2022 7-Round NFL Mock Draft: Matt Corral and Ahmad Gardner in the top 5?

In our latest 7-Round 2022 NFL Mock Draft, cornerbacks and edge rushers rule the draft board -- does your team address their top need?

Quarterbacks are all the rage these days. That’s cool — if you’re into that sort of thing. But the 2022 NFL Draft is testing positional value before our very eyes. The QB class is uncertain, while positions like cornerback and edge rusher are stacked to the brim with talent. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, we see cornerbacks and edge rushers dominate the draft board — but quarterbacks still find their way into the equation.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | 1-16

Here are the players who lead off the proceedings in our latest 7-Round 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Please note that the draft order used throughout this mock draft is current as of the completion of Week 5.

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Offensive tackle is one of the most valuable positions in football. But there hasn’t been an offensive tackle selected first overall since 2013. A lot of that has to do with the positional value of quarterbacks. Six of the last eight No. 1 overall picks have been signal-callers. But perhaps some of it also has to do with the fact that we haven’t had a tackle prospect like Evan Neal.

That may be a bit hyperbolic, as strong tackle prospects like Tristan Wirfs have fallen irrationally. Nevertheless, Neal is a rare player with freakish athleticism and power at 6’7″, 350 pounds. Not only that, but Neal also has experience at both left and right tackle. Thus, the Jaguars don’t have to worry about where they put him. Wherever he goes, he’ll keep Trevor Lawrence safe for years on end.

2) Detroit Lions: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

This quarterback class is by no means a strong one, but it’s not devoid of talent. Many of the top options have the requisite physical talent but simply haven’t separated themselves to this point. That said, if you asked who’s separated themselves the most since the start of the season, the best answer might be Ole Miss’ Matt Corral.

Corral has elite arm elasticity and good strength, and he’s also a great athlete at the quarterback position. The biggest question marks for him last season were decision-making and volatility. So far in 2021, however, he’s taken big strides there. The Lions are still rebuilding, but it’s clear Jared Goff is an active detriment to the offense. If they can get their pick at QB, they should — even in this class. Corral has the traits and toughness to be a franchise QB.

3) Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

The Texans have been more competitive than expected in 2021, but a lot of that may be attributed to the team’s relatively high veteran density. While it’s an experienced team, it’s still not a good team. What the Texans have in experience across the board, they lack in blue-chip talent. Last April, they didn’t have the capital to change that. Now, they do.

If the Texans pick in the top three as expected, then going with the best player available seems like a sound strategy. Davis Mills hasn’t exactly proven himself as a potential franchise option just yet. That said, he has had his moments, and if Houston isn’t going to be legitimately competitive for a couple more years, it makes sense to give him more time and build around him. Kayvon Thibodeaux — an elite EDGE prospect with rare physical tools — helps to accomplish that.

4) New York Jets: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

There’s no consensus CB1 anymore, but most 2022 NFL mocks have one of three cornerbacks going first at their position — Derek Stingley Jr., Kaiir Elam, or Andrew Booth Jr. All three players have phenomenal upside, but none of them have been the best at their position in college football this year. That honor might go to Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner — who has tantalizing potential in his own right.

Gardner hasn’t allowed a passing touchdown in his entire Bearcats career. He’s always been a lockdown cornerback, but 2021 might be his best work yet. Through five games, Gardner has 2 interceptions and 2 pass deflections, and he’s allowed a league-low passer rating of 27.0. Quarterbacks simply don’t look his way, and when they do, they pay the price. Gardner isn’t quite as fluid as the other CBs in the conversation, but he’s improved his footwork tremendously over the course of his career. He’s long, athletic, instinctive, and he has the playmaker gene.

5) Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami): Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

There are five cornerbacks among my top 20 prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft, but only one can take the top spot. On my board, that top cornerback spot is currently held by Kaiir Elam. I was a fan of his elite size-adjusted fluidity over the offseason. But on top of that fluidity, the 6’2″ defender also provides great physicality, closing speed, and ball skills at the catch point.

