The New York Jets swing a blockbuster trade in 2022 NFL first-round mock draft
The NFL world is buzzing after a whirlwind week to begin the 2022 league year.
Multiple starting quarterbacks are headed to new teams via trades, including Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and Deshaun Watson. Besides the quarterbacks, big names like receivers Davante Adams and Amari Cooper, as well as linebacker Khalil Mack, were also traded.
On top of all the trades, free agency was its usual free-for-all, leading players like cornerback J.C. Jackson, linebacker Von Miller, and receiver Allen Robinson, amongst many others, to find new homes for next year.
With most of the landscape-changing moves already filed to the league office, and less than 40 days until the draft, it’s time to release my second of three first-round mock drafts for 2022.
My first mock, which was released in February, didn’t factor in any of these moves as they all had yet to happen. This time, however, each team’s future intentions are much easier to pin down.
By sorting through the chaos of the free-agent and trade frenzy, I have my official predictions for the 2022 NFL draft’s first round, as of March 22.
Make sure to come back on the day of the draft for my final mock, and without any further delay, let’s get started. The Jacksonville Jaguars are now on the clock.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan (previous selection: Evan Neal)
The Jaguars made their intentions in the draft clear after using the franchise tag on offensive tackle Cam Robinson. With Trevor Lawrence’s protection seemingly squared away, the Jags turn to defense, selecting the 6-foot-7 Hutchinson first overall.
Hutchinson wins with his instincts, technique, and strong lower body, but I have concerns over his stiffness around the edge, and extremely short arms (32.125-inches, 7th percentile for NFL defensive ends). That said, Jacksonville is desperate for quality players, and while Hutchinson’s ceiling may be capped, his floor remains very high.
Hutchinson will immediately start at strong end across from Josh Allen, giving the Jags a dangerous “thunder and lightning” duo off the edges.
2. Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon (previous selection: Aidan Hutchinson)
Detroit would love for the Jags to pass on Hutchinson, letting the hometown talent fall into their laps, but Kayvon Thibodeaux is not a bad consolation prize.
Thibodeaux has been this year’s annual overthought prospect, facing unfound questions over his dedication to the game.
As is the case in most years, these rumors come without evidence, and were most likely intentionally leaked by teams hoping to hurt Thibodeaux’s draft stock, causing him to fall closer to their picks. Instead, Detroit ends Thibodeaux’s fall right away.
The Lions have a massive need for an edge rusher after releasing Trey Flowers. Thibodeaux’s blend of explosion, strength, and flexibility make him the perfect Flowers replacement, with room to grow into one of the best pass rushers in the league in time.
3. Houston Texans: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State (previous selection: Kayvon Thibodeaux)
Edge rusher could very well still be in play for Houston, especially after losing Jacob Martin to the Jets, but with the top two names off the board, the Texans choose to bolster their offensive line and grab the draft’s top lineman in Ekwonu.
“Icky” has the frame and skill set to play either tackle or guard in the pros, and for Houston, he may end up doing both. Ekwonu will likely start his career at guard before kicking out to right tackle, replacing the ineffective Tytus Howard after next year. His devastating run-blocking prowess combined with his tenacious pass blocking skills should make Ekwonu equally effective at either spot.
With the Davis Mills era officially underway, surrounding him with as many quality blockers as possible will give Mills the best chance to succeed.
4. New York Jets: Jermaine Johnson, DE, FSU (previous selection: Jermaine Johnson)
The first unchanged pick of the mock, and barring a surprise trade, I don’t expect it to change at all between now and the night of the draft. Following an active free agency period that addressed many of the roster’s glaring needs, the Jets can feel comfortable drafting the best player available come April, and Jermaine Johnson is the best prospect on the board.
Johnson’s skillset is the most well-rounded, and potentially the most dangerous, of any edge rusher in the draft. He can win with speed, bend, strength, or length, comes with an arsenal of pass-rush moves, and thrives against the run to boot.
He could learn to have more of a plan when rushing, but that’s to be expected since he’s only started 16 career college games. Johnson is far more developed than he has any right to be considering his playing experience, which gives me confidence that he will only continue to improve as he gets more reps.
Adding Johnson to Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, and John Franklin-Myers would give New York a nightmare-inducing front rivaling any unit in the league.
