2022 NFL Draft

2022 NFL Draft: Top 15 Senior Bowl prospects to watch in College Football Playoff

hutchinson-seniorbowl
Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, one of the nation's top prospects, ranks third in the FBS with 14 sacks heading into the College Football Playoff. (Al Goldis / AP Photo)

The College Football Playoff is nearly upon us, which means some of the most talented prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft are about to take center stage.

Not surprisingly, all four squads participating in the playoff were well represented on the Reese's Senior Bowl preseason watch list: 11 players from Georgia, nine from Michigan, seven from Alabama and six for Cincinnati.

The 15 players listed below were all part of the watch list and are now all potential top-100 picks. I've ranked them in the order I believe they'll be selected in the 2022 draft, though their final evaluation won't be settled until after their all-star game work, the NFL Scouting Combine, campus pro days and any interviews conducted by teams before the draft.

There are still top prospects with first-round aspirations playing in other bowls this weekend, as well, giving scouts plenty of must-see viewing heading into the new year.

Players who have already accepted Senior Bowl invites are denoted with an asterisk.

NOTE: Prospects are listed in ascending order. Heights and weights are via school measurements.

15) Brad Hawkins, S, Michigan (6-foot-1, 221 pounds)

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Georgia

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Big Ten coaches didn't see fit to include Hawkins on their all-conference teams this year, but I side with the media members who voted him third-team all-league for his efforts. At 220 pounds, he's been very good in coverage and against the run. Georgia has some weapons for Hawkins to deal with, so chasing down running backs James Cook and Zamir White in space and handling freshman phenom tight end Brock Bowers would only cement his top-100 prospect status.

14) Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati (6-1, 198)*

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic vs. Alabama

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) | ESPN

Jim Thorpe Award (top collegiate defensive back) voters seemed to overlook Bearcats junior Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner in their voting process, but Bryant -- the Thorpe Award winner -- absolutely deserved recognition for being regularly targeted due to Gardner's presence. Alabama will likely search out Bryant in the national semifinal, whether QB Bryce Young finds star pass-catcher Jameson Williams, slot man Slade Bolden or one of the young talents taking over for the injured John Metchie III. Bryant must be sticky against downfield routes and use his physicality on receivers to cement a grade as one the top half-dozen senior corners in the class.

13) Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati (6-3, 213)*

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic vs. Alabama

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) | ESPN

Pierce's athleticism has impressed throughout the past couple of seasons, and over the last month, he's been among the more sure-handed receivers in the country. His size and competitiveness could give him an advantage over Alabama's young cornerbacks; gaining separation and winning contested catches against those foes would be a nice feather in his cap as NFL offensive coordinators look for a threat on the outside.

12) James Cook, RB, Georgia (5-11, 190)*

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Michigan

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

James might not be as highly regarded as his brother Dalvin was as a draft prospect, but he has an NFL future. In the open field, he uses his vision to set up and side-step defenders, possessing straight-line speed to make chunk plays. Wolverines edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo will create pressure, which means Cook must not only move the chains but create explosive plays. He gets skinny when slaloming through creases inside, but will still fall forward through contact to get the extra yard.

11) Darrian Beavers, LB, Cincinnati (6-4, 255)*

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic vs. Alabama

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) | ESPN

Beavers excelled in a pass-rush role early in the 2021 season, using his size and strength to win on the outside. Scouts will be interested to see him take on Alabama's tackles with his heavy hands against the run and pass, as well as in space against the Crimson Tide's speed. At 6-4, 255 pounds, Beavers looked like he was able to handle SEC speed against Georgia in last year's Peach Bowl, and doing so again -- along with showing his pure power -- could push him up NFL draft boards.

10) Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia (6-2, 230)*

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Michigan

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Tindall's speed has been evident during his first year as a full-time player for the Bulldogs, whether attacking quarterbacks on blitzes or flying into the backfield to chase stretch run plays. One of the more interesting matchups in Georgia's semifinal contest against Michigan is Tindall against junior tight end Erick All. It's hard to project how often they will face off, and the Bulldogs' linebacker will give up some height. Succeeding in any one-on-one battles, though, would help NFL scouts evaluate Tindall's ability to stick with tight ends on Sundays.

9) Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia (6-3, 315)*

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Michigan

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Jordan Davis is the Georgia defensive tackle who received most of the accolades this year because of his unusual size and power, but Wyatt used his hustle and toughness to hold his ground against SEC competition. If he can shed the blocks of Michigan interior linemen to grab RB Hassan Haskins and QB Cade McNamara in the backfield, he could climb up draft boards and be selected earlier on Day 2 of the draft.

