The NFL never stops. While the season only lasts for a portion of the year, NFL teams are scouting and evaluating potential prospects all year round. Free agency and the NFL Draft are the two ways that teams can look to improve their fortunes. The teams at the bottom of the standings often get the first choice of prospects but the teams at the top of the standings often add to an already formidable nucleus, making them even stronger. Teams don’t always make the right decisions, but when they get it right, a first round pick can alter the direction of a franchise. The NFL Draft is still months away, but with draft season kicking into high gear, he is my first mock for the 2022 NFL Draft.
1st overall: Jacksonville Jaguars – Evan Neal (LT – Alabama)
Jacksonville will consider trading back here, but expect them to go with left tackle Evan Neal to replace free agent Cam Robinson if they keep the pick. The Jaguars drafted two first round edge rushers in the last three seasons, so they will wisely opt for a franchise bookend to protect Trevor Lawrence‘s blindside. Neal will be their target if they trade back.
2nd overall: Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson (Edge – Michigan)
Detroit goes with local product Aidan Hutchinson at number two overall. Thibodeaux has more upside, but Hutchinson has the higher floor, and the Lions can’t afford to miss. It will be at least one more year of Jared Goff in Detroit.
3rd overall: Houston Texans – Charles Cross (LT – Mississippi State)
The Texans should likely go quarterback here, and if they fall in love with someone, they will, but the team likely feels that Davis Mills has shown enough for them to give him one more season in lieu of taking a quarterback in a much more talent-rich 2023 NFL Draft class. Cross gives the Texans the right tackle they thought they were getting with Tytus Howard and has enough upside to man the blindside once the team moves on from Laremy Tunsil. Kyle Hamilton and Derek Stingley Jr. will also be in play here, but Cross should be the Texans pick.
4th overall: New York Jets – Kayvon Thibodeaux (Edge – Oregon)
Robert Saleh will rush the card to the podium if Thibodeaux slips to fourth overall. Perhaps the top talent in the draft that does not play in the secondary, Thibodeaux will help form what should be a fearsome Jets pass rush alongside Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and Sheldon Rankins. The Jets will also strongly consider Hamilton and Stingley but should ultimately decide to roll with the top player on their board.
5th overall: New York Giants – Ikem Ekwonu (RT – NC State)
The New York Giants are the wildcard. They will likely not see players like Sam Howell or Kenny Pickett as a big enough upgrade on Daniel Jones to pull the trigger this high and have also spent significant resources on their secondary. They need help at left guard, center, and off-ball linebacker. However, with no one at those positions worth reaching for at fifth overall, they will entertain a trade down or go with the top player on their board in right tackle Ikem Ekwonu. He can be a bookend on the right side and will help fill the void left by Nate Solder‘s likely exit in free agency.
6th overall: Carolina Panthers – Malik Willis (QB – Liberty)
Malik Willis is the type of quarterback that head coach Matt Rhule covets. He has some development to do, but the Panthers will be fine with that due to being stuck with Sam Darnold for at least one more year. Willis is a true dual-threat who has the most upside of any quarterback in this class. Unfortunately, he also has the lowest floor. This pick will be looked back on as either a home run or an ill-advised reach.
7th overall: New York Giants (from CHI) – Derek Stingley Jr. (CB – LSU)
The Giants, despite having spent significant free-agent dollars and draft capital on their secondary, are not going to pass on Stingley twice. Stingley’s hype has quieted a bit from his electric freshman season, but he still profiles as a lockdown corner who should pass Adoree Jackson on the depth chart by the end of his first season. Tyler Linderbaum will also be a major consideration here.
8th overall: Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Hamilton (S – Notre Dame)
Arguably the most talented player in the entire 2022 NFL Draft class, Hamilton should be the pick here for Atlanta. We have learned in recent years that the Falcons march to the beat of their own drum, so we cannot rule out a quarterback or edge rusher.
9th overall: Denver Broncos – George Karlaftis (Edge – Purdue)
The Broncos will be dangling this pick in trade talks for a veteran quarterback this offseason, but if they strike out and end up keeping the pick, they will be debating between Tyler Linderbaum, Kenyon Green, George Karlaftis, and David Ojabo. It would be a stunner if the Broncos pick here, but if they do, expect them to go with Karlaftis.
10th overall: New York Jets (from Seattle) – Roger McCreary (CB – Auburn)
The Jets could go in a number of directions here, including looking to get Zach Wilson more help at receiver. However, with this being a reasonably deep class at the position, the Jets should look to fortify their secondary. McCreary, Kair Elam, and Andrew Booth should all be in play here, but McCreary is a physical, starter-ready corner who profiles as an excellent schematic fit.
11th overall: Washington – Matt Corral (QB – Ole Miss)
This would be the perfect landing spot for Nakobe Dean, but with Jamin Davis drafted just last year and Ron Rivera more than happy playing safeties in the box, they will likely look to address depth at the quarterback position. Corral is a safe high-floor pick for Washington. While they may make a move in free agency that would change this pick to a more upside-laden prospect, Corral is starter-ready. He may never be a top-20 or even top-25 starter in the NFL, but he is more than capable of providing competent enough play under center so as to not be a detriment to the team.
