2022 NFL Mock Draft: Indulging early-season overreactions

Humans overreact. It's what we do. Let's acknowledge and analyze early-season overreactions with this latest 7-round 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | 17-32

Let’s continue the first round.

17) New England Patriots: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are scheduled to become free agents this offseason. It seems unlikely that Bill Belichick will bring both back, especially with Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Justin Bethel, and Shaun Wade under contract. Thus, the Patriots may need a new starter on the boundary, and at this point, there’s no better option for that than Florida’s Kaiir Elam.

Elam is one of my personal favorite players in this class. While onlookers give attention to Stingley and Booth — and rightly so — I think Elam is right there with them at the top of the position. Elam feels like a Belichick cornerback. Like Gilmore and Jackson, he’s long, standing at 6’2″, 193 pounds. A former receiver, Elam has great ball skills to go with his length, and he’s also physical, incredibly fluid, and fast-flowing to the football.

18) Los Angeles Chargers: Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State

As god-like as Brandon Staley may be from a schematic standpoint, every defense needs a productive pass-rushing unit if it wants to find success. Uchenna Nwosu is a good stopgap opposite Joey Bosa, but the Chargers may want to upgrade in 2022. This EDGE class is the perfect avenue through which to pursue that.

In this case, it makes sense for Los Angeles to look back to Ohio State, where another elite pass rusher is blossoming before our eyes. Zach Harrison is an elite athletic specimen with a long 6’6″, 268-pound frame. He reportedly has a 4.47 40-yard dash on record, and he also recorded a near-38-inch vertical in high school. He’s fast and explosive coming downhill, and his length can be a brutal conduit for that explosiveness. His hands showed visible improvement in Week 1. The hope is that there’s more to come.

19) Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

In the aftermath of Sam Howell‘s collapse against Virginia Tech, there was talk about Howell potentially not being worth a first-round pick. That’s too much of an overreaction to indulge at this point. Nonetheless, Howell’s lack of elite physical upside could ultimately push him down the board if other quarterbacks start to rise. While he has a good arm, he’s not elite in either physical category, and that limits his upside as an elevator. We saw some of that last week, where Howell’s lack of comfort rendered him a shell at certain points.

Still, Howell is an exceptional quarterback prospect. He has above-average functional athleticism and enough arm elasticity to spread the field and generate velocity on his passes. Going further, his most marketable trait might be his toughness and competitive fire. Even in a rough outing against the Hokies, he still had several clutch plays, where his toughness and focus helped the Tar Heels convert. He can be a franchise quarterback for Philadelphia but juxtaposed with other 2022 QBs, his upside isn’t as high.

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

There are a select few college football programs that you habitually look to when looking for NFL talent. Ohio State is one of those programs. Across the board, the Buckeyes have proven they can develop professional athletes. And this year, an underrated prospect for Ohio State rests on the offensive line. While Thayer Munford is underrated as well, Nicholas Petit-Frere may be even more so.

Petit-Frere stands at 6’5″, 315 pounds, with a great combination of length and mobility. He has fast feet and hands in pass protection, and as a run blocker, he shows glimpses of steady leg drive and grip strength. He reaches the second level with ease. Moreover, he has some torso flexibility, which he can use to absorb opposing power without losing leverage. Petit-Frere can still play with better control, but he’s a first-round physical talent who’s trending up.

21) Dallas Cowboys: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan

The Cowboys’ defense is certainly improved from last season, but they still need more help. In the trenches, their rotation isn’t quite as deep as desired. Additionally, in the secondary, they could use another versatile, dynamic playmaker to help tie things together. After early college football action, Michigan’s Daxton Hill is trending up in that category. He can be the Cowboys’ catalyst in the secondary.

Hill ran a 4.3 and logged a 43.6-inch vertical in high school. That elite explosiveness no doubt shows up on tape. Hill closes spaces with terrifying suddenness. He’s incredibly fluid and breaks on plays in an instant. Last year, his recognition ability showed room for improvement at times. But in Week 1, he was seeing things faster and ultimately playing faster. Hill — playing faster than he already was — is a scary thought. This is how Dallas’ defense goes from being a nightmare to being nightmare fuel for offenses.

22) New Orleans Saints: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Week 1 action confirmed what most of us knew about Chris Olave. He could have been a Round 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he’s also not getting past Day 1 in 2022. This might ultimately be Olave’s floor. While the Saints could ultimately get one or two solid, lasting contributors from their stint without Michael Thomas, they’ll still need more top-end talent at receiver in 2022. Olave provides exactly that.

