According to The Huddle Report, Brendan Donahue is ranked as the most accurate NFL mock drafter over the past five years and in this column he brings his extensive college football predictive insight to you weekly.
As someone who does mock drafts every year, I always have my eye on draft-eligible players and how their performance on the field could positively or negatively impact their draft stock in the upcoming draft. So we will be tracking players on a weekly basis throughout the season to see who is rising or falling on draft boards.
What college players are rising on the draft board for 2022?
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Going into the season Pickett was widely considered a Day 3 prospect who would most likely hear his name called in Round 5 or later. Through the first five games of the season, it can be argued no quarterback in the country has improved his draft stock more than Pickett. Coming off another impressive performance against Georgia Tech where he threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns, he now has 19 touchdowns and just one interception on the season with a 72% completion percentage.
The senior quarterback is now second in the country in both total QBR at 90.1 and total EPA at 46.9, per ESPN, which is only behind Malik Willis, who could potentially be the first quarterback selected in next year’s draft. His PFF grade is 92.5 which leads all power five quarterbacks and is a vast improvement from his junior season when he had just a 69.8 grade for the year. While Pickett doesn’t have some of the physical tools as the other top quarterback prospects, which will keep him from hearing his name selected on Day 1, it is very possible Pickett has moved all the way up to a Day 2 selection.
Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky
At 6’5”, 345 pounds, Kinnard has long been considered a great run-blocking offensive lineman which earned him third-team All-American honors last season and had him considering entering his name in the 2021 draft. He decided to come back to Kentucky for his senior season to continue to work on his overall technique and specifically improve his pass blocking.
Through the first five games of the season, it appears Kinnard has done exactly that, earning a 90.4 overall grade from PFF which is fourth out of 384 offensive tackles in the country. Playing every snap at right tackle, he has only given up one sack and one QB hurry on 143 pass block attempts. If Kinnard can convince scouts he can play tackle at the next level, it will all but assure that he will go in the top-half of the first round, but even if he is viewed as more of a guard, Kinnard should be a lock to be selected in the first round based on his play so far in 2021.
Adam Anderson, Edge, Georgia
Considered to be one of the top pass-rushing prospects in the country coming into this season, Anderson has shown even more of a propensity to get to the quarterback in 2021. Against Arkansas this past weekend, he added another sack to his total to get to four on the season through the first five games which is just one less than his entire total in 2020 when he had five sacks in 10 games. While it’s clear he is an elite pass rusher, at just 230 pounds he still could add some bulk that will help him become a better run defender as well and raise his draft status as an every-down player versus just a pass rush specialist.
What college players are falling on the draft board for 2022?
Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
Just a three-star recruit coming out of high school, Nelson was surprisingly given a starting role his freshman year and as one would expect, it was a struggle. He allowed 12 sacks and 38 pressures in 13 games. However, that experience seemed to start to pay off last year when Nelson only allowed three sacks and four QB hits in 10 games. With his improved play on the field coupled with him bulking up to 316 pounds from his 270-pound playing weight his freshman year while keeping his athleticism, it not only put him on scouts draft radar, it put him in the conversation to be one of the first offensive lineman drafted.
That was predicated on him continuing to make the big strides on the field that he made from his freshman to sophomore season but so far, that has not been the case in his junior year. He has already allowed three sacks through five games which is the same amount he allowed all of last year. His overall grade from PFF is just 69.5, which ranks him 101st in the country. Nelson certainly has grown into the physical traits from his freshman year that scouts are looking for at the next level, but he still needs to develop better technique on a consistent basis to warrant being a first-round pick in the 2022 draft.