5. New York Giants: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (previous selection: Ikem Ekwonu)
I’m not buying that the Giants are comfortable starting Daniel Jones for another year. With a new coaching staff and new front office staff running the show, plus the Giants’ reported interest in Mitchell Trubisky (who Daboll just coached in Buffalo) before he signed with Pittsburgh, the smoke out of New York indicates a QB change in the near future.
Considering Giants head coach Brian Daboll’s history with raw, athletic passers (see: Allen, Josh), Liberty’s Malik Willis makes the most sense to be the Giants’ next signal-caller. Daboll could see flashes of Allen in Willis’s rocket arm and electric running, and trusting in himself to mold another ball of clay into a superstar, could in turn shock the world by selecting Willis to begin his tenure in New York.
At the very least, if Daboll wants to execute his scheme to its full potential, Daniel Jones isn’t gonna cut it.
6. Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama (previous selection: Malik Willis)
First, the Panthers lost the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, and now, they watch as their preferred draft target unexpectedly goes off the board one pick before their own. Carolina could be in the market to trade up and secure Willis come draft day, but in this case, they incorrectly assume he will fall to them at sixth overall.
In a pivot move, the Panthers look to improve their other major offensive problem besides quarterback, offensive line. Evan Neal profiles as a prototypical NFL tackle with size, length, and impressive foot-speed to keep up with rushers around the edge. His technique is far from perfect, but his natural gifts are elite, and if he learns the finer points, he could end up being the best tackle in the draft.
7. New York Giants: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State (previous selection: Kyle Hamilton)
The Giants added their quarterback of the future two picks earlier in Willis, and now they give him an all-star pass blocker to keep him off the turf.
Charles Cross is the best pass protector in the class, matching excellent technique and hand placement with elite foot-quickness and agility. The Giants do not currently have a starting right tackle on their roster, so I’m confident one of their two early picks will be used on a tackle, especially if they draft a new quarterback.
A first-round haul of Willis and Cross would go a long way towards re-shaping the Giants’ offense in Daboll’s image.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (previous selection: Desmond Ridder)
When I last mocked Ridder to Atlanta in February, I did so under the assumption that Ridder would spend his rookie year backing up Matt Ryan before taking the reins in 2023. Now, I’m mocking Ridder to Atlanta assuming he’ll replace Ryan after Ryan was traded to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Falcons almost immediately signed free agent passer Marcus Mariota after trading Ryan, and while Mariota could be their envisioned starter, his skill set would also fit perfectly as Ridder’s backup and mentor. Ridder’s combination of arm talent, mobility, and experience give him a solid floor as a prospect, while also making him a perfect fit in Atlanta’s offensive system.
Even if Mariota does start this year, Ridder could use the time on the bench to learn the offense and adjust to the pro game at his own pace, just as he would’ve under Ryan in the previous scenario.
9. Seattle Seahawks: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia (previous selection: Charles Cross to Denver)
The Seahawks rebuild started abruptly after Seattle traded quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver for a bevy of draft picks and players. With no passers worth taking this highly left on the board, the Seahawks address their massive need at edge rusher with the massively talented, but massively risky, Travon Walker.
Calling Walker an elite athlete wouldn’t be doing him justice.
Simply put, he’s one of the most athletic edge rushers to enter the league in decades, with combine numbers comparable to Myles Garrett. However, Walker doesn’t dominate on the field the way his testing would suggest. Instead, his biggest impact for the Bulldogs came as a looper on stunts, overpowering guards with speed and power after a running start.
His reps as a true edge rusher were less than inspiring, and he will need to hone his technique if he wants to be a full-time player in the pros. That said, Walker’s potential and their need for a pass rusher are too great for Seattle to pass up.
10. Philadelphia Eagles: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati (previous selection: Garrett Wilson to New York Jets)
The first of two predicted trades, the Eagles use their ample first-round ammo to move up into the top 10 for Bearcat cover-man Ahmad Gardner.
Philly sends the 16th and 19th overall picks to New York in exchange for the 10th and 38th overall picks. The Jets move slightly down the board while converting one of their second-round picks into a third first-round pick. The Eagles land the draft’s top corner, keep the 15th overall pick, and add an early-two as a cherry on top.
