Way Too Early 2022 NFL Mock Draft
The 2021 NFL regular season has come to a close, and the great divide begins with it. While half the league preps for upcoming playoff performance, the other half readies themselves to transform their franchise through the NFL draft. Step in as we take a stab at a much too early mock draft that is sure to see plenty of changes as the Senior Bowl, Free Agency, and the NFL Combine shape what will become the 2022 NFL Draft class.
#1 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Kayvon Thibodeaux (Edge, Oregon, 6’5″ 258)
Urban Meyer doubled the Jaguars win total from 2020, but off-the-field distractions became too much. In his wake is a team desperate for direction and talent. The team has to hope another team falls in love with a quarterback and offers a package to rebuild positions throughout the roster. Thibodeaux vs. Aidan Hutchinson is setting up a great debate. Still, Hutchinson likely needed to have built a significant lead during the season as Thibodeaux would probably close any gap during pre-draft testing. Unfortunately, Hutchinson had his opportunity on a prime stage against Georgia; many came away disappointed, likely propelling Thibodeaux back to the spot he occupied through most of the season.
#2 – Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson (Edge, Michigan, 6’6″ 265)
Hutchinson and the Lions stand as the perfect marriage. The team needs to continue to build talent and identity, and off a standout career at Michigan, many Lions fans will be thrilled to keep him at home. Thibodeaux may possess a higher ceiling, but Hutchinson is likely the safest pick in the draft. Hutchinson is a no-frills player who will continue to set the tone for Dan Campbell’s locker room and rebuild.
Suppose the Lions believe in one of the top QBs ( Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell) they have to strike at this spot. The Lions offense sets up very well to accommodate a young passer, with young fantasy studs D’Andre Swift, TJ Hockenson, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. The offensive line is one of the league’s youngest and most talented, and Jared Goff provides an effective bridge QB.
#3 – Houston Texans – Evan Neal (OT, Alabama, 6’7″ 351)
The Texans are another threat to take a QB, but Davis Mills was one of the genuine surprises of the second half of the season and may have performed well enough to earn a shot at being the true franchise QB in 2022. It is early, but currently, Thibodeaux, Hutchinson, and Neal stand out as the top three in this class. Neal has displayed versatility throughout his Alabama career. He would compliment Laremy Tunsil on the Texans offensive line, sliding in as the starting RT until a time comes that frees up a spot on the left side. The combo would be one of the best in the league immediately.
If the Texans can move Deshaun Watson and sell the third pick to a team shopping for a QB, the team’s draft cache could be impressive. The team may also find Kenny Pickett too tempting to allow him to move down further.
#4 – New York Jets – Kyle Hamilton (S, Notre Dame, 6’4″ 224)
The Jets stand to leap in 2022 after five one-score losses and wins over the division champion Bengals and Titans. They sit in a prime seat to control the draft, with their pick and Seattle’s at 11 and could use both to shore up a defense that ranked 32nd in both opponents’ yards allowed and points allowed. Fourth overall is high for safety, and the premium on the position could push the Jets to take the corner, but Hamilton will erase a lot of mistakes in front of him. They could consider Derek Stingley Jr. or Andrew Booth in this spot, but the gap between them is close, and only one safety like Hamilton. A true impact safety, his size evokes visions of Sean Taylor, and he is the type of versatile chess piece NFL teams have craved.
The Jets have an extra 1st, 2nd, and 4th round pick, and they will be able to rebuild a struggling defense while still adding an influx of talent to a young offense built around Zach Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter. If they choose that route, an OT like Charles Cross could be the path to compliment franchise LT Mekhi Becton.
#5 – New York Giants – Charles Cross (OT, Miss St 6’5″ 310)
The Giants desperately need to build their offensive line, and the choice on the board now would likely come down to Cross or Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum. Cross has played very well the past two seasons, earning all-SEC honors, and is the type of athlete to handle the transition to RT. Further pushing the value of OT, the NFL had not selected a center in the top 10 since 1968 when the Bengals selected Bob Johnson at number two overall. 2020 selection Andrew Thomas has been the lone bright spot on the Giants offensive line, and Cross is a natural LT, so the team would have to decide how to shuffle the line, but the focus should be on asset accumulation right now.
