It is finally the wonderful time of the year where Week 1 of the college football season is about to kick off and shortly after, the NFL season will begin as well. It might seem early, but it is never too early to match the stars of college football with a potential NFL suitor. With the preseason behind us, this is a look ahead with a 2022 NFL Mock Draft to who may be selected in the first round.
2022 NFL Mock Draft: Post-Preseason Edition
1. Houston Texans – Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) – Quarterback
The Texans are a mess right now. They have no real positions of strength and that feat greatly extends to the quarterback position. If the Texans finish as the worst team in the NFL in 2022, quarterback has to be the pick. Rattler may be a little erratic at times but his arm talent is impossible to deny. He has the highest ceiling of any player in next year’s draft.
2. Detroit Lions – Sam Howell (North Carolina) – Quarterback
The Dan Campbell Lions might not be a deep team but they have the foundations of a roster that could be very good in a few years. They have one of the most underrated offensive lines in the NFL and should not be afraid of bringing in a young quarterback. Howell had the best 2020 season amongst the 2022 quarterback class. He will now try to replicate that success in 2021 without a number of key specialty players in the Tar Heels offense.
3. Cincinnati Bengals – Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) – EDGE
While the Bengals have fortified the receiver position for their young quarterback Joe Burrow, they lack depth at pretty much every other position. Trey Hendrickson should inject a little bit of life into their pass rush but pairing him with Thibodeaux could make the Bengals defensive line incredibly strong. Mike Brown should take a ‘best player available’ approach next April and not think twice.
4. New York Jets – Derek Singley Jr. (LSU) – Cornerback
Since starting as a freshman during LSU’s National Championship winning season, Stingley has been debatably the best cornerback in college football. He recorded an insane 21 pass breakups in 2019 before rarely being targeted in 2020. His incredibly rangy and athletic profile would fit well on any NFL defense. The Jets need help in the secondary and Stingley would become a cornerstone for Robert Saleh to build around.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – Evan Neal (Alabama) – Offensive Tackle
The Jaguars had one of the more underrated run-blocking lines in football last season but still have a lot of questions going forward. Finding consistency between Jawaan Taylor, Cam Robinson, and second-round pick Walker Little won’t be easy. Neal is the only blue-chip prospect in the upcoming tackle class. He topped Bruce Feldman’s freak list in 2021 and will get a chance to solidify his top-five status now that he is moving over to left tackle for the Tide.
6. New York Giants – Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) – Wide Receiver
As long as the Giants continue to start Daniel Jones at quarterback, they are bound to struggle. However, Dave Gettleman has been adamant about keeping Jones as the starter despite his lackluster play. Wilson cannot singlehandedly fix the Giants passing attack but he provides an ability to make plays that the Giants have not seen since Odell Beckham. He had just one game with fewer than 50 receiving yards in 2020.
7. Philadelphia Eagles – Desmond Ritter (Cincinnati) – Quarterback
It is tough to predict where the Eagles will finish in 2021. They looked to enter last year’s draft with a rebuilding mentality but still hold a varying blend of youth and experience. If they end up picking seventh next April, finding a quarterback has to be at the top of their priority list. I may be higher on Ritter than most, but he took both his passing and rushing ability to a new level in 2020 and could enter the top-10 conversation if he takes another leap in 2021.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame) – Safety/Linebacker
The Falcons are not a deep team on defense. Outside of Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones, they have very little in the vein of proven defenders. While Hamilton would not completely fix the Falcons shallow defense, he has a lot of versatility as a tall and speedy safety with a ton of range. He brings a similar athletic profile to Isaiah Simmons but with a larger focus on coverage ability.
9. Las Vegas Raiders – DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M) – Defensive Tackle
The Raiders have continued to search for defensive line help since trading Khalil Mack in 2017. They improved in 2020 but still made a point of adding multiple defensive linemen in free agency this past off-season. Leal may not be the sky-high ceiling player Mack is but he’s a powerful defensive lineman with high pass rushing upside. He is an incredibly fluid mover for a 290 lb player.
10. Carolina Panthers – Jackson Kirkland (Washington) – Offensive Tackle
There is a lot of competition for who OT2 is going to be in 2022. Kirkland is currently the front-runner behind Neal due to his overall profile. At 6’6” and 310 lbs, he is very fundamentally sound in almost all aspects of his game. The Panthers have not used a high pick on an offensive lineman during the Matt Rhule era and their offense may again suffer for it in 2021. Carolina will not get the best out of Sam Darnold with Cameron Erving at left tackle.
11. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears) – Kaiir Elam (Florida) – Cornerback
While the Giants have not popped yet from a success perspective, they have actually assembled a fairly rock-solid defense over the past few years. Their secondary is not a weakness but they could still use some improvements after finishing in the middle of the pack in both passing defense and passer rating allowed. Elam is the type of corner who makes it incredibly difficult for any receiver to secure the catch and would help New York build a dominant secondary besides James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson.