8) Myjai Sanders, Edge, Cincinnati (6-5, 255)*

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic vs. Alabama

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) | ESPN

There are times where Sanders uses his length and tenacious playing style to overwhelm tackles. His lean frame and average flexibility around the corner are concerns, however, especially when taking on a future pro in Alabama left tackle Evan Neal. Sanders does present suddenness and an arm-over move to win inside, so combining that skill while also effectively turning the corner against Neal (though he'll likely line up against the Tide's right tackle on most snaps) to pressure Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young would go a long way toward impressing NFL scouts.

7) Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia (6-0, 190)*

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Michigan

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Kendrick was a key part of Georgia's defense this season, using his athleticism to stay in-phase with receivers all over the field and playing physically through the catch. He's likely to field questions about the circumstances surrounding his dismissal from Clemson before 2021 spring practices when he meets with teams leading up to the draft. For now, though, the more plays he makes against Michigan's receiving corps, the more he'll give his stock a boost.

6) Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama (6-4, 312)*

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic vs. Cincinnati

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) | ESPN

Although NFL personnel evaluators often use the adage "don't scout the uniform, scout the player," Mathis could very well benefit from former teammate Christian Barmore's rookie-year success with the New England Patriots. He has a wide frame to take on blockers and possesses the short-area quickness to grab Cincinnati (and former Alabama) junior running back Jerome Ford in the box. Mathis also chases to the hashes when fresh, something he'll need to do to keep Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder from making plays outside the pocket.

5) Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan (6-1, 220)*

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Georgia

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Haskins and the Wolverines' offensive line (which won the Joe Moore Award as the nation's top unit) will be facing one of their toughest challenges of the year in Georgia's rushing defense, which ranks third in the country as of this writing. Michigan's bruising runner only managed 47 yards on 19 carries against Wisconsin's top-rated defense earlier this year, but he and the team have improved since that early-season matchup. If Haskins can feel his way through traffic to exploit creases and churn through tackles as he's wont to do, NFL teams will have no choice but to consider him a future workhorse back.

4) Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia (6-4, 325)*

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Michigan

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Salyer's 6-4, 325-pound frame will lead many NFL general managers to project him to guard, where he would excel. However, his pass-protection skills have been strong this year despite fighting through an injury that cost him four games. If he shows the agility, strong hands and recovery ability to keep his quarterback clean against Michigan edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, it could convince teams to at least give him a shot outside.

3) Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (6-4, 215)*

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic vs. Alabama

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) | ESPN

No prospect has more riding on his College Football Playoff performance. Ridder has played well this year, distributing passes from the pocket when the offensive line gives him time and receivers hold up their end of the bargain. His accuracy in the intermediate and deep passing game has been good at times, but consistently aligning his lower and upper body on throws outside the hashes will endear him to NFL offensive coordinators. Ridder's stock will also rise if he can move within the pocket to avoid a supreme pass rusher like Will Anderson -- then keep his eyes downfield to find his targets. Using his legs to glide past the Tide's athletic linebackers will also intrigue teams looking for a true playmaker at the quarterback position.

2) Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (6-6, 340)

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Michigan

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

Davis was not the every-down factor Georgia needed him to be against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, though he did present issues for the Tide when they tried to run between the tackles. Earlier in the season, Davis showed he can get into the backfield and move to the hashes to make plays. He must display those abilities again (while not being a liability if the Wolverines move with tempo) for teams to project him as a top-15 overall selection.

1) Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan (6-6, 265)

Capital One Orange Bowl vs. Georgia

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.) | ESPN

There's not much to say about Hutchinson that I haven't already covered in my biweekly Senior Bowl prospect updates throughout the fall. His pass-rush acumen, strength against the run and agility in the open field has pushed his draft stock from the middle of the first round to a likely top-five overall selection. Hutchinson will be facing a tough test in powerful Georgia tackles Jamaree Salyer and Warren McClendon. The Heisman Trophy finalist's play against Ohio State's able linemen, however, showed he's quite capable of forcing himself past those blockers to pressure quarterback Stetson Bennett and corral Georgia's stable of running backs.

Other CFP participants who have accepted Senior Bowl invites (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Jake Camarda, P, Georgia
  • Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati
  • Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Alabama
  • Justin Shaffer, OG, Georgia
  • Andrew Stueber, OG, Michigan
  • Quay Walker, LB, Georgia

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter.

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