NFL draft: Where every 2022 first-round pick ranked as a high school recruit

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Before they were selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft on Thursday night, the 32 players who heard their names called were high schoolers with a dream.

Some were rated by among the nation’s most elite prospects. Others had to scratch and claw just to receive a college scholarship. We decided to go back and look at how all 32 were perceived as high school recruits.

Each story — from each five-star recruit to guys with just one FBS offer — is unique.

1. Travon Walker, DE, Georgia

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 34 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 4 strongside defensive end

Walker was a coveted recruit early in his high school career and Georgia was the first school to offer him a scholarship. Alabama followed up with an offer of its own just a few weeks later. Many of the top programs in the country recruited Walker, but he ended up scaling down his list to Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina. In the end, Walker opted to stay in his home state and committed to play for UGA in the summer before his senior year.

Walker quickly earned a role on Georgia’s ultra-talented defense, but was mainly a rotational player in his first two seasons. In 2021, Walker broke out as one of the top talents for the national champions, posting 37 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. Despite not having some of the production of his defensive line counterparts, the Jaguars picked him No. 1 overall.

2. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

Team: Detroit Lions

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 129 overall

2018 position ranking: No. 8 strongside defensive end

Hutchinson was one of the top prospects in the state of Michigan back in 2018. The son of a Michigan letterman, the Wolverines were on Hutchinson early in the recruiting process. He attracted an array of offers, but his recruitment ended early by committing to UM in February 2017. By signing day, Hutchinson was rated as one of the top 10 defensive ends in his class.

Hutchinson saw playing time immediately at Michigan and emerged as a starter with 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a sophomore. Following an injury in 2020, he was one of the best players in the country in 2021. He posted a whopping 14 sacks and helped Michigan win a Big Ten title.

3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Team: Houston Texans

Rivals rating: 5 stars, No. 1 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 1 cornerback

Rivals ranked Derek Stingley as the No. 1 player in the country for the class of 2019. Stingley is from Baton Rouge and was talented enough to play varsity football as an eighth-grader. Beginning in his freshman year, LSU put the full-court press on Stingley and he committed to the Tigers early. He backed off that commitment after Les Miles was fired but later committed to Ed Orgeron before his senior year.

Stingley enrolled at LSU early and immediately vaulted into the starting lineup as a freshman. He earned All-American honors and was one of the top corners in the country as he helped LSU win a national title. Over the next two seasons, he dealt with injuries and was limited to just 10 games, including only three in 2021. Despite the injuries, he went No. 3 overall.

4. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

Team: New York Jets

Rivals rating: 3 stars, not in Rivals 250

2019 position ranking: Unranked

Gardner was a two-way standout from Detroit who began attracting scholarship offers as he began to focus on his potential as a cornerback. His first few offers came from MAC schools before Cincinnati and Iowa State jumped in the mix. Later on, Indiana, Kentucky and Syracuse all came with offers but it was Gardner’s relationships with the Cincinnati coaching staff that led him to sign with the Bearcats. Gardner quickly made an impact on the UC program with 11 passes defended and three INTs as a true freshman. Over three seasons at UC, Gardner totaled 99 tackles, five tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 27 passes defended and nine interceptions.

5. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

Team: New York Giants

Rivals rating: 5 stars, No. 6 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 1 weakside defensive end

Thibodeaux was tagged with a five-star rating early on in high school and never relinquished it. The SoCal native could have played for any program in the country but eventually cut his list down to Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Oregon and USC. Some thought Alabama had the edge, but Thibodeaux ended up spurning the Tide (and nearby USC) to play for Oregon.

He quickly showed his pass-rushing prowess as he tallied 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks as a freshman. Overall in the 32 games he played in an Oregon uniform, Thibodeaux registered 123 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks. Now he is a first-round pick headed to the New York Giants.

6. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

Team: Carolina Panthers

Rivals rating: 3 stars, not in Rivals 250

2019 position ranking: Unranked

A three-star recruit in 2019, Ekwonu stayed in his home state and committed to NC State in June 2018. While his twin brother was a more-coveted recruit who ended up at Notre Dame, Ekwonu chose the Wolfpack over schools like Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Ekwonu was looked at more as a guard by scouting services but he quickly moved up the depth chart at left tackle for NC State. He started seven games as a true freshman, played both tackle and guard as a sophomore and then held down the left tackle spot for all 12 games in 2021. As a junior, Ekwonu earned both All-ACC and All-American honors.

7. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Team: New York Giants

Rivals rating: 5 stars, No. 8 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 1 offensive tackle

Neal lived up to his five-star billing. A Florida native, Neal spent three years at IMG Academy and started at multiple spots before settling in at left tackle as a senior. Neal was the top-rated offensive tackle in the 2019 class and a top 10 player overall. Neal was long considered an Alabama lean but did not make it official until the early signing period in late 2018 when he chose the Tide over Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Miami.

Once he arrived in Tuscaloosa, he became a starter. As a freshman, Neal started 13 games at left guard. As a sophomore, he started 12 games at right tackle. And as a junior, he started 15 games at left tackle. He projects as a tackle in the NFL. And he should be quite a good one.

8. Drake London, WR, USC

Team: Atlanta Falcons

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 229 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 36 wide receiver

London was a star in both football and basketball in high school and actually committed to play both sports at USC back in June 2018. London recruited more recruiting attention as a football prospect, but USC and Virginia were his two main suitors that gave him the option to play both sports. In the end, London stayed local and chose the Trojans.

London ended up playing just one season of basketball at USC as his star potential in football further came into focus. London caught 72 passes for 1,069 yards and eight scores in his first two seasons. In 2021, though, he became one of the best wideouts in the country. He caught 88 passes for 1,084 yards and seven TDs in just eight games before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. That injury did not stop him from becoming the first receiver selected in this year's draft.

9. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

Team: Seattle Seahawks

Rivals rating: 5 stars, No. 17 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 3 offensive tackle

Cross, a Mississippi native, was considered a three-star recruit in July of 2018 when he cut his list to three schools: Florida State, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Not long after, he committed to Florida State.

Later on in the process, Cross changed his mind and ended up signing with Mississippi State. All the while, he slowly moved up the recruiting rankings to a five-star and No. 17 overall. Cross redshirted his first year on campus before landing the starting job at left tackle over the past two seasons. In all, Cross started 22 of the 25 games he played for the Bulldogs and is now headed to the NFC West to play for the Seahawks.

10. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Team: New York Jets

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 32 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 6 wide receiver

Wilson went to high school in Austin, Texas, but grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State’s consistent on-field results and the allure of returning to his native Ohio led Wilson to commit to the Buckeyes over Texas in April 2018. A top-50 prospect in the class of 2019, Wilson quickly made a name for himself once he stepped foot on Ohio State’s campus.

Wilson was a key contributor as a true freshman and continued to play at a high level over his three years with the program. In 32 career games, Wilson caught 143 passes for 2,213 yards and 23 touchdowns.

11. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Team: New Orleans Saints (from Washington)

Rivals rating: 3 stars, not in Rivals 250

2018 position ranking: No. 74 wide receiver

A Southern California native, Olave was one of the lowest-rated players in Ohio State’s 2018 recruiting class. He had offers from schools like Arizona, Boise State, Hawaii, San Diego State, Utah and Washington State before Ohio State jumped into the mix. Ryan Day was actually recruiting a different player when he first watched Olave. That later resulted in an OSU offer.

After a big senior season, schools like USC, UCLA and Michigan joined the mix. Not long before signing day in 2018, though, Ohio State won out and landed Olave’s commitment. Though he was rated as the 74th-best receiver in the nation, he earned his way onto the field as a true freshman. He then started the next three seasons and ended his OSU career with 175 catches for 2,702 yards and 35 touchdowns.

12. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Team: Detroit Lions (from Minnesota)

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 87 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 12 wide receiver

Like Garrett Wilson, Williams signed with Ohio State in the class of 2019 as a recruit ranked in the top 100. A native of St. Louis, Williams was the second-best prospect in the state of Missouri. He ended up choosing Ohio State over Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon and UCLA.

Unlike Wilson, though, Williams found himself further down the OSU depth chart. He caught 15 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns in his two seasons with the Buckeyes, but decided to transfer. He landed at Alabama and emerged as one of the top playmakers in the country as he caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021.

13. Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

Team: Philadelphia Eagles (from Houston)

Rivals rating: 4 stars, not in Rivals 250

2018 position ranking: No. 20 defensive tackle

Davis was more of a basketball player growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the transition to football quickly yielded some big-time scholarship offers. North Carolina and NC State both offered him during the summer after his sophomore year and it didn’t take long until others like Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan and others were in pursuit. Eventually, Davis earned a four-star rating from Rivals and committed to Georgia in November 2017. His other finalists were FSU, UNC and NC State.

