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The 2021 college football season hasn’t even yet begun, but ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay is already gearing up for next year’s ordeal. On Thursday, he released his top 50 players in the 2022 draft class.
Certainly, a lot can change between now and the draft in April. As McShay notes, neither Joe Burrow or Zach Wilson were on any team’s Day 1 radar at this point heading into their final collegiate seasons. But these rankings at least give us a baseline heading into the season.
The Gators had two first-round picks after last season and have to replace a good deal of talent on both sides of the ball, but it’s a talented squad in Gainesville once again. Two Florida players appear on McShay’s top 50, and one of them even cracks the top 10.
Here’s a rundown on both of them.
No. 6 - cornerback Kaiir Elam
UAA Communications/Isabella Marley
Elam is instinctive and aggressive. He has loads of top-end speed (he ran track in high school), great closing burst and excellent awareness in coverage, and he is able to play in press or off-man. His 13 pass breakups in 2020 tied for the fourth most in the country, thanks in part to great length and former wide receiver hands.
Falling just outside the top five, Elam has seen a lot of early first-round hype this offseason after piecing together a dominant sophomore season. Considered almost universally to be CB2 in this class behind LSU's Derek Stingley Jr., Elam has a lot of expectations heading into his junior year. He may not get targeted much, as after Jaydon Hill's season-ending injury, teams will likely target whoever plays opposite Elam — likely either a transfer or true freshman Jason Marshall. Still, he's expected to be a shutdown corner in the SEC.
No. 49 - OLB Brenton Cox Jr.
UAA Communications/Tiffany Franco
Cox has average instincts and doesn't play with a lot of power, often stalling out, but he has good versatility and is a speed rusher with some wheels. He is long and lean, and he has decent hands in working his way to the QB. He does struggle to turn the corner a bit, but there is room to grow in his game. In 12 games in 2020, Cox had 4.0 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, 41 tackles and 18 QB hurries.
It wasn't exactly the first season in Gainesville that Cox had hoped for, but he did show a lot of signs of potential. Though his production was a bit limited, his 18 quarterback hurries are a testament to the pressure he was able to put on the opposing quarterback. He's expected to be one of the better pass rushers in the SEC this season, and while he spent most of the offseason dealing with a foot injury, he's practicing now and is expected to be healthy for the season opener. [listicle id=48013]