A 2022 NFL Mock Draft on New Year’s Day should befit the occasion. First, we’re still in the draft process’ infancy, so a mock draft is far less about future accuracy and much more about understanding team needs and getting acquainted with some players. Second, New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest drinking holidays on the calendar. Third, New Year’s Day is where we all lie about how we’re going to become better people over the next 365 days.
Let’s make some wild picks, lie about bad franchises making good decisions, and get to know some of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
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2022 3-Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
The top of this draft class might not be as strong as the previous few, but the defenders in this class deserve a round of applause. Please note that this mock draft order is accurate as of the completion of Week 16. We will have another mock draft once the full Week 17 slate of games is complete. Let’s get to it.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Aidan Hutchinson has become the hottest name in the NFL Draft world over the back half of the season. His explosiveness doesn’t necessarily shock, but that could be because he’s lining up across from David Ojabo — and he’s got about 20 pounds on him. Hutchinson is very flexible for his 270-pound frame, and he knows how to win in many ways.
However, Hutchinson’s outstanding season and production might not be enough to overcome his arm length. I’ve heard whispers that his arm length will be under the typical 33” threshold teams like to look for. The NFL hasn’t drafted an exterior pass rusher that failed to meet that threshold in the first round since Vic Beasley in 2015.
But with his balance, size, and twitch, Hutchinson can play up and down a defensive line, and his other traits are more than enough for teams to feel comfortable using a high draft pick on him.
2) Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Do I think Hutchinson will be drafted before Kayvon Thibodeaux come April? No. However, one of them is playing in the College Football Playoff and will almost certainly be put on a pedestal for about 30 days if he has a good outing in what I expect to be a one-and-done for the Wolverines against Georgia. Then, the circle will be complete, and every mock draft will once again have Thibodeaux at the top.
Thibodeaux is long, athletic, flexible, and explosive. He’s not as technically proficient as some of the freaks we’ve seen in recent drafts, but that doesn’t mean he’s unrefined, either. Lions head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes started building in the trenches last season with Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill.
With the Okwara brothers (when Romeo can return from his Achilles injury) around alongside the two defensive tackles, the Lions are rather quickly building a formidable defensive line.
3) Houston Texans: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Andrew Booth Jr. isn’t just a difference-maker as a cover corner. He also brings an attitude against the run that isn’t often seen in college defensive backs, especially during a disappointing season. He’s willing and able to defend the run.
But he didn’t have a disappointing season, at least not in the way another top cornerback prospect did. Booth has the juice to carry receivers vertically, the fluidity to be sticky in and out of breaks, and the ball skills of prime Russell Westbrook trying to get his 10th rebound to complete the triple-double.
4) New York Jets: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Derek Stingley Jr.’s best season might have been 2019. Admittedly, that’s a bit terrifying. But it’s important to remember that progression isn’t linear, and the traits are still there in spades for him to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
The Jets’ secondary needs an influx of talent next season. Drafting Stingley gives them legitimate CB1 upside opposite of Bryce Hall, who has played well for New York. Even though Stingley’s best fit would probably be somewhere that plays more press-man coverage, he’s no slouch playing off the ball with his eyes to the QB, either.
5) New York Giants: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Much like the Jets need defensive backs, the Giants need linemen in possibly an even worse way. Andrew Thomas has begun to figure things out at left tackle, but Evan Neal would slide in nicely on the right side at tackle in place of the aging and struggling Nate Solder.
Neal’s size and athleticism allow him to be a difference-maker as a run blocker. Still, his pass protection has come a long way, especially while playing multiple positions during his time at Alabama. He is far more nimble than one would expect a 350-pounder to be.
6) New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton is everything that a modern defense looks for in a safety. He can play down in the box and bang around against the run. His length, instincts, intelligence, and speed allow him to play as a legitimate single-high free safety. Players like Hamilton don’t really exist. Even as a freshman on a defense full of NFL talent at Notre Dame, he was the best player on the field.
Depending on what happens with Marcus Maye, Hamilton would give the Jets three legitimate starting-caliber players on the back end. Two of them would hold massive potential upside, also.
7) Carolina Panthers: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Charles Cross is the definition of a dancing bear. He moves so freely as an offensive tackle that it’s easy to forget that he’s over 300 pounds. But his most impressive trait might be the power he possesses in a leaner frame. He finishes blocks at an incredibly high rate.
Brady Christensen provides a possible future at tackle for Carolina. But Cross should immediately check off the left tackle box for the Panthers, something they can’t do definitively with Christensen.