The Eagles have long needed cornerback help, and it may be time to invest early draft capital at the position. With his length, short-range burst, and reaction quickness, Elam translates well into the zone-heavy schemes that the Eagles currently use. But he also has the top-flight fluidity to lock down opponents in man as well.

6) Indianapolis Colts: Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State

The prevailing assumption heading into the 2021 season was that Neal was the runaway OT1 of the 2022 NFL Draft class. Seven weeks in, someone may be challenging that assumption. Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere has been a menace for opposing defensive lines this year. You could make an argument that, even with TreVeyon Henderson, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson, he’s been the Buckeyes’ best offensive player.

Petit-Frere doesn’t quite have the otherworldly mass that Neal has, but he still has a strong, well-proportioned frame at 6’5″, 315 pounds. Petit-Frere is an elite athlete with great lateral quickness and short-area burst. He’s smooth in pass protection, but violent off the snap and deadly coming downhill on run-blocking reps. His name may mean “little brother”, but Petit-Frere is aiming to be the first tackle off the board in April.

7) New York Giants: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

Few defenders across the college football landscape have been more impactful than Aidan Hutchinson. The Michigan edge rusher has wreaked havoc on opposing offensive tackles, and he’s quickly rising up draft boards as a result. He’s currently my second-ranked edge rusher behind Thibodeaux. It’s no surprise he’s already amassed 4.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in six games.

Hutchinson’s production is exciting, but even more exciting is how he wins. He has a strong blend of twitch and energy off the line, and his hands move with near-elite quickness and force. With precise, calculated moves, Hutchinson can beat his opponents with ease, and he also has enough burst and flexibility to gain displacement early. He’s quickly morphed into a potential blue-chip prospect. For the Giants, he’d represent a massive upgrade opposite Azeez Ojulari.

8) Atlanta Falcons: DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M

Falcons fans have informed me that they basically need everything. I tried my best to get everything with this selection, but there’s a strict “one pick per pick” policy in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. So I decided to settle on the most important area (outside of quarterback) — the trenches. And upon honing in on that area, DeMarvin Leal stood out as the best option.

Leal is tailor-made for hybrid-front defenses. The Texas A&M product stands at around 6’4″, 290 pounds. However, with his length and athleticism, he can play anywhere from 1-technique to 5-technique, and maybe even outside those parameters. Leal has been incredibly disruptive this year, notching 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in six games. If Atlanta wants to improve its pass rush, there are no better options at this pick.

9) New England Patriots: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

There are a lot of ways the Patriots could go with this pick. The team isn’t necessarily bad, but there are many areas where they could stand to improve. One of those areas is defense. The secondary has been aging for some time, and although younger players are starting to rise through the ranks, there’s nothing stopping New England from using this pick on Kyle Hamilton if he’s available in April.

In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, Hamilton is indeed available, and he provides Bill Belichick with the flexibility he craves from his defensive backs. At 6’4″, 219 pounds, Hamilton has an elite athletic profile. On top of that, he brings the versatility to play in single-high, two-high, or as a big slot defender. The possibilities are endless with Hamilton, who could complement Kyle Dugger well.

10) Philadelphia Eagles: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

The raw stats are a bit more generous when describing Jalen Hurts’ impact on the Philadelphia Eagles this season. The former second-round pick hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t earned confidence as a long-term option, either. More likely than not, Hurts is a great bridge quarterback and long-term insurance plan who can help bring along the next quarterback. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, that happens to be Malik Willis.

Willis and Hurts have a few similarities — the most prevalent being that Willis, like Hurts, can use his legs to extend plays and create for himself. What separates Willis, however, is his arm. His arm is visibly stronger than Hurts’, and he can use that strength to open up more plays down the field. Once a pure fastball thrower, Willis has actively infused touch into his game this year, and the results have been promising. He gives more upside to an Eagles team looking to compete in the NFC East.

11) Miami Dolphins (from San Francisco): Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State

Ask a pool of Dolphins fans what’s wrong with their team, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some will say the coaching. Some will say the front office. And some will stay relatively quiet but softly and sadly murmur “Tank 4 Tua” under their breath. The most common answer at this point, however, seems to be the offensive line. Fixing the front five is how you make Tua more comfortable, and how you make the offense more flexible.

