Super Bowl LVI is in the back window as we drive down the merry road that is the NFL offseason. There are few stops before we get to our destination of the 2022 Draft, notably free agency and the Combine.
But everyone loves a mock draft, don’t they? With 32 teams scouring the collegiate ranks for the next superstar, here is how the first round might pan out:
#1 Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Evan Neal (Alabama)
Jacksonville has its franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, now it must do everything it can to put him in a position to win. With LT Cam Robinson set to become a free agent, the Jaguars must consider picking one of the best prospects in this year’s draft with Alabama tackle Evan Neal. Neal is a behemoth at 6’7, 350lb, and he has experience playing inside on the offensive line as well.
#2 Detroit Lions – EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
Edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson stays in the state of Michigan as he heads to the Lions with the #2 overall pick. Hutchinson has a tenacious engine and he racked up 14 sacks and 73 tackles (including 19 for loss) on a playoff calibre Michigan Wolverines roster. The Lions would ideally trade down – they have Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara as starters on the Edge and need help in the middle of their linebacker core. But with no dance partner coming forward they select one of the best prospects in the draft.
#3 Houston Texans – EDGE George Karlaftis (Purdue)
Much like Detroit, Houston would like to get out of the top three and pick up some extra draft capital for its plethora of needs. Houston is currently only scheduled to return two starters in the defensive front seven – ends Jonathan Gannard and Jacob Martin, making this pick seem even more questionable. However, George Karlaftis has the size to move into a pass-rushing DT role, or to replace one of the incumbents on the edge.
#4 New York Jets – EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
Kayvon Thibodeaux certainly has the highlight reel to be considered a top-5 selection, but there are questions surrounding his passion for football and the Oregon man drops to four. Head coach Robert Salah built a formidable pass rush during his time in San Francisco, so picking up an edge rusher is a likely scenario. He could form the makings of a formidable front four alongside Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams.
#5 New York Giants – OT Ikem Ekwonu (North Carolina State)
Ikem Ekwonu is considered by many the best offensive tackle prospect in the draft ahead of Evan Neal, and the New York Giants are delighted he falls to fifth overall. The Giants had the second-to-last scoring offense in both 2020 and 2021, and they need to rebuild the right side of their offensive line as T Nate Solder, G Will Hernandez and C Billy Price all hit free agency. Ekwonu is an athletic phenom and a dominant run blocker, and the Giants must get Saquon Barkley going in 2022.
*Philadelphia Eagles trade (#15, #83 LT Andre Dillard, 2023 1st) with Carolina Panthers (#6)
With three first-round picks this year, and one next year, Philly can be aggressive and go get one of the top talents in the draft. They make this move with the intention of moving back with one – or both – of their remaining first-round picks to re-acquire that first next year. Carolina, meanwhile, has just one pick in the top 100 this year, and has so many holes to fill. Former first-round LT Andre Dillard gets a new start in Carolina, who fill an immediate need.
#6 Philadelphia Eagles – S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)
Philadelphia has a major need at safety with both incumbents Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris scheduled to hit free agency, so they go up and get the best prospect in the draft at the position. At 6’4, 219lb, Hamilton is a playmaker with the physical tools to dominate for years to come. He adds explosive quickness and a high motor to his unrivalled size. He can match up with tight ends, receivers and running backs and is not afraid to make an impact in the run game.
*Minnesota Vikings trade (#12, #70. 2023 3rd) with New York Giants (#7)
The Giants have lots of holes across their team, and they jump at the opportunity to drop down to #12 (with the initial run on the edge rushers taking options off the board). Minnesota is ready to win now as it can potentially return 11 starters on the #14-ranked scoring offense, so an aggressive move to improve the defense makes sense here.
