2022 NFL Draft: Sam Howell, Kayvon Thibodeaux among top 5 prospects

NBC Sports Philadelphia Staff
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2022 NFL Draft: Sam Howell, Kayvon Thibodeaux among top 5 prospects originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The 2021 NFL Draft hasn't even happened yet, but that isn't keeping a Pro Football Hall of Famer from turning his attention to the next crop of prospects.

On Monday, former NFL executive turned NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt tweeted he has Kayvon Thibodeaux as his top-rated prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft class.

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How does Thibodeaux compare to the rest of the players on Brandt's list?

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

Thibodeaux finished his freshman season looking like one of the nation's best players -- he had an NCAA-leading seven fourth-quarter sacks -- to the point he was mocked as the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by numerous sites. 

His sophomore season did little to hurt his stock, thanks to a Pac-12 Championship performance where he had a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and 12 quarterback pressures while going up against soon-to-be first-round tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker of USC.

Now, he enters his third season on campus changing positions to outside linebacker in Tim DeRuyter's scheme. The specific position he'll play is called the "Joker," the same role DeRuyter coached Von Miller in at Texas A&M leading the Aggie to be the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

"[Thibodeaux] is probably the first person that I've seen in a while who has that explosiveness off the edge like Von," said DeRuyter in his introductory press conference in February. 

2. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Hamilton received high praise from a marquee player in the 2021 NFL Draft class ahead of the Rose Bowl this past season. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones compared the Notre Dame safety to an "Ed Reed-type person" who opposing offenses need to account for on every play.

Hamilton recorded seven tackles and a pass breakup in the Notre Dame defeat, but that one performance is not indicative of his AP third team All-America season with the Fighting Irish. At 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and with an ability to make an impact all across the field, he is primed to be one of the top selections in 2022.

3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Stingley looks to add to LSU's status as "DBU."

Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Jamal Adams and more have made names for themselves in the NFL after dominating the secondary in Death Valley, and Stingley is well on his way to following in their footsteps. The cornerback picked off six passes in 2019 on his way to becoming a consensus All-American and national champion.

He didn't collect any interceptions in 2020, but he has another year at LSU to solidify his status as the top cornerback in the 2022 class.

4. Drake Jackson, DE, USC

Jackson is the second pass rusher on Brandt's board for 2022. The Trojan defensive end picked up two sacks in 2020, both in a win over Arizona on Nov. 14, and was named to the 2020 All-Pac-12 second team for the second straight season.

At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, the Corona, Calif., native will be a player to watch during the 2021 college football season.

5. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

While the 2021 NFL Draft could feasibly feature four quarterbacks taken with the first four selections, Brandt only has one quarterback in his top five for 2022 at the moment. Tyler Shough out of Texas Tech, Kedon Slovis out of USC and Spencer Rattler out of Oklahoma will also be in the QB mix for 2022, but Howell has the potential to follow in the footsteps of former Tar Heel Mitch Trubisky as the first quarterback off the board in his class.

Howell threw for 3,586 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions across 12 games in his sophomore season at UNC.