The Giants are praying they find themselves as the beneficiaries of QB movement ahead of them, pushing a guy like Hutchinson or Neal down, or hoping a team to come up and jump Carolina or Washington on the QB market. Either way, this team is a mess and needs to build talent throughout the roster.
#6 – Carolina Panthers – Matt Corral (QB, Ole Miss 6’2″ 205)
The sixth pick is the inflection point for QBs in the draft. Evaluators have been down on this class, but it is unlikely the first QB on the board is available past this selection. The Panthers are stuck given a lack of draft capital that does not see them pick again until round four. The team has stated a commitment to adding their franchise QB through any means necessary, and the pre-draft process will be a derby between the QBs at the top of the class. Corral is the package teams have fallen in love with lately; his ability to throw off-platform is in the same vein as Zack Wilson, who saw himself rocket up draft boards before the eventual selection at number 2 in the 2021 draft.
The Panthers may feel their hand forced into QB give the pressing need and the value on the board at this point, but if they choose to look elsewhere, the offensive line is sorely in need of a talent upgrade, and local NC State product Ikem Ekwonu would help.
#7 – New York Giants – Tyler Linderbaum (C, Iowa 6’3″ 291)
The Giants took their RT with the fifth pick and followed it up by grabbing Linderbaum. A center this high is almost unprecedented, but it speaks to the state of the Giants offensive line and where the talent lies in this class. Linderbaum won the Rimington Trophy as the best center in college football and continues a long trend of excellent Iowa offensive line prospects. The combination of Linderbaum and Cross and Thomas would give the Giants plus players at three positions and help smooth over rough patches at the guards. The Giants have to focus on removing any remaining excuses on an offense hypothetically loaded with skill talent between Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney.
The Giants have to address the offensive line with their first two picks. Absent that position, the team could consider an edge like George Karlaftis or David Ojabo to compliment 2021 pick Azeez Ojulari.
#8 – Atlanta Falcons – Derek Stingley Jr. (CB, LSU, 6’1″ 190)
A.J. Terrell has become a true star, ranking as PFF’s #1 corner for the 2021 season. With that type of player locking down one side, the focus shifts firmly to the other side, where the Falcons have been playing the uninspiring Fabian Moreau and need an upgrade. Stingley is the type of talent who could find himself off the board as early as fourth overall and would be a victory at this pick. He is a plus athlete who excels in man coverage, and the pairing with Terrell could give the team the best young CB pairing in the league. The team could look to step into the QB derby to find the eventual replacement for Matt Ryan, but his contract is restrictive from moving on immediately, and they could instead opt for one more last hurrah for their longtime franchise QB.
Recently the team released as much clarification on Calvin Ridley as ever since he hit the IR citing mental health. Both sides appear headed for a mutual breakup, and needs at WR could force Treylon Burks or Garrett Wilson into the pick. But drafting Kyle Pitts early in 2021 and Russell Gage emerging as a reliable target as the season progressed allows the team to address the position later.
#9 – Denver Broncos – Kenny Pickett (QB, Pitt, 6’3″ 220)
With Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson on the market, the Broncos keeping this pick may be a minor upset. The feelings are strong between Carolina, Denver, and Washington; the teams will use the selections to acquire QBs, but the open question is if they are rookie QBs or if the team uses them in trade packages for the veterans who could find themselves on the market. The race between this class will dominate pre-draft headlines, and it starts with a star-studded Senior Bowl that will see all but Matt Corral in attendance. Pickett took the longest to blossom, but the finished product was great this past season; he possesses plenty of the athleticism teams have come to crave out of the QB position and could easily be the top guy off the board.
The team has moved on from Vic Fangio, and open questions exist about what transitions follow that departure. If they stay in a 3-4 alignment, players like NT Jordan Davis, edge David Ojabo, or LB Nakobe Dean would add talent to the front seven.