12. Washington Football Team – Kedon Slovis (USC) – Quarterback
Washington deciding not to spend at least one draft pick on a young quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft was somewhat reckless. However, they can reconcile their lapse in judgment by taking Slovis in 2022. The USC quarterback doesn’t have the strongest arm in the class but he throws with great accuracy and does not shy away from throwing into tight windows. If Slovis takes a step forward during the 2021 season, he could go even higher than 12th overall.
13. Minnesota Vikings – Justyn Ross (Clemson) – Wide Receiver
Despite cashing in on Justin Jefferson in 2020, the Vikings heavily lack depth at the receiver position. Adam Thielen had his contract extended this past off-season but will also turn 32 just prior to the start of the 2022 season. Ross is perhaps the only receiving prospect who can currently challenge Wilson or Olave for the WR1 spot. He missed the entire 2020 season due to injury and will try and establish a similar connection between himself and D.J. Uiagalelei to the one he had with Trevor Lawrence.
14. Arizona Cardinals – Trent McDuffie (Washington) – Cornerback
The Cardinals have very little stability at cornerback coming out of of 2021. Byron Murphy will be entering the final year of his rookie contract and Malcolm Butler is reportedly already considering retirement. McDuffie is a playmaking cornerback in its purist form. He has incredible short-area quickness and a nose for creating turnovers — logging three forced fumbles and two interceptions over his 16 game career.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Zion Nelson (Miami) – Offensive Tackle
The Steelers badly need help on their offensive line. They not only lack in-house talent but that same in-house talent is not under contract for very long. Nelson landing in the first round is a big projection. He came to Miami after playing tight end in high school and has spent just two years at tackle. However, his jump in play from 2019 to 2020 was immense. If he firmly establishes as a top-tier tackle in 2021, Nelson has the athletic traits indicative of a high-quality NFL tackle.
16. Los Angeles Chargers – Drake Jackson (USC) – EDGE/Outside Linebacker
The Chargers are hoping new head coach Brandon Staley can unlock their defense and finally ascend them into an elite unit. They finished 2020 with the eighth-highest quarterback knockdown percentage but still only finished with 27 total sacks. Jackson would give the Chargers pass rush a long and athletic linebacker who can finesse his way to the quarterback while also dropping in coverage. He has yet to put it all together on the field but will have every chance to improve in 2021 with a full PAC-12 schedule.
17. Indianapolis Colts – Chris Olave (Ohio State) – Wider Receiver
Olave is the best pure separator in the upcoming draft class. His natural speed and quick release out of his breaks make him an easy target to find at all three levels of the field. The Colts currently have a fairly solid wide receiver room but no one outside of the now-31-year-old TY Hilton looks to have true number-one wide receiver qualities. If the Colts are looking for an elite route-runner with good size and speed, Olave is their guy.
18. New England Patriots – Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson) – Cornerback
The Patriots are always a team that manages to develop corners without compromising any high picks. However, their depth on the outside will be heavily tested if anything happens to one of JC Jackson or Stephon Gilmore next season. Booth could step in right away and play an aggressive brand a football that Bill Belichick would love. The ultra-athletic cornerback may have the highest upside in the class outside of Derek Stingley.
19. New Orleans Saints – Malik Willis (Liberty) – Quarterback
With Jameis Winston officially named the Saints starting quarterback, the Taysum Hill experiment looks to be at its end. Hill may get another chance at starting if Winston falters but if the quarterback competition goes sideways, Sean Peyton and Mickey Loomis should quickly be looking for Drew Brees’ successor. Willis brings a dual-threat ability that is a stylistic departure from Brees. He led all D-1 quarterbacks in rushing in 2020 and has a lot of running back-esque traits.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins) – Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma) – EDGE
Howie Roseman has never failed to find impact defensive lineman in the NFL Draft but his current unit may be entering a transition period. The Eagles finished second in the NFL in pressure percentage in 2020 but the futures of starting EDGE’s Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are both up in the air. Bonitto would inject some youth into the current Eagles pass rush in the form of an incredibly athletic and productive outside linebacker. He finished tied for fifth in the nation with nine sacks in 2020.
21. Denver Broncos – Christian Harris (Alabama) – Linebacker
Before switching to linebacker, Harris was a defensive back in high school and it shows in his play. He is incredibly quick as a blitzer and is a strong enough athlete to fly sideline to sideline from anywhere on the field. Denver’s linebackers are not a huge weakness but could definitely use a versatile piece like Harris. Vic Fangio has coached up some special linebackers over his career and could turn Harris into a game-changer.
