Last week’s 2022 NFL Combine offered a glimpse at the rookies who’ll be selected during the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas, Nevada. The annual event, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, offers a platform for prospects to showcase their athletic skills for NFL scouts, general managers after interviewing with them.
The theme of this year’s class: speed, speed, and more speed. An astonishing number of offensive skill position players posted official 40 yard dash times under 4.4 seconds: eight wide receivers and six running backs. Additionally, sixteen different defensive backs logged sub-4.4 times, and 341 pounder Jordan Davis, a defensive tackle from the University of Georgia, ran a 4.78!
I watched and re-watched hours of film, workouts, and tests so you don’t have to, then read tons of scouting reports from those who watched even more. Afterwards, I compiled my list of the top 80 rookies (also available on FantasyPros.com), then analyzed the top 20 prospects in-depth.
Tier 1: Future Studs
1. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State – Hall, a back-to-back Doak Walker Award finalist, averaged 1,522 rushing yards over his past two seasons, scoring exactly 23 touchdowns in each. He is the cousin of Roger Craig, a three-time Super Bowl Champion who owns the unique distinction of being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade 1980s Team without being actually enshrined as a member of the Hall.
We won’t similarly overlook Hall, graded as a 99 by NFL’S Next Gen Stats. For context, here’s how he compares to past running back prospects:
Iowa State running back Breece Hall (4.44u, 40" vertical @ 217 lbs) currently stands as 1 of 6 RBs since 2003 to earn an NGS overall score of a 99. The others:
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 5, 2022
2. Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas – Burks (6’2″, 225) famously manhandled the Alabama defense this past season to the tune of 8 receptions for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns, but his NFL Combine performance was a bit of a mixed bag. Burks’ field workouts were impressive, but several analysts were turned off by a lower-than-expected 40-yard dash (4.55). I absolutely love his film, but while he’s still my top-rated wide receiver, the consensus now disagrees.
I just hope people don’t make the same mistake as they did by fading Tee Higgins in 2020 for the same reason, as the error could be even more egregious this time around: Burks plays much faster in pads than his posted Combine time indicates, as evidenced by this Week 3 performance in which he topped 22 mph in a sprint to the end zone, the fastest recorded speed posted by any collegiate football player that week.
3. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State – Wilson (6’0″, 183) is the new consensus top wide receiver in this year’s NFL Draft after posting a blistering 4.38 in the 40, the sixth-fastest time among the dozens of wide receivers who worked out at the NFL Combine this season. Brentley Weismann of The Draft Network highlighted Wilson’s many impressive traits that led to the Buckeye’s ascension to the consensus overall WR1 spot heading into this year’s NFL Draft.
Wilson totaled over 1,100 total yards in his junior season, and his 70 receptions ranked second on the team behind sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba‘s eye-popping total of 95. A smooth route runner with exceptional hands, Wilson is a sure-fire Round 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
4. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State – As much as we love Wilson, we’re not entirely convinced that he’ll end up as the best receiver from his own college team. For starters, teammate Chris Olave (6′ 0 3/8″, 187) ran the seventh-best 40 time of all wide receivers at the NFL Combine. As crazy as it sounds, Olave’s stock actually slipped just a bit since that official time was “only” a 4.39, a mark that fell a bit short of what many experts and analysts expected.
Olave led the deepest WR corps in FBS with 13 touchdowns last season, putting the NFL on notice with a total of 32 touchdowns in his last 31 collegiate games. His game-breaking ability is clear to anyone who watched him play this season. One final thought about Olave, whose Combine speeds translates well to film: He was once found in an Ohio State WR room that also held Wilson, Jameson Williams (see below), and Smith-Njigba (who we’ll be highlighting him in this very same space next year).
All four studs in the same room. At the same time. Wow!
Tier 2: Starters With Stud Potential
5. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State – Walker (5’9 1/4″, 211) won the 2021 Walter Camp Award, a prestigious honor bestowed upon the most outstanding player in college football. Derrick Henry is the only other running back to take home this piece of hardware over the past ten years. One important distinction between the Heisman Trophy and the Walter Camp Award: the Heisman trophy is determined by members of the media, whereas FBS coaches determine who wins the Walter Camp Award.
