2022 NFL Mock Draft: Elite defensive talent litters the top 10

There’s no time like the present for a 2022 NFL Mock Draft. It allows us to get our eyes or ears onto college football players and 2022 NFL Draft prospects many have never even heard of. Mock drafts help us circle names at positions that we can watch for on Saturdays in the fall. It is not, however, a test of accuracy.

No, right now, it’s about getting a feel for what teams may be looking for come next April. It’s about getting a quick preview of what a player might bring. But most importantly, it’s about letting the imagination of “upside” take us away on a magical journey toward franchise prosperity. Today, you will see names in Round 1 that are ultimately selected on Day 3, return to school, or even go undrafted. The inverse of that also applies.

Let’s get to know some names — 100, to be exact.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16

We used Las Vegas odds on the 2021 NFL standings to determine the draft order. Yell at Las Vegas, not us.

1. Detroit Lions: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

If Lincoln Riley can make transfer Jalen Hurts a second-round draft choice after making transfers Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray into No. 1 overall picks, what do we think he can accomplish with three years of a five-star recruit? I simply will not doubt a Riley-developed QB until he gives me a reason to.

Spencer Rattler suffered a rough start to his 2020 campaign, but his development was palpable as the season progressed. Overall, he goes first in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft because he has the most naturally gifted arm of all the upcoming quarterbacks. Rattler is mobile, but he’s not a running signal-caller. The Oklahoma QB has no qualms making plays outside the structure of Riley’s offense and can deliver passes from multiple platforms.

2. Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

Kayvon Thibodeaux might not quite reach the status of Myles Garrett or Chase Young as prospects, but he certainly should flirt with that tier. He has all the length and athleticism in the world to be a menace at the NFL level. However, he’s not simply a pass-rush specialist. One of the most impressive things about his game is his ability against the run.

There’s a good chance Thibodeaux ends up the highest-graded player in this draft class. His explosiveness and size are more reminiscent of a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Still, his size allows him to thrive with his hand in the dirt as well. We’ve seen what explosiveness and bend can do for a pass rusher when paired with good hands. With how quickly quarterbacks get the ball out in the modern game, the ability to win the arc with pure explosion is nearly a requirement.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Kyle Hamilton could battle Thibodeaux for the best player in this class. Heck, there’s a good chance he ends up the best safety prospect I’ve evaluated since 2016. He probably wouldn’t go this high simply because of positional value, but it was important to show that he deserves this sort of attention. The NFL will eventually understand that safeties with his skill set are as valuable as a pass rusher.

Hamilton has it all. He possesses incredible length. He’s a fantastic tackler, probably at least in part because of that length. Additionally, Hamilton is incredibly instinctive in coverage and has the physical gifts to get anywhere on the field.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

It might not matter how good Jalen Hurts is. If the Eagles are picking here, no matter what flashes we see from Hurts, it obviously wasn’t enough to elevate the franchise. Until the season commences, 2022 NFL mock drafts should all have the Eagles selecting a quarterback. Unfortunately, Hurts is thrust into this situation.

Sam Howell gets a ton of comparisons to Baker Mayfield. I can see where they come from. He’s got a stockier frame than the average quarterback, and his movements and mannerisms are similar. The difference? Mayfield was a better prospect. Howell has the propensity to target the opposite team far too often. He could ease those concerns with a great performance in 2021, despite playing with a depleted supporting cast.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Even as a true freshman, there were grand pronouncements about Derek Stingley being not just the best player in his draft class, but many said he’d be the best cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft. His ball skills are otherwordly. If he bounces back in 2021 from a somewhat disappointing 2020 campaign, he could also battle for the best player in this draft class.

Stingley’s size and physicality are ideal for the position, and his reactive athleticism is outstanding. It allows him to recover even when he gets out of position. If he cleans up some of his unnecessary physicality throughout the route stem, he’ll come out as one of the cleanest cornerback prospects we’ve seen since Jalen Ramsey.

6. New York Jets: Drake Jackson, DE, USC

Drake Jackson is a great fit for a multi-front defensive line. He can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up. He possesses the athleticism to play in space and drop into coverage. Furthermore, his foot speed and explosiveness allow him to easily cross the face of offensive tackles. Yet, he’s not simply a speed rusher.

Jackson lands at the sixth pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft because he can do it all. The New York Jets haven’t had themselves a legitimate pass rusher since Obama was in office. Now, they pair Jackson opposite of Carl Lawson, who the Jets signed in free agency.

7. New York Giants: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

The Giants are probably pretty happy with the production they’ve gotten from Blake Martinez, but the rest of their linebacking corps could use an upgrade. Christian Harris stepped onto the field as a freshman in 2019 and immediately made an impact. That’s something that not many can say about Alabama defenders, given the unbelievable talent they cycle through.