Davis quickly worked his way into the rotation on Georgia’s defensive line, starting four games as a true freshman. By his senior year, he blossomed into one of the best players in the country as he earned All-America honors and helped UGA win a national championship.

14. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Team: Baltimore Ravens

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 75 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 7 safety

Many of the high-academic schools were on Kyle Hamilton early with multiple Ivy League programs among his earliest offers. Later on, schools like Duke, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan, Stanford and Vanderbilt all joined the mix, as did Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State. But by April 2018, Hamilton — at that point still a three-star recruit — was ready to pledge to Notre Dame.

By the time the final 2019 rankings came out, Hamilton was considered a top-100 prospect and one of the best players in Georgia. He saw the field early at Notre Dame, leading the team in interceptions as a freshman. Over the course of his career with the Irish, Hamilton would accumulate 139 tackles and eight interceptions despite missing seven games due to injury.

15. Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M

Team: Houston Texans

Rivals rating: 5 stars, No. 22 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 4 offensive tackle

Green, who grew up in the Houston area, was a five-star recruit in the 2019 class who verbally committed to LSU during his sophomore year of high school. LSU was his first offer but others followed quickly as his recruitment progressed. Green was still making visits while committed to LSU and he later officially opened up his recruitment. Eventually, Green narrowed things down to Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M, and the Aggies won out.

He made an immediate impact as Jimbo Fisher took over the A&M program. Green started at right guard as a true freshman, held down the left guard spot as a sophomore and then made starts at both guard and tackle positions for the Aggies in 2021. Green projects as a guard at the next level with his versatility an added bonus.

16. Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

Team: Washington Commanders

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 164 overall

2018 position ranking: No. 29 wide receiver

Dotson was rated as the fifth-best prospect in Pennsylvania back in 2018 and had offers from many of the top programs across the country, including Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Early in his senior year, Dotson committed to UCLA but backed off that commitment after the school fired Jim Mora. At that point, in-state Penn State swooped in and landed Dotson.

Dotson saw the field early in his career, emerging as a big-play threat. As a senior, he caught 91 passes for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. For his career, Dotson compiled 183 receptions for 2,757 yards and 25 scores.

17. Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College

Team: Los Angeles Chargers

Rivals rating: Unranked

2019 position ranking: Unranked

Johnson did not start playing football until the latter part of high school and was recruited by just one school, Davidson, an FCS program that does not offer scholarships. He was undersized compared to the average Division I lineman, but worked his way into the starting lineup at Davidson as a freshman.

After two seasons with the Wildcats, Johnson transferred up a level to Boston College on scholarship. He continued his strong play as a left guard at BC in 2019, but had some struggles playing left tackle in 2020. Johnson took advantage of the extra year of eligibility and returned to the guard spot, putting together strong enough tape to vault him into the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.

18. Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

Team: Tennessee Titans (from Philadelphia)

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 146 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 21 wide receiver

Burks was one of the best players out of the state of Arkansas and had many of the top programs in the southeast chasing him. Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and LSU were all in the mix, but Burks opted to stay in his home state and commit to Arkansas despite the program’s struggles.

From there, Burks was a key cog in Arkansas’ turnaround. The Razorbacks went from two wins in his freshman season to nine wins in his junior season. Along the way, he emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the SEC. Over three seasons, Burks caught 146 passes for 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns.

19. Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

Team: New Orleans Saints

Rivals rating: Unranked

2017 position ranking: Unranked

Coming out of Clear Lake, Iowa, in the class of 2017, Penning attracted no FBS offers (Iowa and Iowa State did not recruit him) and instead went to nearby Northern Iowa, an FCS program. He redshirted his first year on campus and saw limited time in 2018 as he continued to add weight. In all, he added close to 100 pounds during his time at Northern Iowa.

Now Penning stands 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds. He became a three-year starter for the Panthers, mainly at left tackle, and attracted plenty of NFL scouts to UNI’s campus as he earned FCS All-America honors and became a first-round pick.

20. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Rivals rating: 3 stars, not in Rivals 250

2017 position ranking: Unranked

Pickett was a three-star prospect out of New Jersey who first made a verbal commitment to Temple. But as some bigger offers came in, Pickett backed off his pledge from the Owls — who were then coached by current Panthers coach Matt Rhule. He later whittled things down to two ACC schools: Boston College and Pittsburgh.