As for “Sauce” himself, his size, length, and fluid hips allow him to smother receivers in press-coverage, and he brings some much-needed attitude to the Eagles’ back end. He’ll team up with Darius Slay to give Philly a corner duo the likes of which they haven’t seen since Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha in 2011.
11. Washington Commanders: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (previous selection: Treylon Burks)
The Commanders have their quarterback (for 2023 at least) in Carson Wentz. To help ensure his success, they add the draft’s best wideout in Garrett Wilson to an already talented group.
As I said in February, Terry McLaurin is one of the NFL’s most underrated players, and 2021 draft pick Dyami Brown showed promising flashes as a rookie. However, every team in the NFL runs 11 personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back) more frequently than any other package, so every team needs three quality wideouts.
Wilson profiles as a future starting X receiver capable of making a big play at any moment. His deep speed and savvy routes make him a tough assignment for any defensive back, and he can also create yards after the catch with ease. Wilson would slide right in as a moveable chess-piece splitting time with fellow Buckeye McLaurin in the slot and out wide.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU (previous selection: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner)
Despite rumors he could be traded or released, the Vikings kept pass rusher Danielle Hunter on the roster long enough to accrue an $18 million bonus, all but guaranteeing his place on the team in 2022. With Hunter tied down for at least another year, the Vikings are free to attack the secondary with former Tiger Derek Stingley Jr.
Stingley was viewed as a potential top-five pick after a stellar true freshman season in Baton Rouge, but injuries in back-to-back years stunted his development. Now, Stingley is viewed as somewhat of a reclamation project, with his evaluation centered on getting him back to his 2019 form.
His size, speed, and ball skills are more than first-round worthy, and if he can put the injuries behind him, he should rebound back to his prior greatness.
13. Houston Texans: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame (previous selection: Chris Olave to Cleveland)
The Texans use the first of their new draft picks from the Deshaun Watson trade to replace departing free agent safety Justin Reid with blue-chip prospect Kyle Hamilton of Notre Dame.
Texans head coach Lovie Smith is famous for his zone coverage heavy, two-high safety defenses. In two-high schemes, safeties are tasked with erasing their respective halves of the field, while also coming downhill to support the run. Hamilton’s elite size, range, and eye discipline should allow him to thrive in Houston’s defense early and often.
The Texans aren’t in the position to be letting elite prospects pass them by. Considering Hamilton also fills a position of need, this pick makes too much sense.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa (previous selection: George Karlaftis)
The Ravens are in the market for a new center after losing starter Bradley Bozeman to Carolina in free agency. So, in classic Ravens fashion, they stay calm, stick to their board, and let a talented player fall into their laps.
Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum is the best center prospect to enter the league in quite some time. His strength, technique, football IQ, and athleticism are all top-notch, and his experience in Iowa’s run-heavy offense should make the transition to Baltimore a smooth one.
The AFC North just got a lot tougher with Watson in town, so the Ravens would be smart to give their own superstar quarterback as much help as they can.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Drake London, WR, USC (previous selection: Derek Stingley Jr)
After putting some “Sauce” on their defense, the Eagles use their second, and now final, first-round pick to improve their offense with Trojan pass-catcher Drake London.
DeVonta Smith showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, but he can’t drag the Philly passing game out from the dark depths of Delaware River all by himself. At 6-foot-3 inches tall, London will bring some much-needed size and physicality to the Eagles wideout group, and fits in as an ideal complement to the aforementioned Smith.
Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni was with the Colts when the Colts drafted another big wideout from USC, Michael Pittman. Now, Sirianni gets his own Pittman in Drake London.
16. New York Jets: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (previous selection: Drake London to Philadelphia)
At the start of the offseason, I would’ve put the chances of the New York Jets drafting Jordan Davis, the hulking defensive tackle from Georgia, at about 15 or 20 percent. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.
Now, after a surprisingly aggressive free agency, and a literal superhuman combine performance from Davis, I think it’s not only probable, but potentially inevitable.
Before Jets fans start lighting their pitchforks at the thought of an interior lineman in the first round, here’s why I believe it’s a likely, and ultimately smart decision.
First, a run-stuffing defensive tackle is one of the last remaining starting roles on the team left unfilled after free agency. The Jets let Foley Fatukasi walk to the tune of $20 million guaranteed from Jacksonville, leaving an obvious hole in the interior of their defense. They could also cut tackle Sheldon Rankins to save close to $6 million in cap space, further stressing the need. New York added players at tight end, offensive guard, cornerback, and safety in free agency, but not defensive tackle.
Second, while Davis fills a glaring position of need, he might also be the best player available overall. Jordan Davis is a space-eating, gap-penetrating ogre, dominating blockers with raw strength and shocking quickness for his size. Those who studied Davis’ tape knew he was highly athletic before his legendary combine, but not even his biggest fans predicted he would test that well. Davis’ combine showed his true potential as an elite interior defender.
Lastly, Jets’ head coach Robert Saleh is no stranger to drafting defensive tackles early. The 49ers drafted a defensive tackle in the first round in three out of the four years Saleh was with the team. His defense lives and dies with its ability to get pressure on quarterbacks with only four down linemen. Davis would eliminate any possibility of passers stepping up and away from Jermaine Johnson and Carl Lawson, while also pressuring the quarterback himself.
The Jets’ defensive line was already nightmare-inducing after adding Johnson with the fourth overall pick. Throw in Jordan Davis, and Robert Saleh will be surfing a wave of quarterback tears for many years to come.
17. Los Angles Chargers: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama (previous selection: Jordan Davis)
The Chargers, like the Jets, also need more run-stuffers, and would’ve taken Davis in this spot had he been available. However, with Davis gone, and after adding Sebastian Joseph-Day in free agency, L.A. can feel comfortable giving Justin Herbert an elite deep threat in Alabama’s Jameson Williams.
If not for a torn ACL suffered in the National Championship against Georgia, Williams would be considered one of, if not the best receivers in the draft. His elite speed and acceleration down the field make him a treat to score at any moment. He could learn to be more consistent underneath, but his speed casts so much fear into defenses that he rarely faces press coverage, and is often given extra room underneath for free.
With Herbert’s cannon of a right arm, and Mike Williams drawing coverage on the other side Jameson Williams can use his speed to be an immediate impact player on deep balls, while fine-tuning his skills along the way.
The AFC West is in the middle of an arms race. For the Chargers, adding Jameson Williams is nothing more than loading another clip.
18. New Orleans Saints: Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa (previous selection: Kenny Pickett)
The Saints, like every team in the NFC South outside of Tampa Bay, missed out on Deshaun Watson. In turn, New Orleans re-signed quarterback Jameis Winston to a two-year, $28 million contract, cementing his place as the team’s 2022 starter. With Winston entrenched under center, the Saints look to give him some protection with offensive tackle Tyler Smith from Tulsa.
At the time of this writing, New Orleans’ Pro-Bowl tackle, Terron Armstead, is on a free-agent visit with the Miami Dolphins, with all signs pointing towards Armstead staying in South Beach and signing a deal. If the Saints lose Armstead to Miami, they will be in the market for a new left tackle.
Enter Tyler Smith, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound block of granite with a small-school pedigree and big-time highlights.
Smith’s brute strength and quick hands stop rushers in their tracks more often than not. His technique can get a little sloppy, and he needs to be more controlled in his path around the edge, but with the Saints’ reputation for developing lineman, Smith should only improve and eventually take off with better coaching in the pros.
19. New York Jets: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (previous selection: Tyler Linderbaum to Philadelphia)
If Jets general manager Joe Douglas pulls this off, fans will be building his statue outside of MetLife Stadium before the rookies even land in Florham Park.
After stockpiling his defensive line with Johnson and Davis earlier in the draft, Douglas can add a dynamic weapon for young quarterback Zach Wilson in Buckeye phenom Chris Olave.
Olave has been the forgotten name in a jam-packed receiver class. He was a consensus top-15 pick at the end of his junior season, before shocking the NFL world and returning to Columbus for his senior year. Unfortunately, that extra year did little to improve Olave’s stock, instead allowing for new names to catch the headlines.
Make no mistake, Chris Olave is still a top-flight receiver talent and deserves first-round attention. Standing six feet tall and weighing 187 pounds, Olave’s electric speed, polished routes, and sticky hands make him a reliable target for any quarterback throwing his way.
Olave can create separation at will, and his body control widens his catch radius beyond his slender frame. He’s also versatile, being capable of playing any receiver position, opening the possibilities for play-caller Mike LaFleur.
In total, the Jets leave the first round of the draft with a stud pass rusher in Jermaine Johnson, a gargantuan run-stuffing alien in Jordan Davis, and a shiny new toy for Zach Wilson in Chris Olave, while keeping the 35th overall pick locked and loaded for day two. Sign. Me. Up.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (previous selection: David Ojabo)
If the Steelers want to have any hopes of contending in the AFC North, they’re going to need to improve under center. Kenny Pickett may ultimately not be enough to keep up with the rest of the division, but he certainly will put up a better fight than Mitchell Trubisky.
Speaking of Trubisky, I don’t think his presence rules out the possibility of Pittsburgh drafting a new quarterback. The Steelers are paying Trubisky just over $14 million for two years, roughly $7 million per season. That is hardly starting-caliber money, meaning the Steelers could feel comfortable keeping Trubisky on the bench in favor of Pickett.
As a prospect, Pickett’s best traits are his quick processing, mobility in and out of the pocket, and ability to make plays off-script. Not to mention, Pickett’s biggest concern, his irregularly small hands for the position, shouldn’t be an issue considering he’s already proven he can play in Pittsburgh.
21. New England Patriots: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College (previous selection: Nakobe Dean)
Bill Belichick gave Tom Brady a “welcome-back” present after his return to the league by trading starting guard Shaq Mason to Tampa for a third-round pick. While the move was rightfully questioned by many, Belichick gets the last laugh by snatching the best pure guard in the class in Boston College’s Zion Johnson 21st overall.
Johnson is a plug-and-play NFL guard best suited for teams with power running schemes, the Patriots’ bread and butter. The 6-foot-3, 312-pound mauler uses his impressive core strength to drive defenders across gaps and anchor down in pass protection. He also has plenty of quickness to get up to linebackers at the second level, or to leak out on screen passes.
In New England, Johnson would slide right in for Mason at right guard, teaming up with the newly re-signed Trent Brown to form one of the best right-side-pairings of any team in the NFL.
22. Green Bay Packers: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (previous selection: Andrew Booth Jr to Las Vegas)
Treylon Burks will have the unfortunate duty of replacing Davante Adams in Green Bay, an unfair task for any receiver, let alone a rookie.
After trading Adams to the Raiders, the Packers’ crop of wideouts is in desperate need of a spark of life. As it currently stands, Green Bay only has one returning receiver to see more than 20 targets last year, Allan Lazard. Their only other rostered receivers at all are Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Chris Blair, Malik Taylor, and Juwann Winfree.
Burks would immediately be the best wide receiver on the team as soon as he gets to Green Bay. Standing 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Burks uses his rocked-up frame to out-muscle defenders downfield and as a ball-carrier. He needs to learn to be more refined in his routes, but his natural gifts give him a sound floor to work with.
Despite what he may think himself, Aaron Rodgers is not invincible, and if the Packers want their recommitment to Rodgers to work, they need to supply him with weapons.
23. Arizona Cardinals: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue (previous selection: Kenyon Green)
The Cardinals have plenty of options here. They could take a lineman to help protect quarterback Kyler Murray, a new receiver for him to throw to, or a cornerback to help aid a shaky secondary. However, Arizona chooses none of the above, instead pouncing on the falling George Karlaftis.
Karlaftis, Purdue’s resident “Greek Freak”, is a versatile gap-plugger capable of playing defensive end or defensive tackle depending on the situation. His 6-foot-4 inch, 274-pound frame allows him to hold his own in the run game with ease. As a pass rusher, Karlaftis brings plenty of bend and explosion for his size, pairing his strength with crafty arm-overs to get around tackles or guards.
In Arizona, Karlaftis can learn from one of the best to ever do it in J.J. Watt, before taking over Watt’s role as a base-down end and sub-package defensive tackle.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa (previous selection: Zion Johnson)
Offensive line is by far the Cowboys’ biggest need after losing both right guard Connor Williams and right tackle La’el Collins in free agency. Either position could be addressed with this pick when the draft actually occurs, but with Zion Johnson off the board, tackle makes the most sense, and Trevor Penning is the best tackle left.
