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NFL draft 2022 rankings: Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux in tight race for No. 1

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The 2022 NFL draft might be short on star power, but it's long on fodder for debate.

With the first round kicking off Thursday, uncertainty still reigns for an event that often has taken shape by this point of the calendar. Part of the mystery might stem from the wide discrepancy on opinions regarding even the best players in this year's draft.

USA TODAY Sports has compiled its annual ranking of the top 50 players in this year's draft. One note: The list is a reflection of perceived value, not expected draft slot. Some players – including Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, among others – didn't make the cut despite their expected landing on Day 1 or early Day 2.

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ON THE MOVE: Baker Mayfield among 12 veterans who could be traded around the NFL draft

Without further delay, here's this year's top 50:

Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson gets the nod as the No. 1 overall prospect in USA TODAY Sports' rankings of the top 50 players in the 2022 NFL draft.
Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson gets the nod as the No. 1 overall prospect in USA TODAY Sports' rankings of the top 50 players in the 2022 NFL draft.

1. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

He doesn't resemble many of the other top defensive end prospects in recent years, but Hutchinson didn't become a Heisman Trophy runner-up by solely relying on a relentless approach. The 6-7, 250-pounder explodes off the edge and deftly converts speed to power, even if he's not as long or pliable as some might desire. Hutchinson's counters and ability to stack and shed blockers mean he is seldom neutralized, making him a more advanced player than many one-note edge rushers his age. Even if he doesn't become a truly transcendent talent, he should become a highly effective disruptor who can be a defensive building block for years to come.

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

Perhaps he should be listed as 1A, as Thibodeaux received extensive consideration for the top spot and isn't far behind Hutchinson, if at all. A blur off the snap, the 6-4, 254-pound edge rusher can get an offensive tackle out of sorts in a hurry. Where Hutchinson holds the advantage is in each player's pass-rush plan; Thibodeaux is frequently without an answer when he doesn't beat opponents out of the gate. Developing his hand usage and counters could set Thibodeaux up to unleash the game-wrecking form he showed in bursts throughout his time at Oregon.

3. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

If not for a Lisfranc injury that sidelined him for all but three games in 2021, Stingley Jr. might receive more widespread recognition as one of the most promising cornerback prospects in some time. The 6-0, 190-pounder pairs elite press-man coverage skills with the speed and playmaking flair to make any quarterback hesitate at throwing his way. Staying healthy and improving as a tackler should put him on the path toward becoming a lockdown defender.

MORE: Derek Stingley Jr. ready for NFL, where his grandfather, Darryl, was paralyzed by brutal hit

4. Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

You don't keep the nickname "Sauce" as a collegiate cornerback without repeatedly shutting down opponents, which is precisely what Gardner did throughout his prolific career. The two-time All-American never conceded a touchdown in coverage and smothered receivers so effectively that many quarterbacks looked to avoid testing him at all. At 6-3 and 190 pounds with long strides, Gardner is exactly what teams look for in a press-man corner. An adjustment period might be required as he adapts to facing stronger receivers while reining in a physical approach that could produce holding penalties, but Gardner doesn't seem like a prospect to bet against.

5. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Safeties rarely garner consideration for top-10 selections, but perhaps Hamilton shouldn't be boxed in by his position. A 6-4, 220-pound chess piece who can erase parts of the passing game with his range and ability to match up with tight ends, the do-it-all defender presents extensive value beyond just one role. The degree to which he derails opponents' game plans might depend on the creativity of his next coaching staff.

6. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

The 6-8, 337-pound frame alone makes Neal stand out, but his appeal doesn't rest solely in his physique. Neal packs a punch as a run blocker and is far more flexible than one would expect. Balance issues were the primary source of his missteps at Alabama, but he otherwise has the trappings of a potential cornerstone left tackle.

MORE: Family races, daily groceries and hot yoga: Alabama football's Evan Neal and his upbringing

7. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State

Of all this year's offensive linemen, "Ickey" has the highlight reel most likely to go viral, as he made a name for himself with mauling blocks on the move in the run game. His significant strides last year as a pass protector, however, are likely what vaulted him into consideration to be the first blocker off the board. There's more progress to be made in this area, though, as savvy pass rushers will take advantage of his underdeveloped pass sets and occasional lack of discipline.

8. Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

Cross was not initially viewed by many in the pre-draft process as being on par with Neal and Ekwonu, but his draft spot should ultimately highlight that he's right in the same class as the other two standout left tackles. Astute and quick-footed as a pass protector, the 6-5, 307-pounder is ahead of the curve in his patience and hand usage. Bulking up a bit should aid him against more powerful edge rushers and in the run game, where he's short on experience.