Olave isn’t quite as purely explosive as Wilson, and he also doesn’t have the same toughness and reliability in contested situations. Regardless, Olave is a great fit for Sean Payton’s system. He can get open quickly and create high-percentage looks with his suddenness, calculated footwork, and awareness of blind spots. Once he’s open, he has soft hands and the speed to stretch space.

23) Tennessee Titans: Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State

The Titans are in a place where they can plan for the future a bit. Nate Davis and Rodger Saffold both have expiring contracts in 2023. Davis hasn’t been extended yet, and Saffold is now 33 years old, starting to get up there in age. The Titans can’t neglect their offensive line — it’s the engine of the offense. Thus, picking a position-versatile blocker with upside makes a lot of sense here.

Ikem Ekwonu has experience at both tackle and guard, but he projects better on the interior. The 6’4″, 320-pound mauler can use his proportional length, power, and aggression to induce submission in his opponents. Ekwonu is one of the most physical linemen in the league. While he still needs to refine his hand placement, he had a strong debut outing against South Florida. Ekwonu gives the Titans immediate depth but also long-term security and high-end upside.

24) New York Jets: Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech

If Treylon Burks is a common first-round selection in 2022 NFL mock drafts, we need to talk about Texas Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma. Ezukanma has a similar skill set to Burks, but he’s started off the 2021 season on a much higher note. Having led the league in receiving yards out of Week 1, Ezukanma is wasting no time inflating his draft stock, and on tape, there’s a lot to be excited about.

Ezukanma stands at 6’3″, 220 pounds. His contested-catch ability has gotten the most hype in recent months, but he’s far from a one-dimensional receiver. In fact, there isn’t much Ezukanma can’t do. Sure, he has acrobatic body control and velcro-like hands in 50-50 situations. But he’s also an excellent lateral athlete who can evade defenders after the catch. He has searing explosiveness in open space, with the contact balance to bounce off opponents and churn through contact.

Ezukanma put up a dominant Week 1 performance. If he keeps playing that way, people won’t be able to ignore him for much longer. He’s a three-level threat with astronomical upside.

25) Cleveland Browns: Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn

Jadeveon Clowney should be a more-than-competent complement to Myles Garrett off the edge in 2021. Nonetheless, the Browns might be looking again for more talent in their pass-rushing group next year. Although Clowney could feasibly stick around more than a year, adding more talent to the most important defensive group makes sense. Colby Wooden, in particular, projects well to Cleveland’s defense.

Wooden is an ascending talent with Round 1 upside. Last season, Wooden accrued 41 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and a pass deflection. This year, at 6’5″, 278 pounds, he’s off to a fast start. Against Akron in Week 1, he logged 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Wooden has excellent athleticism and length to go with imposing power, and he has the versatility to play anywhere from 2i to 5-technique if needed.

26) Detroit Lions: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

Uh oh, Dan Campbell showed up to the press conference in a racing helmet again. This time, he’s not the Grand Marshal of the Grand Prix. He just drafted Treylon Burks.

Detroit’s receiving corps is still in dire need of top-end talent. Amon-Ra St. Brown should be a solid playmaker for the squad, and Tyrell Williams has an excellent athletic profile if healthy. There’s also Trinity Benson, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Quintez Cephus, and Tom Kennedy. Yet, none of those options provide quite as much excitement as Arkansas’ matchup nightmare.

Burks has struggled with drops to start the year, which is why he dropped a bit in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. However, even with the drops, Burks has enticing upside. He’s a stellar run-after-catch threat at 6’3″, 225 pounds, and he also has great upside in contested situations, where his size and body control serve as his chief assets. With speed potentially in the late 4.4s at his size, he can help Detroit’s offense reach a new gear.

27) Miami Dolphins: Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame

Myles Gaskin is a fine back, but the Miami Dolphins may end up seeking more high-level talent in their RB room next offseason. There are several candidates for the RB1 mantle right now, but one player who made a convincing argument in Week 1 is Kyren Williams. Williams wasn’t all too productive as a runner against Florida State, but he showed off one crucial component that he hasn’t consistently in years past — receiving ability.

