We're through the conference championships, and the College Football Playoff is set. Bowl season is around the corner, and some prospects are even starting to declare intentions for next season. Indeed, the 2022 NFL draft is getting closer.
A lot still lies ahead before names are called in Las Vegas in April, but the class is starting to take clearer shape. We know, for instance, there will be a handful of exceptional edge rushers near the top of the class, though there has been a little shuffling among them in my newest edition of draft rankings. In fact, I have a new No. 1 overall prospect -- an elite prospect off the edge. We also know top-tier wide receivers will be available. I have six in the my top 32, including four in the top 15.
If you're looking for quarterbacks, you might need to scroll a little. I have three in my top 32 right now, and none comes in higher than No. 15. After we saw offense make up the 2021 draft's first seven picks, the 2022 class is shaping up to be defense-dominated at the top. But again, there's a lot of road ahead. For now, here are my top 32 prospects for the 2022 class coming out of the conference championship games, updated from my Nov. 16 version.
Note: Underclassmen are marked with an asterisk, and grades are via Scouts Inc.
1. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
Height: 6-foot-6 | Weight: 269 pounds
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 5
Hutchinson plays a powerful game and is truly relentless in pursuit. He also has fast eyes and locates the ball really well. I also like his inside move, and his ability to line up on either side and drop in coverage will be valuable to NFL teams. The senior can stack blockers at the point of attack and has active hands. He has 14.0 sacks (third in the country), 15.5 tackles for loss (tied for 22nd), 12 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles this season for the Wolverines. On the season, Hutchinson has three games with more than two sacks, and he has seven sacks over his past four games. The potential Heisman Trophy finalist now has an opportunity to challenge for the national sack lead in the College Football Playoff.
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon*
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 250
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 1
Thibodeaux is a phenomenal pass-rusher with great speed and size. He gets a good push on blockers, and he shows solid initial quickness and closing speed. Thibodeaux is effective at dipping and ripping, but he also displays a strong inside move. Against the run, he locates the ball then stacks and sheds blockers, often making plays in the backfield. And he is versatile enough to convert to 3-4 outside linebacker or even occasionally kick inside to rush the passer. He could use a little more work as a hands fighter, and I'd like to see him play with a little more fire. Through 11 games, Thibodeaux has 7.0 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, eight QB hurries and two forced fumbles.
3. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama*
Height: 6-7 | Weight: 350
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 3
Neal has played all over the Alabama line, starting at guard as a freshman, before sliding to right tackle in 2020 and finally left tackle this season. He mirrors and slides really well, and speed rushers struggle to get around his long frame. On run blocks, Neal excels with a quick first step and excellent angles. He shows range at the second level, which makes him perfect for a zone-blocking scheme. He also delivers blocks with power, though he is still developing his balance. His awareness stands out: He can locate blitzes, twists and stunts and seal off the pass rush. Neal can get in trouble by occasionally lunging, but his skill set makes him an easy plug-and-play lineman in the NFL.