With the NFL season over and the Senior Bowl complete, we’re inching ever closer to a point where 2022 NFL mock drafts are less about introducing people to the future stars of the sport and more about trying to accurately predict what will happen in April. That said, with 2022 free agency yet to unfold, the art of matching team needs to their actions in the NFL Draft is still akin to a child’s scribble rather than the work of Picasso.
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2022 4-Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
The first half of Round 1 of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft sees a heavy emphasis on where football games are truly won and lost. Pass rushers and pass protectors are heavily in demand, and they’re the strength of the top end of this draft class. Meanwhile, the dire quarterback need for multiple franchises proves too much not to dip into what has been routinely described (by me) as a murky quarterback class.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Trevor Lawrence had the third-worst completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) in his first season in the league. The rookie quarterback also threw the most interceptions in the NFL, tied with Matthew Stafford (17). It’s fair to say the former Clemson passer didn’t live up to lofty expectations. However, it’s also unfair to lay the blame solely at his feet.
Putting Lawrence in a position to succeed has to be the Jacksonville Jaguars’ mindset heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. It’s clear that Cam Robinson won’t be the cornerstone of that plan. Adding Evan Neal with the first overall pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft gives the franchise that anchor on the offensive line. A behemoth at 6’7″, 350 pounds, Neal is an explosive athlete with powerful hands and the strength to manipulate his opponent at the point of attack.
2) Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
The lengthy NFL Draft process lends itself to rumor-mongering from “inside sources” with information about elite prospects who aren’t considered elite by the NFL for one reason or another. This year, the prospect who is allegedly slipping down draft boards across the league is Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. Allegedly, there are questions about his intensity, his size, and how he’s expected to test during the process.
For what it’s worth, I’m not buying it. Watching Thibodeaux during the last three seasons for Oregon, I’m not sure how you’d question his athletic ability. An insanely explosive pass rusher who possesses the length to be combative at the point of attack, Thibodeaux is equally adept at getting to the quarterback or stopping the run. The Detroit Lions strike for the Oregon product to answer their pass-rush needs in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
3) Houston Texans: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The Houston Texans are a team devoid of talent on both sides of the ball. In addition to a lack of talent, they also have a raft of players set to hit free agency. Furthermore, they have lingering questions over the quarterback position, although it appears that they’re set to ride it out with Davis Mills.
Faced with this situation, the best course of action in the NFL Draft is to simply strike for the best player and build from there. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, that player is Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. For my money, Hamilton is the best player in the class. Forget “positional value” — he’s a unique size/speed/strength threat who provides exceptional coverage skills and the ability to impact the game as a downhill thumper.
4) New York Jets: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
One of my favorite parts of the NFL Draft process is the absoluteness in the way people talk about how the annual selection event will play out. “There’s no way Team X doesn’t select Player Y!” After his outstanding season for Michigan that saw him become a genuine defensive contender for the Heisman Trophy, Aidan Hutchinson is a perfect example of this, especially as he’s ascended to the top of the consensus big board for numerous analysts.
There is a chance that the Michigan pass rusher finds himself still on the board at No. 4, as he does in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. The New York Jets should run the card up to the podium in that situation. Gang Green was one of the worst teams in the NFL at creating quarterback pressure, and Hutchinson’s explosive first step will help him burst into opposing backfields at the next level. Meanwhile, he provides additional ability against the run.
5) New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Brian Daboll’s first order of business as the New York Giants head coach will be to determine whether Daniel Jones is the true future of the franchise. As a result, don’t expect the Giants to consider a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft. To give the former Duke quarterback a fair evaluation, using at least one of their first-round picks to upgrade the offensive line is a must.
With Evan Neal off the board in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, New York swoops for NC State giant Ikem Ekwonu. A nasty mauler who has excelled in the ground game at guard during his early college career, Ekwonu has developed exponentially as a pass protector at offensive tackle this season. His selection should bring a smile not just to Jones, but to Saquon Barkley, who will thrive running behind the gargantuan blocker.
6) Carolina Panthers: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With the Giants not considered players in the NFL Draft quarterback market, the Carolina Panthers are the first genuine landing spot for a passer in this class. None of the quarterbacks on the roster have proven to be the answer. However, the Panthers’ offensive line hardly gave them a fair crack of the whip last year. Additionally, Carolina already has a ton of cash tied up in the position.
The Panthers ranked just 23rd in yards per carry and allowed the eighth-most sacks in the NFL last year. Fix the offensive line first, and then figure out the QB situation. Don’t allow Charles Cross‘ relatively slender build to fool you. He’s a vicious run blocker who is technically refined as a pass protector and possesses an elite athletic profile. He can be the cornerstone of an offensive line overhaul.
7) New York Giants (from CHI): David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
With the third-worst pressure percentage (20.1%) and fourth-worst quarterback knockdown percentage (6.7%) in the NFL last season, the Giants need to find a pass-rush presence this offseason. They added Azeez Ojulari in the 2021 NFL Draft, and in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they pair him with Michigan pass rusher David Ojabo.
I believe there are better all-around players at the position right now. But Ojabo possesses exceptional athletic upside while already being technically refined in several aspects as a pass rusher. Furthermore, he fits better with the Giants’ defensive system than other potential options.
8) Atlanta Falcons: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Atlanta Falcons ranked in the bottom five of the NFL for multiple passing metrics last season. They allowed the fifth-highest completion rate to opposing quarterbacks (67.8%) and gave up the fourth-highest passing touchdown rate (5.4%). This is despite having one of the standout cornerbacks in the NFL with A.J. Terrell.
Pairing him with another star Clemson cornerback in Andrew Booth Jr. feels like a good way to remedy those pass-defense woes. Despite some reports claiming some NFL teams have a third-round grade on Booth, I believe he possesses the athletic profile, run-support physicality, and ball skills to be the best cornerback in the class. His ability to make a play on the ball is unlike any other prospect at the position.
9) Denver Broncos: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Will the Denver Broncos let another NFL Draft class pass them by without swooping for a signal-caller? Despite the success enjoyed by Patrick Surtain II this season, many fans still bemoan that the franchise passed up the opportunity to snag Justin Fields last season. Clearly, Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock aren’t the future. At this moment in time, there’s no guarantee of adding an Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson in free agency.
Malik Willis possesses exceptional — almost elite — potential in a number of areas. There isn’t a quarterback in this class with his arm talent. His creative mobility fits the direction of the position in the NFL. Are there question marks over some areas of his game? Yes. Can they be fixed? I believe so. Willis’ performances at the Senior Bowl have given him an advantage over the rest of this quarterback class.
It wouldn’t be a surprise for him to be the first quarterback off the board come April.
10) New York Jets (from SEA): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
One of the most inexperienced secondaries in the NFL may get a veteran presence in free agency. However, that shouldn’t deter the New York Jets from adding an elite playmaker at the cornerback position during the 2022 NFL Draft. They haven’t had a true lockdown corner since the days of Darrelle Revis, and acquiring Derek Stingley Jr. could give them that.
At the height of his freshman season in 2019, Stingley was undoubtedly the best cornerback in the nation. He’s an exceptional athlete with high school wide receiver experience, making him impressive at the catch point. There may be injury concerns related to season-ending surgery, but if he returns to his very best, the Jets get excellent value in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
11) Washington Commanders: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Considered a player in the NFL Draft quarterback market last spring, the Washington Commanders opted instead to ride it out with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke. It seems unlikely that either will be the starter under center this season, making Washington a key cog in the quarterback carousel over the next two months.
While Sam Howell‘s 2021 college football campaign might not have lived up to preseason expectations, he still possesses many of the top-level traits that you look for in an NFL quarterback. An accurate deep-ball passer, Howell routinely throws his receivers open with anticipation throws. Furthermore, he’s showcased a competitive toughness as a dual-threat this season.
12) Minnesota Vikings: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Minnesota Vikings have selected three first-round cornerbacks since 2015. None of them are currently on their roster. Past failures may cause Vikings fans to balk at adding another first-round defensive back. Still, with Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander out of contract and a distinct lack of depth and talent, the position currently sits as the main area of need ahead of free agency.
The selection of Ahmad Gardner in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft gives the Vikings a ball-hawking playmaker who adds a physical and explosive presence against the run and as a blitzer. If you haven’t heard that “Sauce” didn’t allow a single touchdown in his entire college career, then you must have been living under a rock with no cell signal throughout this process so far.
13) Cleveland Browns: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
There’s a sense that the Cleveland Browns will strike for a wide receiver in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. It would certainly make sense. With the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. this season and the expected parting of ways with Jarvis Landry, securing a dominant pass-catching threat will be a significant part of their offseason process.
However, they also have needs at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Travon Walker is a unique athlete who blurs the lines between what is possible at both positions. A tall, long defensive lineman, he’s played at both 275 and 290 pounds with no drop-off in his mind-blowing agility and speed. Walker has experience from the outside all the way inside to 1-tech as a truly versatile, destructive defensive prospect.
14) Baltimore Ravens: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College
We first had Boston College offensive line stud Zion Johnson as a Day 1 prospect back in December. Since then, he’s put himself firmly in the national spotlight with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. As a result, his stock is ascending exponentially — it won’t be a surprise to see him in the green room in Las Vegas.
Schematically and positionally versatile with excellent technical and athletic ability, Johnson could be the solution to multiple potential issues for the Baltimore Ravens. He took snaps at center at the Senior Bowl, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start his career there before working outside as a long-term answer at either left guard or even left tackle if Ronnie Stanley fails to return to his brilliant best after a string of injuries.
15) Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Philadelphia Eagles are in the enviable position of having three first-round picks. It’s a franchise-altering amount of draft capital for a team with multiple needs on both sides of the ball. While there is talk that they’ll potentially be active in the trade market to acquire even more capital, there are no trades in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
They kickstart their transformation by addressing a significant need in the heart of their defense. Nakobe Dean gives the Eagles a hyper-athletic linebacker who has established himself as one of the best at the position this season. His athleticism is matched by football intelligence to make Dean a read-and-react playmaker against the run. Furthermore, he showcased impressive coverage ability during Georgia’s title-winning campaign.
16) Philadelphia Eagles (from IND): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Although the Eagles added DeVonta Smith last April, don’t be surprised if they use one of their first-round picks to give him a reliable running mate in the wide receiver room. At this point, Jalen Reagor isn’t that. While I don’t think Chris Olave is the best receiver in the class, his football intelligence and track speed with the ability to breeze past defensive backs should make him a prime target to replace Reagor in Philadelphia.