The first handful of games of the 2021 college football season are less than two weeks away, with everything really kicking into gear over Labor Day weekend. It will be an opportunity to see some of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL draft class, including a bunch of talented quarterbacks. As of now, the schedule for the season is back to normal after a very different 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which helps immensely in scouting the class.
That's right -- we're already thinking about next April's draft. After some time off over the summer, I got back into the tape and started making phone calls again. Let's be clear: A lot will change over the next eight months. Players have double-digit games ahead of them to make an impression, then an extensive pre-draft process that includes the Senior Bowl, the combine and plenty of team visits and interviews. Remember, Joe Burrow and Zach Wilson weren't even on the Day 1 radar at this point in their final college seasons before eventually going in the top two picks in their respective drafts.
With that said, I ranked my early top 50 prospects for the 2022 class right now as we head into the college season. The list includes six quarterbacks, and three of them land in the top 10. Defensive playmakers are also present at the top of the list, which will be welcomed by NFL defensive coordinators after the 2021 draft was dominated by offense early. Let's dive in, starting with a potential future franchise QB.
Note: Underclassmen are marked with an asterisk.
1. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma*
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 205
Rattler shows quick feet both in the pocket and extending plays, and unleashes a fast release to get the ball out, often changing his arm angle to make impressive off-platform throws. He has plenty of arm strength, but his accuracy stands to improve a bit. And I'd like to see him process plays a little faster at times, as he stays on his first read too long too often. He might not yet be a finished product, but Rattler has all the tools to be a franchise QB in the NFL, including the ability to pick up yards with his legs. He threw for 3,031 yards, 28 TDs and seven interceptions last season -- his 81.2 QBR ranked 11th in the nation -- while adding another six scores on the ground.
2. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 220
Howell has back-to-back seasons of at least 3,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, and he threw just seven interceptions in each campaign. His 2020 season saw a jump in completion percentage, as well, improving from 61.4% to 68.1%. His touch and timing on deep passes stand out, and while his ball placement is still improving, you won't see Howell miss on many throws. He flashes the ability to hit tight windows, too. Howell can manipulate coverages with his eyes, and I love the way he gets the ball out quickly when he has a clean pre-snap read. He can extend plays, too, though he occasionally falls off his throws despite the time and space to step into them.
The highlights that make UNC's Sam Howell a Heisman candidate
Take a look at highlights from North Carolina QB Sam Howell ahead of his junior season in Chapel Hill.
3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU*
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 195
Stingley has been a standout in college football for two seasons, bursting onto the scene with six interceptions as a freshman in 2019. The numbers weren't as eye-popping last season, but he still played a big role for LSU on defense. He is long, fast and physical, and he's the premier defensive back in this year's class with 20 passes broken up over two seasons. Versatility is also key for Stingley, who can play press-man, off-coverage, free safety and the overhang position. A bonus: Stingley also has experience returning punts.