Earth was formed approximately 4.55 billion years ago. The earliest life came into existence roughly one billion years after that. 66 million years ago, the dinosaurs disappeared. Homo sapiens evolved nearly 300,000 years ago. The NFL was founded in 1920 (101 years ago) and it merged with the AFL in 1970 — 51 years ago. And one year from now, the 2022 NFL Draft represented in this mock will commence on the heels of the 56th Super Bowl.
What does this tell us? The 2022 NFL Draft may seem far away. But in geologic terms, it’s right around the corner. So let’s not waste any time. Here’s another 2022 NFL Mock Draft with new names, faces, and scenarios to entertain.
2022 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
The draft order was derived from the Las Vegas odds on the 2021 NFL standings.
1. Detroit Lions: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Even if Jared Goff plays at a serviceable level in 2021, the Lions will likely pick early in the 2022 NFL Draft. Their roster is still a year or two away from competing. Nevertheless, this early lull in the Dan Campbell era might allow them to remain in position to select a franchise quarterback.
If the Lions find themselves in the driver’s seat, they’ll have their choice of the QBs in the 2022 class. In the ensuing discourse, Sam Howell can win over Campbell with his arm strength and competitive toughness. Nothing says “kneecap biter” more than serving pancake blocks for your own running back. On top of that steely grit, Howell has solid physical traits.
2. Houston Texans: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
There are countless potential outcomes in the perplexing Deshaun Watson saga, but I’d wager less than half of those outcomes involve Watson sticking with the Texans past 2021. With Houston’s quarterback situation up in the air, it would be wise for head coach David Culley to use the 2022 NFL Draft as an opportunity to reset. Houston is almost certainly going to be picking in the top five.
There are upwards of half a dozen quarterbacks who could challenge for these top spots. However, Howell and Spencer Rattler are the two most popular options, in no particular order. Rattler still needs to refine his mechanics and decision-making, but his arm talent is arguably the best in the class. A dangerous natural passer, Rattler is primed for an explosive year in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Yes, the Jaguars have used two recent first-round picks on edge rushers — Josh Allen (2018) and K’Lavon Chaisson (2018). Yet, neither Allen nor Chaisson has quite reached the level of production they were expected to attain. After making the Pro Bowl in 2019, Allen only logged 2.5 sacks and 16 pressures before hitting injured reserve eight weeks into 2020. Chaisson, meanwhile, was largely a non-factor as a rookie.
None of this is to say that Allen and Chaisson can’t develop. Still, I don’t think the Jaguars’ EDGE situation necessarily precludes them from considering Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux is arguably the best prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, with elite athleticism and a long, imposing frame. In a year or two, Thibodeaux, Allen, and Chaisson could constitute a fearsome EDGE rotation.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
This far ahead of the next draft cycle, positional rankings can be dangerous, dissuading analysts from exploring different possibilities. Sometimes, certain prospects can become entrenched at the top of their position groups when others deserve consideration as well. Such is the case with Derek Stingley. Though Stingley Jr. is an excellent prospect in his own right, he’s not the only athlete in the CB1 conversation.
One could make a compelling case for Florida’s Kaiir Elam. Elam stands at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, and produced 2 interceptions and 11 pass deflections in 2020. He’s an elite athlete, with brisk explosiveness and effortless fluidity in his hips. He also shows impressive proactive physicality, both as a run defender and a coverage defender. For the Eagles, who need top-end talent at CB, Elam fits the bill.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Stingley Jr.’s tremendous freshman season no doubt earned him some lasting legitimacy in the eyes of analysts. And he no doubt deserves recognition. The true junior is an enticing high-upside prospect who could very well be CB1 upon the season’s conclusion. That said, Stingley wasn’t quite as prolific in 2020, and he will draw attention in 2021 as he looks to bounce back.
