2022 NFL Mock Draft: An unheralded passer goes first overall

Only fourteen NFL teams will make the playoffs in 2021. Only four will make the conference championship. Just two will reach the pinnacle of the sport — the Super Bowl. And only one will hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Every year, 31 teams come up short. But for those teams, there’s always the future. In this 2022 NFL Draft mock, we take an early look at the future and what it might hold for each team.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | Round 1, Picks 1-16

With just a few minutes since the completion of the 2021 NFL Draft, naturally, we spend about five seconds to digest before moving onto the 2022 NFL Draft class.

1. Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

We have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen with this quarterback class. There are plenty of names congested at the top, but it’s different in 2022. While the 2021 NFL Draft had an excess of high-level QB talent, the 2022 NFL Draft suffers from a lack of clarity. Any one of Spencer Rattler, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, Carson Strong, J.T. Daniels, or Matt Corral could be the pick. But I’m going with someone else entirely.

Malik Willis is a massive sleeper in next year’s QB class, and he has the natural talent to pace his position. A former Auburn commit, he emerged with the Liberty Flames in 2020, throwing for 2,260 yards, 20 scores, and 6 interceptions. He also ran for 944 yards and 14 scores.

Willis is an elite athlete at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, and he also has tantalizing arm talent and off-script ability. On top of that, he’s a humble, hard-working player, and he’s sure to pass character evaluations if he works his way into the QB1 conversation.

2. Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

The Houston Texans basically still need everything. It seems as though quarterback would be in heavy demand here. Deshaun Watson’s very playing future is unclear, and even though the Texans spent their earliest 2021 pick on Davis Mills, they could still upgrade. However, there are so many glaring needs across Houston’s roster, you wouldn’t blame them if they just picked the best player available and let Mills have an opportunity for a year. They likely won’t be competing until 2024 at the earliest.

In the 2022 NFL Draft, the one consensus opinion at this point is that Kayvon Thibodeaux is the best overall player. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge rusher is incredibly explosive and disruptive, and he also has good bend around the edge. He’s a star in the making on the defensive side of the ball, and for a Texans team that simply needs more blue-chip talent, he’s the best pick possible.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

The Jaguars managed to bring back Cam Robinson for a year on the franchise tag. Nevertheless, the long-term future of Jacksonville’s left tackle position is still uncertain. If Robinson leaves in free agency next year, they can’t hesitate to fill the void, especially with Trevor Lawrence now at risk for injury in the pocket.

Thus, the Jaguars’ pick here is one of the 2022 NFL Draft’s top offensive tackles: Alabama’s Evan Neal. Neal is a massive 6-foot-7, 365-pound blocker, but he moves with unfair spryness and burst. He’s as powerful as his frame implies, and he can negate rushes with the swipe of a hand. For Jacksonville, this is a high-upside pick geared toward low penetration in the trenches.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

You were looking for a specific name here. I know. That’s why I picked a different one. Everyone is penciling Derek Stingley Jr. in as the CB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft, and with good reason. He’s a tremendous talent at the cornerback position. However, at this time in 2020, Jaycee Horn wasn’t anywhere near Patrick Surtain II on the draft board. Then, two nights ago, he went ahead of Surtain at No. 8 overall.

Andrew Booth Jr., who plays for Clemson, has that same kind of upside. He has incredible ball skills and body control — which makes for some exciting highlights — but he also possesses an enticing combination of mobile athleticism and disruptive length. An alpha at the catch point, Booth has the kind of turnover generation ability that teams like Philadelphia may crave.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: George Karlaftis III, DL, Purdue

The coaching situation is a different story, but the Bengals’ roster looks a lot better now than it did a few months ago. There’s still work to be done, but many of the Bengals’ most important players are locked in for a few years. Thus, they still have some flexibility regarding what they can do. With Sam Hubbard likely leaving in free agency next year and with the interior defensive line in need of maintenance, George Karlaftis III is a fun pick.

Karlaftis is an absolute brawler, and as he heads into his junior season, he’s already 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. He has the size of a hybrid defensive lineman, but he has the explosiveness and flexibility to rush around the edge. He also has the power and length to pry open lanes on the inside. For the Bengals, who have a multiple front, Karlaftis can be a game-wrecker alongside D.J. Reader, Trey Hendrickson, Joseph Ossai, and Cameron Sample.

6. New York Jets: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Derek Stingley Jr. has long been anointed one of the best defensive prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. The LSU defense — as well as Stingley himself — suffered a bit of a regression last year, but it was hard for Stingley to top a freshman campaign that saw him notch 6 interceptions and 15 pass deflections.

At around 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Stingley is a phenomenal, physical prospect, with the length and hip fluidity to match receivers on the boundary. And, as his freshman season explosively put on display, he too has the ball skills to generate big plays on defense.

7. New York Giants: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

Daniel Jones will get one more year at least, but if he doesn’t impress in Year 3, it’s time to cut the cord. Ideally, he’ll take his added weapons and improve, but there doesn’t appear to be much optimism among onlookers. If Jones proves to be a lost cause, the Giants shouldn’t waste any time with their transition.

There aren’t any guarantees at QB in 2022 at this point, but Spencer Rattler has the tools to work his way into this range. There remain questions surrounding Rattler’s consistency. Nevertheless, the former top QB recruit has the arm talent to fit the ball into some crazy spots. He’s also a good athlete, and if he can keep developing, he’d be worth the investment here.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

Desmond Ridder could have declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, and there’s a good chance he would have been a second-round pick at worst. But the electric quarterback decided to return for his senior season to try and help the Cincinnati Bearcats take the next step. Ridder has the physical talent to become QB1 in this class, and one more year could be what he needs.

If the Falcons are picking this high again in 2022, they should take advantage of it and pair Ridder with 2021 first-round pick Kyle Pitts. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Ridder is a well-sized quarterback with elite athleticism, and he has an elastic arm as well. Additionally, Ridder has high marks as a team leader, and his starting experience would be valuable in a closely contested QB class.

9. Denver Broncos: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

If the Broncos are picking this high with the amount of talent they have on their roster, we have to assume that Drew Lock did not progress in Year 3. We also have to assume that Teddy Bridgewater’s presence — whether as a replacement or a competition catalyst — did not have an impact.

Three of the top quarterbacks are already off the board, and in this class, forcing the issue might not be ideal. But the phone lines are disconnected, so Denver takes the next best quarterback on their board, who happens to be Sam Howell. Howell has drawn comparisons to Baker Mayfield at times with his build and athleticism. Howell quite doesn’t have the killer instinct or the accuracy, but his arm talent is undeniable. If he can trim down his volatility, he can easily go this high.

10. New York Giants (via CHI): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

The secondary is improving in New York, but there will be turnover again in 2022 when Jabrill Peppers’ contract expires. It would be a good opportunity for the Giants to upgrade the safety position. And if they have two picks in the top 10, as the current projections dictate, they’d be in perfect position to grab Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.

Hamilton is a transcendent prospect at the safety position. He’s 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and yet, he moves with grace covering the back two-thirds. A supreme athlete with ball skills, range, and playmaking proactivity, he projects to be one of the most dynamic and versatile defenders in the 2021 NFL Draft.

11. Washington Football Team: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

The Washington Football Team arguably has one of the top five rosters in the NFL. However, this pick projection makes it clear that one year of that roster’s shelf life was wasted on Fitz-tragic. It wasn’t all Washington’s fault; they didn’t have a great opportunity to take a QB in 2021. Nevertheless, they should look to fill the need for a franchise quarterback as quickly as possible, and Carson Strong might be the guy.

Strong flashed big-time traits with the Nevada Wolfpack last year. Across nine games, he completed 70.1% of his passes for 2,858 yards, 27 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions. He’s predominantly a pocket passer, but he’s a good athlete nonetheless for his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. Additionally, his arm is incredibly explosive, and he has an easy, crisp throwing motion. The talent is all there, and on Washington’s roster, he could find success early.

12. Las Vegas Raiders: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M

It remains to be seen how the 2022 NFL Draft’s interior line class will shake out, but one of the consensus top prospects is Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal. PFN’s Oliver Hodgkinson mocked Leal to the Raiders in his 2022 NFL Draft mock a month ago. After looking at Las Vegas’ barren interior line, I’m inclined to do the same in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

Standing at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Leal has excellent size and length as a three-technique. Furthermore, with his athleticism, he has some hybrid functionality, and his high-level ability at multiple spots would free up the Raiders to be creative with their fronts.

13. Carolina Panthers: Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State

A lot depends on the 2022 free agency period for the Panthers. Will they bring back Robby Anderson to keep a familiar target in Sam Darnold‘s arsenal? Will they be able to extend stalwart tackle Taylor Moton. If the Panthers err on the side of familiarity in Darnold’s weapons corps, then Moton could hit the open market. In that case, the Panthers would need to re-up at offensive tackle.

Penn State’s Rasheed Walker was a player who had a lot of respect as a potential 2021 NFL Draft prospect. However, rather than declaring, he decided to return to school for another year. Standing at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, he’s an impressive athlete with mechanical definition beyond his years, and he can help keep Darnold from going down in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

14. Minnesota Vikings: Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State

The Vikings drafted Pittsburgh edge rusher Patrick Jones on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. As intriguing as Jones is, however, he doesn’t come close to solving the Vikings’ edge woes, especially if Danielle Hunter leaves in 2022. They may need to invest heavy capital in that position. At No. 14 overall in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, Zach Harrison is an enticing add.

Harrison likely isn’t the next Chase Young — few will be. Nevertheless, Harrison himself has some intriguing traits. He’s 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, and he has good explosiveness and flexibility off the line. His true calling card, however, is his length, which he uses to wrangle runners and disrupt the passing game.

15. Arizona Cardinals: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Rondale Moore will be a fun addition to the Cardinals’ offense, but outside of him and DeAndre Hopkins, there’s some looming uncertainty at wide receiver. Christian Kirk and A.J. Green are both free agents in 2022, and speed threat Andy Isabella doesn’t inspire confidence long-term. Arizona may be looking for wide receiver help again, and this time, they’ll need a go-to guy opposite Hopkins.

At No. 15 overall, Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson is the selection in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Wilson has decent size at 6-foot-0, 193 pounds, but his play style is what truly sets him apart. Wilson is tough, dynamic, and immaculate with his body control and focus in contested situations. On top of that, he has the quickness and route-running ability to separate, making him an ideal threat for Kyler Murray.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Joe Haden is a free agent in 2022, and outside of him, the Steelers are treacherously thin at cornerback. They didn’t do a lot to upgrade the position early in the 2021 NFL Draft, so it might ultimately fall to the 2022 NFL Draft to make things happen.

A few prospects may end up being appealing at No. 16 in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, among them Josh Jobe, Sevyn Banks, and Ahmad Gardner. Nevertheless, Elam makes the most sense here. He has excellent ball skills, having logged 2 interceptions and 11 deflections in his most recent season, and his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame will be a welcome sight in Pittsburgh’s secondary.

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