Walker, who displays impressive burst and contact balance on film, notched a sub-4.4 sprint at the combine. Oh, he also won the Doak Walker Award, which is given every year to the top running back in the nation. While Breece Hall is the consensus top running back in this year’s class, Walker tops several lists, including one recently published by Jeff Bell of Footballguys.
6. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama – As mentioned above, Williams (6′ 1 1/2″ 179), was famously a former teammate of both Wilson and Olave. For those obsessed with analytics metrics such as Breakout Age and Dominator Rating, this partially explains why Williams totaled only 15 receptions during his two seasons in Columbus as a member of the Buckeyes. Williams broke out in a big way in 2021, compiling a 79-1,572-15 line in 15 games, leading the entire SEC in receiving yards, touchdown catches, and yards per reception.
Unfortunately, Williams was unable to participate in NFL Combine workouts due to an ACL tear suffered during the NCAA National Championship Game, but he’s reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab and well on his way to a full recovery. Prior to the injury, Williams was clocked at 23 mph during practice by GPS tracking employed by Alabama’s coaching staff. I’m tempering expectations a bit for Year 1, but Williams has the tools to be a problem in the NFL.
7. Drake London, WR, USC–London (6’4″, 219) did not participate in NFL Combine drills due to a fractured ankle, an injury he suffered in late October. He will reportedly run during his Pro Day, and all eyes will be on the timer; his perceived lack of speed is perhaps the biggest knock against him. Should he unexpectedly post a blistering time, London could move as high as WR2 in my rankings.
As things stand now, London is still a clear Top 5 option at the position, as he offers a nightmarish size mismatch and an impressive production profile: in only eight games, London scored 7 touchdowns and racked up 1,084 yards. The clear focal point of the Trojans’ passing offense, he averaged 11 receptions per game through October, more than twice as many as his next closest teammate. His ability to take over a game has many NFL scouts, coaches, and general managers drooling, so expect him to go off the board on Day 1 as one of the first 15 selections in the NFL Draft.
8. Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A & M – Like Walker, Spiller (6’0″, 217) appears on a few lists as the overall RB1 in this draft class. While Spiller is larger, Walker seems to get more out of his frame. However, Spiller offers more polish as a receiver, so his upside as a three-down running back at the next level is just as high.
Spiller, a First Team All-SEC selection, averaged over 1,200 per season during his three-year career at Texas A&M and logged over 20 receptions in each campaign. Like Walker, I expect Spiller to be a Day 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Tier 3: Dependable Future Starters
9. James Cook, RB, Georgia – I’m higher than most on Cook (5’11”, 199), who led the National Champion Georgia Bulldogs in yards from scrimmage (1,012), averaging 1.7 more yards per touch than backfield teammate Zamir White, a solid prospect in his own right (see below). Cook’s impressive 6.4 yards per carry was tops on his team by a large margin, and his ability to score from anywhere on the field is undeniable.
However, those who question his ability to carry the mail for an NFL suitor voice fair concerns: Cook only logged 10 or more carries in five games over the course of his entire collegiate career. As the brother of NFL star Dalvin Cook, he offers an impressive bloodline, and Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson favorably compared the two. That’s not the highest praise the youngest Cook has received from PFF, however:
Georgia RB’s who posted 80+ rushing and receiving grades in a season since 2014
🐶 James Cook (’21)
🐶 Nick Chubb (’14) pic.twitter.com/5Rp4RpUGne
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 1, 2022
10. George Pickens, WR, Georgia – Few players improved their stock at the Combine as much as Pickens (6’3″, 195), whose official 4.47 time in the 40 would’ve stood out as comparatively impressive in most years. Pickens offers an intriguing size/speed combination, although his production profile is very thin, thanks in large part to an ACL injury that caused him to miss most of the 2021 season.
Throughout his abbreviated three-year career, Pickens seemed to be at his best when the lights were brightest. In the 2019 Sugar Bowl against Baylor, Pickens racked up 175 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions. As a sophomore in the 2020 Peach Bowl, Pickens posted the second-highest receiving total of his collegiate career, a 135-yard effort against Cincinnati.