Penning has vaulted into the first-round discussion after an impressive Senior Bowl and subsequently more impressive combine. He smoked the track in Indy, running a 4.89 40-yard-dash and broad-jumping 111 inches, at 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds.
Penning’s athletic traits are excellent, but his technique and overall awareness need work. In Dallas, he may take his lumps early, but he will improve with time, and the lessons he will learn from Tyron Smith will be invaluable.
25. Buffalo Bills- Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington (previous selection: Trent McDuffie)
I’m extremely confident that the Buffalo Bills will be taking a Washington corner with the 25th overall pick. Which Washington corner, however, is what I’m still trying to figure out. Having slotted Trent McDuffie in this spot before, this time I’m going with his teammate, Kyler Gordon.
Coming from Washington, Gordon is well-schooled in zone coverage, making him an ideal fit in Buffalo’s defense. He does a fantastic job reading the quarterback’s eyes while keeping the receiver in his periphery, allowing him to stay in phase while making plays on the ball. Gordon is also a sure tackler who shows no fear of making plays against the run, another crucial skill for a zone corner.
I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of the Bills’ draft tendencies (find me someone else who had them taking Gregory Rousseau in the first round last year, I dare you), and as of right now all signs point towards a Husky cover-man being the pick. Both Gordon and McDuffie fit the Bills for the same reasons, so who they ultimately choose will likely come down to their own personal preference.
26. Detroit Lions: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia (previous selection: Devin Lloyd to Tennessee)
Another trade! The Lions send the 32nd and 66th overall picks to the Titans for the 26th pick, and use that 26th pick on Bulldog head-hunter Lewis Cine. With Tampa Bay and Kansas City both needing safeties, and both picking ahead of Detroit, the Lions ensure they get their man in Cine, jumping the Bucs and Chiefs in the process.
Lewis Cine is one of my favorite players in the entire class. He’s a heat-seeking-missile in the back end, flying around the field and laying the wood on anyone who dares carry a ball in his vicinity.
Cine is adept in deep zone coverage and more than holds his own in man on tight ends and running backs. To top it all off, Cine is an elite athlete, running a 4.37 40-yard-dash with a near 37 inch vertical, at 6-foot-2 and 200-pounds.
The Lions need a running mate for returning safety Tracy Waker, and there isn’t a better man for the job than Lewis Cine.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor (previous selection: Jahan Dotson)
A lot has happened in Tampa Bay since my first mock draft in February. Tom Brady shockingly retired, and then less-shockingly came out of retirement. Starting guard Ali Marpet retired, and stayed retired, leading to the aforementioned Shaq Mason trade.
Most importantly, the Bucs used the franchise tag on receiver Chris Godwin, keeping him off the market before locking him down with a new three-year, $60 million contract.
With Godwin back in the fold, the Bucs are free to fill the hole left by safety Jordan Whitehead after Whitehead left for the Jets in free agency, selecting Baylor’s Jalen Pitre 27th overall.
The Bucs couldn’t ask for a better Whitehead replacement than Pitre. Pitre excels close to the line of scrimmage, like Whitehead, making plays against the run and in coverage on slot receivers or tight ends. His athletic traits won’t wow anybody, but his natural instincts and football IQ allow him to react faster than normal players, and help make up for his average speed.
Tampa’s defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, has a long history of producing quality safeties. Pitre’s coach’s pet demeanor in the classroom and junkyard dog attitude on the field should make him one of Bowles’ favorites right away.
28. Green Bay Packers: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (previous selection: Roger McCreary)
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers end up doubling-down at receiver and use both of their first round selections on wideouts come the end of April, but as the board currently stands, Devin Lloyd is just too good for Green Bay to ignore.
Lloyd is not my highest-rated linebacker, that would be Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, but Lloyd is a better fit for the Packers’ defensive scheme and that’s why he is the first off-ball linebacker off the board.
Green Bay needs another inside linebacker to play next to newly re-signed star De’Vondre Campbell in their 3-4 base defense. Unlike Dean, who fits better as a WILL linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, Lloyd has the size and strength to hold up as a 3-4 MIKE. He’s also familiar with the scheme, having played MIKE in a 3-4 at Utah, and calling the defense along the way.
