The 2021 NFL Draft is over, meaning there’s plenty of excitement for everyone at both the college and pro levels. Rookies look forward to their new homes, and their fans in college get excited to see what they can do at the next level. It also means that analysts and scouts turn their attention to the 2022 NFL Draft. The AAC produces a number of talented players go pro every year, but next year could be the best group they’ve produced yet. Let’s take a look at who NFL teams will watch closely this year.
CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
A future first round pick, Gardner will be one of the best players in college football this year. At 6’2”, he’s a long corner who can make plays even when he’s out of position, and a big reason why he already has six career interceptions. He already started seeing more attention as the 2020 season progressed, and it’s only a matter of time before nearly everyone’s excited about his talent.
Army had no answer for Myjai Sanders on Saturday. He'd been attacking upfield and outside so much that it set up a move inside here for an easy sack pic.twitter.com/IeeiYkexyk— Joe Broback (@joebroback) September 30, 2020
DE Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
An explosive player on the edge, Sanders surprised many by deciding to return to the Bearcats. He had a big year in 2020, producing 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and should be a force for Cincinnati once again.
QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
If Desmond Ridder can find the consistency he played with towards the end of the season, he’ll be one of the best quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Ridder has a big arm that scouts will love, but at times the offense didn’t ask him to make a ton of big throws. If he can stay healthy and become more consistent as a passer, teams will love the prospect they’re getting.
QB Dillon Gabriel, UCF
Assuming Gabriel goes pro after this year, some NFL team is going to get a gunslinger. They’ll hope that Gus Malzahn utilizes his skillset better. The previous regime didn’t ask Gabriel to go through his progressions much, so it will help him to get the attention of scouts when his coaches let him do what he does well.
WR Jaylon Robinson, UCF
Teams looking for speed in the slot or even just in general will line up for Robinson’s services. The former Oklahoma transfer nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards last year, and becomes the go-to receiver for Dillon Gabriel in 2021.
CB/PR Marcus Jones, Houston
Similar to Boise State CB/PR Avery Williams this year, Jones will gain a ton of attention for his return abilities. He’s a solid corner too, so teams will like how multiple he can be on defense and special teams. Jones had a breakout year as a punt returner with 337 yards and a touchdown, and took big strides in his first year at corner with the Coogs.
S Quindell Johnson, Memphis
Memphis might be taking steps forward on defense under Mike MacIntyre, and guys like Johnson are leading the charge. A potential All-American, Johnson can do it all. He’s afraid of contact in the trenches, and can also drop back into coverage.
WR Calvin Austin III, Memphis
Austin’s not the biggest receiver in the country, but that doesn’t matter when you’re always wide open. His quickness off the line and sharp cuts make him nearly impossible to cover, and even top end NFL talent struggles to contain him. After breaking the 1,000 yard mark last year, he could improve upon his production from last year given that he’s the definitive top pass catcher on the team.
WR CJ Johnson, ECU
Johnson took a step back in his production last year, but still averaged 21.3 yards per catch. He’s a bigger receiver at 6’2”, 236 pounds, but he’s shown that he can run past defenders. Some of his production depends on the development of quarterback Holton Ahlers, and these two proved to be explosive in 2019.
RB Deneric Prince, Tulsa
Looking for a back with solid size that runs hard and isn’t afraid of conatct? Deneric Prince is your guy. The former Texas A&M transfer gets a chance to be the starter in the backfield for Tulsa this year, and NFL team will love his skillset.
LB Diego Fagot, Navy
A tackling machine, Fagot already has 188 tackles to his name. He’s also produced 24.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Fagot plays the game with a chip on his shoulder, and you can tell he puts in the work off of the field to be successful. Navy took a step back last year, but Fagot and the defense should get them back on track.
WR Reggie Roberson, SMU
Before Roberson got hurt, he was on pace to have a career season. Even though he played in five games, he still led the team in yards per catch and touchdowns. Durability will be a concern at the next level, but he’s a blazer who can make defenders miss in the open field and run away from them.
CB Coby Bryant, Cincinnati
A great man corner, Bryant surprised Bearcats fans by returning to campus for one more season in 2021. He’s produced 126 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, and 24 passes defended. With teams avoiding Ahmad Gardner’s side, Bryant will be tested frequently this season.
CB Damarion Williams, Houston
One of the most underrated players in the country, Williams is a player that deserves more attention. If teams want to know what his ceiling is, they should go back and watch him guard Oklahoma wide receiver and current Dallas Cowboy CeeDee Lamb back in 2019.
CB Allie Green IV, Tulsa
Physical almost undersells what Allie Green brings to the table. His mindset is one that lets his receiver know that they’re in for a long day, and it will be a game that they won’t forget any time soon. He’s not afraid to get his hands on a receiver, which sometimes can lead to penalties, but other times he can take his man out of their route quickly.
CB Akayleb Evans, Tulsa
When teams are sick of testing Allie Green, they decide to look the other way. Unfortunately for them, they have to face Evans. He doesn’t get the recognition that Green does, but he brings a similar skillset to the table. His length is something NFL teams will love, and he’s another physical corner who’s not afraid to erase his man from the opposing quarterbacks options.