The deadline for college football players to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft has passed, which means everyone who hasn't declared is returning for at least one more season before possibly making the jump next year.
But what about the players who weren't eligible to declare for the 2022 draft but will have the option next year? Some of the biggest names in college football this past season weren't draft-eligible due to the NFL's rule that you must be at least three years removed from high school before declaring. With players more physically ready to compete at an earlier age than in the past, we see more early declarations every season, and today we're ranking the top 20 players in college football who will be draft-eligible for the first time following the 2022 season.
Keep in mind that these rankings are not scientific. They aren't based on how NFL teams will view them as prospects, nor are they based on who is necessarily better. All 20 are great. That's why they'll be facing a tough decision a year from now.
1. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: All Young did in his first year as Alabama's starting quarterback was win a Heisman Trophy and lead the Crimson Tide to an SEC championship, passing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns in the process. He'll enter the 2022 season as the favorite to win repeat as the Heisman winner while helming the team favored to win the national title. Oh, and he'll be hyped up as a possible No. 1 overall pick, too.
2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State: Stroud will be alongside Young as far as the NFL Draft analysts are concerned, as they'll debate between which one is the best future pro. While Stroud didn't win the Heisman, or the Big Ten, he did finish second nationally in passing efficiency while throwing for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns. He'll be at the helm of one of the most prolific offenses in the country again next season, and should continue posting monster numbers.
3. Will Anderson, Edge, Alabama: While he wasn't selected as the defensive lineman to serve as a Heisman finalist -- that was Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson -- many will tell you Anderson was the best defensive player in the country. Some might tell you that, if he were eligible, he'd be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft. No matter what anybody tells you, though, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with, finishing as the nation's leader in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (34.5) while finishing 102 tackles overall. He'll be in the conversation as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.
4. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State: If the Rose Bowl was your introduction to Smith-Njigba -- welcome! He's not going to catch 15 passes for 347 yards in every game, but the fact he did on New Year's Day wasn't a massive surprise to those who had seen him before. On a team full of NFL receivers -- Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave could both go in the first round this spring -- JSN was the most talented. He led the team in receiving and will be the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award next season. He'll be viewed as the top receiver on the board by many NFL teams.
5. Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia: The national champions had more talent on their defensive line than should reasonably be allowed. Jordan Davis received Heisman votes for his ability to eliminate an opponent's rushing attack, but he probably wasn't even the best player on the Georgia defensive line. That honor belongs to Carter, who will be one of few holdovers from Georgia's national title-winning defense.
6. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia: Ringo is another holdover from that Georgia defense. You may remember him as the guy who made the title-clinching pick six against Alabama, showing us how big a vertical Georgia coach Kirby Smart has. That was the play most will remember, but Ringo was fantastic the entire game -- and season -- for the Dawgs. Corners like Ringo become more important every year, and any defense who has one is off to a great start.