Cam Mellor’s 2022 7-Round NFL Mock Draft: Sam Howell anchors five first-round quarterbacks

This 2022 NFL Mock Draft goes seven rounds full of picks and analysis for every pick from No. 1 to No. 262.

Draft time is the most wonderful time of the year. If this 2022 NFL Mock Draft is any indicator of how terrific this April’s NFL Draft will be, then we’re all in for a treat. With the all-star circuit complete and the draft order nearly set, this mock goes seven rounds. And that’s seven rounds of analysis for every pick.

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

This draft is what I would do as the general manager of all 32 teams. This takes into account players ranked on my individual big board, salary-cap construction, potential free-agent signings, and selects players based on how they fell to every team.

PFN’s free Mock Draft Simulator has trades, but this mock does not. The goal with this 2022 NFL Mock Draft was to showcase which players could be available with the current NFL Draft order. This exercise showcases players that fans should get to know. Additionally, it highlights specific positions that your favorite franchise may be enticed to select from.

With the aforementioned information at hand, here’s the top half of the first round. Again, this is what I would do as the GM of all 32.

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

This one is a no-brainer. The Jacksonville Jaguars have to protect their franchise quarterback, and there’s no better pro-ready NFL left tackle than Evan Neal. While there may be some upside to other players at this position or even other positions at pick No. 1, selecting Neal is the obvious choice.

Neal presents an immediate starter at a prime position in today’s NFL. He has great footwork in the passing game and a mauling attitude in the run game. Neal is a future Pro Bowl player and potential All-Pro if his career trajectory continues. With Trevor Lawrence’s blindside protected for years to come, the Jaguars can focus on building around this duo at skill positions.

2) Detroit Lions: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan

The top edge defender on the board is available for the Detroit Lions at pick No. 2. Sure, it may not be who you think it is, but David Ojabo presents a prospect who isn’t complete with an amazing upside. Ojabo wins with speed and possesses the best spin move in this class. A man of his size (6’5″, 250) shouldn’t be able to move the way he does, and somehow he seemed to only get better in 2021.

Ojabo has a knack for finding the football when sacking the quarterback or grabbing running backs at the line of scrimmage. The big man from Scotland knows how to upset rushing lanes, get after the quarterback, and even drop back into coverage with great success. And the best part about Ojabo is the fact that he’s just now scratching the surface of his incredible athleticism and even more incredible ability on the field.

3) Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

The Houston Texans needn’t overthink this one: Kayvon Thibodeaux is available, run to the podium to select him. Thibodeaux is a fabulous pass rusher and perhaps an even better run stopper if that’s even possible. As great as he is bending off the edge or running around tackles, Thibodeaux possesses an innate ability to find the ball carrier through the trash.

Once Thibodeaux gets his hands on ball carriers, they’re not going anywhere. An injury this season notwithstanding, there are no flaws in Thibodeaux’s game. He immediately transforms Houston’s defense into a feared unit against the pass.

4) New York Jets: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

The top corner on my board is available at pick No. 4, and the New York Jets are cornerback-needy. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is the definition of a lockdown cornerback, not allowing a touchdown in three seasons at Cincinnati. And before you say it, it wasn’t just because he was playing in the AAC. Gardner matched up against the best every team had to offer and limited them all the same.

He blanketed Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle, Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr., and most impressively, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, to name just a few of the talented players he covered. Gardner limited Williams to negative yardage in their matchup while also showcasing an elite ability in run defense against the Crimson Tide. Sauce will lockdown an entire side of the field in the NFL all the same.

5) New York Giants: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Yes, the New York Giants could go with an offensive lineman here. Sure, there are some talented left tackles who may be coveted at this stage. But the Giants need right tackle and interior help more so than they do at LT with Andrew Thomas firmly in place. For me, I don’t have an interior lineman or RT high enough on my board to warrant the fifth selection overall. As such, they grab Kyle Hamilton to anchor their secondary for a decade-plus.

This pick allows Logan Ryan to shift back to cornerback, but it doesn’t mean it pigeonholes Hamilton to just a pure safety role. Hamilton can be moved around the defense in just about every package, playing a bevy of roles from true free safety or strong safety, nickel cornerback, and even a rusher off the edge. He closes space in coverage better than anyone else and hammers backs in the run game with his massive frame. Hamilton is a game-changer.

6) Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

We’ve come a long way from Ikem Ekwonu projecting to inside last August to him landing as a top-10 pick at left tackle in April. Proving his worth against some of the country’s top pass rushers this season, Ekwonu showcased he has more than enough skill to stay at left tackle and protect the blindside of whoever his quarterback is in the NFL. Ekwonu is as technical as he is balanced and uses his technique to his advantage well.

He’ll plant defenders in the run game with arguably the best set of run-blocking skills in this class. Ekwonu is solid in all facets, and as LTs continue to get more and more valuable in today’s NFL, this is a rock-solid option for Carolina.

7) New York Giants (from CHI): Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

Like they did at pick 5, the Giants choose to help other positions besides the offensive line as there are still no interior linemen or right tackles that warrant this much draft capital. Aidan Hutchinson is a power rusher with an underrated speed. His slide to pick No. 7 may be surprising, but in this EDGE class, the Giants can look to pick one of the big three if they so desire.

Hutchinson wins with his power and hand speed, routinely meeting at the quarterback with fellow top pick and former teammate Ojabo. He’s got a great first step off the line and tremendous strength. Hutchinson will have to prove he can match the strength of NFL tackles on an everyday basis. If he does, his ceiling is incredibly high.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State

The race to be the fourth edge defender called has reached a fever pitch. After a dominant Senior Bowl week, Jermaine Johnson II proved he has all the tools to potentially unseat the long-thought-of top quartet of edge rushers. The Atlanta Falcons can get out from Dante Fowler’s contract if they want to this offseason but aren’t guaranteed much from him after 2022 anyway.

