Although it’s just the first week of October, you’ve probably lost count of how many times you’ve read a 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Although there may be subtle differences in draft order and players selected, they all follow a similar theme. Like the NFL Draft itself, these 2022 mocks are trying to either meet a team need or assign the best player available.
Not today — not this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Free agency plays a part in defining how each and every draft plays out. As NFL teams balance the books, they have to decide who to pay and who to slay from their roster. What if they couldn’t afford the most expensive free agent on their roster? What if they had to draft to replace their most valuable departure?
2022 NFL Mock Draft | 1-16
For the first round of this NFL Mock Draft, each team is tasked with replacing their most valuable projected 2022 free agent as per Spotrac. There are some exceptions, and we’ll discuss them along the way. From the second round onward, I’ve attempted to fill what I believe to be the main needs for each team. Let the fun commence.
1) Detroit Lions: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
The Lions have been commonly linked with a quarterback to take over for Jared Goff. Kayvon Thibodeaux has also been a popular selection for the Lions in early 2022 NFL Mock Draft editions. However, here they select Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal.
Leal is currently the fourth-ranked player on our 2022 NFL Draft Big Board. He’s athletic, strong, and versatile, with his size and strength allowing him to play both defensive tackle and end. Leal has been dominant for the Aggies so far this season. He steps into the void left by defensive tackle Nick Williams, who takes his 2 quarterback hits and 1 tackle for loss out the door along with his $5 million average salary.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Although they drafted Walker Little last year, a number of mocks have the Jaguars in the market for an offensive tackle. With Cam Robinson set to hit free agency with an average salary of $13.75 million, finding a Day 1 replacement for him makes a ton of sense.
There isn’t a more dominant offensive tackle in this 2022 NFL Draft class than Evan Neal. An absolute mountain at 6’7″ and 360 pounds, he’s deceptively athletic in addition to possessing the strength you’d expect from such a colossus. Neal has seamlessly switched to offensive tackle this season, providing highlight-reel offensive line play each week.
3) New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
I’ve made this selection before in a previous 2022 NFL Mock Draft and got roasted by multiple Jets fans from multiple social media platforms, so I’m aware this isn’t going to be a popular pick among fans. Yes, I’m aware that the Jets front office doesn’t value the safety position! Yes, I also know that they added multiple DBs last year.
However, you can’t escape two facts here. With an average salary of $10.6 million, Marcus Maye has to go in this scenario. Secondly, Kyle Hamilton is a difference-maker at the safety position that you don’t often find. Incredible size, length, ball skills, and aggression make him a dominant force who can impact the game at all three levels of defense.
4) Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Unlike their offense without Tyrod Taylor, this 2022 NFL Mock Draft has worked out quite well for the Texans. Their quarterback issues are likely to see them strike for a signal-caller next spring. However, landing Kayvon Thibodeaux — who many consider the best overall player in the class — with their fourth overall selection is not to be frowned at.
The Oregon pass rusher is a delicious combination of athleticism, strength, play speed, and football intelligence. There aren’t many — if any — who are equally capable of getting after the quarterback and being effective against the run. While Whitney Mercilus has been a longtime Texans stalwart, they free up $13.5 million in average salary and upgrade at the defensive end position with their selection of Thibodeaux.
5) Atlanta Falcons: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
It feels like the Falcons consistently fail to find a pass-rush phenom, whether via free agency or the NFL Draft. They pinned their hopes on Dante Fowler two years ago, and he has produced just 5 sacks in 17 starts. Fowler is comfortably their most expensive free agent next spring, with an average salary of $15 million.
In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the Falcons replace him with USC pass rusher Drake Jackson. The junior pass rusher brings versatility to Atlanta, having played both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Trojans. More importantly, Jackson has exceptional play speed, athleticism, and the ability to rush the passer both off the edge and from the interior.
6) New York Giants: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Austin Johnson is having the most productive season of his six-year NFL career. The 6’4″, 314-pound defensive tackle has 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss through four games in 2021. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season, with a $3 million projected average salary.
Enter Jordan Davis. No player has increased their draft stock more than the mammoth Georgia defensive tackle has in the 2021 college football season.
The 6’6″, 340-pound nose tackle has been a game wrecker at the heart of the Bulldogs defensive line. He’ll attract double-team blocks in New York, allowing the rest of the defense to go to work. Be under no illusion though — Davis has proven he can be productive behind the line of scrimmage.
7) Cincinnati Bengals: Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA
After being constantly berated in the media — including myself — for their relative lack of investment in the offensive line during the offseason, the Bengals’ front five has looked pretty decent through four games of the NFL season. I guess that’s why I’m not an NFL GM.
However, one component of that new offensive line is set to be one and done in Cincinnati. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, Reilly Reiff’s $7.5 million average salary sees him replaced by UCLA offensive tackle Sean Rhyan. The Bruins’ bruiser has the size, strength, and savage disposition required to be a successful OT in the NFL.
