2022 NFL Draft: Top 20 College Soccer Players Who Turned Down the Pros to Return for Another Season

The NFL’s deadline for the start of the 2022 NFL Draft came and went on Monday, and there were several stars who left huge next-level paychecks to return to college football next season and compete for the national championship. Quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Grayson McCall, linebackers Nolan Smith and Jack Campbell and running back Mohamed Ibrahim are just some of the talented players who will be playing on Saturday this fall.

This year’s list of the top players who rejected the NFL Draft includes not only juniors and sophomores wearing red shirts, but also seniors who took advantage of the NCAA’s general exemption that gave players a free year of eligibility in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So who are the top college football players who made the decision to return? Let’s split them up.

1. Nolan Smith, LB, Georgia: Smith was one of the stars of a defense that took the Bulldogs to their first national title since 1980. The former No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2019 had 56 tackles, 10 of which were for a loss, last season. He should play himself in the top half of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

2. Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa: The nation’s top tackler returns for his senior year after making 143 tackles for the solid Hawkeyes defense in 2021. That game should continue into 2022, which would inflate Campbell’s salary once he decides to move on to Sunday.

3. Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina: The former Oklahoma quarterback has been a lightning rod for criticism throughout his three-year college career, but it’s not like he’s been a failure. He’s been far from it, actually. He had 40 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions over three seasons in Norman, and has a chance to become a star as he feels more comfortable with the Gamecocks.

4. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota: Ibrahim would be one of the sport’s brightest stars in 2021, but a knee injury in the opener vs. Ohio State ended its season shortly after it started. That said, he has 3,003 yards and 33 touchdowns in 28 career games for the Golden Gophers. As long as he is healthy, Ibrahim is one of the best players in college football.

5. Will McDonald, DE, Iowa State: The Cyclones lost quite a few stars to the NFL Draft, but McDonald’s return should keep them in the Big 12 title chase. McDonald has had double-digit sacks and 13 tackles for losses in each of the last two seasons, and should be a preseason All-American candidate heading into the 2022 season.

6. Jordan Battle, DB, Alabama: Battle had three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in 2021 in what was an All-SEC season for the junior. Alabama coach Nick Saban is used to losing star players to the NFL Draft, but the talent and leadership Battle provides will go a long way toward returning the Crimson Tide to glory in 2022.

7. Grayson McCall, QB, Coastal Carolina: McCall announced his return with one of the most epic quotes of the off-season. “When I say I piss teal, I mean it,” he wrote on Twitter. McCall finished with the nation’s best passer rating (207.6) and second in the nation with a 73.0% completion rate.

8. Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama: The former Tennessee star had 111 tackles, 7.5 for losses and four sacks in his first season with the Crimson Tide. His return will bolster a defense that will break through several new faces at all three tiers, but has the talent to be one of the best in the country by 2022.

9. Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn: Pappoe was hampered by injuries last season but is one of the best linebackers in the country when he is healthy. He had 93 tackles in 11 games in 2020 and had 23 in five games as a junior in 2021. The former five-star prospect should star for coach Bryan Harsin’s defense this fall and could make his way to the first round of the NFL concept.

10. Ainias Smith, WR, Texas A&M: Smith is one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football and should make the 2022 Texas A&M attack one of the most dangerous units in the nation. He has received 15 touchdowns and a punt return for a touchdown during his first three seasons at College Station, and will have plenty of opportunities this fall to make a name for himself in several ways.

11. Sam Hartman, QB, Wake Forest: It looks like Hartman has been with the Demon Deacons forever, but he will be back after throwing 4,228 yards and 39 touchdowns in the high-octane offense under Dave Clawson in 2021. Additionally, Hartman also poses a major threat on the ground after rushing for 364 yards and 11 touchdowns as well.

12. Nick Broeker, OL, Ole Miss: Broeker only allowed two sacks as a sophomore red shirt for the Rebels last season and has a bright future as a next-level tackle or guard. His return will provide stability to an Ole Miss attack that will adjust to life without star quarterback Matt Corral.

13. Riley Moss, DB, Iowa: Moss was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Back of the Year in 2021 after a stellar campaign that saw him pick four passes (two of which were returned for touchdowns vs. Indiana), score 39 tackles and recover a fumble. He has 10 interceptions and three touchdowns in four seasons with the Hawkeyes.

14. Bumper Pool, LB, Arkansas: The veteran five-star linebacker announced his return as a “super senior” after tallying 125 tackles for the Razorbacks last season. It was the second consecutive season that Pool has racked up triple digits in tackles, which should put him in multiple preseason All-American teams before the start of the 2022 season.

15. Brenton Cox, LB, Florida: Cox had 41 tackles, 14.5 for a loss and eight sacks for the Gators in what was Dan Mullen’s last campaign as Gators head coach. That followed a solid second season in which he scored 42 tackles, 10 of which were lost, in 2020 — his first in Gainesville after moving from Georgia.

16. Phil Jurkovec, QB, Boston College: Jurkovec had a season of injuries in 2021 but has shown that when healthy, he is one of the best signallers in the country. He threw for 2,558 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2020, and got early round one buzz in 2023 mock drafts.

17. Christopher Smith, DB, Georgia: Smith scored the lone touchdown of Georgia’s season-opening win over Clemson — a 74-yard pick six in the second quarter. That set the tone for what was a stellar defensive performance for the Bulldogs, and the first of three interceptions Smith faltered in 2021.

18. Ji’Ayir Brown, DB, Penn State: Brown put in a stellar season in 2021, with 73 tackles, six interceptions, two fumbles and one forced fumble for a team that relied heavily on its defense. When the Nittany Lions go head to head for the Big Ten East title, it’s up to Brown to become the leader of their secondary.

19. Brennan Armstrong, QB, Virginia: Armstrong became a superstar last fall when he threw 4,444 yards and 31 touchdowns for a high-octane Cavaliers charge. He also has 901 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, making him one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

20. Devin Leary, QB, NC State: The red shirt junior had 3,433 yards and 35 touchdowns last season, throwing just five interceptions in 12 games. The 6-foot-1, 212-pounder may not be known nationally, but that should change in 2022, when he will prove to be one of the best quarterbacks in the sport.

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