Luke Fickell predicted Este. Before the start of the 2021 NFL Draft, the University of Cincinnati football coach already had his sights on 2022’s draft.
“This will be a springboard to next year, where we could/will break the UC record of number of guys drafted in one draft,” Fickell told The Enquirer.
He was right.
Nine Cincinnati players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, breaking the program’s previous record of six set in 2009. The Bearcats’ nine draft picks were the most of any Group of Five team and trailed only national champion Georgia (15) and LSU (10 ).
While fourth-overall pick Ahmad “Willow” Gardner (New York Jets), third-round pick Desmond Ridder (Atlanta Falcons) and fourth-round pick Coby Bryant (Seattle Seahawks) headlined Cincinnati’s 2022 draft class, the Bearcats also made noise immediately after Saturday’s seventh and final round.
wide receiver Michael Young Jr. (Indianapolis Colts) and linebacker Joel Dublanko (New Orleans Saints) each signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Offensive lineman Vincent McConnell received an invitation to Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp.
With the 2022 draft now in the books, Cincinnati turns the page to the 2022 season, and what figures to be another busy draft for the Bearcats in 2023.
Here’s an early look at Cincinnati’s 2023 NFL Draft hopefuls:
C.B. Arquon Bush
After-producing two 2021 All-American cornerbacks in Gardner and Jim Thorpe Award-winner Bryant (college football’s top defensive back), Cincinnati could have another in Bush. The 6-foot, 190-pound senior is expected to be one of the top defenders in the American Athletic Conference in 2022. Bush enters this season with career totals of 84 tackles, 17 pass breakups and seven interceptions.
S Ja’von Hicks
The Bearcats have had four safeties drafted in Fickell’s five seasons as head coach. Hicks could be the fifth. The 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound Colerain High School product will use the additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic and suit up for his fifth season at Cincinnati in 2022. Hicks started all 14 games last season alongside 2022 third-round pick Bryan Cook and has 29 career starts.
OL Lorenz Metz
Metz started most of last season at right guard en route to earning first-team All-AAC honors. The Neuötting, Germany, native has experience at both the guard and tackle positions, and the 6-foot-9-inch, 326-pound senior will be a sizeable attraction for NFL scouts next spring.
OL Dylan O’Quinn
Another leader on the Bearcats’ experienced offensive line, O’Quinn started all last season at right tackle and earned a first-team All-AAC selection. The 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pound senior is an underrated athlete, entering the Cincinnati program as a tight end before moving inside.
T. E. Leonard Taylor
The 6-foot-5-inch, 260-pound Springfield, Ohio, native is posted back for a graduate season after a breakout 2021 campaign where he career-highs in catches (28), yards (274) and touchdowns (four). Taylor is expected to be an integral part of first-year offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli’s plans in 2022.
W. R. Tre Tucker
Another integral piece of the Bearcats’ offense this season will be senior wide receiver Tre Tucker. Having already earned a 2020 second-team All-AAC nod as a kick returner, Tucker is expected to be Cincinnati’s top producing wideout in 2022. The 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound speedster, who will wear jersey No. 1 During his senior campaign, he has 59 career catches for 754 yards and five scores. Tucker also has 130 career rushing yards and two return touchdowns, one in each of the past two seasons.
T.E. Josh Whyle
The 6-foot-6-inch, 255-pound La Salle High School product earned a second-team All-AAC selection in 2020, followed by an All-AAC honorable mention a season ago after appearing on the preseason watch list for the 2021 John Mackey Award (college football’s top tight end). For the second straight season, Whyle compiled at least 25 catches, 330 yards and six touchdowns. The senior leader will see a lot of big-play opportunities in Cincinnati’s heavy 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) offense.
Other notables: OL Jeremy Cooper, LB Wil Huber, WR Nick Mardner, LB Deshawn Pace, LB Ivan Pace Jr., DT Jabari Taylor, OL James Tunstall, LB Ty Van Fossen, DE Malik Vann.