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The 2022 NFL Draft is less than a week away. Evaluations of players eligible for this draft have been ongoing for well over a year. For the general managers, the scouting departments, and of course, the players, all of the hard work is set to pay off when the Jaguars officially go on the clock April 28th at 8 p.m.
A lot is made of the final month or two of the process, with the scouting combine in Indianapolis and individual prospects’ pro days, but the truth is most teams had their almighty draft board almost completely locked in well before that. The film of last season is, and always will be, what teams use most to determine a player’s potential draft slot. The workouts in a t-shirt and shorts may move a player up or down as much as a round, according to most talent evaluators, but it is not the make-or-break scenario a lot of us might think.
The whole pre-draft process is a bit of a contrived off-season circus. Mock drafts try to nail down a completely fluid situation that gets muddied by trades and smokescreens. It is just another exercise we in the media like to engage in for one simple reason: People like them.
After all, it’s a time of hope. Your team is going to get better next week. Who wouldn’t want to take a stab at the direction they’ll go to make that happen? This is only a glimpse at the first round, and it is important to note that so many of the league’s superstars–or even just solid pieces– were taken later on (or even went undrafted).
I also want to qualify this whole thing by making it clear: This is what I think will happen, not what I think should happen. As you’ll see, I don’t have a ton of confidence in some of the personnel departments across the league. I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t invest heavy draft capital in any positions besides quarterback, offensive tackle, pass rusher, or cornerback, with few exceptions. But that is a story for another day.
So with those disclaimers and the admission that I am guaranteed to be wrong about at least half of these picks (click here to see how I did last year), I present to you the Sandboxx News 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
1. Jaguars: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
In the words of Tyler Durden from “Fight Club:” “When you’ve lost everything, you’re free to do anything.” The football equivalent is when you’re picking first overall (and two years in a row for that matter), your roster likely needs improvement everywhere, so just take the best player in the draft. Can’t really go wrong with an elite pass rusher from the nation’s best defense last year.
2. Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
It seems like such a perfect fit that the pessimist in me says it won’t happen (after all, the Jaguars could opt for him with the first pick). The 6’7”/ 260-pound Hutchinson’s workmanlike attitude and toughness in the trenches sound like a bullseye for the blue-collar culture head coach Dan Campbell is building in Detroit.
3. Texans: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
This is way too high for the athletic FCS quarterback that draws some comparisons to Michael Vick. However, the departure of Deshaun Watson and the limitations of Davis Mills force a reach from Houston. It’s full rebuild mode for the worst roster in the NFL, and that always starts at quarterback.
4. Jets: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
This will be a frustrating pick for fans in New York after investing a first-rounder on Mekhi Becton in 2020. However, Becton’s consistent injury issues and the need to protect second-year quarterback Zach Wilson make it the right one. Neal is a similar monster to Becton at 6’7”/ 337 pounds, and fills a major need.
5. Giants: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The other squad in New York needs help on the offensive line, too (as they have for about a decade). They are disappointed to see Neal snatched up a pick before them and might be a candidate to trade down, but also have a big hole to fill in their defensive backfield after cutting Logan Ryan. The freakish Hamilton (6’4”/220 pounds as a safety) might have been their target all along.
6. Panthers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
I’ll just come out and say it, the Panthers are a poorly run organization right now. They dumped Teddy Bridgewater for just a sixth-rounder in favor of Sam Darnold before last season. When he struggled, they sought out the services of… the corpse of Cam Newton? Trying to turn back the clock and bring back the glory days with the shell of a former MVP suggests an ownership group that makes emotional decisions to fill seats instead of win games. So this year, they make the common mistake of taking a second-round caliber signal-caller in the first round, going with the local college hero.
7. Giants: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
On paper, the Giants have a lot of weapons for Daniel Jones already. However, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, and last year’s first-rounder Kadarius Toney all had issues staying on the field for him (not to mention Saquon Barkley barely reached 200 touches last season as he tries to work back from his torn ACL in 2020). Receiving tight end Evan Engram left in free agency, as well. If the Giants can’t find a trade partner to move down, they shouldn’t reach for an offensive lineman here. The Giants use their pick from the Justin Fields trade to take the consensus best receiver in the draft.
8. Falcons: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
As I mentioned before, “rocketing up the draft board” at the last minute is more than anything a figment of the sports world’s collective imagination. That said, quarterback is the one position where if offseason plans don’t pan out in March, teams will panic and take one far too early in April. After trading Matt Ryan to the Colts, the Falcons missed out on Deshaun Watson, and then signed Marcus Mariota on short money (two years, $19 million), so it seems like the quarterback of the future is the pick here, even if this is too high for him.
