With the NFL season having started and college football well underway, fans can finally begin piecing together the possible collegiate stars that could fill a void on their favorite professional team in next April’s 2022 NFL Draft. The 53-man rosters are in place, but every team has at least a few holes to address beyond the 2021 season.
We have the top 50 prospects entering the season, and now it’s time to release the first 2022 NFL Mock Draft of the fall. A lot will change over a long season at both the college and professional level, but for now, here’s my estimate of some possible matches we could see next April.
2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0
Big Board Rank
1. Houston Texans
Comments: To say that Houston’s offseason was a mess would be the understatement of the year. Then again, not much has gone right since Cal McNair fired Brian Gaine and made Bill O’Brien general manager at the beginning of 2020. There is a lot of uncertainty about Deshaun Watson’s future, but its obvious that the relationship between him and Houston is fractured beyond repair. Therefore, Houston should be on the way to a complete rebuild. Rattler is on pace to be the top passing prospect in this class, and drafting him would help Texans’ fans move on from the recent turmoil.
2. Detroit Lions
Comments: The Lions could certainly be in the market for a quarterback, and if Rattler were available, it’d be tough to pass on him. Jared Goff’s contract becomes much easier to cut ties with following the 2022 season, giving Detroit the option to be patient with him in place for at least another year. Still, with Rattler off the board, this was a tossup between Thibodeaux and Stingley. Considering the Lions have spent top-100 picks on Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu in back-to-back drafts, I went with the edge rusher they so desperately need.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Comments: Like the Lions, the Eagles could be in the market for Rattler or another quarterback. If Philadelphia is picking in this range next April, I’m willing to bet Jalen Hurts did not have an inspiring season. However, teams are going to find it hard to pass on Stingley. When the Eagles traded for Darius Slay, the idea was they were getting a player in his prime to help extend their Super Bowl window. Instead, they are likely headed for a rebuild with a 30-year old corner that will count $22M against the cap in 2022 and $23M in 2023.
4. New York Jets
Comments: The Jets are moving in the right direction, and another strong draft could keep them from lagging in one of the better divisions in football. At this point, I have Thibodeaux and Stingley as the clear top prospects in this class, and either would fit well with New York. However, guys like Elam, Alabama’s Evan Neal, Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, and Georgia’s George Pickens could work their way into that conversation as well. I went with Elam because this team has struggled to find answers at corner in recent years. He’s got great size and strength for the position, something Robert Salah’s defenses have typically coveted.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Comments: In the 2021 draft, many scouts split on whether Cincinnati would take Ja’Marr Chase or Penei Sewell. After a year in which franchise quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending injury, I expected it to be Sewell and was wrong. They did select a few players that should compete for jobs on the interior. Still, the Bengals are kidding themselves in they think this offensive line is where it needs to be. Neal has exceptional size, and while he may fit best at right tackle, he’s getting his chance to prove he can handle the blindside this fall. Whether he kicks Jonah Williams inside to guard or replaces veteran Riley Reiff, Neal will upgrade that unit.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Comments: Over the offseason, the Falcons made it clear that they weren’t interested in moving on from Matt Ryan, but I doubt they take that same approach if they are picking in the top ten for a second-consecutive year. Atlanta has a bad combination of players getting ready to enter their prime and veterans on the downhill of their careers. Trading Julio Jones was the first of what should be several moves over the next year that signals that this team is rebuilding. If so, a quarterback must be in play. Howell’s arm is second to none, and while he needs to clean up his mechanics, he can develop into an exceptional passer with the proper guidance.
7. Carolina Panthers
Comments: Carolina has several players that could help determine the franchise’s priorities in next April’s draft, with Sam Darnold being at the top of the list. I’m very interested to see what kind of magic Joe Brady can work with the fourth-year signal-caller. However, the Panthers still have a lot of holes to fill. Adding Hamilton on the back end of their young, improving defense would be a no-brainer. He’s an intelligent, rangy safety in coverage with leadership qualities that would fit well with the young core they’ve built on that unit.
8. New York Giants
Comments: While the Giants’ offense needs more attention than their defense, the top of this draft should feature more high-end defenders. New York’s primary need on the defensive side is an edge rusher. This team has struggled to get consistent pressure off the edge in recent years, and that’s Anderson’s specialty. A year ago, Georgia used him as a pass-rush specialist, but he’s got the chance to break out in 2021. Reuniting Anderson with his college teammate, Azeez Ojulari, could be the winning combination for the Giants at improving their pass-rush. However, if Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart don’t solidify the tackle position for New York, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them target Neal.
9. Denver Broncos
Comments: The Broncos have reason to be optimistic on both sides of the ball, but the fact that Drew Lock could not seize the starting job means they still don’t have a long-term solution at quarterback. Denver was involved in rumors surrounding several signal-callers throughout the offseason, and if they are picking this high again, drafting one seems unavoidable. Slovis is my third-ranked quarterback entering the season, but several players with superior talent could jump him with a jump in their development. That group includes Liberty’s Mallik Willis, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Ole Miss’s Matt Corral, and Nevada’s Carson Strong. Still, Slovis should be one of the safer choices at the position, as his decision-making and accuracy are two of his strongest assets.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
Comments: It’s crazy to think about where this defense was four years ago compared to now. In 2017, Jacksonville had one of the top defenses in football, and now they are in shambles. Leal is a handful up front, with the scheme versatility to be on every team’s radar. He’s explosive off the snap and possesses a combination of power and athleticism that show up on all three downs. He could start from day one as an end in Jacksonville’s odd-man front, giving them a shot of talent they desperately need on the defensive line.
11. Las Vegas Raiders
Comments: Jon Gruden and the Raiders desperately need a strong showing in next April’s draft. After purging the roster of veterans early on, Gruden accumulated a plethora of draft capital for him and Mike Mayock to rebuild this team. Unfortunately, their out-of-the-box thinking has left them with some underwhelming draft classes, and the roster has suffered. Gruden has yet to have a winning season in his return to the organization, and right now, Las Vegas is in jeopardy of falling into the bottom of that division. In Harris, they get a quarterback of the defense that should shine in Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme. He’s instinctive and aggressive, with the kind of character Gruden wants on the roster.
12. New England Patriots
Comments: The Patriots are officially turning the keys over to Mac Jones, signaling the beginning of a new era in New England. Now the next step has to be surrounding him with talent, the way he was at Alabama. Jones will never impress with his physical capabilities, but he’s a leader who knows how to get the ball to his playmakers. While I like what the Patriots did this summer in acquiring Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, their group of receivers is far less impressive. I’m admittedly much higher on Pickens than most at this point. Yes, he’s a diva and also still recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in March. However, Pickens is a special talent with silky smooth athleticism and great size. If he’s healthy, this may be too low for him.
13. New Orleans Saints
Comments: While Jameis Winston will open the season as the starter in New Orleans, I’m don’t see him being in their long-term plans. To this point, his career has been marred with inconsistency and poor decision-making, and even if he does have a great year, New Orleans’ future cap situation makes it tough to resign him. The Saints’ limited available resources moving forward are likely to be spent trying to keep a guy like Terron Armstead, Marcus Lattimore, or Marcus Williams around. With that in mind, I like the idea of Sean Payton working with Willis. He’s got extraordinary physical gifts, and Payton can groom him into an NFL-caliber passer.
14. Washington Football Team
Comments: Unlike most of the teams to this point, Washington should be in contention for a playoff spot for most of the year. However, if they fall short, the quarterback position will need to be addressed. Their defense should be one of the top units in the league, but this offense is a different story. Ridder is a talented, dual-threat player with the necessary arm strength to play in any system. He’s a leader, and while he may be on the slender side, there is still room for him to add weight. One thing Washington can’t do is sit on their hands like they did a year ago.
15. Los Angeles Chargers
Comments: Any team that pushes Kansas City in the AFC West will have to excel at limiting the pass. With Chris Harris in the final year of his deal, adding another young piece to their secondary will be essential. Banks is an exceptional athlete that is in line for a breakout campaign. He may not have the size of Stingley or Elam, but he’s got a sturdy build and elevates well. Banks only has one career interception, but Ohio State limited his aggression a year ago. With a full year starting under his belt, I expect Banks will have more freedom to take advantage of his gifts.
16. NY Giants via Chicago
Comments: I couldn’t ignore this dismal offense twice after taking a defender with the Giants’ first pick. Daniel Jones needs to show a significant jump in his third year, and Saquon Barkley just needs to stay healthy. However, it won’t matter if this offensive line doesn’t play better. Andrew Thomas’ career has been inconsistent, to say the least, and while Matt Peart is finally getting his first chance to be a full-time starter, he’s got a lot to prove. I’m going with Kirkland, who could step in as a day-one starter at left tackle, kicking Thomas over to the right where he should be better suited. He’s one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the country and has worked hard to bulk up in his time at Washington.
17. NY Jets via Seattle
Comments: The Jets have spent first-round selections on their offensive line each of the last two years, and I’m proposing a third here. Mike LaFleur is bringing in a zone-heavy scheme that Linderbaum would fit in perfectly. He’s an athletic player who easily wins on the second level thanks to his mobility and desire to finish plays. Connor McGovern has been a solid player up the middle, but his deal expires after the 2022 season, and he is versatile to move to right guard. The bottom line is Linderbaum would join Alijah Vera-Tucker and Mekhi Becton to make that offensive line a strength moving forward.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
Comments: The Steelers will undoubtedly do their homework on this quarterback class, but they have several holes they need to look to fill beyond this year. The offensive line needs several new faces, and the secondary is loaded with players on expiring deals. Gardner would be an outstanding addition at corner. He’s a confident player with terrific length and athleticism, as well as a knack for getting his hands on passes. He needs to get stronger, but Gardner would be an intriguing player for Mike Tomlin to groom.
19. Tennessee Titans
Comments: Tennessee made a concentrated effort to improve their front seven this offseason, but Mike Vrabel comes from the Bill Belichick tree of rotating his players in that area. Hutchinson is one of my favorite prospects in this class because of his unique skill set. He’s got elite size and length to play end in that system, yet his athleticism is fit to be an edge player. Hutchinson plays with great power and a motor that never quits, and he would pair well with Jeffrey Simmons to give them a formidable pair on that odd-man front.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Comments: While this defense needs upgrades far more than the offense, Green has some of the most upside of any player in this group. He’s got rare athleticism and power that is still developing into an NFL-caliber lineman. After spending time at guard to this point, he’s getting his shot at left tackle in 2021. While a strong year on the blindside could see his value shoot into the top ten, his track record at guard is a safety net for his stock, should he have his struggles. If they focus on improving that defense, an edge rusher or defensive back should be on the top of the list.
21. Minnesota Vikings
Comments: I love this fit for Minnesota. After having Kyle Rudolph for so long, the Vikings chose to move on this offseason. Still, this offense needs a more traditional tight end to pair with Irv Smith. Wydermyer is a powerful player that can impact that game as a blocker or pass-catcher. He’s more dependent on his size to bring down passes than actually gaining separation, but if he improves as a route-runner, he should cement himself as the top in-line tight end in this class.
22. Philadelphia via Miami
Comments: Yes, I’m doubling up on the defensive side of the ball, but not because I think the defense is that much worse than the offense. However, eight of Philadelphia’s last nine top-100 picks have come on the offensive side of the ball. This roster needs some youth on the defensive side, and doubling up in the first round provides that. In Dean, they get an active player that always seems to be a step ahead of everyone else on the field. He’d be an excellent fit in the middle of Jonathan Gannon’s defense.
23. Dallas Cowboys
Comments: A year ago, Dallas made defense the unequivocal top priority with their top pick, and that’s probably going to be the case for a second-straight year. Pass rushers and defensive backs are the likely targets moving forward, and Bonitto is an intriguing fit. He’s an undersized pass rusher that probably won’t be a three-down edge player in the NFL. Still, Dan Quinn’s scheme employs a versatile strong-side linebacker with a skill set like his. Micah Parsons has seen time at this position, but his long-term home will be as a middle linebacker in that scheme. Bonitto can also drop into coverage and lineup off the ball, which should be a good fit in that strong-side role.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Comments: The Ravens have several questions on both sides of the ball that remain unanswered, which led me to consider value along with need. Joseph s the instincts and ball skills to be a playmaker on the back end of an NFL defense. I have some questions about his ability to match up in coverage, but I had similar questions about DeShon Elliott, who is in the final year of his contract with the Ravens. If Elliott finds a big pay elsewhere, Joseph would be an excellent replacement.
25. Miami via San Francisco
Comments: For years, Brian Flores was part of a defensive staff in New England that got the most out of versatile skill sets, and Enagbare fits that mold. He’s a long-armed, broad-chested athlete with above-average play strength and juice off the edge. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Trey Flowers during his time in New England. With Emmanuel Ogbah set to hit free agency, Enagbare would pair well with Jaelan Phillips moving forward.
26. Cleveland Browns
Comments: Cleveland’s roster has very few holes, but that could change if they choose to cut ties with a player or two for salary cap purposes. Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward are up for extensions, as is the entire offensive line over the next two years. The two obvious candidates on the chopping block are Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Wide receivers pour into the NFL each year through the draft, and the crop of draft-eligible players in the 2022 class is impressive. Olave is a strong route runner that may be gone long before Cleveland’s pick. Keeping him in the state of Ohio would be a gift to this offense.
27. Indianapolis Colts
Comments: The Colts have several significant voids on their roster at cornerback, defensive end, and left tackle. That defense may have a greater need at this point, but when you’ve got a quarterback with Carson Wentz’s injury history, there may not be a bigger priority than protecting his blindside. I’ve got Nelson ranked 32 on my based largely on potential. He needs to get stronger and more technically sound, but you can’t teach his combination of size and athleticism. With a step forward in his development, Nelson could put his name in the first-round conversation.
28. Detroit via LA Rams
Comments: The Lions got quite the package for Matt Stafford, and as they rebuild, they will have to make every pick count. Here, I’ve got them taking a risk. While receivers like Olave, Drake London, and Garrett Wilson are talented playmakers, the real jewels are Pickens and Ross. Obviously, both will see their stock tested by their medical checks, but their upside is through the roof. Ross’s size, length, and body control give him a massive catch radius, and his ability to accelerate makes him special. However, how he’s able to return from a congenital fusion condition in his neck and spine. This is a home run swing, but the Lions are in position to take one during their rebuild.
29. Green Bay Packers
Comments: It’s probably too late to salvage their relationship with Aaron Rodgers beyond this season, but if it’s going to happen, they need to find him some weapons. Even if he’s gone, bringing in some talented playmakers will be necessary to ease the transition to Jordan Love. London is a versatile receiver that can make plays on the perimeter or in the slot. He has no issue working over the middle and has a history of making some incredible catches.
30. Buffalo Bills
Comments: Buffalo has one of the top rosters in football, but there are still several areas that need improvement. This offense can use another playmaker or two, particularly in the backfield. The defense also needs a suitable option across from Tre’Davious White at corner. Booth is a talented playmaker with the size and athletic traits to be a day-one starter in the NFL. He needs to clean up some technical issues, but he may have some of the best ball skills of any defensive back in the country. Adding Booth to this defense would make a great defense that much better.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Comments: The Bucs financial situation will be tricky moving forward, meaning a good portion of their laundry list of upcoming free agents are likely to find new homes. Alex Cappa is one of those players, and that’s why I’ve got Johnson here. He’s a patient, technically sound player that is likely to kick inside in the NFL. However, this could be a number of guys. This could be a receiver if Chris Godwin or Antonio Brown go elsewhere. It could be a five-tech end, running back, tight end, or defensive back. Only time will tell.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
Comments: For several years, this defense has been a step and a half behind the offense. They’ve got several big-time players on this side of the ball, but Kansas City needs more to provide the kind of consistency they need on that defensive unit. Harrison is an uber-talented edge rusher that is still trying to figure out how to make the most of his physical gifts. Still, if he develops in his junior season, he could shoot up draft boards into the top ten. Adding an edge rusher would make that defensive line a true strength for this team.