The NFL Draft is upon us, meaning it’s time to end all the speculation and make the draft choices needed to sustain several more months of speculation.
Sure, I could offer you one more 2022 mock draft – of which there are so many that it’s somewhat remarkable not one of them will be entirely correct. That’s because this is a highly volatile draft lacking top quarterback talent. The guys you see listed below likely will be first rounders, but look for lots of surprises and draft-day trades.
I’m going to go with the player who is the consensus selection based on a careful sampling of as many mock drafts as I could bear to read. What you’ll get here that you won’t get from the experts is… ruthless sarcasm.
A fresh slate of draft choices only raises the hopes of delusional fans. The teams will all tell you they met their needs. Welcome to your reality check.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, defensive lineman, Georgia
This is the perfect Jaguars pick. Walker only starting for one year at Georgia is actually helping him – he’s got “upside,” a favorite word of NFL pundits. Walker’s 9.5 sacks in 29 career games sounds good, until you remember that a lot of SEC teams beat up on weak teams, giving their superior athletes a chance to shine. Walker looks good but he does not look No. 1 pick good.
- Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, edge, Michigan
If you aren’t familiar with the Lions, they are an NFL farm team. The first step in that pipeline is to bring in a talented player and groom him for his next stop. Hutchinson is likely the steadiest player in this draft, but the knock on him is, unlike Walker, Hutchinson is viewed as at the top of his game already. He doesn’t have “upside.” Of course he doesn’t, he’s going to be a Detroit Lion! The upside will show up when he moves to another team. See Matthew Stafford, 2021.
- Houston Texans: Ikem Ekwonu, offensive tackle, North Carolina State
Welcome to nowhere Mr. Ekwonu. The Texans don’t have much going on for the 2022 season with DeShaun Watson off to Cleveland. Ekwonu will be blocking for Davis Mills, who you probably don’t remember from his days at Stanford. Mills went 2-2 as a starter last year, which by Texans standards is superstar level. Ekwonu will be a solid blocker and it won’t matter.
- New York Jets: Sauce Gardner, cornerback, Cincinnati
In 2020 the Jets took a can’t miss stud in tackle Mekhi Becton, who looks like a miss. They’ll play it safe this time with Gardner, who looks like the best overall cornerback in this draft even if he’s not as naturally gifted as Derek Stingley. Stingley would be the Jets’ other option and you just know they’ll somehow pick the wrong one.
- New York Giants: Charles Cross, offensive tackle, Mississippi State
Cross is considered the best pass blocker in the draft and should be able to give Daniel Jones plenty of time to throw more incompletions. Give Cross a few years to get settled in and whenever the Giants give up on Jones – midway through the 2022 season perhaps? – they’ll be ready to make a move.
- Carolina Panthers, Evan Neal, offensive tackle, Alabama
Neal is likely the guy the Giants should take. Even though the Panthers desperately need a quarterback, but they won’t pass on Neal if he is available. The downside for the Carolina brain trust is passing on Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett, rated by some as the top two quarterback prospects. It is considered a weak QB draft, but if Willis and Pickett surprise and make instant impacts, Panther fans will not be elated that their team took a tackle.
- New York Giants (via Chicago), Derek Stingley, CB, LSU
Stingley looked like the greatest cornerback in the history of college football his freshman season, but injuries took the luster off his second and final year with the Tigers. He’s the perfect pick here. He solidifies the back end for the Giants and will intercept Daniel Jones so much in practice that he may convince New York to finally go get a quarterback.
- Atlanta Falcons, Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The good news is Wilson is a top talent. The bad news is he will immediately become the best receiver on the Falcons team. Never a good sign when that guy is a rookie. Oh yeah, and Matt Ryan is gone to Indianapolis. So Garrett, that will be Marcus Mariota throwing to you, or at least, near you.
- Seattle Seahawks (via Denver), Kayvon Thibodeaux, edge, Oregon
If Thibodeaux falls this far, hard to imagine Seattle not jumping on this pick. Thibodeaux’s extreme confidence is a concern in some corners as we’ve seen that lead to complacency with some players. A team relying on Drew Lock at quarterback better have a good defense. Thibodeaux will give Seahawks fans something to enjoy while they’re team takes a sabbatical from scoring. Or they can watch new Broncos QB Russell Wilson. Man, he was good,
- New York Jets (via Seattle), Tyler Linderbaum, offensive line, Iowa
Linderbaum is a 6-2, 296-pound bowling ball who will solidify an offensive line that had a hard time protecting QB Zach Wilson last season. And yes, the Iowa lineman is the Jets’ second pick in the top 10. Somehow, the Jets seem to have high draft choices every year and they never get better. They are the masters of mediocrity.
