The 2022 NFL Draft is finally here! We’ve seen so many rumors circling and big risers and fallers in the last few weeks. Come Thursday night, we’ll get to see how many of the rumors were true and what was just smoke and mirrors.
In honor of the start of Draft Week 2022, I put together my first predictive mock draft for The Draft Network, doing my best to guess how many of this year’s rumors are true. How accurate will this mock be? Only time will tell, and I could not be more excited.
Pick 1—Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker – EDGE, Georgia
You know what they say—where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And there’s been a ton of smoke around Travon Walker rising all the way up to the number one overall pick. His versatility playing all across the defensive line makes him a great addition for a Jaguars team that could use help on their defensive front.
Pick 2—Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson – EDGE, Michigan
It happened. Aidan Hutchinson fell past the Jaguars and into the Lions’ lap, and they do not let this opportunity pass them by. Hutchinson stays in Michigan to begin his NFL career, and the Lions get a cornerstone on defense they can (re)build around.
Pick 3—Houston Texans: Ahmad Gardner – CB, Cincinnati
With so many needs across their entire roster, the Texans are a bit of a wildcard, especially this high in the draft order. They could go for one of the quarterbacks, but Houston seems committed to Davis Mills for at least this year. Instead, they fill a top need with the top player at a premium position in Sauce Gardner. Gardner didn’t give up a single touchdown in coverage during his college career, and he’d immediately boost the Texans’ secondary and defense as a whole.
Pick 4—New York Jets: Ikem Ekwonu – OT, NC State
Gang Green may have held it together on the offensive line pretty well last year, even without Mekhi Becton, but Morgan Moses is gone and George Fant is hitting free agency after 2022. The Jets have an easy selection here with neither of the top offensive tackles off the board by the fourth overall pick. Ekwonu is the better pick here because of his ability to kick inside to guard if needed. Wherever he ends up playing on the offensive line, the NC State product keeps young quarterback Zach Wilson well protected up front.
Pick 5—Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis – QB, Liberty
Our first trade! With the Panthers’ selection approaching and the Giants taking offers to trade back, the Steelers seize their moment and trade up to grab the future of their franchise. Willis has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in this draft class, and Pittsburgh has the flexibility to let Willis develop behind Mitch Trubisky. The Steelers would be able to make the easy—and almost seamless—transition from one franchise QB to another.
Pick 6—Carolina Panthers: Kenny Pickett – QB, Pittsburgh
What Carolina should be doing with this sixth pick is trading back for extra draft capital. However this draft isn’t about what they should do, it’s about what I think they will do. Desperate for a starting quarterback that isn’t Sam Darnold, the Panthers play it safe and take the quarterback with the highest floor in this class. I’m sure you all have seen the many connections Kenny Pickett has to Matt Rhule by now, and Carolina makes it one more connection by drafting him with the sixth pick.
Pick 7—New York Giants: Evan Neal – OT, Alabama
After trading back from their first of two first-round picks, the Giants are still in prime position to fill either of their two big needs—edge rusher or offensive tackle. With the need to get a final answer on Daniel Jones more pressing than ever, New York elects to give him even more protection up front with Evan Neal. Andrew Thomas showed improvement at left tackle in 2021, and Neal can slide in at right tackle to help anchor a very needy offensive line.
Pick 8—Atlanta Falcons: Kayvon Thibodeaux – EDGE, Oregon
One of the Falcons’ top needs is an edge rusher to improve a pass rush that finished dead last in the NFL with just 18 sacks in 2021. Thibodeaux, one of the top athletes in the class, is an easy choice after sliding past the Giants a pick earlier.
Pick 9—Philadelphia Eagles: Drake London – WR, USC
Another trade! The Seahawks would have loved to grab one of the top two quarterbacks if they were still on the board, but it didn’t quite pan out. Instead, they grab more draft capital with a trade back and the Eagles swoop in—no pun intended—ahead of the Jets to get another top receiver to pair with last year’s first-rounder, DeVonta Smith.
Pick 10—New York Jets: Derek Stingley Jr. – CB, LSU
After just missing out on getting their top receiver, the Jets opt instead to bolster their secondary with cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. New York’s secondary needed a boost with Marcus Maye departing in free agency and subpar play from corners not named Bryce Hall. They get their boost here with the second cornerback off the board in the top 10.
Pick 11—Washington Commanders: Kyle Hamilton – SAF, Notre Dame
Rejoice, Commanders fans. Because of the NFL’s silly “positional value” mindset surrounding safeties, the best athlete in this draft class fell all the way out of the top 10. Washington does not let Kyle Hamilton fall any further, and they get a do-it-all defender that immediately makes their secondary more formidable.
Pick 12—Minnesota Vikings: Jordan Davis – IDL, Georgia
The Vikings hoped either Stingley or Gardner might fall to the 12th pick, but the Eagles’ trade in front of the Jets started a butterfly effect giving Minnesota the short end of the stick at cornerback. No matter, they still end up with one of the most athletic interior defensive linemen in the last several years. Jordan Davis gives the Vikings’ defensive front seven a big boost.
