It’s the evening of Thursday, April 28, 2022 — and Mel Kiper Jr. is backstage at Allegiant Stadium looking into the mirror, trying to decide which angle to position his head in an attempt to make his hair look different this year than the 38 NFL Draft shows prior. From the shadows, Mark Davis approaches from behind and proceeds to ask Kiper what he’s doing at his (Davis’) backstage dresser. Kiper turns around, takes in Davis’ visage, and realizes he doesn’t look all that bad after all. The world is relative. And so it goes.
Now, to be fair, Kiper looks like my late grandmother after coming home from a perm followed by a McCafe iced coffee — on a good day. But he’s drastically different from Davis, both in appearance and in his ability to evaluate college football talent. As we all know, a Davis can’t tell a Crabtree from a Heyward-Bey, or a Ruggs from a Lamb, or a Ferrell from an Allen. But Mel can (sort of). And he’ll tell you, the same way I’m going attempt to do so today. The 2021 fantasy football season is winding down, and I already laid out some advice for your postseason push at the onset of December by detailing which players could boom during fantasy playoffs. Since we’re already ahead of the game, let’s make like MKJ and look ahead to the 2022 rookie class in an attempt to assess which players could emerge from college and become fantasy relevant one year from now. I’ll break down “The Cream” and “The Crop” of each fantasy skill position. Hopefully, you already know that the best crops are always grown by wholesome, small-town farmers. Buy local, people.
The Cream: Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh; Malik Willis, Liberty; Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The Crop: Carson Strong, Nevada; Sam Howell, UNC; Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati; Will Levis, Kentucky; Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
Depending on where you look, you could see one of three quarterbacks projected to go off the board first in the 2022 NFL Draft: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis or Mississippi’s Matt Corral. Pickett was the lone member of that trio to be named a Heisman finalist this past year after completing a career-high 67% of his passes for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. With 18.5 rushing yards per game and five scores on the ground in 2021, he’s doesn’t offer the same extent of upside on the ground as the likes of Willis — but he has the ability to extend plays and maneuver around the pocket with his legs. From a fantasy perspective, Willis is the most intriguing with his 25 rushing touchdowns, 80.2 rushing yards per game, 44 passing touchdowns and 4,876 air yards the past two seasons. Willis is project of a prospect, having completed just 61.6% of his passes in 2021 against a schedule that ranked 81st in the FBS. Then you have Corral, who represents the purest passer of the group: 68.4% completion percentage, 3,339 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2021. Pair Corral’s elite arm talent with his 49.8 rushing yards per game and 11 rushing touchdowns in 2021 — and the top-10 overall potential is there. He’s not the sexiest QB pick, but could he be the 2022 draft’s Mac Jones? After this trio, Carson Strong, Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell compose the second tier.
The Cream: none
The Crop: Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama; Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State; Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M; Breece Hall, Iowa State; Kyren Williams, Notre Dame; Zamir White, Georgia
While the quarterback group has three surefire first rounders, the running back class has zero locks to go in the first 30 picks. Of that class, Brian Robinson Jr. Kenneth Walker III and Isaiah Spiller stand out as the best available, but as we know, landing spot is likely to dictate the bulk of this group’s 2022 fantasy relevance. Walker III reminds me of the type of accomplished-yet-undervalued Big-10 rusher that often gets overlooked in drafts and ends up overperforming his fantasy value during the ensuing campaign — similar to what we’ve observed with Jonathan Taylor and Najee Harris. It’s my expectation that both Walker III and Robinson Jr. will have immediate fantasy relevance in 2022, with their stock rising to that of a third-to-fourth round pick should they project to open the season as a lead back. Spiller also profiles as a second-to-third round talent, as it’s his pure speed that holds him back from being a legitimate first rounder. Breece Hall and Kyren Williams will also likely require enough draft stock by whoever drafts them to put them on the 2022 radar, such as a Javonte Williams did this past year. Unfortunately, we’re going to be left guessing and reading the tea leaves in training camp reports with the bulk of these names, and I really can’t encourage you to buy into anyone outside of Robinson Jr. and Walker III until we know more about the plans of whoever drafts them.
The Cream: Garrett Wilson, Ohio State; Jameson Williams, Alabama; Chris Olave, Ohio State; Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The Crop: Jahan Dotson, PSU; Drake London, USC; David Bell, Purdue; George Pickens, Georgia; Justyn Ross, Clemson; John Metchie III, Alabama
All four receivers listed under “The Cream” should go in the first round of the NFL Draft and as we know based off recent draft history, any member of “The Crop” could creep into the 20-30 pick range if the right organization falls in love with what they see. Wilson is the most common pick to be the first receiver off the board, but there are mocks out there with Burks, Olave and Williams taking that title as well. Of that group, I’m highest on Burks and Olave, but the other two figure to step in and make an immediate fantasy impact in 2022 as well. For Ohio State this past season, Olave hauled in 65 passes for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Wilson caught 70 passes for 1,058 yards and 12 scores — nearly identical seasons. Olave is the most dynamic threat from a speed/game-breaking perspective, but many industry pundits view Wilson as the more complete receiver on all three levels of the opposing defense. Of “The Crop,” Purdue’s David Bell and Georgia’s George Pickens stand out to me as names likely to go outside of the first round but still holding that elite, first-round upside — think Terry McLaurin and Davante Adams.
The Cream: Jalen Wyndermyer, Texas A&M
The Crop: Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina; Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State; Charlie Kolar, Iowa State; Jahleel Billingsley, Alabama; Sam LaPorta, Iowa; Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin; Cade Otton, Washington; Trey McBride, Colorado State; Cole Turner, Nevada; Will Mallory, Miami; Trae Barry, Boston College
While Texas A&M’s Jalen Wyndermyer profiles as the 2022 NFL Draft’s top tight end, he certainly isn’t the most electric. Having caught 40 passes for 515 yards and four touchdowns in 2021, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Wyndermyer is a good enough blocker to be an every-down option. He has above average route-running ability and ball skills, although the title for best receiving threat at the TE position in this class likely goes to Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely. Jeremy Ruckert, Jake Ferguson and Charlie Kolar should all hear their names called prior to the midpoint of day two, but it’s Trey McBride that stands out to me as the potential steal of this group. Even after racking up 1,121 yards on 90 catches this season, McBride is still being projected as a mid-to-late round talent. He won’t be one of the first TEs off the board, but at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he has both the size and skill set to be an every-down workhorse. He’s an excellent run blocker and excelled in 2021 despite being the primary threat on an underwhelming CSU offense. Washington’s Cade Otton is another name to watch at the TE position.
That’s all for this week, Razzball fam! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.