Harris is an impressive athlete with the size of a modern linebacker. He’s great in coverage when he can play in front of him but needs to sharpen his awareness covering route combinations behind him. He’s a mentally strong player against the run, which is usually a struggle for young linebackers. A move to the MIKE role, should that happen, will be interesting to see.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson

Andrew Booth has all the potential in the world. If he realizes his potential, he could compete with Stingley as the top cornerback in future 2022 NFL mock drafts. His athleticism jumps off the screen. His feet are incredibly quick, and his explosiveness shines as he recovers and attacks the football.

The Falcons have a ton of needs as they look to rebuild. They’ve gone to the cornerback well often in the past few drafts, but none have truly figured it out. If A.J. Terrell works out, a pairing of him and Booth could go a long way toward an improved Falcons pass defense.

9. Denver Broncos: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

If the Broncos pick No. 9 overall with the roster they have, there could only be one person to blame. They probably should have drafted Justin Fields to begin with, but they obviously haven’t given up on Drew Lock. They must cut the cord if they fail again in 2021.

Strong certainly lives up to his name. His arm is powerful, and he has good enough pocket mobility to escape pressures and create off-script. His upside and size could certainly entice John Elway, who has an apparent type.

10. New York Giants: Kenyon Green, G/OT, Texas A&M

The Giants have obvious needs on the offensive line. Kenyon Green might already be the best lineman in the draft class. Yet, he’s playing tackle for the Aggies this season. If he’s great on the outside, it allows the Giants to place him wherever they need to put the best five on the field.

This also means that, despite the high draft pick, the Giants feel comfortable enough to go into Year 4 with Daniel Jones. Protecting him is the most important thing they can accomplish to get a clear picture of his potential. In a draft class devoid of clear-cut talents at the position, this could be their best course of action.

11. Washington Football Team: Brandon Joseph, S, Northwestern

The Football Team desperately needs to find a free safety. Landon Collins is a glorified linebacker. Although Kamren Curl played well last season, he was still a seventh-round selection. Joseph is a sideline-to-sideline safety. He made some plays in 2020 that could make one forget that they’re supposed to be watching CB Greg Newsome.

Washington’s defense is already stout. Adding Joseph to the mix is borderline unfair. I know you’d all probably love a quarterback here, but this really is for the best.

12. Las Vegas Raiders: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M

Here we go! Let’s get some meat into the smoker of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. The Raiders’ run defense was so bad in 2020 that they allowed a positive rushing DVOA. That’s an impressive lack of efficiency. DeMarvin Leal continuously flashed playing alongside Bobby Brown.

The big man plays up and down the Aggies’ defensive line but primarily at the 5-technique. Regardless, he projects as a 3-technique at the next level. He possesses a lean frame that can add more weight, but he could definitely survive on the interior at his current size.

13. Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Evan Neal has the size that makes normal-sized offensive tackles look small. Seeing him beside a typical human being could cause mass panic. The Panthers weren’t a total train wreck in 2021 if they’re picking here. Combine that with what is perceived as a poor quarterback class, and I have them staying away from that position here.

They could, however, upgrade from Cam Erving and Greg Little on their blind side. Neal played left guard as a freshman and right tackle as a sophomore. If he moves to left tackle and plays well in 2021, his stock could skyrocket into the top five. The positional value is there, and this tackle class doesn’t project well.

14. Minnesota Vikings: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

George Karlaftis was an absolute monster as a freshman in 2019. He finished with 17 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. His frame is also monstrous, as the defensive end is listed at 270 pounds. If he comes back and produces the way he did as a freshman, he could be a great option on a Minnesota defense looking to improve.

Physicality has been the calling card for Mike Zimmer’s defenses, and Karlaftis brings that in bunches. Still, he must show he has the juice to threaten the arc, or else he could go the way of A.J. Epenesa and tumble down draft boards. Either way, the Vikings could use a complement to the ridiculously athletic Danielle Hunter.

15. Arizona Cardinals: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Cardinals fans far and wide can call a toast to addressing their problems at cornerback. Overall, the roster has improved in recent years. Yet, they’ve allowed the secondary to fall by the wayside in favor of rostering 76 wide receivers. Today, Kaiir Elam is probably the second-best cornerback in the class, and he’s not as far from Stingley as some may believe.

The Cardinals need help at cornerback in a bad way. Malcolm Butler is past his prime, and all they have outside of that is Byron Murphy. Murphy can play outside, but he spent most of his time during the 2020 season in the slot.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati

Well, this was long overdue. The top half of Round 1 is not ideal for the quarterback Desmond Ridder is currently. However, his physical upside is there, and he fits the size mold the Steelers appear to covet. He possesses a big arm, and his ability on the ground matches the modern NFL.

The Steelers have needed a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger in the building for a while now. Between injuries and an asinine workload, the older quarterback needs to call it a career soon. Ridder has accuracy issues, which is usually a difficult progression to make. Still, the success of Josh Allen and the arrogance of NFL head coaches could lead to a high selection of Ridder even if he does not progress in his final collegiate season.


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