The offensive line facilitates your entire attack. Thus, it falls on the Dolphins to actually address that unit this offseason. They can do that early in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft by selecting NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. Ekwonu brings a lot of traits needed on Miami’s front. He’s versatile, with a great deal of experience at tackle. However, he arguably projects better on the interior. He’s an absolute mauler with great athleticism and length, and he might be the most powerful lineman in the class.

12) New York Jets (from Seattle): Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M

If there’s any team that needs two first-round picks in the top 12, it’s the New York Jets. Robert Saleh’s squad is starved for talent, and general manager Joe Douglas needs to act quickly to support quarterback Zach Wilson. With their alpha cornerback now secured, the Jets can turn back to the offensive side of the ball and strengthen their offensive line.

The Jets have a few solid pieces up front, chief among them young players Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker. However, the Jets could feasibly further improve their interior on the right side. That’s where Kenyon Green comes in. Green projects as an excellent guard prospect with great athleticism, power, core strength, and balance. He can play tackle as well but guard is where he fits best.

13) Washington Football Team: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

In most 2022 NFL mocks, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. doesn’t make it this far. But after Stingley underwent season-ending foot surgery, there are questions regarding how the operation might affect his stock. More likely than not, Stingley is still a first-round pick. If he can test, he may even remain in the top half. But the injury could still push him out of the top 10 to a team like Washington.

Washington has to consider quarterback first, as Taylor Heinicke has been volatile as expected. However, in a weak quarterback class, Ron Rivera could feasibly opt to choose the best player available if a potential blue-chip player like Stingley falls. Washington’s secondary has been a mess this year, and the cornerbacks share heavy blame for that. Stingley, with his combination of elite length, fluidity, explosiveness, and playmaking ability, can help remedy those issues.

14) Minnesota Vikings: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

It’s time for one of the most famous Rick Spielman traditions: CB investments in Round 1. Since 2015, the Vikings have selected three first-round cornerbacks and two additional cornerbacks on Day 2. It’s shocking that cornerback remains a pressing need. It’s a classic time loop, but Minnesota could potentially break the cycle with Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.

Booth is still a bit of a projection. As his performance against Zay Flowers showed, he can still improve at dealing with smaller, quicker receivers. But against most boundary receivers, Booth can match with his size and length. And beyond that, he’s a high-level athlete with rare twitch, fluidity, and short-area burst. Moreover, he has outrageous body control when the ball is in the air. Booth arguably has some of the highest upside in this class.

15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

It may be a weak quarterback class on the surface, but if there’s one team that can’t afford to wait any longer at QB, it’s Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger is so far over the hill that he’s nearing the bottom of the next one. Sure, the Steelers have other needs. But they’ve kicked the can down the road for far too long at the most important position. Now, it’s time to do whatever it takes to get the next guy.

Sam Howell hasn’t done enough to take hold of the QB1 mantle, but he hasn’t tanked his stock, either. Rather, the North Carolina product has stagnated as a legitimate but uncertain option in Round 1. He brings good physical traits and toughness, but he hasn’t consistently elevated his team this year. Howell will be tested mentally at the next level. He can make the throws, but he’ll have to see them quickly enough in the faster-paced NFL.

16) Kansas City Chiefs: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

As the season progresses, the Chiefs are starting to show more holes. It appears as though Kansas City may not be as flawless as preseason predictions claimed. Still, the Chiefs are a good enough team to take some luxury with their first pick. On both sides of the ball, they need playmakers when the ball is in the air. In Round 1 of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they address WR first and select Garrett Wilson.

Wilson is widely regarded as one of the best wide receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft. On my board, he’s WR1 over his teammate Chris Olave. Wilson doesn’t have elite size, but he’s good enough there. And he supplements his lanky 6’0″ frame with excellent explosiveness and twitch. Wilson is a great RAC threat, but he’s even better at the catch point with his vertical athleticism and body control. He’s a three-level threat, and he’d be dangerous in Andy Reid’s offense.

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