Predicting the most unpredictable NFL draft in recent memory
Today is the day.
The 2022 NFL draft in Las Vegas will officially begin later tonight, and all the speculation, arguing, and anxiety from fans will soon be a thing of the past. Months and months of wild rumors, unexpected trades, and “insider sources” leaking information will all come to a head at 8 p.m. ET on the stage built across from the Caesar’s Forum.
Since the start of the offseason, I’ve put out two prior mock drafts: one right after the Super Bowl and the other a week after the beginning of free agency. Mock 3.0 will be my final mock draft of the year, and the one I will be personally judging for accuracy after all 32 first-round selections have been made.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan (previous selection: Aidan Hutchinson)
Rumors have swirled over Georgia’s Travon Walker possibly being the first overall pick of the Jaguars, due to Jags’ GM Trent Baalke’s history of favoring supreme athletes. However, I’m not buying the hype, and believe the Jags will ultimately follow consensus and select Hutchinson.
The Jags could consider an offensive tackle to help protect last year’s number 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, but after signing left tackle Cam Robison to a large multiyear extension, all signs point to a defensive end in this spot.
It’s been well documented that I’m not personally as high on Hutchinson as most others, but his refined technique, quick first step, and relentless motor should make him an impactful pass rusher early in his career, and the Jags are desperate for impact players.
2. Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon (previous selection: Kayvon Thibodeaux)
The Lions have had plenty of connections to Liberty signal-caller Malik Willis, but with Jared Goff still in the fold, the Lions opt to add the explosive Thibodeaux instead.
Detroit is hungry for a new edge rusher after releasing Trey Flowers, and Thibodeaux is the perfect replacement. His first step is lightning quick, his hips are loose and flexible, and he has enough strength to bull through blockers if they manage to keep up with his speed.
Not to mention, sources close to Thibodeaux have told me that Lions GM Brad Holmes loves the Oregon phenom, and has been in constant contact with him since the combine. Take that for what it’s worth.
3. Houston Texans: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia (previous selection: Ikem Ekwonu)
The Texans are one of a handful of teams that truly could do anything in the first round.
Their roster is so devoid of talent, just about any prospect at any position would be an immediate upgrade. Giving left tackle Laremy Tunsil a proper running-mate is enticing, but Travon Walker’s limitless potential is too much for Houston to pass up.
Walker is a generational athlete with an unfair combination of size, speed, and length. His technique is still a work in progress, but his floor as a run defender and schemed rusher on stunts should allow him to make plays while he learns on the job.
The Texans pass rush unit as it currently stands is lackluster at best. Travon Walker will help in that department immensely.
4. New York Jets: Jermaine Johnson, DE, FSU (previous selection: Jermaine Johnson)
Seminole edge rusher Jermaine Johnson has been my pick for the Jets at fourth overall since my very first mock draft in February, and with the draft now hours away, I’m just as confident that Johnson will be wearing green and white on Sundays now as I was then.
Johnson is a prototypical NFL pass rusher with the size, strength, fluidity, length, and technique to overwhelm any tackle he lines up against. He plays at 100-mph at all times, using his trademark speed to hawk down ball carriers all over the field. Johnson is the ideal edge to pair with Carl Lawson, giving New York two dangerous pass rushers capable of taking over games.
Four straight edge rushers come off the board with the first four picks, a testament to how talented this group of rushers really is.
5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State (previous selection: Malik Willis)
I’m still not confident that the Giants are comfortable with Daniel Jones under center, but with Ekwonu falling to the fifth overall pick, New York’s decision becomes a lot easier.
Ekwonu is the best run blocker in the 2022 draft, routinely creating gaping holes for his backs to run through. In the passing game, Ekwonu’s heavy hands stone rushers in their tracks while his quick feet allow him to keep up around the edge.
New York’s offensive line makeover is still a work-in-progress. Adding Ekwonu would go a long way towards completing that makeover.
6. Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama (previous selection: Evan Neal)
Another pick unchanged from mock 2.0, the Panthers might be in the QB market, but the smarter and more likely scenario sees Carolina adding a top-tier tackle to a bottom-tier offensive line.
Neal is a mammoth of a man, standing 6-foot-7 and weighing an astounding 350-pounds. He blends that size with surprising quickness that he uses to easily lock down pass rushers whether they try to win with speed or power. Neal’s run blocking has flashes of dominance amongst a handful of whiffs, usually due to poor balance and Neal leaning too far over his toes. However, this issue is coachable, and Neal’s pass-blocking chops make him more than worth it for Carolina.
7. New Orleans Saints: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (previous selection: Charles Cross to NYG)
Our first trade!
