The 2022 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and the mock draft scene is starting to fire with all eight cylinders. Senior Bowl practices have come and gone, and although we shouldn’t use one week of practices to move and shake things up, it will make us go back to the tape to verify things. And a few things became abundantly clear as the week progressed.
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2022 3-Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
The draft starts in Mobile, and one Senior Bowl alumnus is featured almost immediately in this mock draft.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
The Jacksonville Jaguars put their hopes in the right arm of Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s evident to anybody with a trace of vision left in their eyes that they’ve royally failed the former Clemson Tiger thus far. But the most important thing they can do now is build around him offensively. Protection is key, and upgrading the weapons will come later.
Evan Neal has experience at guard and both tackle positions. That’s a unique skill set to have, particularly for the Jaguars. They already have two young offensive tackles. The issue is Neal will almost certainly be a vast improvement over both. We’d love to slap Neal at LT and say go, but that probably wouldn’t give them the best five, as Cam Robinson has looked better on the left side than Jawaan Taylor has on the right.
2. Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Kayvon Thibodeaux is still, in my opinion, the top pass rusher in a great pass-rushing class. He possesses a thick, powerful frame, with the flexibility of a bendy outside pass rusher. He’s not the level of prospect the Bosas, Chase Young, or Myles Garrett were, but he still has perennial 10-plus-sack potential.
After watching teams like the 49ers, Steelers, and Raiders win football games almost solely based on their ability to rush the passer, I think more teams will attempt to stock up on quarterback killers. So although Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell spent significant assets on the defensive line last season, it makes sense to continue to build there. Thibodeaux, Trey Flowers, Julian Okwara, and Romeo Okwara — when the latter is healthy again — will be a formidable foursome.
3. Houston Texans: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
The Houston Texans’ roster is bare on both sides of the ball. Brandin Cooks and Jonathan Greenard were their two best players in 2021. They’re good players, but they’re not moving the needle. It’s a miracle this team won as many games as it did in 2021, especially without Laremy Tunsil. And the Texans could look to move on from him in the offseason.
Bringing in David Ojabo to pair with Greenard makes for a fun duo. Greenard plays with power and length, while Ojabo plays with outrageous movement skills, bend, and hands as a pass rusher. As the season progressed, it was clear he was taking steps each week. By the time Michigan got to the playoffs, he was the best player on that defense on film.
Ojabo will become more consistent against the run, and once he adds a go-to power rush into his arsenal, he is the one edge rusher in this class with 20-sack potential. He’s an ascending prospect.
4. New York Jets: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Andrew Booth Jr. is a bit like Ojabo in the sense that he’s still a bit of a project, but that project is being built on the frame of a McLaren P1. Booth will be a fantastic cornerback as long as the builders don’t bastardize the drivetrain. However, if they bolster the internals and tune the car right, there might not be a better-performing vehicle on the road.
Booth has that potential. He glides through the air while contesting passes and is an incredibly explosive mover. He’s the ideal size for a cornerback, and he’s consistently shown an ability to play even bigger and stronger than his natural frame.
There is no shortage of needs for the Jets defensively. They’re committed to building around Zach Wilson, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this pick ended up being an offensive lineman. However, paring Booth with Bryce Hall turns that cornerback room from a Pinto to a Mustang.
5. New York Giants: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
There are three types of offensive tackles. Some aren’t incredibly athletic but get the job done. Some look as advertised in their pass sets and movement as run blockers. And then there are the OTs that move so effortlessly that even offensive line haters enjoy watching them.
That last one is Charles Cross.
That can sometimes be a bad thing. Sometimes the smooth nature of a tackle can lull evaluators to sleep and blind them to faults. Cross isn’t in that camp. Although he’s not the killer finisher the Tristan Wirfs of the world were, he possesses plus play strength while also bringing excellent hands to the party.
After years of striking out on the offensive line with Dave Gettleman, the Giants get one right here. However, this pick wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer.
6. Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
It wasn’t a no-brainer because this behemoth exists. Ikem Ekwonu is a monster of a man who I thought would be a guard transition at the NFL level when I watched him over the summer. However, he fixed some technical issues in his game and absolutely dominated humans at left tackle for the Wolfpack.