9. Seahawks: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Thibodeaux was considered the favorite to be the top pick in the draft when the 2021 season began, and to be fair, he still has an outside shot to be. Questions about his fire and love for the game have been persistent in recent weeks, though, and that could scare off teams 1-8. The value is too good here for the Seahawks. They do have a massive hole at quarterback after Russell Wilson’s departure. If the draft shakes out this way, they won’t be able to fill it with this pick. Expect them to be in the running for an established signal-caller like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo, possibly even making a move for them later in the draft, to maximize the window of their star receivers, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
10. Jets: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
If you caught any Georgia football this year, you undoubtedly are familiar with this terrifying interior lineman. Yes, the game is about speed and more plays on the perimeter than ever, but 6’6”/ 341-pound lineman that run a 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds (faster than Patrick Mahomes) just don’t come along often. Will he be able to use that straight-line speed often? No. But it does speak to his off-the-charts athleticism. Davis can take away a running game almost single-handedly with his freakish combination of strength and mobility, allowing the other ten men on the field to focus on the pass.
11. Commanders: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
The Commanders clearly believe in investing in the defensive line, with four first-round picks already playing there: Chase Young (second overall, 2020), Daron Payne (13th, 2018), Jonathan Allen (17th, 2017), and Montez Sweat (26th, 2019). Sure, the Commanders have more pressing needs elsewhere, but the draft isn’t just about need. It’s about matching need and value, and you always need more pass rushers. After a year off from defensive line picks in the first round last year, the Commanders go back to who they are.
12. Vikings: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
The Vikings have moved on from Mike Zimmer as head coach, hiring away Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’ Connell. The defending-champion Rams had a high-flying attack that believed in utilizing many different weapons and spreading out the defense. For a team that just committed to two more years of Kirk Cousins, giving him the best weapon left on the board to pair with Justin Jefferson makes sense.
13. Texans: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Whether it is a rookie like Malik Willis, or they stand pat with Davis Mills, the Texans will need a lot of help from the running game to take some pressure off their young quarterback of choice. Ekwonu has some limitations in pass protection, but is an absolute mauler in the run game, and may even bump inside to guard as a result. He is an instant upgrade at right tackle or either guard spot. The Texans make him the pick with the first of their massive haul from the Deshaun Watson trade.
14. Ravens: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Ravens’ defensive backfield was decimated by injuries last year, largely contributing to their late-season struggles. They were so thin at cornerback in one early-December game with the Steelers, that it influenced head coach John Harbaugh to go for two (and the win) rather than face the possibility of losing the coin toss in overtime and fielding a skeleton crew on defense. You may remember that the Steelers stopped that two-point attempt to win 20-19, and ended up catching the Ravens and taking their spot in the playoffs. The lesson: like pass rushers, you can’t really have enough defensive backs, and the best corner in the draft goes here.
15. Eagles: Drake London, WR, USC
The Eagles appear to be committed to Jalen Hurts as their quarterback of the future. They have needs at corner and defensive end, but most of the premier edge rushers are gone at this point, and they’ll still have a shot at one of the top corners with their next pick at 18 overall. The 6’4” London is your prototypical “X” receiver that can beat the press and win jump balls despite lacking top-end speed. He is a perfect complement to last year’s first-rounder, the speedier “Z” type, DeVonta Smith.
16. Saints: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
If any of the top three quarterbacks fall this far, I think the Saints would use one of their two first-rounders on one, as they should. Jameis Winston is not the answer, especially with Sean Payton no longer running the show. However, this mock draft says they’re all gone by now. The Saints’ “center-field” style safety, Marcus Williams, left for the Ravens via free agency. Hill has the athleticism and intelligence to fill the role for a defense that is built to win now.
17. Chargers: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The Chargers are looking stacked this year. Premium additions like outside linebacker Khalil Mack and cornerback JC Jackson have hopes high for the other Los Angeles team, but nothing is more important than their ascending quarterback Justin Herbert. Keeping Herbert healthy and upright will be a priority, and Cross was one of the best in college football at doing just that, giving up just three sacks and earning First Team All-SEC honors in 2021.
18. Eagles: Darrell Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
The Eagles showed some interest in improving their secondary this offseason, trying to woo in former Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, who opted for the Saints. So the Eagles look at a different Louisiana son here. They are woefully thin at cornerback, and their current number two behind All-Pro Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, is much better suited to play the slot (which is essentially a starter in today’s NFL). Stingley only falls this far due to injury concerns, but is a steal this late in the first if he can stay healthy.
19. Saints: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
If the Saints have any hope of winning with Jameis Winston at the helm, they will have to protect him. Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead bolted for Miami as a free agent. Penning is a raw small school prospect who seems to have a lot of upside at 6’7”/ 321 pounds. Some might want to discredit him for dominating lesser competition in the FCS ranks, but keep in mind the man he’d be replacing was also a relative unknown out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
20. Steelers: Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
It’s time for the Steelers to start acting like the Steelers again, and get back to playing smash-mouth football. I don’t care how much the rules have changed, chucking the ball 50 times a game isn’t how you win in Pittsburgh in January. Reclamation project Mitchell Trubisky is the new starting quarterback, and they invested a first-rounder in Najee Harris last year. It’s time to add bodies up front that can help them pound the rock. Green fits the bill, upgrading just about anywhere on this porous offensive line as either a solid tackle or potentially elite guard.
21. Patriots: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College
Head coach Bill Belichick seems set in his ways of sticking with a power run game in today’s pass-happy NFL, and figures to only lean into that philosophy even more with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels moving on to take the head coaching job in Las Vegas. Being a contrarian has paid off for Belichick before, perhaps it will once more. An interior offensive lineman just feels like a classic Belichick move while the fan base is clamoring for a wide receiver.
22. Packers: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Packers haven’t believed in taking receivers in the first round (and rightfully so). However, they have a star quarterback who has been very vocal about his displeasure with roster management in the past. His relative silence this offseason despite the trade of his favorite target, Davante Adams, to the Raiders, suggests the Packers have made some promises to him.
23. Cardinals: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
It would be quite a shock if the Cardinals were ready to cut bait with disgruntled franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. Instead, they make a move to appease him, getting him a weapon to replace the departed Christian Kirk. The 6’2”/225-pound Burks isn’t an elite deep threat, but can be an after-the-catch monster in the Cardinals’ offense that should give him space with Deandre Hopkins on the other side.
24. Cowboys: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The Cowboys have hitched their wagon to Ezekiel Elliot, signing him to a six-year, $90 million extension in 2019, including an $18 million cap hit this year. One can debate the downfalls of paying a runningback that kind of money in this league, but if the Cowboys want a return to the glory of Dak Prescott and Elliot’s rookie year (2016), they’re going to have to put a renewed emphasis on the offensive line. Linderbaum is a smaller, athletic center similar to the Eagles’ Jason Kelce, which is high praise and exactly what the Cowboys need.
25. Bills: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Bills are just a couple pieces away after that heartbreaking overtime loss in the divisional round to the Chiefs. Of course, with some better coaching at the end of that game, I truly believe we are talking about the Super Bowl champion Bills right now. You can’t draft coaches, Buffalo, but what you can do is grab a rangy, playmaking three-down linebacker that will immediately bolster an already strong unit.
26. Titans: George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Is Ryan Tannehill good enough to lead a team to a championship? It’s still so hard to say. Tannehill was without Derrick Henry for over half the season. Furthermore, besides AJ Brown (869 yards), no other receiver reached 500 yards last year. That’s borderline anemic these days, especially for a 12-5 squad. The Titans can win now, and drafting the quarterback of the future isn’t the move… not yet. Get him another weapon instead.
27. Bucs: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Bucs have to put some sort of plan in place for life after Tom Brady, right? Is last year’s 64th-overall pick, Kyle Trask, the next guy in line? Maybe. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been promoted to the top spot in Tampa Bay, and probably remembers the rash of injuries in the secondary that hampered the Bucs down the stretch. Booth is an athletic, physical corner with great ball skills (10 interceptions in last two seasons) and plenty of experience with zone concepts to help Bowles execute his complex schemes.
28. Packers: Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
The Packers had a middle-of-the-road 39 sacks last year and could definitely add some punch to their pass rush, particularly some help for stalwart Kenny Clark along the defensive line. Wyatt was the “other” interior lineman on Georgia’s relentless defense last year, but he is a force in his own right, especially when it comes to getting after the quarterback.
29. Chiefs: Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota
Following the Tyreek Hill trade (which was the right move to make, by the way), a lot of fans will be expecting the Chiefs to use one of these two first-rounders on one of the speedy wide receivers in the draft. This, however, is a well-run organization that understands this is a deep wide receiver draft with several players that ran in the 4.3 range at the combine that will be there in later rounds. Head coach Andy Reid also has a long history of building through the lines. The Chiefs need pass rush help, and Mafe is a great value here.
30. Chiefs: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Another playmaker for a defense that has seen the likes of Russell Wilson and Davante Adams come to their division this offseason. Lloyd plays sideline to sideline and lives in opponents’ backfields. He’s a rare linebacker that can make an impact immediately.
31. Bengals: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The top story of the Super Bowl, especially in the second half, was definitely the Bengals’ inability to protect Joe Burrow (he was also sacked 70 times in the regular season–a mind-blowing number for a conference champion). They have addressed the offensive line by signing tackle La’el Collins and guard Ted Karras and Alex Kappa. The o-line overhaul allows them to address another element that was exposed in the Super Bowl, coverage at the back end of the defense. McDuffie has a lot of experience in zone coverage and has the versatility to play in the slot.
32. Lions: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
It’s safe to say that the team that sent the Lions this pick (the Rams in the Matt Stafford deal) won the trade. Can Dan Campbell find his future quarterback that can sit behind Jared Goff for a year? Corral is a little undersized, (6’1”/ 212 pounds), and likes to run and take more hits than you’d like to see at the NFL level. That sounds right up the hard-nosed head coach’s alley.
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