Even if Stingley Jr. isn’t quite the generational athlete many anticipated, he’s still brimming with potential. Few cornerbacks have the sheer instincts for disrupting the pass that Stingley has. His vertical athleticism, timing, and contortion ability are top-tier. In that sense, he’s essentially Ja’Marr Chase at CB. But even beyond that, Stingley moves well for his size. He’s long and nimble, with torrid closing speed and explosiveness.
6. New York Jets: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
The Jets have the makings of a formidable defensive line. Quinnen Williams and Carl Lawson are upper-echelon starters at their respective positions. Meanwhile, players like Vinny Curry, Folorunso Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers fill out the unit’s depth. Still, as far as the Jets have come, they can add more talent opposite Lawson. Jabari Zuniga has potential, but USC’s Drake Jackson has more.
Jackson is a linebacker hybrid with the frame and fortitude of a sure-fire defensive end. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, but his frame could feasibly take on more weight. He’s a terrific athlete with imposing length and natural power. And he’s not afraid to get physical with his opponents. With the Pac-12 gearing up for a full slate of games in 2021, Jackson has a chance to solidify his standing.
7. New York Giants: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada
New York’s roster isn’t bad. So if they end up having the seventh overall pick, one has to deduce that Daniel Jones didn’t take a step up in his third NFL season. Ideally, Jones proves himself to be a franchise quarterback. If he doesn’t, the Giants might have a chance to replace him in the coming offseason. Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder both make sense here, but Carson Strong is another QB who needs more respect.
Strong isn’t quite the dual-threat player that Willis and Ridder are, but he’s still fairly athletic for his pocket-passer mold. The Nevada signal-caller has an excellent arm — one that can generate velocity even without maximum hip rotation. His throwing motion is crisp and compact, but at the same time, he’s exceptional at navigating the pocket. Additionally, his situational awareness is stellar for his age.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Traits aren’t everything at the quarterback position — in fact, far from it. Regardless, at this point in the draft cycle, when we’re still waiting to see what happens in the coming season, prospects with elite physical traits generate a great deal of enthusiasm. These are ultimately the players who have the most growth potential heading into the new year. Malik Willis is one of these prospects.
Willis has a sizable amount of refinement to undergo, but he could ultimately flip the 2022 QB class upside down. Willis is explosive and elusive as a runner, and he has tremendous arm talent. Liberty’s QB can whip the ball 60 yards with effortless ease, and he doesn’t need to be on platform to do it. Willis needs to cut down on his fumbles and keep improving as a passer, but his physical foundation lends him limitless potential.
9. Denver Broncos: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Much like other selections in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, we can read the context here and assume that the Broncos’ QB battle didn’t produce stability at QB. To avoid repetition, let’s explore different scenarios here. What if, despite the lackluster finish, Drew Lock shows enough growth to warrant playing out his rookie contract? What do the Broncos do then?
Denver has a solid roster, and that won’t change in 2022. Still, they could look at a tackle, linebacker, or a safety as Kareem Jackson will be a free agent next year. Even with Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson on deck, it’s tough to pass on Kyle Hamilton at this point. The 6-foot-4, 219-pound safety would be a scary complement to Justin Simmons. Hamilton could also rotate down to the second level on occasion.
10. New York Giants (via CHI): Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
At 6-foot-7, 360 pounds, Evan Neal is quite literally a mountain. The Earth’s geothermal tectonic processes didn’t form this mountain, but Neal boasts some of the same characteristics. Neal has the density of a dormant igneous plume, the biting hands of a grating transform fault, and the blocking reach of a horizon-swallowing pyroclastic cloud.
More simply put, Neal is a large, athletic, and aggressive lineman who checks all the necessary boxes to be an NFL starter. As veteran tackle Nate Solder moves into the twilight of his career, the Giants may seek his successor. Especially with Carson Strong coming to N.Y. in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, finding more protection for him is of the utmost importance.
