Halloween annually represents our shift to mock draft season, although we promise you we'll trickle out only a few more renditions prior to hitting our stride for the 2022 NFL draft after the new year.
Still, it’s a fun exercise to start projecting players into the first-round landscape (with — always! — second-round projections for teams that don't have Round 1 picks) with a little more than half the college season and seven weeks of the NFL season already in the books.
Our 2020 crack at a Mocktober mock was, well, not terribly accurate. That’s entirely predictable, of course, given that the draft was still six months away, just as this one is now.
Hey, it happens. And it’s happening again now: Our first real dive into how the 2022 first round, plus parts of Round 2, could look. This is based on the current NFL draft order, with tiebreakers.
1. Detroit Lions
In a year when the QB class looks like a muddled lot, there’s a defensive prospect worth taking atop the draft. General manager Brad Holmes likely watched plenty of practice tape of his 2021 first-round pick, Penei Sewell, going against the best pass rusher in college football. Thibodeaux could help rebuild a defense that needs more game-changers.
We suspect that Thibodeaux's final grade will come out similar to what Chase Young earned two years ago, which would warrant him going first overall. The Lions also have a need at quarterback, but they have the Rams’ first-round selection plus their own (likely) high second-rounder to maneuver for addressing that.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins)
What a score this would be if the Eagles landed a top-five selection via the pre-draft trade they swung with Miami last spring. It’s also tough luck with it landing in a year when no quarterback currently resonates at that level.
With three picks currently in the top 13 overall, Philly's best approach might be to collect as much talent as possible. No true cornerback has been drafted this high in the NFL’s modern era, but we’ve had a few — such as Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey and Denzel Ward — go in the top five and prove to be worth that lofty placement.
The Eagles have a clear need in the secondary, with two corners and two safeties set for free agency next year. Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton also could be on their radar.
3. Houston Texans
Until we receive clarity on that front, it’s a safer bet to project the team fortifying the trenches. That’s a move we could see general manager Nick Caserio making, just as his mentor, Bill Belichick, did in New England when he used his first first-round draft pick on Richard Seymour.
Leal might not be quite that level of a player, but he’s cut from the same cloth. The Texans have let many of their disruptors up front walk and could use more help there. He’s a player they’ve done some early work on.
4. New York Jets
The Jets went offense with their first four picks, including QB Zach Wilson, in the 2021 draft. Now it might be time to give head coach Robert Saleh’s defense some help. Hamilton could be a game-changing factor at safety.
The Jets know they must contend with the Bills, the toast of the division now, for the next several years, and the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Hamilton could be a big piece to defend Josh Allen and Co., both in pass coverage and in run support. He’s a true impact player, even if safeties seldom rise this high.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
Adding infrastructure around Trevor Lawrence is crucial, even if the Jags' defense also could use major help. Neal could be tasked with immediately stepping in at left tackle to replace 2022 free agent Cam Robinson and add a dose of physicality and mass to the offensive line. At 350-plus pounds, Neal is a gifted people mover who also has taken reps at right tackle and both guard spots.
Brandon Graham appears to be on his way out at season’s end, as could 33-year-old Ryan Kerrigan. Josh Sweat has provided some pass rush value, but the Eagles appear to need more up front — whether or not they re-sign Derek Barnett.
Hutchinson looked like a first-round pick in 2020 prior to a serious leg injury, and he has come back even stronger this season, slimming down and looking quicker off the edge. He lines up everywhere for the Wolverines and has been wreaking havoc this season, with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in six games.
7. New York Giants
With the first of their two first-round draft picks in 2022, we have the Giants addressing a big need on the edge. Their past three first-rounders have been on the offensive side of the ball, and they could use a high-motor rusher with some size such as Karlaftis.
Don’t let his three sacks in seven games fool you — Karlaftis has been one of the best pass rushers in the country this season, creating constant pressure (PFF credits him with 12 QB hits and 17 hurries), forcing two fumbles and recovering one more. Add him to the mix with Lorenzo Carter and Azeez Ojulari, and the Giants can start reimagining their great pressure packages of yore.
8. Jets (via Seattle Seahawks)
The Jamal Adams trade keeps reaping benefits for the Jets. With Russell Wilson hurt, the Seahawks have dropped three straight, pushing this pick into the top 10 for now. The Jets can take advantage here by unexpectedly adding another blue-chip player.
And if there’s a prospect whose stock has ascended to that level this season, it’s the freakish London, who has a track to being WR1 in this class. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, London has volleyball hops and ballerina feet. We suspect Zach Wilson would be very happy with this development.
9. Washington Football Team
WFT's defense has been a major disappointment, but at some point the future of the quarterback position must be addressed. We’re admittedly stabbing in the dark here, projecting Pickett — who earned many early Day 3 grades entering the season — this high as QB1. But his fantastic final season so far and a murky QB class on the whole landed us here.
Pickett might not be quite the prospect Joe Burrow was coming out in 2020, but they share some similarities as players. His extensive experience could allow Pickett to start right away as a rookie in 2022, even if his almost historically small hand size (among quarterbacks, anyway) could lead to internal debate.
10. Dolphins (via San Francisco 49ers)
The Dolphins’ immediate forecast is extremely difficult to peg. Are they in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes? If so, this pick might end up in Houston. Are GM Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores safe? It feels wild to even pose the question, but with the way things have gone in Miami, it’s not absurd.
If a Watson deal falls through, we still could envision the Dolphins adding more help to their offensive line, despite drafting seven linemen the past three years.
“Ickey” entered the season known as one of the most dominant, brutish run blockers in college football. But he’s made huge strides as a pass blocker at left tackle this season and is expected to be a freakish tester at the NFL scouting combine. Ekwonu also is expected to ace the interview process with his intelligence and character.
11. New England Patriots
The Patriots haven’t picked this high since 2008, when they selected Jerod Mayo, now their linebackers coach. Here we have them addressing a need on that side of the ball, with J.C. Jackson set for free agency and depth issues mounting following the trade of Stephon Gilmore.
Opponents haven’t shied away from going after Booth this season, and he had some struggles against North Carolina State, but he’s a willing (albeit occasionally sloppy) tackler, an intense competitor and a gifted athlete with natural coverage skills. Booth has Pro Bowl potential.
12. Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ next QB is tough to project now because we don’t have a long track record for GM George Paton, and we don’t yet know what kind of offense they’ll want in 2022. We can see Corral fitting in quite nicely in Denver with a talented offensive supporting cast as the Broncos try to keep pace in the AFC West arms race.
Corral might not be instant coffee, and he's viewed as system-dependent to a degree, but he has intriguing dual-threat skills that could thrive with the right system.
13. Eagles (via Indianapolis Colts)
Will the Eagles use a first-round pick on a quarterback? They could have three cracks at it, and there are plenty of signs that they might be ready to derail the Jalen Hurts experiment after two years. That has yet to be determined, we suspect, but it wouldn’t be shocking.
Howell’s draft landing spot is tricky to project amid his down 2021 season, but he has more fans in NFL circles than among fans and media now. We suspect the Eagles will relish his toughness, deep-ball ability and efficiency. He’s just a better pure passer than Hurts, and the Eagles have enough weapons to make Howell shine in time.
14. Carolina Panthers
We did not come into this exercise expecting four quarterbacks to come off the board before the midpoint of Round 1. And even though there are more QB-needy teams out there than there are top-flight prospects at the position, we certainly could see Matt Rhule and Joe Brady (if he doesn’t take, say, the LSU job) becoming enamored with Willis’ unique combination of skills.
Willis can sling it all over the field, but what makes him so dangerous is his running ability and improvisational skill. Rhule wants to dominate up front, and adding Willis to the mix could bring an extra dimension to Carolina's run game. The Panthers could be very difficult to prepare for in time if this scenario plays out.
15. Giants (via Chicago Bears)
After a run on quarterbacks, it’s possible a team such as the Giants could keep it going. In Year 3, Daniel Jones has yet to prove unconditionally that he’s the answer. We’ll hedge for now and give them help at another need spot: interior offensive line.
Linderbaum is a high school wrestling and track star whose blocking exploits have become near scouting lore. Sure, he’s undersized and can give ground to powerful opponents. But Linderbaum’s elite athleticism, high-level football IQ and legendary competitiveness are all hallmarks of his game. He has been a rock in pass protection this year and profiles as an NFL Day 1 starter.
The last time a true center went this high: 1993 when the Cleveland Browns took Steve Everitt 14th overall. Don’t be stunned if Linderbaum goes in this range.
16. Kansas City Chiefs
The son and nephew of two former NFL DBs, Elam brings an impressive pedigree to the table. There have been issues most of the season in the secondary, so it’s an easy area to address in what looks like one of the deeper CB crops in recent memory.
We also strongly considered Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner here. He and Elam fit what the Chiefs look for in their press corners.
17. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan’s contract is such that the Falcons likely will carry him into the 2022 season. They might be a team that considers drafting a QB, but with four off the board here, they might be better suited to wait.
Instead, we’ll give them a good-looking pass rusher in Jackson who can help heat up the edges. When healthy, Dante Fowler Jr. can supply the Falcons some pressure, but he’s entering a possible cut/restructure year, and there’s no one else on the roster who has established themselves as a rusher.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
The beauty of Green is that he’s now well-versed at four different OL positions, and he’s still only 20 years old. The original plan was to move him to left tackle to start the season. Then Green started the opener at right tackle. When injuries hit, he moved back inside — first to right guard, then left guard. Oh, and against Alabama? Green kicked back out to left tackle. That has all happened this season.
In a way, Green is the Alijah Vera-Tucker of this draft class. He’s a thick-framed, heavy-handed throwback — a diecast Steelers offensive lineman — and most likely a guard in the NFL with Pro Bowl potential.
19. Minnesota Vikings
GM Rick Spielman once joked that his wife might not let him return home if he used another first-round pick on a cornerback. Well, Rick, it was a great run, buddy.
Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander and Bashaud Breeland are all due for free agency in 2022, and the misfire on the Jeff Gladney pick (for off-field reasons) has pushed this need to the forefront once more.
Why McCreary over some more highly publicized corners? He reminds me of Casey Hayward Jr. — not the biggest, not an absurd athlete, but just enough of both qualities to allow his outstanding instincts and competitiveness to shine. McCreary has had a great season after earning some high second-round grades this summer.
20. Cleveland Browns
There’s likely to be a major change or two to the Browns’ WR depth chart this offseason, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry likely too expensive to keep at their current production rate. Enter Olave, a smooth operator who can stretch the field and add a playmaking dimension to the passing game. Give Baker Mayfield all the weapons he can have.
Defensive line is another area they could address here, but the class’ depth allows Cleveland to be patient.
21. Buffalo Bills
The Bills might end up picking lower than this, as they have Super Bowl potential. Even so, Davis could be available at the end of Round 1 while others believe he could crack the top 20.
Returning to school has worked wonders for Davis. He was viewed as a late second/early third-round prospect after last season, and even with Davis’ tremendous play in 2021, the perceived NFL value of massive defensive tackles isn’t what it once was.
22. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers might consider more pass-rush help here opposite Joey Bosa, but they also must think about receiver. Mike Williams is a free agent to be, and his past health concerns make his future uncertain.
Wilson plays nothing like Williams but has some Keenan Allen-esque ability to separate and body control to haul in catches out of his frame. We’d love to see the talented Wilson as Allen’s understudy for the next few years.
23. New Orleans Saints
If the Saints move on from Michael Thomas, it would make sense to add a multi-dimensional receiver with size such as Burks. Sean Payton has had trouble trusting Jameis Winston to throw in the middle of the field a lot this season, and it also could be because of who the Saints have at receiver.
Burks is an absolute hoss in that area of the field. He physically dominates smaller defenders and has enough juice to be a moderate deep threat, can be used on end arounds and has attempted five passes in three years. Basically, he's Payton’s perfect receiver in many ways, sort of a juiced-up Marques Colston.
24. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have made big strides defensively, but let's assume they’re not done adding pieces there. Anderson is an electric pass rusher whose value will vary, club to club, based on his thin frame, limited coverage experience and somewhat one-dimensional game.
25. Tennessee Titans
The Titans declined the fifth-year option on Rashaan Evans this summer, as he hasn’t done enough to convince the team he’s yet worth keeping. Meanwhile Lloyd has been impressive, especially in pass coverage and as a blitzer. He’s a three-down, instinctive difference-maker who came into the season earning some first-round grades.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have used their past five first-round draft picks (and four of their past five second-round picks) on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not a sustainable long-term path, although it’s hard to argue with the results of how the offense is now turning out.
Chidobe Awuzie has been a find, and Mike Hilton has brought a needed element to the secondary. But the Bengals need more at corner. McDuffie isn’t quite the special athlete or as big as teammate Kyler Gordon. But McDuffie, while not a great playmaker, has been a lockdown corner the past two seasons, allowing only 14 catches for 100 yards in his past 10 games.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa are 2022 free agents, and guard Ali Marpet will account for about 6% of the team’s salary cap next year, so that could leave a void on the interior of the offensive line if one of them walks.
Rhyan plays left tackle for the Bruins, but some NFL teams envision him playing inside in the pros. His skills better suits the Bucs’ OG mold than another highly rated college OT-OG prospect, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard, does.
28. Lions (via Los Angeles Rams)
Will the pick the Lions received in the Jared Goff-Matthew Stafford deal turn out to be a QB? That would certainly be something. We did not expect another five-QB first round when we sat down to start this mock, and we’re still warming up to the idea of Ridder landing in the top 32, but it’s not at all out of the question.
Ridder might not have an immense ceiling, but he’ll enter the NFL with outstanding experience, tangible growth throughout his successful college career and the type of dual-threat playmaking ability that’s sweeping the league.
Our only question with this pick: Does Ridder have a superpower?
It’s a thing GM Brad Holmes looks for in prospects, and certainly in quarterbacks. If the knee of Nevada’s Carson Strong checks out medically, he could be in play in this range, too.
29. Las Vegas Raiders
After a so-so opener against Clemson, Dean has arguably been the best linebacker in college football not named Devin Lloyd. We can easily see GM Mike Mayock (assuming he sticks around next season) falling for the high-energy human missile that is Dean. He’s not big but has no problem negotiating his way through or around block attempts, using speed, instincts and intensity to dominate.
30. Green Bay Packers
Cross could go higher than this. Although he’s young and still getting better, one look at his tape vs. Texas A&M DL DeMarvin Leal — a heavyweight battle — to know Cross has special potential. David Bakhtiari has battled injuries this season, and the Packers might end up wanting to keep Elgton Jenkins inside long term. Cross could be a perfect developmental tackle for the next generation of Packers football.
31. Baltimore Ravens
Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning
Well, please allow us to introduce you to the immensely talented Penning, who is having a strong performance at UNI this season and to whom we spoke before the start of the year. Scouts have known all about him, and we think Penning will be an NFL scouting combine standout whose level of competition will not be a concern by the time the draft rolls around.
The Ravens need youth and talent outside, and Penning’s length and athleticism are plus traits that could fit their offense beautifully.
32. Arizona Cardinals
After winning the Super Bowl (heh), the Cardinals will be looking to add talent and depth at a spot many projected they’d address high in the 2021 draft. Robert Alford has been good, and Byron Murphy Jr. fares well inside but they could use some more playmaking and length at corner to push the eminently pushable Marco Wilson for a starting job outside.
“Sauce” has eight interceptions in three seasons and has allowed only one completion longer than 13 yards in his past 10 games, dating back to last season.
Teams without first-round picks
The Seahawks love to throw people off with their unorthodox approach to the draft, and Raimann’s name might not be known with casual draft fans at this point. But the converted tight end has been outstanding, especially in big matchups with Mizzou and LSU. This would be no reach; in fact, Raimann has a shot at Round 1.
The 49ers are no longer as length-obsessed at corner, which could lead them toward a prospect such as the 5-foot-9 Wright, who is aggressive, athletic and skilled. His track record for making plays on the ball would be a welcome addition to a secondary that has one interception (31st in the NFL) and 21 passes defended (tied for 27th) this season.
Right now, the Colts would be sending a first-round pick to the Eagles for the Carson Wentz trade, although an injury could derail that. If they do end up with their first pick in this range, we could see GM Chris Ballard wanting to grab a tackle to groom.
Petit-Frere (French for “little brother”) has grown into a 304-pound standout with huge hands (10 3/4 inches) and great arm length (34 inches). He could end up a first-rounder, however, after earning a slew of second-round grades this summer. Petit-Frere has looked great this season.
Bell has been a reception vacuum the past few years, even while he teamed with Rondale Moore, and could be a reliable target for Justin Fields opposite Darnell Mooney, assuming Allen Robinson isn’t in the picture. Bell is not a true blazer, but he’s a highly competitive, strong-handed intermediate receiver. Anyone who can drop 240 receiving yards against Iowa can play in the NFL.
(Side note: We love the Bears picking at No. 46, in honor of Buddy Ryan’s famous defense of the same number. The last time they selected 46th, they took fan favorite Matt Suhey in 1980.)
Andrew Whitworth turns 40 in a few months. The Rams need a left tackle for tomorrow. The 6-7, 322-pound Kirkland had his hands full with Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson early in the season but has battled pretty well, not allowing a sack since and playing penalty-free ball in 2021. He meets the Rams’ size threshold for tackle and will come in ready to go as a redshirt senior.