All eyes are typically on the quarterbacks. Perhaps they shouldn’t be.
Doing so might cause spectators to miss some dynamic talents in areas other than under center, many of whom are making the passing game considerably more difficult for quarterbacks.
While the top three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft all were quarterbacks, these non-QBs all have potential to shake up the top of the board in 2022.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
2020 stats: 63 tackles, 4.5 for loss, one interception, seven passes defended
A rare combination of size, speed and athleticism.
The 6-foot-4 safety, who made All-ACC First Team as a sophomore, has a reported vertical leap that exceeds 42 inches. Those attributes, combined with his anticipation, tackling ability and versatility to match up against tight ends, could make him the first safety off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Hamilton and the Fighting Irish kick off on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida State.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
2020 stats: 27 tackles, 2.5 for loss, five passes defended
Stingley burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2019 and has since held the title of one of college football’s best cornerbacks.
The 6-foot-1 junior, dominant in man-to-man coverage, is now looking to become just the second player in school history to be a three-time first team All-American. His stats might not reach the level of his highly-decorated freshman year -- 38 tackles, six interceptions, 21 passes defended -- because he won’t get tested enough.
Stingley and the Tigers open the season against UCLA on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
2020 stats: N/A
After starting all 13 games at left guard as a true freshman, the 6-foot-7 and 350-pound lineman shifted to right tackle while helping to guide the Crimson Tide to a national championship.
Neal and the Alabama O-line allowed just 11 sacks when quarterback Mac Jones was on the field. Neal, in 810 snaps during the 2020 season, accumulated only six missed assignments, three penalties and 1.5 sacks allowed.
Neal and the Crimson Tide begin their title defense on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET against Miami.
Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
2020 stats: 30 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, two interceptions, six passes defended
Booth enters his junior season as something of an unknown commodity, having made just four starts over his first two seasons. In that small sample size, though, he has shown flashes of first-round potential.
The 6-foot and 195-pound cornerback possesses the type of length that makes him a menace in the passing game with his ability to get a hand on the ball to break up a play. He has shown the ability to play strong man coverage on throws downfield and the ball skills to force turnovers.
Booth and the Tigers take on Georgia in their first game of the season on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
2020 Stats: 38 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, three sacks, three passes defended
If any player is going to overtake a quarterback as the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s most likely going to be Thibodeaux.
The 6-foot-5, 258-pound defensive end not only gets to the quarterback, but he does so when it matters most, leading the nation with seven fourth-quarter sacks as a freshman in 2019. He also shined during last season’s Pac-12 Championship game, registering a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and 12 quarterback pressures.
Thibodeaux and the Ducks kick off their season on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET against Fresno State.
Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
2020 Stats: DNP
A former rugby player, Faalele didn't play competitive football until 2017. Just four years later, he's one of the top offensive lineman in the nation.
At 6-foot-9 and 380 pounds, Faalele uses his size, strength and agility to excel as a run blocker. He sat out his junior season due to COVID-19 concerns, but started 11 games at right tackle as a sophomore, helping Minnesota have one of its best offensive seasons in school history.
Faalele and the Golden Gophers, after a season-opening loss to Ohio State on Thursday, take on Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 11 at noon ET.
DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
2020 Stats: 37 tackles, seven for a loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defended
You never know where Leal might be on the defensive line.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound lineman has shown tremendous versatility on the line while being used at multiple positions and in a variety of roles both inside and on the edge. Despite not having a set position, he used his size and explosiveness to lead the defense with eight hurries.
Leal and the Aggies take on Kent State on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in their season opener.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
2020 Stats: 43 receptions, 723 yards, six touchdowns
Wilson opened his sophomore season with four straight games of over 100 receiving yards. That surpassed the 432 yards he totaled in 14 games as a freshman and cemented his status as one of the nation's top wideouts.
A strong route runner capable of seamlessly changing speeds to elude his defender, the 6-foot and 192-pound receiver played primarily out of the slot as a sophomore. He combines with Chris Olave to form one of the nation's top wide receiver tandems.
Wilson had five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in Ohio State's season-opening victory over Minnesota on Thursday.
The Buckeyes face Oregon on Sept. 11 at noon ET.
Adam Anderson, EDGE, Georgia
2020 Stats: 14 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles
What's a senior who has never started a game doing here, you ask? Anderson will show you this season.
A highly-touted recruit out of high school, the 6-foot-5 and 230-pound linebacker has been used sparingly over his first three seasons, playing just 337 career snaps. Even in a limited role and slightly undersized, his burst off the line and pressure rate were impossible to ignore in 2020, as he finished second on the team in QB pressures (24) and sacks (6.5). His role will expand this season.
Anderson and the Bulldogs take on Clemson in their opener on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Kingsley Enagbare, EDGE, South Carolina
2020 Stats: 30 tackles, seven for a loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end had a breakout year as a junior and opted to return for one final season.
With tremendous speed and quick hands, he registered a team-best six sacks last season, ranking second in the SEC with 0.75 sacks per game. That helped him earn first-team All-SEC honors.
Enagbare and the Gamecocks kick off the season against Eastern Illinois on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
2020 Stats: 20 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, two sacks, one interception
Thibodeaux might be the consensus top edge rusher in the nation, but Jackson isn’t far behind.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound rusher returns to the Trojans for what is expected to be his third and final season, playing defensive end as a freshman and outside linebacker as a sophomore. Wherever he plays, he uses his speed and change-of-pace rushes to break the line and disrupt the passing game.
Jackson and the Trojans open the season against San Jose State on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.