12th overall: Minnesota Vikings – Nakobe Dean (LB – Georgia)
This pick may be a head-scratcher to some with Eric Kendricks still under contract, but the All-Pro middle linebacker will likely be looking for an extension sooner than later, and the Vikings will likely be letting Anthony Barr walk in free agency. This creates a need for a succession plan at the position and for the team to get someone who can play alongside Kendricks for at least one season. Dean is perhaps the most complete off-ball linebacker prospect that we have seen in years and should be a day one starter for the Vikings. This is a slam dunk pick for Minnesota.
13th overall: Cleveland Browns – DeMarvin Leal (Edge – Texas A&M)
If the Browns truly do stick with Baker Mayfield this offseason, they should prioritize bringing in some receiver help. However, the Browns do not pass the ball enough to spend a premium pick on a receiver. They may look to trade back a few spots so they can land the receiver the team needs, but if they keep the pick, expect them to address the edge opposite Myles Garrett. The Browns have been trying out veterans at the position for the last few years but now may be ready to spend the draft capital to find a long-term solution. DeMarvin Leal has the talent and SEC experience to push to start from Week 1 and should be a perfect fit across from one of the league’s top three pass rushers.
14th overall: Baltimore Ravens – Trevor Penning (OT – Northern Iowa)
Baltimore is desperate for help at offensive tackle. They should look to address the position in free agency, but that should not stop them from pursuing Bernhard Raimann, Trevor Penning, or Nicholas Petit-Frere if they keep this pick. They may look to move this pick for someone more established, but the allure of cost certainty over four to five years may be enough to convince them to keep this pick and make the selection. If they do, Penning is the narrow frontrunner to hear his name called for Baltimore.
15th overall: Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA) – David Ojabo (Edge – Michigan)
With Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett hitting free agency, the Eagles will look to the NFL Draft for a long-term solution. Philadelphia will likely make an effort to keep one or both around, but if the bidding gets too pricey, they will use one of their three first round picks on an edge rusher. Tyler Linderbaum also makes some sense here, but the Eagles are expected to look for offensive line help on Day 2.
16th overall: Philadelphia Eagles (from IND) – Devin Llyod (LB – Utah)
Expect Philadelphia to be aggressive in trying to turn this pick into a 2023 1st and a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick in this draft. If the Eagles do not trade for a veteran quarterback, they will be loading on ammunition to trade up next year. The Eagles are candidates to make multiple trade backs with this pick but if they keep it and Llyod is still on the board, expect them to finally find a long-term answer in the middle.
17th overall: Los Angeles Chargers – Drake London (WR – USC)
The Chargers are going to draft a Drake from USC if the board plays out this way. However, which one is up for debate. They have a need on the defensive line, and Drake Jackson is a value at this point of the first round. However, with Mike Williams set to hit free agency and possibly land a gargantuan deal somewhere else, the Chargers should look to replace him with perhaps the top receiver talent in the draft in the massive Drake London. London has the skill set to replace Williams’ production downfield and should be more consistent due to his ability to operate on all levels of the field.
18th overall: New Orleans Saints – Garrett Wilson (WR – Ohio State)
This is a hard pick to predict due to the ‘retirement’ of Sean Payton, but Garrett Wilson still seems like the safest bet. There is no standout quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft class, and the Saints are set to embark on a rebuild. Landing a blue-chip receiver to replace expected cap casualty Michael Thomas should ease the transition to a new head coach and possibly quarterback.
19th overall: Philadelphia Eagles – Jameson Williams (WR – Alabama)
There is little chance that the Eagles keep all three picks as currently set, but if they do, expect them to strongly consider Jameson Williams here. Treylon Burks also makes sense, but the Eagles clearly value game-breaking speed at the position. Jameson will give them what they thought they were getting in Jalen Reagor and what the Raiders thought they were getting in Henry Ruggs. He may redshirt his rookie season but is the type of receiver that, when combined with DeVonta Smith, could help elevate Jalen Hurts‘ game to the next level.
20th overall: Pittsburgh Steelers – Sam Howell (QB – North Carolina)
Kenny Pickett would be a nice story here, but the Steelers will likely take the top quarterback on their board as opposed to the impressive local product. Howell has the most upside of any quarterback not named Willis and should be the Steelers pick if they do not land a veteran in free agency or in the trade market. Taking Howell here should not rule them out from pursuing another first round signal-caller if they happen to pick high enough in 2023, but the Steelers will be expecting to compete for a playoff spot in 2022, not to be a position to land a superior prospect next year.
21st overall: New England Patriots – Kair Elam (CB – Florida)
There will likely be more than a few mocks that project the Patriots to take a wide receiver here, but the Patriots have a much bigger need at cornerback. They moved on from Stephon Gilmore during the season and have J.C. Jackson set to land a major payday in free agency. Andrew Booth and Elam both represent steals here but expect New England to target the corner with the SEC pedigree in Elam. Testing numbers could change this selection, but as of today, Elam looks to be the Patriots target if still on the board.
22nd overall: Las Vegas Raiders – Kenny Pickett (QB – Pittsburgh)
Pickett would have naturally been a Mike Mayock favorite, but there should still be some in the new regime who believe that Pickett could develop into a successor for Derek Carr. Carr should be under center for another season or two and plays at a strong enough level to keep them out of the range of any of the top QB’s in 2023 and 2024. This may be the Raiders only chance to land someone with starter upside without having to trade up to do so.
23rd overall: Arizona Cardinals – Tyler Linderbaum (C – Iowa)
An inexplicable slide for one of the top-10 talents in this draft class. A team will likely trade up for him if he lasts into the teens, but he lasts until he falls in the Cardinals laps in this no trade mock. Linderbaum is both an amazing value and fits a pressing need, and will be the pick if he manages to still be on the board at this juncture of the draft.
24th overall: Dallas Cowboys – Jordan Davis (DT – Georgia)
Yes, this is the rich get richer part of the draft. The Cowboys land a potential top-10 talent from this draft class in Jordan Davis. Davis will be able to create pressures from the middle while also stamping out the run. He should provide immediate production and will help to elevate an already formidable Cowboys pass rush. Dallas can now trot out Davis, Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, and veteran Carlos Watkins in the middle.
25th overall: Buffalo Bills – Kenyon Green (G – Texas A&M)
Remember what I said about the rich getting richer? In this mock, the Bills land a day one starter at guard in Kenyon Green. Widely viewed as one of the top-15 overall talents in this draft class, landing Green without having to trade up is a massive win for the Bills. Buffalo will look to add an edge rusher and some secondary help on Day 2 in this scenario.
26th overall: Tennessee Titans – Trent McDuffie (CB – Washington)
The Titans will also consider Drake Jackson, Kingsley Enagbare, Andrew Booth, Ahmad Gardner, Christian Harris, and Chris Olave here, but McDuffie is the only player left on the board that screams value. McDuffie has the talent and tape to go in the teens and could be drafted there if he tests well. McDuffie will be the target here regardless of what happens with Janoris Jenkins, as he can man the outside or the inside in 2022 while being groomed to move to the outside full time in 2023.
27th overall: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jahan Dotson (WR – Penn State)
The Buccaneers could go in a number of directions here if they keep this pick, but in this mock, they opt to address a sudden need at the wide receiver position. With Chris Godwin likely to strike it rich in free agency, the Bucs will look to tap Dotson, Chris Olave, or David Bell. Dotson has the highest floor and should be able to replace much of what the Bucs will lose without Godwin in the slot. Quarterback will also be a consideration if someone slips, but with the top four on their board already selected, they will wisely address an area of need.
28th overall: Green Bay Packers – Drake Jackson (Edge – USC)
With no receivers left on the board deemed worthy of a Day 1 selection, the Packers will look to trade back or add to their defense. Green Bay is going to have some tough decisions to make at multiple positions but should still field a strong defense in 2022. They should address the edge, corner, and linebacker before the draft wraps up but will likely opt for Drake Jackson if he is indeed still on the board and the rest of the first plays out as predicted.
29th overall: Miami Dolphins (from SF) – Bernhard Raimann (OL – Central Michigan)
The Dolphins struck gold when the Bengals beat the Chiefs as a Bengals loss would have put them in this spot and in position to draft Raimann. Instead, Miami gets the talented offensive tackle to help bolster an emerging unit. Miami is likely not done addressing their line, but in Raimann they get a potential long-term starter who will fight to make the starting lineup from Week 1 of the 2022 season.
30th overall: Kansas City Chiefs – Andrew Booth Jr. (CB – Clemson)
The Chiefs are a unique team. They are the favorites to win the Super Bowl year after year but always have more than a few needs to address every season. This offseason, they will be focusing on adding some help in the secondary, some talent on the edge, a true number two receiver, and they, of course, need some reinforcements on the offensive line. The Chiefs will likely debate between Ahmad Gardner, Kingsley Eganbare, and David Bell here as well but will opt for Booth due to his upside to develop into a number one corner. Booth had a penchant for giving up big plays at Clemson but has the type of unteachable tools any defensive coordinator worth his salt would love to try to mold.
31st overall: Detroit Lions (from LAR) – Chris Olave (WR – Ohio State)
Wide receiver is among the Lions biggest needs, and 31 they are expected to take a long hard look at the position. However, with so many of the remaining prospects in the current tier rated so similarly from a rating standpoint, the Lions will have a tough decision to make. Chris Olave makes sense if the Lions really believe in Jared Goff. George Pickens makes sense if the impetus is to draft the receiver with the most upside. David Bell makes sense but will likely still be available when the Lions second round pick is on the clock. In this scenario, they opt for Olave, a speed receiver who runs good routes, making him one of the most complete receivers left on the board.
32nd overall: Cincinnati Bengals – Tyler Smith (OL – Tulsa)
Nicholas Petit-Frere should also be in play here, but Tyler Smith is likely to be the pick after what is expected to be an elite workout season. Smith already looks to be on the round one periphery and should shoot up boards after testing. Athletically gifted with violent hands and the arm length to play outside or inside, Smith is the type of home run swing the Bengals need to make for their offensive line to take the next step.