The day has finally come: My 2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 is LIVE, and I am hyped.
With the pre-draft process in full swing, I had to put out my initial NFL mock draft before things inevitably blow up after the NFL Scouting Combine. Players will fly up and down big boards based on testing, and there will be draft trades executed after the combine concludes.
Lucas Oil Stadium is the quintessential schmoozing spot for NFL executives and coaches.
So best to get this baby out before chaos ensues. Enjoy!
*Note this mock draft is based on what I think will happen, not necessarily what I would do in each team’s position.*
1. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Evan Neal (OT – ALA)
The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Doug Pederson to be their head coach with hopes that he can help develop quarterback Trevor Lawrence in his second season. The first order of business for Pederson looks to be solidifying the offensive line after Lawrence faced the fifth-most dropbacks under pressure in 2021.
The new Jags head coach recently spoke to games being won and lost in the trenches, and that you’re not going to have a passing attack if you cannot protect the quarterback. That phrasing suggests that Jacksonville will select an offensive lineman – most likely at left tackle – to replace impending free agent Cam Robinson.
Robinson posted a career-high PFF pass-blocking grade (76.6) in 2021. If the Jags do not opt to bring back Robinson or add a tackle via free agency – Terron Armstead, Duane Brown, Eric Fisher are among the cream of the crop – Evan Neal is the sure-fire selection at No. 1 overall.
The Alabama tackle finished top-10 in his draft class in the lowest pressure rate allowed (2.4%) in his first season as a full-time left tackle. With Neals’ mammoth size – 6-foot-7, 350 pounds – similar to Philadelphia Eagles’ left tackle Jordan Mailata, Neal landing in Duval seems like a clear-cut lock.
OL, TE, WR
2. DETROIT LIONS: Aidan Hutchinson (Edge – Michigan)
Only the Atlanta Falcons boasted a worse pressure rate on defense than the Lions did a season ago. Seems only fit that Michigan edge defender, Aidan Hutchinson, is the pick to provide a spark to the knee-cap hungry Detroit defense. His 2021 PFF defense grade (94.5) is the highest among any edge defender entering the NFL since Washington Commander Chase Young.
WR, EDGE, S, LB, QB
3. HOUSTON TEXANS: Kyle Hamilton (S – Notre Dame)
After loading up on offensive personnel in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans looked primed to flip the script and add to their defense that ranked 31st in yards per play allowed.
Edge player Kayvon Thibodeaux and safety Kyle Hamilton are both standout defensive players, so I could envision Houston going in either direction. However, with the general manager Nick Caserio stemming from the New England Patriots system – notorious for valuing pass coverage in favor of pass rush – Houston opts for a do-it-all defensive playmaker.
Adding the dynamic defensive back from Notre Dame should fill the gap in the position left by free agent Justin Reid. Hamilton should fit well in Lovie Smith’s zone-heavy defense that moves safeties in the box and slot.
RB, EDGE, CB, S, LB
4. NEW YORK JETS: Kayvon Thibodeaux (Edge – Oregon)
The New York Jets have a multitude of holes on their roster, especially on defense, so they look to bolster that side of the ball with elite pass-rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Oregon product generated 48 pressures in 11 games his junior season – 4.4 per game. That mark ranked tenth among the 2022 edge class.
Pairing Thibodeaux with their 2021 prized free-agent acquisition, Carl Lawson, will help form a dynamic pass-rush duo for Gang Green.
CB, WR, TE, OL
5. NEW YORK GIANTS: Ikem Ekwonu (OL – NC State)
Out with the old, in with the new. Big Blue cleaned house this offseason hiring Brian Daboll as head coach and Joe Schoen as general manager. Both guys spent their last several seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Management/ownership understands they need to put Daniel Jones in a position to succeed this season, to identify him as their long-term answer at quarterback.
The easiest way to achieve that goal is to add protection upfront in the form of offensive lineman, Ikem Ekwonu. Ekwonu allowed zero quarterback hits in 2021 and offers versatility to also line up at guard. The NC State product draws parallels to the 2019 Bills’ second-round pick Cody Ford in that vicinity.
He’s an absolute mauler in the run game – PFF’s fifth-highest graded run-blocker in 2021. Ekwonu should help fortify PFF’s third-worst offensive line that may be without Nate Solder and Will Hernandez due to free agency.
OL, EDGE, LB
6. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Charles Cross (OT – MISS ST.)
