Following the Wild Card Round, we now know the 2022 NFL Draft order through the 24th pick, so I’ve updated my NFL Mock Draft 2.0 to include the six teams whose season ended last week. The deadline for underclassmen to declare has also expired, meaning we now know who will be in the 2022 NFL Draft.
There were quite a few prominent prospects who chose to return to school, but we still hit triple-digits in underclassmen forgoing their remaining eligibility. Here’s a look at my updated NFL Mock Draft first-round predictions based on the 24 picks we know.
2022 NFL Mock Draft 2.1 (Top 24)
1. Jacksonville Jaguars, Evan Neal, OT, Alabama (2 Big Board Rank)
I could see the Jaguars going in several different directions, but this is the need that trumps them all. When you draft Trevor Lawrence first overall, putting talent around him is the logical next step. When healthy, I think this offense has weapons, but the group in front of him needs to be better.
Lawrence was in the top five in being pressured and top ten in hits this season. If Jacksonville wants his play to improve in year two, it starts with giving him better protection. Evan Neal has played several positions along the offensive line, and this year he proved to be a capable left tackle.
According to Pro Football Focus, in 1,496 career pass-block snaps, Evans has been credited with just five sacks. Two of those came in 650 snaps of pass protection on the blindside this year. Yes, one of the top edge rushers could fit here, but I’m sticking with Neal until we know the defensive scheme going forward.
2. Detroit Lions, Aidan Hutchinson, DL, Michigan (5)
The Lions haven’t been good at much in 2021, but their passing defense has been awful. They are one of only five teams to allow opposing quarterbacks to have a rating north 100.0, and of those five, they are last in sacks and hits on the passer.
That’s good news considering Thibodeaux and Aiden Hutchison have emerged as two of the top overall prospects on my board. I strongly considered Thibodeaux, but the Lions 3-4 scheme is ideal for Hutchinson.
While he slimmed down this year to improve his sack production as a true edge player, Hutchinson was a five-tech in Michigan’s defense in past years. It’s tough to compare anyone to J.J. Watt, but Hutchinson genuinely fit the bill prior to dropping down in weight.
In this scheme, he could bulk back up and be a five-tech in the base defense while rushing from any spot in the nickel. I honestly believe that is how an NFL team can get the most out of his outstanding skillset.
3. Houston Texans, Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon (1)
The situation in Houston has been a mess this year, from Deshaun Watson’s absence to Justin Reid’s benching and Zach Cunningham’s release. David Culley has talked a lot about standards, making this a good fit.
Despite battling an ankle injury in 2021, Thibodeaux took his game to another level. There were times where he single-handedly took over games, and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t at the top of most teams’ boards.
I would have liked to see him implement more variety in his pass-rush repertoire, but he’s got the strength and athleticism to grow quickly in that area once Lovie Smith gets his hands on him. Houston is on the precipice of a major rebuild, and getting the top prospect in this class would be a great way to start.
4. New York Jets, Derek Stingley, CB, LSU (3)
The same case can be made for the Jets that I gave for Jacksonville. Zach Wilson led the NFL in the percentage of snaps in which he was pressured, and the only reason he’s not higher in hits and total pressures is that he missed time.
If Neal were available, I could see them making him the third lineman they’ve spent a first-round pick on in as many years. I also considered Tyler Linderbaum, Ikem Ekwonu, and Charles Cross, but Stingley was too good to pass on.
There will undoubtedly be questions about his health after struggling with injuries over the past several seasons, but the upside is there to be a shutdown corner. If he can work out for scouts, I expect him to earn a top-five grade in this group. That is why he is the first cornerback off the board in the NFL Mock Draft.
The Jets were 31st in interceptions (7) this fall and 26th in passes defensed. They were also 30th in opponent completion percentage and last in passing yards per attempt.
5. New York Giants, Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa (6)
I don’t know if Saquon Barkley or Daniel Jones will ever live up to the lofty draft picks Dave Gettleman spent on them, but no one is going to succeed in that offense until the line is fixed. Andrew Thomas has improved in his second year, but the line as a unit has been a disaster.
