While it may feel like it’s too soon, the regular season has ended. Shed a tear, yell, scream, do whatever you need to do if your team isn’t in the playoffs. However, you can recover somewhat as we now know the first 18 in the 2022 NFL Draft order! Alright, that may not make up for just missing the playoffs (sorry Colts and Chargers fans), but it brings us into the best season of all: mock draft season. Like I did with my first Rams mock, there will be no trades, just to get a sense of where teams currently are and what they need. That will obviously change and I’ll introduce trades in all future mocks. This is more just for a sense of a pretty basic mock draft for fans to see what options are out there for their teams! Unless of course, you’re on Downtown Rams as a Rams fan and will be waiting until their first pick, a compensatory third. That’s another pick for another day, and one we’ll be covering quite well! Without further ado, I present my first mock NFL draft of the season, picks 1 through 18:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Neal has been a top option for the draft since the end of the 2020 draft. He hasn’t gotten as much hype simply because he’s a tackle, but he’s a surefire top pick. He also happens to be exactly what the Jaguars need. In a deep wide receiver draft like this one, you can get weapons at any point. If you want your fancy new QB in Lawrence to be protected when throwing to those weapons, you take Neal. Neal is an enormous tackle who packs a ton of power. He’s played both left and right tackle. He’s the safe pick here for a team that desperately needs talent. No matter what happens within the organization this should be their pick.
2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
It’s not often you can draft a hometown prospect like this one, and the Lions should take it. Born in Plymouth, a suburb of Detroit, Hutch is a great fit. After missing most of 2020, he burst on the scene this year with 14 tackles on the way to being a Heisman finalist and making it to the CFP. He’s an absolute monster on the field and can always find his way into the backfield. Edge isn’t a glaring need for the Lions, but they could certainly use some help. Hutchinson brings that without having to travel far, and would continue his story.
3. Houston Texans: Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU
Stingley’s name has calmed down after injuries hampered his past two years. However, he still is loaded with talent if he can get over the injury hump. He’s an elite cornerback prospect with nice ball skills. The major question is his injury history, and if he can stay on the field. The Texans, however, need to take the risk. Their cornerback room is lacking at best, and will get routinely burned next year if they don’t make major changes. Stingley’s talent is exactly what they need, even if it is a gamble.
4. New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Not only do the Jets fill a need here, with Marcus Maye a free agent and not a lot of options at safety, they get Player 1. Hamilton is clearly the best player in the draft, and if not for positional value would be taken with the first pick. His range is unmatched, and can be found anywhere on the field. He’s simply better than any other option, and would be an absolute slam dunk for the Jets at four.
5. New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
The Giants should be ecstatic that Thibs falls to them in this situation. He’s still in the conversation as the number one overall pick and, if not for Hutchinson’s surge, would be clear Edge 1 in the
NFL Draft. Thibodeuax is a dominant athlete and can disrupt any offense. Azeez Ojulari has been productive for the Giants, but the added pass rush of Thibodeaux would be great in New York.
6. Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Offensive tackle is holding back for Ekwonu. “Weapon” along the offensive line may be more fitting. He can play guard or tackle, and would likely be the latter in Charlotte. He’s extremely versatile, and brings with him terrifying power at each position. If the Panthers roll with one of their current QBs, or bring one in in free agency, they need to protect him better than they did this year. Ikem, or Ickey as he goes by, would start day one and provide a much needed boost to the line.
7. New York Giants (Via CHI): Matt Corral, QB, Ole’ Miss
The Giants started three quarterbacks this year and all of them performed poorly. Dante Pettis and Kadarius Toney, wide receivers who combined for four passes and two completions were actually the best throwers on the roster. After three years with Daniel Jones, it’s time to move onto Matt Corral. In a normal year, a less developed prospect like the Ole Miss Rebel would fall farther. However, in a thin quarterback year, he’s the best option in the NFL Draft. He’s turned into an accurate quarterback with solid physical traits, and should be who the Giants end up building around.
8. Atlanta Falcons: George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue
Karlaftis has been up in down in mock drafts. He wasn’t a Heisman finalist like Hutchinson, and hasn’t had the hype like Thibodeaux, but he could be just as good as them, and some could even argue better. Being selected as the third pass rusher here, he has the talent to be the first in many years, 2021 simply is stacked. The Greek-born Boilermaker racked up 10 sacks this year. He stands at 6’4″ and weighs over 270 pounds, a true physical specimen. He has elite athleticism and is very explosive. For a struggling Falcons defense, Karlaftis would be an enormous influx of talent.
9. Denver Broncos: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Since a disappointing opening performance to begin the season, many have cast aside Sam Howell. However, he has yet to give up. The Broncos are a quarterback away from being a playoff contender, and have a 50/50 chance of landing one in the offseason. If they don’t they’ll have to take it into their own hands and take one in the draft. With Corral off the board, Howell is still a very good option. He’s a highly productive passer who puts a nice touch on the ball, and can throw anywhere on the field. Adding Howell brings them into the playoff conversation and can set up their future.
10. New York Jets (Via SEA): Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
While the flashy pick here might be a wide receiver, the Jets linebacking corps has to be addressed in the NFL Draft. Dean is a great player to bring in. He’s a versatile linebacker who plays with fantastic instincts. You can see on every drive he just knows what’s happening and he is involved in every play. He’s worked hard to establish himself as the top linebacker in the class along Georgia’s journey to win the CFP Championship. He’d be a key player in the Jets young defense for years to come, and a much needed boost of talent.
11. Washington Football Team: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
To act as if Washington is a quarterback away from competing like the Broncos is just kidding ourselves at this point. In theory, they could draft someone like Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis here, but they still have a major problem: they had one receiver who had over 400 yards catching last year. If they were to bring in a quarterback, they would be setting them up for failure. They can sign a free agent or trade for a quarterback, but their best move in the first round of the NFL Draft is to get some talent around whoever will be throwing the ball. Wilson is that talent. He’s a versatile receiver with great YAC ability and a knack of finding the end zone. Combining him with Terry McLaurin instantly brings WFT one of the scariest receiving duos in the league.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
After firing a GM and coach, usually teams are in full rebuild mode. This may not be the case for the Vikings. They have Kirk Cousins under contract for another year, and a solid amount of talent on either side of the ball. This allows them to draft for need, and wait to get a quarterback. Drafting for need brings them Andrew Booth Jr., the highly talented Clemson Tiger. He’s a physical corner, and would not be a shocker to go in the top 5. In this scenario he drops to the very lucky Vikings, who need to support Cam Dantzler in the secondary, as 2020 draftee Jeff Gladney was cut just a season into his career due to off the field issues. Booth takes an immediate starting spot and simply makes too much sense to pass up here.
13. Cleveland Browns: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
I can’t tell you if Baker Mayfield is the answer in Cleveland, but I will tell you he is going to be their starter next year. If they believe he’s the answer, the best thing the Browns can do is bring him a talent like Williams. Williams, a speedy receiver who is dangerous with the ball and gets plenty of separation, unfortunately tore his ACL in CFP Championship. However, he’s expected to make a full recovery, and there’s no reason to assume his draft stock will drop all that much. If his medicals are on track to bring him back for September, the Browns would take him as a welcome WR1 in the NFL Draft.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
The Ravens went through a slew of injuries this year, making it hard to evaluate them. Completely healthy, they most likely don’t pick anywhere near pick 14. This down year does allow them the higher pick nonetheless and here they take Kaiir Elam with it. Almost every position needed help at some point this season, but the one that constantly struggled was cornerback. With Elam the Ravens get a versatile starter who can be the primary guy in their secondary for years. Out of the many positions they could with here, cornerback seems the best option, especially with such a talented player left on the board.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (Via MIA): David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan
The Eagles are in the best position draft wise of pretty much the entire league. Not only did they defy expectations and make the playoffs, but they have three first round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. This allows them to continue building their young core while competing. Ojabo burst onto the scene with the aforementioned Aidan Hutchinson to create a violent pass rush duo for the Wolverines this past year. Philadelphia was 31st in sacks and middle of the road in pressures, so bringing in Ojabo provides some much needed backfield penetration.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (Via IND): Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
And what better to pair with pressure than a good cornerback who will keep the receivers in check? Gardner is a smart and athletic cornerback who can fit most schemes. The Eagles need a young quality cornerback and Gardner is that. With the luxury of 3 first round picks, they are able to address both need and get possibly the most talented players left on the board. Getting Ojabo and Gardner brings them two key defensive pieces for their future.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Davis, IDL, Edge
The Chargers have a budding young offense, but have yet to pair it with any help defensively. They were abysmal against the run this year, allowing 138 rush yards per game. In this scenario they fix this by getting the best run defender available in the draft. Jordan Davis is a physical specimen and one of the strongest players on the field. They also have the option of DeMarvin Leal out of Texas A&M, but if their sole goal is to address run defense, Jordan Davis is simply an easy pick.
18. New Orleans Saints: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Despite losing a first ballot Hall of Famer in Drew Brees last year, the Saints were still a game away from making the playoffs. However, they did this despite the quarterback play, not because of it. Kenny Pickett isn’t the 18th best player in the draft, but neither are the two previous quarterbacks taken. For a team like the Saints, picking a quarterback here, despite the thin QB year, is the difference between competing and falling short again. Pickett is a quality quarterback who can make pretty much any throw you need him to make, and could provide the Saints a long term starting option. If they want to compete next year, this is the position they’ll address in the NFL Draft.