5 Players Who Would have Been Top NFL Draft Picks If They Were Eligible

The 2022 NBA draft opens for business Thursday evening at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Wait, you thought this article was about future NFL talent? It is. But a significant differentiation exists between the two sports in regards to eligibility standards.

The NFL currently requires a prospect be three years removed from high school before he’s deemed eligible to play. Whereas, the NBA demands a one-year requirement before entering the draft.

The general argument in favor of the extended waiting period centered on the vast majority not being physically or mentally prepared to endure the rigors of professional football. This isn’t the case with everyone, though.

The likes of Adrian Peterson, Trevor Lawrence and even Derek Stingley Jr., who became this year’s third overall pick, showed how silly the NFL’s standing can be when it comes to truly elite talent. But 14 years have passed since Maurice Clarett challenged the standard only to have the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit rule against his case.

Even so, the possibility of a young superstar rising through the ranks and challenging the league again isn’t out of the question. Had the rules changed prior to the 2022 draft, multiple previously ineligible prospects would have heard their names called very early in the process.

Five in particular stand out as top talents who wouldn’t have waited long to hear their names called.


QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is DraftKings’ current favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft. Had he been eligible, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year would have almost certainly been the top quarterback selected in the 2022 draft.

This incoming crop of quarterbacks turned into one of the weakest groups in recent memory. The Pittsburgh Steelers chose Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick—which made him the lowest-drafted QB1 this century. No other signal-caller heard his name called until the third round.

Stroud, meanwhile, produced a fantastic campaign during his first season as the Buckeyes starter.

The 20-year-old became the only FBS quarterback to finish top four last season in completion percentage (71.9), average yards per attempt (10.1), touchdown passes (44) and quarterback rating (186.6). To expand on his productivity, Stroud was the nation’s most accurate deep passer during the 2021 regular season and posted the highest rate of accurate passes over his last nine starts (including postseason), according to Pro Football Focus.

Some may argue in favor of Alabama’s Bryce Young as the top quarterback prospect for next year’s class. After all, he is the current Heisman Trophy winner. The difference lies in physical attributes. The 6’3″, 218-pound Stroud has a much sturdier frame than the 6’0″, 194-pound Young. The old prerequisites for playing the position have changed over time, but teams still prefer to have the bigger, strong option behind center if the talents are comparable.

In this case, the redshirt sophomore has an opportunity to put together a pair of outstanding seasons, win more accolades and claim the top spot among a much deeper quarterback class.


RB Braelon Allen, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen is the closest person to replicate what Adrian Peterson did as a freshman at Oklahoma. In some ways, the current collegian is even more impressive.

The second-team All-Big Ten performer took the Big Ten Conference by storm before he even turned 18 years old. He ran for 1,268 yards, and his average of 6.8 yards per carry tied with fellow freshman TreVeyon Henderson for the nation’s best among backs with 150 or more carries. For comparison, Peterson ran for 1,925 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per tote as a freshaman, though he carried the ball 153 more times. On the other side of the spectrum, freshman Derrick Henry managed 35 carries for 382 yards in a loaded Alabama backfield.

These two comparisons are important because of their physical stature. Both Peterson and Henry always looked larger than life, capable of running through and past defenders. Allen, too, is a sculpted 6’2″, 238-pounder.

Author: Lucy Green