The Panthers offensive line was an absolute mess in 2021, allowing the league’s sixth-highest pressure rate. Taylor Moton is their best pass protector at right tackle, but left tackle needs to be improved from the hodgepodge unit of Cam Erving, Brady Christensen and Dennis Daley from a season ago.
Charles Cross is a locked-and-loaded franchise left tackle after taking over 1,200 snaps from that position the last two seasons. The Mississippi State Bulldog was elite from Week 4 onward as PFF’s second-highest graded pass-blocker (87.6).
Cross also showed up against the strongest competition allowing just two combined pressures in four SEC matchups against Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.
QB, OL, LB
7. NEW YORK GIANTS: Ahmad Gardner (CB – CIN)
Having already addressed the offensive line with their first pick, the Giants flip the script defense with their second first round selection. With trade rumors swirling surrounding 2023 free agent cornerback James Bradberry – $21 million cap hit in 2022 – Big Blue adds lock-down press cornerback from Cincinnati, Ahmad (Sauce) Gardner.
New defensive coordinator Don Martindale is more than happy to put corners on an island that fits Gardner’s strengths to a tee. He played the second-most snaps from man coverage among his classmates in 2021 and allowed just 55 total receiving yards. Gardner has also never allowed a touchdown in coverage.
Meanwhile, Bradberry ranked outside PFF’s top-65 cornerbacks last season in man coverage grade.
OL, EDGE, LB, CB
8. ATLANTA FALCONS: George Karlaftis (Edge – Purdue)
As mentioned earlier, the Falcons defense finished dead last in pressure rate last season. Generating a pass rush has been a consistent issue for their squad for several seasons, so they need to equip the defensive line with talent in this draft.
Purdue’s George Karlaftis fits the mold in new defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ 3-4 scheme. As a freshman in 2019, Karlaftis generated the tenth-most pressures in the FBS. And after a truncated 2020 season due to COVID-19, the Boilermaker edge rusher finished 2021 11th in the nation in pressures per game (4.5).
EDGE, OL, WR, RB, CB
9. DENVER BRONCOS: Kenny Pickett (QB – PITT)
There’s a lot of ambiguity surrounding this selection as we await news on whether Aaron Rodgers will call Denver his new home in 2022. Because the No. 9 overall pick will almost certainly be dealt in a trade for Rodgers, it seems like a moot point to make this pick assuming the future Hall of Fame quarterback ends up a Bronco.
For that reason, the Broncos select their signal-caller of the future in Kenny Pickett – arguably the most NFL-ready QB in the class. The Pittsburgh Panther threw more touchdowns (42) in 2021 than the previous three seasons combined as the entrenched starter (38).
QB, CB, OT
10. NEW YORK JETS: Treylon Burks (WR – ARK)
The Jets saw the Bengals offense take off in Year 2 after they paired their second-year quarterback with a dynamic rookie wide receiver. If they want Zach Wilson to take a similar leap in Year 2, New York needs to give him more offensive weapons. Insert Treylon Burks.
His 8.5 yards after the catch rank 14th among 169 qualifying wide receivers (92nd percentile) over the past two seasons.
The most consistent chatter I hear with #Jets this offseason is their awareness of needing to build around the young QB
Not content until there is a surplus of weapons + a powerhouse OL in place
They know if they fail to do that, nothing else matters
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) February 3, 2022
WR, TE, OL, CB
11. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS: Malik Willis (QB – Liberty)
Poor quarterback play held Washington from being able to take a step forward in 2021. That will no longer be the case. Because as the newly-named Commanders, they draft the future face of their franchise in Malik Willis.
The Liberty signal-caller did wonders to his draft stock after an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. His 91.7 PFF passing grade throughout the Senior Bowl practices was the highest of the week.
Willis averaged almost 100 rushing yards per game over the last two seasons, putting him in elite company with some of college football’s best rushers. His ability to add value will his legs will grant him extra time to develop as a passer at the NFL level.
CB, S, QB, LB, WR
12. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Derek Stingley (CB – LSU)
The Vikings ranked fifth in most passing yards allowed this past season and have a glaring hole at cornerback. Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander played the most snaps for Minnesota last season but are prime candidates to leave in free agency. That leaves just Cameron Dantzler as a starter surrounded by less-than-ideal options.
The Vikings fill the void by selecting Derek Stingley, who was seen as a can’t miss option after his freshman season. The LSU product has regressed some the past two years, but talent showcased in 2019 – PFF’s highest-graded corner – is worth it.