#7 Minnesota Vikings – CB Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati)
Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner had a phenomenal college career in Cincinnati – he gave up zero touchdowns in his two-year tenure, and also recorded six interceptions on just 98 throws his way. He’s 6’3, 200lb, and can match up with the NFL’s biggest receiving threats one-on-one. Minnesota was ranked #28 against the pass in 2021 and it is in real need of secondary help. Gardner would join all-pro Harrison Smith and 2020 third-round pick Cameron Dantzler – both of whom are 6’2+.
#8 Atlanta Falcons – WR Drake London (USC)
With Matt Ryan hitting the twilight of his Hall of Very Good career, he has a Falcons receiving corps which solely consists of 2021 first-round pick tight end Kyle Pitts. With Cordarrelle Patterson set to hit free agency and the future of Calvin Ridley very much in the air, Atlanta almost has to go wide receiver and select the 6’5, 210lb, production machine that is Drake London. In just eight games in 2021, London recorded 88 receptions, 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns.
*Green Bay trade (Aaron Rodgers) with Denver (#9, #40 2023 1st, 2023 2nd)
Two firsts and two seconds might not be even enough to prize Aaron Rodgers away from the Green Bay Packers, but the move makes so much sense now former Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett rules the roost in Denver. Denver’s offense has ranked outside the top 18 in the league since the retirement of Peyton Manning and making a move for Rodgers would turn them into serious contenders.
#9 Green Bay Packers – DT Jordan Davis (Georgia)
Now with a plethora of picks, the Packers settle on the defensive side of the ball for a 10th time in 11 first-round picks. This despite having 10 starters returning. Giant Georgia Nose Tackle Jordan Davis completes the defense as he slots into the middle of the line. The Packers know the value at the receiver position is likely to be at the back end of the first round. Davis is 6’6, 340lb and he can anchor the middle of the line, allowing Kenny Clark to play more in the 3-technique at DE.
#10 New York Jets – OL Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa)
Having addressed the pass rush, the New York Jets now grab the best interior offensive line prospect in the draft in centre Tyler Linderbaum. The center position is currently occupied by Connor McGovern – a former fifth-round pick He ranked top 10 in run blocking and mid-range as a pass blocker in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and he is being paid as a top-4 center in the NFL. Linderbaum is one of the highest-ranking PFF lineman to exit the college ranks in many a year.
#11 Washington Commanders – QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh)
The start of a new era in the nation’s capital as the Washington Commanders take the first quarterback off the board as they select Pitt triggerman Kenny Pickett. Washington’s passing game has ranked #21, #25 and #32 over the last three years, and with a potentially dominant defense already in hand, getting a QB just makes sense. Pickett has all the tools to be successful in the NFL – a live arm, excellent mobility and above-average accuracy.
#12 New York Giants – DT DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M)
Having addressed the offensive line with their #5 overall pick, attention turns to the defensive line as the Giants take Texas A&M Aggie DeMarvin Leal to complete their three-man front. Dexter Lawrence moves to Nose, allowing Leal to dominate in the 3-technique with his combination of power and speed. Leal has an athletic 6’4, 290lb frame which will cause problems in the NFC East for years to come. Another option would be EDGE David Ojabo.
#13 Cleveland Browns – WR Treylon Burks (Arkansas)
In the past three seasons the Cleveland Browns have boasted the #27, #24 and #22 passing offenses – falling down the league rankings year-on-year. If the organisation still believes in Baker Mayfield, it needs to give him the weapons to succeed in the passing game. Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks is 6’3, 225lb and a sure-handed target who uses his catch radius to make contested grabs. An aggressive runner with ball in hand, Burks could feature in the dominant Browns run game as well.
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#14 Baltimore Ravens – CB Derek Stingley Jnr (LSU)
Ahead of the 2021 season, Stingley would likely have been considered a top-five pick and the best corner in the draft class – something he may well still be. A fantastic man-to-man cover corner, Stingley has the size (6’1, 195lb), elite speed and fluidity to excel in the NFL. He also has the ball-hawking ability many teams covet and should be an excellent fit for the Ravens.
