The 2021 NFL regular season is over, and the start of the playoffs is one day away. Yet, only 14 teams are in the big dance, leaving 18 teams by the wayside. As those 14 franchises duke it out to be the best of the best, everyone else scrambles to find their guys in the 2022 NFL Draft. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, let’s try and identify the balance between need and value.
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2022 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
With Valentine’s Day approaching, let’s follow the candle lights and rose petals to your favorite team’s selections. Please note that this draft order is based on the conclusion of Week 18’s action. An updated mock draft will be released early next week after all of the Super Wild Card matchups.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Cupid doesn’t have an arrow big enough for how much scouts and decision-makers should fall in love with Aidan Hutchinson. He is the definition of a “football guy,” running on a bigger motor than most American-made diesel trucks. Jacksonville needs a culture change, and selecting Hutchinson would go a long way toward making that happen.
2) Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
While Detroit has the second pick of the litter, Kayvon Thibodeaux is no consolation prize. His blend of physicality and athleticism is tailor-made for All-Pro production off the edge. Thibodeaux’s bend is second to none in the class, and he already has a diverse pass-rush repertoire at his disposal.
3) Houston Texans: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
The Texans seem content with moving forward with Davis Mills under center in 2022. To give the second-year QB a chance, they must offer him some protection. Evan Neal wears his heart on his sleeve, consistently aiding his opposition back toward their bench or end zone on every snap. At 6’7″ and 350 pounds, it isn’t surprising, but what does catch the eye is how easily Neal moves in space.
4) New York Jets: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
It was love at first sight for evaluators and Derek Stingley Jr. As soon as he hit the field as a true freshman in 2019, it was apparent he is special. Sure, the two years that followed were filled with injuries and bouts of mental lapses. But Stingley can revitalize an anemic New York secondary and bring flashbacks of Darrelle Revis.
5) New York Giants: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The Giants should think about drafting a QB with either of these two picks, but in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they decide to give Daniel Jones another go. In order to give him a fair shot, the G-Men must beef up their offensive line. Enter Charles Cross. A smooth mover, Cross shined as a pass blocker in 2021, but his run-blocking chops are not far behind.
6) Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
What better way to treat your significant other than with a breakfast special from the “Pancake King.” Of course, that means serving them Ikem Ekwonu‘s All-22 tape at NC State. Ekwonu proved he deserves a shot at tackle this year. But even if he doesn’t pan out due to short arm length, Carolina lands the best guard in the class to boost their line.
7) New York Giants (from CHI): George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
After addressing the offensive line with their first pick, the Giants turn their attention to the defensive front. Azeez Ojulari displayed his potential as a rookie, but he could use a partner in crime on the opposite side. Thus, NY selects Purdue’s George Karlaftis. While Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are in their own tier, Karlaftis is the clear third edge rusher with some distance behind him.
8) Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Hamilton may be the title of a critically acclaimed Broadway play, but Kyle Hamilton deserves as much recognition for his play in Notre Dame’s secondary. He can line up all over the defense due to his size (6’4″) and speed combination. A defense with Hamilton in the deep third and Deion Jones in the second level is one with more range than the United States’ most advanced heat-seeking missiles.
9) Denver Broncos: Nakobe Dean, LB Georgia
Speaking of heat-seeking missiles … Nakobe Dean takes breaths away with how fast he flys around the football field. His ability to read, react, and attack is absurd. Dean may only be 6’0″, but he more than makes up for it with his play speed.
The leader of Georgia’s national championship-winning defense, Dean is also beloved for his intangibles and smarts — both on and off the field (4.0 GPA).
10) New York Jets (from SEA): David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Two Michigan edge rushers in the top 10? Yes, yes, and yes. David Ojabo may have only played significant snaps in one season, but it was more than enough to warrant a spot here. Much like Odafe Oweh of last year’s class, Ojabo’s raw tools propel him into the upper echelon of the draft, and he had more production than the Ravens’ first-round pick.
11) Washington Football Team: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
A quarterback finally goes off the board! Sam Howell entered the preseason in a battle for the QB1 mantle in all of college football with now-South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler. Oh, how times have changed. Nevertheless, what Howell was able to do with a neutered supporting class this season (outside of Josh Downs) was remarkable.
12) Minnesota Vikings: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner not only has the best nickname in the 2022 NFL Draft, but he has an argument to be the CB1. No DB has been as consistent as Gardner over the last three years. The definition of a shutdown corner, he didn’t allow a single touchdown in his collegiate career. Not. One. Like giving flowers on Valentine’s Day, Gardner never fails.
13) Cleveland Browns: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Browns, whether right or wrong, are entering 2022 with Baker Mayfield under center. After a difficult year with one of his top weapons pushing his way out (Odell Beckham Jr.) and insurmountable injuries, the least Cleveland could do is give their signal-caller another weapon. Garrett Wilson fits the description, beating defenders at every level with relative ease.
14) Baltimore Ravens: Travon Walker, DT, Georgia
There is no defensive lineman that possesses a quicker get-off than Travon Walker in the 2022 NFL Draft. Walker can run down any quarterback and running back in the backfield while also offering a pass-rushing presence.
15) Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The Eagles made the playoffs against the odds this year, but they could easily return in 2022 by hitting on each of their three picks in Round 1. They use their first on Utah LB Devin Lloyd. An explosive athlete that can rush the passer, defend the run, and drop back in coverage all the same, Lloyd was a menace in the Pac-12.
16) Philadelphia Eagles (from IND): Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Next up for Philly? Retooling the secondary. Kaiir Elam has been a standout of Florida’s secondary for the past three years. His length and physical tools allow him to thrive in man coverage, though he can also produce in zone. Elam and Darius Slay would be a nightmare for opposing offenses.