Which NFL prospects are seeing their values getting boosts early in the college football season? How about those star performers who didn’t have a good start trying to showcase their wares to pro scouts?
With Week 1’s results in the books for FBS, here are the three most notable risers and fallers several months ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft:
NFL Draft risers
- Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
The 2022 class of quarterbacks is making its case to match the strength of ’21, to the point Corral was ranked No. 7 at the position with initial second-round intrigue in Sporting News’ first big board of top prospects. Corral just missed cracking SN’s newest mock draft, behind Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
That may change soon after Corral ripped through Louisville’s defense on Monday night. Matching the theme of ’22 QBs, Corral has great athleticism and a big arm. He is helping himself by being fearless using both.
Corral carried the Rebels and built some Heisman Trophy buzz in the process, too, with his spectacular passing (22-of-32, 381 yards, TD) and calculated running (12 rushes, 55 yards, TD). Corral had the spotlight to himself and challenged Ridder and others to come through in good tests ahead.
Ole Miss hasn’t had a first-round QB since Eli Manning went No. 1 overall in 2004. Circle the Oct. 2 game at Alabama as Corral’s Johnny Manziel-like opportunity vs. Nick Saban’s defense.
- Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, WRs, Ohio State.
Olave and Wilson were Sporting News’ Nos. 1 and 3 wide receivers for the ’22 draft going into the season. Olave is the more the burner, while Wilson has been touted as the reliable technician. Neither was disappointing in those respective roles in the opener against Minnesota, lifting QB C.J. Stroud after a slow start.
Olave came through with the typical home runs (4 catches for 117 yards, 2 TDs) and Wilson (5 catches, 80 yards) also had his own big play, a 56-yarder as a near match to Olava’s 61-yard game high. The pair will continue to create coverage nightmares for the Big Ten. They are both strong first-rounders — the only question is who will be drafted higher and if either will go ahead of Alabama’s latest stud, John Metchie III. Oregon cornerback Mykael Wright will be good coverage test for either in Week 2.
- Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Here’s another stud who flew out of the gate, living up to the hype of being an all-time great safety prospect and potential top-five overall pick. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Hamilton stands out wherever he goes on the field. He saved the game in what turned to ba a surprise overtime shootout against Florida State on Sunday night.
Hamiton showed off his range and nose for clutch playmaking with two dazzling interceptions, flipping two possessions that could have come back to haunt the Fighting Irish later. He also smashed the Seminoles with six tackles. If he keeps this up, someone would soon need to write a musical sequel based only on his highlight reel this season. This Hamilton is not throwing away his shot.
NFL Draft fallers
- Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Howell had a rough game against Virginia Tech’s defense last Thursday night. There’s no window-dressing that. There also should be less excuse-making for Howell in terms of what all the Tar Heels lost in offensive skill around him, from protection to weapons.
Perhaps the pro and Heisman pressure got to him early, but the numbers (17-of-32, 208 yards, TD, 3 INTs) and eye test didn’t lie as he has much on which to work in his final season at Chapel Hill. He was sacked six times on top of double as many interceptions. He was indecisive and let the Hokies’ heat get to him and the decision-making was poor overall.
Howell was SN’s No. 3 QB prospect going into the season, but he’s starting to have that Sam Darnold-Mitchell Trubisky feel. It was poor-timed with both Corral and Nevada’s Carson Strong looking so good to boost their stocks behind him.
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
The Ducks’ defeat of Fresno State came at a cost as Thibodeaux, the early best pass-rushing prospect in the 2022 class, rolled his lower leg and came away with a ankle sprain. He’s considered day-to-day for Week 2 and could play vs. Ohio State, per coach Mario Cristobal. But that type of injury tends to be nagging and can limit a player of Thibodeaux’s explosiveness.
Either Thibodeaux won’t be near 100 percent for a big opportunity against Stound and the Buckeyes’ passing game or he will miss a high pro level matchup. That opens the door for USC’s Drake Jackson, another Pac-12 edge standout, to build on his strong opener vs. San Jose State and jump Thibodeaux early.
- Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
Ross had to miss the 2020 season after needing surgery to fix a congenital fusion in his spine. That’s a scary condition from which to return, so it’s admirable the big, strong star wideout (6-4, 205 pounds) is back in action for the Tigers. Unfortunately, he was dragged down by a rare horrible game by Clemson’s offense under Dabo Swinney. His new QB, D.J. Uiagalelei, was terrible against Georgia’s defense, which limited Ross, once Trevor Lawrence’s young go-to guy, to only 4 catches and 26 yards.
Ross is the No. 7 wide receiver prospect on SN’s big board. There are a few guys he needs to leap to get borderline first-round consideration again. He will need do a lot more and will require some help from at least above-average QB play to keep his stock from dipping into the third round.