The Saints send the 16th, 19th, and 120th overall picks to the Giants for the 7th overall pick, which they use to take their new QB of the future in Malik Willis.
Willis has the best physical tools of all the 2022 passing prospects. He has a cannon for a right arm, delivering bullets to all levels of the field without breaking a sweat. He’s also a fantastic runner, breaking tackles and reading his blocks like a full-time running back.
In New Orleans, Willis can iron out the flaws of his game and learn the Saints’ offense on the bench while Jameis Winston handles the starting role, before Willis steps into that role in 2023.
The Saints added extra draft capital through their trade with the Eagles for a reason, and that reason is to ensure they can get their guy in Malik Willis.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (previous selection: Desmond Ridder)
The Falcons could still be in the QB market if they fall in love with Desmond Ridder, but with Marcus Mariota in the fold, the Falcons look to replace suspended wideout Calvin Ridley and make Garrett Wilson the first receiver drafted in 2022.
Wilson is a well-rounded athletic pass-catcher who wins with his speed, route-running, and body control. He has enough juice to scare defenses vertically, creates yards after catch underneath, and can win on jump-balls and through tight coverage. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, great in a wide variety of areas without being elite in any particular aspect.
Wilson will slide right into the role left open by Ridley, and if the Falcons want their Mariota experiment to work, they need to give him weapons.
9. Seattle Seahawks: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State (previous selection: Travon Walker)
Like Atlanta, Seattle is a possible landing spot for Desmond Ridder, but the Seahawks can’t pass on Charles Cross’s talents.
Cross is the most natural pass blocker in the class. His foot speed is excellent, and he combines that agility with impressive balance and flexibility to absorb power from awkward body positions without giving up ground. He’s a more than serviceable run blocker as well, driving defenders out of their gaps at the snap and churning his legs to push them out of the play entirely.
Seattle currently only has three tackles on their roster, all of which were rookies in 2021. To say they’re in need of a tackle would be a massive understatement.
10. New York Jets: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama (previous selection: Ahmad Gardner to Philadelphia)
My previous mock featured the Jets trading down from the 10th overall pick, picking up the 16th and 19th overall picks in the process. This time, however, the Jets stay at 10 and add the most dynamic playmaker the 2022 draft has to offer, Alabama’s Jameson Williams.
Williams is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the national championship game against Georgia, and likely won’t be ready to play until sometime in October of 2022.
That said, when Williams is on the field, he’s absolutely electric. His elite speed makes him a tough assignment for any cornerback, as Williams can simply run by most corners with ease. On top of his deep threat ability, Williams flashes strong hands to make catches outside of his frame or through traffic and has impressive tackle-breaking ability to maximize yards-after-catch.
After missing out on the Tyreek Hill sweepstakes, the Jets are still in need of a fear-instilling speed-freak to pair with Elijah Moore, and even if he won’t be available for Week 1, there’s no better consolation prize than Jameson Williams.
11. Washington Commanders: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (previous selection: Garrett Wilson)
Back-to-back wideouts come off the board as the Commanders select Ohio State’s Chris Olave to be former Buckeye Terry McLaurin’s new partner in crime.
Olave is one of the most underrated players in the entire draft and my personal WR1. He’s an elite technician who runs pristine routes and tracks the ball in the air like a 10-year NFL veteran. On top of his polish, Olave is a dangerous deep threat, leading all of college football in catches, yards, and touchdowns of 20 or more yards since his sophomore year in 2019.
The Commanders have put all of their eggs into the Carson Wentz basket. If they want Wentz to succeed, surrounding him with quality pass-catchers will only help.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati (previous selection: Derek Stingley Jr)
Many expect Sauce Gardner to be gone well before the Vikings make their pick at 12th overall, but with the run on pass rushers and pass blockers in the top 10, a slight fall is a definite possibility.
Gardner is the best corner in the class, using his size and agility to mirror wideouts up and down the field. He’s capable in man or zone, and despite being a corner, Gardner has no issues coming downhill and making tackles. Most impressively, Gardner has never given up a touchdown over his three years as a Bearcat.
Cameron Dantzler has had an up and down career so far, and Patrick Peterson can’t play forever. On top of the Vikings’ need at the position, the value of Sauce Gardner makes this pick a no-brainer.
13. Houston Texans: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame (previous selection: Kyle Hamilton)
Kyle Hamilton, the draft’s top safety, heads to Houston to replace former Texans safety Justin Reid after Reid left for Kansas City in free agency.
In Head Coach Lovie Smith’s Cover-2 defense, Hamilton will thrive as a half-field safety, using his instincts and range to drive on the ball or come down to play the run. He also has versatility as a potential dime-linebacker, giving the Texans a rangy, sideline-to-sideline chesspiece to move around the field as they please.