#10 – New York Jets – Andrew Booth Jr (CB, Clemson 6’0″ 200)
The Jets have not had strong CB play since Darrelle Revis left WRs stranded on his island. Booth is the type of corner to replicate that era, and this Jets defense desperately needs a playmaker in the secondary. Booth Jr. vs. Derek Stingley Jr. will be one of the hottest debates in this draft season as both offer the talent to deliver as premier CBs. A fun scenario exists where the Jets could end up with both or pair one with S Kyle Hamilton and instantly remake a porous secondary.
It is unlikely the Jets do not take secondary with one of their top picks, but this roster and the team’s draft capital allow them to consider DT DeMarvin Leal or a WR like Treylon Burks or Garrett Wilson.
#11 – Washington TBAs – Sam Howell (QB, North Carolina 6’1″ 220)
Washington finds itself in a similar position as Carolina regarding QB needs. The team hoped Ryan Fitzpatrick could build upon their 2020 playoff appearance, but continuing his career is an open question. Taylor Heinicke has alleviated any concerns he may be a franchise QB. The team is at a crossroads in many ways, and a young QB to complement their rebranding efforts would go a long way towards building fan belief. Howell finds himself in the unenviable position of spending 2021 under the microscope of preseason expectations on an understaffed team after losing four key skill position teammates to the 2021 draft. Howell is a leader and can make every throw necessary to succeed at the NFL level. Some may see him as a dual-threat option judging solely off stats, but the reality is his athleticism is more on par with Baker Mayfield, a player who was able to extend plays in college but NFL quickness closed those windows.
If the team strayed away from QB, Treylon Burks or Garrett Wilson are the types of WRs that Terry McLaurin has not gotten the luxury of helping free up coverage in his career.
#12 – Minnesota Vikings – Treylon Burks (WR, Arkansas 6’3″ 225)
The Vikings have fired Mike Zimmer and are potentially moving on from Kirk Cousins, but adding another WR gives Cousins a better chance to succeed and makes the position more enticing for a long-term option. Injuries and age are starting to catch up to Adam Thielen, and while K.J. Osborn has emerged as a pleasant surprise, projecting him as a long-term complement to star Justin Jefferson is aggressive. Burks brings a physicality to the room that lacks and complements Jefferson well long term.
The team would love to add a piece like Stingley Jr or Hamilton in the secondary and see them go off just before their pick. The Vikings are another team that could look at George Karlaftis as they cycled through ends after losing Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin this season.
#13 – Cleveland Browns – Garrett Wilson (WR, Ohio St 6’0″ 192)
The chaotic selection would be a QB, given the current fallout around Baker Mayfield. In reality, the Browns have a very talented roster without glaring need, and Mayfield’s struggles were the primary driver for their inability to follow up a successful 2020 playoff run. Mayfield or a replacement, the team still desperately needs help at WR, and Wilson’s Ohio St roots will help woo the fanbase on the selection. Wilson is a versatile WR who can line up all over the formation, helping complement slot Jarvis Landry and Donovan People-Jones’ field stretching.
If the team overturns the apple cart and takes a QB, Malik Willis or Carson Strong are the likely selection given the players off the board.
#14 – Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Davis (DT, Georgia 6’6″ 340)
Davis has the size to serve as a traditional NT and the versatility to disrupt gaps, an essential need in the Baltimore defense. An impact player from a blue-chip college program, Davis fits the Ravens traditional drafting model to a T. Brandon Williams has been a critical piece of the defense for years but just turned in his worst season and is 33 and a UFA. Even if the team retains him, the likelihood is his days as a critical impact player are dwindling, and Davis allows for a smooth transition.
Injuries decimated the Ravens this year, but the team has an explicit type, primarily versatile players from major college programs. If he is still on the board, C Tyler Linderbaum is a potential pivot as Iowa is a known offensive line factory, and Baltimore prefers to minimize risk early in the draft.
