The NFL Draft is officially a month away. After a crazy first wave of free agency that saw superstars swap teams and the power of the AFC and NFC shift, we are closer to finalizing the 2022 NFL Draft than ever.
With this in mind, we are going to take a crack at projecting the first round of April’s draft.
So who goes No. 1, who goes No. 32 and who goes every pick in between? We try to break it down below in our post-free agency mock draft, using PFF’s mock draft simulator.
No. 1 Jacksonville Jaguars: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
There is slight consideration given to Georgia edge defender Trayvon Walker here, but we still keep our flag planted on Aidan Hutchinson being the likely pick. There are more reasons to believe that edge defender is the pick than there are that Hutchinson is the specific edge defender the Jaguars covet, but it makes sense for the Jaguars to bank on the production and athletic testing of Hutchinson in a draft where they need to hit on their pick.
The Jaguars spent big money on really every unit on the team outside of quarterback, running back and edge rusher. Perhaps the Jaguars go for an offensive lineman here such as Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu, but general manager Baalke has already stated his confidence in right tackle Jawaan Taylor and said he wants to sign left tackle Cam Robinson to a long-term deal. The Jaguars also still have 2021 No. 45 pick Walker Little on the roster and are encouraged after his three solid starts in 2021. This would suggest that any lineman the Jaguars select would fill in at left guard at No. 1 overall. In short, I think we can all but guarantee an edge defender is the pick, while nothing tells me Hutchinson isn’t the likely selection.
No. 2: Detroit Lions: EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia
Detroit is in a weird spot here because the best value would be to take one of the stud offensive linemen, but the Lions already have two very talented starting tackles on the roster and arguably went overkill even in 2021 when drafting the position. As such, we look to adding to their pass-rush and go with the uber-athletic Travon Walker. Walker has a high ceiling, is a high-motor run defender and played a versatile role in Georgia’s defense, so it isn’t hard to see why NFL teams are high on his potential.
No. 3: Houston Texans: OL Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
This is a tough one to project because the Houston Texans have needs up and down their roster. With that in mind, I think the Texans will feel comfortable taking an offensive lineman to build their core around on offense, giving them two highly-talented tackles up front. Houston could go a defender here, too, but I am not sure there is one they would take over a high-ceiling tackle like Ekwonu.
No. 4: New York Jets: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Taking a safety this high is normally an ill-advised idea, but this is no normal draft. The Jets land arguably the best player in the draft here and help solidify the rebuild of their secondary, joining Kyle Hamilton with Jordan Whitehead, D.J. Reed and a group of solid young cornerbacks. The Jets could go pass-rusher or cornerback here or arguably even offensive line, but Hamilton is too good of a talent for them to pass up here.
No. 5: New York Giants: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
The New York Giants have a lot of work to do on their roster, especially along the offensive line. Thankfully for them, they can still land the draft’s most versatile first-round offensive lineman who can slot in at either tackle spot and even guard. Neal will be able to impact the Giants’ offense right away and give them two offensive linemen they can build their future around.
No. 6: Panthers: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
This would be a considerable reach, but what other options do the Panthers have? They have no draft picks, they haven’t been able to trade for a single one of the quarterbacks on the market and Sam Darnold is clearly not the answer unless the question is finding a California-based Blake Bortles to roster. The Panthers get their pick of quarterback and I think they end up feeling safest with Pickett over Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder.
No. 7: New York Giants (From CHI): CB Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
It really seems like the bulk of big draft media hype at the cornerback position belongs to Sauce Gardner. The Giants are reportedly shopping veteran cornerback James Bradberry and Gardner seems like a natural replacement. Gardner is a tried and tested press-man cornerback who carries high intangible marks, making him a logical pick for the rebuilding Giants.
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
I considered Kayvon Thibodeaux and Drake London here but ultimately go with LSU’s Derek Stingley. While many have Stingley going later than this, I think his talent is too good to pass up if you are a rebuilding team like the Falcons who have very few blue-chip talents. Stingley and A.J. Terrell would be a nasty combo for years to come.
No. 9: Seattle Seahawks (From DEN): EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
This seems like a natural fit for a team that is still looking for its long-term answer at pass-rusher. I think Kayvon Thibodeaux’s talent belongs in the top-5, so the Seahawks would be getting a stellar value pick in the Oregon edge rusher. Thibodeaux can produce early in his career and would be a natural fit in Seattle’s culture and organization.
No. 10: New York Jets (From SEA): WR Drake London, USC
One can’t blame the New York Jets for trying to trade for Tyreek Hill last week. It is a smart bet for NFL teams to surround their young and developing quarterbacks with talented pass-catchers and the Jets do so here with Drake London. He won’t wow with speed but he is a natural fit with Zach Wilson due to his catch radius and ball skills.
No. 11: Washington Commanders: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
It feels like Washington is going to pass on a quarterback and look for a different option at No. 11 overall after adding Carson Wentz. With that in mind, Washington could look to give Wentz as many chances as possible to succeed and give Washington another young receiver to build around in the speedy and explosive Garrett Wilson.
No. 12 Minnesota Vikings: EDGE Jermaine Johnson, FSU
Yes, the Vikings added Za’Darrius Smith in free agency, but there is still room for the Vikings to add a young and athletic pass-rusher to develop for the future. Considering the status of their top-two edge rushers are both more short-term deals, it makes sense for the Vikings to spend their top pick bolstering the pass-rush and adding an instant impact player in Jermaine Johnson.
No. 13 Houston Texans (From CLE): DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
It would be a shame if Jordan Davis fell far in the draft and this seems like a logical landing spot. The Texans need as many high-upside prospects as they can get and Davis has the on-field talent and off-field intangibles to be a key building block for Houston’s rebuild moving forward.
No. 14: Baltimore Ravens: OT Charles Cross, Miss. State
This seems like an obvious Baltimore Ravens pick. Charles Cross is one of the best players in the entire class and would be a plug-and-play starter at offensive tackle for Baltimore. He is a high-upside pass-protector who has the mobility and temperament to win in Baltimore’s run scheme, too, and he gives you even more support for Lamar Jackson.
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No. 15: Philadelphia Eagles (From MIA): WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Eagles took a wide receiver last year, but it makes sense for them to go back to the well in 2022 in an attempt to make the offense even more explosive. Chris Olave is one of the best offensive players in the draft and can create big plays deep and in the intermediate area of the field, giving Jalen Hurts a pair of high-upside and high-floor first-round receivers to build their passing game around.
No. 16: Philadelphia Eagles (From IND): CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
A talented and explosive cornerback who can line up at multiple spots in the secondary, Trent McDuffie would make the Eagles’ cornerback room significantly more formidable across from Darius Slay. The Eagles need to add more youth to the secondary and do so here.
No. 17: Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
Justin Herbert has a bazooka for an arm, the Chargers need much more speed on offense and Jameson Williams runs like the wind and has a Will Fuller floor with a significantly enticing ceiling. This is an easy pick to make after the Chargers bolstered their defensive front in free agency.
No. 18: New Orleans Saints: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
A wide receiver or quarterback makes sense here, but we instead give the Saints a high-ceiling left tackle who they can begin to develop quickly as a rookie. The Saints have a need at left tackle after losing Terron Armstead to the Miami Dolphins and Penning is an impressive athlete who could develop into a tone-setter on the offensive line.
No. 19: Philadelphia Eagles: DL Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
A number of players at different positions make sense here, but we give the Eagles a high-upside defensive lineman who posted good production, good athletic testing and played a prime role for a top program and defense. Wyatt can play up and down the defensive line and would give the Eagles even more juice to their pass-rush.
No. 20: Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The Steelers need a long-term answer at quarterback and they seem genuinely interested in Desmond Ridder. Ridder may not have the ceiling of other quarterbacks in the class but he presents as high of a floor as any prospect and could play for Pittsburgh either right away or in the future.