CB, QB, LB, DL
13. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Jermaine Johnson (Edge – FSU)
Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry has a strong track record of adding pass-rushers through the draft. They select the surging defensive end from FSU, Jermaine Johnson. Johnson’s draft stock skyrocketed after his impressive outing at the Senior Bowl, and it matches what his on-field production was in 2021.
The Georgia transfer tied Aidan Hutchinson with 14 sacks to lead the 2022 NFL Draft class. He and Myles Garrett will strike fear into opposing offenses.
WR, EDGE, DT, LB
14. BALTIMORE RAVENS: David Ojabo (Edge – Michigan)
Baltimore needs to inject more youth into their pass-rush. Calais Campbell and Justin Houston are both free agents leaving last season’s first-round selection Odafe Oweh as the top pressure generator. It makes too much sense for Baltimore to select Michigan edge David Ojabo with their new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald also from Michigan.
He coached as their DC during Ojabo’s breakout season in which the Wolverine defender tallied 11 sacks. Ojabo played just 26 snaps in 2020. Drafting Ojabo would also reunite him with his former high school teammate in Oweh.
C, EDGE, DT, CB
15. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Tyler Linderbaum (C – Iowa)
Jason Kelce has been ho-hum about whether he will return to the Eagles for the 2022 season. Regardless he is entering his age 34-season, so the end is near. Philly can lock up his long-term replacement at center with Tyler Linderbaum. He has graded out as PFF’s No. 1 center in the nation over the last two seasons.
Linderbaum also owns the second-highest run grade among all OL in the nation, which bodes well for him in a run-heavy Eagles offense.
C, S, CB, LB, EDGE, WR
16. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Devin Lloyd (LB – Utah)
The crux of the Eagles’ problems on defense last season can be traced back to their porous linebacker play. T.J. Edwards is a solid starter, but he is still slow and it’s bare-bones behind him on the depth chart. Hence why Devin Lloyd is the pick. The Utah product is a do-it-all linebacker with the ability to cover tight ends, generate pressure and play on all downs.
He finished the 2021 season with eight sacks and 90 solo tackles – ninth-most in the FBS. Lloyd should mitigate the damage that tight ends inflicted on the Philly faithful last year.
C, S, CB, LB, EDGE, WR
17. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Garrett Wilson (WR – Ohio State)
The AFC crown has become an arms race between teams with elite quarterbacks. What the Chargers can – and should do – is to surround Justin Herbert with weapons as far as the eye can see. Whether they re-sign Mike Williams or not, there is way too much talent at the wide receiver position to pass on with pick 17.
I could see them going with Drake London if they don’t bring back Williams. London fits the big-bodied archetype wide receiver at 6-foot-5. But Garrett Wilson’s versatile route running paired with Herbert for the long haul is far too great a proposition for L.A. to pass on.
The Ohio State wide receiver was deemed open on 90 of 107 targets in 2021 — an 84% open target rate. Pairing with Keenan Allen would forge an extremely dangerous wide receiver duo.
WR, CB, DT
18. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Drake London (WR – USC)
The relationship between Michael Thomas and the New Orleans Saints seems to be improving, with reports suggesting the team is not looking to trade him before the 2022 season. However, even with Thomas back in the fold, there’s still a major gaping hole at the wide receiver position in the Big Easy. Long-time general manager Mickey Loomis has had zero issues spending high-end draft capital on WRs in the past, making Drake London the selection here.
The USC product boasts all the skills to be an alpha possession receiver at the next level. The 6-foot-5 towering wide receiver only played in eight games due to an ankle injury but made every game count. He commanded a 38% target share and led all WRs in contested catches (19). London concluded the year third in yards per route run (3.52) in his draft class.
QB, WR, CB, DT
19. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Jameson Williams (WR – ALA)
After addressing several needs with their first two top-20 picks, the Eagles go right back to the wide receiver well for the third consecutive season in the first round. Jalen Reagor looks like a total bust after two seasons, so the Eagles still need to pair DeVonta Smith with another top-tier wideout.
Alabama’s Jameson Williams fits the bill after a monster season as the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 receiver.
Williams commanded a 31% dominator rating by hanging 1,561 receiving yards, 20 yards per reception and 15 touchdowns — all achievements that ranked top-three among his 2022 NFL Draft class. His gargantuan yardage totals were fueled by his ability to create yards after the catch and downfield. He finished top-seven among all college wide receivers in yards after the catch per reception (9.3) and receiving yards on 20-plus air yard throws.
The Eagles finished second in screen pass rate in 2021, which caters perfectly to Williams’ strengths creating chunk gains after the catch.
