By William Gregory
Following the all-new Super Wild Card Weekend, 24 teams have had their playoff hopes dashed, and their fans of those teams have turned most of their attention to the 2022 NFL Draft. This year’s draft offers a lot of intrigue in that there is a large contingent of elite defensive talent, and a relative lack of slam dunk quarterbacks, though teams have proven they will reach for average signal callers. This mock draft will be the first in a series that will run all the way up to draft night. We’ll track progress throughout, and after the draft, the results of the final predictive mock draft will be reported and posted. The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock.
#1 - Jacksonville Jaguars - EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
The difference between the top two edge rushers in this class is based largely on opinion. Thibodeaux and Hutchinson are both incredible players, and predicting the direction of the Jacksonville Jaguars is similar to a 50/50 chance. However, looking at Jacksonville general manager Trent Baalke’s draft history with the 49ers shows that he has generally avoided taking Big Ten prospects with Top 100 picks and has chosen many players from the West Coast. Two of those players were Oregon defensive linemen drafted in the first round: Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. It’s plain to see that Thibodeaux’s talent will get him drafted in the Top 2 picks, but Trent Baalke’s draft history offers insight into how they will operate this April.
#2 - Detroit Lions - EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
There may not be a better fit in this draft than Aidan Hutchinson taking the short drive from Ann Arbor to Ford Field. While Hutchinson is built more like a 4-3 defensive end and not an outside linebacker, his pass rushing skill allows him to be played anywhere on the defensive line. Not only does his relentless motor gel with Dan Campbell’s never say die mentality, it’ll keep him from taking plays off when Detroit inevitably collapses to rip its collective fanbase’s heart out. The Lions add a much-needed, impact defensive playmaker.
#3 - Houston Texans - OT Evan Neal, Alabama
It’s too high here to pick a quarterback from this class, plus Davis Mills showed great promise in his rookie year after some doubt of his professional viability. In addition, this Texans team probably does not have the structure to immediately support a blue-chip quarterback, especially after firing their head coach David Culley after one season. They’d be smart to take a physical monster in Evan Neal that can improve their league-worst rushing attack and protect whoever starts at quarterback.
#4 - New York Jets - LB/S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton will provide second-year head coach Robert Saleh with a defensive Swiss Army Knife that is considered the best overall prospect in the class. Some will question taking a player listed as a safety at number four overall, but Hamilton can play three different positions well. His athletic measurements will confirm how special of a player he will be, and his football ability will allow him to be a true defensive weapon.
#5 - New York Giants - EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
George Karlaftis pairs well with the incumbent Giant Azeez Ojulari to create a fear-inducing perennial Pro Bowl-level pass rush. Ojulari, who just finished up his rookie season with eight sacks, wins with quickness and speed, while Karlaftis is a pure power rusher. This is not to say he’s a slow oaf; he has incredible get-off. His pass rush moves have been well-refined playing against Big Ten tackles, and he is an adept run stopper. His addition to an up and coming Giants defense could make them into a formidable defense for years to come.
#6 - Carolina Panthers - OT Ikem Okonwu, NC State
Who knows who is going to be the quarterback for the Carolina Panthers in 2022. Pick six is too high for the quarterbacks available, Sam Darnold clearly is not the answer, and Matt Rhule may scramble to find someone as he is probably coaching for his job next year. What we do know is that the Carolina Panthers allowed the fifth most sacks in the NFL last season. An excellent athlete, Okonwu can step in and stop the bleeding on day one, even though he does have some work to do in his pass protection. His presence should also open up running lanes on the outside for Christian McCaffrey and his possible injury replacements.
#7 - New York Giants (via CHI) - iOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Another pick where it should be too high to take the available quarterbacks. Giving Daniel Jones one last season to prove he’s the guy requires more investment in the offensive line. Many are clamoring for a tackle in this slot given that the veteran Nate Solder started down the stretch for New York, but allowing more time for young starter Matt Peart to develop takes precedence. What Kenyon Green can accomplish for the Giants is to establish a running identity for a new head coach in order to take pressure off Jones, and accentuate the team’s best offensive weapon, Saquon Barkley. Oh, and Green can still play tackle if everything goes wrong.