#15 – Philadelphia Eagles – Nakobe Dean (LB, Georgia 6’0″ 225)
With three selections in the first round, the Eagles have the opportunity to add a significant infusion of talent to a playoff roster. Dean is the type of swiss army knife defender teams crave, able to blitz the QB and drop into coverage. He upgrades an already solid Eagles defense and would look to replicate Micah Parsons‘s impact in their division rival Dallas.
The team has plenty of chances to add impact players given their draft cache, and a WR like Jameson Williams or edge like David Ojabo stand as considerations.
#16 – Philadelphia Eagles – Dax Hill (S, Michigan 6’0″ 192)
Both Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are north of 30, and both are hitting free agency, leaving the Eagles in a position to add youth at the position. Hill is an athletic freak expected to test in the low 4.3s and play as high free safety and a nickel box defender. DC Jonathan Gannon has a DB background, and Hill gives the team a versatile piece they currently lack. Pairing with the previous selection of Dean, the Eagles stand to transform an already strong defense into one of the league’s best.
The team needs to think about a WR as it becomes more apparent Jalen Reagor was a draft bust, but the team could look to address that position in free agency and still holds multiple picks in a deep draft.
#17 – Los Angeles Chargers – Ahmad Gardner (CB, Cincinnati 6’2″ 188)
Gardner is the type of corner who would likely struggle if put on an island, but he fits the Chargers’ tendencies to run two high, zone six defenses well. The team needs help in the secondary, and Michael Davis, Trevaughn Campbell, and Asante Samuel Jr. combined for some of the worst CB play in the league. Gardner is a rangy corner who has the ball skills necessary to succeed within Brandon Staley’s defense.
If the Chargers went in another direction, Demarvin Leal is currently sliding on the board and could be a potential replacement for 2019 1st round pick Jerry Tillery, a disappointment in his three NFL seasons.
#18 – New Orleans Saints – Jameson Williams (WR, Alabama 6’2″ 189)*
Whether or not Mike Thomas plays another snap for the Saints, the team needs offensive skill talent. Marquez Callaway has performed admirably, and Deonte Harris has emerged, but Williams adds an electric element and alpha WR upside, not on the current roster. Williams’s time at Ohio St fulfills the Saints’ requirement to use their top pick on a Buckeye, and he emerged as Alabama’s big-play WR after transferring.
Obviously, by the draft, we will know how the Saints have handled Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill at QB. Sean Payton has never been shy about experimenting at the position, and Malik Willis could play at this spot.
*Editor’s Note: Jameson Williams suffered a torn ACL during Monday night’s National Championship game vs. Georgia.
#19 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Malik Willis (QB, Liberty 6’1″ 225)
Willis has garnered buzz in the devy and dynasty rookie community all year long, but this feels like the last safe landing spot before a potential fall outside of the first round. Despite rumors to the contrary, the team can not count on Mason Rudolph as their replacement for Ben Roethlisberger. The team needs to invest heavily on the offensive line and could opt for that route, taking a QB like Carson Strong or Desmond Ridder in round two but facing Lamar Jackson, and Joe Burrow for the foreseeable future inside their division could force their hand on a dynamic dual-threat talent. Willis leaves a desire for improvement in accuracy but would be a jolt of lightning to an offense that has grown to accommodate the twilight of Roethlisberger’s career.
The Steelers and Ravens have long operated as mirror organizations, and much like Baltimore, they could opt to take Ikem Ekwonu as the centerpiece of an offensive line rebuild.
#20 – Philadelphia Eagles – Chris Olave (WR, Ohio St 6’1″ 187)
Olave has his detractors in the fantasy community, but he’s a skilled WR and would compliment DeVonta Smith well. The simplest way to explain Olave’s game is what Jalen Reagor was supposed to be; he can extend the field vertically while also working underneath in a high YAC role. The physicality of a Drake London would hold intrigue, but Dallas Goedert is a vital piece of the passing game and fulfills that RedZone role of a big WR. The Eagles are swaying hard into Matt Millen territory at this point, but this stands as a team need.
