Because it’s never too early to look ahead in the NFL draft, let’s take a quick peek at some of the top 2022 prospects state college football fans should know.
Things can and will change between now and then, so keep that in mind. But our list a year ago turned out decently. Three of the players we listed (the Gators’ Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney, plus Miami’s Gregory Rousseau) were chosen in the first round.
Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam
Florida has had a defensive back drafted six years in a row. Elam likely will extend the streak to seven. At 6-foot-2, he has NFL size and recorded two interceptions and 11 pass breakups last season as a first-team all-SEC player. Don’t be surprised if he’s the state’s top draft pick next year.
Miami offensive lineman Zion Nelson
The 6-foot-5, 316-pound South Carolina native started all 13 games at left tackle as a freshman in 2019 and started seven games at the position last year. He grew into one of the better pass blockers in the ACC last season. If he continues to develop, Nelson has first-round potential next year.
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell
Sorry, Florida State fans. The former Seminoles commitment (who flipped to the Tar Heels late in 2018) probably will be one of the best — if not the best — quarterback prospects in next year’s draft. He led the ACC with 30 touchdown passes and 3,586 yards season, and his 68 touchdown passes through two seasons are tied for the most in program history.
Ohio State offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Berkeley Prep alumnus started seven games for the Buckeyes last year, including in the national championship game against Alabama. The former five-star recruit earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors last season. He has the size and potential to be one of next year’s top offensive tackles.
Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller
Miller could have entered the draft this year but chose to return for another season. He led Florida in tackles last season (88) and was second the year before (55). The Lakeland native plays fast and has shown up in the first round of some far-too-early 2022 mock drafts.
Other names to know
Miami defensive back Bubba Bolden
The 6-foot-3, 204-pound Bolden was a second-team all-conference player last year. He’s a sure tackler (led the Hurricanes with 74 last season) with good size and physicality. Bolden likely will be an early-round pick in a year.
Gators quarterback Emory Jones
No, he has not yet started a game. But coach Dan Mullen has a track record of producing successful quarterbacks, and Jones has the arm and athleticism to be an intriguing talent at the next level. Let’s see how he does this year first, though.
Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Georgia transfer was impressive this spring for the Seminoles and had eight tackles for a loss during his two seasons in Athens. He’s poised for a breakout season that will boost his draft stock.
Gators outside linebacker Brenton Cox
Another Georgia transfer, Cox was a five-star recruit and an enormous get for Mullen through the portal. The 6-foot-4, 252-pound Cox led UF with 18 quarterback hurries and was tied for the team lead with 9 ½ tackles for loss. Pass rushers are at a premium, and Cox has the talent to develop into a very good one.
Gators defensive lineman Zachary Carter
The Hillsborough High alumnus considered turning pro before choosing to stay in Gainesville. The 6-foot-4, 277-pound redshirt senior has the size and versatility to play as an interior lineman or line up outside. We’ll see how much his extra season helps him a year from now.
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