NFL Draft News & Analysis

2022 NFL Mock Draft: Denver Broncos select North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell

The 2022 NFL Draft class is loaded at edge defender, offensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver. Positional value and league-wide quarterback need should also push at least three (if not more) signal-callers into the first round.

Here’s how I have the first round shaking out in terms of picks by position if I was the general manager for all 32 NFL teams.

The number of wide receivers taken is easily the most surprising. For me, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle would all rank ahead of the receivers in the 2022 draft class, but the high-end depth should lead to a handful getting drafted within the first 32 picks. Let’s now look at how the full first-round mock draft shakes out with pick-by-pick analysis.

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Pick No. 1: Jacksonville Jaguars: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

Size, athleticism and production — Aidan Hutchinson has it all. In the PFF College era (2014-21), only Chase Young and Josh Allen have earned higher single-season pass-rushing grades than Hutchinson’s 93.6 in 2021. The Michigan phenom also led all Power Five defenders in total pressures (73), 15 of which came against an Ohio State offensive line that was in the running for the Joe Moore Award before their November trip to Ann Arbor.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder should only continue to turn heads at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Coming in at No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s 2021 College Football Freaks List, Hutchinson reportedly timed a 6.54-second three-cone, 36-inch vertical, 4.07-second short shuttle and 4.64-second 40-yard dash.

“He’s gonna test really well when he goes to the combine,” one source said to Feldman. “He has a huge chip on his shoulder and can be right where Kwity [Paye] was [in those agility numbers], running low 4.6s with a mid-30s vert, but he’s over 6-6, and he’s gonna bench [225] in the 30s.”

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Pick No. 2: Detroit Lions: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Thibodeaux earned a 91.3 PFF pass-rushing grade that ranked fourth among all Power Five edge defenders in 2021, behind only Hutchinson (93.6), South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare (92.5) and Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto (92.5). Thibodeaux is a premier player at a premium position — throw need out the window if he’s available at No. 2 overall.

Pick No. 3: Houston Texans: OT Evan Neal, Alabama

Evan Neal will draw comparisons to Tristan Wirfs throughout the pre-draft process because of his rare size-athleticism combination. The 6-foot-7, 350-pound behemoth landed at No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s College Football Freaks List and drew insanely high praise for his explosiveness.

“At his size, he is the most impressive lower-body power athlete we have ever seen,” Alabama director of sports science Matt Rhea said to Feldman. “His jumping power is in the top 1% we have ever measured. At 350 pounds, he routinely hits box jumps at 48 inches.”

This should be a sprint-the-card-in situation for a Houston team in desperate need of blue-chip talent at premium positions.

Pick No. 4: New York Jets: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

The Jets cornerback room is bereft of talent, and Derek Stingley Jr. is a premier cornerback prospect. New York’s brass should have no issue turning the card in early if he’s available at No. 4.

Stingley's true freshman season will go down as one of the most impressive campaigns in college football history. At just 18 years of age, he earned a 91.7 PFF grade and should have won the Jim Thorpe Award for best defensive back in the country.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder battled injuries every season since but will do away with any lingering doubt when he reports to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine fully healthy and tests out of this world.

Pick No. 5: New York Giants: OT Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State

At 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, Ekwonu has guard-tackle versatility but earned a legitimate shot to start his NFL career at offensive tackle after his spectacular 2021 campaign at left tackle with the Wolfpack. He earned a 91.6 overall grade and 93.8 run-blocking grade across more than 800 offensive snaps this season, the latter of which ranks sixth among all single-season marks for Power Five tackles since 2014. He’s a true road grader in the run game with improved polish and footwork in pass protection. A player with his kind of skill set shouldn't fall past the first 10 picks in the draft. 

Pick No. 6: Carolina Panthers: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

Safety isn’t a premium position, and it is relatively low on the positional value chart because of it, but Kyle Hamilton is different. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, the Notre Dame star legitimately has all of the sideline-to-sideline range, size and ball skills to be a game-changer, regardless of scheme or role at the next level.

Pick No. 7: New York Giants (via Chicago): EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue

Karlaftis will get tagged as just a lunchpail type with a high motor in a lot of lazy analysis this draft season, but he’s so much more than that. The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder was extremely productive for Purdue this season and should surprise with his athletic testing at the combine.

Karlaftis, another Feldman Freaks List member, reportedly recorded a 10-foot-1 broad jump, 37.5-inch vertical and 4.69-second 40-yard dash at just over 270 pounds this offseason. Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm also raved about Karlaftis’ efforts on and off the field in a Tailgate interview before the season.

2022 NFL Draft position rankings:
Top 10 players at every position

QB | RB | WR | TE | iOL | OT | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

Pick No. 8: Atlanta Falcons: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State

The 2022 NFL Draft class is rich in offensive tackle talent, and Cross is a big contributor to the class’ strength. PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner identified the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Cross as a potential riser before the 2021 college football season on Tailgate, and the big man rose to the occasion.

