Cam Mellor’s 2022 7-Round NFL Mock Draft: Malik Willis, Sam Howell, Kenny Pickett bring hope to new franchises in Round 1

Who makes the cut in the latest 7-Round 2022 NFL Mock Draft, where does your favorite team go, and which players should you know come April?

The time for a 7-Round 2022 NFL Mock Draft is upon us. With an even clearer picture of team needs given the free agency period’s slowdown, albeit minorly, we take a look at the direction each team could go through all seven rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.

2022 7-Round NFL Mock Draft | Round 1, Picks 1-16

Rumor has it, the Jacksonville Jaguars are potentially targeting Travon Walker from Georgia with the first overall pick. This mock, however, is what I would do as the general manager of all 32 NFL teams. So, while the Jaguars may shock everyone by selecting Walker, I intend to go in a different direction.

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

As mentioned, that different direction than what the Jaguars may take is selecting the second-most important position on offense. Given the franchise tag to Cam Robinson at left tackle, it may seem that the position is locked up. But I’m not sold on Robinson, nor should you be. Ikem Ekwonu has immense potential and more than proved he was capable of locking down in pass protection this past season, as well as presenting an incredible upgrade in the run game. Protect Trevor Lawrence at all costs.

2) Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

In a similar vein, I am not sold on Jared Goff being with the Detroit Lions for much longer. Quarterback is the most important position in team sports, and you have to take the best option when presented the opportunity to do so. As such, you take the top quarterback on your board or look to trade down. With the top signal-caller available, the Lions grab Malik Willis here at No. 2.

Willis presents the highest upside in this class and a rocket launcher for an arm. No, I’m not rushing to judgment because of his recent pro day highlights. This is a culmination of a two-year-long process of evaluating Willis since his transfer to Liberty from Auburn. The growth shown as a passer in 2021 is indicative of the growth he can have in the NFL. He’s ready to go now, but learning the ways from a seasoned vet like Goff would do wonders. It isn’t popular, but give Willis the Patrick Mahomes treatment and let him flourish in Year 2.

3) Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

The Houston Texans have holes all over their roster. But they also have the capital in the 2022 NFL Draft to make some serious steps toward rebuilding. That rebuild begins with Kayvon Thibodeaux, who anchors a new era of pass-rushing talent in Houston. Thibodeaux has an elite first step, a tenacious attitude, and presents versatility to rush from various alignments. His run defense is also top-notch.

4) New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

With two picks in the top 10, the New York Jets have a chance to dramatically improve their roster. Kicking that off at pick No. 4, there’s no better player available in an immediate basis or long-term than Kyle Hamilton. He plays a pivotal role in today’s NFL — shifting around the defense from a variety of coverages. Hamilton has tremendous coverage ability and presents a problem for opposing rushing attacks all the same. He’s a potential All-Pro candidate as early as his first season.

5) New York Giants: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

Talk about drafting the best player available. While the needs on the offensive line are there, securing the face of their defense with the fifth pick is too good to pass up. Aidan Hutchinson‘s power is too much for tackles to handle while his hands are difficult to stop. In what could only be described as a violent game of chess, Hutchinson’s growing arsenal of pass-rush moves will be difficult to be solved.

6) Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Needing a blindside protector for whoever is at quarterback, Evan Neal‘s slide stops here, if you can call it a slide. Neal projects to left tackle but comes with versatility to play a number of offensive line positions if needed. Strong at the point of attack, Neal’s hands are elite (just as his body frame is) at a lean 6’7″, 337 pounds. He anchors the left side for years to come in Carolina.

7) New York Giants (from CHI): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

It’s a difficult decision with a bevy of needs for the New York Giants. But Charles Cross is the selection despite already having Andrew Thomas on the roster. Cross has to learn to adjust to an NFL offense and not the Air Raid principles he comes from. During that adjustment period, he seems susceptible to an adjustment of position as well. It’s a lot to learn, but he can lean on his sound fundamentals in the process.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Even before the suspension to Calvin Ridley, the Atlanta Falcons needed receiver help. They take the top receiver on their board, who presents immediate insertion into the lineup. There are no concerns in terms of Garrett Wilson‘s game. Whether it’s his terrific speed or his ability to beat defenders at the catch point, Wilson comes fully equipped to be the WR1 in Atlanta.

9) Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

The Seattle Seahawks know a thing or two about stellar linebacker play. With Bobby Wagner now gone, Jordyn Brooks gets a new linebacker duo with similar skills. Devin Lloyd is the best sideline-to-sideline linebacker in this class and could play the most snaps in his rookie season among every player drafted. As good as Lloyd is against the run and rushing the passer, those skills pale in comparison to his coverage ability. As legendary Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham once noted, Lloyd “does things on the field no one can.”

10) New York Jets (from SEA): Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

Allowing no catch in his coverage to go for more than 13 yards a season ago, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is the top cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft. In fact, Sauce didn’t even allow a touchdown during his entire three-year career at Cincinnati. The Jets get a lockdown and true No. 1 cornerback at pick No. 10. That’s a win.

11) Washington Commanders: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

The Washington Commanders traded for — and ate the contract of — Carson Wentz. At this stage of his career, however, Wentz should be seen as nothing more than a bridge quarterback. Sam Howell is the best vertical passer in this class, routinely hitting deep shots with accuracy despite what some would call a down year last season. Howell proved doubters wrong at the Senior Bowl and only made his case better throughout the entire offseason process. He’ll be ready to play sooner than later, but Wentz is a good stopgap.

12) Minnesota Vikings: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Kaiir Elam heads to the Minnesota Vikings here at pick No. 12 as he lands as the second cornerback off the board. Elam is a terrific cornerback with versatility in the way he plays man or zone coverage all the same. His knowledge of opposing offensive attacks due to intense film study is apparent, and his ability to pass off defenders in his coverage to make plays elsewhere is proof.

13) Houston Texans (from CLE): Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

With a potential run on cornerbacks starting, the Texans opt to grab their top cornerback remaining in Andrew Booth Jr. Making this pick with their newly acquired 13th selection from the Deshaun Watson trade, Booth enters the lineup as a potential CB1. The need to fill the void left by Justin Reid is lessened as Booth can lock down an entire side of the field. His athleticism and ball skills will immediately bolster the Texans’ secondary.

14) Baltimore Ravens: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

The Baltimore Ravens have few glaring needs on their team. Their defense is locked up for 2022, but a replacement for Marcus Peters in 2023 was heavily considered here. However, grabbing George Karlaftis to play the 5-technique in their front was too good to pass up. While they secured their speed rusher in Odafe Oweh a year ago, they secure their versatile pass rusher from the defensive line in Karlaftis.

15) Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Another first-round receiver from Alabama for the Philadelphia Eagles. Pairing a healthy Jameson Williams with DeVonta Smith will be a scary thought for NFC East defenses. Jalen Hurts will have a pick-your-poison group of receivers as the Eagles have become Alabama Lite on offense. Williams can take the top off the defenses, winning deep with ease, but has no trouble on the short and intermediate routes.

16) Philadelphia Eagles (from IND): Daxton Hill, S, Michigan

The Eagles move to the defensive side of the ball with their second of three first-round picks. Grabbing Daxton Hill to play a hybrid role in Year 1 until he finds his perfect role in the NFL. Hill can play free safety, slot cornerback, or even strong safety in sub-packages. He’s a proverbial ball of clay who can play a variety of needs for Philadelphia.

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