The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and it's never too early to speculate which player could go first overall in the 2022 draft. The date is TBA sometime next April and will be held in Las Vegas. Sin City was to host the 2020 draft, but that all changed due to the COVID pandemic. SportsLine oddsmakers have three clear favorites as the top pick a year from now: North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler and Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux.
It's obviously a bit of a crapshoot projecting a top pick this far out; Joe Burrow was barely on scouts' radar heading into his final season at LSU before going first in 2020. Ditto for guys like Kyler Murray (No. 1 in 2019 to Arizona) or Baker Mayfield (No. 1 to Cleveland in 2018). Then again, the top pick on Thursday night was Trevor Lawrence by Jacksonville, and he entered last season at Clemson as the clear-cut favorite to go No. 1 overall in 2021. That's more the exception to the rule.
Quarterbacks have now gone first in six of the past seven drafts, and it is by far the most valuable position in football if not all of sports. Thus, no surprise that the Heels' Howell and Sooners' Rattler are atop the list for 2022. Rattler is currently the +500 favorite at William Hill Sportsbook to win next year's Heisman and Howell is +1000.
Rattler struggled early in the 2020 season for Oklahoma but then blew up as he threw 15 TDs vs. two INTs in the final seven games. Rattler also brings back one of the nation's top receiving groups, which will only help his numbers. With Mayfield and Murray, the NFL already has shown it likes OU quarterbacks who win the Heisman and are coached by Lincoln Riley.
Howell has performed at a high level for two years in college compared to one for Rattler, but the one knock on Howell is that he's a bit on the smaller side. No player from North Carolina has gone first overall.
Via sister site 247Sports, the Ducks' Thibodeaux was the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2019 and the California native has lived up to the hype and tends to rise to the occasion. He had 9.5 tackles for loss in just seven games for the Pac-12 champs a year ago and has a combined 18 quarterback pressures, 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in two career Pac-12 Championship Games. As a Freshman All-American in 2019, he led the nation with seven sacks in the fourth quarters of games.
The only player from Oregon to go first overall in the NFL Draft was George Shaw way back in 1955. The last defensive player to go first was Texas A&M's Myles Garrett to Cleveland in 2017.
This list could be expanded, but Georgia QB JT Daniels, who could have declared for the 2021 draft, and LSU star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. round out the favorites. Stingley might be the most talented overall player in the country, but cornerbacks simply don't go first overall. Not a single one has in the common draft era (since 1967).
Before the Lions took Jeff Okudah at No. 3 last year, no team had used a top-three pick on a corner since Seattle took Shawn Springs third overall in 2003. Maybe Stingley is good enough to change things.
The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts the Jets (4.6 wins), Texans (4.8), Lions (5.5) and Eagles (5.8) with the four lowest win totals for next season. The Jets wouldn't need a quarterback (and probably would take Thibodeaux or Stingley) but the other three might – Houston depending on what happens with Deshaun Watson.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Early favorites to be first overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft
- Sam Howell +200
- Spencer Rattler +300
- Kayvon Thibodeaux +300
- Derek Stingley Jr. +800
- JT Daniels +900
- Malik Willis +1000
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