Nick Gates was a solid piece, but after a half-dozen surgeries on his leg, his long-term future in football is in jeopardy. Linderbaum would be an excellent addition to this group as someone terrific in pass protection and run-blocking.
It’s rare that an offensive lineman can be a game-changer, but Linderbaum can be the kind of presence that helps gel that group up front. Once the Giants fill their vacancies at general manager and head coach, we will get a more accurate picture of their draft plans.
Still, with Jones and Barkley likely on their last leg in the Big Apple, I’m not sure how anyone can truly evaluate them without improving up front.
6. Carolina Panthers, Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (29)
I don’t believe any quarterback should be selected with a top-ten pick this year, but here is what I do know. If Carolina is giving Matt Rhule one more year, winning is the only thing that will secure his job beyond 2022.
To win, they have to get better at quarterback, meaning this selection has to help secure one. I think it’s best spent in a trade for a veteran like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Wilson played a good portion of his college career at North Carolina State, while Watson was just south, so both are familiar with the area.
However, if the Panthers strike out on that front, they have to go with the top signal-caller here. That’s Corral in my NFL Mock Draft. He’s got the best combination of upside and production of any passer in this class, and giving him weapons like D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey (if he is in Carolina) would be dangerous.
Over Corral’s last two seasons at Ole Miss, over 50 percent of his 493 completions have gone to his slot receivers (160) and running backs (104). If his ankle is healthy enough to work out on during the pre-draft process, I think the Panthers are a good fit.
7. NY Giants via Chicago, Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State (10)
The last time a team drafted two offensive linemen in the first round, Atlanta doubled up with Chris Lindstrom (14) and Kaleb McGary (31). However, I’m proposing using two top-ten picks on improving this offensive line, which could drastically turn this offense around.
Andrew Thomas had a much better sophomore campaign in New York, and adding Tyler Linderbum and Cross could truly swing the fortunes of this unit. Charles Cross’ draft stock was more about tools and potential entering the season, but he’s grown by leaps and bounds with his technique.
He displays outstanding patience in pass protection, and his hand-placement and angles are typically spot on. Cross needs to continue to get stronger, but the desire to finish is there. I could see Cross taking over on the left with Thomas moving over to the right under a new regime.
8. Atlanta Falcons, Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame (4)
I strongly considered the Falcons taking a quarterback, but Hamilton was too good to pass up. Atlanta will not officially enter the next chapter until they find Matt Ryan’s successor. However, his contract makes it difficult to get rid of him, allowing them to be patient in selecting their future signal-caller.
With Hamilton, they add another young piece to their secondary to join A.J. Terrell and Richie Grant. Grant didn’t start as a rookie, but with Erik Harris and Duron Harmon set to hit free agency, the new duo of Grant and Hamilton would likely be the starting pair moving forward.
Both are versatile, which will allow Dean Pees to get very creative with his coverage disguises and pre-snap movement. Hamilton is also a strong presence in the locker room and offers the possibility of a future captain to this unit.
An edge rusher may be the top need for his defense, but value always has to be considered when picking this high. Some consider Hamilton the safest pick in this class, while others go as far as to rank him at the top of their board.
9. Denver Broncos, Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State (8)
Predicting this pick will be difficult until we know who is coaching in Mile High next season, especially if we see a scheme change defensively. However, one thing is for sure: Javonte Williams has a bright future on this team.
I don’t know who will play quarterback for the Broncos moving forward, and this pick could very well be spent on a signal-caller, whether it’s a rookie or veteran. Still, running the football will be a priority moving forward, and that’s why I love the addition of Ikem Ekwonu.
Ekwonu is one of the physical freaks in this class, as well as being one of its most imposing blockers. Some consider him a better fit at guard, but a strong showing this fall proved he is more than capable of remaining on the outside.
Having him pave the way at right tackle would be huge for this offense, not to mention his ability to improve pass protection on that side.