#15 Carolina Panthers – OG Kenyon Green (Texas A&M)
After acquiring LT Andre Dillard via the trade down with the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina further solidifies its offensive line with acquisition of Texas A&M Aggies guard Kenyon Green. Green is a run-locking behemoth who could ignite the stagnant career of superstar running back Christian McCaffrey.
#16 Philadelphia Eagles – CB Andrew Booth Jr (Clemson)
Philadelphia was dead last in opposing quarterback passing percentage (69.4) during the 2021 season and gave up 28 touchdowns through the air. A lack of pass rush can be addressed later in the round, but for now Philly looks to fix the back end by pairing Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jnr with Pro Bowler Darius Slay and the already-acquired Kyle Hamilton. His fiery temperament should fit the city of Philadelphia to a tee.
#17 Los Angeles Chargers – EDGE David Ojabo (Michigan)
The Los Angeles Chargers rush to the podium to select Michigan EDGE rusher David Ojabo to partner Joey Bosa in the sunshine state. The Chargers ranked #29 in scoring defense in 2021 and must improve in a division which hosts Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and potentially Aaron Rodgers in 2022. Ojabo is a physical freak, born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He ran a 10.93 100m dash in 2018 and certainly has a high ceiling as an NFL prospect.
#18 New Orleans Saints – QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss)
Despite not having the prototypical size of a modern-day NFL quarterback, Matt Corral relies on his accuracy, poise and decision-making to dissect opposing defences. He has solid mobility in the pocket and a quick release, but he doesn’t possess the ‘other-worldly’ arm which many teams covet in the current NFL climate, but in the Mercedes-Benz Dome he should excel.
*Cincinnati trade (#31, #135, 2023 1st) with Philadelphia Eagles (#19, #162)
We have learned in recent years that teams who are close to contending need to be aggressive to ensure they don’t miss their window to lift a Vince Lombardi. With Philly looking to recoup a first rounder next year, Cincinnati – who you can expect to have a late first-rounder in 2022 – jump up the order to grab a top-10 talent at a position of need.
#19 Cincinnati Bengals – OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State)
Everyone knows Cincinnati’s big need – offensive line. The Ohio-based franchise has the fourth-most cap space in the NFL, and it will likely target some of the best free-agent linemen on the market. Once the FA furore dies down, the Bengals combine their haul with Mississippi State Bulldogs offensive tackle Charles Cross, who is an exceptional pass protector, even if he has work to do in the run game.
#20 Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be hoping to find Ben Roethlisberger’s heir apparent in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft if they do not trade for a veteran before. Desmond Ridder is the selection, a 6’4 signal caller with a live arm – he can make all the throws from an arm strength perspective. He also has exceptional athleticism, making him a true dual-threat QB. He is also a winner, having led the Cincinnati Bearcats to an NCAA National Championship playoff berth
#21 New England Patriots – WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)
New England will be eager to improve a receiving corps which consists of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and N’Keal Harry. Ohio State product Garrett Wilson could become the safety blanket Mac Jones thrives with in Foxboro. Wilson would be a high-volume pass catcher in the slot – reminiscent of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. His route running is terrific and he has exceptional short-area quickness, creating separation in the middle of the field.
#22 Las Vegas Raiders – DT Perrion Winfrey (Oklahoma)
Las Vegas is set to return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball for a unit which has ranked #26, #30 and #24 is scoring defense over the past three years. Two of those vacant spots, however, are at defensive tackle. The 6’4, 295lb Sooners tackle is the perfect fit for the 3-technique in a 4-3 defense, and would add a further pass-rush threat alongside Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue.
#23 Arizona Cardinals – EDGE Jermaine Johnson III (Florida State)
With the prospect of EDGE rusher Chandler Jones hitting free agency, the Cardinals secure a like-for-like replacement – in terms of position at least – in Florida State rusher Jermaine Johnson. He was outstanding at the Senior Bowl and possesses a variety of pass-rush moves relating to power and quickness. Johnson is motoring up draft boards as I write this.
#24 Dallas Cowboys – EDGE Travon Walker (Georgia)
With Randy Gregory set to become a free agent this offseason, and the Dallas offense the #1 scoring unit in the NFL, it makes too much sense for the Cowboys to take a pass rusher in round one, and why not take a National Champion. At 6’5, 275lb, Walker can set up on the edge for Dallas on first and second downs before moving into a pass-rushing DT role on third down, allowing Micah Parsons to rush the passer off the edge. He is also highly capable in the run game.
#25 Buffalo Bills – LB Devin Lloyd (Utah)
The rich get richer as Buffalo strengthens9 the #1 total, scoring and passing defense in the NFL. The Bills are just so well rounded that they can take the best player available. Lloyd has the elite side-to-side capabilities to do it all – he can tackle, cover, diagnose and lead. There’s also the possibility the Bills trade out of the first to secure future draft capital.
#26 Tennessee Titans – OG Zion Johnson (Boston College)
Tennessee has two starting calibre guards in the form of Roger Saffold and Nate Davis, and it also possesses the #5 rushing offense in the NFL. So, taking an interior lineman might seem an oddity. Beat writers in Tennessee suggest Saffold could become a casualty of the cap, so Boston College Guard Zion Johnson would be a handy replacement who can excel in the run game to lead the way for King Derrick Henry.
#27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Trent McDuffie (Washington)
With the departure of Quarterback Tom Brady, and likely a hefty list of departures in free agency, Tampa begins the rebuilding process by selecting corner Trent McDuffie to play across from Jamal Dean. A solid man-coverage corner, he can also play zone effectively and play on the outside or in the slot at 5’11, 195lb. He also enjoys his run-game responsibilities and is a solid tackler. All in all a solid pick for Tampa.
#28 Green Bay Packers – WR Chris Olave (Ohio State)
There is so much up in the air when it comes to the Packers. Does Aaron Rodgers return? Can they find the cap room to franchise Davante Adams? I’ve gone with no on both those issues, as evidenced by the earlier trade, so Green Bay must draft a wide receiver. Olave is an exceptional route runner, allowing him to create separation with relative ease. That could help Jordan Love settle into the starting role.
#29 Miami Dolphins – OT Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa)
With Mike McDaniel taking the reins in Miami, the plan must be to improve the Dolphins’ #30 rushing offense. Who better to instigate it then the offensive coordinator of the #7 rushing offense for the past two years. He drafts tackle Trevon Penning here, a 6’7, 321lb mauler. Penning is nasty, physical and powerful and he will take the attack to the defensive line.
*Jacksonville Jaguars trade (#33 and #70) with Kansas City Chiefs for (#30)
#30 Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Jameson Williams (Alabama)
After getting an LT with the first overall pick, Doug Pederson helps his quarterback in another way by drafting Alabama standout Jameson Williams. He suffered an ACL injury late in the collegiate season, but the 6’2, 188lb speedster has all the tools to be a game changer in the NFL. In addition to his speed, Williams runs exceptional routes to gain separation – he’s a big play waiting to happen and can ignite Lawrence’s career in the NFL.
#31 Philadelphia Eagles – EDGE Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State)
The 6”3 250lb defensive end Arnold Ebiketie is the type of player the Eagles have coveted at the position over recent years. A relentless motor guy who also plays the run extremely well. He may be more suited to a 3-4 OLB role slightly better than a 4-3 DE, but I see a lot of the traits we saw in Brandon Graham when he was drafted. A solid if unspectacular pickup at #31, he fills a need – the Eagles ranked 31st in sacks in 2021.
#32 Detroit Lions – LB Nakobe Dean (Georgia)
The Detroit Lions add another name to the list of players acquired via the Matt Stafford trade as they take Georgia’s off-the-ball linebacker Nakobe Dean. Dean fits the mould of the new style of hybrid linebacker at 6’0 and 225lbs. He is excellent in coverage, an exceptional leader, aggressive in the run game and rarely misses a tackle. The Lions get a steal with the final pick of the first round.