The 2022 NFL Draft was considered a defensive draft with players on that side of the ball being taken with the first five selections. There are some early candidates to replace that level of talent in college football but there is also substantial room for others to carve out a platform. Some of the best defenders in the nation are laid out below.
But first, there is a lot of context necessary for this article. It is May and most of these early impressions are based on a small sample size. The lists below are not necessarily the five best players at their position but rather a watch list of sorts. More comprehensive conference previews will come out prior to the start of the college football season.
- Will Anderson, Alabama
- Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington
- Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
- Myles Murphy, Clemson
- Viliami Fehoko, San Jose State
Anderson was credited with 141 total pressures over the past two years, which is tied for the most in the PFF era. If eligible, he likely would have been the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Tupuola-Fetui suffered a torn Achilles in April 2021. He elected to return to school for the upcoming season to put some distance between the injury and his draft declaration. Anudike-Uzomah is a high-motor player who is still developing his pass-rush arsenal. Murphy is a personal favorite early in the process. He has a similar size profile as Travon Walker with the ability to play on the edge or slide inside depending on the situation. His strength is a problem for opponents. Fehoko has good size and produced three forced fumbles last season.
Ohio State’s Zach Harrison was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. He has the size and speed to be an impact performer this season. Appalachian State’s Nick Hampton and Troy’s Richard Jibunor are a few stand-up edge rushers with good production last season.
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Interior defensive line
- Jalen Carter, Georgia
- Jaquelin Roy, LSU
- Gervon Dexter, Florida
- Bryan Bresee, Clemson
- Siaki Ika, Baylor
Carter stood out along a defensive line that featured three future first-round picks. He goes from a youngster working for a role in the defense to one of the elder statesmen on that side of the ball. Roy shows some stack-and-shed ability to get off blocks and make plays in the backfield. Dexter has some work to do before he lands in the first round but the size and athletic profile are there. Bresee was a highly regarded recruit out of high school. He should have a lot of opportunities to make plays along that Clemson front. Ika is more of a traditional nose tackle prospect
Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton, Mississippi State’s Jaden Crumedy and Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus are a few others on the radar.
- Trenton Simpson, Clemson
- Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama
- Noah Sewell, Utah
- DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
- Amari Gainer, Florida State
Simpson has a similar style of play as Micah Parsons but is not as big and strong as Parsons yet. If he lands in the right system, he could be a weapon. To’oTo’o looked better than his teammate, third-round selection Christian Harris, at times last season. Sewell — the younger brother of Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell — is a very talented player in his own right. Overshown and Gainer are two players with the size and athletic ability to be special but it has not clicked yet.
- Tony Grimes, North Carolina
- Cam Smith, South Carolina
- Kelee Ringo, Georgia
- Eli Ricks, Alabama
- Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Grimes and Ringo are the early favorites to be the first cornerback taken next April. Ricks will be playing in a stacked Alabama defense after transferring from LSU. Smith has played inside and out for the Gamecocks. He gets a bit handsy downfield but is physical through the route. Porter — the son of the former Steelers linebacker — has been on the radar for a few years.
- Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
- Jordan Battle, Alabama
- Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame
- Jalen Catalon, Arkansas
- Tykee Smith, Georgia
Johnson is more of a box safety who is physical and has good awareness. He shows a quick key and trigger and is able to get up to speed quickly. Battle has been able to stave off a significant amount of talent to retain his starting job in Tuscaloosa. Joseph had a highlight-reel interception as a freshman at Northwestern but transferred to South Bend this off-season. Catalon is pound for pound one of the most dynamic defenders in the nation. Smith, a West Virginia transfer, missed a portion of last season with an injury but carried a lot of hype into his first season with the Bulldogs.