This January, he was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver in the National Championship game despite catching only one pass: a 52-yarder that ultimately yielded Georgia’s first points in the game. Imagine how much better the National Champion Georgia Bulldog team would’ve been if they had a healthy Pickens all season. NFL teams are certainly doing that math, so we expect the Hoover, Alabama native to hear his name called early on Day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft.
11. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh – Thanks to solid interviews, workouts, and physical metrics, the ACC Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy Finalist used the Combine to cement his position as the top quarterback in this year’s NFL Draft, despite concerns about his small hands (8.5 inches).
Pickett ranks second all-time in ACC history in passing attempts, completions, and yards. This year, he led the conference in completion percentage (67.1) and passing touchdowns (42); the latter was the fourth-highest total in all of college football this season. An impressive 42-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the cherry on top of an impressive senior season, one that saw him morph into an unquestionable Day 1 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
12. Dameon Pierce, RB, Florida – Pierce (5’10”, 218) put up an impressive 21 reps in the bench press at the Combine, an exclamation point on a draft profile that touted him as a strong power back. His prowess at the goal line was on display in 2021, as his 13 rushing touchdowns ranked third in the entire SEC.
He’s more than just a plodder, however. Per PFF, since 2014, no SEC running back finished a season with a higher rushing grade, a group that includes Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Najee Harris, and Leonard Fournette. Oh, and I’m also going to let you in on a well-kept secret: Pierce has a second gear to go along with his three-down back build, one that he put on display last month at the Senior Bowl:
Florida RB Dameon Pierce’s pre-draft momentum built in Mobile will continue out of Indy. Pierce posted fastest GPS gameday speed (20.66 mph) of any player at @seniorbowl. Comparatively, Antonio Gibson hit 20.15 mph and clocked 4.39 at 2020 Combine. Pierce isn’t just a power back. pic.twitter.com/JH0jCg0gER
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 2, 2022
13. Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State – White (6’0″, 214) burst onto the scene with an impressive senior season in 2021. His 1,456 total yards from scrimmage ranked second in the Pac-12, and he found paydirt 16 times. The Kansas City native demonstrated his ability to carry the load as a three-down back, and his contributions in the passing game (43 receptions) surely have him squarely on several teams’ radar.
His 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash likewise raised eyebrows, tied for the ninth-fastest time among running backs at the NFL Combine. Only two players at the position logged a higher vertical leap (39 inches), and only four outdid him in the broad jump (10’5″). White checks all of the boxes, so we won’t be the least bit surprised to hear his name called on Day 2 by a team in need of a jack-of-all-trades in the backfield.
Rachaad White, RB
-84th-percentile Speed Score✅
-87th-percentile Burst Score✅
-87th-percentile College Dominator✅
-98th-percentile College Target Share✅#NFLCombine #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/Qovi9g798E
— PlayerProfiler (@rotounderworld) March 7, 2022
14. Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson – I’m higher than most on Ross (6’4″, 205), who exploded on the scene during Clemson’s 2018 National Championship season with 46 receptions, 1,000 yards receiving, and nine touchdowns during an impressive freshman campaign. Despite shining on the brightest stage of them all, Ross is overlooked today by many draft experts and dynasty fantasy football enthusiasts, scared off by a congenital spinal defect that required surgery and threatened to end his promising football career.
However, Ross made a full recovery, and after being cleared by doctors, posted a 47-524-3 line in 2021 that wholly encapsulated Clemson’s quarterback struggles (D.J. Uiagalelei will be looking over his shoulder at true freshman blue chipper Cade Klubniak, the nation’s top quarterback recruit). As things stand, Ross’s sky-high upside arguably makes him the best value of any skill position player in the entire 2022 Draft class.
15. Pierre Strong, RB, South Dakota St. – FCS running backs don’t typically get a lot of love, but they’ve made their mark in the NFL over the years, including Walter Payton (Grambling State), Larry Centers (Stephen F. Austin), Brian Westbrook (Villanova), David Johnson (Northern Iowa), and James Robinson (Illinois State), to name a few. Enter Pierre Strong (5’11”, 207), who led all FCS running backs with 1,686 rushing yards.
