This is my favorite time of the year for CFF: right after the previous season ends. There is no consensus. There is no ADP. Only vague ideas about what the future may hold for the next season, and it’s wonderful. I find it essential to capture snapshots as to what the CFF community is thinking at different points in the off-season, and there’s no better way to do that than to bring them all together and conduct a Way-Too-Early CFF 2022 Mock Draft!
The goal behind this was to set up a starting point for the CFF 2022 season and capture what experts in the industry are feeling right at the start of their processes. The result of this is a mock draft that provides plenty of opportunities to put names out there you may not have considered before and to get an early idea as to where players are being valued at the start of this offseason.
This draft has already been analyzed in two previous media: First was a Mock Draft Special hosted by the Chasing the Natty Youtube Channel where each expert in the draft talks about their takeaways and their teams. Secondly, an episode of Chasing the Natty was dedicated to a round by round analysis of the draft, with Chris Moxley of Campus2Canton reacting live to the results. The link for both of these can be found below:
Mock Draft Expert Special: https://youtu.be/iZrqMCit-Ew
Round by Round Analysis: https://youtu.be/mKBrihbeOsY
However, if you are a busy person and want to get an overview of the biggest lessons learned from the first Way Too Early CFF 2022 Mock Draft in just a few minutes, then you have come to the right place! Below, I shall lay out the five biggest takeaways from the first CFF Mock Draft of 2022 and how it will affect the lens people will view this season’s college fantasy moving forward!
TAKEAWAY #1: Ohio St Players Make Up the Top 3 Picks
The first major takeaway from the draft takes us to where else but the first couple picks off the board. Normally, it’s pretty clear who the 1.01 will be heading into the CFF season in years past. However, no such consensus has been reached for this year. Instead, the consensus lies in which offense people ought to be drafting from first, the Ohio State Buckeyes. In quick succession, the first three names off the board all came from the Buckeye offense, which was RB TreVeyon Henderson, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and QB CJ Stroud respectively.
Typically, it would be a dangerous game to have three players from the same offense be placed in the first round, let alone the first three picks, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that each one of these could pay off in a big way. Ohio St was the #1 offense last year in CFB when it came to offensive yards per game and tied for #2 in offensive touchdowns produced. With star receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave leaving for the NFL, some would expect the offense to take a step back, but that does not seem to be what’s in line for 2022.
The returning trio each has a plethora of reasons to be excited about. Starting with Henderson, the freshman phenom is the lead back many CFF players were hoping for last year’s preseason. Many were worried about a backfield that already contained Master Teague and Miyan Williams having to split carries between the three tailbacks. However, as the season went on, Teague regressed to the RB3 on the team, and Williams couldn’t stay healthy. Henderson had every opportunity to take over the backfield, so he did. Henderson, as a freshman, finished as the RB9 last year in 0.5 PPR formats in CFF and was able to do his work both on the ground and through the air. He had 183 carries for 1,248 yards and 15 TDs on the ground, with an additional 27 receptions, 312 yards, and four TDs through the air by the season’s end. With another off-season, this time as the undisputed lead back for this Ohio St team, it’s to be expected that his workload will only grow going into this next year.
Next is Smith-Njigba, the player that both first-round caliber wide receivers Wilson and Olave called the best receiver on the team. People might be concerned with Ohio St’s passing game, given both of those talents are leaving especially as they finished as the WR9 and WR21 respectively in CFF. However, Smith-Nijgba broke out onto the scene over the last five games of the regular season, with Wilson and Garrett still on the field and accumulated massive stats during that time, allowing him to finish as the WR25 overall. He even out-produced Wilson and Olave in total yardage and receptions, gaining 80 receptions and 1259 yards during the regular season.
We were able to get a glimpse of what the future looks like without Wilson and Olave during the Rose Bowl, and Smith-Njigba only managed to put up 15 receptions for 347 yards and three TDs. No, that is not a typo. It’d be insane to put up those numbers each week, but there’s no reason to expect Smith-Njigba to not see a much bigger share of targets next year on top of his already massive load.