Pickett, rated as the 23rd-best prospect in New Jersey in 2017, signed with Pitt and worked his way onto the field late in his true freshman season, leading the Panthers to an upset win over No. 2 Miami. From there, he never relinquished the starting job but didn’t really emerge as a high-end draft prospect until his fifth-year senior season. Pickett led Pitt to an ACC championship while passing for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns. Fittingly, he won't have to leave the Steel City to begin his pro career.

21. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

Team: Kansas City Chiefs (from New England)

Rivals rating: 4 stars, not in Rivals 250

2019 position ranking: No. 29 athlete

A four-star prospect from the Los Angeles area, McDuffie was a coveted player early in his high school career. His first offer came from USC in June 2017 with Utah, Notre Dame, Cal and Washington all jumping into the equation in the months that followed. Washington, with its history of putting defensive backs in the NFL, especially caught McDuffie’s attention. Alabama, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford and more all ended up offering McDuffie, but Washington was his choice. He became a three-year starter for the Huskies and played well enough to become a first-round pick.

22. Quay Walker, LB, Georgia

Team: Green Bay Packers

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 38 overall

2018 position ranking: No. 3 outside linebacker

Walker was a heavily recruited prospect out of Georgia who initially committed to Alabama. Jeremy Pruitt was Walker’s main recruiter at Alabama and many thought Walker would flip to Tennessee after Pruitt landed the Vols’ head-coaching job. Instead, Walker spurned both Bama and UT and signed with Georgia on national signing day in 2018. Walker played all four years at UGA, but didn’t become a starter until his senior season. Overall, he made 139 tackles with 11 tackles for loss and five sacks in a UGA uniform.

23. Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Team: Buffalo Bills (from Baltimore)

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 63 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 9 cornerback

The 6-foot-1 Elam was a four-star prospect out of Florida who had dozens of offers from across the country. Elam, considered the 10th-best prospect from the Sunshine State in 2019, had Florida, Georgia and Miami in his final three and he ultimately decided to stay in his home state and suit up for the Gators. Elam saw the field early in Gainesville, intercepting three passes as a true freshman. He ended up starting 27 games over three years for UF and performing well enough to become a first-round pick.

24. Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa

Team: Dallas Cowboys

Rivals rating: 2 stars, not in Rivals 250

2019 position ranking: Unranked

Smith was considered just a two-star recruit coming out of Fort Worth, Texas, in the class of 2019. Smith did receive an offer from Houston, but was passed over by almost all of the major programs in the state. Tulsa offered Smith after his senior season and he committed to the Golden Hurricane not long after taking a visit to campus. Navy and New Mexico were his other FBS offers.

Smith worked his way onto the field as a freshman, making two starts at left tackle. He then held onto that role during his next two seasons with the program, starting his final 21 games all at left tackle. He decided to skip his final two seasons of eligibility. Now a first-round selection of the Cowboys, it proved to be the right move.

25. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa

Team: Baltimore Ravens (from Buffalo)

Rivals rating: 3 stars, not in Rivals 250

2018 position ranking: No. 49 defensive tackle

Linderbaum was almost universally considered the best center in the country over the last two seasons. An Iowa native, Linderbaum was actually recruited as a defensive tackle. He was rated the third-best player out of Iowa in the 2018 class. Linderbaum’s first offer came from Iowa State before Iowa — Linderbaum’s favorite team growing up — followed about a month later. Linderbaum then committed to the Hawkeyes during the summer before his senior year.

After playing in two games on defense as a freshman, Linderbaum moved to center as a sophomore and quickly became the team’s starter. Over the next three seasons, Linderbaum would start 35 games, earning All-Big Ten and All-America honors in 2020 and 2021.

26. Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State

Team: New York Jets (from Tennessee)

Rivals rating: 2 stars, not in Rivals 250

2017 position ranking: Unranked

Johnson grew up in Minnesota and attracted interest from an array of FBS programs coming out of high school, but his grades weren’t up to snuff and he had to take the junior college route. Johnson ended up at Independence Community College in Kansas — yes, the one from “Last Chance U.” Johnson thrived at the JUCO level and earned four-star status from Rivals. He received plenty of Power Five offers and chose Georgia.

