The combine is in the rearview mirror, and the 2022 NFL Draft is only seven weeks away. Now that the deadline to place the franchise tag on players has passed, teams have a better idea of which players will hit the open market in a few days. While free agency will change the needs for all 32 NFL teams, this year’s draft is deep enough you can find starters in the middle rounds. Without further ado, let’s dive into my second mock draft of the year.
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1) Jacksonville Jaguars – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
For the past several weeks, Evan Neal was the favorite to go first overall. However, the odds market dramatically changed towards Hutchinson after the Jaguars placed the franchise tag on Cam Robinson. Furthermore, there are reports that the Jaguars are working towards a long-term deal with Robinson. Pairing Hutchinson with Josh Allen would give the Jaguars the best pass-rushing duo in the AFC South.
2) Detroit Lions – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
While many believe Kyle Hamilton is the best prospect in the draft class, it’s hard to take a safety with the second pick given the positional value. The Lions don’t need help on the offensive line either, leaving one realistic option: edge rusher. Walker was already rising on draft boards before his terrific combine performance. However, he is now a top-five lock. Walker has as much upside as any edge rusher in the draft.
3) Houston Texans – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Reports are the Texans will consider trading Laremy Tunsil this offseason. If they do, Neal can slide in at left tackle for much cheaper than Tunsil. Furthermore, the picks they acquire from trading away Tunsil can fill out the rest of the roster. Even if Tunsil is back in 2022, Neal could start at right tackle or guard as a rookie. While the offensive line isn’t the top need for the Texans, improving the unit for Davis Mills is a must.
4) New York Jets – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
After a promising rookie season, Mekhi Becton missed most of the 2021 season because of injury. Even if he returns at 100 percent next season, the right side of the offensive line needs upgrading. Ekwonu has experience playing both guard and tackle at North Carolina State. He will make a massive difference for Zach Wilson and the running game no matter where on the line he starts.
5) New York Giants – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
While some might think Cross is a reach with the fifth pick, the Giants can’t risk him sliding past the Carolina Panthers with the next pick. Andrew Thomas had a breakout sophomore season and appears to be the franchise left tackle of the future. However, Nate Solder is a free agent and won’t be back with the Giants next year. Sliding in Cross at right tackle to pair with Thomas will finally give Daniel Jones the offensive line he deserves.
*** TRADE ALERT ***
New York Jets receive pick 6. Carolina Panthers receive picks 10, 69, 110.
6) New York Jets (via Panthers) – Kyle Hamilton, SAF, Notre Dame
With Cross off the board, there isn’t an offensive lineman worth the pick available. Instead of reaching, the Panthers trade back and add some draft capital as they only have one top 100 selection. Meanwhile, the Jets could have easily selected Hamilton with the fourth pick. However, after watching him slide past the Giants, the Jets jump ahead of several safety needy teams to secure Hamilton. Marcus Maye will hit the open market next week and won’t return. Hamilton would transform the Jets’ defense, even as a rookie.
7) New York Giants (via Chicago) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
After adding the offensive line with their previous pick, the Giants turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball. While they could add an edge defender like Kayvon Thibodeaux, they have a bigger need at cornerback. James Bradberry is likely heading elsewhere next season, leaving the Giants without a No. 1 cornerback on the roster. In a division with Terry McLaurin, CeeDee Lamb, and Devonta Smith, the Giants have to find a lockdown cornerback. After his combine performance, Gardner is a lock to be the first cornerback off the board.
8) Atlanta Falcons – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Falcons have a million holes on the roster. If things couldn’t get any worse, the NFL announced Calvin Ridley is suspended for the entire 2022 season for betting on games. Currently, Russell Gage is set to hit the open market next week and might find a better deal with a new team. While the Falcons could select a quarterback this year, picking one with the eighth pick isn’t likely. Instead, they give Matt Ryan a dynamic player in Wilson, who can fill in as the No. 1 wide receiver with Ridley’s future in doubt.
9) Seattle Seahawks (via Denver) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
While trading away Russell Wilson wasn’t ideal, the Seahawks will have a top-10 pick to jump-start their rebuilding process. They could select a quarterback with this pick, but many believe they will wait till next year to address the position. With Thibodeaux still on the board, Seattle can’t pass on him. There are some questions about his motor and competitiveness. However, Thibodeaux is too talented to fall out of the top-10 picks. The Seahawks need to spend this draft with the mindset of taking the best player available.
10) Carolina Panthers (via Jets, Seattle) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
After trading back, the Panthers address the offensive line. While Penning is a reach with this pick, the Panthers reportedly will take an offensive lineman in the first round no matter what. Penning had an impressive Senior Bowl week and a strong combine performance. The Panthers have arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. Expect them to use multiple picks on the offensive line.
*** TRADE ALERT ***
Pittsburgh Steelers receive pick 11. Washington Commanders receive picks 20, 52, 2023 third-round pick.