#8 - Atlanta Falcons - CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Atlanta allowed the most pass yardage per game in the NFL in 2020. Second year corner AJ Terrell blossomed as a cornerstone of the defense in 2021, in part, improved the pass defense to around the middle of the pack. An edge rusher could help the Falcons here, but it would be a reach at this spot. The Falcons take the best player available here, Derek Stingley Jr. He has the speed to keep up with anybody, the length to contest and break up catches, and the ball skills to be a defensive playmaker. Stingley Jr. and Terrell would form one of the best top-flight cornerback tandems in the NFL and continue to build on the Falcons’ defensive foundation for head coach Arthur Smith.
#9 - Denver Broncos - OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The Broncos pick a potential franchise tackle here to solidify a very good offensive line. Charles Cross fits in as the Broncos’ left tackle to be a premier pass protector. Garett Bolles, one of the best run blocking tackles in the NFL, can slide over to right tackle to accommodate him. With Graham Glasgow returning from injury, and some young linemen stepping up, the Broncos could be set up well to trade for an elite quarterback or continue to excel at running the football with Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams.
#10 - New York Jets (via SEA) - EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan
Gang Green continues to add high-end defensive talent with the second Wolverine edge rusher picked in the top ten. As an immigrant from Nigeria and then Scotland, Ojabo only began to play football in his junior year of high school. His freakish athleticism allowed him to transfer his passion for basketball into an absurd ceiling as an edge rusher. He’ll start with a young defense that just added the best prospect in the class at pick four. He should continue to add to his edge rushing toolkit with more experience, and with the tutelage of Robert Saleh.
#11 - Washington Football Team - QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The first quarterback off the board goes to the Washington TBA’s at pick 11. Ron Rivera will fall in love with Matt Corral for how he’ll elevate the entire team. Unlike previous Rivera QBs in Washington, he’s not inexperienced, he’s not a rash decision maker, and he has the necessary talent, in his arm and in his legs, to run an NFL offense efficiently. Washington’s key to success in 2022 is taking care of the football, running effectively with a talented group of backs, and playing good defense. It’s exactly what Ron Rivera tries to do, and it’s exactly what Washington should do to prove 2020 was not a fluke.
#12 - Minnesota Vikings - iDL Jordan Davis, Georgia
Jordan Davis is a dude and a half! In all seriousness, Minnesota needs to reestablish themselves on the line of scrimmage after they cleaned house recently. Davis is primarily a dominant run stopper at 340 pounds, but he can throw that weight around rushing the passer too. Minnesota instantly improves a porous run defense by setting the tone on the interior with the first pick under their new regime.
#13 - Cleveland Browns - WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
You could say this is a reach for Cleveland, but Burks has the possibility of being a true number one receiver in a low-volume offense. He has the largest frame out of any of the surefire first round receivers, and he has the best hands of the bunch as well. The other top receivers in the class require high-volume passing offenses to truly unlock their talent, but Cleveland wants to pound the ball down your throat. The purpose of Burks’ selection is two-fold: to serve as a security blanket when Cleveland gets behind the sticks, and to offer a complementary skillset to the receivers already under contract.
#14 - Baltimore Ravens - iDL DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Baltimore had the best run defense in the NFL one would say. Why would they pick a defensive tackle in the first round instead of fixing their running game? They have, in NFL terms, nobody under contract on the inside. Brandon Williams is a free agent, and former third-round pick Justin Madubuike still has a lot of work to do in order to keep his job, and the rest of their interior defense linemen are some dudes you’ve never heard of. DeMarvin Leal is a rare talent on the inside, and he was even mocked in the top five before this season, but instead he falls a great landing spot in Baltimore.