Pick 13—Houston Texans: Garrett Wilson – WR, Ohio State
With their first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Texans helped out their defense with the best cornerback in the class. With their second selection, just 10 picks later, Houston gives Davis Mills a dynamic, pass-catching weapon in Garrett Wilson. If the Texans really want to commit to their young quarterback for at least another year, giving him better weapons and seeing how he capitalizes is a great move.
Pick 14—Baltimore Ravens: Zion Johnson – IOL, Boston College
In the offseason, the Ravens lost center Bradley Bozeman and haven’t yet replaced him in free agency. Guard Ben Powers is also set to hit free agency after the 2022 season. In Zion Johnson, Baltimore gets a possible replacement for Bozeman. Though he didn’t play center in college, Johnson did get some work there during the Senior Bowl in Mobile in February. Even if playing center doesn’t work out, Johnson provides a boost to the Ravens’ interior offensive line opposite Kevin Zeitler, who was a big pickup in last year’s free agency period.
Pick 15—Seattle Seahawks: Desmond Ridder – QB, Cincinnati
The Seahawks were willing to trade back earlier because neither Willis nor Pickett fell to the ninth pick. Well, they still end up in a solid position to draft a quarterback with the 15th pick—one ahead of the Saints, who also may be looking to draft one—and that’s what they do. Desmond Ridder is a relatively safe, high-floor quarterback that identifies himself as a game manager. He could even win a quarterback competition with Drew Lock to be Seattle’s Week One starter. It’d be the start of a new, Russell Wilson-less era in the Pacific Northwest.
Pick 16—New Orleans Saints: Charles Cross – OT, Mississippi State
Terron Armstead moved on and headed to Miami in free agency just about a month ago, and the Saints will look to fill his big shoes in the draft. Luckily for them, one of the top offensive tackles in the class fell just far enough for New Orleans to grab him. Charles Cross is a very talented and athletically gifted prospect at the position, and he would have been worth a top-10 pick if not for teams like the Panthers going in other directions. The Saints may just get the right man to replace Armstead in the first round.
Pick 17—Green Bay Packers: Jameson Williams – WR, Alabama
One of the top receivers in this class fell out of the top 15 thanks to an ACL tear, and he even made it past the Saints thanks to their need to replace a very talented left tackle. The Packers don’t wait to leave Jameson Williams on the board any longer with New Orleans still lurking a couple of picks later. Instead, they make a trade up into the top 20 and grab one super talented receiver to replace another and pair with their super talented quarterback, who’s wanted pass-catching weapons all along. Meanwhile the Chargers, who just missed out on getting a certain new tackle to pair with 2021 first-rounder Rashawn Slater, are willing to move back a few spots and build up extra draft capital.
Pick 18—Kansas City Chiefs: Chris Olave – WR, Ohio State
The receiver-needy Saints are still looming with another top-20 pick, and the Chiefs, seeing the Packers’ aggressive move, follow suit. Like Green Bay, Kansas City lost their number one receiver in the offseason, and having already needed receiver help, don’t want to hope one falls to 29. The Eagles, who had burned some draft capital earlier to trade into the top 10, are happy to get some back by trading back. In return, the Chiefs snag Chris Olave, a big-play specialist, to replace Tyreek Hill and pair him with fellow big-play aficionado Patrick Mahomes.
Pick 19—New Orleans Saints: Sam Howell – QB, North Carolina
The poor New Orleans Saints are stunned after passing on drafting a wide receiver to grab offensive line help ahead of the Chargers, knowing they had another first-round pick soon after. Two aggressive, receiver-needy contenders leapt them to take two of the top pass-catching options, and the Saints were left on the outside looking in. Oh well. New Orleans instead switches gears and takes a fourth quarterback off the board, North Carolina’s Sam Howell. With Taysom Hill officially a tight end, Jameis Winston returning from an ACL tear and Andy Dalton joining the fray as a one-year safety valve behind Winston, the Saints look to their future and take a young quarterback.
Pick 20—New York Giants: Jermaine Johnson – EDGE, Florida State
The Giants picked up some much-needed extra picks by trading out of the top five, and now they get their first taste of a payoff with what was originally the Steelers’ first-round pick. Having filled one need at a premium position, offensive tackle, with an earlier pick, New York still ends up getting a huge impact player at another in edge rusher Jermaine Johnson.
Pick 21—Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Linderbaum – IOL, Iowa
If we know anything about Bill Belichick and his draft strategy, it’s that he isn’t afraid to trade back. The reigning AFC champions seize the opportunity to jump up 10 spots and take top interior O-lineman Tyler Linderbaum to finish fleshing out their upgraded protection for Joe Burrow. With Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins having already bolstered the trenches for Cincinnati in free agency, Linderbaum rounds out the Bengals’ upgrades up front nicely.