The team could continue building their defense with Karlaftis and Leal as options are still on the board.
#21 – Las Vegas Raiders – Ikem Ekwonu (OT, NC State 6’4″ 320)
Ekwonu has the talent to see his name called much earlier and would be a boon for the Raiders to add to an offensive line still in the process of a rebuild. 2021 1st round pick Alex Leatherwood was a rookie disappointment and required a move inside to guard, leaving Brandon Parker as one of the worst RTs in football. Ekwonu would look to solidify that position long-term and pair with Kolton Miller long-term to answer a pressing need.
Mike Mayock and John Gruden deferred to blue-chip programs with their early picks, and Chris Olave would stand as a potential pivot given the needs at WR.
#22 – Miami Dolphins – Kenyon Green (G, Texas A&M, 6’4″ 325)
The Dolphins need help throughout the offensive line, and landing Green this late would be a best-case scenario. He is a versatile player who could shore up almost any position on the line. After a string of high-profile misses, the Dolphins have to hit, and Green’s versatility allows them to play him wherever he fits. He was an elite recruit who excelled in the SEC from day one and is as safe as they come in this range.
An offensive line is an overwhelming need, but if the Dolphins go elsewhere, LB Devin Lloyd would give the defense a keystone piece in the center to continue to build a talented young defense around.
#23 – New England Patriots – Kaiir Elam (CB, Florida, 6’2″ 193)
The Patriots have struggled to replace Stephon Gilmore’s departure opposite start, CB J.C. Jackson. Elam needs to improve man coverage in Bill Belichick’s scheme, but he has NFL bloodlines, excellent length, and a high pedigree. Elam faces a wide range currently; testing could move him up out of this range, and his concerns on man coverage could knock him down.
The Patriots spent heavily bringing in Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne, but the team lacks reliable options to help Mac Jones elevate his game, and Drake London is the pivot in this range.
#24 – Arizona Cardinals – DeMarvin Leal (DT, Texas A&M, 6’4″ 290)
The Cardinals have invested heavily in their defensive line with J.J. Watt and Jordan Phillips in free agency and Chandler Jones via trade, but they desperately need a young piece with Leal’s upside. Leal has the talent to go top 10 but raised concerns about his effort throughout his college career. Leal has shown his ability to penetrate and get home, with 8.5 sacks in 2021, a massive plus for a Cardinals team that often finds them in back and forth games. Leal was arrested last month for marijuana possession, but the hope is it blows over before the draft.
The Cardinals could stand to take the first RB in the class, a three-way toss-up between Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker III, and Isaiah Spiller. Putting a high-level RB in this offense would be a significant boon for fantasy football purposes.
#25 – Cincinnati Bengals – Roger McCreary (CB, Auburn, 6’0″ 190)
The Bengals have relied on a parade of disappointing veterans like Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves III to handle the CB position this year, and the result has been a bottom-five pass defense. The franchise has historically shown a willingness to draft the CB position in the 1st round, especially in periods of contention windows like they sit in now. The reality is for a franchise that earned a top-five pick in the 2021 draft; there are not a lot of needs. McCreary took a significant step forward in his play this past season and presents as a corner who can play both zone and man coverage. He is a hard-nosed player who does not shy from physicality, which is crucial in playing in the AFC North. The Bengals’ offense looks primed to put the team in shootouts, and they need improvement from a defense that ranked in the bottom half in turnovers.
It would be a luxury pick, but Joe Mixon is going into his age 26 season, and the team could look to use high capital on an RB like Kenneth Walker III to compliment him.
#26 – Buffalo Bills – David Ojabo (Edge, Michigan 6’5″ 250)
The Bills have relied on 34-year-olds Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison for pass rush production over the last couple of seasons, both of whom are UFAs after this season. They have used high draft capital on A.J. Epenesa and Gregory Rousseau over the past two drafts, but Ojabo fills an open hole long term as a flexible edge piece. Ojabo is inexperienced and still growing into his game, likely the only reason he would be on the board this late given his physical gifts. Tutelage from an experienced player like Hughes could be a key in unlocking his potential.