22. Dallas Cowboys – Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa) – Center
The health of the Cowboys depth chart is always a hot topic of discussion going into a new season. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, both age 30, are coming off of injury-plagued seasons and could begin to face durability concerns. Linderbaum has incredible movement skills from center and could be a long-term answer in the middle of the line if Tyler Biadasz struggles again in 2021. He might not be the burliest lineman but Linderbaum is technically sound and a jackknife out in space.
23. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks) – George Karlaftis – EDGE
The Jets pass rush finally looked to have some upsides going into 2021 before Carl Lawson was lost for the season due to an Achilles injury. One player was never going to solve the team’s historical struggles on the edge but the injury once again proves that depth at EDGE is incredibly important. Karlaftis has been a menace since making his debut at Purdue and could be in for a big season if he remains on the field in 2021. He is a strong bull rusher with deceptively effective handwork.
24. Tennessee Titans –Ahmad Gardiner (Cincinnati) – Cornerback
While the Titans have built up a fairly impressive offense over the past few seasons, their defense struggled in 2020 and may be even shallower going into 2021. Tennessee finished as the league’s fourth-worst passing defense and gave up the most yards in the regular season amongst playoff teams on defense. Gardiner is a lanky and handsy corner that is incredibly physical in the run game. His size makes him incredibly tough to shake in press coverage as well.
25. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams) – Drake London (USC) – Wide Receiver
The Lions have zero depth at wide receiver entering 2021. Fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown could lead their team in targets next season. London outgained St. Brown through the air at USC in 2020 and is set up for a massive Junior campaign. He is a jumbo wide receiver at 6’5” and 210 lbs but is comparable to Ravens tight end Mark Andrews. London might be the biggest mismatch weapon in the 2022 draft.
26. Cleveland Browns – John Metchie III (Alabama) – Wide Receiver
The Browns wide receiver situation is a little dicey. Odell Beckham was rumored to on the trading block this past off-season and Jarvis Landry’s cap hit rises to over $16.5 million in 2022. Metchie is yet to firmly establish himself as a first-round receiver but he will get every chance to prove himself as Alabama’s number-one receiver in 2021. He has a little bit of A.J. Brown in his game.
27. Miami Dolphins (via San Fransisco 49ers) – Kenyon Green (Texas A&M) – Offensive Tackle/Guard
While I personally am not one to project guards as first round players, the Dolphins selecting Green would be a great fit. Miami’s offensive line is still figuring itself out with an average age of 23.8 (assuming Jesse Davis is eventually replaced at right tackle) and Chris Grier needs to continue to take shots at finding starters in the draft. Green has tremendous upper body strength and can be also impossible to move at times. His ability to adjust his body as a pass blocker makes him incredibly hard for defensive lineman to navigate.
28. Baltimore Ravens – Brandon Joseph (Northwestern) – Safety
Safety doesn’t appear to be a weakness for the Ravens entering 2021. However, it could become a weakness very quickly. Deshon Elliott will be a UFA at the end of the season and there is little in proven depth behind him and Chuck Clark. Joseph is not the center-fielding safety many expected the Ravens to target in 2021’s draft he offers a lot of playmaking ability and has an incredibly high football IQ. Defensive coordinator Don Martindale would love a player with Joseph’s versatility.
29. Green Bay Packers – Rasheed Walker (Penn State) – Offensive Tackle
Brian Gutekunst has a history of finding and developing great linemen in the draft but there is no guarantee the Packers are going to be the same offensive line with Aaron Rodgers as they are with Jordan Love. Walker may be inconsistent at times but he has the athletic profile that NFL teams love. He is big, nimble and can stone-wall rushers if he gets leverage early.
30. Buffalo Bills – Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M) – Tight End
Buffalo may have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL but their skill positions need to remain a strength. The addition of Stefon Diggs took their offense from pedestrian at best to a top-five unit in 2020. Adding Wydermyer would not only help the Bills improve their awful run blocking but give Josh Allen a big target to utilize in the red zone. The Aggies tight end saw his receptions and receiving yards climb in 2020 despite playing fewer games than in 2019.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jordan Battle (Alabama) – Safety
Just because the Buccaneers are returning all 11 starters on defense in 2021 does mean they’re going to be as good as they were in 2020. In fact, Todd Bowles still has a questionable secondary that was helped largely in part because of his incredibly effective pass rush in 2020. There are no corners worth taking at this point so adding the best defensive back available is also a safe option. Battle would be the perfect free safety to complement Antoine Winfield Jr. in Tampa.
32. Kansas City Chiefs – Kingsley Enagbare (SCAR) – EDGE
Kansas City’s success has been predicated on the explosiveness of their offense but their defense still remains unbalanced. The Chiefs already needed pass rush help outside of Chris Jones and Frank Clark’s pending legal status has only complicated the matter. Enagbare is still a very raw prospect but he has the arsenal to become an incredibly dangerous NFL-level pass rusher. He plays with violent urgency and has a motor that looks like it will never die.
Embed from Getty Images