Strong’s 18 touchdowns on the ground were second only to Kennesaw State’s Xavier Shepherd (23), and his 240 carries as a senior offer proof of his ability to handle a three-down workload. Consecutive seasons with 20 or more receptions hint at his upside as a weapon out of the backfield, especially when paired with the fastest 40 time posted by a running back at the NFL Combine in 2022 (4.37). He dominated the competition, posting an impressive 7.0 yards per carry. We see no reason why this Jackrabbit can’t hop through holes at the next level, as well.
16. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty – The drumbeat for Willis (6’0″, 219) as a bona fide NFL prospect became audible down the stretch this season when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over the final five games. It really began to resonate at the Senior Bowl, where he put his impressive athleticism on display for all to see after impressing NFL teams in the interview process.
After continuing to interview well at the NFL Combine, the transfer from Auburn was caught doing good deeds, and later showed off his arm talent in what was arguably the most impressive throw of the entire Combine. Did I mention that Willis also averaged over 900 rushing yards per season over his final two campaigns? His passing accuracy requires refinement, but the raw tools are undeniable. Expect Willis to be a Round 1 selection in this year’s NFL Draft. The Atlanta native makes a ton of sense for the Falcons as the heir to aging veteran Matt Ryan.
17. Zamir White, RB, Georgia – The third Georgia Bulldog on our list, White (6’0″, 215), is a tough, physical runner who boasts the third-best athleticism score among running backs at the Combine, according to Next Gen Stats (94). Only Hall and Strong scored higher (both posted 99s). His unexpectedly quick 4.40 jaunt caught many scouts and draft analysts by surprise, and many have moved him ahead of James Cook on their boards as a result.
We still prefer Cook, but we’re keeping our eye on White, the bluest of blue-chip recruits coming out of high school. I have questions about his receiving chops, but if he slips a round or two during the Draft, keeping White in Georgia would make a ton of sense for the Atlanta Falcons.
18. Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati – Only two quarterbacks in FBS history notched more career wins than Ridder (6’3″, 211), who posted one of the best broad jumps (10′ 7″) of any quarterback in the history of the NFL Combine. Ridder logged two other historically significant performances at the Combine: his 36-inch vertical leap ranks among the ten best marks of all time, and only three quarterbacks ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.52).
Ridder, who averaged over 500 yards rushing during his last two seasons, offers that much-sought-after high floor that fantasy football experts look for in a quarterback. Ridder also exudes leadership and other intangibles that should make him an astute late first or early second-round selection…but hey, don’t take my word for it:
Why Desmond Ridder could be a steal in Round 2. pic.twitter.com/8WUeg0USTc
— Mel Kiper Jr. (@MelKiperESPN) March 7, 2022
19. Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State – Many scouts and analysts are higher on Dotson (5’10”, 178) than I am. The solid route runner posted a 4.43 in the 40, tied for the tenth-fastest wide receiver time at the Combine. Dotson has great hands, but he isn’t exceptionally physical, and much of his success in college came from creating separation with pure athleticism, an approach that won’t work as well in the NFL against bigger, stronger, faster defenders who’ll bully him at the point of attack. He’s not as NFL-ready as some seem to think, but he can absolutely get there with continued refinement.
20. Ty Chandler, RB, North Carolina – Chandler (5’11, 204) transferred to Chapel Hill in 2021 after four seasons in Tennessee. The fifth time was the charm: Chandler enjoyed his best season in powder blue, grinding out 1,092 yards on 182 carries, third-best in the ACC. His 13 rushing touchdowns were also third-best in the conference.
In limited passing-game opportunities, Chandler posted a 15-216-1 receiving line that doesn’t reflect his talent and skills as a receiver. Displayed shiftiness in the open field and the ability to serve as a downfield threat. He’ll offer tremendous value to any team lucky enough to land him on Day 3.
Complete Rookie Rankings
(Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)