The 2022 NFL draft is finally upon us.
No, this isn't going to be the most accurate mock draft you've seen; anyone who nails more than a dozen first-rounders (right team, right player) should immediately be drafted into one of the NFL's 32 scouting staffs.
This is about as challenging a year to project first-round picks, and it has a lot to do with a watered-down top half of the round, along with the uncertainty at quarterback. It's always a crapshoot, but this year takes the cake.
To make up for the lack of clarity, we're offering a few bonuses at the end:
Projections for the first picks of the eight (!) teams lacking first-rounders
Our picks for QB landing spots
Where the first punter goes (higher than you might think)
And a stab in the dark for Mr. Irrelevant, the final pick of the draft
The way this draft cycle has been, we might have better luck predicting the final pick than most of the first 32.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
We're prepared to be Trey Lance'd again this year (we had Mac Jones going third in our final mock a year ago), but we'll go with Walker because that's who we believe the general manager prefers. This would be as risky a non-QB No. 1 pick since ... Eric Fisher? Courtney Brown?
Could the Jags' Shad Khan (said to be an Aidan Hutchinson man) call an audible? Sure. He's the owner. And in Jacksonville, of course, anything feels possible.
2. Detroit Lions
We'd be fascinated to see where the Lions go if Hutchinson was the first pick. We don't know that it would be Walker. But in this mock, the decision becomes that much easier. Hutchinson is like a juiced-up version of ex-Lion Kyle Vanden Bosch and should give Dan Campbell a glue guy, natural-born leader and quality defender to keep the roster rebuild flowing.
3. Houston Texans
Our first change-up. People we've spoken to feel that the Texans are very interested in a corner, which could make it Stingley vs. Sauce — and they've put in some time on Stingley. An offensive lineman might also be in play, but if the Texans pass on a corner, they might not be able to grab one at No. 13 worth taking. Stingley could be a star, but he's a risk because of two straight injury-shortened seasons.
4. New York Jets
With Stingley off the board, this decision would be easier. Gardner is long, talented and confident, and would be a Week 1 starter for the Jets. New York will need him, considering the AFC East suddenly has some receiver talent. Some believe the Jets won't take a corner this high. If New York doesn't, the talent drops quickly at the position.
If the Jets are done with Mekhi Becton, perhaps they'll feel obligated to take a lineman such as Ikem Ekwonu.
5. New York Giants
Even with some speculation floating about Neal's health, he makes sense here. He has guard and tackle starting experience and could immediately step in as a starter at right tackle. Knowing that the Panthers one pick later will likely to go OT (if they pass on a QB), new Giants general manager Joe Schoen gets the first crack. New York has also been heavily connected with Mississippi State's Charles Cross.
6. Carolina Panthers
Why no QB? It's smarter for them to go the veteran route — Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo — because it will come at far less draft-pick compensation. A Charlotte native, Ekwonu would be an immediate starter at the Panthers' other biggest position of need. He's smart and tough, two Matt Rhule prerequisites. This currently is their last pick until No. 137 overall. No pressure.
7. Giants (via Chicago Bears)
Johnson over Kayvon Thibodeaux could generate some serious talk-radio hot takes, so please grab your fireproof gear ahead of Friday morning. The Giants might be more comfortable with Johnson than Thibodeaux, even though both are brimming with confidence. Johnson's fiery style and all-around game would make this defense better.
8. Atlanta Falcons
London and Kyle Pitts would give the team two very long, very young, highly athletic, go-up-and-get-it pass catchers for Marcus Mariota this season and ... whoever the future QB is. Once London turned in a good pro day following his ankle injury (even though he didn't run a 40), it opened the door for him to be taken in this range, even if other teams might have him a shade lower.
9. Seattle Seahawks (via Denver Broncos)
The Seahawks haven't picked this high in forever, and all options seem to be on the table. Some teams have been turned off by Thibodeaux's interviews, but Seattle hasn't shied away from big personalities in the past. They should welcome this caliber of pass-rusher here, even if there are big, unanswered questions elsewhere (offensive tackle, QB, etc.). Having two higher second-rounders makes this pick easier.
10. Jets (via Seahawks)
If New York doesn't trade for Deebo Samuel or someone of that ilk, Wilson would be a pretty darned good substitute. The Jets missed out on Tyreek Hill, so it's clear that they have a big desire to add a game-changer at the position. Wilson might not be on the Ja'Marr Chase/Justin Jefferson impact scale, but he's a darned good option — and a future WR1.
But if the Jets are really feeling spicy, Jameson Williams (once his ACL is healed) is the closest thing to Tyreek in this class.
11. Washington Commanders
They'll draft a safety in either Round 1 or 2, and here they get a player who profiles as a bigger, more talented Landon Collins. Hamilton shouldn't have fallen this far. (Ohio State WR Chris Olave, whom the team is said to be a big fan of, was another prime option here.)
12. Minnesota Vikings
Someone is taking Williams early. This feels like a trade-down slot, as new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah comes from the Cleveland school of thought, which preaches accumulating draft capital over reaching for immediate needs. Even still, if they stand pat here, receiver is a sneaky long-term need with Adam Thielen turning 32 this year and Justin Jefferson's future contract negotiations looming.
13. Texans (via Cleveland Browns)
A bit of a drop for Cross, if you ask some, but this is right about where we'd like him. There has been chatter that Laremy Tunsil could be moved. Grooming Cross as his successor makes sense. He needs work as a run blocker but has ideal feet and excellent mirroring skills for a left tackle.
14. Baltimore Ravens
Is this pick just too on the nose? Davis' most likely landing spot is either here or the next pick to Philly. The Ravens have had this type of player before in Haloti Ngata and seem to favor mass more than other clubs. Nose tackle is a need, and this dancing bear can fill it.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins)
Hill is a multi-dimensional defender and a pretty darned good athlete who could factor in at either safety or as a slot defender. He's smart, tough and competitive — enough so to grab a starting role opposite Anthony Harris right away. If the Eagles pass on Hill, he might not last too much longer.
16. New Orleans Saints (via Indianapolis Colts and Eagles)
The Columbus-to-NOLA pipeline keeps providing oil. Olave fills a sizable need at wideout, as the Saints don't really have a consistent big-play threat outside of Michael Thomas (who has played only seven games since the end of the 2019 season). The Saints' biggest need, however, is left tackle. We've heard that they're fans of Charles Cross, so don't rule out a trade up if he falls outside the top 10.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Another OT-needy team here. GM Tom Telesco doesn't pass up highly competitive, instinctive football players of McDuffie's caliber on the regular. The arm-length concerns that other teams might harp on wouldn't appear to be a hangup for the Chargers. Chris Harris Jr. is in the final year of his deal, and McDuffie has inside-outside versatility.
18. Eagles (via Saints)
There's talk of Karlaftis sliding in this draft, which wouldn't be shocking, but he fits an immediate and long-term need and seemingly matches the Eagles' typical profile at the position. We could also see an interior rusher here (Devonte Wyatt?), but we'll go with the other Greek Freak, whose power-rushing style could be a hit on this defense.
19. Saints (via Eagles)
Pickett landing with a dome team (and in non-cold-weather division) makes sense, mitigating the concerns for fumbles with his smaller hands. And even if the Saints view themselves as contenders this season — and still really need to get a tackle — the chance to address QB long-term might be too tough to pass up here.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
Maybe they trade up for Willis. Maybe they prefer Pickett. Maybe they completely throw us and go for a defender (we've heard Georgia's Lewis Cine is high on the Steelers' board). But head coach Mike Tomlin is said to love Willis and he gets his man here. We'll set the over-under for when Willis takes over for Mitchell Trubisky at Week 8.5.
21. New England Patriots
Penning has the kind of nasty temperament to fit the Patriots' needs, especially as a run blocker, and push some veterans. Isaiah Wynn is at a crossroads and Trent Brown is in his twilight. New England had a private workout with Penning and could groom him at the proper pace, helping to eliminate his penalties and tighten up his pass protection. Mac Jones needs a protector, and Penning operates with a bouncer's mentality. Good match.
22. Green Bay Packers (via Las Vegas Raiders)
With four receivers off the board, the Packers shift gears and shore up the need for another piece up front. Wyatt might be a solid rotational player as a rookie, but like Rashan Gary, he'll be one to watch in a year or two. Better take a tackle now because the DT depth isn't good. This feels like a Brian Gutekunst pick, even if the locals will clamor about a receiver. Just hang on a bit ...
23. Arizona Cardinals
This would be three straight years going defense in Round 1. It's not an edge rusher, which is a big void, and there's a case to be made for taking a receiver. But Booth offers untapped upside and plenty of emotion in his play. Injury has kept him from working out this pre-draft cycle, but that might be the reason he's still on the board here.
24. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys could add more defensive pieces (Nakobe Dean?) or fill one of the WR vacancies, but they've brought in a lot of OL prospects for meetings and visits. Johnson's versatility — he's played tackle, guard and even center at the Senior Bowl — and smarts have been display the past few years. Easy plug-and-play option at guard.
25. Buffalo Bills
The Bills typically do a great job marrying short-term desires and long-term vision. Cine can help fill both, as he likely would be groomed for Jordan Poyer's role in 2023 while offering sub-package value and special-teams contributions this season. He's smart, can run very well and is a hitter. The Bucs, Chiefs and Packers are big fans of Cine, so he won't last long if the Bills pass on him.
26. Tennessee Titans
The Titans would have loved to see Zion Johnson slip here, given their unique intel on this pick: Johnson's college roommate was Tyler Vrabel, son of Titans head coach Mike. Then again, Mike Vrabel is very close with Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, too, and Ridder is someone they've looked long and hard at. Ryan Tannehill's playoff meltdown hasn't been forgotten. But some around the league believe Ridder could go even higher than this. Hmm ...
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are free agents next year, and the Buccaneers took a similar long-term approach with 2021 first-rounder Joe Tryon-Shoyinka last year. Elam's speed and length are good starting traits for his development, even if we have him rated as a second-round prospect.
It might be a 50-50 proposition that the Packers take a receiver in the first. We certainly didn't lock this pick in without considering other options. If the Packers are comfortable with Pickens' character, this would not be a reach. He has the body type and vertical prowess to become a star in Green Bay. Can it happen during Aaron Rodgers' window? Remember, Davante Adams looked lost for a few years before breaking out.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (via San Francisco 49ers)
Expect the Chiefs to ponder a move up. They have a lot of picks and won't use them all. If they stay here, an edge rusher makes sense. Mafe is cut from the Dee Ford cloth and likely would be a pass-rush specialist while his run defense develops.
Passing on a receiver with a few interesting options on the board could lead to backlash. But if they can't move up for, say, Jameson Williams, it might be more prudent to get the corner first and use the 50th and 62nd picks on one of the better wideouts in Round 2. The Chiefs have taken a Washington corner in Round 1 before (Marcus Peters), which worked out ... until it didn't. Gordon has the man-coverage skill to be very good in time.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
The corner run went just ahead of them; we'd have considered Gordon had he not gone one pick earlier. You can't rule out OL (Tyler Linderbaum? Tyler Smith?), but the Bengals invested heavily at the position in free agency. Hall would give defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo a multi-technique defender who can wear a few hats as a pressure player.
32. Lions (via Los Angeles Rams)
Over Devin Lloyd and Nakobe Dean? Don't rule it out. Walker is a bigger and more athletic than either of them, even if his positional instincts remain less refined. Still, the long-term payoff could be immense. There is a lot of buzz on Walker cracking the top 32 — and he just makes it here.
And how about that? Two Walkers from Georgia as Round 1 bookends.
Teams without first-round draft picks
It would be shocking if new GM Ryan Poles and new assistant GM Ed Cunningham, both former offensive linemen, didn't use at least one pick on an OL prospect. Smith is a big-upside selection, even if he's raw now. The payoff is down the road, and keeping Justin Fields protected trumps the WR need now.
This is the type of high-energy pass rusher we could envision GM Chris Ballard appreciating. They're always looking to add active, disruptive EDGE talent, and Ebiketie provides that.
The Browns remain on the hunt for more interior help on defense, and Winfrey is a decent option. He had a big Senior Bowl and can play multiple techniques.
If Alex Mack retires, Jurgens could step in as a Day 1 starter. Not too long ago, he was a tight end. Jurgens is the type of smart, competitive and athletic mover who would be a great fit for the Shanahan offense.
64. Broncos (via Rams)
You'd imagine the Broncos would want to add more secondary help, and the hard-hitting, versatile Taylor-Britt would be a nice fit here.
The Raiders could use more OL help, and Rhyan — a college tackle who might move to guard — makes sense this late in the third. They've also sniffed around for RB help (keep an eye on Zamir White), but that can come later.
This late in the third round, you're looking for players who can find a role. He's undersized, but Jones can be developed as a nickel and contribute immediately as a returner.
Sam Houston State CB Zyon McCollum
The Rams finally join the draft party in typical Rams fashion: with a small-school workout fiend. McCollum is the Sam Houston State dynamo who picked off a ton of passes at the FCS level and has special teams value from Day 1.
The rest of the QB picks
Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Seahawks (No. 40 overall)
We've heard the Seahawks are interested in Corral, and maybe he could make a run at the starting job in Seattle sooner than some think. Easy to imagine Pete Carroll embracing Corral's toughness and chip on his shoulder.
Sam Howell, North Carolina
Falcons (No. 58)
Marcus Mariota can hold off Howell for a while, but in time he could offer starting talent with maturity and time to grow as a passer in a new system.
Carson Strong, Nevada
Colts (No. 122)
Strong is a pocket passer who might be as immobile as Matt Ryan. And though the Colts eventually might need to kick the Day 3 QB-pick habit, Strong has the arm and pre-snap awareness to develop after Ryan hangs it up.
Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
Panthers (No. 149)
Zappe is smart, competitive, accurate and experienced (50 college starts) enough to enter the murky mix in Carolina, even if he might never project as more than a spot starter.
E.J. Perry, Brown
Texans (No. 183)
Houston uses the pick it just acquired from New England to add a competitive, athletic and scrappy talent to a young QBs room. The hilarious irony? Perry is from Andover, Massachusetts (home of former Texans coach Bill O'Brien) and went to Brown (O'Brien's alma mater). We couldn't resist.
Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Cardinals (No. 258)
We're not the biggest Purdy fans, but the Cardinals brought him in for a workout and might want another QB to assume the role of preseason hero now that Chris Streveler has skipped town.
First punter drafted
Matt Araiza, San Diego State
Patriots (No. 127)
Never get between the Patriots and a generational punting talent. He's a lefty, can hit it a mile and a half, has made six tackles the past two seasons and also can kick field goals in a pinch. Hell, Bill Belichick might even be inclined to trade up for the man known as "Punt God." Jake Bailey, a mere former fifth-rounder, appears to be on thin ice.
Mr. Irrelevant (49ers, No. 263 overall)
Ohio TE Armani Rodgers
We haven't had this late a selection since 2003, so it's basically a long-range dart throw. We'll give the 49ers a gifted athlete who is attempting to become the next QB-to-TE transformation after throwing passes at UNLV and for the Bobcats. Rodgers is raw as all get out, but he is the son of a former Bills linebacker with some interesting skills that can be developed on the practice squad. The 49ers love intriguing experiments such as this.