No. 21: New England Patriots: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
Long, rangy and an asset in coverage, Devin Lloyd makes a lot of sense for the New England Patriots. They have a need for a playmaker in the middle of their defense and Lloyd at the very least would give them a high-upside defender who can wear multiple hats in the Patriots’ system.
No. 22: Green Bay Packers (From LV): WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Few teams need a wide receiver as badly as the Green Bay Packers. Following the Davante Adams trade, the Packers’ roster is left devoid of high-end talent on the outside. Treylon Burks may not be an instant impact player due to some raw points to his game, but he has the size and speed to justify the first-round gamble.
No. 23: Arizona Cardinals: EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
The Cardinals add a high-floor, high-ceiling edge rusher in Purdue’s George Karlaftis. The Cardinals have a big need at pass-rusher after losing two key edge rushers over the last two offseasons, leading to an obvious selection in Karlaftis. He can produce right away and would make a lot of sense next to J.J. Watt.
No. 24: Dallas Cowboys: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
The Cowboys could go in a number of directions at this pick but adding another athletic linebacker makes sense after a lot of turnover at the position this offseason. Yes, they took a linebacker last year in Micah Parsons, but Dean has the talent to justify a potential overkill at linebacker.
No. 25: Buffalo Bills: WR George Pickens, Georgia
A team who is a sneaky candidate to take a wide receiver in the first round, I think it makes sense for the Buffalo Bills to target a player like George Pickens. His physical play-style fits their offense and he has the type of skill set to thrive as a vertical threat with Josh Allen while also giving the Bills insurance for the uncertain future of Stefon Diggs.
No. 26: Tennessee Titans: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
The Titans could go for a wide receiver or even quarterback here, but we opt to give them the best player available in Tyler Linderbaum. While Linderbaum is consistently graded in the first round by analysts, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him slip some due to his size and length. Still, he is a natural fit for the Titans and would help upgrade their interior offensive line in the present and long-term future.
No. 27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Lewis Cine, Georgia
There may not be a more logical draft replacement for Jordan Whitehead than Georgia safety Lewis Cine. Cine is a terrific athlete and is also one of the best tacklers in the game thanks to his sound technique and aggressiveness. He is much more than a box safety, but he is darn good in that role, too.
No. 28: Green Bay Packers: EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan
Not every team can afford to invest a first-round pick in Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo after his pre-draft injury, but the Packers are an exception. They have a roster that could stomach a first-round pick not playing in 2022, especially on the defensive side. Ojabo makes sense for the Packers in a post-Preston Smith world in the near future.
No. 29: Kansas City Chiefs (From SF via MIA): EDGE Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
The Chiefs need pass-rush help badly, even with big names like Chris Jones, Melvin Ingram and Frank Clark on the roster. Ingram is aging and Clark has never lived up to his major deal, so insert Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie and prosper. He has a sky-high ceiling thanks to his natural ability to win around the edge but his floor is higher than he gets credit for as well.
No. 30: Kansas City Chiefs: WR Christian Watson, NDSU
The Chiefs’ wide receiver room still looks incomplete in the wake of the Tyreek Hill trade, even after the signing of Marquez Valdes-Scantling to go along with Mecole Hardman and Juju Smith-Schuster. Christian Watson is an athletic marvel who still needs a lot of developing, but the Chiefs have the scheme and environment for him to thrive in.
No. 31: Cincinnati Bengals: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
The Bengals could still upgrade their interior offensive line here with Boston College’s Zion Johnson or Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green, but instead we have them going best player available and adding a cornerback who fits their franchise’s mold. Kaiir Elam is physical, excels in press and has both a high floor and ceiling.
No. 32: Detroit Lions (From LAR): QB Malik Willis, Liberty
If I was going to gamble on a quarterback in this draft, it would be Liberty’s Malik Willis simply based on his physical tools and upside. With that said, he is raw and likely needs time to sit on the sidelines and develop. Not many teams offer that kind of structure, but the Lions are one who do. Willis has a lot of draft momentum but something tells me it may not be enough to push him into the top half of the first.