11) Pittsburgh Steelers (via Commanders) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
When the Commanders traded for Carson Wentz, it took them out of the quarterback market. Now Washington should try to trade back and recoup some of the draft capital they gave up for Wentz. Meanwhile, the Steelers reportedly are in love with Willis. While there aren’t many quarterback-needy teams left in the first half of the draft, Pittsburgh won’t take the chance Willis gets picked by another team. Paying a second and third-round pick to move is steep. However, if it works out, the Steelers got a steal.
12) Minnesota Vikings – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
The Vikings head into free agency with three starters in the secondary set to hit the open market, including Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander. With limited cap space, the Vikings likely won’t re-sign either cornerback. While he comes with injury history, Stingley might be the best cornerback in the draft. If he can stay healthy, the Vikings will have their No. 1 cornerback spot locked up for the next decade.
13) Cleveland Browns – Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State
While the Browns have a massive hole at wide receiver, they can draft a starter in the second round. However, Johnson is too good to pass up. The Florida State star had 11.5 sacks in his only season with the Seminoles. Myles Garrett is arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL. However, Jadeveon Clowney is a free agent and likely finds a better deal on the open market. With Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson in the division, the Browns must add an edge rusher to pair with Garrett.
14) Baltimore Ravens – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
If not for all the injuries last season, the Ravens would have made the playoffs. However, they have a chance to make the best out of it with this draft pick. Ojabo is a raw prospect but has elite tools. Furthermore, he is coming off a 12 sack season at Michigan. Last year’s first-round pick, Odafe Oweh, and Ojabo are former high school teammates. Pairing the two together in the NFL will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
15) Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
For the third pick in a row, an edge rusher comes off the board. While Karlaftis might not have the same upside as Johnson or Ojabo, he has the safest floor. The Eagles locked up Josh Sweat to a long-term deal last year. However, Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan are free agents, while Brandon Graham is entering the final year of his contract. Pairing Karlaftis with Sweat would give the Eagles one of the better edge-rushing duos in the NFC.
16) Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis) – Drake London, WR, USC
Even after spending their first-round pick in back-to-back years on a wide receiver, the Eagles still need help at the position. Smith looks like a future star in the league, while Jalen Reagor could lose his roster spot this offseason. However, both wide receivers lack size. Jalen Hurts has struggled with accuracy in his career and needs a big body wide receiver. While London is coming off an injury, he is the ideal target for the Eagles. Pairing him with Smith and Dallas Goedert would give Hurts a talented trio of weapons.
17) Los Angeles Chargers – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
All year long, the Chargers struggled to stop the run. Los Angeles gave up the third-most rushing yards in 2021. Had they been able to stop Josh Jacobs in Week 18, the Chargers would have made the playoffs. Davis is a mammoth of a man at 6’6” and 340 lbs. Yet, he ran the 40-yard dash in only 4.78 seconds. After his strong combine performance, Davis is a lock to go in the top 20 picks.
*** TRADE ALERT ***
New England Patriots receive picks 18, 137. New Orleans Saints receive picks 21, 85.
18) New England Patriots (via Saints) – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
With two cornerback-needy teams picking ahead of them, the Patriots move up a few spots to secure McDuffie. After deciding they weren’t going to place the franchise tag on J.C. Jackson, the top need for the Patriots is at cornerback. Many believe McDuffie could end up as the second cornerback off the board. If the Patriots see him start to slide, don’t be surprised if they move up for McDuffie.
19) Philadelphia Eagles – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
For years, the Eagles have ignored the linebacker position. Will they finally address it in 2022? Maybe not, but they absolutely should. Many will say Dean can’t play at a high level in the NFL, given his size and length. However, he dominated the SEC last year and has all the tools needed to become a three-down linebacker in the NFL. If Dean slides to pick 19, he should be the selection for the Eagles.
20) Washington Commanders (via Steelers) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
After trading back, the Commanders work on adding some weapons for Wentz. Terry McLaurin is a star, but Curtis Samuel was a massive bust last season. Furthermore, McLaurin finished with 77 receptions last season, while J.D. McKissic finished second on the team with 43. If Wentz is going to succeed in Washington, he will need more than just one weapon to lean on.
21) New Orleans Saints (via Patriots) – Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
Raimann has worked his way into the first-round conversation after his performances at the Senior Bowl and the combine. Furthermore, with several offensive tackle needy teams in the back half of the first round, Raimann is all but a lock to go on opening night. With Terron Armstead set to hit the open market, the Saints will need a new starting left tackle next year.
22) Las Vegas Raiders – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
While the Raiders have a massive hole at wide receiver, the draft is full of talented prospects. However, the same can’t be said for defensive tackles. The Raiders have five defensive tackles set to hit the open market, including starters Johnathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson. With the limited cap space, the Raiders won’t be able to re-sign both starters. Meanwhile, Wyatt ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at 304 lbs. Pairing him with Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue would give the Raiders an impressive defensive line.
*** TRADE ALERT ***
Tampa Bay Buccaneers receive picks 23, 200. Arizona Cardinals receive picks 27, 91.
23) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (via Cardinals) – Tyler Linderbaum, iOL, Iowa
The offensive line has been a strength for the Buccaneers the past few years. However, it’s about to turn into a massive hole. While both starting tackles will return next year, the Buccaneers could lose all three of their starter on the interior. Ali Marpet recently retired while center Ryan Jensen and guard Alex Cappa will hit the open market in a few days. If Linderbaum played tackle, he would have gotten picked a while ago. However, the Buccaneers trade up ahead of a few offensive line needy teams and grab the best interior offensive line prospect since Quenton Nelson.
24) Dallas Cowboys – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Dallas had an impressive defense last year, led by Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. However, the Cowboys have limited cap space and six defensive starters set to hit the open market, including two linebackers. While the Cowboys would like to re-sign Leighton Vander Esch, he will likely find a better offer on the open market. Lloyd is similar to Parsons, as both can rush the passer and cover in space. Pairing the two together would give defensive coordinator Dan Quinn many options when calling plays.
*** TRADE ALERT ***
Seattle Seahawks receive pick 25. Buffalo Bills receive Tyler Lockett, pick 72.
25) Seattle Seahawks (via Bills) – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Rumors are Buffalo wants to add a dynamic wide receiver to their offense. At the same time, the Seahawks are reportedly shopping Lockett as they undergo a rebuilding process. The Bills could take a wide receiver with this pick, but they are better off adding a veteran. Green is one of the more underrated offensive linemen in the draft and could go as high as pick 11 to the Commanders. His ability to play guard or tackle will give the Seahawks options as they rebuild their offensive line.
26) Tennessee Titans – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Selecting Pickett might be the biggest surprise of the draft. However, it makes plenty of sense. Ryan Tannehill struggled in the playoffs and ultimately cost the Titans the game against Cincinnati Bengals. After the 2022 season, the Titans can move on from Tannehill and save $17.8 million in cap space. While the Titans won’t trade up for a quarterback, they have to consider one if they fall to them. If Tannehill struggles in 2022, the Titans would have a replacement option. Even if Tannehill plays well, the Titans could trade next offseason for draft capital.
27) Arizona Cardinals (via Buccaneers) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Cardinals have several needs they have to fill during the draft. However, Booth should have gone off the board several picks ago. Arizona loves their starting cornerbacks in Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson. Unfortunately, Murphy is entering a contract year, and the depth behind the starters is thin. The Cardinals can’t have too many good cornerbacks in a division with Cooper Kupp, D.K. Metcalf, and several other talented wide receivers.
28) Green Bay Packers – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
After months of speculation, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams will be back next season. However, the Packers expect to lose Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency. Furthermore, Randall Cobb will likely be released if he doesn’t take a massive pay cut. The Packers needed wide receiver help before Valdes-Scantling hits the open market. Burks is still a first-round pick despite not running the 40 time he wanted. Some have compared him to Deebo Samuel. If he turns into even half the player Samuel is, the Packer got a steal at pick 28.
29) Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco) – Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota
Miami could go in several directions with this pick, including at offensive line. However, don’t rule out an edge rusher with this pick. Emmanuel Ogbah is coming off back-to-back seasons with nine sacks. He will have a competitive market and could end up somewhere else in 2022. The Dolphins struck gold with Jaelan Phillips last year, but he will need a running mate on the other side. Mafe has gotten first-round hype lately and could find himself heading to Miami come April.
30) Kansas City Chiefs – Daxton Hill, SAF, Michigan
After placing the franchise tag on Orlando Brown, the Chiefs won’t have to use their first-round pick on the offensive line. However, Tyrann Mathieu will likely leave Kansas City in free agency. Furthermore, the Chiefs have three safeties set to hit the open market. After running a 4.38 40-yard dash time at the combine, Hill has put himself in the first-round conversation. His ability to play safety and nickel allows him to fill Mathieu’s role in Kansas City.
31) Cincinnati Bengals – Zion Johnson, iOL, Boston College
Last year the Bengals debated between taking Ja’Marr Chase or Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick. In the end, they made the right choice with Chase, but the Bengals have to address the offensive line this year. Had the Bengals given Burrow one more second to throw, they would have won the Super Bowl. After an impressive Senior Bowl week, Johnson will be a first-round pick. Whether he starts at guard or center, it will be an upgrade for the Bengals.
*** TRADE ALERT ***
Atlanta Falcons receive pick 32. Detroit Lions receive picks 43, 74.
32) Atlanta Falcons (via Lions, Los Angeles) – Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Every year, a team trades back into the first round to pick a quarterback. With the cheap fifth-year option, teams will have an extra year before paying the quarterback a massive long-term deal. Ryan will return to Atlanta next year because of his huge cap hit. However, the Falcons can move on from the veteran after the 2022 season and save $8.1 million. Corral would have been in the conversation for the first quarterback off the board if not for an ankle injury he suffered in the Sugar Bowl. If drafted by the Falcons, Corral would sit behind Ryan for a year before taking over as the starter in 2023.
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