The first month of the 2021 college football season is coming to a close. With that comes the opportunity to reexamine the resumes of the prospects eligible for the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. The landscape in college football this season is a little more “traditional” than the 2020 season, giving everyone more of a feel for the evolution of opinions and a chance to observe year-over-year growth with an understanding of where the current path and trajectory may lead.
With that in mind, let me say this: I really, really like the trajectory of Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd at this point in the season. So much so that I’d go out on a limb and say he’s probably not just my favorite 2022 linebacker prospect, but that I think he may well end up having the most impressive resume to finish as the top linebacker prospect for this upcoming spring.
I thought this was going to be a hot take until I sat down to write out my thoughts and saw that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. recently declared the same thing on his latest 2022 Big Board update, so instead I’ll simply chalk this up as affirmation for what I’ve seen thus far this season: Lloyd is playing at a tremendous level and is a force to be reckoned with on the Utes defense thus far in 2021.
Lloyd is a listed 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker who is a third-year starter for the Utes. He, unlike a number of the young prospects who are just scratching their surface as NFL draft-eligible prospects in 2022, does not have a sample size issue on his hands; he’s now logged 23 career starts and counting and continues to find more and more ways to make an impact along the way. His backfield production in 2021 is phenomenal. He’s logged eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and an interception thus far in 2021 through the month of September after logging 10 tackles for loss (and 48 tackles) in five games with the Utes in 2020.
The race to land atop the 2022 linebacker class is shared with a number of linebacker prospects who have fascinating resumes. Penn State’s Brandon Smith is a surreal physical talent but he’s still inexperienced as a starter and struggles at times with discipline with his play. Alabama’s Christian Harris has the athletic profile to also be an impact defender but hasn’t gotten off to nearly the caliber of a start as Lloyd has thus far in 2021. And, as always, what you’ve done recently speaks the loudest in NFL draft evaluations.
A headcount for serious contenders elsewhere to land as LB1 in the 2022 class won’t find many other legitimate threats at this point in time, leaving Lloyd as the best blend of athleticism and high-level play to serve as the favorite. And, depending on the team needs and draft slot of any number of NFL franchises, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Lloyd eventually go on to be considered a top-25 overall prospect in this year’s upcoming draft. He’s already on the Senior Bowl’s radar as their highest-graded defensive prospect out west, according to executive director Jim Nagy.
As a spoiler, the only Pac-12 (or West Coast) defensive prospect to score higher than Lloyd in The Draft Network’s upcoming updated TDN100 list of the top-100 prospects in all the land is Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux—so the stance Nagy and his event are taking on Lloyd falls directly in line with how TDN feels about him collectively as well.
This is a player with the versatility to play forward in attack mode and the athleticism to play in space. He has the length to offer a notable tackle radius and the burst to chase plays down in pursuit. And in a class that is loaded with prospects who offer as many questions or uncertainties as they do answers, Lloyd is one of the rare few who seems to offer both a high floor and a high ceiling. To this point, that’s good enough to embrace being LB1.
- Sep 24, 2023
- Sep 22, 2023