The NFL's early entrant deadline for the 2022 NFL Draft came and went on Monday, and there were several stars who passed up massive paychecks at the next level to return to college football next season and compete for the national championship. Quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Grayson McCall, linebackers Nolan Smith and Jack Campbell and running back Mohamed Ibrahim are just a few of the talented players who will play on Saturdays this fall.

This year's list of the best players who spurned the NFL Draft not only includes juniors and redshirt sophomores but seniors who have taken advantage of the NCAA's blanket waiver that gave players a free year of eligibility in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So who are the best college football players that made the decision to return? Let's break them down.

 

1. Nolan Smith, LB, Georgia: Smith was one of the stars of a defense that paced the Bulldogs to their first national title since 1980. The former No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2019 had 56 tackles, 10 of which were for a loss, last season. He should play himself into the upper half of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

 

2. Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa: The nation's leading tackler will return for his final year after notching 143 tackles for the stout Hawkeyes defense in 2021. That play should continue in 2022, which would inflate Campbell's paycheck once he decides to move on to Sundays. 

 

3. Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina: The former Oklahoma quarterback has been a lightning rod for criticism during his three-year college career, but it's not like he's been a bust. He's been far from it, actually. He had 40 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions through three seasons in Norman, and has the chance to develop into a star now that he's more comfortable with the Gamecocks.

 

4. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota: Ibrahim was supposed to be one of the sport's brightest stars in 2021, but a knee injury in the opener vs. Ohio State ended his season shortly after it began. With that said, he has 3,003 yards and 33 touchdowns in 28 career games for the Golden Gophers. As long as he's healthy, Ibrahim is one of the best players in all of college football.

 

5. Will McDonald, DE, Iowa State: The Cyclones lost quite a few stars to the NFL Draft, but McDonald's return should keep them in the Big 12 title hunt. McDonald had double-digit sacks and 13 tackles for loss in each of the last two seasons, and should be a preseason All-American candidate heading into the 2022 season.

 

6. Jordan Battle, DB, Alabama: Battle had three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in 2021 in what was an All-SEC season for the junior. Alabama coach Nick Saban is accustomed to losing star players to the NFL Draft, but the talent and leadership Battle provides will go a long way toward the Crimson Tide's return to glory in 2022.