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As an NFL fan, you might not be ready to shift into draft mode.
But we like the idea of introducing some of the bigger-name prospects for the 2022 NFL draft now, at least giving readers a big-picture familiarity of how things stand now.
Had we written this one a year ago, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance almost certainly would have made our top 10. All three went in the top 11 picks this spring.
A lot can change for even highly touted prospects over the course of a single season.
Previous entries: Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler | LSU CB Derek Stingley, Jr. | Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux | North Carolina QB Sam Howell | Alabama OT Evan Neal | Nevada QB Carson Strong | Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton | Liberty QB Malik Willis
The 10 players we’re profiling here — five quarterbacks and five non-QBs — aren’t guaranteed to be first-rounders in 2022. But they’re prospects who enter the season with the opportunity to lock up that caliber of draft status — and perhaps also have the potential to tumble.
Let's take a look at one of the more fascinating wide receiver prospects in next year’s class.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks
6-foot-3, 232 pounds
2020 stats: 51 receptions, 820 yards, seven TDs; 15 rushes, 75 yards; 0 for 4 passing, 2 INTs in nine games
A 4-star Rivals recruit (top 150 overall) in the Class of 2019, Burks stayed in his home state of Arkansas to join the Hogs out of high school. And it didn’t take long for him to crack the rotation once he arrived.
Burks started nine of his 11 games as a true freshman, catching 29 passes for a team-best 475 yards. Although he was held out of the end zone in 2019, Burks made his value on a shorthanded team quite clear right from the start, serving as a Wildcat QB, punt returner and kick returner.
Burks’ role expanded last season under new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, adding rushing duties (one or more carries in seven of nine games) to his plate and also asking the king-sized receiver to throw four passes despite a future NFL QB (Feleipe Franks) on the roster.
But the biggest development was at receiver, where he roasted Mizzou for 220 yards from scrimmage in a near-upset of the Tigers and fueled a victory over Ole Miss with 117 yards receiving, catching the go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter and rushing for 46 more yards.
Burks enters the 2021 college season as perhaps the most physically impressive wideout in next year's draft class, and he'll only be 21 years old. His future looks very bright.
Treylon Burks’ strengths
On the surface, Burks more fits the mold of the type of receiver that was en vogue a generation ago — a big-bodied specimen who can win physical matchups vs. smaller and less strong defenders.
That’s true, Burks can do all that. He’s extremely well put together, with great length, strength and lower-body explosion. His length and strong hands most definitely are NFL-caliber, he works well in traffic and brings a physical style of play to the field reminiscent of Anquan Boldin at times.
Yet Burks isn’t just a bully out there. He’s surprisingly fluid and supple as a receiver, able to make “little man” movements in a big-man body. We’re not expecting Burks to be a sub-4.5 40 runner, but his ability to get vertical and separate are what make you sit up in your chair when watching him. Burks operated mostly as a big slot the past two seasons, and with NFL teams utilizing more of these types of targets, it only adds to his appeal in league circles.
The fact that he’s been as consistently productive as he has from the start — without terribly consistent quarterbacking the past two years — is a huge feather in Burks’ cap and suggests that he can adjust quite quickly to a more talented passing game on an NFL roster. Of note: The only team that truly slowed Burks down last season was Alabama. (Burks had just one 10-yard grab vs. Mississippi State but was injured after only a handful of snaps in that game.)
One SEC team we spoke with last season right after it had faced Burks summed him up this way: "That's what a first-round receiver looks like. He's a dude, all right."
Treylon Burks’ weaknesses
Drops were a more pressing issue during Burks’ freshman season, but they also cropped up a few times a year ago. On multiple drops vs. Missouri, Burks failed to haul in what would have been fairly easy grabs; he has tremendous body control and hand strength, so our assumption at this point is that there are concentration flubs more than anything.
Burks hasn’t worked a lot outside or faced much in the way of press coverage. Not all big, physically gifted receivers can escape press without proper technique, so there could be some developmental road blocks along the way.
His role at Arkansas has been diverse, but his route tree and route refinement always could use some sprucing. There were similar questions about Colorado’s Laviska Shenault when he came out a few years ago; those along with injury worries dropped Shenault to the top of Round 2 when many felt he was a first-round talent entering his final season.
One issue that has cropped up recently with Burks that is suddenly worth watching is an undisclosed injury that he has been dealing with. We don’t yet know the nature of it, but Burks hasn’t been at practice in more than a week and suddenly is in some doubt for the opener.
Burks also suffered a torn ACL in October of his final high school season and missed most of the Mississippi State game with a knee injury the next year. His health could end up being one of the more critical factors for his eventual draft landing spot.
Assuming Burks can get back healthy and this recent injury doesn't linger, he projects as a do-it-all threat for the Razorbacks again. Arkansas faces an absolutely wicked schedule, one of the toughest in the country this season, and it will be interesting to see how he and the team handle that gauntlet.
Burks could square off against a slew of top NFL prospects at cornerback this season, including LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., Florida’s Kaiir Elam, Auburn’s Roger McCreary and Nehemiah Pritchett, Georgia’ Derion Kendrick, Texas A&M’s Myles Jones, Mizzou’s Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV and Texas’ D’Shawn Jamison and Josh Thompson.
K.J. Jefferson is expected to be Arkansas’ QB this season. He and Burks made quite the pair in Jefferson's one start, the narrow loss to Missouri, hooking up 10 times on 15 targets for 207 yard receiving, including a 68-yard TD. If they can keep that connection going this season, even a murderer’s row of cover men might not be able to slow down Burks.
Even so, we wonder about Burks’ role. Will he be the do-it-all threat once more? That would make sense for the Hogs’ chances of winning. But will it be exactly what NFL scouts want to see? We suspect not. They know he can run the option series and take swing passes; what they want is a broader diet of passes and a more diverse approach as a receiver.
But we’re talking about one of the more dynamic threats in college football here. Burks absolutely has the chance to be a first-round pick in 2022 if he can build off his impressive first two seasons in college.