Lloyd’s poor combine performance is a concern, but he’s much more athletic on tape than his numbers suggest, and considering his size, it was always foolish to assume he’d athletically compare to the smaller Dean. The Packers need a downhill inside linebacker who can make plays against the run and succeed in coverage. The tape says that’s Devin Lloyd.
29. Miami Dolphins: Christian Watson, WR, NDSU (previous selection: Trevor Penning)
As I mentioned above when talking about New Orleans, Terron Armstead is likely to sign with Miami any day now. The Dolphins could still draft an offensive tackle in this spot if Armstead does indeed sign, but with no tackles worth taking left available, they give quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a potentially dominant target in Christian Watson from North Dakota State.
Those who only look at Watson’s stats will wonder how a player with 43 catches for 800 yards and seven touchdowns could possibly be a first round pick, but context is needed to fully understand Watson’s numbers.
North Dakota State is a notoriously run-heavy team. The Bison only attempted 255 passes throughout the entire 2021 season. Watson’s 800 receiving yards accounted for 35 percent of their team total of 2,263, despite 15 other players catching passes in 2021.
Every opposing team knew Watson was the target when NDSU did decide to throw, and yet they still couldn’t slow him down.
On the field, Watson’s 6-foot-4 inch frame and blazing 4.36 40-yard-dash speed were too much for most of the FCS corners he lined up against. He has strong hands and a huge catch radius to make grabs outside his frame, and the juice to make plays on deep shots, designed touches, and anything in between.
The Dolphins need another outside threat to go with Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki. Christian Watson could be that, and more.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Andrew Booth Jr, CB, Clemson (previous selection: Jalen Pitre)
The Chiefs are definitely upset that Jalen Pitre is off the board, but with Justin Reid now in town, and a plethora of new receiver talent in the division, adding another quality cover-man is the right call and Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr could be exactly what they need.
Kansas City loves playing press coverage on the outside, slowing receivers down and providing time for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s devious blitzes to get home. However, L’Jarius Sneed is their only proven press-artist, and he can’t cover everyone by himself.
Booth is a long, wiry corner with experience in press coverage. He’s still honing his technique, but his athleticism jumps off the screen on tape. Even if he does lose early in a rep, he’s never completely burned because his recovery speed can compensate in spades.
I have no idea which team will emerge victorious from the bloodbath of the AFC West, but I do know that whichever team survives won’t do so without a talented secondary.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington (previous selection: Darian Kinnard)
The Bengals did a masterful job in free agency of upgrading their offensive line, signing three new starters in Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins. With their line now drastically improved, Cincinnati can attack another major need in the draft, outside cornerback, with Washington’s Trent McDuffie.
Cincy’s defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo runs a complicated, disguise-heavy zone defense that requires its players to know their assignments inside and out. One missed read or wrong assignment can quickly turn into a busted coverage, something Bengals’ fans are all too familiar with after suffering through watching Eli Apple attempt to run the scheme in 2021.
Like Gordon before him, McDuffie has been adeptly trained in zone coverages and should fit right into Cincy’s secondary across from Chidobe Awuzie. His instincts and eyes are actually better than Gordon’s, although Gordon is the better overall athlete. That said, McDuffie still has plenty of juice and should have no trouble keeping up with the skill talent of the AFC North from day one.
32. Tennessee Titans: Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M (previous selection: Matt Corral to Detroit)
Titans general manager Jon Robinson is a better general manager than most of the public realizes. This trade would be another example of Robinson being good at his job.
Tennessee cut starting guard Rodger Saffold for cap purposes, opening the door for them to take an interior lineman early in the draft. However, at 26th overall before the trade-down with Detroit, the only interior lineman worth taking would be Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green. Instead of staying put and taking Green at 26, the Titans add a high third-round pick, number 66 overall, and still land Green at 32 anyway.
Kenyon Green has the potential to play multiple spots along the offensive line, starting games at four of the five possible positions over his time in College Station. In the NFL, he projects best as a guard, where his ample strength can be put to good use. His time at tackle will help him tremendously in pass protection, and Derek Henry will greatly appreciate his power in the run game.