8) New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OL, North Carolina State
I don’t love moving someone I believe could play tackle at a high level to guard. However, in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, that’s what is happening to Ikem Ekwonu. Do not fret, Giants fans. I truly believe he has the possibility to be the best player in this draft class as a guard moving forward.
Ekwonu is a bully who will immediately help the Giants’ rushing attack wake up for the first time in a few seasons. He also provides good functional athleticism to make a difference at the second level and as a pass protector.
9) Washington Football Team: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
If your team doesn’t have a quarterback, it really is a struggle to field a consistently competitive team. Poor QB play and a disappointing defensive output ties down Washington in 2021.
Many in the scouting community have their reservations about Matt Corral, and I don’t blame them. But the Football Team must swing at potential future QBs until they hit on one. Corral has the athleticism and arm talent to do it. How he develops mentally will be the key.
10) Atlanta Falcons: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
David Ojabo is the biggest reason why Hutchinson — at times — looks like a slightly underwhelming athlete despite being on Bruce Feldman’s Freak List heading into the 2021 season. Ojabo is a modern pass rusher. He’s definitely a bit raw, but we’ve seen guys such as Odafe Oweh thrive off pure athleticism early on in their NFL careers as they learn to rush the passer technically.
Some like to use the term “ascending prospect” on a few guys per draft season. Ojabo is one that holds that title heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s explosive, flexible, and possesses great natural power.
11) Denver Broncos: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
George Karlaftis probably isn’t the best pro prospect from this pass-rush class, but he might be my runaway favorite. There’s simply something about a large defensive end with powerful and technical hands that get my juices flowing. Watching Karlaftis break down blockers against both the run and pass is so aesthetically pleasing.
The Broncos might have found a bit of a spark in Jonathon Cooper, but Karlaftis has the size and explosiveness to shuffle inside on passing downs as a rusher.
12) Minnesota Vikings: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
It’s been a tumultuous season for Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings. They’ve managed to somehow play up or down to every opponent on their calendar in 2021. But if Zimmer is still around in 2022, it’s safe to say he and Rick Spielman wouldn’t be opposed to drafting another outside cornerback.
Kaiir Elam possesses great length for the position. He also has a natural ability to flip his hips and run, giving him great scheme versatility. And as a former receiver, his ball skills don’t lack.
13) Cleveland Browns: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Garrett Wilson has a disrespectful leaping ability. I’m not sure if I’ve seen someone so effortlessly elevate over defenders. On top of that, he’s a more well-polished receiver than some tend to give him credit for, probably because that’s his teammate’s calling card. But getting a receiving weapon was critical for the Browns in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
He falls into the more modern mold of NFL wideout, standing at 6’0″, 190 pounds. We’ve seen this shift away from bigger receivers since the league decided breathing on WRs was illegal. It’s a separation game now, and Wilson has plenty of that naturally.
14) Philadelphia Eagles: Drake London, WR, USC
Drake London is one of the best contested-catch receivers in college football history. Usually, those types of players only come in the 50/50 ball variety. However, London has great agility for his massive frame (6’5″, 210 pounds). He does a good job maintaining speed in and out of his breaks, and he also does a fine job finding soft spots in zone coverage.
The Eagles need someone to complement DeVonta Smith. With three picks in the first round this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, they can easily mix drafting for need and drafting the “best player available.”
15) New Orleans Saints: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
I know Kenny Pickett had a phenomenal final season in college, and he has easily translatable traits. But if his hands are as small as some are suggesting, it would put him in the 0th percentile for quarterbacks. The Steelers are a popular spot in mock drafts, and I know that’s where he played in college, but I think teams could be cautious with him come April.
Personally, if Jameis Winston comes back healthy, he should be afforded the opportunity to actually be the guy in New Orleans. Nonetheless, from a stylistic standpoint, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sean Payton coveted someone with Pickett’s skill set.
16) Pittsburgh Steelers: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Spencer Brown played right tackle and not left tackle at NIU for a reason. That reason is the hulking Trevor Penning, who stands 6’7″, 340 pounds. As one can imagine, watching him play against UNI’s competition can ensure hilarity. His power is consistently on full display.
It’s exactly what the Steelers need. Najee Harris is a great player, but no back can thrive behind an offensive line that struggles to open up rushing lanes. They’ll also need a protector for their next quarterback — because it’s difficult to envision that signal-caller is as eager to get rid of the ball as Big Ben.