With the 2022 NFL Draft rapidly approaching, the front offices for all 32 teams are scrambling to arrange their draft boards in a way that most benefits them. There will never be a consensus ranking for every draft-eligible player, but each team will head to pro days, meet with the players and agents, watch thousands of hours of game film, huddle amongst themselves, and figure out an individual grade for every single one of those players. The process is absolutely exhausting and these teams absolutely cannot wait until the process has concluded. But for us, the analysts, the fans, the common folks, we all do our best to figure out what our favorite teams will do. The offseason has truly become an extension of the regular season, just as enjoyable.
With that being said, we all love to project that top-ranked player coming to our team. But is that realistic? Does a team picking in the middle of round one have an opportunity to take that stud Defensive End? Will they consider a trade if the right player falls beyond expectation? We love to imagine nabbing Aaron Donald after 12 teams made the mistake of passing. Which players have the upside of a future Hall of Famer? To be honest, nobody truly ‘knows.’ There is no proven formula that works 100% of the time. All the experts can do is piece together information from the various avenues and make educated guesses. So, here are my initial guesses as to how the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft will play out.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan – Hutchinson is a do-it-all rusher. He wins with quickness, technique, power, and a relentless motor. He’s not the flashiest pass rusher the draft has ever seen, but there is no doubting his production. He has the ability to bend around the corner, bull rush opposing linemen, hold the point of attack in the run game, and simply make a splash play when it’s needed.
2. Detroit Lions – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon – Thibodeaux is an explosive player with the ideal length to play on the edge at the next level. His production in college was solid, if not excellent. He possesses all of the tools necessary to become an elite rusher. In an ideal world, he will not see nearly as many double teams with more help along the defensive line, which should lead to even better production. He might have the most upside of any player in the draft, regardless of position.
3. Carolina Panthers (via trade with Houston) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty – The Panthers have been searching all offseason for their QB, but have been unable to land DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, or any other high-end signal-caller. So, here, they make the move in front of the Giants to secure Willis, the athletic freak with a bazooka of an arm. They pay a hefty price to move up just three spots, but if they believe Willis is a franchise quarterback, it truly becomes a small price in the end. Willis will most likely need to start the season on the bench, but he has won over just about every NFL Executive with his personality and his tools.
4. New York Jets – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame – While safety isn’t often viewed as the most important position on the field, Hamilton may be the exception. He is enormous for safety, standing 6’4” and nearly 220 pounds. Oh, and he’s absolutely explosive as a pure athlete. He moves like a cornerback, looks like a linebacker, and has the ball skills of a receiver. It is not hyperbole to say that Hamilton may be the best safety prospect since Sean Taylor.
5. New York Giants – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama – Neal is a mountain of a man, standing 6’7” and roughly 350 pounds. In that regard, he reminds me of former Vikings’ 1st round pick Bryant “Mount” McKinley. The difference here is that Neal is much more fluid in his movement, which is much more of a requirement with the athletes that are rushing the passer in today’s NFL. The Giants have Andrew Thomas already penciled in at LT, but they need a lot of help along the line. It wouldn’t be out of the question to kick Thomas over to the right side, but that’s a problem for another day. For now, the G-Men need to add as many good players to the offensive line as possible. Adding Neal is a great start.
6. Houston Texans (via trade with Carolina) – Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida St – This is a bit of a shocker and may be viewed as a reach. But Johnson really could end up the best defensive player in this draft. He’s extremely versatile in his ability to play anywhere along the defensive front. He’s rushed from both sides and has no issues standing up in the A-gap and beating interior offensive linemen with his quickness. The Texans are in a rebuild and have a player with this type of versatility that allows them to attack the rest of the draft in any number of ways.
7. New York Giants – Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU – There are rumblings out of New York that starting CB James Bradberry could be on the move in the near future. Stingley could be the ready-made replacement. His freshman season at LSU was remarkable and he looked like he was on his way to being a sure-fire #1 overall pick. He has the size, athleticism, and change-of-direction skills that every team covets at the cornerback position. However, injuries really slowed his career at LSU and make this a risky pick. If the medicals check out, Stingley will likely find his way into the top 10 picks.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati – “Sauce” Gardner has really cemented himself as one of the elite prospects in this draft class. The Falcons appear to have hit a home run by selecting AJ Terrell in the 2020 draft, but they could certainly use an upgrade on the other side. With Sauce coming in, the Falcons would be building one of the best young duos in the league. A very, very pass-happy league, I might add. A reminder that the next touchdown that Gardner allows in coverage will be the first he has ever allowed in coverage. There is a full rebuild in Atlanta, which leads me to believe they will pass on the Matt Ryan replacement here and hope to land one of the studs in the 2023 draft class.
9. Seattle Seahawks – Ikem Ekwonu, OT/G, North Carolina St – The Seahawks have moved on from long-time QB Russell Wilson, which leaves them with a giant hole at the most important position. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is definitely an option here, but I think they will swing a deal for the Browns’ Baker Mayfield. With that being said, they have holes at a number of positions, with the offensive line among them. Ekwonu is a big, mean offensive tackle that leaves scouts a little divided. He may be forced to kick inside to guard, but it almost doesn’t matter. He’s is a beast that will be a long-time starter at the next level.
10. New York Jets – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio St – The Jets seem to have stuck their nose in on all available WRs this offseason. They made a big offer for former Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and are still looking for help on the outside for young QB Zach Wilson. Despite lacking prototypical size for the position, Wilson possesses the requisite explosiveness, route running, and hands teams love. He can pair with up-and-coming WR Elijah Moore to give Wilson another young receiver to work with.
11. Washington Commanders – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh – Pickett’s hand size has become a hot topic. He has among the smallest hands ever measured at the combine, leaving some teams really questioning his ability to throw the ball in inclement weather conditions. If the Commanders are comfortable with that trait, they could certainly make the decision to draft Pickett and let him battle with newly acquired Carson Wentz. Overall, Pickett has solid athleticism and arm strength, along with adequate experience to allow him a chance to start early in his career.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (via trade with Minnesota) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama – The Eagles appear to be committed to giving Jalen Hurts every opportunity to succeed. Last year’s rookie WR, DeVonta Smith proved to be an excellent selection in round 1. TE Dallas Goedert is among the best young TEs in the league. But the Eagles really need to add another weapon on the perimeter. With the fear of the Texans snagging Williams at pick #13, the Eagles make the move up and get their guy. Despite tearing his ACL in the National Championship game, Williams is expected to make a full recovery and be ready near the start of the regular season. When he’s back, he is an absolute burner. His ability to create space is perfect for just about any offense and he could prove to be a steal outside of the top 10.
13. Houston Texans – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington – McDuffie doesn’t have the ideal size for a perimeter cornerback, but he is one of the best athletes in the draft. He is sticky in coverage, physical at the line of scrimmage, and ultra-competitive. He is one of the most cerebral players in the draft, allowing him to excel in both man and zone coverages. This is a home run pick for Houston.
14. Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia – Flat out, men this size are not supposed to be able to move like Davis does. He simply cannot be moved in the run game and has enough athleticism to rush the passer. He didn’t play a full allotment of snaps at Georgia, but that was probably more due to the plethora of defensive linemen that were really good. He can stay on the field in obvious passing downs, though that’s not entirely likely. Either way, this is the top interior defensive lineman in this draft.
15. Minnesota Vikings (via trade with Philadelphia) – Andrew Booth Jr, CB, Clemson – The Vikings gambled by moving down and it did not pay off. They were targeting McDuffie, but end up with Booth, not exactly a bad consolation prize. Booth has the size and length teams love to deploy at cornerback, though he’s not quite the same athlete McDuffie is. He has excellent ball skills and is physical at the catch point. There is a real dearth of talent in Minnesota’s cornerback room, so Booth has a chance to be a Day 1 starter.
16. Philadelphia Eagles – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia – Dean is a blur in pursuit of ball carriers. He has the speed all defensive coordinators would love to deploy. While his speed has been excellent in chasing down RBs at the college level, Dean still has room for improvement in pass defense. He isn’t always the quickest to identify route combinations in zone coverage and can sometimes get caught looking in the backfield on play action. Despite this, his upside is immense and he’ll be an immediate starter in Philadelphia.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Travon Walker, DT/DE, Georgia – Walker has created a lot of buzz and has risen up the draft boards of a lot of scouts and NFL execs. His fall to 17 is somewhat surprising as he can create many mismatches along the defensive line with his versatility and athleticism. The Chargers have spent a lot of money adding to their defense this offseason with Khalil Mack and JC Jackson, but adding Walker gives them another weapon to rush the passer. The rich get richer.
18. New Orleans Saints – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State – The Saints lost LT Terron Armstead to the Dolphins and desperately need to replace him. The temptation would be to move up in this draft to secure that replacement, but in this scenario, they stand pat and still land their guy. A huge win for QB Jameis Winston and RB Alvin Kamara. Cross is an elite athlete for an offensive tackle, though it does come with a certain degree of inexperience. Still, Cross is a Day 1 starter and will have a long, long career as the blind-side protector in the bayou.
19. Philadelphia Eagles – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan – The Eagles have added a ton of athleticism to their roster with Jameson Williams and Nakobe Dean, and they continue that trend here with Hill. A true genetic freak, Hill is a low 4.3 40-yard dash player that attacks the run game and shuts down passing angles. Some analysts may not project Hill to go this high, but his speed can wreck offensive game plans.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa – The Steeler’s offensive line has been poor for a few seasons now. They need help across the board. In Penning, they get a player with an absolute mean streak. He is a road grader in the run game that has held up very well in pass protection. He has the athleticism to get out in front on perimeter runs and screens, which fits well with pass-catching back Najee Harris in the Steel City.
21. New England Patriots – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas – Before the combine and Pro Day, Burks was being viewed as a candidate to be the first receiver off the board. A poor showing in Indianapolis hurt his stock a bit. No problem for Bill Belichick and company. Burks stands 6’3” and weighs 225 pounds. He has enormous hands and catches everything thrown his way. Despite the athletic testing being less than ideal, he flashed tons of big-play ability in the SEC and should still be viewed as an impact player at the next level.
22. Green Bay Packers – Drake London, WR, USC – The Packers traded away star WR Davante Adams in a shocking deal with the Las Vegas Raiders. You just know that QB Aaron Rodgers, fresh off his monster contract extension, is in the ear of the front office pleading for the Packers to finally use a 1st round pick on a perimeter weapon. Enter London, the 6’5” behemoth of a receiver that has enough speed and athleticism to be a major, major problem for opposing defenses. While he is not nearly the route runner Adams has proven to be, London can still win in a variety of ways and would be a perfect fit for the reigning MVP.
23. Arizona Cardinals – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue – The Cardinals parted ways with longtime pass rusher Chandler Jones, who has moved north to Vegas. Enter Karlaftis, the big, strong rusher from Purdue that shouldn’t move the way he does at his size. This is a player that holds up incredibly well against the run, but still has plenty of juice to get after QBs. In a division with the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Cardinals need to find a way to rush QBs and Karlaftis is a perfect fit.
24. Dallas Cowboys – Zion Johnson, G, Boston College – Johnson is a nasty offensive lineman with the ability to play in any scheme. The Cowboys are getting older along the offensive line and need to start addressing this before its too late. The temptation may be to go for a WR to replace the departed Amari Cooper, but CeeDee Lamb is ready to ascent to the #1 role there. In this scenario, they get the best and most NFL-ready guard in the draft.
25. Buffalo Bills – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida – The Bills are one of the most complete teams in the league. But they really need to fortify their secondary. With Tre White coming off ACL surgery and Levi Wallace moving on, the biggest question mark they have is a corner. And, what do you know? Elam, the 6’1” fluid athlete is available for the taking. He is a pure cover corner that has the ability to shadow receivers in man coverage. His biggest issue? He is not the biggest fan of sticking his nose in the pile in run defense. Elam must improve in this area and become a better tackler.
26. Tennessee Titans – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa – Linderbaum is the best center prospect in this draft, and its not particularly close. The Titans need to upgrade here. Match made in heaven, right? Well, yes and no. Linderbaum is undersized at roughly 290 pounds, but he’s strong and anchors well. He is able to hold up against power rushers and moves incredibly well to pull around the edges. Derrick Henry will absolutely love this pick, should Linderbaum make it this far. I have my doubts that he does, but anything is possible.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M – The Bucs have lost two offensive linemen, both guards, this offseason with Ali Marpet retiring and Alex Cappa signing with the Bengals. The temptation may be to take another weapon for Tom Brady as Chris Olave is still sitting there, but the front office knows it’s more important to protect the veteran QB at this point. This is a near-dream scenario for the Bucs.
28. New York Giants (via trade with Green Bay) – Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina – The Giants decided to pass on QB with their two earlier selections, but see an opportunity to move up from #36 to land Howell, maybe the best pure thrower of the football in the draft. In Howell, you get the most accurate deep ball thrower in the class and a guy with plenty of athleticism to succeed at the next level. Moving back into round 1 for their QB is also a very smart move as it secures the 5th year option for Howell down the road.
29. Kansas City Chiefs – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio St – There is almost zero reasons as to why Olave lasts this long on draft day. Olave has a deep speed, short-area quickness, route running, and the hands to be an excellent receiver. Add in the fact that he’d be catching passes from one of the best in the league and you have a real shot for instant productivity. I can’t imagine a better match of player to a team in this draft.
30. Kansas City Chiefs – Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota – Mafe tested incredibly well at the combine and drastically improved his stock entering the draft. His initial burst off the ball is evident on film and translates incredibly well to the next level. The Chiefs are one of the best teams in the league, but in the league’s most competitive division, rushing the passer will be incredibly important. Mafe fills a major need.
31. Cincinnati Bengals – Lewis Cine, S, Georgia – Cine is another player who tested out of this world at the combine. He also happens to be a physical player that is capable of playing around the line of scrimmage. Pairing Cine with Jesse Bates at the safety position will afford the Bengals to mix and match coverages and confuse defenses. This may not be the most conventional pick, but creating wrinkles on defense is something that almost every Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator strive to do.
32. Detroit Lions – Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi – Corral is a little undersized at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but he is a dual-threat QB with a big arm and excellent rushing upside. Coming off an ankle injury, Corral wouldn’t be forced to start right away with Jared Goff on the roster in Detroit. And, much like the Giants with Sam Howell, securing Corral with the last pick of round one ensures the Lions have the 5th year option available to them.
Article By: Mike Anania