Don't look now, but we're just about a month away from the 2022 NFL Draft.
There's talk every year about which positions are the strongest and deepest in the draft, and this year's class is no different. Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently graded each position group ahead of this year's marquee event.
PFF's Sam Monson highlighted tackle and edge rusher as the strongest position group in the 2022 draft class, giving each one an "A" grade. Wide receivers were just behind with an "A-minus." Monson wrote the following about the tackles:
Mississippi State's Charles Cross, N.C. State's Ikem Ekwonu and Alabama's Evan Neal represent three of the top seven players on PFF's big board, and each brings a different skill set to the same position. Cross is the pass-blocking technician while Ekwonu is the run-blocking mauler and Neal is maybe the best composite of each.
Each of the three is an elite prospect who would stack up well against the best tackles in other draft classes, but that's not where the strength stops.
Central Michigan's Bernhard Raimann and Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning are also both expected to go in the first round, and their stock could be on the rise. Penning has the kind of nasty streak that NFL coaches fall in love with, and Raimann's development given how new he is to the position suggests his ceiling could be fantastic.
Monson said, "If any position can rival receiver or tackle for the strongest overall in this draft, it's edge rusher."
Aidan Hutchinson is expected by many to be the No. 1 pick this year, but Monson noted that "you don't have to rewind very far before that [the player] was expected to be Kayvon Thibodeaux."
Georgia's Travon Walker doesn't have the same level of production as either player, but he may be the best athlete of the group, as he dominated the combine to the point that evaluators reassessed just how effective he can be at the next level. Walker recorded just 34 pressures last season for the Bulldogs but brings a nasty intent to his play and has all the athleticism to be an elite rush threat.
Purdue's George Karlaftis, Florida State's Jermaine Johnson and Michigan's David Ojabo are three more players who could be drafted in the first round, though Ojabo likely lost that chance when he blew out his Achilles at his pro day.
After that group, there are still five players ranked inside the top-50 of PFF's big board and a host of intriguing mid-round options.
Graded next highest by Monson were linebackers and cornerbacks, which both received a "B," and then safeties with a "B-minus."
There seems to be a lot of different opinions on the quality available at linebacker, a position that has become ever-more difficult to play at the NFL level over the past decade. Everything that modern offenses do is designed to put linebackers in a bind, and that increase in difficulty has changed how people evaluate and value prospects.
Monson listed Utah's Devin Lloyd, Georgia's Nakobe Dean and Wisconsin's Leo Chenal as top options at linebacker.
Three offensive positions received a "C" grade: running back, tight end and interior offensive line.
And the lowest-graded group this spring? Monson gave quarterbacks a "C-minus."
It's not a strong quarterback class, and that lack of quality is present all the way down the list of prospects — not just limited to the top.
There is no sure thing at the position, and even upside seems vaguely limited, as Liberty's Malik Willis obviously displays the kind of mouth-watering tools that get teams to lose grip on rationality when it comes to draft time.
While it might not be a great year for quarterbacks, it's not a disastrous one, either. Teams might not be in love with the idea of any of these players at the very top of the draft, but neither are they looking at the group and saying none belong in the first round, as they did back in 2013.
Souhan weighs 'risk-reward ratio' of Za'Darius Smith signing
The Minnesota sports scene has been buzzing, as three major teams have made splashy additions to their rosters over the past week:
The Vikings signed former Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith.
The Twins signed two-time All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa.
The Wild traded for star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune took stock of the transactions and weighed the “risk-reward ratio” of each. He wrote:
Each player rewards fans who have invested heavily in their teams. Watching Correa play in front of, and bat behind, Byron Buxton will be worth even a high price of admission to Target Field. Fleury should give the Wild a chance at a lengthy playoff run. Smith could elevate the Vikings in what today appears to be a mediocre conference and division.
View photos of Vikings OLB Za'Darius Smith touring TCO Performance Center and getting introduced to the team for the first time.
For Smith, Souhan called the risk (on a scale of 1-10) a 5, but he placed the reward at a 7.
Smith and Danielle Hunter could become one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL, or they could continue to miss time with injuries. If Smith can't stay healthy, the Vikings will have a hole in their roster and wasted money on their ledger.
Smith could become the ideal free-agent signing: affordable because of an injury but capable of playing like a star.
Sport is entertainment. Correa, Fleury and Smith make three of Minnesota's most prominent teams more entertaining.