10. NY Jets via Seattle, DeMarvin Neal, DL, Texas A&M (9)
There are a ton of ways the Jets could go with their top two picks, and depending on which offensive lineman is available with each selection, I believe coming away with one is very realistic. Still, Neal provides the position flexibility that Robert Saleh used to thrive with in San Francisco.
I love his combination of power and athleticism, and both show up whether he’s lined up on the edge or inside. The Jets could make this guy a mismatch nightmare in their nickel, lining him up anywhere they feel he gives them an advantage.
This defense was in the bottom six in pressure percentage (21.4%) and second-worst in opposing passer rating (103.2). I doubt Saleh will let that stand moving forward.
The Jets have the sixth-most cap space of any team going into the offseason, despite having 47 players under contract. That should help them add the talent around Zach Wilson needed moving forward.
11. Washington Football Team, Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (32)
I honestly believe Washington will be the most aggressive team in this draft when it comes to obtaining a quarterback, for multiple reasons. For starters, while Taylor Heinicke is a fun player to watch, the inconsistency is maddening.
This season, he had five games with a passer rating north of 100.0, with four under 70.0. While some of that blame should go to the players in front of him, there is no arguing that improvement is necessary at the quarterback position.
My second reason is I have serious questions about some of the top veteran options wanting to play for this franchise. Washington has had its fair share of self-inflicted black eyes from the ownership on down over the past several years.
They are like the Antonio Brown of NFL franchises, and you have to question if one of the NFL’s top available passers would choose to be part of that. For that reason, I think the draft is the best place for them to find their future signal-caller.
12. Minnesota Vikings, Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson (7)
The Vikings are another team that will be tough to predict until the new head coach arrives. While a new coach has most Vikings fans swooning for a new quarterback as well, this may not be the year to force a pick on a signal-caller.
Still, Minnesota’s starting corners heading into the year were a 29-year old Bashaud Breeland and a 31-year old Patrick Peterson, who probably needs to consider moving to safety or a hybrid position moving forward. Booth is one of the most physically gifted athletes in this class and could end up being the best corner the Vikings have drafted in a long list of recent selections.
This secondary needs help and the proof of that is in the numbers. This defense was second in sacks (51) and fourth in pressures (187) this season, yet middle of the pack in opposing quarterback rating (91.4). These guys were getting to the passer, yet the back end wasn’t making plays on the ball.
13. Cleveland Browns, Drake London, WR, USC (11)
This is a pick-your-poison top five when it comes to receivers, and while I have London at the top of my list, he, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams (before the ACL tear), Chris Olave, and Treylon Burks are all ranked within 13 slots of each other.
However, I genuinely believe London is the right fit for Cleveland’s offense. This is a run-heavy team that relies on a lot of play-action. London’s ability to run terrific routes at upwards of 6’4” makes him an ideal candidate for the Browns.
I see some Michael Thomas in him, and some of Thomas’ best years came when New Orleans had a balanced attack from 2017-2019. London’s 88 catches in the first eight games make him one of only two receivers to hit that mark in the Power Five era.
Michael Crabtree was the other in his incredible 2007 campaign. If Cleveland is sticking with Baker Mayfield in 2022, London would be a welcomed addition.
14. Baltimore Ravens, Travon Walker, DL, Georgia (12)
I went back and forth between Walker and Cincinnati corner, Ahmad Gardener. They are tight on cap space, and Calais Campbell is a free agent. With Lamar Jackson up for an extension, I’m not sure Campbell will be considered their top priority.
Still, there are contracts that could be terminated to add more space, particularly at cornerback. I settled on Walker being a replacement for Campbell because he was one spot higher on my board for this NFL Mock Draft, but I could see the Ravens going with either in this scenario.
Walker would give them a versatile, disruptive player that has experience lining up as a five-tech. He was arguably the most consistent presence on a defense packed with NFL talent, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go in the top ten.
If one of those top offensive linemen were to fall, I’d have a hard time passing. If they are getting ready to shell out big bucks to Jackson, having that offensive line return to form after a down year would be wise.
15. Philadelphia via Miami, Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati (13)
With the first of the Eagles’ three picks, I have them finding a long-term partner for Darius Slay at cornerback. This division is loaded with talented receivers, and adding someone that didn’t give up a single touchdown in 1,024 career passing snaps (according to PFF.com) would be an outstanding selection.
He’s tall and extremely disruptive early in the route with his physicality. Considering Slay, Avonte Maddox, and Steve Nelson (if he returns) are all six feet tall or shorter, adding Gardner’s size and length would be welcomed.
The Eagles are in one of the less-flexible cap positions over the next three years of any team in the league, so adding talent through the draft will be vital. Getting a guy who could work his way into the top-ten conversation would be a tremendous start.
16. Philadelphia via Indianapolis, David Ojabo, DE, Michigan (15)
Having three picks will give the Eagles a chance to be very strategic in the first round. If they fall in love with a player he slides out of the top ten, they can jump up. If they love their top two selections, they could also move the third for a later pick along with future assets or a veteran.
Here, I have them improving one of their most significant problem areas from this past season. Granted, Brandon Graham missed 15 games, but when two of your top three sack totals come from interior players, it’s an issue.
Ojabo would give them a young pass-rusher that could instantly improve the 29-sack total (31st in the league) that the Eagles put up in 2021. He’s one of the most polished edge-rushers in this class and would allow them to move on from guys like Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, and Gerald Avery.
17. Los Angeles Chargers, Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa (24)
If Mike Williams moves on, I could see the Chargers going with a wide receiver here. Still, this offensive line had their fair share of issues in the season-ending loss that saw them eliminated from playoff contention.
I know Bryan Bulaga missed nearly the entire season, but he will be 33 before next season and has been plagued by injuries since signing with the Chargers. Cutting him would save Los Angeles nearly $11M, and Penning could step in to give the team a promising young duo at tackle.
Penning has impressive size and arm length, and surprising mobility that would be good enough to stay on the left for a team in the market for a blindside blocker. I also love the violent temper he implements to finish off blocks. This is a move that could benefit Austin Ekeler just as much as it does Justin Herbert.
18. New Orleans Saints, Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (14)
I wouldn’t put it past Sean Payton to covet a player like Sam Howell, given the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Howell has terrific physical gifts, but consistency has evaded him during his time at North Carolina.
Payton is one of the league’s best at polishing young passers, but I went in a different direction. A less than impressive receiving core was good enough when Drew Brees was at quarterback. However, that’s not the case anymore.
This offensive is desperate for playmakers, and Garrett Wilson is one of the best in this class. He wins consistently at the line of scrimmage with his release, while being one of the best overall route-runners in the country. He can make plays from the slot or perimeter at all three levels of the defense, and would instantly be a favorite target for anyone under center in the Big Easy.
19. Philadelphia Eagles, Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama (16)
I went with defenders in each of Philadelphia’s first two picks because of the value and the holes Gardner and Ojabo would fill. Still, anyone who has watched this team can see that it’s the offense that needs improvement.
The Eagles would be wise to get a little creative with one of these top picks. One theory I have is moving out of the first round to get a first-round pick in the 2023 draft. My reasoning for that is Jalen Hurts. I love him as a football player, leader, and runner. Still, I’m not sure he will ever be an NFL-caliber passer.
However, they should give him another year to see if he improves. If not, having that extra pick in a year will be helpful in possibly moving up for a passer in a class that should be better than this one. Here, I’m going with them taking a risk on Williams, who suffered a torn ACL in the National Championship.
Healthy, Williams is my 16th-ranked prospect that brings deep speed and YAC-ability while needing to clean up his releases and routes. Even if he plays as a rookie, we likely won’t see the real Williams until 2023. Still, when you’ve got three picks in the first round, it opens up the freedom to take a risk on someone who could be a home run when paired with DeVonte Smith.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers, Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (35)
The day has come when the Steelers can no longer be patient at the quarterback position. In all fairness, they took Mason Rudolph in the third round back in 2018, but there have been options in earlier rounds that they’ve passed on in recent years.
Now, they either need to trade this pick as part of a package for a veteran or use it on a prospect like Howell. While I don’t believe a quarterback should be drafted in the top ten, Pittsburgh could be the one to move up in that range to get their favorite passer.
While many love the idea of keeping Pickett in Pittsburgh, I believe Corral would fit well in this offense. Still, with both gone, I went with Howell. He’s got all the physical gifts a team would want, but consistency has been an issue throughout his time at North Carolina.
However, when he is on, he looks the part of an NFL starter. The question will be, can he convince a team like the Steelers that he can gain control of that “On” switch.
21. New England Patriots, Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn (21)
Though I predicted the Patriots to take Mac Jones a year ago, Bill Belichick’s draft picks are never easy to forecast. I like Jones, but I think he needs talented skill players around him to sustain success in the NFL.
This group of receivers is underwhelming, to say the least, and a player like Ohio State’s Chris Olave or Arkansas’ Treylon Burks would be a terrific fit. Still, McCreary is one slot higher than those two on my board, and the Patriots also need help at corner. That’s why he slots here in this NFL Mock Draft.
While J.C. Jackson took his game to a new level after Stephen Gilmore was traded to Carolina, he’s also likely to be one of the top players on the free-agent market this offseason. Even they bring him back, McCreary would be a talented option opposite him moving forward.
22. Las Vegas Raiders, Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (17)
Prior to Jameson Williams’ injury and Vegas’ four-game win streak to get into the playoffs, I thought the pair would be a match made in heaven. Yes, the Raiders have a history of coveting speed, but this offense lost their most explosive option when they lost Henry Ruggs.
I’m sure they will be keeping their eye out for someone with that kind of game-changing ability, but Lloyd was too good to pass up. Las Vegas could save nearly $12M in cap space next year by moving on from Cory Littleton, and K.J. Wright is hitting free agency.
I’m not sure if Gus Bradley will be running this defense in 2022, but he could make a star out Lloyd in his system. The former Ute is a three-down player that can impact the pass in multiple ways. During the Gruden/Mayock era, the first round has been a struggle, but Lloyd would be an excellent start for whoever takes over.
23. Arizona Cardinals, Drake Jackson, OLB, USC (19)
I’m not sure what the future holds for Kliff Kingsbury, but this offense seems to hit a plateau each season. Some have pointed to Kingsbury’s history of finishing seasons poorly, going back to his days at Texas Tech, but I take issue with him building this offense from the outside in.
This offensive line is below-average at best, and improving that group would allow this offense to avoid those late-season woes. Having said that, Jackson was a slot higher on my board, and this team needs an impact edge rusher.
Chandler Jones and Markus Golden made up over half of this team’s sack total, and while Golden has one year left on his deal, Jones is hitting free agency. The Cardinals may make a push to retain him, but I’m not sure he’s up for returning after pining for an extension early in the year, only to see little progress in that area.
Over the summer, he was reported to want a trade, and now he can make his own decision on a future home. The Cardinals have used first-round picks on linebackers in three of the last five years, but Jackson would be the first true edge rusher they’ve taken one day one since Calvin Pace in 2003.
24. Dallas Cowboys, Daxton Hill, S, Michigan (25)
A lot is up in the air in Dallas as the Cowboys watch both their coordinators go on the interview circuit with a quarter of the league looking for new head coaches. A lot could change this offseason, which will affect what happens here.
Still, there are two areas that are desperate for attention on this team. The Cowboys have consistently kept this offensive line stocked with talent, but this was not their best season by any stretch of the imagination.
However, the back end of their defense is bare moving forward. Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee, and Malik Hooker took 85 percent of the defensive snaps at safety, and all three are free agents. The Cowboys also only have two linebackers under contract that dressed this season. One was Jabril Cox, who played nine defensive snaps before a season-ending injury.
If Lloyd had fallen to this point, he’d be a great fit with Parsons on that defense. However, Hill is the kind of versatile safety that can find a home in any defensive scheme. He’s rangy and can match up against slots or tight ends. He’d be a day-one starter in Dallas.