Against the Seminoles, Williams caught 6 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. As the offensive line continues to mesh, he should find more holes in the future as a runner. When he’s on his game, Williams is incredibly explosive and agile, and he can create in space — something not all running backs can do. He also shows flashes of contact balance and leg churn through contact, and he’s an exceptional pass blocker. Those factors combined should win him some fans in April — I compare him favorably to Austin Ekeler.

28) Baltimore Ravens: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Few college football players started off their 2021 seasons more productive than Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd. The 6’3″, 235-pound defender was flying in Utah’s Week 1 victory against Weber State. He amassed 12 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, an interception, and a forced fumble. The 2022 linebacker class is uncertain, and Lloyd couldn’t have launched his ascending campaign any better.

Lloyd is a great athlete at his size, with the burst and length to close on plays quickly. He isn’t quite elite as an athlete overall, but he has more than enough movement ability to complement his multi-level instincts and quick reaction ability. Lloyd is a defensive leader by every definition possible, and he’d be a coveted playmaker alongside Patrick Queen.

29) Green Bay Packers: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

Green Bay’s weakest position group is its inside linebacker rotation, and it’s not close. De’Vondre Campbell is a solid veteran who can be steady as a starter, and Krys Barnes also has some potential. But more likely than not, Green Bay will be looking for more reinforcements at the linebacker position come next April. Here at 29th overall in our latest 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they luck into getting Alabama’s Christian Harris.

Widely viewed as the top linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft, Harris has the physical tools to be a consistent playmaker. The mental part of his game is still a work in progress, but the 6’2″, 232-pound linebacker has excellent explosiveness and twitch for his size, and he looked like he was seeing things quicker in Week 1. He was part of a suffocating defensive effort against Miami, and his impact should only grow as the season progresses.

30) Buffalo Bills: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

It’s hard to nitpick the Bills’ roster, but one area they could better address is cornerback. Levi Wallace is once again a free agent after this season, as is starting slot cornerback Taron Johnson. Buffalo will need to restock the position amidst turmoil, and the 2022 NFL Draft might be the perfect time to do so. 2022’s cornerback class is incredibly strong, and that’s evident in Trent McDuffie‘s availability at the 30th pick.

While Washington started its season with a loss to Montana, McDuffie was one of the lone bright spots. He earned 2 pass deflections in the outing, starting his 2021 season on a strong note. It’s no surprise that McDuffie continues to make plays in coverage. He’s an elite athlete with a 41.5-inch vertical on record. He wins with elite explosiveness and hip fluidity, and he also has the mental quickness to read and react to plays. McDuffie could be a versatile, dynamic defensive piece for Buffalo.

31) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bo Nix, QB, Auburn

September mock drafts are not predictive but instead projective. This is the time of year to explore different possibilities. And as shocking as it may be, Bo Nix has early-round upside at quarterback. If the draft were today, Nix wouldn’t go nearly this high, but this is how high he can go if he reaches his potential.

Nix is a stellar athlete with a supremely elastic arm, and he’s incredibly natural in off-script situations. The problem with Nix is that he never showed much consistency in structure. And against pressure, he’d rush his mechanics, causing inaccuracy. But that might be changing this year.

In Week 1, Nix showed improved pocket poise. When in structure, he went through his progressions, processed quickly, and diced up Akron’s defense with unyielding accuracy and pace on his throws. He has to show growth in SEC play, where he’ll be facing more pressure. But Nix’s perception has skewed to unreasonable levels. His upside is immense, and he might be getting some needed development under Bryan Harsin.

Kyle Trask isn’t a high-upside quarterback. Nix, even with all his flaws, is. If he plays himself into this range, Tampa can afford to take this risk.

32) Kansas City Chiefs: Jordan Wright, EDGE, Kentucky

Bo Nix goes in Round 1 of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, and he still might not be the boldest selection. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but hey — it’s September. Let’s go crazy. No one expected Jamin Davis to go in Round 1 at this point last year, and this season, it seems as though another Kentucky defender has similar upside.

Jordan Wright has quietly been a steady producer for the Wildcats on the edge, but he might be taking his game to another level this year. The 6’5″, 233-pound pass rusher kicked off his senior campaign with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and a quarterback takedown. On his sack, he flashed elite explosiveness, using his length and long strides to sear around the edge and swallow up the signal-caller.

With his explosiveness and length, Wright has a high-upside combination. He’ll likely need to add weight at the NFL level, but he has a frame that should be able to get up to 250. However, he is already a dynamic talent with tantalizing potential.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.