Pick 22—Los Angeles Chargers: Trevor Penning – OT, Northern Iowa
The Chargers become the latest team to trade back and still manage to fill a position of need, following the Seahawks’ quarterback selection and the Giants filling a need at EDGE. Los Angeles may not have gotten Charles Cross, but Trevor Penning is a damn good consolation prize that also would have been worth a top-10 pick had earlier selections panned out differently. After two consecutive years of drafting a top tackle, the Chargers keep Justin Herbert nice and protected and stay poised to contend in an absolutely stacked AFC West.
Pick 23—Arizona Cardinals: Trent McDuffie – CB, Washington
After six of the previous eight picks were selections by teams that had changed draft position, the Cardinals stand pat and give us a return to normalcy as we enter the final 10 picks of the first round. They’re able to fill a big position of need quite nicely, too. In an NFC West that now has (Super Bowl champion) Matthew Stafford and (potentially) two young starting quarterbacks in Trey Lance and Desmond Ridder, Arizona gets a big upgrade to their pass defense.
Pick 24—Dallas Cowboys: George Karlaftis – EDGE, Purdue
Like Arizona, the Cowboys also stand pat and are able to fill a position of need. Randy Gregory pulled a U-turn on Dallas by backing out of a reported deal, so the Cowboys move to replace him with George Karlaftis in the first round. Paired with pass-rush demon Micah Parsons, the scary Dallas defensive front gets a little scarier.
Pick 25—Buffalo Bills: Andrew Booth Jr. – CB, Clemson
Goodness. Andrew Booth Jr. at 25 is a steal and a half for the Bills, who would love an upgrade at cornerback with Levi Wallace’s departure and Tre White returning from an ACL tear. Booth is a monster in press coverage and a beast in zone. For whatever reason, it appears the league isn’t too high on him compared to Gardner and Stingley. This is maybe my most unlikely faller, especially this far with several cornerback-needy teams ahead of them, but if he does make it to 25, the Bills should be sprinting to submit their draft card.
Pick 26—Tennessee Titans: Treylon Burks – WR, Arkansas
Julio Jones is already out of Tennessee. A.J. Brown could be next. Regardless, the Titans need to help Ryan Tannehill with more pass-catchers. Treylon Burks is a solid receiver that also offers upside as a blocker on running plays. He has good hands that allow him to pull in difficult and contested catches, which could definitely help out Tannehill. With those skills and his blocking ability, he’s a perfect fit in a run-first offense like Tennessee’s.
Pick 27—Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kenyon Green – IOL, Texas A&M
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, Tom Brady’s retirement didn’t last very long, and his return means they won’t need to find a new quarterback for at least another year. Tampa Bay’s biggest losses this offseason were on the offensive line, particularly in the interior. Ali Marpet retired and Alex Cappa headed to Cincinnati in free agency. The Buccaneers, who had one of the NFL’s best offensive lines in 2021, are able to quickly find a replacement in this year’s first round by drafting Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green.
Pick 28—Green Bay Packers: Boye Mafe – EDGE, Minnesota
The Packers got their pass-catcher earlier, and now they fill a defensive need by taking one of the best edge rushers still available. Whitney Mercilus retired and Za’Darius Smith was cut then signed with divisional rival Minnesota. With Boye Mafe joining the fold, Preston Smith can kick inside while the rookie can develop across from Rashan Gary.
Pick 29—Philadelphia Eagles: Kaiir Elam – CB, Florida
Steven Nelson headed to Houston after the 2021 season ended, and that leaves the Eagles in need of a cornerback to replace him. Kaiir Elam has the size, speed and ball skills to do just that, and opposite of Darius Slay, he makes Philadelphia’s secondary a greater force to be reckoned with.
Pick 30—Kansas City Chiefs: David Ojabo – EDGE, Michigan
Like the Packers, Kansas City got their pass-catcher after trading up earlier in the round, and now move to help out their defensive front with their second first-round pick. David Ojabo once might have been worth a top-15 pick, but his Achilles injury during Michigan Pro Day made his draft stock tumble. He only started playing football in 2017, but his natural athleticism allowed him to succeed early and often. Once he returns from injury and builds up his football skills on the already strong base of athleticism, he’ll be a monster NFL player.
Pick 31—New England Patriots: Devin Lloyd – LB, Utah
So we have already established that Belichick loves to trade back in the draft. We also know he loves linebackers. After no linebackers are selected in the first 30 picks, the Patriots are more than happy to be the first team to take one in this draft. Lloyd fits their system and can command a defense that needs some help now that J.C. Jackson and Chase Winovich are gone.
Pick 32—Detroit Lions: Nakobe Dean – LB, Georgia
The Lions got one fantastic defensive cornerstone with Aidan Hutchinson at 2, so why not grab another talented defender and “quarterback of the defense” with their second first-round pick? Dean didn’t participate in the NFL Combine and was limited at Georgia Pro Day, but if you watch his tape, his football skills are undeniable. Detroit ultimately trusts the tape and continues to improve their defense with the final pick of the first round. They won’t have to wait long to upgrade their offense either with their next draft pick coming very early on Day Two.