Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett highlight the top 10

We’re moving ever closer to the 2022 NFL Draft at the end of April. As things progress in free agency, team needs to become more explicit. A feel for where each player’s “draft stock” also starts to carve its way into our atmosphere. The process is a crapshoot, and there will be multiple massive surprises on Day 1. With so much trade movement, what will we see come draft night? This 2022 NFL Mock Draft tries to make an educated guess.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16

There is a lot of positional value going on early in this draft. The class is heavy up top with pass rushers, offensive tackles, wide receivers, and cornerbacks.

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Mich.

Aidan Hutchinson has officially become the draft media darling. As much as a tackle still makes sense for the Jaguars after they hilariously franchise-tagged Cam Robinson for a second time, it would be surprising to see. Ikem Ekwonu feels like a perfect fit, but they decided to throw money at the problem for 2022.

Hutchinson is an excellent complement to Josh Allen. And as we’ve seen recently from teams like San Francisco and Las Vegas, a pass rush can change the outlook of an entire defense. Hutch is the whole package as a pass rusher, minus the fact that he has just seventh percentile arm length.

2) Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Malik Willis is a long-term project for the future. In a vacuum, he’s not worth the second overall pick. However, the tax on drafting a quarterback is high, and there’s no guarantee that the Lions will be in a position to select their franchise talent in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Willis has all the physical tools necessary to be a franchise quarterback. He must progress his process and become cleaner overall, but the ball of clay is there. There’s no point in betting the farm on a thoroughbred that didn’t make the cut as a racehorse. No, the farm is bet on that temperamental horse that needs around-the-clock assistance but has the potential to win the Kentucky Derby.

In the modern NFL, quarterbacks are much the same. There aren’t many “traditional” pocket QBs out there anymore. The game evolved. Willis is that evolution.

3) Houston Texans: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Admittedly, Evan Neal only happens in Houston if they decide to move on from Laremy Tunsil. It would be a tough pill to swallow for Texans fans considering what they gave up to get him, but it might be the front office’s only realistic option.

Neal or Ekwonu could be the first tackle off the board in this class. Given Charles Cross’ footwork and smooth pass set, he could be a surprise as the first tackle off the board. But Neal’s experience at three different positions could also allow Houston to draft him as they figure out Tunsil’s future. He could play on the right side in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft scenario.

4) New York Jets: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia

Travon Walker seems like a glass ceiling breaker. He only had 7.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks in 2021. The production doesn’t exist. Usually, those prospects fall to the wayside because context can be lost.

Walker didn’t produce because he wasn’t asked to produce. In modern “odd front” defenses, his role as a 270-pound defensive end is almost more similar to a defensive tackle than a traditional defensive end. If he was asked to pin his ears back more often and rush from a wide-nine alignment, maybe he’s the Heisman contender on the defensive side of the ball.

He’s the perfect “better pro than college player” candidate.

5) New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Anonymous quotes about a lazy work ethic aside, it seems as though Kayvon Thibodeaux will be the next Oregon player to drop because the East Coast elites didn’t want to stay up to watch the West Coast play football.

Even at 250 pounds, Thibodeaux was very impressive against the run during his time at Oregon. And while bench press isn’t a very good barometer of how good a football player is (even from an on-field strength perspective), it can prove work ethic. Despite weighing in the 20th percentile, Thibodeaux’s 27 reps of 225 pounds were in the 78th percentile.

The Giants desperately need pass-rush help. They may have gotten the most talented player in the class with the fifth pick.

6) Carolina Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

If you’re a Carolina fan, please refer to the second overall pick for why Kenny Pickett going so high might be a mistake. However, despite one’s personal feelings about this quarterback class, it feels inevitable that three or more go in Round 1.

We’ve heard rumblings that David Tepper is effectively writing “Kenny Pickett no matter what” on a bar napkin every day and tossing them in random spots around the facility. But what is the Pittsburgh quarterback’s realistic upside? Sure, he could be Tom Brady in a one-in-a-million stroke of luck, but he doesn’t even possess Brady’s 40-plus-year-old arm.

If Pickett is a more athletic Kirk Cousins, is it worth it? In the NFC South, with an aging Brady, a lost Falcons franchise, and the Saints without Drew Brees and Sean Payton, maybe. Perhaps an elevated bus driver could lead a great roster to the promised land. But it won’t be easy.

7) New York Giants (from CHI): Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

It would be great to surround Daniel Jones with offensive linemen here in the top 10, but the chips don’t fall correctly for New York. They need inside blockers and a right tackle. Aside from Neal, a right tackle doesn’t deserve to go in this range.

Ahmad Gardner‘s selection probably means the end of James Bradberry in New York, but that’s okay because they’ll at least get something for the cornerback in a trade. Gardner’s tape led to questions about his long speed because he largely played against lesser competition. His Alabama tape and his athletic testing which concerns those. He’s a perfect fit for Wink Martindale’s man-heavy defensive scheme.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Jordan Davis, DT, Geogia

Jordan Davis might be the best player in this class. The issue is his position. He is a 340-pound defensive tackle with only 7 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 42 career games. But the problem with looking at the box score to judge a player’s worth is you miss the details.

ALL of Georgia’s defensive metrics took a sharp decline with Davis off the field. He’ll probably only play 50-70% of the defensive snaps at the next level. That’s a large downside to drafting an even larger human. But on those snaps, he will transform the defense. When we talk about players who make others better around them, Davis might be the poster child.

Drafting Davis brings a defensive face to Atlanta’s roster. He went to Georgia and is from up the road in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a rebuild that will take time, the Falcons need that face.

9) Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

Duane Brown is still in play for the Seahawks, but Ikem Ekwonu could be the future. Seattle loves to run the football. No blocker is more physical and athletic at the second level than Ekwonu. He’s also explosive enough to meet most any rusher to a landmark.

There’s no quarterback worthy of a pick here. Even searching for possible becomes difficult. As much as having a quarterback matters, risk management is the true name of the drafting game.

Ekwonu will most likely be a stout blindside blocker for the next decade. His year-to-year improvement proves his desire to be the best.

10) New York Jets (from SEA): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

For a while, it seemed as though positional value wouldn’t be a limiting factor in Kyle Hamilton‘s NFL mock draft position. Now, it seems his questionable 40 time could be an additional culprit. There’s a chance he falls well past this point, too.

The do-it-all safety has ridiculous size for the position. On a team full of NFL defenders as a freshman, he was already the best player on the field. The Jets can move him and Jordan Whitehead around interchangeably in two-high looks. Neither are elite single-high safeties, but both can survive that role in “middle of the field closed” coverages.

11) Washington Commanders: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Washington would have loved to see Hamilton fall one more spot, but they received no such luck. However, drafting a receiver to take some pressure off Terry McLaurin and try to help Carson Wentz survive is a great consolation prize.

Garrett Wilson still needs to add a bit of nuance to his game as a route runner, but his tape is smooth and explosive. While he only jumped 36 inches, he’s near cornerbacks’ shoulder pads as he elevated for passes.

12) Minnesota Vikings: Kaiir Elam, BC, Florida

Tea Kaiir Elam slide in draft stock doesn’t make much sense. He possesses good route recognition skills in both man and zone coverages. Although he’s not as long as originally anticipated, he ran a 4.39 despite having just a middling 1.55 10-yard split. He’s smooth, he’s fast, he has the prototypical size, and he has good tape. The mock draft slide seems overblown.

13) Houston Texans (from CLE): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Derek Stingley Jr. is another in the long line of LSU defensive backs that begin at the top of NFL mock drafts before tumbling down to earth. Stingley has some of the most natural ball skills a cornerback could have. He also possesses the athleticism and strength to hold up against quicker and stronger receivers all the same.

Injuries and an inability to replicate his 2019 performance hurt his stock, but there’s no reason why Houston should pass on Stingley if they’re looking to improve from their last place defensive dropback success rate in 2022.

14) Baltimore Ravens: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State

Jermaine Johnson II is a perfect piece to fit opposite Odafe Oweh. While he’s an older prospect who has a bit of hip and ankle stiffness compared to the top players, he makes up for it in other areas.

First, Johnson is probably the most consistent run defender in the class at the position. Not only is he a wall on the outside, but he’s also able to do it at under 260 pounds. He has ridiculous length that consistently causes issues. Second, he’s unbelievably explosive, which is evident when he runs through an offensive tackle’s chest before they can react.

15) Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Drake London, WR, USC

The Eagles have drafted and signed bigger receivers in the past without much success. Goal Drake London is different. While London led the NCAA in contested catches, he also caught 88 passes total in his first season focusing solely on football after starting out as a two-sport athlete at USC.

The 6-foot-3 receiver elevates and secures passes like a rebound, but he is also an underappreciated route runner. He snaps off routes with efficiency and would be a nice complement to DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins.

16) Philadelphia Eagles (from IND): George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

George Karlaftis jumped 38 inches at 266 pounds and ran a 4.71 at Purdue’s Pro Day. It was reportedly 28 degrees during said workout. While Karlaftis’ production hasn’t matched his freshman season, he also was carrying the burden of being tea good player on the Boilermakers’ defense. He never found many clean looks in 2021.

Brandon Graham is 33, and Karlaftis would be a nice Yin to Haason Reddick’s Yang.

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