When I say I’m not sure I’ve seen a player bully defenders the way Ekwonu has, I mean it. I’ve watched Alex Cappa tossing future dentists across the field at Humboldt State, and what Ekwonu does is even more violent.
But there’s a reason he’s not going No. 1 overall to Jacksonville. There are still technical deficiencies that need to be ironed out. Still, Ekwonu is an intelligent young man who had offers from Ivy League schools. After seeing his ascension from 2020 to 2021, I’m confident that the trend continues.
7. New York Giants (from CHI): Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Some may be surprised that Aidan Hutchinson is the third pass rusher off the board. But there is an excellent reason for it. Or better yet, there is good reason to be skeptical the NFL will take him so high.
Hutchinson has short arms for a defensive end. It’s as simple as that. No EDGE drafted in the top 10 since 2015 has had sub-33-inch arms. The last one was Vic Beasley, who hasn’t turned out well since his productive rookie season.
Hutchinson has an innate ability to pick up run versus pass quickly, and he is a plus-run defender overall. His lateral quickness, especially at his size, is his calling card. It allows him to open up the book of pass-rush moves completely. He also has an above-average first step.
But I am leary of his power as a rusher. Hutchinson has won plenty with power, but it seemed to almost exclusively come from a wide-9 alignment, which gave him a runway to explode into tackles. That same power doesn’t show itself from tighter alignments. Yet, because of his arm length, the Giants get an outstanding player with their second first-round pick. Patrick Graham deserves more than just Azeez Ojulari rushing the passer.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
It appears unlikely Calvin Ridley returns to the field for Atlanta. Russell Gage is a good third option, but any roster using him as their WR1 is in for trouble offensively.
Kyle Pitts will still be the alpha, even with Garrett Wilson‘s arrival. But adding Wilson is one of the easier decisions made in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
There is nothing Wilson doesn’t do well. He is explosive and fluid out of his breaks, and he has some of the most disrespectful functional leaping ability I’ve ever witnessed on a football field. That allows the 6-foot receiver to play above the rim like he’s 6-foot-5.
Wilson still has a ways to go to become a consistent route runner. He must play a bit more under control and change his pace more often. But his physical gifts alone will allow him to succeed at the NFL level.
9. Denver Broncos: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
George Karlaftis might not be the best prospect in this class as a pass rusher, but he is undoubtedly my personal favorite. There is something oddly satisfying about watching a 270+ pound defensive end with a first step like the Purdue rusher. When that first step is paired with sledgehammer hands, well, I’m entirely smitten at that point.
In this same class 10 years ago, he might be the first overall pick. However, the NFL has begun to shift smaller and more athletic on the edge because quarterbacks continue to get the ball out quicker as the years progress.
That means a DE or OLB must be able to get home in 2.5 seconds. Most bigger defensive ends struggle to do that.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Karlaftis had a Cameron Jordan-esque career. He has the hands and power to be a contributor into his 30s, even as his first step diminishes. Unfortunately, he might see the same fate as Hutchinson, because like the Heisman finalist, his functional length is sometimes lacking on film.
10. New York Jets (from SEA): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The pass rushers may have a more significant impact on the game than Kyle Hamilton, but nobody in this class allows for the creativity defensively as he does. As a safety, Hamilton can do anything on the defensive side of the ball. As a freshman surrounded by NFL talent at Notre Dame, he was already the best player on the field.
Hamilton possesses outrageous size and length at the position, but unlike so many lean defensive backs, it doesn’t negatively affect his ability to change direction, and more importantly, explode out of those breaks. He’s got silly range as a free safety and makes no qualms coming forward and popping runners.
Hamilton very well may be the best player in this draft. But because the league still hilariously undervalues safeties, the Jets could completely revamp their secondary with two picks.
11. Washington Commanders: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
For transparency purposes, I personally wouldn’t risk my employment status on any of the quarterbacks in the 2022 class in the first round. With that said, I would bet on Malik Willis if I had to pick one.