9. Drake London, WR, USC

Get the ball anywhere close to London's range and watch him go get it. While that might seem like a dicey proposition to some cautious quarterbacks and coaches, the 6-4, 219-pound receiver has proven himself to be a trustworthy target who channels his basketball days by boxing out defenders and reeling in lobs. What separates him from other big-bodied pass catchers, however, are his fluidity and flexibility, allowing him to make sharp cuts and threaten defenses at every level. London will have to use that entire package to answer questions about whether he can consistently create separation, but more nuance with his routes will allow him to unlock new aspects of his game.

10. Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State

Though lacking the flash of the top pass rushers expected to go in the top five picks, Johnson possesses plenty of traits that should draw teams to him in the top half of the first round. The 6-5, 254-pound Georgia transfer utilizes his length and lateral agility to put himself in position to make plays in the backfield. His expertise in stopping the run should further bolster his standing.

11. Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

An off-ball linebacker built more like a strong safety (5-11, 229 pounds) might be a tough sell for many teams in the first round. Dean, however, shouldn't be reduced to merely his physique. Above all, he urgently finds the ball on almost every down with unparalleled speed and processing. Dean also can squeeze past blockers as a blitzer and stick with running backs and tight ends all around the field in coverage. While he will have to learn how to operate under control and avoid being engulfed by offensive linemen, Dean looks like an emerging staple of a defense.

12. Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

Don't be dissuaded by the 5-11, 193-pound frame or short arms. McDuffie still brings the requisite physical profile to drape NFL receivers in coverage. More importantly, he has a PhD-level understanding of the position that will make him a fast favorite of his future defensive coordinator.

13. George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

Built for another era, Karlaftis likes to overwhelm offensive linemen rather than run around them. The 6-4, 266-pound edge rusher is a load for any blocker to handle, as he will try to uproot anyone in his path to the quarterback and won't relent after initial contact. Despite his suboptimal length for a defensive end and somewhat rigid approach, Karlaftis should create consistent pressure and fluster opponents with his forcefulness.

14. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Certifiable deep speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash), polished route running and reliable hands make Olave well suited for the modern passing game. While he doesn't bring much to the table as a threat after the catch, he's otherwise on track to be a high-level contributor very early in his pro career.

15. Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

If not for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the national championship game, Williams likely would have been the front-runner to be the first pass catcher selected. Even after the injury, it doesn't seem prudent to doubt the 6-2, 179-pound target with singular speed to break free from defensive backs. So long as he's not slowed considerably in his return, Williams sizes up as a premier big-play generator.

16. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Perhaps one of this year's most difficult players to peg, Willis is the ultimate Rorschach test for evaluators. Do they focus on the dazzling deep throws and uncommon running prowess that could position him to be one of the league's most electric playmakers? Or are they fixated on his current shortcomings as a pocket passer? Liberty's offense hampered Willis' development on several fronts, but his technical lapses are correctable. If he establishes a better internal clock and improves his anticipation, he could become a supremely dangerous signal-caller. Those steps shouldn't be taken as givens, however, and the tutelage of his next coaching staff will be instrumental in his trajectory.

17. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Wilson's acrobatic grabs and scintillating runs after the catch should make him an immediate asset to whichever quarterback he's paired with at the start of his career. Yet his choppy movements and struggles to beat press coverage might signal a need for him to be schemed open in the early going.

18. Travon Walker, DE, Georgia

No prospect has enjoyed as sharp of a rise in the last few months as Walker, who parlayed his lone year as a starter at Georgia into a top-five selection – with a chance to go No. 1 overall. The 6-5, 272-pound defensive end with 4.52-second speed in the 40-yard dash might end up a case study in how to balance traits with production, as Walker managed just 9 1/2 sacks in his career. More opportunities on the edge could lead to a breakout on that front, though Walker still might struggle to reach that point without a much more extensive arsenal of pass-rush moves.

19. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Off-ball linebackers have to alter the passing game to be valued highly, and Lloyd makes his mark both as an accomplished blitzer (eight sacks in 2021) and savvy coverage asset (six passes defensed). Though his tackling form can be uneven, Lloyd otherwise looks like a well-rounded defender who can stay on the field in almost any situation.

20. Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

At 6-6 and 341 pounds, Davis is a singular talent not only for his size but his burst, a facet of his game that was highlighted by his head-turning 4.78-second 40-yard dash. While his sheer production – particularly as a pass rusher – might never be prolific, his potential to disrupt will force opposing offenses to game plan around him and devote significant resources toward neutralizing his threat.

21. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa

It doesn't take long to see how Linderbaum's experience as a standout wrestler translated to the field, as the two-time All-American is adept at winning leverage battles and engaging defenders on the move. At 6-2 and 296 pounds, he might only be a fit for teams that tilt heavily toward zone blocking, but he could become a mainstay in the middle.

22. Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia

Exhibiting rare nimbleness for a defensive tackle, Wyatt might end up the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in this class. To reach that point, however, he will have to play with more discipline and better utilize his hands. And the clock will be ticking, as the 24-year-old Wyatt is one of the oldest players in the top 50 picks.

23. Zion Johnson, G, Boston College

From his stocky build (6-3, 312 pounds) to his patient approach in the pass game and powerful push as a run blocker, everything about Johnson points to efficiency and reliability. After proving himself more than capable of handling a jump in competition after transferring from Davidson following his sophomore year, he seems like a good bet to elevate his game as a dependable, long-term starter on the interior.

24. Daxton Hill, S, Michigan

Versatility and range are in high demand for safeties, and Hill offers plenty of both. While he operated primarily out of the slot last year, his best role might be as a deep safety given his flair for keying in on throws from up high.

25. Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Physical to a fault, Elam seldom provides easy releases off the line of scrimmage. That approach could leave the 6-1, 191-pound defender prone to penalties early in his career, but he could flourish in the right scheme as a pesky press presence.

26. Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

Though the Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown comparisons were undeniably lofty, there's a clear challenge in bringing down the 6-2, 225-pound target when he has the ball in space. To become a complete receiver, however, Burks has a long way to go as a route runner who can create his own consistent separation.

27. Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

The combination of quick feet at the line of scrimmage and rapid closing speed to get his hands on the ball make Booth a formidable matchup when he maintains his composure. Receivers can turn his aggressiveness against him, however, making it imperative for Booth to play with more restraint at the next level.

28. Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

A master craftsman of creating separation, Dotson combines breakaway speed with subtle movements in his routes to leave cornerbacks consistently chasing after him. Bigger, more physical defenders will try to jostle the 5-11, 178-pound target at the line of scrimmage and catch point, and Dotson will need to prove he's up to the challenge.

29. Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M

While versatility has been his calling card after he played every spot along the line other than center last season, Green should also be known for his powerful punch and fluid mobility. With some cleaning up, he could become a high-level starter and dependable fixture on the interior.

30. Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor

The 5-11, 198-pound playmaker models his game after Tyrann Mathieu, and it's easy to see the overlap between the two. Pitre can grapple with receivers from the slot, chase down running backs in the backfield or create havoc as a blitzer, making him a valuable and versatile piece for an attacking scheme.

31. Boye Mafe, DE, Minnesota

Far from a finished product, Mafe is still learning to tap into his explosive get-off and impressive power to become a complete pass rusher. Selecting him amounts to a vote of confidence in the defensive coaching staff, as his future might hinge on whether he can consistently craft a plan as a pass rusher.

32. Arnold Ebiketie, DE, Penn State

A move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme is likely in his future given Ebiketie's 6-2, 250-pound build. As a designated pass rusher, he should find that his initial burst and extensive know-how will provide him fairly regularly with a path to the quarterback.

33. Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan

Shifty and surehanded, Moore is a more reliable projection than one might expect of a 5-10, 195-pound wide receiver from the Mid-American Conference. He has the traits of a high-volume slot receiver who can routinely create separation on short to intermediate throws.

34. Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan

An Austria native just two years into his transition from tight end, Raimann has bulked up considerably while maintaining the fleet-footedness that makes him such an enticing offensive tackle. If he continues to hone his technique, he could grow into a top-notch pass protector capable of keeping the NFL's speediest edge rushers in front of him.

35. Travis Jones, DT, UConn

Good luck to any offensive lineman trying to keep the 6-4, 325-pound Jones at bay in a one-on-one matchup. The powerful nose tackle can collapse pockets with his forceful push off the snap, though he likely lacks the athleticism to do much more than control the line of scrimmage.

36. Lewis Cine, S, Georgia

Wherever the ball is headed, Cine tends to find it in a hurry, especially against the run. His savvy and leadership should elevate his standing, even though his range in coverage doesn't measure up to that of many of his fellow safeties in this class.

37. Drake Jackson, OLB, USC

One of the draft's most elastic pass rushers, Jackson was never able to parlay his occasional flashes of brilliance into consistent production. Bulking up considerably – he weighed 273 pounds at his pro day after being down as low as 238 pounds at USC – could help him become a sturdier and more consistent edge defender. Though, he could have trouble creating pressure if he doesn't display a faster first step and more diverse set of pass-rush moves.

38. Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

At 6-7 and 325 pounds with long arms, easy-moving feet and a nasty disposition, Penning checks off plenty of boxes for a future franchise left tackle. The on-field product, however, is decidedly a work in progress, as his hand usage, footwork and balance are all erratic at best. A late bloomer who still needs to master the finer points of the position, Penning could blossom into a cornerstone blocker with the right coaching, but his returns against NFL edge rushers will likely be rough until he cleans up several parts of his game.

39. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

In an underwhelming year for running backs, Hall stands out for an instinctive and fluid running style that should translate well to the NFL. The 5-11, 212-pound ball carrier might find long runs hard to come by at the next level, but he can shake defenders in tight quarters and excels at bouncing off would-be tacklers.

40. Nik Bonitto, DE/OLB, Oklahoma

Utilizing a 6-3, 248-pound pass rusher effectively might require some creativity, but the effort would be worthwhile to field one of college football's most consistently disruptive defenders. Bonitto's initial burst might be unmatched in this class, and he can be a dangerous 3-4 outside linebacker for a team that focuses on his quick-twitch agility rather than his underwhelming strength.

41. Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama

Though not a pure speed merchant, Tolbert threatens defenses downfield thanks to his smooth route running, rapid acceleration and natural ball tracking. Cutting down on drops will be an essential task for him to stick as a starter.

42. Quay Walker, LB, Georgia

In his lone year as a starter at Georgia, Walker rocketed onto NFL teams' radars as an ascendant defender with intriguing tools. An easy mover at 6-4 and 231 pounds, he already can be an asset as a downhill tackler, though he remains a work in progress in coverage.

43. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Part of his appeal is readily evident, as there's plenty of reason to be drawn to a 6-2, 215-pound passer with a quick trigger, athleticism to make plays on the run and an arm strong enough to rifle. Still, Corral is essentially a mystery box as an NFL quarterback prospect because his work in a scheme dependent on RPOs and play action make him a precarious projection.

44. Logan Hall, DT, Houston

Following in the footsteps of 2021 first-rounder Payton Turner, Hall is Houston's latest long, disruptive defensive lineman whose career appears to be on the upswing. At 6-6 and 283 pounds, his size might actually work against him given his leverage issues and struggles to anchor on the interior. If afforded the right pass-rushing opportunities, however, he could become an imposing physical matchup.

45. George Pickens, WR, Georgia

Whether getting over the top of defenses with his deep speed or under the skin of defenders by laying hands on them, Pickens always finds ways to make waves with his alpha attitude. A torn anterior cruciate ligament knocked him off track, but he could still round into a No. 1 receiver if he can fill out his 6-3, 195-pound frame and learn not to rely so heavily on his ball skills.

46. David Ojabo, DE, Michigan

A torn Achilles suffered at Michigan's pro day seemingly ended Ojabo's hopes for joining teammate Hutchinson in the first round. His 11-sack breakout season in 2021 highlighted his immense upside as a pass rusher, but his limited experience (just 36 defensive snaps prior to last season) has left him underdeveloped and a liability against the run. Ultimately, even though Ojabo might be a full year or more from becoming a reliable and consistent starter, his explosiveness and burgeoning set of pass-rush moves will earn him plenty of chances to make a splash.

47. Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma

When everything is clicking, Winfrey is a load for blockers to keep in front of them, as he can jolt blockers backward or rip past them to penetrate the pocket or backfield. Consistency will be key at the next level, however, as his linear and occasionally out-of-control approach too often takes him out of plays.

48. Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State

Boasting a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and a 6-4, 208-pound frame, Watson has a physical profile that arguably hasn't been seen by a receiver prospect in the draft since DK Metcalf. But even after he averaged 20.4 yards per catch at North Dakota State, Watson shouldn't be crowned as an NFL-ready deep threat, as his rough route running and persistent drops highlight his lack of stability.

49. Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State

A throwback box defender at strong safety, Brisker is the kind of aggressive leader whom many coaches will love to have as a contributor. Though he can handle some coverage assignments, he's limited by his stiffness.

50. Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

His instincts and awareness are lagging behind the considerable physical tools he showed off in his lone year as a full-time starter. Still, it's difficult to find 6-0, 194-pound cornerbacks with Gordon's closing speed and agility, and more experience could lead to a substantial payoff.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft 2022 top 50 rankings: Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux?