It can be odd, turning the page in May 2021, to a draft that won’t occur until April 2022. But already, we’re less than four weeks away from 2022. And from that point, it’s only four more months until the 2022 NFL Draft we’ve spent so long teasing. Time flies. As we near the end of the college football season, let’s take another snapshot at the class with this 2022 NFL 7-Round Mock Draft. Who’s rising, who’s falling, and who comes out on top?
Note: The draft order is current as of Friday, December 10. Check back in the late afternoon on Tuesday (December 14) when our newest mock draft is released based on the conclusion of Week 14’s action.
2022 7-Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
Kayvon Thibodeaux once had the first overall pick all but locked up. Now, however, he’s in a fierce battle with another edge rusher who’s made a persuasive case.
1) Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Aidan Hutchinson has been another brand of dominant this year. And his best play has come when his team needed it most. He tore apart the vaunted Ohio State offense and constantly put pressure on the hapless Iowa offense. It’s why Hutchinson was the only defensive Heisman finalist. No defensive player made a bigger impact than him this year.
As a prospect, I’m still in the Thibodeaux > Hutchinson camp. But it’s also entirely realistic that Hutchinson goes above Thibodeaux in the draft. Hutchinson’s dominance, non-stop motor, and ferocious style are sure to win over old-school NFL minds. And on top of that, he’s a stellar athlete. Particularly in the Lions’ case, Hutchinson is as close to a kneecap-biter as you’re going to get.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
We can bust out the Staples “That was easy” button for this one. There are still options for the Jaguars, who have a plethora of needs heading into Year 2 of the rebuild. Regardless of whether or not Urban Meyer returns, more support is needed for Trevor Lawrence. But more blue-chip talent is also needed, especially on defense. Ranked as the top player in the class by our analysts here at Pro Football Network, Kayvon Thibodeaux gets the call.
Hutchinson’s road-grading style is tantalizing, but Thibodeaux arguably has the most upside in this entire edge class — and that’s saying something. Thibodeaux is incredibly long at 6’5″, 250 pounds. With that length comes alien explosiveness and flexibility. With his burst and length, Thibodeaux generates massive amounts of power at the point of attack. As he continues to refine his pass-rushing arsenal, he’ll only get closer to his double-digit sack upside.
3) Houston Texans: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Texans are taking to this rebuild like Abed in Community takes to Cougar Town. They’re off-loading veterans and losing games, and soon, they’ll be in prime position to start the next season of the David Culley show by adding a blue-chip talent in the NFL Draft. Projected to pick third right now, the Texans have a lot of options to choose from. They could go quarterback, but there’s far too much defensive talent on the board.
In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the Texans take Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr., who happens to be PFN’s consensus top cornerback. Booth has been on a tear to close out the year. An elite athlete with torrid explosiveness, fluidity, and twitch, Booth can mirror just about anyone, and he can close quickly in run support. In coverage, his length and elite instincts make him a dangerous playmaking threat as well.
4) New York Jets: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
It’s taken longer than expected for Robert Saleh’s Jets to truly take flight, but things are slowly looking up. Zach Wilson turned in one of his better performances to date against the Philadelphia Eagles. Elijah Moore has predictably morphed into a dangerous weapon, and others like Alijah Vera-Tucker and Michael Carter continue to show promise. New York’s offense has loads of potential, but more pieces are needed to complete the puzzle.
Preservation of Wilson is key, and inserting Evan Neal across from a healthy Mekhi Becton goes a long way toward accomplishing that. Morgan Moses has been solid, but Neal is a long-term fix with astronomical upside. Another behemoth at 6’7″, 350 pounds, Neal has inhuman athleticism for his size. He’s powerful, well-leveraged, and his hands have improved in 2021. Neal can help keep Wilson clean as he develops.
5) New York Jets: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
It all starts in the trenches. With their first pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the Jets solidified the offensive side of the ball with Neal. Now, they’ll turn their sights to the defense, intent on attacking opposing tackles. The 2022 NFL Draft is loaded with edge-rushing talent, but one of the most exciting and fast-rising players is David Ojabo, who’s been the other half of Michigan’s dominant pass rush.
A common parallel made for Ojabo has been Odafe Oweh. Like Oweh, Ojabo is a long 6’5″, 250-pounder, and a freak athlete. He’s explosive, flexible, relentless, and trending up with his hand usage. But unlike Oweh, Ojabo has production to back up his traits. Production was Oweh’s main knock, and he still went in Round 1. With 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles to validate his upside, Ojabo could feasibly go much higher than Oweh. For the Jets, he’d be another potential blue-chip player up front.
6) New York Giants: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
It remains to be seen if Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge will last beyond this year. On the surface, it seems unlikely, but John Mara has been patient with them so far — perhaps too patient. If that patience somehow trickles into the offseason, fixing the offensive line should be at the top of the Giants’ to-do list. And in this class, there might not be a lineman that screams Gettleman more than Trevor Penning.
Contrary to popular belief, Penning’s appeal to old-school minds is not a knock. Sure, Penning is massive at 6’7″, 330 pounds. He’s also the meanest offensive tackle in the 2022 NFL Draft. But beyond that, Penning is a great athlete for his size. He gets to the second level quickly and can erase defenders with his violent style and torque. Together, Penning and Andrew Thomas make a formidable duo.
7) New York Giants: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The Giants’ defense has talent, but the second level is a notable weak spot. Without Blake Martinez, the unit has devolved with alarming quickness. The front is stout, but the Giants need more players who can capitalize on the work in the trenches and make plays. Perhaps no linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft fits what the Giants need more than Utah’s Devin Lloyd.
This might be a bit high for Lloyd in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, but all it takes is one team to fall in love, and Lloyd will be the first LB off the board. It’s easy to love Lloyd’s game. He’s supremely explosive and versatile at 6’3″, 235, with a built-in GPS football tracking system. Lloyd is an elite playmaker, with 22 TFLs, 7 sacks, 4 picks, 6 deflections, and a forced fumble this year. He’s a tone-setter, and the Giants need a tone shift.
8) Atlanta Falcons: Ikem Ekwonu, OL, North Carolina State
Defense is the priority for the Falcons, but no one can deny how underwhelming the offensive line has been. First-round pick Kaleb McGary hasn’t panned out, and the unit needs to find a way to gain strength this coming offseason. As mentioned, defense is usually the call for the Falcons in 2022 mock drafts. But this time, we go offense first — because you simply can’t settle on the offensive line.
Disappointed? Well, when you turn on the tape and watch Ikem Ekwonu toss grown men like bocce balls, it’ll soften the blow a little bit. Ekwonu gives a facelift to the Falcons’ front and provides a piece to build around. He can play both tackle and guard, but his 2021 season proved that he can stay at tackle and thrive in the NFL. He’s an explosive athlete with a long, powerful frame, and his mauler mentality is matched by no other.
9) Carolina Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Things are quickly crumbling in Carolina. Quarterback issues haven’t been the sole cause of this chaos, but it has been a common theme. The Panthers traded high-value draft capital for Sam Darnold. Then it turned out Darnold still wasn’t it. After that, they signed Cam Newton. He moved the needle for all of a week. If the Panthers want meaningful change, a new quarterback is high on the list of needs.
In this class, there isn’t a runaway option at No. 9 overall. But if it wasn’t for his hands, Kenny Pickett would likely be the best QB prospect in the draft. His hand size is a question he’ll have to answer in the offseason. But Pickett perhaps has the best mix of physical and mental traits. He’s a great athlete with a good arm and natural off-script ability. Mentally, he’s shown he can process at a high level and manipulate defensive backs. And as a competitor, Pickett is as tough as they come.
10) New Orleans Saints: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Earlier in the season, the Saints picked closer to the 20-25 range. In that range, the best available wide receiver was often a popular pick for Sean Payton’s squad. At 10th overall in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, that doesn’t change. But the best available receiver does. No longer do the Saints have to settle for Chris Olave or Jahan Dotson. Now, they can snag Garrett Wilson at the top of the board.
It feels wrong to say that picking Olave or Dotson is settling. But Wilson has a strong case to be WR1 in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s one of the best examples of the ever-coveted three-level threat. Wilson’s an elite separator, who’s developed into a dangerous route-running technician. He’s immaculate at the catch point, with great body control and coordination. And after the catch, he can make guys miss. No matter who the QB is, Wilson will help.
11) Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
You can pretty much mark down one of the Eagles’ first-round picks as a cornerback. Behind Darius Slay, who himself isn’t getting any younger, the Eagles are in desperate need of an upgrade at the position. Their need comes at an opportune time. Even with Booth and Elam off the board in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, there’s plenty of talent left to survey — including LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr.
Stingley is best known for his absolutely dominant freshman campaign in 2019. But his developmental stagnation over the past couple of years, combined with his foot injury, will cool some of the hype. Even amidst these circumstances, it’s important not to forget the upside that Stingley provides. With his length, explosiveness, fluidity, and instincts at the catch point, he blankets receivers and generates turnovers — vital functions for defensive playmakers in today’s NFL.
12) Philadelphia Eagles: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Flashback to last season and Jameson Williams was stuck behind Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, with Julian Fleming close behind him and more recruits on the way. Williams made a business decision and transferred to Alabama. That decision has already earned him millions of dollars. Williams has 68 catches for 1,445 yards and 15 scores heading into the playoffs, and he’s throttled into the first-round conversation.
In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, Williams lands with the Eagles. Philadelphia may soon cut ties with failed speed threat Jalen Reagor, and they’ll need a complement to DeVonta Smith. Williams brings 4.3 speed, but he also brings a long 6’2″ frame, extraordinary hip sink and quickness on his routes, and natural instincts at the catch point. It’s not brash to say that Williams has the highest ceiling in this WR class — and the Eagles take advantage here.
13) Minnesota Vikings: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
It’s become a running joke that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman loves to target cornerbacks in Round 1. But the amusement fades when you see how bad the Vikings still are at cornerback. Since 2015, Minnesota has selected five cornerbacks in the first three rounds and three in Round 1. And yet, it’s still one of their biggest needs heading into 2022.
Luckily for the Vikings, cornerback is one of the strongest positions in the 2022 NFL Draft. Booth, Stingley Jr., Kyler Gordon, and Ahmad Gardner are just a few potential first-round picks. But Kaiir Elam is the choice here. With his length, explosiveness, and exceptional hip fluidity, Elam translates well in both man and zone concepts. Florida’s defense was up and down this year, but Elam was a steady constant on his side of the field. The Vikings could use that steadiness in their secondary.
14) Denver Broncos: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
It’s hard to say if this was avoidable for the Denver Broncos. Only one thing is for certain: Denver likely wasted a potential playoff team this year on subpar quarterback play. There’ll be a bit of a transition period — especially if Vic Fangio is fired — but there’s enough talent in the 2022 NFL Draft for the Broncos to reset at good value.
Quarterback and edge help will come later. But at 14th overall in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the value of the board fell best at tackle. Charles Cross is arguably a top-10 prospect who’s embarked on a stellar year for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Although he’s just a redshirt sophomore, he has impressive hands for his age. He’s also an elite athlete with great mobility, length, and natural balance.
15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Malik Willis‘ 2021 tape isn’t first-round worthy — in fact, far from it. But NFL teams have proven time and time again that they’re willing to bank on traits. Coaches consistently believe they can fix players. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can’t. But that belief and desire are always present somewhere. That belief is what will sell teams on Willis, who has the highest upside in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Steelers have to improve their line if they bring in Willis. By a similar virtue, Willis has to improve drastically in structure. He has elite mobility and great arm talent — two things Ben Roethlisberger has greatly lacked in the twilight of his career. But there may be an acclimation period for Willis. Nevertheless, if he reaches his peak potential, it’ll all be worth it.
16) Las Vegas Raiders: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Raiders admitted their mistake in drafting Damon Arnette Round 1 when they released the ill-fated Ohio State cornerback earlier in the year. The Raiders’ recent draft history has been full of reaches. Whether Mike Mayock returns or not, that needs to change. Mark Davis’ team can start by refilling the void left at cornerback with one of college football’s most dominant talents: Ahmad Gardner.
Gardner likely isn’t this highly rated on many boards, but schematic fit plays a hand in this selection. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has made a living off of his Cover 3 scheme, and Gardner is a great fit for what Bradley needs. Gardner is physical in press but also has the length and burst to drop back in trail and blanket receivers downfield. He can lock down his island while Trevon Moehrig looms at the back of a revamped secondary.