11. Washington Football Team: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
With Kyle Hamilton off the board, there’s truly no other option for the Washington Football Team besides quarterback. The defense is close to becoming elite, and the pieces are coming together on the offense. All Washington needs is a franchise quarterback to take the reigns from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Another year of fringe competition doesn’t bode well for Washington’s draft positioning, but there are options even outside the top 10. One is Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, an extremely dynamic passer with explosive athleticism and arm strength to become a game-changer under center. Beyond his top-end physical traits, he’s a known leader and has experience changing protections.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
You won’t often find a 6-foot-3, 232-pound receiver. Even rarer is a receiver of that stature who can move as Treylon Burks does. Burks showed off his playmaking potential in 2020, amassing 51 catches, 870 yards, and 7 touchdowns with Feleipe Franks as his quarterback.
Burks comes with tons of upside in multiple phases. He’s proactive in contested situations, and he can contort his body for off-target passes. Beyond that, he’s a stellar run-after-catch threat, with the density and elusiveness to create yards as a ball carrier. The Raiders might be more inclined to address defense here, but with their receiving core sorely lacking a No. 1 threat, Burks makes plenty of sense.
13. Carolina Panthers: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
The Panthers have spent their last three first-round picks on defensive players. If Taylor Moton doesn’t sign a long-term deal before 2022, there’s a chance they go tackle here. Still, with linebacker a modest need, Carolina may continue to add top-end talent to the defense by selecting the first linebacker off the board in Alabama’s Christian Harris.
Standing at around 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, Harris is an ascending player. But already, his natural talent has become apparent. The Crimson Tide standout registered 14 tackles for loss in his first two collegiate seasons. Last year, he recorded 4.5 sacks, an interception, and 2 deflections on top of that. Harris has intriguing explosiveness and twitch, and he’s a stout tackler who can change angles instantly.
14. Minnesota Vikings: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman proved his mettle in playing the board in the 2021 NFL Draft. He traded down from 14 to 23, only to get an offensive tackle that would have been worth the 14th pick. If these Vegas odds hold true, Minnesota will have the 14th pick again. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, there’s no trade back necessary. The highest possible value rests in Texas A&M defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal.
Minnesota did acquire Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency, and they’ll be returning Michael Pierce after he opted out in 2020. Nevertheless, the Vikings can add a more substantial pass-rushing presence on the interior line, and DeMarvin Leal is the perfect player for that purpose. Standing at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Leal is an electric athlete with the length, energy, and natural power to be an all-encompassing threat up the middle.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The NFL’s new wave of wide receivers may soon meet its match. The 2021 NFL Draft was effective in providing an abundance of high-end cornerback talent. The 2022 NFL Draft, on the surface, seems as though it may follow suit. Elam, Stingley Jr., and Andrew Booth encompass just a handful of the class’ promise. Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner is another prospect who could grace the first round.
Gardner is an exciting player. Standing at 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, he’s produced 6 interceptions and 12 deflections over the past two seasons. Much like Northwestern’s Greg Newsome in 2021, Gardner is long, fluid, and quick to react in coverage. The Cardinals did draft Tay Gowan in 2021, but they still need more talent at the cornerback position. Gardner gives them that, as well as early starting utility.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
The Steelers have put off the transition away from Ben Roethlisberger since 2019. 2022 might be the year they finally have to concede and move on to a new era. Roethlisberger’s physical ability is slowly dwindling, and he’s starting to become more of a hindrance than a help at the QB position. The Steelers might not be in optimal position to replace him immediately, but they have to start their succession plan soon.
Numerous names might draw support here as the sixth QB off the board, including Kedon Slovis, Phil Jurkovec, and Jayden Daniels. But I’m going to choose someone different: Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. Corral no doubt needs to tone down the turnovers, but beneath his volatile aura, he’s a supremely talented quarterback. He’s athletic, fearless, and incredibly natural off-script. A second year in Lane Kiffin’s offense could allow him to grow.