We've reached the midway point of the college football regular season, cresting like we're on a roller coaster and ready to throw our arms into the air for the fast descent into bowl season.
There are six newcomers this week to my list of the top prospects for the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl. These stars, plus a dozen more prospects with the talent to make their way into my top 25, have played well enough over the past six weeks (as well as in previous years) to be picked in the first 75 overall selections next year.
The 2022 draft is still six months away (April 28-30 in Las Vegas), so the evaluations of these players will change based on their play as the season unfolds, their results in athletic testing and, if they are fortunate enough to receive an invite, their performance in Senior Bowl week practices and the game itself (Feb. 5 on NFL Network).
One player from my initial list, Alabama edge rusher Christopher Allen, is not included here because he broke his foot while strip-sacking Miami Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King in the season opener and is unlikely to play again this year.
NOTE: Prospects are listed in ascending order. Heights and weights are via school measurements.
25) Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis (5-foot-9, 162 pounds)
Austin, who also runs track for the Tigers, is the football team's top offensive threat, ranking among FBS leaders with 139.5 receiving yards per game and eight receiving touchdowns. With 13 receptions for 200 yards last week against Tulsa, he showed scouts his ability to eat grass against soft coverage, beat press with quickness off the line and excel in the quick-screen game. Austin's lone score came late in the game, finding the hole against Cover 2. He converted a fourth-and-11 on the next series, taking away linebacker angles with his extreme speed on a shallow cross. Austin's lack of size and occasional drops might scare off some teams, but similar prospects Tutu Atwell, D'Wayne Eskridge, and Rondale Moore were all selected in the second round of the 2021 draft.
UPDATE: Austin had a 69-yard TD run and two catches for 20 yards in Memphis' 35-17 win over Navy on Thursday night.
24) Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma (5-11, 215)
Brooks' performance last week against Texas in the Red River Showdown (25 carries for 217 yards and two TDs) reminded everyone of his 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 (he opted out of the 2020 season). He got the Sooners' offense going after they fell behind 14-0 early, running for 15 yards after feeling his way through traffic in the middle and then accelerating for the gain. That was a theme throughout the contest for Brooks, who patiently waited for his blocks and then used his low pad level, forward lean and powerful legs to push through tackle attempts in the backfield and second level. His 65-yard jaunt late in the third quarter (getting his knee to the ground before the ball was stripped) set up a touchdown, but Brooks' two fourth-quarter scores are the plays that fans will long remember. He ran as strong and fast on those direct-snap carries down the left numbers as he did in the first quarter -- a fact that won't evade NFL scouts.
23) Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State (6-4, 260)
McBride's combination of quickness off the line, receiving prowess and blocking intensity is something rarely seen in the college game nowadays. He passed his toughest test to date against Iowa's defense three weeks ago. McBride had two battles against safety Jack Koerner in the third quarter, once losing a third-down catch to Koerner's physicality and then exhibiting excellent concentration to snag a sideline pass tipped by Koerner while keeping his feet in bounds for a 15-yard gain. McBride showed off athleticism and awareness on one uncontested out route, turning upfield quickly and jumping to extend the ball past the first down marker before getting forced out of bounds. The Colorado native stood up to the Hawkeyes as an in-line blocker, putting defensive end Zach VanValkenburg to the turf on a run play late in the first half, and also showed NFL teams he can be a tenacious move blocker from the H-back position.
22) Josh Paschal, Edge, Kentucky (6-3, 278)
Paschal is a cancer survivor, undergoing surgeries and immunotherapy treatment in 2018 for a malignant lesion found on the bottom of his right foot. He has bounced back to become a major factor in Kentucky's 6-0 start this season, racking up 7.5 tackles for loss (including 1.5 sacks) and leading the team in wins over Florida and LSU the past two weekends. Paschal did a bit of everything in those wins. He freed up linebackers by eating up double teams with his excellent quickness off the snap and strong lower body. He also shed linemen to harass quarterbacks and tackle running backs, bringing down LSU star wideout Kayshon Boutte on a jet sweep, and even blocked a Florida field goal attempt that was returned for a touchdown by Kentucky. Some teams might find an issue fitting Paschal into their scheme. He could grow into a five-technique, but teams willing to live with his lack of prototypical height on the edge will pick up a true disruptor.
21) Demarvion Overshown, LB, Texas (6-4, 223)
Texas came up short against Oklahoma in another classic Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl, but Overshown showed up to play. On OU's first series, he sacked quarterback Spencer Rattler on a third-down blitz and then blocked a punt by pushing a protector backwards and extending his long arm skyward. He recovered a Rattler fumble in the second quarter, after which true freshman passer Caleb Williams took over and eventually led the Sooners' comeback. The tall, lean defender reminds me of longtime Texans starting inside linebacker Zach Cunningham, bringing physicality between the tackles and pursuing the ball all over the field, even at the cost of missing one or two tackles a game.
20) Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama (6-1, 194)
Previous rank: No. 13
Jobe was not challenged often in the Tide's Week 5 dismantling of Ole Miss. He stayed with whichever receiver was sent his way, playing press early on and softening up later to prevent big plays. A couple of open-field tackle attempts eluded him. Jobe was flagged for pass interference near the end of the game as he held up his receiver a bit after the two collided on a post-corner. Last week's road loss to Texas A&M did not start out great for Jobe, as he vacated his third of the field in Cover 3, allowing a wide-open Jalen Wydermyer to score the Aggies' first touchdown. He was part of a coverage issue with the Tide's linebackers on A&M's second score and was also flagged for a weak holding call late in the third quarter. Jobe handled his man-cover responsibilities throughout the game just fine, however, and broke up a third-down pass (arriving a wee bit early) while in zone midway through the fourth quarter.
19) Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia (6-4, 325)
Previous rank: No. 17
Salyer and the rest of the Georgia offensive linemen exerted their will on the Arkansas defense in Week 5, running for 273 yards in the 37-0 victory. He regularly attacked his assignment, latching on so defenders could not break away. Salyer got a hand on a linebacker to free James Cook on a first-quarter sideline run and hit second-level targets on other occasions. The Bulldogs ran behind him twice for touchdowns, one where he crashed the edge so star defensive tackle-moonlighting-as-a-fullback Jalen Carter could lead the way. Salyer suffered an ankle injury midway through the second quarter against Auburn last week, but not before helping the Bulldogs get an early 17-3 lead with strong run blocking. Head coach Kirby Smart said after the game that Salyer thought he could go back in the game, but redshirt freshman Broderick Jones was playing well enough that coaches did not need to force the issue.
18) Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama (6-4, 312)
The Crimson Tide were not gracious hosts to Ole Miss two weeks ago, beating them 42-21 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. Mathis used his length and power to eat blocks at the nose tackle spot while also working hard to play the run at the five-technique. He missed a sack on athletic quarterback Matt Corral early, but had his revenge late in the second quarter, twisting outside and pushing aside a tight end to earn a strip-sack that was recovered by Alabama. Texas A&M provided similar hospitality in College Station last week, ending the Tide's 19-game winning streak. Mathis did his part, though, tossing aside single blocks and working through double-teams to get to the ball. His hustle outside the box on stretch plays, quarterback scrambles and quick passes was impressive for his size, as were his violent hands and ability to cross the face of his blocker to win gaps.
17) Kingsley Enagbare, Edge, South Carolina (6-4, 265)
Previous rank: No. 12
South Carolina let Troy hang around in a 23-14 home win two weeks ago, but Enagbare was a thorn in the Trojans' side all day. He consistently shed single blocks and double-teams, and also bull-rushed tackles into the backfield. While Enagbare was credited with two quarterback hurries, that number could have been tripled -- though he had no sacks because the quarterback unloaded the ball under pressure. He also reached his long arms into passing lanes, dropped into coverage and kept his eyes open for misdirection and screens, showing scouts he's not just a pass rusher. Enagbare had a smaller impact last week against Tennessee in the Gamecocks' 45-20 road loss, however. Between the Volunteers' fast-paced offense and the elusiveness of quarterback Hendon Hooker, it was tough for him to get to the ball most of the day even if he beat his block. Enagbare was credited with a sack when storming in on a handoff in the first half and won with power and speed at times in the second half, but by then, the game's outcome was already determined.
16) Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State (6-2, 300)
Previous rank: No. 15
The Buckeyes rotated defensive linemen throughout their destruction of Rutgers (52-13) and Maryland (66-17), so Garrett only managed to record two tackles total in the two games. He was his usual quick self off the snap and held his ground against the run. Garrett's biggest play against Rutgers was an extra-point block late in the first quarter. The next week, he chased Terps quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa multiple times, shedding his man with brute strength. With the team up 49-10 midway through the third quarter, however, Garrett needed help leaving the field and wasn't putting weight on his right leg. Head coach Ryan Day noted after the game that it was an issue Garrett had been dealing with for a while, and there's optimism he'll be back after the team's upcoming bye week.
15) Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota (6-9, 380)
Previous rank: No. 14
The highly anticipated battle between Faalele and Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis did not materialize in Week 5, as they only faced each other a few times in the first half and the Gophers put an H-back on the right side when Karlaftis lined up there in the rain-soaked second half. Faalele played well in the 20-13 Minnesota win, controlling his man in pass pro and using his bulk to wall off defenders in the run game. He's not just a bull off the ball, though, as he has the foot quickness to get to necessary blocking angles. The Gophers had last week off to prepare for a Nebraska squad stung by a close loss to Michigan on Saturday night.
14) Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State (5-11, 184)
Previous rank: No. 11
Penn State's top receiver scored twice in the 24-0 rout of Indiana two weeks ago. He once again flaunted his excellent catch radius by reaching high for a throw near the back of the end zone early in the second quarter. Dotson scored in the third quarter, as well, thanks to a mesh play that left him wide open for a 30-yard scamper. While his lack of bulk makes it difficult for him to block or break tackles after the catch, few receivers are better in space with the ball in their hands. He accelerated between blockers for a 16-yard punt return in the fourth quarter but got down quickly and limped a bit to the sideline at the end of his night. Dotson struggled to find room to run last week in Penn State's loss to Iowa, especially after starting quarterback Sean Clifford exited the game with an injury in the second quarter. He and Clifford found a rhythm early on, throwing the ball outside against the Hawkeyes' zone to move the chains. Backup passer Ta'Quan Roberson only connected with Dotson a couple times for 5 total yards.
13) Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa (6-7, 321)
Previous rank: No. 10
Penning exerted his dominance two weeks ago against Youngstown State in Northern Iowa's 34-7 victory. Defensive tackles couldn't move him, while smaller edge rushers were smothered by his length and lateral agility. He showed off his mobility while leading a big off-tackle run to the left sideline, clearing out a defensive back in his way. Officials called Penning for a personal foul late in the third quarter, however, as he shoved a defender after the whistle. He found himself on the sideline for the rest of the lopsided affair. Penning played more under control last week against North Dakota State, stopping rushers in their tracks and pounding defenders in the run game. He was called for two false starts, though, and allowed hits on his quarterback in the second half of the team's 34-20 loss when missing a twist on one play and giving up the corner on occasion.
12) Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (6-3, 235)
Previous rank: No. 21
The Utes, fresh off a bye week, took down USC at the Coliseum last weekend, 42-26. Lloyd began the game as an edge defender. He played with his hand down and stood up against the left tackle, too. He was physical at the point of attack, knocked down a pass when left unblocked and beat a tight end with quick hands to stop former Texas running back Keaontay Ingram before he bounced outside. Lloyd moved back to his usual middle linebacker spot late in the first half, where he remained for nearly all of the final two quarters (with the exception of two plays when he was back at the rush spot near the end of the game). He dropped into coverage as USC threw often in an effort to get back into the contest, matched up with running backs out of the backfield and shed blocks to prevent explosive plays.
11) Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College (6-3, 316)
Previous rank: No. 22
Johnson was a rock in pass protection in Boston College's near-upset at Clemson two weeks ago. The left guard stopped pass rushers in their tracks and looked like the former left tackle he is when blocking in space. He was shed once in the run game early on, but usually dropped his hips and drove his man back or turned his shoulders. Johnson took out a linebacker in space on RB Pat Garwo II's touchdown run early in the second half, undoubtedly endearing himself to NFL offensive line coaches who value mobility. The Eagles did not play last week but will host N.C. State on Saturday.
10) Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State (6-1, 200)
Previous rank: No. 20
Brisker was not involved in a lot of plays in the Nittany Lions' blowout of Indiana a couple weeks ago, but he showed off his ability in coverage, blanketing a third-down out route in the second quarter. Brisker made a couple of big hits throughout the night, though tight end Peyton Hendershot stiff-armed him in the open field late in the game. Penn State came up just short against Iowa last weekend, but Brisker played well. He started strong by attacking a run behind the line of scrimmage and intercepting a tipped pass in the first quarter. Brisker left the game briefly with a shoulder injury but returned quickly to stop a third-down quick pass late in the first half. He played a lot of deep coverage later in the game, breaking up a floating throw to the left sideline from a single-high look.
9) Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State (6-5, 262)
Previous rank: No. 7
Johnson had only one sack in FSU's victories over the past two weeks, but his impact on passing downs was much greater than that number indicates. Johnson took away bootleg plays in both games, showing his awareness and agility on the edge. Against the run, he continues to use his bulk to keep contain on outside runs and takes on pulling guards coming his direction so others can make the play. Most importantly, he's a leader on the field and has shown durability by playing nearly twice as many snaps in six weeks as he did at Georgia in seven games last season. Officials flagged him for a personal foul penalty for illegal use of hands to the face in the North Carolina game, though it appeared he made contact with the left tackle's jersey, not his facemask, with his long-arm move on the play.
8) Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn (6-0, 190)
Previous rank: No. 8
Auburn's secondary started off poorly against LSU in Week 5, with a blown coverage allowing star receiver Kayshon Boutte to run for a 55-yard gain on the first play. McCreary and the Tigers settled down after that drive, keeping Boutte to smaller gains throughout the final three quarters of Auburn's 24-19 win. The senior corner displayed the footwork and speed to stay with Boutte and other receivers all over the field, at times taking away Tigers quarterback Max Johnson's first look. McCreary's biggest play came in the second quarter, when he knocked a would-be touchdown pass out of WR Deion Smith's hands. LSU had to settle for a short field goal a few plays later. Georgia stayed away from McCreary last week. He did go up against 6-foot-7 tight end Darnell Washington late in the first quarter, drawing a questionable pass interference penalty after competing for the sideline pass. McCreary was credited with a pass breakup at the start of the fourth quarter after coming off his man to prevent running back James Cook from making a catch near the goal line on third down. He also took on Bulldogs running back Zamir White in the hole on the next series, and McCreary was no worse for the wear.
7) Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington (6-7, 310)
Previous rank: No. 9
Kirkland played strong against Oregon State in Week 5, keeping his base wide and low in pass protection while attacking linemen in the run game. He was walking around a bit gingerly in the second half but only sat out a little while, returning to crash the left side so running back Sean McGrew could score a go-ahead touchdown. The Huskies' defense gave up 10 more points, though, leading to a 27-24 loss. Kirkland and his teammates had a bye last weekend while preparing for a tough slate the next five weeks (hosting UCLA, traveling to Arizona and Stanford, then coming back home to face Oregon and Arizona State).
6) Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (6-6, 340)
Previous rank: No. 5
Georgia didn't need Davis to make many plays in its 37-0 blowout of Arkansas two weeks ago. He ate up double-teams, freeing up other linemen to make plays. Davis slanted into one run late in the first half, dragging down the back after a short gain, and twice shed blocks at the line to stop quarterback K.J. Jefferson from scrambling for yardage. Davis had three tackles in the first quarter of the team's 34-10 win over Auburn last week, as the Tigers tried to establish a running game while the game was close. He showed he could stay low despite his height later in the game, creating a pile inside against a quarterback sneak so his teammates could make the stop.
5) Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky (6-5, 345)
Previous rank: No. 6
Kentucky beat Florida in Lexington for the first time since 1986, with Kinnard leading the way on two scores. He got a hand on a second-level defender to free up receiver Wan'Dale Robinson in the first half, and then created space for Chris Rodriguez Jr.'s touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Kinnard didn't budge on bull rushes from Zachary Carter. Jeremiah Moon and Brenton Cox challenged him with speed and strong hands, but Kinnard kept them out of plays, too. He started the team's win over LSU last week, dominating defensive ends and linebackers with heavy hands and surprising short-area agility. A first-half leg injury showed him up a bit, but he worked through any pain to crash the edge on runs and maintain his balance in pass protection. Kinnard twice walled off two defenders on rushing attempts during the game-sealing touchdown drive.
4) Adam Anderson, Edge, Georgia (6-5, 230)
Previous rank: No. 4
Anderson often falls into the background because there are so many playmakers on Georgia's defense. His get-off, length and bend off the edge were evident, though, when shedding a tight end block to help Nakobe Dean drag down Arkansas QB J.K. Jefferson for a short loss late in the first quarter in Week 5. Anderson used a long-arm rush move in the first half to get the right tackle off-balance, but the play was cut short thanks to one of four false start penalties against Arkansas. He dropped into coverage and spied Jefferson later in the game, but finally recorded a sack in the fourth quarter as he shed the right tackle block to grab backup QB Malik Hornsby as he tried to escape the pocket. In last week's win over Auburn, Anderson again dropped into coverage regularly and played the run adeptly while splitting reps with Nolan Smith. Anderson beat the Tigers' right tackle with a quick inside move to bring down a running back for a short gain in the second quarter. He nearly had a sack late in the first half when moving quickly upfield then swiping away the left tackle inside, but the helping left guard just got enough of him to prevent the play.
3) Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 188)
Previous rank: No. 3
Olave was glad to see quarterback C.J. Stroud return from a one-week absence for routs of Rutgers and Maryland; the starting passer found him 12 times for 239 yards and four TDs. A first-quarter catch against the Scarlet Knights was fit for highlight reels, as he jumped high into the air to snag a pass yet managed to get one foot in bounds. Olave worked inside and outside in both matchups, getting off the line smoothly and quickly to challenge man and zone coverages. He scored on a scramble drill and post-corner route in the red zone against Rutgers and on a post (with help from an over-aggressive safety) for his first score against Maryland. The senior Buckeye made an impressive catch for his third-quarter touchdown versus the Terps, fighting through contact and snatching a ball up for grabs in the middle of the end zone. He had a couple other chances for touchdowns in that contest but came up just short on a full-extension dive and had another ball tipped away by a safety at the last second. Olave surpassed Cris Carter for third on Ohio State's career receiving touchdown list last week with 29. He now trails Devin Smith (30) and David Boston (34).
2) Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan (6-6, 265)
Previous rank: No. 2
Hutchinson made just three tackles in the Wolverines' 38-17 win over Wisconsin two weeks ago, but his presence was felt throughout the contest. He forced a holding call early (which was declined as a teammate got a sack on the play) and regularly took on blockers to take space away from running backs. Wisconsin tried twice to cross-block Hutchinson with guards, but he blew by them only to come up just short of the sack. He again spent much of his time in the backfield in Michigan's 32-29 win over Nebraska last week. Hutchinson beat the Huskers' tackles with power and swim moves, but quarterback Adrian Martinez was able to slip out of Hutchinson's grasp every time as the defender didn't quite have the agility and bend to grab him. In both games, Hutchinson's awareness and tenacity on the edge often pushed ball-carriers to other defenders so they could make the play.
1) Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (6-1, 225)
Previous rank: No. 1
UAB picked the wrong opponent for the opening of their new digs. Willis ran all over Protective Stadium two weeks ago (144 yards, two scores) in the 36-12 Liberty win, evading rushers in the backfield and powering through arm tackles on called draws. He didn't turn the ball over against the Blazers, but had three interceptions against Middle Tennessee last weekend. Willis twice tried to fit passes into tight windows and underthrew a deep pass on the third pick. But he also exhibited his potential against the Blue Raiders, showing a quick release and tight spiral on short and intermediate passes. He ghosted multiple pass rushers on one TD throw, ran for tough yardage (80 yards, one TD) and uncorked a 49-yard completion while moving to his left within the pocket.
A dozen more to watch
Listed in alphabetical order:
- Markquese Bell, S, Florida A&M (6-3, 205)
- Spencer Burford, OL, Texas-San Antonio (6-5, 295)
- Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State (6-0, 194)
- Arnold Ebiketie, Edge, Penn State (6-3, 256)
- Logan Hall, DL, Houston (6-6, 275)
- Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut (6-5, 333)
- Qwuantrezz Knight, S, UCLA (6-0, 199)
- Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming (6-3, 242)
- Cade Otton, TE, Washington (6-5, 250)
- Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (6-3, 220)
- Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan (6-7, 305)
- Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State (6-2, 210)