It’s that time of year again, where I write a bullshit intro sentence that includes the words “mock draft” for SEO purposes.
#1 Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Evan Neal, Alabama
The shift from the Jaguars drafting Hutchinson/Thibodeaux to an offensive tackle happened fairly quickly after the initial round of mock drafts. Interestingly, Mike Garafolo and the Honest NFL twitter account both said over the weekend they think the Jags will ultimately draft Ikem Ekwonu. We’re still two and a half months out, so, sure, maybe.
For now, I’m sticking with Neal, who has a full season worth of starts at each tackle position, as well as left guard. Ideally Neal sticks at tackle, but his multi-positional experience gives him a pretty high floor, and would allow for Jacksonville to just get the five best offensive lineman on the field.
#2 Detroit Lions – Edge Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
This is such a common pairing I’m not sure how much you need me to reiterate what everyone else has already said. I’m sure Dan Campbell is going to salivate over Hutchinson’s motor, and bring the local product’s motor to the Motor City (there I got in a cheesy pun that maybe no one else has made yet).
#3 Houston Texans – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
You’ll basically only find mock drafts with an offensive tackle or the edge rusher Detroit doesn’t take here. Color me skeptical of Nick Caserio doing anything the conventional wisdom would endorse. As the draft nears closer I think we’re going to become more and more inundated with anti-Thibodeaux “reports,” and Todd McShay already got the party started.
Of course, the rumor mill doesn’t matter if the Texans (or whoever) decide for themselves they just want Thibodeaux. We’ve seen this tired movie plenty of times before. Potential, and eventual, number 1 overall picks named Mario Williams, Jadeveon Clowney, and Myles Garrett were all relentlessly.. uhh.. let’s go with “slandered” leading up to their respective drafts as lazy, unmotivated edge rushers that didn’t love football enough. People actually dinged Garrett for having an interest in poetry with a straight face.
I do think, however, Caserio’s New England roots may win the day here. If Caserio decides the motivation concerns are warranted, he’ll look in another direction. That direction could easily be Hamilton, who I suspect will gain a growing chorus of “he’s the best and safest player in this draft” fan club as the draft draws near. Hamilton is a versatile weapon in the secondary, and Caserio spent all those years in New England watching as the Patriots deployed Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and recent significant investments in Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger.
#4 New York Jets – CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Am I going to be surprised if the Jets take a tackle? No. If reliable intel leading up to the draft points in that direction I may even switch this pick. But for the time being Robert Saleh’s secondary desperately needs an injection of talent. If you’re looking for a really good breakdown of Saleh’s defensive comeuppance, and why the philosophy may be doomed to fail, I implore you to read this article from Andrew Golden at jetsxfactor.com.
As the article is outlining it’s conclusion, Golden throws in this nugget:
“According to history, the Jets defense will not become an elite unit unless multiple rookie and second-year players turn into Pro Bowlers within one or two years.”
Time to get to investing in some youth. Danny Kelly’s Ahmad Gardner write up says the reason Gardner could rise is because “Gardner has all the traits to start right away, boasting top-end quickness, elite length, and instincts in coverage.” You think someone running the Seattle defense who was there for the Legion of Boom might be interested?
#5 New York Giants – OT Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina St.
The Giants, including ownership, have gone on record admitting they’ve done everything within their power to ruin Daniel Jones thus far in his career. Logic would dictate the team will invest premium resources in correcting this, and giving Jones a fair chance at proving he is the quarterback of the future for this franchise.
“Coincidentally” building a proper support system for Jones now ensures such a support system is already in place in 2023 when Daboll hand selects his new quarterback. Anyway, you don’t need me to tell you what a disaster the Giants offensive line is. Andrew Thomas did significantly improve in his second year, but 1/5 is pretty bad.
#6 Carolina Panthers – LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Look, hear me out. The most popular projections here are a quarterback or an offensive tackle. First off, I’m not going to believe the Panthers take a quarterback here until it happens. Matt Rhule is coaching for his job and he isn’t about to hit the reset button in a draft class that doesn’t have a single quarterback as a top 10 lock. Rhule needs to win now. If Darnold isn’t the starter in 2022 it’s because they found a different veteran.
As for the offensive line, the only real option here is Charles Cross who the Carolina powers-that-be may deem too raw/too much of a project. I’m projecting the Panthers take whoever they think is the most likely to provide immediate impact. Maybe that doesn’t wind up being Dean, but the former Bulldog flies around the field and is an instinctual playmaker against the run, in coverage, and as a blitzer.
Giants Receive: #20, #84, 2023 first, 2023 5th
Steelers Receive: #7
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers (F/NYG/CHI) – QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
[says there’s no top 10 lock at quarterback]
[immediately projects massive trade for quarterback at #7]
This Kevin Colbert retirement strikes me as very similar to Ozzie Newsome’s departure from the Raven’s front office. In his final act, Newsome ensured he found the quarterback of the future for the franchise, then road off into the sunset. With Colbert selectively retiring after the draft, I believe Pittsburgh will zero-in on a quarterback in this class and aggressively acquire him (which means I just solidified Pittsburgh trading for Kirk Cousins).
I don’t know how much Tomlin is going to want to be a part of a project quarterback such as Malik Willis. I don’t think he’d flat out not be on board if that’s how the draft just happened to fall, but if Pittsburgh is going to hand select the next guy, I have to imagine Tomlin wants the guy that’s most pro-ready. Pickett doesn’t have a cannon but his arm is strong enough, he’s very accurate and has the athleticism to avoid defenders and make plays out of structure.
There’s also this, for whatever it’s worth:
Asked an NFL scout to power rank how the QBs did during team interviews at the Senior Bowl. His succinct response:
"Pickett. Gap. Everyone else."
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 5, 2022
#8 Atlanta Falcons – Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Eventually someone has to just draft him, right? Besides, it’s not like the Falcons can’t use Thibodeaux’s talents. Atlanta was dead last in sacks last year with 18(!).
#9 Denver Broncos – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
I dunno man, ever since Paton took over he reportedly inquires about the “cost” of everything yet never actually pulls the trigger (except for on Teddy, which, ok?). In his defense, trading for Wentz or Darnold was clearly moronic at the time, let alone in hindsight, and doing the due diligence is good business. But he also didn’t throw the kitchen sink at Green Bay for Rodgers when their relationship was in peril, and opted for a “franchise cornerback” (whatever the fuck that is) over Fields (or Mac) last year. If Fields wasn’t good enough for him at the 9th pick last year, why on earth is Pickett, Willis, Corrall, Ridder going to be worthy of the 9th pick this year?
Much like the Giants plan above, get the support system built up before you shoot your shot.
#10 New York Jets (F/SEA) – WR Drake London, USC
Keeping with that support system theme, enter London to the Jets. London was obliterating college football before having his season cut short with an ankle injury. A 6’5″ playmaker who can win at all three levels, London perfectly compliments Corey Davis and Elijah Moore.
#11 Washington Commanders – CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Similar to Matt Rhule, I don’t believe Ron Rivera is going to be overly interested with a rookie starting quarterback on opening day. I don’t know how hot Rivera’s seat is, or how hot it will get if there’s not a playoff push or appearance in 2022 (or if God himself finally intervenes and forces Snyder to sell the team), but I imagine he doesn’t want the growing pains of a rookie this upcoming season.
Washington deserves credit for their defensive improvement later in the year after starting off so horrendously, but more reinforcements are sorely needed. Stingley has #1 overall talent and falls out of the top 10 due to injuries and inconsistent play the past two years. The Commanders first draft pick sees them shoot for the moon.
#12 Minnesota Vikings – Edge George Karlaftis, Purdue
My guess is Kwesi would love for his first draft order of business to be trading down. At this point I don’t envision too much movement in the opening frame and it may be tough to pull off. The Vikings pass rush rotation is pretty bare, and that’s even if they’re able to keep Hunter. If Kwesi can’t trade I envision him hitting the premium positions with his premium draft capital.
#13 Cleveland Browns – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
We have an answer to if it was the chicken or the egg. It was Baker. Anyway, with Odell gone the Browns need another receiver and nab the local product who many believe is the best receiver in the class.
#14 Baltimore Ravens – CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
Much like Kwesi, I believe the Ravens and their new friend Sashi Brown will look to trade down, and when they can’t find a dance partner invest in a premium position. Their run of bad luck with injuries at corner (and offensive line, and running back) in 2021 is simply not repeatable, but Baltimore proved you never have enough corners.
#15 Philadelphia Eagles (F/MIA) – WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
First and foremost, there is no way Roseman makes all three of these picks at their current slots. None. He’s going to move one, if not two, in some fashion, whether he just trades down or flips them for future firsts to have ammo lined up in 2023 in the event Hurts doesn’t progress as desired in 2022.
The pick I think he is least likely to move is 15 because I bet he wants to make sure he gets a wide receiver he wants, unless he trades to someone he knows is taking a quarterback (New Orleans, Tampa), in which case he can get the receiver at 16.
Anyway, taking Reagor over Justin Jefferson is an all-time blunder, but at least DeVonta Smith looks like a real one. Here’s some more help so that Hurts hopefully does progress as desired.
#16 Philadephia Eagles (F/IND) – C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Speaking of setting Hurts up for success, whether or not Jason Kelce retires it would still be wise to just take Linderbaum here.
#17 Los Angeles Chargers – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
This has got to be the most popular pairing in mock drafts. The Chargers run defense is an abomination and it cost them a trip to the playoffs (because no that timeout did not influence anything Jesus Christ), and Davis is like 6 trillion pounds and a monster. I don’t think this is a lock, and if Penning or Raimann raise their stock to where 17 is appropriate for them I could see Los Angeles pulling the trigger. The entire discourse after Chargers-Raiders was the ending, but I swear to god Maxx Crosby averaged 1 pressure per drop back in that game.
Does Maxx Crosby have a pressure on every snap?
— Jonathan Rosenberg (@frosted_takes) January 10, 2022
#18 New Orleans Saints – QB Malik Willis, Liberty
Kind of hard to predict which QB the Saints may prefer here prior to them even adding a coach, but given their cap situation and presumably hitting a hard reset they may as well swing for upside even if it may take some time to get there. Willis has the most upside in the class and after the Senior Bowl he’s getting first-quarterback-off-the-board, maybe-even-top-10, buzz.
Also, teams should always swing for upside at quarterback.
Eagles Receive: #40, #96, 2023 first
Broncos Receive: #19
#19 Denver Broncos (F/PHI) – QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Welp, Paton finally pulls the trigger (and Howie gets a 2023 first for insurance). I’m not entirely sure what it is about Ridder that I think Paton, Elway and Hackett will all be in agreement about. He’s 6’4″ and has a strong arm so that checks the only two boxes for Elway. He’s also athletic, comfortable checking the protection or play at the line, and just took a non-Power 5 to the playoffs. Plus Denver has an extra second and third from the Von Miller trade.
#20 New York Giants (F/PIT) – Edge Jermaine Johnson II, Florida St.
The Giants play this really well. They swing a great trade then end up with Johnson at 20. Johnson lit up the Senior Bowl and ultimately can go in the top 15.
Patriots Receive: #31, #63
Bengals Receive: #21
#21 Bengals (F/NE) – OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
After the nine sacks against the Titans and the havoc I’m assuming the Rams are going to cause, the Bengals may seem themselves as just one player away and make an aggressive move up the board. Green has significant experience on the offensive line at every position except center. This versatility would allow for the Bengals to to just get the five best offensive lineman out on the field, whoever they are.
#22 Las Vegas Raiders – CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
Mayock may be gone but the Clemson pipeline continues to flow to Vegas. In all seriousness Booth does hit a need here and is an athletic corner with good ball skills.
#23 Arizona Cardinals – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Cardinals are in an unenviable cap situation and the idea of retaining A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, or both doesn’t seem realistic, especially Kirk. We saw what happened to this offense over the back half without Hopkins.
#24 Dallas Cowboys – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
Gallup and Cedrick Wilson figure to be elsewhere next season and Williams may have been the first receiver off the board if he didn’t get injured in the title game. Adding his speed to Lamb and Cooper would be electric. Also, with the way Jerry Jones is moaning about Cooper’s production vs. contract, 2022 may be Amari’s last in Dallas.
#25 Buffalo Bills – Edge David Ojabo, Michigan
If you’re the Bills, and you’re basically good across the board, and have routinely devoted resources to pumping up the trenches, wouldn’t you take the chance on Ojabo at this point that he hits his absurd ceiling?
#26 Tennessee Titans – WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Don’t even get me started on the Titans’ playoff game. Obviously this team needs someone behind A.J. Brown and Julio Jones as Julio just can no longer be counted on to stay healthy and without Brown this offense craters.
(THROWING TO WESTBROOK-IKHINE ON THE BIGGEST PLAY OF THE SEASON IS RIDICULOUS. THE NEXT PLAY BURROW THREW TO JAMARR FOR 20 YARDS AND THE BENGALS KICK A FIELD GOAL TO WIN. THROW THE BALL TO YOUR BEST PLAYERS HOW IS THIS HARD?!)
#27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Edge Travon Walker, Georgia
Tampa needs secondary reinforcements, as well as a quarterback if they don’t believe in Trask and don’t bring in a veteran. I’m not sure if they’ll like anyone available here, especially enough to pass on seeing if they can get Walker to hit his absurd ceiling. With JPP and Gholston as free agents, and JPP only getting older, the team needs more rushers behind Barrett and Tryon, and Walker can also shrink inside with his size.
#28 Green Bay Packers – OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
I think teams will fall in love with Rainmann’s potential and he will ultimately go top 20, but for now he would provide a needed reinforcement opposite Bakhtiari.
#29 Miami Dolphins (F/SF) – OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
The Dolphins should just spend every single draft pick on offensive lineman and pray for the best. I’m not kidding.
#30 Kansas City Chiefs – S Lewis Cine, Georgia
Do you really need me to explain this?
#31 New England Patriots (F/CIN) – LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
It’s clear Hightower’s best days are (sadly) behind him. Lloyd is an uber athletic linebacker that has rare versatility for the position and good instincts in both coverage and against the run. Sound like something Belichick may be interested in?
Lions Receive: 2023 first
Colts Receive: #32
#32 Indianapolis Colts (F/DET/LAR) – QB Sam Howell, North Carolina
You may be sitting there saying, “why wouldn’t the Lions just draft a quarterback themselves, why trade the pick?” Well, selling off this pick for a 2023 first guarantees that 2023 pick will be higher next year. The Lions also have pick 34 this year, as well as the Rams 2023 first. With three firsts next year the Lions would have plenty of ammo to move up, if necessary, to get a quarterback. With pick 34 they can add a receiver who will be primed for a second year leap come 2023.
The Lions are wedded to Goff for 2022. They could draft a quarterback here and have him sit until midseason if they like anyone enough. If they don’t they sell this pick to the Colts, who pretty much publicly admit to their hatred of Carson Wentz, and may be more gung-ho about having someone in house ready to take over midseason, and a second year leap themselves in 2023.