#15 - Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA) - CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
The top player on the board falls to the Eagles at 15, and he plays a position of need, to boot. Booth is better in man, but his talent allows him to fit into any scheme. His size and length combined with his ball skills and functional athleticism are rare at the position, and allow him to make plays on passes as well as get dirty in the running game. As with all young corners, he might not be elite right away, but learning from Darius Slay will allow Booth to eventually rise to be Philly’s alpha in the secondary.
#16 - Philadelphia Eagles (via IND) - LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
With their second pick in a row, the Eagles take their future defensive captain. Lloyd was the heart and soul of a Utah defense that bullied opponents in the back-half of the season. He improved in pass defense in 2021, so he can stay on the field on third downs. A more polished player than Georgia’s monster linebacker Nakobe Dean, Devin Lloyd will be able to quickly rise up the depth chart and make a difference on the Philadelphia defense.
#17 - Los Angeles Chargers - OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
The Chargers draft another plug and play offensive tackle to pair with recently selected All-Pro rookie Rashawn Slater. Petit-Frere can start at right tackle immediately and solidify what could be a really good offensive line, with Corey Linsley returning at center. Petit-Frere can open up holes on zone runs, and more importantly, he gives franchise QB Justin Herbert more protection.
#18 - New Orleans Saints - WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
With the Michael Thomas situation still in flux, and the Saints lacking any serviceable wideouts, they take an Ohio State wide receiver. Chris Olave fits the Saints relatively conservative offense with his diverse set of polished routes, and downfield separation can get him a high number of targets as the featured receiver if Michael Thomas is dealt.
#19 - Philadelphia Eagles - S Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
The Eagles make another pick for the secondary, and their third defensive selection of the first round with the Pittsburgh-area native Jaquan Brisker. Brisker can replace some veterans on the back end for Philadelphia to truly round out a new-look defense. The Eagles main hope should be that the former JUCO transfer continues his development as a smart, focused free safety.
#20 - Pittsburgh Steelers - QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
It would be a no-brainer. Steeler fans may be losing a franchise icon, but they will still have a Pittsburgh legend under center in 2022. Kenny Pickett emerged as one of the nations best passers last season, throwing 42 touchdowns against 7 picks. The storybook ending to a long college career continues for Kenny Pickett after his Joe Burrow-like ascendance in 2021.
#21 - New England Patriots - S Daxton Hill, Michigan
The third Michigan defender picked in the first round, Daxton Hill is a versatile athlete that can immediately start for the Patriots as a nickel cornerback, replacing Jalen Mills. Eventually he can take the starting safety spot left by the aging Devin McCourty.
#22 - Las Vegas Raiders - iOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
The new Raiders GM will have to correct the mistakes of the old regime, which would include rebuilding a once stout offensive line. While new Raiders center Andre James graded out slightly better than Rodney Hudson in 2021, per PFF, Hudson is a possible future Hall of Famer with some juice left, and was traded away for only a third round pick. Las Vegas the best center in the class at 22, and can still move James to right guard.
#23 - Arizona Cardinals - CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati
Sauce Gardner and his teammate Coby Bryant were the primary reason Alabama chose to play like AJ McCarron was under center, instead of running the offense through Bryce Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, in this year’s Cotton Bowl. Adding a shutdown corner to a bottom-half pass defense may allow Arizona to take the next step in 2022.
#24 - Dallas Cowboys - EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia
Travon Walker can accomplish two things for the Dallas Cowboys. He can replace impending free agent Randy Gregory, and he can let Micah Parsons continue to develop as an off-ball linebacker as he works to fill the void that will almost certainly be left by Leighton Vander Esch. Travon Walker fills a similar role to DeMarcus Lawrence on the other edge.
Notable remaining prospects: Alabama WR Jameson Williams, Ohio State WR Chris Olave, Georgia LB Nakobe Dean, Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder, Liberty QB Malik Willis, Southern California WR Drake London, Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III, Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders