After one of the wildest free-agency periods in recent memory, and perhaps ever, the NFL’s offseason activity has reduced to a bit of a simmer.
But fear not: With the 2022 NFL draft less than a month away, we’re now in full swing with the second big phase of the offseason, and we expect more surprises to come.
Mock drafts theoretically can be taken a bit more seriously now. Prospect workouts are nearly complete. Team needs are far more clear, and their actions (and inaction) to this point offer us more clues which directions they might head in April.
Yet there is still quite a bit of fog that needs to clear. As one team official told us last week, “Good luck with your mock drafts. No one knows much, especially up top.”
Gee, thanks ...
A lot of the lack of clarity centers around the quarterbacks — namely, which ones will go off the board and how early in Round 1. A few teams we've spoken with recently weren't convinced that multiple QBs are destined to land in the top 10, as we've seen in some recent media projections.
That makes this mock highly speculative, even more so than normal. It’s only fitting for this thrill-a-minute offseason we've had.
Here are the first-round projections, as well as the top selections for teams without a first-rounder:
Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson
Hutchinson remains the big favorite to go first. He'd be a quality addition to the pass rush, as well as to the locker room. But there has been chatter that Georgia's Travon Walker remains in the mix here. It would be a stunning rise, but it also would fit the traits-y, toolsy type of pass rusher GM Trent Baalke often seeks. We're holding with Hutch for now, but Walker might be a real possibility.
Georgia EDGE Travon Walker
Yes, we considered a QB pick and a trade-down scenario here; neither can be ruled out. There might not be a pure fit evident in this spot, but we can easily say that we'd love to see Walker go to a team like this where he can be developed steadily as a pass rusher. There also has been chatter of the Jaguars and Lions flipping picks, so Detroit can get Hutchinson. The top of the draft remains cloudy, which adds to the drama.
North Carolina State OT Ikem Ekwonu
The Texans might come down to picking between Ekwonu and Alabama's Evan Neal here, and we truly don't know which way GM Nick Caserio might lean. In the end, we sided with Ekwonu for his run-blocking dominance and his big upside, whereas Neal might be closer to a finished product with a slightly lower ceiling.
Cincinnati CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner
There was a strong temptation to mock the Jets yet another Round 1 offensive lineman (Evan Neal), which would make it three years in a row. But GM Joe Douglas hasn't selected a defensive player higher than 68th in his first two drafts, and head coach Robert Saleh would love a long corner such as Gardner to flavor his defense.
Alabama OT Evan Neal
This really would be an ideal four-pick development for the Giants and first-year GM Joe Schoen. They could get some trade calls here from QB-needy teams, and the Giants would listen. But pairing Neal with the emerging Andrew Thomas could give them bookend tackles for years to come. Neal also can play guard.
Liberty QB Malik Willis
This pick could help shape the remainder of Round 1. Carolina's very public display of quarterback need is nearly impossible to overlook, and yet we can't get the idea of taking a tackle here out of our brain. Still, QB trumps all other positions, and Willis appears to have the higher ceiling (and lower floor) than Pitt's Kenny Pickett, a much safer choice.
Which way will they go here, with Matt Rhule potentially fighting for his job? Absolutely a fascinating proposition — and one we're still grappling with.
7. Giants (from Chicago Bears)
Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton
The dream would be to draft Gardner here (or at five), but with him off the board, Hamilton would be a nice "consolation prize" for Don Martindale's defense. Would there be reluctance to draft Hamilton based on his slow 40 times (some had him in the low 4.7s) at his pro day? We certainly hope not, and it will be an interesting litmus test for Schoen in his first year making the final call. Is he a stopwatch guy? We don't believe so.
Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux
We know they made a serious bid for Deshaun Watson. But we just can't pull the trigger here on Pickett. This team has needs all over the place. That's why picking Thibodeaux makes sense from a talent standpoint. Plus, Atlanta had 18 sacks last year, which was dead last in the NFL — by a country mile.
9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos)
Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning
It would be very on the nose for the Seahawks to draft an FCS player here, but we wouldn't pan this pick. Penning fits the Seahawks' mentality — especially if they veer to even more bully ball this season without Russell Wilson — and it's been years since they drafted a true tackle higher than Day 3 of the draft.
Why Penning over Mississippi State's Charles Cross? Run blocking and nastiness. Pete Carroll is still the coach, after all.
10. Jets (from Seahawks)
USC WR Drake London
The Jets want more WR help, having made a strong bid to acquire Tyreek Hill but failed to do so. London is nothing like Hill, although no one is in this draft class, for that matter. But he'd give Zach Wilson a long, reliable weapon on the outside, opposite Corey Davis, with Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios inside.
Ohio State's Garrett Wilson is another strong option, but he's not a true deep threat and is less physically imposing.
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson
Perhaps this becomes the trade-up spot for Pickett, if another team is willing to pay the price. A year ago, the Bears moved from 20 (where the Steelers currently reside, FYI) at the cost of a 2021 fifth-round pick, plus first- and fourth-rounders in 2022.
But if they stay here, the Commanders could use more playmakers if Carson Wentz is going to have any chance to succeed. A WR top three of Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown and Wilson would offer some big-play splash.
LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr.
Which direction new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah heads with his first draft selection is anyone's guess. But he was part of a Cleveland front office that took a similar level of injury risk a year ago when the Browns picked Northwestern CB Greg Newsome, which proved to be savvy. Stingley also requires some character examination, so the pick would have to be made with some conviction. But corner is a need for a team that lacks talent at the position.
13. Texans (from Cleveland Browns)
Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson II
The pick acquired in the Deshaun Watson trade won't be used on a QB, we don't believe, as the Texans will let the Davis Mills experiment play out. There's a decent chance Johnson goes higher than this, but if not, he'd be a great addition to boost the pass rush even more. Trading back is also an option here.
14. Baltimore Ravens
Mississippi State OT Charles Cross
I think the trade-down option is an attractive one to them, and as long as only one (or fewer) QB is off the board, it's in play. A bit lower, maybe the pick would be Tyler Linderbaum. I also considered Jordan Davis, corner and pass rusher here. But Cross could be the left tackle in time if Ronnie Stanley's injuries keep mounting.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins)
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett
Boring is for losers. You've seen Pickett mocked to the same 2-3 teams over and over. But the Eagles quietly have done a lot of work on him, and while we would not say the odds are wildly high on this happening, neither are they remote.
Why the heck not? The team has made inquiries to trade for better quarterbacks in the past year, so it wouldn't be stunning to see a big name added to push Jalen Hurts.
16. Eagles (from Indianapolis Colts)
Georgia NT Jordan Davis
We might have the city of Philadelphia at our doorstep later today. Yes, we realize this is a very un-Eagles-like pick, and sure, their interior D-line is a relative strength. But Davis is a true Halley's Comet prospect, and he can change the way teams attack the Eagles and likely clear lanes for the outside rush.
It's just a thought, anyway, and we don't believe Davis would last too much longer than this anyway.
Alabama WR Jameson Williams
Seeing Davis go off the pick prior would be a heartbreaker. They'd have to be trade-down candidates, but who is coming up here in this scenario? Nakobe Dean might make sense on some level, but we are not feeling another Round 1 linebacker after the miss (so far) on Kenneth Murray.
But they do need a receiver, as well as more speed, so Williams could be an inspired choice come November and on. With Tyreek Hill out of the division, Williams could be the new AFC West deep threat to dread once his ACL injury is healed.
Ohio State WR Chris Olave
Assuming Michael Thomas remains in the picture, the Saints could use a complementary weapon, and Olave fits that to a tee. He can be the downfield option for Jameis Winston, whose best strength is the deep ball. Left tackle is another glaring need, but there's better value at receiver.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks
Realistically, the preference would be to trade into next year with this pick. But in drafting a QB, the Eagles might be derailing that plan. And no, we're still not going to mock them a linebacker. Burks would give them a different type of receiver and another weapon for ... whoever the QB is.
We personally wouldn't take Burks this high, as much as we like him, but we could see some team maximizing his skill set.
Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt
Their eyes might be set on either Willis or Pickett. But in this scenario, the Steelers are able to address a sneaky-big need. Expecting much from Stephon Tuitt or Tyson Alualu feels a smidge risky, and Wyatt has a similar profile to previous higher-round Steelers DTs such as Ziggy Hood and Javon Hargrave.
Boston College OL Zion Johnson
Malcolm Butler's signing doesn't erase the need at corner, but we also don't think they have to go CB here. Instead, don't forget about the pretty big hole at guard with the losses of Ted Karras and Shaq Mason. Johnson is exactly what the Patriots seek in their offensive linemen: smart, tough, versatile, athletic. Height, as Mason proved, is overrated on the interior. Johnson is a stud and a Day 1 starter.
22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders)
Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis
With receiver somewhat picked over and a quality pass-rush talent on the board, this is the way we'll go here. The team drafted Rashan Gary at 12 with the two Smiths signed to big money. We think they'd absolutely consider Karlaftis here as a third rusher behind Gary and Preston Smith.
Two "Greek Freaks" in the state of Wisconsin? We'd love it.
Washington CB Trent McDuffie
They don't seem to mind undersized DBs, and if this pick works out as well as the last Huskies DB they took (Budda Baker), it would be a two-run homer. McDuffie fills a big need and can match Baker's on-field intensity. They just need as many quality dart throws as possible at this position.
24. Dallas Cowboys
Georgia LB Nakobe Dean
To us this would just be theft. We gave Dallas a grade of "A" for the Micah Parsons pick, shocked he was still on the board, and we'd issue the same grade if Dean fell here. He's absolutely the perfect addition to this Dan Quinn-led defense and can do for it what Deion Jones did early in his career for Quinn's defenses in Atlanta.
25. Buffalo Bills
Clemson CB Andrew Booth
Some smart, well-connected people we trust in media have floated Breece Hall's name here, and it's not the silliest proposition we've heard. But with a moldable No. 2 corner on the board — especially with Tyreek Hill entering the division — it would be hard to pass up Booth. He's still developing, but his upside is very good for this range.
26. Tennessee Titans
Texas A&M OL Kenyon Green
The Titans have needs at guard and tackle, so why not get a player who has played both spots? Green is a de-cleater who can bring some big power to the party, which just feels like a good fit for a Mike Vrabel team. We like Green best inside, but he's perfectly solid at tackle.
A wide receiver makes sense, too, but Green is good value here.
Connecticut DT Travis Jones
We could see Jones fitting up front for a defensive line that's a bit shorthanded right now with Ndamukong Suh unsigned. Jones wouldn't replace Suh's pass-rush impact right away, but he would give them a physical tormentor to help disrupt up front.
North Dakota State WR Christian Watson
We don't personally see a first-round talent in Watson, but perhaps the Packers do, and Watson is very much their type. He's long, able to win vertically and gets after it as a run blocker. He'd likely be the Packers' third or fourth wideout but could play a pretty significant role as the shot-play target Aaron Rodgers could use.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (from San Francisco 49ers)
Michigan DB Dax Hill
A steal here. Hill is a versatile nickel/safety hybrid who could allow the Chiefs to let Tyrann Mathieu walk. We even think Hill could be tried outside if needed, and the Chiefs have some recent experience with this type of conversion (L'Jarius Snead). Hill might be one of the best 20 or so prospects in this class from our perspective.
Penn State WR Jahan Dotson
He's not a Tyreek Hill replacement because no one can replace Hill. But giving Mahomes a vertical threat from the slot really could keep the Chiefs' downfield passing game aloft. He's a more polished player now than Watson, who went two picks earlier.
Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum
Zac Taylor has said Ted Karras will play center, but we could see the Bengals simply taking the best center and shifting Karras to guard based on the unforeseen circumstances unfolding here. A cornerback also could be a possibility.
32. Lions (from Los Angeles Rams)
Utah LB Devin Lloyd
In the back of our mind, we were thinking about a QB such as Desmond Ridder here. But with Lloyd sliding to this spot, it just feels like a value opportunity. Plus, the Lions pick second in Round 2, two picks away, and can still get a passer or receiver there. Lloyd could immediate vie for one of the starting LB roles.
Teams without first-rounders
Georgia WR George Pickens
With one of the worst WR rooms in the NFL currently, the Bears badly need some playmaking and length here, and Pickens can provide both. Justin Fields and Pickens just missed each other at Georgia, but they could be a terrific pairing in time. Pickens is a likely top-40 selection now following some good workouts.
Penn State EDGE Arnold Ebiketie
This absolutely feels like a player the Colts would pounce on — if he's even on the board this long. Ebiketie's draft stock has been rising, and he could crack the top 40. But if he falls, his high-energy style is a perfect fit for a defense that could use more pass-rush juice.
Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey
The Browns want more help up front, and Winfrey is the type of traits-y, explosive penetrator with upside they could seek here. He played far better at the Senior Bowl than he did on a snap-to-snap basis last season, so they could be convinced he'd thrive playing alongside Myles Garrett.
Georgia OL Jamaree Salyer
With some jobs open up front, Salyer could slide in and start as a rookie if he can make the transition to guard. He's a better athlete than his workout numbers might suggest, and he could be a multi-year starter inside.
Colorado State TE Trey McBride
The Vikings drafted six tight ends in a seven-year span when Broncos GM George Paton was in Minnesota's front office. The Broncos traded away Noah Fant, and though they might still see upside in Albert Okwuegbunam, giving Russell Wilson a reliable target at H-back such as McBride makes some sene. He's a similar mold to Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr., but a tick faster.
UCLA OL Sean Rhyan
There's a need for reinforcements up front, and Rhyan — who has guard and tackle potential — fits the mold of blocker the Raiders sought for years. At this stage, he'd be a really nice value for the Raiders.
Wake Forest OL Zach Tom
Tom is an unusual prospect in that he has extensive experience at center (his first two seasons) and left tackle (his last two). Miami can use depth at both spots. They've tried this type of versatile OL prospect in their effort to carpet bomb the position and find the best starting five. Center might be Tom's best spot.
Central Michigan OL Luke Goedeke
Goedeke is a former tight end at UW-Stevens Point who moved to right tackle with the Chippewas but could be tried at guard in the NFL. The Rams need more bodies on the O-line with Andrew Whitworth retiring and Austin Corbett departing in free agency.