block a player during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

He is consistently blasting defenders off the line of scrimmage in the run game to the point that there is almost some degree of guilt watching the poor guys on film. He is still a work in progress in the passing game, though he showed vast improvement this year, and that upward trajectory should continue. Ekwonu’s run dominance would allow him to also excel at guard, but he should be a franchise left tackle.

Evan Neal, Alabama

He was able to play several positions throughout his time with Nick Saban and excel at all of them. Neal is incredibly explosive for such a massive human being, though he can sometimes get a bit exuberant and off balance coming out of his stance. His physical gifts are off the charts. He should play tackle in the NFL.

Kenyon Green, Texas A&M

He was put in the tough position of having to play every spot on the line except center this season, which may have been partly responsible for a rash of penalties that were a bit concerning. Once he settled in at left guard, he looked phenomenal. Green should find a home there early in his career.

Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

It’s very difficult to find much of a weakness in his game film, particularly this season as he truly started to dominate on a consistent basis for the Hawkeyes. One potential concern could be a lack of versatility. He is likely to be only a center in the NFL and will best be utilized in a zone run scheme that puts him on the move and allows him to take advantage of his athleticism.

Charles Cross, Mississippi State

He’s higher than this on many lists and could push his way up near the first 10 picks if some team falls in love with him. They very well could. Cross has all the traits, and coaches might salivate over his vast improvement this season. But Mike Leach’s pass-heavy system isn’t the best for preparing an offensive lineman to play in the NFL, so there will be a real adjustment period.

Top five defensive line prospects:

Devonte Wyatt, Georgia

Georgia's Devonte Wyatt hits Alabama's Bryce Young as he throws during the first half of the Co ...
Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt hits Alabama’s Bryce Young as he throws during the first half of the College Football Playoff championship football game Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The best all-around interior defensive lineman in the draft, though he may not be big enough to be a true nose tackle who can occupy blockers in the middle of the line of scrimmage. He will bring a bit more versatility to the position and use his speed and explosiveness to instead penetrate quickly and blow up plays.

Jordan Davis, Georgia

He can swallow up the inside of the opposing offensive line and help shut down a running game while also having more than enough explosiveness in his first step to be a disrupting force in the pass rush. But how often can he do it? His reps were very managed at Georgia. He rarely took on a full workload. That could keep some teams from taking an early leap at the freak athlete on draft night.

Travis Jones, Connecticut

The prototypical space-eater who will clog the middle and make life difficult on the opponents’ run game. Jones is very strong, though he needs to work on getting stood up less so he can win more battles instead of stalemating would-be blockers. There’s not much question about his strength, though.

Logan Hall, Houston

He is very long for the position and looks far more like a defensive end when he is rushing the passer, which presents difficult matchups for interior offensive linemen. Hall has bulked up each year to grow into his body, which has allowed him to grow by leaps and bounds against the run. Should he continue that progression, he could be special.

DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M

There are legitimate questions about where exactly he will play at the NFL level, which could certainly scare off some teams. He’s not quite athletic enough to project as an edge rusher and doesn’t have the heft right now to be an every-down factor on the interior. He does make plays, however, so somebody will find a role for him and start transforming his body.

Top five edge-rusher prospects:

Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson plays during an NCAA college football game against Michigan State o ...
Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson plays during an NCAA college football game against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

He dropped 20 pounds last offseason and went from a potential first-round pick to a potential No. 1 overall. There weren’t many games when he failed to consistently make himself a factor as he abused Big Ten tackles with a variety of pass-rush moves and a tremendous motor.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

Entering the season, there was a growing consensus Thibodeaux would be the top pick in this draft. He more than looks the part of a prototypical edge rusher in the NFL and has all the tools to become a star. Critics who question his lack of passion for the game certainly have some film that seems to back up their claim, but he can be dominant when the switch is flipped.

Travon Walker, Georgia

He’s one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, largely because his numbers in college certainly don’t justify such a lofty projection. Walker was asked to play out of position on an absolutely loaded defense and wasn’t often turned loose to chase quarterbacks, which he will have more free rein to do at the next level. He’s a freak athlete.

Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State

After two years in junior college and one at Georgia, Johnson finally found his niche with the Seminoles and became a star this season. He doesn’t project as a dominant pass-rushing edge, though he has enough ability to be productive in that area. Where Johnson will flourish is as an edge setter against the run. He played a ton this season and should be a three-down end in the NFL.

George Karlaftis, Purdue

The former water polo player, who didn’t move to the United States from Greece until he was 13 years old, consistently wins with strength and relentlessness. He can line up pretty much anywhere along the line and pressure blockers with his consistent power-rush moves, though he still leaves a lot to be desired against the run.

Top five linebacker prospects:

Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Georgia's Nakobe Dean breaks up a pass intended for Alabama's Cameron Latu during the first hal ...
Georgia’s Nakobe Dean breaks up a pass intended for Alabama’s Cameron Latu during the first half of the College Football Playoff championship football game Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Questions about his size and coverage ability have some merit, but it hasn’t mattered in college, where he was all over the field and so adept at reading plays that he appears to play faster than he actually runs. Dean is also the kind of leader many teams look for in a linebacker, though he won’t have the benefit of playing behind such a dominant defensive line as he did in college.

Devin Lloyd, Utah

He projects as a middle linebacker at the next level and does pretty much everything the NFL asks of middle linebackers at a fairly high level. He is long and rangy with an ideal frame. He ran a decent enough time in the 40 to answer questions about his speed, so if he can cut down on some of the missed tackles he should back up his first-round status.

Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

He probably isn’t right for every system and is a bit of a throwback. He’s a traditional middle linebacker who blows up blockers and ball carriers with delight. While he has very good speed and size, he doesn’t look fully comfortable in pass coverage just yet and will need to improve in that area.

Troy Andersen, Montana State

He is built like a prototypical NFL linebacker but doesn’t always play like one. There could be a good reason for that. Andersen was a quarterback and a running back for the Bobcats before switching to defense and truly taking off as an NFL prospect. The Senior Bowl was big for him in showing he can play with the big boys. His ceiling could be very high as he continues to learn how to play on this side of the ball.

Christian Harris, Alabama

A study of Harris is a frustrating endeavor. He is more than capable of doing everything a linebacker has to do to succeed, and there is evidence of him actually doing it in games, just not often enough. He looked like a surefire future first-rounder as a freshman but never really got much better.

Top five punter prospects:

Matt Araiza, San Diego State

FILE - San Diego State place kicker Matt Araiza (2) plays during an NCAA football game against ...
FILE – San Diego State place kicker Matt Araiza (2) plays during an NCAA football game against Utah in Carson, Calif., in this Saturday Sept. 18, 2021, file photo. Araiza was selected to The Associated Press Midseason All-America team, announced Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State

Jordan Stout, Penn State

Ryan Wright, Tulane

Jake Camarda, Georgia

Top 5 kicker prospects:

Cade York, LSU

FILE - LSU kicker Cade York (36) kicks an extra point with punter Zach Von Rosenberg (38) holdi ...
FILE – LSU kicker Cade York (36) kicks an extra point with punter Zach Von Rosenberg (38) holding during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in this Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, file photo. York was selected to The Associated Press Preseason All-America first team offense, Monday Aug. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)

Cameron Dicker, Texas

Andrew Mevis, Iowa State

Gabe Brkic, Oklahoma

Caleb Shudak, Iowa

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.