Johnson played quite a bit at UGA (36 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks in two seasons), but was unable to consistently crack the starting lineup. From there, Johnson decided to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA and transferred to Florida State. He quickly proved to be the best player on that defense. In all, Johnson had 70 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in his lone season at FSU.

27. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars (from Tampa Bay)

Rivals rating: 2 stars, not in Rivals 250

2017 position ranking: Unranked

A two-star safety out of California, Lloyd was mainly recruited by Mountain West schools. The only Power Five program in the mix was Utah, and Lloyd committed to the Utes in January 2017 a few weeks before signing day.

Lloyd redshirted early in his Utah career and moved from safety to linebacker. He got better and better and was one of Utah’s best players by 2019. Over his last three seasons with the Utes, Lloyd totaled 249 tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks and five interceptions.

28. Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia

Team: Green Bay Packers

Rivals rating: 3 stars, not in Rivals 250

2017 position ranking: No. 30 defensive tackle

A three-star recruit from Decatur, Georgia, in the class of 2017, Wyatt originally committed to South Carolina in June 2016 over other offers from NC State, USF and a few others. All along, though, Georgia kept an eye on the massive in-state defensive lineman. A few months later, he got the offer from UGA and flipped his commitment.

Wyatt signed with Georgia, but he ended up not qualifying academically. Following a year in junior college, Wyatt stuck with UGA as a member of its 2018 class instead. In his four seasons with the Bulldogs, Wyatt played in 49 games (starting 25) and tallied 113 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and five sacks from his defensive tackle spot.

29. Cole Strange, OL, Chattanooga

Team: New England Patriots

Rivals rating: 2 stars, not in Rivals 250

2016 position ranking: Unranked

A two-star recruit out of Knoxville, Tennessee, Strange had just two FBS offers — Air Force and Army. He also had a bunch of FCS offers to sort through and he ended up verbally pledging to UT Chattanooga in July 2015. However, right before signing day he flipped his commitment to Air Force. Later on, though, he decided he'd rather stay close to home and ended up at UTC after all.

Strange was mainly recruited as a defensive end but switched to offensive line. After a redshirt year, Strange became a four-year starter — mainly at left guard. He also made starts at left tackle and center during his college career. Now he is headed to New England to help bolster its offensive line.

30. George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

Team: Kansas City Chiefs

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 137 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 14 strongside defensive end

Karlaftis was born and raised in Greece but moved to West Lafayette, Indiana, in 2014 following his father’s death. Karlaftis’ father is from Greece and his mother is from West Lafayette; the two met while studying at Purdue. Karlaftis first played football as an eighth-grader in West Lafayette and quickly improved. By the time his sophomore year rolled around, he was attracting attention from Power Five programs.

Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and USC all offered Karlaftis, but he ended up naming Miami, Michigan and Purdue as his final three. Karlaftis decided to stay home and play for Purdue, becoming one of the highest-rated football prospects to ever choose the Boilermakers. In his three years (27 games) at Purdue, Karlaftis compiled 99 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.

31. Daxton Hill, S, Michigan

Team: Cincinnati Bengals

Rivals rating: 5 stars, No. 24 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 1 safety

Hill, the younger brother of Ravens running back Justice Hill, was the No. 1 player in Oklahoma in 2019. He worked his way up the rankings and ended up being a five-star by the time his senior year rolled around. Most of the top schools in the country offered Hill a scholarship, but he scaled his list down to two: Alabama and Michigan.

He first committed to Michigan in September 2018 before flipping to Alabama a few months later. However, once the early signing period arrived, Hill surprised the recruiting world by signing with the Wolverines. In three seasons at Michigan, Hill played in 33 games with 23 starts and had 151 tackles and four INTs.

32. Lewis Cine, S, Georgia

Team: Minnesota Vikings

Rivals rating: 4 stars, No. 54 overall

2019 position ranking: No. 5 safety

Cine lived in Florida and Massachusetts before playing his senior year of high school in Texas. He was considered one of the top safety prospects in the country in 2019. He steadily rose in the rankings over the course of his high school career, peaking at No. 54 overall. Cine had dozens of offers in hand before narrowing it down to five schools: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Penn State and Texas. Georgia was the pick.

Cine was a rotational player as a freshman before locking down a starting spot in 2020 and 2021. A hard-hitter, Cine had 145 tackles in three seasons with the Bulldogs. He also deflected 16 passes and had two INTs.