NFL Combine 2022: QBs on the Rise, Elite Cornerbacks, and One Very Fast Lineman

NFL Combine Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis runs a drill during the NFL Combine
Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis runs a drill during the NFL CombineDarron Cummings/AP / Shutterstock

The NFL Combine is a league-wide gossip convention, where staffers for all 32 teams mingle among each other and a gaggle of media for a week in Indianapolis. Separating noise from reality in that setting is difficult. There’s a whole lot of trade and free agency buzz happening here. Will the Green Bay Packers really trade Aaron Rodgers, as was the talk of the Combine? Who knows. Is the Russell Wilson-Seattle Seahawks relationship in a good place? Hard to say.

But we can glean some info that’s relevant to April’s NFL Draft. While success at the NFL Combine guarantees nothing about a player’s ultimate success in the league, the week’s events did confirm a few things about the rookie class of 2022. Here’s who stood out this year.

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1. Someone is going to try to make Malik Willis a franchise quarterback.

It’s hard to know what to make of the QBs in this draft class. There are at least six who could be quality NFL starters, but none seems as good a bet as the top prospects of previous years. Five QBs went in the first 15 picks in 2021, while it seems like no more than two will go in that range in 2022. The likeliest contenders there: Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis.

Willis in particular was an NFL Combine warrior. You should be skeptical of any quarterback’s performance in throwing drills where there are no defenders, but Willis flashed the same big arm that shows up when you watch his game footage:

Willis didn’t run the 40-yard dash or do agility testing at the Combine, and that probably indicates that he’s in a good place. Everyone already knows Willis is the best running QB in the class, and top QB prospects in recent years have routinely skipped certain (or even all) workouts in Indianapolis. Willis has moved up in the last week from No. 17 to No. 10 in the Consensus Big Board of industry mock drafts. Some team is going to invest its future in him.

2. Jordan Davis is an absurd talent, and Georgia’s defense will have fingerprints all over the Draft.

A man of this size is not supposed to move like this:

Davis was an anchor in the middle of the Bulldogs’ national title-winning defensive line last season. At about 6’6” and 340 pounds (his measurements at the NFL Combine), he was an almost comically powerful force for the Dawgs—he’d routinely blow up the entire interior of opposing offensive lines.

That said, you could make some reasonable nitpicks about his college career. For one, Davis came off the field a lot on third downs, as Kirby Smart preferred other players in pass-rushing situations. For another, he didn’t play that many snaps in general (the 14th-most on UGA’s defense, per Pro Football Focus), which raises obvious conditioning questions when you’re dealing with someone of his stature. Davis had some questions to answer at the 2022 NFL Combine.

And answer them he did—his Combine results were among the best ever for a nose tackle. He’s not just big, but also ridiculously quick and agile.

Currently, the three highest-projected consensus picks among defensive linemen are all from UGA. Davis’ teammates Travon Walker and Devonte Wyatt will also hear their names early in the Draft. At least three Georgia linebackers and a couple of defensive backs will get picked, too.

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3. There are two mega-elite cornerback prospects (not just one).

The given: LSU’s Derek Stingley, who was one of the most dominant players in college football as a freshman in 2019 and has been on a countdown to the 2022 draft ever since. Stingley excelled immediately in the most visible and difficult conference, and it was inevitable that he’d be a top-10 pick come this April.

Joining him there should be Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner of Cincinnati, the best player on the first Group of Five team to ever make the College Football Playoff. Gardner stuffed almost every receiver he saw last year into a locker, and even in a Playoff semifinal loss to Alabama, the Crimson Tide barely tested him. Gardner ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, an eye-popping figure for a 6’3” cornerback with long arms and a similarly lengthy stride.

He shouldn’t last past the top 10 in the NFL Draft.

4. Get ready for the highest-drafted safety in at least five years, if not longer.

That would be Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, who’s been widely expected to go somewhere around fifth overall. (That was his pre-Combine position on the Consensus Big Board.) A safety hasn’t been a top-10 selection since 2017, when the New York Jets took LSU’s Jamal Adams sixth overall. Hamilton might beat that.

He’s a picture of versatility, having played a variety of deep and intermediate positions for Notre Dame. And the Combine confirmed what was already obvious—that he is also exceedingly athletic. Here’s a video of Hamilton pulling out a 38-inch vertical leap (well above average for safeties at the Combine) after measuring in at 6’4” and 220 pounds. His 40-yard dash time was 4.59 seconds, which isn’t blazing by NFL safety standards but looks just fine given his size, his recent recovery from a knee injury, and his impressive career so far.

Hamilton is on a different level physically than almost anyone at his position, and he’s about to be at a different level in terms of his draft position, too.

5. There’s a punter in this draft who’s roughly as athletic as some receivers.

San Diego State punter Matt Araiza was a college football record-setter. His punts traveled more than 50 yards on average, setting a single-season record in 2021. At SDSU, Araiza ignored the conventional wisdom around punting and simply boomed the ball to an unprecedented extent. In the NFL, he’ll have to focus more on his hang time (how long the punted ball hangs in the air), but he certainly has the leg to be one of the league’s best.

Araiza is also a stunningly good athlete, and his performance at the Combine confirmed it. His broad jump outstripped some running backs and receivers, and his 40 was surprisingly fast.

Punters: Sometimes, they’re sprinters too.

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