2022 NFL Mock Draft: Swooning over safeties and pass rushers

Early in the process of 2022 NFL mock draft coverage, it's more important to find the fit than the particular player. Let's attack needs.

As someone who grew in this industry because of the NFL Draft, you either love or hate doing NFL mock drafts — and 2022 is no exception. Personally, the task of doing a 32-team mock draft is daunting, especially for multiple rounds. It takes hours if you want to not cock it up. However, writing mock drafts is one of the more fulfilling things I do because it allows me to swoon over the upcoming draft class, applaud good organizations, and poke at the bad ones. The descriptive nature of it is what any creative writer craves.

So let’s get to it.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | 1-16

At this point in the pre-draft process, we’re highlighting critical performers from the college football level and fitting team needs. We have a tiny sliver of the NFL Draft pie right now. But we believe many of these prospects in the top 16 will hear their name called on Day 1.

1) Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

After rolling his ankle in the team’s season opener against Fresno State, the long-believed top 2022 NFL Draft prospect returned nearly a month later against Stanford. So far, he has 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss in his three games, so his production on a per-game basis certainly hasn’t slipped.

The Lions could use a bit of everything. They’re desperate at wide receiver, but it’ll be a cold day in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia before a receiver goes first overall, given their perceived value and the sheer volume of talent at the position.

With Romeo Okwara’s awful injury, the talent of Kayvon Thibodeaux, and the value of the position, this feels like a no-brainer. Unless George Karlaftis overtakes the Oregon pass rusher or Detroit decides it needs a right tackle for some reason, this is the pick that makes the most sense.

2) Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

“Dalton, you were just talking about positional value and now you have a safety going second overall? Are you mad?”

Crazy? No. Mad? Yes.

I’ve come to believe that an elite safety — especially one that can cover and play the run — is one of the most valuable pieces a team can deploy defensively. Nobody on the field can do more situationally than a safety.

Pair Kyle Hamilton with Anthony Harris and the Eagles have created a no-fly zone. Hamilton is one of the most impressive players I’ve watched since 2016. Obviously, he has to finish this season out, but he makes plays that others don’t have enough DMT to even hallucinate about making.

He’s a unique prospect, and he has the potential to be a special pro, too. It’s why he’ll go in the top five of most 2022 NFL mock drafts you’ll find on the internet.

3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

There are other big offensive tackles in college football and the NFL. However, there aren’t many mountains that are as physically gifted as Evan Neal. If Detroit somehow gets out of the top spot, it wouldn’t surprise me if an OT-needy team took Neal first overall.

I don’t necessarily think he’s a better prospect than Tristan Wirfs or Jedrick Wills, but in a class devoid of palatable QB prospects, it would make sense for Neal to be the first tackle drafted No. 1 overall since 2013.

He’s now been a great guard, a solid right tackle, and a great left tackle in the span of three seasons for the Crimson Tide. Once he actually gets to settle into a side at the NFL level, Neal is going to dominate as his footwork becomes second nature.

4) Houston Texans: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

I feel bad for Houston fans. Even as a DFW transplant that’s supposed to despise my humid state brethren, I feel bad about the state that Bill O’Brien and others left this organization in. Unfortunately, there is a lot that needs to be fixed.

I will assume there is enough clarity in the Deshaun Watson situation at some point for another massive trade to occur between the Dolphins and Texans. I don’t know how or why this move could occur, but there is so much smoke that the fire must be somewhere. Albeit, this time, it’s the Texans going through a rebuild and gaining draft capital. We just hope they do a better job spending it than Miami did.

Derek Stingley Jr. hasn’t looked quite the same since his magical freshman season, but his talent is still blatantly obvious. His ball skills are akin to Trevon Diggs, and he’s a stickier athlete. He needs to get healthy after having a procedure done on his left foot, but if he has an entire offseason to train and perform at the NFL Combine, Stingley will show out.

5) New York Giants: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

Everybody has a type. Some people prefer Fords, while others (wrongly) prefer Chevy or Mopar. I prefer a technical wizard with powerful hands, a 265-plus-pound frame, and enough juice to threaten the edge and still sack a quarterback in 2.5 seconds.