After earning just a 64.4 PFF grade in 2020, Cross turned in an 86.7 overall grade, 84.9 pass-blocking grade and 87.2 run-blocking grade across 900-plus offensive snaps at left tackle this season. He’s a smooth mover with great mobility for the position, traits Atlanta should chase at the top end of the draft even with their investments in Kaleb McGary and Jake Matthews at either end of the line.

Pick No. 9: Denver Broncos: QB Sam Howell, UNC

Howell watched his top receivers and top running backs go onto the NFL while he stayed back at Chapel Hill, and he still managed to earn a 90.0 PFF grade in 2021. The drop-off in talent with his supporting cast took a baseball bat to UNC’s chances in the ACC, but Howell still showed out as one of college football’s top signal-callers. He has a rocket arm with plus mobility for the position, enough for Denver to pull the trigger on his talents at No. 9 overall.

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Pick No. 10: New York Jets (via Seattle): WR Drake London, USC

London’s stellar 2021 campaign was unfortunately cut short after he fractured his right ankle in Week 9 against Arizona. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder won’t be a burner by any means, but he’s a polished possession receiver who has thrived both in contested-catch situations and after the catch. He’ll play inside and outside at the next level and should assume a very productive role early in his NFL career.

Pick No. 11: Washington Football Team: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Washington needs to get aggressive when it comes to upgrading the quarterback position. The Taylor Heinicke experiment has run its course following a 2021 campaign that resulted in a bottom-five finish in PFF grade. 

Ole Miss’ Matt Corral will be in the conversation for top quarterback in the 2022 class after wrapping up his Rebels career with back-to-back 85.0-plus PFF grades (2020 and 2021). He is currently ranked as the No. 21 overall player and No. 2 quarterback behind Kenny Pickett on PFF’s draft board.

Pick No. 12: Minnesota Vikings: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati

A physical, uber-talented cover corner, Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner had one of the most impressive seasons we’ve ever seen for a college cornerback. He played 448 coverage snaps and allowed receptions on just 17-of-36 targets for 117 yards and zero touchdowns.

Pick No. 13: Cleveland Browns: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

Wilson has improved every season of his career at Ohio State and caught 70-of-102 targets for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to an 84.1 PFF grade in 2021. He’s a smooth route-runner with spectacular-catch ability and dynamism with and without the ball in his hands.

Pick No. 14: Baltimore Ravens: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington

What McDuffie lacks in size — 5-foot-11, 195 pounds — he makes up for in short-area quicks and polish. On 296 coverage snaps in 2021, he allowed just 16 catches from 36 targets for 111 yards and zero touchdowns, earning an impressive 88.7 PFF coverage grade in the process.

Pick No. 15: Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami): CB Kaiir Elam, Florida

Elam’s PFF grade isn’t all that impressive, but a lot of that is because of some costly penalties. He still allowed just 19 receptions for 191 yards on 34 targets this season while going toe-to-toe with some top-end SEC receiver talent.

Pick No. 16: Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis): LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Dean possesses many of the traits NFL defenses look for in a modern off-ball linebacker. He’s a rangy athlete with insane explosiveness, and that shows up in the passing game when blitzing and in coverage. He earned a 91.6 pass-rushing grade and a 90.5 coverage grade as a key piece of the top-ranked Georgia defense in 2021.

Pick No. 17: Los Angeles Chargers: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah

“Draft Twitter” will fall in love with Devin Lloyd. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Utah off-ball linebacker was a heat-seeking missile and an every-down impact player for the Utes. He earned a 91.1 PFF grade as one of college football’s top defenders in 2021.

Pick No. 18: New Orleans Saints: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

In an interview on Tailgate last week, analyst Nate Tice made his case for why Cincinnati signal-caller Desmond Ridder should be the first quarterback taken in April’s draft. Ridder turned in a career year in the Bearcats’ playoff run in 2021, finishing the season with a 90.7 PFF grade. He had never cleared 80.0 in any season prior. 

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder possesses excellent mobility and above-average arm talent for the position, but he is coveted for much more beyond his physical tools. He’s proven to be a quick processor with experience operating an offense while consistently working through his progressions, rarely relying on just his first read.

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Pick No. 19: Philadelphia Eagles: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama

The Ohio State duo will attract a number of suitors in April’s draft, but Williams will be the favorite for every team looking to add freaky high-end speed at the position. A finalist for the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award, Williams caught 67-of-102 targets for 1,434 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He also dropped just six passes all year long while averaging north of 3.1 yards per route run on an absurdly high 15.2-yard average depth of target. He is the class’ premier deep threat and a perfect complement to DeVonta Smith in Philly.

The injury he suffered against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship will obviously affect his draft stock, but a successful surgery should keep him from falling completely out of the first round barring any unforeseen hiccups with his recovery.