This selection comes with a caveat. Willis will not play in Year 1. Although his ceiling is easily the highest in the class, he is currently the ’67 Mustang Fastback that is completely gutted and stripped of the paint.
He needs to be built from the ground up. Forcing him on the field too early could perpetuate bad habits, making things more challenging to mend each offseason.
Look for a Bridge(water) quarterback in Washington for 2022. He’ll give better and more consistent play than Taylor Heinicke, and it will allow Willis to progress at his own pace. The Commanders simply cannot pass up on that arm and that athletic ability to create out of structure.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Kaiir Elam has a frame that can make any defensive coordinator drool. He possesses great length and physicality for the position, and it shows in his willingness and ability to wrap up and tackle as a defensive back. That’s right — I did say “wrap up” and “defensive back” in the same sentence. Take a picture, because you won’t see it that often.
Elam is inconsistent in press, but when he remains patient, he really annoys receivers at the line. The issue arises when he gets too aggressive and is immediately put in recovery mode. However, recovery mode for Elam isn’t a death sentence for the rep, because he has high-end explosive traits to help him close the gap downfield.
Then, he has the length and wherewithal to elevate and contest. Elam must work on avoiding getting too handsy downfield and trust his athleticism. But that is something most cornerbacks struggle with early because the rules differ from college to the NFL.
13. Cleveland Browns: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
When you build a receiver on Madden, they end up looking like Treylon Burks. He’s a departure from the smaller, shiftier route runners the NFL has grown to covet recently. But as cornerbacks have gone smaller to deal with those receivers, big, physical WRs are beginning to thrive once again at the next level.
Additionally, the NFL’s insistence on not calling offensive pass interference makes things easier for the big guys. It’s why I feel better about mocking big receivers high in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
Burks isn’t the most refined route runner, but he’s better than many big wideouts that have been viewed similarly throughout the years. He also provides a viable option as a runner. In Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy offense, that could be an added layer to help revive Baker Mayfield’s career in his fifth season.
There have been whispers that Burks is struggling in his offseason workouts and that he may have trouble controlling his weight. But that is only a rumor until he takes the field in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Ravens don’t have much room to work with cap-wise heading into 2022. But they can free up $10 million if they move on from Marcus Peters in the offseason. Ahmad Gardner is a long, aggressive CB who moves incredibly well laterally when cognizant of his pad level.
And he wouldn’t be a huge departure from the type of player Peters is, because his eyes get a bit too wide at times, and he’ll make mistakes chasing the turnover. I’ve come to appreciate that type of DB more as the years go on. Turnovers decide football games, so the risk is often worth the reward. But what he runs at the Combine will decide whether he goes this high come April. Gardner could tumble in a future 2022 NFL Mock Draft if he doesn’t run well in Indianapolis.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Drake London, WR, USC
Drake London is everything the Eagles tried to implement with Alshon Jeffery to help Carson Wentz on the outside. The difference is London is the supercharged version of Jeffery. He’s long, and that length and his physicality made him arguably the best contested catcher in college football history.
He’ll open up the vertical passing attack and is an outstanding complement to DeVonta Smith. Size and body control are his calling cards, but he’s smooth as a route runner. He’s not “smooth for his size,” he’s just smooth. London’s tight at the top of his routes, and he possesses excellent change of direction and explosion out of his breaks.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (from IND): Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Nakobe Dean‘s performance against Michigan was arguably the most impressive tape of any draft prospect in this cycle. A heat-seeking missile isn’t a good enough descriptor for what he accomplished against that team. You almost can’t convince me Georgia didn’t clone him and play with two of him that day.
There are drawbacks with Dean. He doesn’t possess great length or height, which will make consistently covering NFL tight ends difficult. He also won’t close passing lanes the same way a traditionally sized linebacker will. But his lateral agility and outstanding physicality make him a menace against the run.
He’s not a pass rusher like Micah Parsons, but Dean’s an elite blitzer as a linebacker. If the Eagles are smart, they’ll use him in that way early on as he progresses in coverage.
Because of Georgia’s coverage scheme, he’s not often asked to spot drop into the curl and read QB intentions. But as Parsons showed, just because they were not asked does not mean they cannot do.