8) New York Giants (from Chicago): Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
With two projected selections in the top 10 of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the Giants are probably a front-runner to snag a quarterback to replace Daniel Jones. However, finding some protection for their much-maligned quarterback allows them to turn their back on what may be the murkiest QB class in recent history.
In Kenyon Green, New York snags an elite offensive guard prospect who just so happens to have the versatility to play at tackle. The Texas A&M offensive lineman has incredible strength and anchor in pass protection. Furthermore, he’ll make an exceptional roadblock for Saquon Barkley with his mauler mentality and impressive athleticism. Billy Price is their second salary cap casualty.
9) Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami): George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham is a stalwart of the organization, playing his 12th season in the City of Brotherly Love. Unfortunately, there’s no love — brotherly or otherwise — in the ruthless business of salary cap control. The Eagles lose over 100 quarterback hits and 59 sacks along with his $13.3 million average salary.
However, with the ninth overall pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they receive the “Grecian Goliath” to take his place. At 6’4″ and 270 pounds, George Karlaftis is a bigger defensive end than Graham, but he doesn’t lack anything in athleticism, play speed, and motor. A versatile chess piece who can destroy the opposing offensive line from any alignment, Karlaftis is blessed with strength alongside his size and speed advantage.
10) Washington Football Team: Ikem Ekwonu, G, NC State
Washington has been pegged as a likely destination for one of the 2022 NFL Draft’s top quarterbacks, especially after they spurned the opportunity to add a QB last year in favor of a one-year deal for Ryan Fitzpatrick. They address the position in the second round of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. However, they have to sacrifice their most valuable potential free agent first.
With an $18 million average salary, guard Brandon Scherff heads out of FedEx Field to be replaced by NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. Linemen don’t come much meaner than Ekwonu, who excels in the ground game with his vicious demeanor and athletic ability. The Wolfpack standout also brings valuable versatility, having played on both the interior and end of the offensive line.
11) Indianapolis Colts: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Once the overwhelming strength of the team, Indy’s offensive line has been something of a hot mess this season. Eric Fisher was bought in on a one-year deal to provide stability to the line, but he’s the first one out the door in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, taking his $8.4 average salary with him. Presumably in a sack.
Having relied on stopgaps this season, the Colts find a long-term solution in Mississippi State offensive lineman Charles Cross. Don’t be fooled by his svelte appearance, Cross is a lean, mean, offensive tackle machine who combines superb athleticism with the requisite nastiness to be a dominant force in the ground game in addition to impressive pass protection.
12) Minnesota Vikings: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The Vikings will have several potential big-name free agents next spring, including Patrick Peterson and Sheldon Richardson. However, none of them are more valuable than linebacker Anthony Barr. Ironically, the disruptive linebacker is due to make his season debut in Sunday’s game against the Lions, having missed 18 consecutive games.
Linebackers don’t come much more disruptive than Utah’s Devin Lloyd. He’s had consecutive seasons with double-digit tackles for loss and is on pace for over 100 tackles for the Utes this season. Athletic and intelligent, Lloyd is also a vocal leader on defense.
13) Philadelphia Eagles: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The second salary cap casualty for the Eagles is center Jason Kelce. An ever-present force in all but two of his 11 seasons in Philadelphia, Kelce is widely regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. His kind is excruciatingly difficult to replace, especially at a position that doesn’t often receive the attention and credit that it deserves.
However, one prospect at the position who has received plenty of attention is Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum. Comfortably the best center — and arguably one of the best interior offensive linemen — Linderbaum’s success is remarkable given his relative inexperience at the position. His wrestling history gives him an immense understanding of leverage, while his athleticism and football intelligence help him dominate in the ground game.
14) Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Although there are multiple teams with a need at the quarterback position, only the Steelers have their signal-caller eating up the majority of their average salary next spring. Ben Roethlisberger’s declining ability means he’s unlikely to earn another go-around in the Steel City.
The Steelers turned to a smaller-school standout with a cannon for an arm once before, and in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they do so again. Malik Willis is the QB1 of our 2022 NFL Draft Big Board, and he’s the only QB taken in the first round. There isn’t another prospect in the class that combines the arm strength, talent, and incredible creativity on the run that the Liberty QB offers.
15) Carolina Panthers: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Panthers are the first exception to the free-agent rules of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Their most valuable free agent by average salary is center Matt Paradis — but after Linderbaum, there isn’t another pivot remotely worthy of a first-round pick.
The next man on the chopping block for the Panthers is Haason Reddick. Although Nakobe Dean might not be a scheme-for-scheme match for Reddick, his athleticism and explosion as both a pass rusher and against the run should ensure that the Georgia linebacker is a valuable addition to the Carolina front seven.
16) Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
After several impressive performances last season, Nicholas Morrow was expected to be a pivotal part of the Raiders’ linebacker group this season. However, an ankle injury has curtailed his availability this season, and with an average salary of $4.5 million, he’s the highest-earning potential free agent for Las Vegas next spring.
There is a lot to love in his replacement, Alabama linebacker Christian Harris. The junior has an exceptional understanding of the game, is blessed with an explosive physical presence, and has the lateral agility to be a menace both against the run and as a pass rusher.