Pick No. 20: Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh 

A consistent knock on Pickett will be that he’s a fifth-year senior and one of the older quarterback prospects in the 2022 class, but that shouldn’t keep him from being a top-20 pick in April’s draft. A finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Pickett completed 334-of-499 attempts for 4,308 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He earned a career-high 92.3 PFF grade that ranked top-five among all quarterbacks in 2021. His PFF passing grade from a clean pocket was also among the best in all of college football at 94.3.

Related: Super Senior: How Kenny Pickett's “no regrets” mentality has him on the cusp of breaking a Dan Marino record

Pick No. 21: New England Patriots: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Burks is built like a taller running back at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He dominates after the catch and will surprise defensive backs with his speed with and without the ball in his hands. He’ll likely assume a slot role at the next level, but he’ll still command a lot of attention from the inside. He earned 88.0-plus receiving grades in back-to-back seasons to close out his career at Arkansas.

Pick No. 22: Las Vegas Raiders: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State

Ohio State’s Chris Olave is a former high school track star with solid straight-line speed and smooth route-running ability. He averaged more than 3.00 yards per route run in his 2019 and 2020 campaigns before a crowded 2021 Buckeye receiver room drove his target share down.

Pick No. 23: Arizona Cardinals: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

Linderbaum finished the 2021 season as PFF’s highest-graded interior offensive lineman and the top-ranked interior offensive lineman expected to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. He’ll likely slip in the first round due to positional value, but I doubt he gets past Arizona at Pick 24.

Pick No. 24: Dallas Cowboys: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson

Booth, a former five-star recruit, is an aggressive tackler and smooth athlete who improved his PFF grade every year of his Clemson career. The 6-foot, 195-pounder closed the 2021 season with a 78.7 PFF coverage grade, having allowed just 29 receptions for 312 yards on 46 targets. He also allowed just two touchdowns while logging three pass breakups and three picks.

Pick No. 25: Cincinnati Bengals: OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

One of the biggest risers following the 2021 college football season, the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Raimann earned a 94.6 overall grade, 88.7 pass-blocking grade and 94.6 run-blocking grade with Central Michigan this year. He didn’t earn a PFF grade above 75.1 in any season prior. Expect his 2021 campaign and a strong Senior Bowl to vault him into the first round.

Pick No. 26: Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco): OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

Trevor Penning is currently PFF’s No. 24 overall player and No. 4 offensive tackle in the 2022 NFL Draft. The former Northern Iowa offensive lineman is a freaky athlete for his size who will have an opportunity to elevate his stock into the top 20 with a strong outing at the Senior Bowl in early February. He earned a 94.2 overall grade and 97.2 run-blocking grade in 2021.

Pick No. 27: Buffalo Bills: DI Jordan Davis, Georgia

Jordan Davis could very well go higher in the actual draft come April, but the 6-foot-6, 340-pounder's lack of pass-rushing prowess ultimately drops him to the back end of the first round in this mock. He’s only managed 30 career pressures and totaled just 14 in the 2021 season. Of course, his ability to two-gap and positively affect the run game every time he takes the field should ultimately draw interest in the first round.

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Pick No. 28: Detroit Lions (via L.A. Rams): EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan

There’s no debating that Michigan edge defender David Ojabo had an absurd 2021 campaign. Having started his football career in 2017, he played just 26 defensive snaps for the Wolverines in 2020 before exploding with 41 pressures and an 88.2 pass-rushing grade this season. He’s a raw prospect who will need to test through the roof at the combine to go in the first round come April, but that’s well within the realm of possibility for the young superstar.

Pick No. 29: Kansas City Chiefs: EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State

Florida State edge defender Jermaine Johnson, who transferred from Georgia before the 2021 season, recorded an 81.1 PFF grade and 46 total pressures for the Seminoles last season. Kansas City needs to get cheaper at premium positions with Chris Jones and Frank Clark still under contract — Johnson is a step in the right direction.

Pick No. 30: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Roger McCreary, Auburn

With over 2,200 defensive snaps played in his Auburn career, McCreary will be one of the more experienced cornerbacks entering the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s a sticky cover corner who has improved his PFF grade every year of his career with the Tigers. He allowed more than 90 yards in just one game throughout the 2021 season and finished the year with an impressive 89.9 PFF grade.

Pick No. 31: Tennessee Titans: EDGE Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

One of my favorite late first-round picks in 2022, Cincinnati edge defender Myjai Sanders will draw scouts in with his performance at the combine at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds. He recorded 40-plus pressures in back-to-back seasons (2020 and 2021) to close out his Bearcats career.

Pick No. 32: Green Bay Packers: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State

Green Bay is the current betting favorite to win the Super Bowl, and that’s only because Aaron Rodgers decided to look past his relationship with the front office and chase a ring with Davante Adams & Co. General manager Brian Gutekunst should double down on keeping Rodgers happy and attack the wide receiver position at the back end of Round 1. 

Penn State’s Jahan Dotson can win on the outside and from the slot. He earned 75.0-plus PFF grades in 2020 and 2021 and currently ranks 30th on PFF’s draft board

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