As I said above, the Texans are severely lacking talent. They simply can’t afford to let a blue-chip prospect like Hamilton pass them by.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU (previous selection: Tyler Linderbaum)
Derek Stingley to the Ravens makes too much sense not to happen if Stingley is available with the 14th overall pick.
Stingley is at his best when in press-man coverage, Baltimore’s specialty. Injuries and scheme changes hurt Stingley in the years after his stellar true freshman season, but in Baltimore, Stingley will be back in a scheme that better suits his talents. His silent assassin attitude fits the Ravens like a glove, and his suffocating play-style is exactly what Baltimore looks for in their cover-men.
Stingley and Marlon Humphrey would give the Ravens a capable press artist on both sides of their defense. Getting to watch Stingley match up with former teammate Ja’Marr Chase twice a year is just icing on the cake.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Drake London, WR, USC (previous selection: Drake London)
After adding the “slim reaper” DeVonta Smith in the first round last year, the Eagles add some size to their receiving corps in the form of USC Trojan Drake London.
The 6-foot-5 London is a contested-catch specialist, boxing out defenders and attacking the ball like an NBA power forward going for a rebound. He has strong hands to secure the ball in the air, and times his jumps well to snatch the ball at its highest point. His speed overall is underwhelming, but with Smith as the designated deep threat, London can handle the dirty work underneath and over the middle, and won’t have to worry as much about winning down the field.
Whether Jalen Hurts is actually the Eagles’ future at quarterback is still up in the air, but adding Drake London will round out Philly’s receiver room for whoever ends up throwing passes in the city of brotherly love.
16. New York Giants: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (previous selection: Jordan Davis to NYJ)
The Giants picked up two extra first-round picks in the trade with the Saints, the first of which they use on the draft’s top linebacker, Utah’s Devin Lloyd.
Lloyd is a do-it-all middle linebacker who can stop the run just as easily as he can cover downfield or rush the passer. He’s extremely smart and instinctive, reading plays before the snap and getting himself in position to take the ball away. Lloyd is also a dangerous blizter, beating guards and tackles alike with pass rush moves that would make most defensive ends jealous.
New York has had a need at linebacker for what feels like decades at this point. Devin Lloyd is exactly what the G-Men need to end the drought.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College (previous selection: Jameson Williams)
The Chargers have a bonafide star quarterback in Justin Herbert, now they need to make sure he stays on the field and off the injury report.
Zion Johnson is the draft’s top guard prospect by a wide margin. His brute strength makes him a great run blocker, easily capable of digging interior defensive lineman out of their gaps. In pass protection, Johnson shows excellent awareness to pick up stunts, a strong anchor against power rushes, and looks for work to help his teammates when left without someone to block himself.
LA’s current guard depth chart doesn’t inspire much confidence. Adding Zion Johnson will change that.
18. Philadelphia Eagles: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue (previous selection: Tyler Smith to New Orleans)
Philly helped their offense with their prior first-round selection, now it’s time to address the defense.
Yorgos “George” Karlaftis definitely lives up to his “Greek Freak” nickname, dominating the opposition with raw strength and impressive quickness at 274-pounds. Karlaftis plays with a red-hot motor, never giving up on a play until he hears the echo of the whistle. He’s capable of playing as a traditional defensive end or lining up inside as a defensive tackle, where his pass-rush skills are a massive mismatch for interior offensive linemen.
Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman has a history of prioritizing the trenches. Adding George Karlaftis would be a classic Roseman move.
19. New York Giants: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (previous selection: Chris Olave to NYJ)
Rumors have recently surfaced that the Giants are looking to trade last year’s first-round pick, receiver Kadarious Toney. Most pre-draft rumors aren’t worth paying much attention to, but with a new coach and GM in place with no ties to Toney, this one might have some truth to it. Enough so that I think Toney will be moved, and the Giants will replace him with Arkansas’ Treylon Burks.
Burks, like Toney, makes his money as a playmaker in space, turning short passes into long gains after the catch. He’s built like a running back, using his rocked-up 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame to run through arm tackles and box out defenders when the ball is in the air. Burks can line up all over the formation, seeing time as an outside receiver, slot receiver, and even in the backfield.
That versatility and fit as a Toney replacement make Burks the perfect pick for the Giants in this spot.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers, Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (previous selection: Kenny Pickett)
It’s no secret that the Steelers are in the market for a new signal-caller, and after missing out on Malik Willis, they turn to the next best passer left on the board, Cincy’s Desmond Ridder.
Ridder is a dual-threat quarterback with a championship pedigree. He’s only lost six games over his four years as a starter while throwing for over 10,000 yards and tossing 87 touchdowns in that same timeframe. He also racked up over 2,000 yards and scored 29 touchdowns on the ground, while averaging 4.3 yards-per-carry along the way.
Pittsburgh signed Mitchell Trubisky in free agency as a stop-gap after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, but highly I doubt that stops them from drafting another passer early.
21. New England Patriots: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (previous selection: Zion Johnson)
Jets fans, I’m so sorry.
In classic New England fashion, the Patriots stick to their guns and take the best player available, that being Georgia terminator Jordan Davis. Davis is a space-eating, pocket-pushing, gap-shooting mad man that will perfectly fit into New England’s defensive scheme, having played in a very similar defense in Athens.
Defensive tackle isn’t the biggest need for the Pats, but Bill Belichick has always valued size on the interior and could see shades of Vince Wilfork in Davis.
22. Green Bay Packers: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State (previous selection: Treylon Burks)
The Packers’ need for receivers is well documented at this point, and with the top five wideouts already off the board, Green Bay swings for the fences and drafts Christian Watson 22nd overall.
Watson is the most physically gifted receiver in the entire class. He has a daunting frame at 6-foot-4 and 210-pounds, with equally terrifying 4.36 speed, and top-tier leaping ability. In the Bison’s run-heavy offense, Watson’s opportunities were few and far between, but when he did get the chance to make a play, more often than not, he did. In 2021, Watson accounted for an astounding 35% of his team’s receiving yards by himself, despite 15 other players catching passes for NDSU as well.
Watson has struggled with drops, and his route tree is far from diverse, but if he can gel with Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers quickly, he could end up being the best receiver of all the 2022 hopefuls.
23. Arizona Cardinals: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington (previous selection: George Karlaftis)
Budha Baker has been starving for help in the Cardinals’ secondary for what feels like his whole career. This year, that comes to end with the addition of fellow Husky cover-man Trent McDuffie.
McDuffie is one of a handful of players making a case to be the third cornerback off the board, along with Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr, Florida’s Kaiir Elam, and McDuffie’s own teammate, Kyler Gordon. While Arizona could fall for any of the bunch, McDuffie gets the nod for his advanced instincts and quick twitch in off-zone coverage, the preferred defense of Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
I’m not buying the Kyler Murray trade speculation; I expect the Cardinals to draft as if Murray will be part of their future.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M (previous selection: Trevor Penning)
After losing two starters on their offensive line in free agency, right guard Connor Williams and right tackle La’El Collins, Dallas is in major need of new bodies up front. Kenyon Green gives the Cowboys the unique option of filling either open spot, whichever Dallas feels helps them the most.
Green started at four different positions along the Aggies’ line in 2021, performing admirably at all of them. His consistent steady play while moving around so often speaks to his preparation and natural ability. In Dallas, Green could fit at either tackle or guard, allowing the Cowboys to get their best five players on the field, regardless of position.
25. Buffalo Bills: Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington (previous selection: Kyler Gordon)
Kyler Gordon is the ideal fit for the Bills for the same reason that Trent McDuffie was a fit for the Cardinals, being battle-tested in complex zone coverages.
Gordon may not have the same level of instincts as McDuffie, but he’s more athletic and has a higher overall ceiling. Despite lacking those elite instincts, Gordon is still highly experienced in zone coverage and should have no trouble sliding right into Buffalo’s defense across from Tre’Davious White.
As I said in my previous mock draft, I’m confident one of the Husky cornerbacks will be a Buffalo Bill by the end of tonight. Which one is yet to be seen, but my money is on Kyler Gordon.
26. New York Jets: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia (previous pick: Lewis Cine to Detroit)
In March, I had the Lions trading up with the Titans to land the red blur from Athens, safety Lewis Cine. This time, it’s the Jets coming up to 26 to swipe Cine out from under Tampa Bay. New York sends the 35th, 69th, and 117th overall picks to Tennessee in exchange for the 26th and 90th overall picks.
Cine was made in a lab to play free safety in Robert Saleh’s defense. He’s blazing fast on the back end, flowing sideline to sideline with ease. On top of his speed, Cine is a vicious hitter who flattens ball carriers whenever they get close to him, and rarely misses tackles, a vital trait for any team’s last line of defense.
In New York, Cine will mainly play deep safety, while free-agent signing Jordan Whitehead will play closer to the line of scrimmage, giving the Jets their own safety duo reminiscent of Saleh’s tutor Pete Carroll’s excellent pair of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Arnold Ebeketie, DE, Penn State (previous selection: Jalen Pitre)
The Bucs miss out on Cine, and while Jalen Pitre is certainly tempting as a backup plan, I have a feeling Bucs’ GM Jason Licht will see a lot of Shaquille Barrett in Ebeketie, and won’t be able to pass him up.
Ebeketie has been a late riser as a potential first-round option, but he’s definitely worth the consideration. He has an ideal pass-rusher build at 6-foot-2 and 250-pounds with 34-inch arms, giving Ebeketie an automatic leverage and reach advantage against most blockers he faces. He also has an explosive first step off the snap, and pliable hips around the corner to turn pressures into sacks.
Ebeketie’s natural pass-rushing gifts are comparable to the best the draft class has to offer. If he hones his technique to match those gifts, this late riser could very well end up being a steal at 27th overall.
28. Green Bay Packers: Andrew Booth Jr, CB, Clemson (previous selection: Devin Lloyd)
The Packers gave Aaron Rodgers a new go-to target earlier in the draft with Christian Watson. Now it’s time to give Jaire Alexander the running-mate he desperately needs, and Andrew Booth Jr is just the man for the job.
Booth is an exceptional athlete with dynamic movement skills and jaw-dropping recovery speed. He can change direction on a dime, using that agility to mirror receivers down the field in man or break in the ball in zone. Booth’s instincts and awareness could use some work, but he’s far from clueless and should improve in those areas with time and reps alongside Alexander.
Green Bay could very well double-dip at wide receiver if they value another wideout in high enough regard, but I think the most likely scenario is the offense and defense sharing the love.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan (previous selection: Christian Watson to Miami)
Their first of two back-to-back picks in Round 1, Kansas City adds the versatile Dax Hill to complete their safety overhaul.
Hill can best be described as a “defensive back”, capable of playing practically anywhere in the secondary. He predominately lined up as a slot cornerback for the Wolverines but also spent time at both safety spots. Hill has exceptional cover skills in both man and zone, erasing slot receivers and tight ends alike down the field.
Hill should have no issue beating out Daniel Sorensen for the other starting safety spot opposite Justin Reid, and will do a lot to help Chiefs fans forget about letting go of Tyrann Mathieu.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: DeVonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia (previous selection: Andrew Booth Jr)
Georgia’s “other” defensive tackle, DeVonte Wyatt, finally comes off the board at the end of the first round, heading to Kansas City to give Chris Jones some much-needed assistance on the interior.
Wyatt is basically the opposite of Jordan Davis. He’s on the smaller side for defensive tackles at 6-foot-3 and 304-pounds, but he makes up for his lack of size with devastating explosiveness. Wyatt is a savant at timing snap counts and angling his body to split gaps and get into the backfield, shutting plays down as quick as they begin.
He probably won’t ever be an elite run-stuffer like his teammate Davis, but Wyatt more than holds his own against the run, and his value on passing downs makes him more than worth the pick.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida (previous selection: Trent McDuffie)
The Super Bowl runner-up Bengals could very well be swayed by the idea of adding Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum here, but unless they expect Joe Burrow to throw four touchdowns every game, they need to round out their defense.
Cincinnati lacks a true alpha in their cornerback room, opening the door for the 6-foot-1 Elam to step in and contribute right away. Elam is an aggressive cover-man who thrives in off-man coverage. He can backpedal faster than most normal people can run, allowing him to stay square and stacked on top of wide receivers without fear of getting beat overtop.
With the excessive receiver talent in the AFC North nowadays, Cincy needs to improve their secondary or run the risk of their Super Bowl appearance being a one-hit-wonder and not a routine occurrence.
32. Detroit Lions: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (previous selection: Kenyon Green to Tennessee)
In almost poetic fashion, the Lions use one of the draft picks gained from the Matthew Stafford trade to select another strong-armed SEC signal-caller as their next quarterback of the future, taking Matt Corrall from Ole Miss with the final pick of the first round.
Corral was one of the few unexpected players to receive an invite to the draft, an indication that he’s likely to be drafted within at least the top 50. However, I think Corral’s invite is a sign that the Lions plan to bypass quarterback early in the round, instead, planning to wait until the end of the night to address the position, knowing Corral is all but certain to be available.
Corral’s physical tools are second only to Willis in terms of 2022 prospects, although his transition to the pro game may take some time after playing in Lane Kiffin’s spread scheme in Oxford. With Jared Goff still in the mix, Corral, like Willis in New Orleans, can be gradually eased into the starting job over time, instead of being thrown to the wolves as a rookie.
Spending his rookie year adjusting to the pro game is the best thing for Matt Corral’s chances of success. In Detroit, he’ll get just that.