Finally, what is an offense without its quarterback, or in this case, CJ Stroud? There was some question as to whether Stroud would take the starting QB job over true freshmen Kyle McCord and Quinn Ewers, and given his rough patch in Weeks 3 and 4, where he finished as the QB97 and QB118 on the week, respectively, many were worried those fears were going to be realized. However, Stroud went on to have a Heisman caliber season, where he finished as a top 12 QB four times. He finished outside the top 40 QBs only twice and overall finished as the QB13 in 2021. This was Stroud’s first year as the full-time starter, and his growth throughout the season has many excited for what he can accomplish with another year under his belt. Losing Wilson and Olave brought some concern, but those concerns were put aside when Stroud threw for 573 yards in the Rose Bowl, with Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. as his main weapons.
Overall, it shouldn’t be expected that these three will make up the first three picks in every single draft, but do expect them to be gone by the end of the first round. That Ohio St. offense is looking to be key in CFF 2022, and many have already focused on grabbing the top players early and often. The only value that seems to be left is sophomore wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who can be found being taken by the fourth round.
TAKEAWAY #2: Running Backs Once Again Rule the Early Rounds
The next takeaway is that the first round was filled with running backs flying off the board, more so than any other position. This gives an indication that drafters seem to believe that the positional break from tier one to tier two comes the soonest for the running backs. If one has been drafting CFF for years, or just NFL in general, this should come as no surprise. However, running backs dominating 13 out of the first 24 picks is something that raises an eyebrow. This could also speak to the depth that drafters see at QB, another position that typically can dominate the first round of CFF drafts; more on that later.
After the first two rounds, only six running backs were taken over rounds three and four, signifying where drafters start seeing a tier break. Of the twelve drafting experts in this mock, only one of them did not have a running back selected in their first two rounds, and that one person took a running back with their third-round pick. This is compared to seven experts who did not take a wide receiver in the first two rounds and seven who did not take a quarterback in the first two rounds. Solidifying one of these top-tier running backs took precedent for these experts.
I noticed that this top tier is composed of running backs in known systems, or their role in their offenses is full of known quantities. Now, that sounds like I’m stating the obvious. Of course, you draft the known top players first. However, consider this: because of the perceived weakness of this year’s running back draft class, many running backs who’d typically stay another year left for the draft with the hope that they could take advantage of there being fewer top tailback prospects. This can also be seen by how young most of these top running backs are. Of the 13 running backs taken in the first two rounds, only one was eligible to be drafted last year. This left CFF with far fewer returning lead backs than usual, therefore the ones that did return became all the more valuable.
Whether it comes from a tier break seen by the experts or just a habit formed from years of playing NFL fantasy, the running backs look to rule the first two rounds of your CFF Mock Drafts this year. This could shift as more information comes out and players begin to rise out of spring camps, and position battles are won, but as of now, getting one of these top-end running backs looks like a must in the first two rounds.
TAKEAWAY #3: Be Prepared to Pay High Draft Capital for Top Tight Ends
CFF was spoiled in 2021. There’s no other way to describe it. Normally, Tight Ends are by far the most difficult position in CFF to figure out, and as a result, most people tend to punt the position until the final rounds of their drafts. Last year was different. It was a widely held belief in the preseason of 2021 that this was the deepest CFF TE class the format had seen in years. Thus TEs went later due to the quality of those behind them, and the next tier moved up several rounds. This resulted in the top TE, Cole Turner, being taken in the seventh round, and the next tier, guys like Greg Dulcich, Jalen Wydermyer, Charlie Kolar, and Sean Dykes, got drafted around the tenth round, which was much earlier than in past years.
However, this year, we’re back to the TE wasteland that CFF is used to. Like the RB position, this was created by a large number of last year’s top TEs choosing to go to the NFL in the midst of a year without a clear top tier. CFF faithful TEs such as Cole Turner, Isaiah Likely, and Charlie Kolar have all left. Eight out of the top 12 TEs from this previous year are all gone, and one of the remaining four will likely not have TE eligibility next year. So, who does that leave in the top tier? Enter: Brock Bowers – Georgia, and Michael Mayer – Notre Dame.
Going into 2021, Mayer was already expected to be one of the top TE prospects after a great start in his freshman year. The former five-star athlete was drafted overall as the TE6 and was firmly in the second tier of TE prospects for CFF. Mayer would finish as the fifth-highest scoring tight end in CFF, accumulating 71 receptions for 840 yards and seven TDs on 95 targets. This was already a great year for a college tight end, but there was reason to believe that Mayer’s ceiling hadn’t even been reached. Nagging injuries kept Mayer off the field in week six, and while Mayer returned to the field in week eight, his targets were reduced significantly, and he didn’t score another touchdown until week 11. Mayer could return to form as a red zone terror for Notre Dame given a full year of health.
While Mayer was fully expected to be one of the top college TEs for the 2021 season, the same cannot be said for the other top-tier TE prospect for CFF 2022, Brock Bowers. Bowers was a former four-star tight end going into Georgia’s freshman season. While word of his talents came out early, many did not expect him to surpass Darnell Washington, a former five-star TE going into his sophomore season. It quickly became apparent that Georgia wasn’t going to keep Bowers off the field, and he quickly put together one of the best seasons ever achieved by a freshman TE. By the end of the season, Bowers finished as the TE4, accumulating 56 receptions for 882 yards and 13 scores on just 71 targets. Bowers’ role grew as he became a focal point for the bulldog offense as Georgia went on their championship run, and there’s not much reason to believe he can’t do it again as a sophomore, if not do better.
Mayer and Bowers make up the clear top tier for TEs for CFF 2022, and as such, if one wants to own that advantage in their CFF leagues, one better be prepared to pay a premium. Last year, the consensus TE1 in Cole Turner went, on average, in the seventh round. Both Bowers and Mayer came off the board in the fourth round in this mock draft, and managers should expect that value to rise. Among experts, there was already talk about drafting them earlier in future mocks, so do not be surprised to see the duo comes off the board in the third or even the second round. In addition, Bowers’ and Mayer’s value rising will affect the rest of the TE group. Do not be surprised to see target volume king Zach Kuntz of Old Dominion and explosive TE/WR hybrid Jaheim Bell from USC begin to rise as a possible next tier of TEs that come at a multiple-round discount. The rest of the TE class will likely fall farther and farther in drafts moving forward, as the clear favorites are taken, and everyone else is forced to fight for scraps at the position.
TAKEAWAY #4: Wait to Take a Second Quarterback
Two positions have already been discussed on how their limited top prospects will likely force you to reach earlier on those positions than you might have in past years. However, what positions are deep enough that allow you to wait longer to take them than in past years?. During the discussions during the draft, one position’s depth stood out more than any other: the quarterback position.
While there is certainly still a top tier of QBs for this year (players like CJ Stroud, Bryce Young, Malik Cunningham, Will Rogers, and Hendon Hooker), what separates the QB position from the situation with RBs and TEs is that the drop from tier one to tier two is far less significant, and that second tier for QBs is massive. Even after those top-tier QBs have been taken off the board, one can still find top 15 quarterbacks from CFF 2021 as late as the seventh round. Some top 20 QBs from 2021 went undrafted, such as Frank Harris-UTSA, Devin Leary-NC State, and Will Levis-Kentucky.
A lot of this has to do with many known quantities at QB coming back for another year. Of the top 36 performing QBs from CFF 2021, 24 are coming back to play for the same school. Add in the fact that the transfer portal has created interesting matches such as Jaxson Dart at Ole Miss, John Rhys Plumlee at UCF, Dillon Gabriel at Oklahoma, and of course, Caleb Williams at USC. There are a plethora of options for CFF managers to choose from, even into the later rounds.
One can see this play out within the mock draft. Several top-tier QBs were off the board when the mid-third round came about, but then one can see the shift away from quarterbacks to skill position players in rounds four through six. Teams specifically seemed eager to wait as long as they could on their second quarterback. Out of the 12 expert drafts, ten took their second quarterback in round seven or later. It is believed that had there not been roster requirements forcing them to take a second quarterback. Many would have waited even longer. Overall, CFF managers should feel good about waiting on drafting their quarterbacks for their teams, should they miss out on the top tier or simply choose to pursue other positions. Fading quarterbacks and prioritizing running backs and tight ends could very well become a common practice for CFF drafts in 2022.
TAKEAWAY #5: Offensive Systems Continues to be Key in CFF
The final takeaway from the first Way-Too-Early Mock Draft for CFF 2022 is simply a reminder of a mindset that has withstood the test of time: offensive systems are critical in college football. Experts have not had the time to truly dive into each team’s situation and nuances early on into the season, so they must rely on the past to predict the future. Many players taken in this draft fit the description as a player who benefits significantly from the system they’re a part of. To illustrate this point, one only has to look at the top 5 offenses in yards per game last year and see how many different players from those systems were taken in this draft.