Johnson enters as a high-motor player with sound technique and excellent durability. He rarely left the field for Florida State in 2021, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in the conference. A menace to quarterbacks, Johnson was also seen running down RBs on the backside as he never gave up on a play. His Senior Bowl performance proved his 2021 season looks to be the norm, and the Falcons get a talented, three-down edge defender at pick No. 8.

9) Denver Broncos: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

It took a while, but Sam Howell has returned to QB1 status for me. The Denver Broncos grab their future franchise QB after Howell proved in Mobile that he’s more like the 2019/2020 version of himself than he is the 2021 version. Howell makes every throw and has arguably some of the best downfield accuracy in not only this class but the past few classes.

Howell doesn’t come without concern. That 2021 season was a bit of a letdown, but if he does return to that form from 2019-20, he’s the long-term fix the Broncos have been looking for for some time. Howell can hit every level of the field, and put in the right system, makes every correct read. As he adjusts to the NFL in Year 1, his athleticism can carry him as he ran for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season.

10) New York Jets (from SEA): Drake London, WR, USC

The top receiver on my board looks to be returning to form if reports are to be believed. Drake London will put on a show at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine if medically cleared. Otherwise, his athletic secret will be that of his and his landing spot here: the New York Jets. London, a former two-sport star at USC, made mincemeat of defensive backs in 2021 prior to his injury.

Despite missing the majority of the back half of the season, London still led the Pac-12 in receiving yards. He’s a contested-catch nightmare for defensive backs and can win even through double-teams. London’s got a growing route tree, sneaky speed, and the best set of yards-after-catch skills in the class. It will take an entire secondary to bring him down at times. Building around Zach Wilson continues as they give him a true No. 1 WR.

11) Washington Commanders: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

A new name and a new franchise quarterback is what the Washington Commanders come out of April with after this mock draft. The name is in place, and Kenny Pickett joins the fold as QB2 of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Despite some cynics around his hand size, Pickett did more than enough at the Senior Bowl to showcase he can handle an NFL football. And make NFL throws to boot.

Pickett is a leader of leaders and a true game-changer. The Commanders need both on the offensive side of the ball, nabbing a potential franchise-changing quarterback as the team heads into a new era. Pickett understands his strengths and possesses enough talent in his arm to make every throw.

12) Minnesota Vikings: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

The second CB off the board is Kaiir Elam, heading to the Minnesota Vikings as a big need. Patrick Peterson was a great stopgap in 2021, but a long-term solution is necessary. There are a few options for the Vikings at pick 12 in terms of cornerbacks, but Elam possesses an elite ball skills and body control combination that few have.

Elam also understands a variety of coverage schemes, can lock down a WR1, and has a knack for finding the ball. Whether it’s pressed up to the line in man coverage or passing off defenders in zone, Elam can do it all outside.

13) Cleveland Browns: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

The receiver-needy Cleveland Browns grab in-state star Garrett Wilson to help bolster their receiving corps. With Odell Beckham Jr. gone and Jarvis Landry turning 30 next season, the need for a new star receiver outside has emerged as a top priority. Wilson has the ability to win everywhere on the field but certainly excelled when he was outside. And against top defensive backs to boot.

Wilson put forth a dominant career in a dominant WR room at Ohio State over the past three seasons. The best aspect of Wilson’s game is the fact that he doesn’t possess one negative in his game. He has soft hands, sharp routes, elite separation, and quick feet that he uses to release off the line of scrimmage. Wilson has a chance to elongate Baker Mayfield’s career in Cleveland as a top target.

14) Baltimore Ravens: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

The Baltimore Ravens get a gift from a bevy of teams ahead of them, allowing Charles Cross to slide to them at No. 14. Though LT isn’t necessarily their biggest need, the jury is still out on whether Ronnie Stanley will ever return to top form after a string of injuries. Cross can fill in for Stanley whenever necessary while he’s adjusting to the right side, taking the reigns of the RT spot in the process.

Cross will have some things to answer about his run blocking as he hails from Mike Leach’s college offense. But if you look close enough, you can see the traits of a vicious mauler in the run game. He’s got some reps on tape where he planted second and third-level defenders on runs. We know his pass protection is solid, and if Cross can adjust to the right side, this would be one terrific pair of bookend tackles.

15) Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

A bit of a surprise here, but color me a cynic myself. I’m not convinced Jalen Hurts will ever be able to get the Philadelphia Eagles over that proverbial playoff-victory hump. He’s a great quarterback with an underrated arm but has limitations that defenses will only get keener to as the years progress.

Matt Corral enters the fold at pick 15 to take the reigns. Corral has a ton of athleticism himself but presents as a pure passer first. He can make all the throws on the field, but what separates him is his ability to make those throws from a variety of platforms. It isn’t always the prettiest, but Corral gets the job done from anywhere on the field. He’s a dominant passer in an RPO offense and would be considered the better passer in a passing league on this Eagles roster.

16) Philadelphia Eagles (from IND): Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

With their second pick in back-to-back selections, the Eagles grab the draft’s third CB after grabbing the third QB the pick prior. Andrew Booth Jr. has elite ball skills. He also has a high ceiling after just beginning to realize his talent on the big stage for Clemson as the season went on. Booth can stick with receivers in a bevy of alignments, moving from outside to inside with success.

Philadelphia can deploy Booth on either side of the field and expect to see results all the same. With cornerback a big need, the Eagles need to come away with one within their first-round haul. They could wait until pick 19, but Booth available here is a big steal as he ranks higher on my board.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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