If the Bills strayed from defense, they could look to add an impact fantasy piece like Drake London or Isaiah Spiller into one of the league’s best offenses.
#27 – Detroit Lions – Drake London (WR, USC 6’5″ 210)
Following the breakout success of former Trojan Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Lions go back to the well to rebuild their WR corps. London’s size profiles as a vertical threat, but he displayed versatility with the Trojans, lining up frequently in the slot and seeing a dominant target share before a fractured ankle ended his season. The injury will not be a concern moving forward, and London may soar up the board, but at this spot would instantly upgrade a Lions WR room that only has St. Brown, Quintez Cephus, and Trinity Benson under contract for 2022. The team should add to this position in free agency and the draft.
Despite his offensive background, Campbell has emphasized toughness on the defensive side of the ball and could look to draft a tone-setter like LB Devin Lloyd.
#28 – Dallas Cowboys – Jaquan Brisker (S, Penn St, 6’1″ 200)
After Micah Parsons played a massive role in transforming the defense, the Cowboys returned to the well and took a former teammate. The Cowboys need an immediate upgrade from strong safety Damontae Kazee, and Brisker’s ability to erase mistakes can help breakout star Trevon Diggs’s willingness to gamble. Brisker is an interchangeable safety that can immediately work into a starting role.
Another talented team without glaring needs, Dallas finds themselves in the same position as many later picks: defaulting to defenders who can impact the passing game, either via the secondary like CB Trent McDuffie or pass rush like Edger Jermain Johnson.
#29 – Kansas City Chiefs – Wan’dale Robinson (WR, Kentucky, 5’11” 185)
After giving heavy snap shares to Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson, the team has to invest in a young player who can grow as a compliment to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Robinson is the versatile weapon many were hoping Rondale Moore would show can make an impact in a spread offense, working out of the backfield and complimenting the ability to get vertical. The team has been trying to work Mecole Hardman into this role, but now three seasons into his career, it may be best to use his speed to stretch defenses. Robinson is a player who is likely to find himself sneaking into the tail end of rookie SF drafts and would see a significant push following a landing spot like this.
#30 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – George Karlaftis (Edge, Purdue, 6’4″ 275)
Jason Pierre-Paul has been a key rotation piece for the Buccaneers since his arrival in 2018, but finishing his 12th season at age 33 enters his twilight. The team went edge early with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in the 2021 draft but has continually committed resources to the position, and Karlaftis stands out as a long-term cornerstone. A classic power rusher, Karlaftis can set the edge and excel against the run but still get to the QB consistently.
With Chris Godwin heading for free agency off a year on the franchise tag and Antonio Brown no longer an option, the team could be hard-pressed to add receiving talent, with David Bell and Jahan Dotson key pieces under consideration.
#31 – Tennessee Titans – Trey McBride (TE, Colorado St, 6’4″ 260)
The Titans have gotten no production from the TE position and have found themselves in long third-down situations far too often. McBride is not the type of twitchy athlete to go in the first round at this position, but he was incredibly productive as Colorado St.’s primary receiving option. He would give Ryan Tannehill a reliable safety blanket and work well on defenses who find themselves leaking up to stop Derrick Henry.
#32 – Green Bay Packers – David Bell (WR, Purdue, 6’2″ 205)
The Packers face as much uncertainty as to any team this offseason, with Aaron Rodgers on what is ostensibly his last ride and Davante Adams heading for a franchise-tagged year. Neither Allen Lazard nor Marquez Valdez-Scantling has seized the opportunity, and the team needs to build youth into the receiving corps. Bell was incredibly productive at Purdue with 1,286 receiving yards in 2021 and is a receiver similar to Adams. If Rodgers returns, expect the team to relent and finally give him a weapon on the outside.
If the Packers are looking to move into a new generation with their offensive core, drafting an offensive line may be the path forward. A player like T Trevor Penning could work as a long-term option to replace David Bakhtiari.
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