C, S, CB, LB, EDGE, WR
20. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Andrew Booth Jr. (CB – Clemson)
Pittsburgh has an obvious need to address with their offensive line, but that has not been a position they have attacked with high-end draft capital under the Kevin Colbert regime. Pittsburgh last drafted an offensive lineman in the top two rounds back in 2012. So, although tackle Trevor Penning or guard Kenyon Green makes a ton of sense, I believe Pittsburgh looks to fix the back-end of their defense.
Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. can slide in opposite Sutton from Day 1 to help shore up the secondary.
QB, OL, CB
21. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Nakobe Dean (LB – UGA)
Many will harp on the Patriots to take a wide receiver at No. 21, but it’s just not in Bill Belichick’s DNA to pay up at that position. And when he has it’s never panned out: ie. N’Keal Harry, Chad Jackson, Aaron Dobson.
Their defense desperately needs speed, especially at the linebacker position. Last year’s unit looked like they were playing underwater at times. Patriots linebacker coach Jerod Mayo said recently on a local Patriots radio station that, “the team is looking to get faster, more explosive and put more playmakers on the field.”
No linebacker epitomizes that description more than Nakobe Dean.
The Georgia Bulldog finished as PFF’s highest-graded linebacker on college football’s No. 1 defense in 2021. And although he is undersized at 6-feet and 225 pounds, he more than makes up for it with his sideline-to-sideline range. His speed also shows up when he rushes the passer, evidenced by his eight sacks and top-4 PFF pass-rush grade (91.3).
WR, LB, OL
22. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Chris Olave (WR – Ohio State)
The Mike Mayock Raiders would surely overdraft a defensive tackle in this spot, but I am optimistic that under a new regime they can get better value in the first round with the HC/GM pairing of Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler.
With an offensive-minded head coach at the helm, Las Vegas selects Chris Olave to fill the void left by Henry Ruggs. The former Buckeye doesn’t offer quite the same speed as Ruggs, but he can separate from defenders at an elite level downfield. Olave wrapped up his 2021 season in the 96th percentile in separation versus single coverage and caught seven touchdowns on throws of 20-plus air yards.
WR, DE, DT, CB
23. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Trent McDuffie (CB – Washington)
The Cardinals have zero cornerbacks on the roster that earned a top-35 PFF grade in 2021. Their highest-graded CB – Robert Alford – is an impending free agent. They need to add to their secondary with cornerback, Trent McDuffie.
McDuffie played his college ball at Washington – a school that general manager Steve Kiem is too familiar drafting defensive backs from. Both Byron Murphy and Budda Baker were second-round picks out of Washington.
He should thrive in the Cardinals’ zone scheme after allowing just 60 yards in zone coverage through 2021’s totality.
CB, RB, WR, DT, OL
24. DALLAS COWBOYS: Kenyon Green (G – Texas A&M)
Dallas has the third-fewest salary cap space available making it unlikely they can retain starting left guard Connor Williams. Lucky for them, the draft’s No. 1 guard is still on the board at pick 24.
Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green can start from day one at left guard after finishing 2021 as the highest-graded SEC guard in his draft class.
But what separates Green is his versatility. He has experience playing every position across the offensive line outside the center position. That experience will make him a highly-coveted target in the first round.
S, LB, DE, OL, WR
25. BUFFALO BILLS: Kaiir Elam (CB – Florida)
Starting outside cornerback Levi Wallace is scheduled to hit free agency this offseason giving the Buffalo Bills a prime opportunity to upgrade at the position. Stud corner Tre’Davious White is also returning from a torn ACL, so it makes sense for Buffalo to add depth.
At 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds, cornerback Kaiir Elam is the perfect target. The Florida Gator allowed the nation’s third-lowest passer rating when targeted (18.3) as a true freshman in 2019. Facing SEC wide receivers for three straight seasons will translate well into the NFL.
DT, DE, CB, WR
26. TENNESSEE TITANS: Jahan Dotson (WR – PSU)
Depending on how free agency shakes out, the Titans could easily select an offensive lineman with their top selection. Center Ben Jones and right tackle David Quessenberry are both free agents. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is rumored to be a cut candidate.
But there are in such dire circumstances at the wide receiver position with virtually no depth behind A.J. Brown and an aging unreliable Julio Jones. They neglected to address WR last season with any high draft capital and won’t make the same mistake twice.
Tennessee adds Penn State’s Jahan Dotson to man the slot for their offense. While slightly undersized, Dotson packs a serious punch, as the explosive wide receiver was a mega-producer in his final college season earning an absurd 43% dominator rating.