The first takeaway starts with the Buckeyes, which have already been covered at length. It is not often that the top three picks all come from the same team, but given that Ohio St. is expected to resume its course as the top offense in the county, and that offense comes both through the air and on the ground, this is not that surprising. Next up is Western Kentucky. Remember, we’re talking offensive systems, not teams here, so to benefit from this system, one must follow former-offensive coordinator Zach Kittley over to his new role as the offensive coordinator of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Only one red raider, WR Myles Price, was taken in this first draft and was taken in the eighth round, but that has more to do with the uncertainty at positions across the team, rather than doubting the system. One best believe once spring camp reports start coming out and the top QB and top WRs are known, those players will skyrocket up draft boards, with managers expecting them to maybe replicate the magic Bailey Zappe and Jerreth Sterns created last year.
Next up is Virginia, and this is an interesting case. Robert Anae and Bronco Mendenhall have put together a CFF treasure trove with the Virginia offense in the past couple of years. However, Mendenhall has left the program, and Anae has taken the OC job at Syracuse. This has left many CFF managers worried about the offense, especially with the architect of the lackluster Clemson offense of 2021, Tony Elliot, taking over as head coach. However, many CFF managers still believe in the offensive pieces left over, as the fifth round took QB Brennan Armstrong and WR Dontayvian Wicks. The fourth highest producing offense was that of the Kent St Golden Flashes. They saw two players in WR Dante Cephas and RB Marquez Cooper in this draft, despite their extremely rigorous non-conference schedule to start the year. Managers know once they play opponents on their level, the offense is designed to score and score quickly. Do not be surprised if expected starting quarterback, Collin Schlee, finds his way into these rounds in future drafts, as well.
Ole Miss is another top offense that many expect to continue in 2022. Led by offensive guru Lane Kiffin, this team started last year as an offensive juggernaut that slayed all in its path, guided by early-season Heisman candidate Matt Corral and his trio of WRs: Drummond, Mingo, and Sanders. In addition, a three-headed monster in the backfield laid in wait, led by Jerrion Ealy, with Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner. However, most of those pieces are gone, leaving room open for new faces, such as transfer QB from USC, Jaxson Dart, and former five-star running back Zach Evans, both of whom were taken in this draft. The lone offensive returner from last year, Jonathan Mingo, was also taken in this draft.
This pattern can be seen as you continue down the top offenses in the country. Systems like Alabama’s offense will continue to be dominant despite turnover at coordinator. Heupel’s system at Tennessee and Dave Clawson’s system at Wake Forest can provide multiple stars for CFF managers this year. It doesn’t stop there either. When one searches the top passing offenses, more options appear for CFF managers, including the Mike Leach air raid system at Mississippi St, to the passing attack of Purdue, to Jay Norvell’s system and players he’s bringing with him from Nevada to Colorado St. On the other side of the offensive coin, you have the best rushing attacks in the country, which bring you to teams like Thomas Haddock’s rushing attack at Northern Illinois and Jamey Chadwell’s Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina. Overall, just learning and understanding proven systems in college football will go a long way towards providing you safe bets when drafting in CFF drafts in any year, but especially early on in CFF 2022.
Some may say it is way too early to be holding a CFF mock draft, especially since the previous season has just ended. I’ll respectfully disagree. Indeed, there is so much we don’t know. Transfers will continue throughout the off-season. Spring camps will redefine who is winning certain positional values. However, it is suitable for many to have a mock draft like this early on in the offseason to get a general gauge as to what the industry is feeling when it comes to next year’s crop of players.
Some takeaways seem unique to this year, such as the high price one will have to pay for elite tight ends and that the first three players off the board all come from Ohio St. Some of them point to a pattern reemerging that may not have been true in previous years, such as waiting on a QB. Other takeaways seem to point to some things being more of the same, such as the running backs going early and how critical offensive systems play in the draft as a whole. Every draft every year will have a mix of all three.
So much will change between now and when the season starts in early September. Still, this early draft has given us several indications of patterns that will likely stand the test of time during this offseason and provide a great starting point for anyone looking to get an early head start on College Fantasy Football in 2022.