- Washington Commanders, Chris Olave, wide receiver, Ohio State
The Commanders love wide receiver Drake London, but he lacks the speed Olave brings to the field. A guy with sub-4.4 wheels is going to go high in the draft, but what Olave also offers is precision route running. This will be a bit of a mismatch with newly signed retread QB Carson Wentz, who already has shown on two teams he is not a precision passer.
- Minnesota Vikings, Jordan Davis, defensive line, Georgia
The Vikings are going for it with a mauling defensive line that should take the pressure off a Minnesota offense led by the adequate Kirk Cousins, who exudes the look of a guy who can only take you so far. Enter the massive Davis (6-6, 341 pounds), who joins a massive defensive front in Minnesota. Don’t be late for the team dinner with this guy around.
- Houston Texans (via Cleveland), Drake London, wide receiver, USC
London is a big receiver at 6-4, 219 pounds, and that makes him attractive to NFL teams. He also lacks top end speed, declined to run a 40-yard dash at the combine, and is said to be in the 4.5 second range. That’s not going to scare NFL cornerbacks but if London and his big body can produce numbers similar to a Mike Evans in Tampa Bay, he’ll be a great pickup. Of course, Evans is catching balls thrown by Tom Brady, not Davis Mills.
- Baltimore Ravens, Trevor Penning, offensive line, Northern Iowa
Penning is supposed to go later in the draft but take a look at that aging Ravens offensive line. Yes, Lamar Jackson is a great runner but that’s not going to win a Super Bowl. Penning is the kind of small-school guy who could emerge in the NFL or he could be a guy we never hear from again because his dominance in college was because of where he was playing.
- Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami), Jameson Williams, wide receiver, Alabama
Williams will go a little lower than he would have if he’d not gotten injured and required knee surgery, but it’s hard to believe he’ll slip past the Eagles, who are believers in QB Jalen Hurts and won’t hesitate to bring in another stud receiver from Alabama. The question is how much Williams contributes this season. Teams are not going to rush him back and there’s always nervousness over investing a first-round pick in a receiver with a repaired knee. But Williams is worth the gamble.
- New Orleans Saints (via Philadelphia), Treylon Burks, wide receiver, Arkansas
The Saints will take Olave if he is still available, but if not Burks is the kind of physical receiver New Orleans wants to pair with Michael Thomas (remember him?), who might actually play football in 2022. Burks also is more versatile, a la Deebo Samuel. Many expect New Orleans to slip a bit after losing Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton the past two years, but that is not what the Saints expect. Remember, GM Mickey Loomis is the builder of these teams – he’s done it no matter who is coaching. New Orleans believes they are better than Tampa Bay and Loomis is set on bringing in offensive weapons to get new Coach Dennis Allen to the playoffs.
- Los Angeles Chargers, Trent McDuffie, cornerback, Washington
Cornerbacks are never sexy picks to fans, but the Chargers could use another good one. The problem with this point in the draft is it matters just as much who you pass on. If McDuffie is just OK, fans will never tire of looking at all the guys they could have had, sort of like Miami Dolphins fans noticing the Chargers drafted star QB Justin Herbert after Miami took the bait on Tua Tagovailoa, a short QB who looks destined for the “above average” category.
- Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans), Zion Johnson, offensive line, Boston College
About the right spot in the draft to see the best interior offensive linemen start to go, and Johnson might be the best. Combined with a receiver taken with their first pick, it would seem that Philly has taken stock of the NFC East’s mediocre offenses and determined all it takes to challenge the Cowboys is more firepower.
- New Orleans (via Philadelphia), Malik Willis, quarterback, Liberty
A lot of people think the Saints won’t take a QB in the first round after signing Jameis Winston to a two-year deal and bringing in Andy Dalton as his backup, but Willis is a developmental player with a world of upside. He is a top five talent who is probably a second rounder based on what he can do right now. But if he is available at No. 19, I don’t think New Orleans will pass him up. If presence of Willis causes Winston to tighten up his turnover-prone game, all the better.
- Pittsburgh Steelers, Kenny Pickett, quarterback, Pittsburgh
The Steelers love Pickett, who is the most polished of the QBs in this draft. They saw plenty of him playing across town for the Pitt Panthers and will not hesitate to grab him as the eventual successor to the Ben Roethlisberger era. Pickett is not flashy, but neither was Big Ben, making him the perfect Steelers quarterback. If he’s on the board, he’ll be a Steeler.
- New England Patriots, Devin Lloyd, linebacker, Utah
Whenever I see who the Patriots draft, I automatically assume that guy must be a lot better than people realize. See Mac Jones, last season. There is no one better than the Patriots at evaluating talent and finding players who fit their system. The New England defense was not its stingy self last year and Lloyd gives them a new cornerstone.
- Green Bay Packers (via Las Vegas), Tyler Smith, offensive tackle, Tulsa
To me Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the least likeable players in the league. As a Saints fan, I celebrated the re-signing of Jameis Winston because I was worried they might go after Arrogant Aaron, who views all questions from the media as beneath him. So I hate to see Green Bay drafting quality offensive linemen to protect him. And I’m glad State Farm is not my insurer.
- Arizona Cardinals, Andrew Booth Jr., cornerback, Clemson
When you lose Patrick Peterson, a first ballot Hall of Famer is soon as he’s eligible, you need to grab a top cornerback if you can. With other teams focusing on other needs, Booth is a nice sleeper pickup for Arizona. He’s tough and he’s fast – and he’ll come in with something to prove.
- Dallas Cowboys, Nakobe Dean, linebacker, Georgia
The Cowboys want to bolster their offensive line, but with the top guys gone how do you pass on the best linebacker in the draft? You don’t. Dean is the kind of talent that will give Dan Quinn a lot of versatility on defense as the Cowboys increase their hold on the NFC East. I don’t know if Dallas will make the Super Bowl, but they will win the division.
- Buffalo Bills, Kenyon Green, offensive line, Texas A&M
Good teams can afford to take young talent and that is Kenyon Green, who has played four positions on the offensive line and will be better off when his NFL team plugs him into one and coaches him up. A lot of mixed reviews on Green but he keeps getting mentioned as a first-rounder based on potential. A team that can afford to will take a chance because Buffalo could win the Super Bowl this year without drafting anyone.
- Tennessee Titans, George Karlaftis, edge, Purdue
Titans fans will love this guy. Karlaftis played on Greece’s national water polo team – he’s not only blessed with tremendous lower body strength, he has agility to go with it. For everyone who loves Aidan Hutchinson’s work ethic, he doesn’t have anything on this guy. Mike Vrabel is the perfect coach for Karlaftis, who I believe is destined to be a force in the NFL.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Devonte Wyatt, defensive line, Georgia
The fourth Georgia Bulldog to go in the first round tells us why Georgia looked so dominant in winning the national championship. I’ll be a little surprised if Wyatt falls this far, but I won’t be surprised to see the Bucs grab him with the 27th pick if he does. Wyatt graded out very well at the NFL Combine and also was ranked as one of college football’s elite pass rushers.
- Green Bay Packers, Daxton Hill, safety, Michigan
Some will tell you that Hill is the best safety in the draft. One thing’s for sure: He is the most ready to step in and play. Hill’s explosive speed was evident on the field and it held up at the combine. He was a starter at Michigan almost from the moment he arrived on campus and he’ll do the same in the NFL. Can easily play now as a nickel back or corner covering the slot. Another guy who some team might move up to grab.
- Kansas City Chiefs (via Miami), Jahan Dotson, wide receiver, Penn State
With Tyreek Hill gone to Miami, the Chiefs grab the speedy Dotson to give another offensive option to Patrick Mahomes. The thing is, while Dotson is fast he is not necessarily explosive, and that along with his size (5-11, 178 pounds) is why he won’t go higher. What he does have is incredible ball skills – Dotson seems to come up with anything thrown near him and he can run after the catch. KC sees enough to believe.
- Kansas City Chiefs, David Ojabo, edge, Michigan
If Ojabo had not torn his Achilles at a pre-draft pro day on the Michigan campus, he’d be a certain first rounder. The injury could knock him to Day 2 of the draft, but I think Kansas City will draft him based on his long-term outlook. Ojabo is an incredibly hard worker from a driven family. KC has the luxury of being able to bring him back when he’s ready as there is little doubt a healthy Ojabo can play in the NFL.
- Cincinnati Bengals, Boye Mafe, edge, Minnesota
This is the point when you take the ‘high ceiling’ guys and Mafe is the prototype. Relatively unknown to most fans, he was the best player on a solid Golden Gophers defense. His combine numbers were impressive and indicate there’s a lot of talent here waiting to be developed. Going to a contending team will help him and I’d expect he’ll move right into a backup role his rookie season.
- Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles), Matt Corral, quarterback, Mississippi
The end of the Jared Goff era in Detroit is coming sooner than later, so how appropriate that the Lions will draft his replacement with a pick they got in their trade with the Rams. Corral might not be on the board at No. 32 as there are scouts who believe he is the real top QB in the draft, ahead of Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett. That is debatable, but what cannot be disputed is that Goff is not an elite player, he’s the player the Rams dumped to key their drive to a Super Bowl title.