I brazenly defended A.J. Epenesa’s uninspiring athletic testing. And if the day comes and George Karlaftis follows, I shall once again take thine sword as a sacrifice to the pass-rushing gods.

Seriously though, Karlfatis has more than enough explosion to contest the arc, his hands are laser-guided bricks, and he has the ideal frame you would ask for in a three-down pass rusher. Depending on testing, it wouldn’t surprise me if he eventually usurped Thibodeaux as the top EDGE prospect in the 2022 class. That’s why he goes with the fifth pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

6) New York Jets: Drake Jackson, EDGE, Southern California

In six games so far in 2021, Drake Jackson has 4 TFLs, 3 sacks, an interception, a pass deflection, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. The young man can do a bit of everything on the defensive side of the ball.

John Franklin-Myers has been one of the lone bright spots on the Jets’ DL rotation the past few seasons. It would mean the world to this defense if they could get a legitimate stand-up pass rusher to complement him. Carl Lawson will be a fantastic addition once healthy, but you can never have enough pass-rush depth.

Jackson won’t drop into coverage often at the next level, but he can, and that versatility is a big deal for a team that likes to roll with three bigger down linemen and a stand-up rusher in their arsenal.

7) New England Patriots: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Kaiir Elam is the right kind of prospect to handle a multiple defense (the one he’d see in New England). The 6’2″, long cornerback has all the fluidity in the world to match up in Cover 1, whether in press or off coverage. Given his ball skills, intellect, and length, he’s also a great fit in zone concepts.

Jalen Mills certainly can’t be in the Patriots’ long-term plans as an outside cornerback, so bringing in his eventual replacement is really the only option they have with this pick. Fortunately, the 2022 NFL Draft class has a ton of cornerback talent at the top of the board, and the Patriots got one of them here.

8) Philadelphia Eagles: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Matt Corral is the exact quarterback you would believe could be a pro in a Lane Kiffin offense. Like his head coach, Corral is a bit of a wild card — not just game to game, but play to play. He’s undoubtedly improved upon his issues protecting the football. He has thrown 14 TD to only 1 INT in his six games so far through 2021.

Corral has the accuracy, arm strength, and athleticism to be a franchise quarterback at the next level. He’s certainly not the level of prospect we’ve normally seen from the top of a class, but if he hits, what he was as a prospect means very little. Because until you hit on a quarterback, nothing else matters.

9) Philadelphia Eagles: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

Treylon Burks is the traditionally large X receiver the Eagles tried to find in Alshon Jeffery and (shield your eyes Eagles fans) J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. However, Burks is a far more complete receiver than Whiteside, who almost solely feasted off contested catches.

Burks possesses great athleticism for his size in long speed, explosiveness vertically, and horizontal movements. Obviously, at 6’2″, 220 pounds, he’s not going to move like Jaylen Waddle, but he isn’t a battleship either.

The Eagles could use a complement to DeVonta Smith and hopefully use Jalen Reagor in the slot with Quez Watkins seeing rotational snaps. That is a complete wide receiving corps.

10) New York Jets: Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M

Kenyon Green is not simply a perfect fit in name given his proximity to the Jets’ primary color, but he also allows them the versatility of playing him anywhere they feel fit. So far in 2021, he’s played left tackle, left guard, right guard, and right tackle. He can literally do it all on the offensive line at the college level. His athleticism makes him a good fit with New York’s zone-running scheme, which made for an easy pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

Green would be the immediate starter at right guard for New York, but with Morgan Moses aging, it might be best for them to insert Green at right tackle. The Jets have made significant investments into the offensive line over the past two drafts; it would be easy to envision them continuing that trend.

Building an offensive line is the greatest asset a team could give a young quarterback learning the speed of the NFL game.

11) Washington Football Team: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan

Daxton Hill is almost indescribable as a reactive athlete. His burst is nearly unimaginable. From a ball-of-clay perspective, only his safety brethren Kyle Hamilton is a more ideal fit. However, as a pure free safety, I think Hill has the potential to be the best in quite some time. He’s that athletically gifted.

Through six games as a junior, he’s defended 4 passes, intercepted another 2, and also has 2.5 tackles for loss and a half a sack. Needless to say, Hill’s production leaves little to be desired. But my favorite part about his tape from 2020 was his ability to play in man coverage from the slot — yet another example of his supreme athleticism.

It’s devastatingly clear that Bobby McCain and Landon Collins cannot get the job done on the back end. Additionally, Kamren Curl is already used in a hybrid role, allowing Hill to play primarily free safety.

12) Atlanta Falcons: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Quite frankly, I’m not a fan of any of the quarterbacks in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft playing from Day 1 in the NFL. Luckily for Malik Willis, he won’t have to because the Falcons are still paying Matt Ryan a trillion dollars to play quarterback in 2022.

Willis has all the physical ability to be a franchise quarterback at the NFL level. However, the raw areas of his game are still quite evident in his play in 2021. Willis has struggled to protect the football in his past two games, throwing 6 interceptions in that span. Much like Matt Coral last year, the turnovers seemingly come in bunches.

Nonetheless, his ability to create with his legs — matched with his outstanding arm — allows him to make throws not many other human beings can make. And if you can allow his talent to learn at the NFL level for a season, we could see a huge improvement from his rookie year to his second campaign.

13) Miami Dolphins: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa

I love a dominant center. And man, I’m not sure when I last saw one that gave me a twinkle in the eye quite like Tyler Linderbaum. Now, that’s partially because I had unobtainable levels of confidence in Creed Humphrey given  his play as a redshirt freshman on the biggest stage. Linderbaum was always billed as a great prospect, but he exceeded my expectations.

See, I don’t normally expect physical dominance from a center. They’re more traditionally smaller, less athletic linemen who aren’t often forced into 1-on-1 situations. Linderbaum is very much a physically imposing center. It’s not often non-linemen-focused evaluators get giddy about an interior offensive lineman, but the Iowa center has garnered the attention of everyone involved in the process.

Miami’s offensive line is and has been a travesty for a while now. Nobody would have blinked had they drafted Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater. But they needed help at multiple positions, center included. They get their long-term option in Linderbaum here. It’s not a sexy pick, and it won’t fix their underachieving defense, but it could help protect whoever they have throwing the ball in 2022.

14) Denver Broncos: Sean Rhyan, OT, UCLA

This is, admittedly, a difficult decision to make. I’m not generally a fan of drafting someone to play a different position than they did in college, but I am asking Sean Rhyan to do just that in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. He’ll move to right tackle for the Denver Broncos, as Garett Bolles will play left tackle for the foreseeable future.

The Broncos will most likely still be devoid of high-tier quarterback play in 2022. Therefore, they must be able to move the football forward with consistency through the quick passing attack and the run game. However, they still must be able to take downfield shots. For that to occur, Rhyan must integrate easily into the fold.

15) Carolina Panthers: Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State

The Panthers’ offensive line is a travesty. Cam Erving is their starting left tackle, for Pete’s sake! Nicholas Petit-Frere played right tackle for the Buckeyes in 2020, but he was moved to the blindside in 2022 as Ohio State transitioned Thayer Munford to the interior.

Petit-Frere has been the best of Ohio State’s offensive talent in 2022 midway through the season. At the very least, he’s been the most impressive, which is partially the reason he’s the first one off the board. He has fine size for an NFL left tackle, and his footwork and explosion in short areas make him a great athletic candidate for the position.

He also has vast reserves of power. And he’s not just a pass protector, either. He’ll be a great addition to block for whoever is running for the Panthers in 2022. Hopefully, it’s Christian McCaffrey.

16) New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT/G, North Carolina State

I won’t be making the decision about whether Ikem Ekwonu plays guard or tackle at the next level. All I know is that he has the demeanor of a bruising interior blocker with the athleticism of a tackle.

When I watched him in 2020, I could see why folks assumed he’d be a guard. This behemoth was running over defenders like a 14-pound bowling ball rolling over a set of beer bottles.

The Giants need help at every position on the offensive line aside from left tackle. Ekwonu is everything New York fans wanted in Will Hernandez, but actually good and not consistently instigating fights.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch