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7 Players Identified As "Can't Miss" NFL Draft Prospects

Alabama star Evan Neal at the Combine

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAR 03: Evan Neal #OL35 of the Alabama Crimson Tide speaks to reporters during the NFL Draft Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on March 3, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The NFL Draft is risky business. There are no sure things when searching for future stars, and countless players considered locks for greatness have fallen flat.

Of course, the inevitably of failure won't stop projection models from trying.

As detailed by Mike Band, NFL Next Gen Stats released its list of this year's "cant-miss prospects." Its "new-and-improved ensemble of machine-learning models combines size, athleticism and college production to predict a prospect's odds of pro success" with a score ranging from 50 to 99.

Any player rated above 90 ranks with the top-five percentile of historical prospects from the same position. Those prospects are considered highly likely to achieve NFL success.

Seven players from the 20222 draft class made the cut.

Most of the names aren't too shocking. Aidan Hutchinson will likely get taken with the first or second pick. No non-quarterback will lever go so high unless teams are convinced they're landing an elite contributor. Offensive linemen Evan Neal and Ickey Ekwonu are likely top-10 choices. Sauce Gardner should merit the same consideration, and it's unlikely Kayvon Thibodeaux falls much further despite his draft stock presenting one of Thursday's biggest mysteries atop the draft board. However, the two players to earn a perfect 99 score are certainly interesting. Among six different mock drafts from analysts, only two have Tyler Linderbaum going in the first round, both to the Dallas Cowboys at pick No. 24. Band said "there might not be a prospect with a higher floor" than the Iowa Hawkeyes center. Breece Hall also may not go in the first round, a more difficult feat for any running back to now accomplish. Yet the Iowa State standout earned a 99 athleticism score with a 4.39 40-yard dash time and a 40-inch vertical jump. If he's not taken Thursday night, Hall would join Derrick Henry as the second running back with a 99 score to get picked after the first round.

Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, CeeDee Lamb, Chase Young made the 2020 list (unreleased at the time) while the model identified Ja'Marr Chase and Micah Parson as can't-miss prospects last year. However, the jury is still out on the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Kadarius Toney, Travis Etienne, Jaycee Horn, and Trevor Lawrence.

There's no such thing as "can't-miss," as too many variables on and off the field exist for even the most sophisticated algorithm to consider. It's nevertheless an encouraging sign for anyone drafting one of these seven prospects.