He easily saved his best for last, finishing ninth in PFF receiving grade (87.2) and eighth in receptions among his 2022 draft-eligible classmates. Dotson’s sure-hands — 94th percentile career drop rate (2%) — will help him vacuum up targets at the next level, especially from the inside.
WR, OL, TE, LB, C
27. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Travon Walker (Edge – UGA)
With Tampa potentially losing Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul and Steven McClendon in free agency, they need to inject more youth across their defensive line alongside 2020 first-rounder Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Defensive end Travon Walker led the Georgia Bulldogs No. 1-ranked defense in total pressures this past season with 13 coming during their playoff run.
His rare speed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds will be a major issue for opposing offensive lines.
QB, DL, WR
28. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Trevor Penning (OT – Northern Iowa)
The Green Bay Packers are going all-in on their salary cap to convince Aaron Rodgers to make his return. That approach will undoubtedly influence the Green Packers’ draft strategy to select impact players with their high-end draft capital that can contribute from Day 1.
A wide receiver makes sense here, but stabilizing the offensive line is also super important.
The Packers have some question marks at their right tackle spot opposite David Bakhtiari with Dennis Kelly hitting free agency, and Billy Turner commanding a $9 million cap hit as PFF’s 53rd graded tackle in 2021. Elgton Jenkins is also coming off a late-season torn ACL suffered in Week 11.
Enter Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning who increased his draft stock at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. His 97.3 overall PFF grade and 99.9 run-blocking grade both ranked first in all of Division 1 college football in 2021.
His elite run-blocking ability will fit well in Matt LaFleur’s dynamic run scheme.
WR, OL, CB
29. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Bernhard Raimann (OT – Central Michigan)
If Miami ever wants to see Tua Tagovailoa succeed, they need to protect him upfront. They had the worst PFF pass-blocking grade as a team in 2021. New head coach Mike McDaniel knows how essential it is for an offense to possess a functioning OL unit from his days spent in San Francisco, so the Dolphins select 6-foot-7 tackle Bernhard Raimann.
The Central Michigan product went from playing tight end two years ago to PFF’s third-highest graded tackle in 2021 (94.6).
30. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Daxton Hill (S – Michigan)
Two Kansas City Chiefs starting cornerbacks from last season – Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes – are free agents in 2022. As are two of their safeties: Daniel Sorensen and Tyrann Mathieu. Kansas City needs to fortify their secondary in the draft by adding versatile Michigan safety, Daxton Hill.
The former Wolverine can line up all over the field. He played slot cornerback in 2021 after spending more time in the box and free safety as a sophomore.
That skill set fits well into Steve Spagnuolo’s safety-heavy defensive scheme. No defense used three different safeties in coverage more than the Chiefs did in 2021. Hill’s slot handiness is reminiscent of the 2020 Chiefs fourth-round pick L’Jarius Sneed
WR, CB, DL, S
31. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Zion Johnson (G – Boston College)
You don’t need to look too hard to identify the Bengals’ glaring weakness across their offensive line. Quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked 70 times in 2021 – the next closest quarterback was Ryan Tannehill with 48 sacks. Woof.
It’s critical that Cincy goes from bottom to at least mediocre-to-average across the line if they wish to get back into Super Bowl contention. And that starts by plugging up the middle protection with Zion Johnson.
The BC Eagle is a solid starting guard from Day 1 and would be an immediate upgrade over Quinton Spain. Johnson allowed just two quarterback hits and six total pressures in his final season at Boston College.
32. DETROIT LIONS: Matt Corral (QB – Ole Miss)
Jared Goff will still be in the plans for the Lions in 2022 with a $15.5 million roster guarantee this season. Seems most likely he will be the starter while the team grooms a rookie franchise quarterback behind him. Goff has a potential out in his contract before the 2023 season.
Ergo, Brad Holmes and company select Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral at the end tail end of the first round. Corral rallied the Rebels to a 10-2 record while finishing third in the SEC in passing yards (3,343) and 11th in the nation in PFF passing grade from a clean pocket (91.6).
He also rushed for nearly 750 yards and 11 scores. It’s that exact dual-threat ability fantasy football dynasty managers should be looking to invest in for years down the line.
I will also mention that I strongly considered North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell here with this pick. His Tarheel roots may be enough to convince Detroit to take him. New Lions OC Ben Johnson was a quarterback at UNC from 2004-2007.
WR, EDGE, S, LB, QB
Just missed the cut: