Some picks were chosen because of team need or scheme fit. Others — such as the trade for a quarterback at the end of the first round — were selected just because it would be fun to see a few draft prospects land somewhere relatively unexpected. After all, the first day of the draft rarely plays out to everyone's expectations.
This pick is a no-brainer at this point, especially after Jacksonville franchise-tagged Cam Robinson again. There’s no reason to draft for need at the top of the draft, so go get the best overall player in Hutchinson. He was the highest-graded defender in college football last year.
2. Detroit Lions: EDGE KAYVON THIBODEAUX, OREGON
I think the hype surrounding Walker is real, but any time I go back to the tape, I see a phenomenally good pass-rusher in Thibodeaux, who seems to be the target of a negativity campaign as the draft approaches. He possesses elite burst and twitchiness at the position and can win in a variety of different ways. Thibodeaux posted a 92.0 pass-rush grade against true pass sets this past season and a pass-rush win rate that doubled Walker's mark. We’re overthinking things right now, but the Lions won’t when they pick.
With left tackle Laremy Tunsil on the trading block, the Texans need to get younger at the position. Neal has an excellent combination of on-field production — he's the second-most valuable Power Five offensive tackle over the last two seasons — and athleticism.
Why do the Jets select Ekwonu?
Making Robert Saleh happy by adding an edge defender here becomes more difficult to justify with the top three edge rushers off the board in the first three picks. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner could be a consideration at cornerback, but The Athletic’s Connor Hughes recently mentioned that the Jets won’t be targeting a cornerback at Nos. 4 or 10. Maybe New York ensures that it gets its favorite wide receiver by pulling the trigger here instead of waiting until 10th overall?
Or maybe they continue to build the offensive line and target a player who they’ve continued to be linked to during the pre-draft process in Ekwonu?
There isn’t an obvious need for a starting tackle with both Mekhi Becton and George Fant on the roster, but it appears as if the Jets are open to competition on both the left and right side entering the 2022 season.
Is it the right decision?
The Jets’ tackle situation is not as stable as fans want to believe. Fant is coming off a career year in 2021, but even that resulted in just a 71.1 PFF grade (22nd at left tackle). He will turn 30 years old prior to the 2022 season and is entering free agency next offseason. Becton showed promise as a rookie, but he’s a massive human being who has played fewer than 750 offensive snaps in his first two NFL seasons.
Ekwonu would provide quality competition and insurance at a premium position, though it will likely cause the Jets to part ways with either Fant or Becton after the 2022 season. The 310-pound tackle out of NC State, who has a sub-five-second 40-yard dash, earned 85.0-plus PFF run-blocking grades in each of the last three seasons and would thrive in Mike LaFleur’s offense.
The run on tackles continues. The Giants are almost assuredly going to take one with how the talent is stacking up in the class. Arguably the most NFL-ready pass-protector in the class, he took massive strides from 2020 to 2021 in that regard allowing only 16 pressures last season.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer swung and missed when they traded a second-round pick for veteran Sam Darnold and agreed to exercise his fifth-year option. The 2018 first-round pick out of USC is due an $18.8 million check from Carolina (barring a preseason trade), regardless of what the Panthers do at No. 6 overall — their lone pick inside the first 100 selections in April’s draft. I’m of the opinion that Rhule and Fitterer have to shoot for the stars in an effort to keep their key fobs working at the Panthers’ facilities, and the result of that should be a quarterback here.
As has been reiterated throughout the offseason, the 2022 quarterback class is flawed. And Liberty signal-caller Malik Willis is among the most flawed and polarizing of the bunch, but his high-end athleticism and throw power combination is enough to bypass accuracy and processing concerns in a class without a complete quarterback prospect.
So many examples of just effortless throw power on Malik Willis' tape pic.twitter.com/jtHScivBDk
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 26, 2022
Do I have doubts that the situation in Carolina will draw out the best-case scenario for Willis’ development? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t the best decision for the franchise right now.
7. New York Giants (Via CHI): EDGE TRAVON WALKER, GEORGIA
Giants fans are aligned on tackle with their first selection, but with their second pick just two spots later, things are far more chaotic. Ahmad Gardner is actually the most popular pick, with 12.2% of mocks landing him here, but he's now off the board, so they grab the rapidly-ascending edge rusher from Georgia, Travon Walker. Few players can match Walker’s athleticism and potential, but his college production is a long way behind the other top prospects, so he is a classic case of potential over production.
8. Atlanta Falcons: WR DRAKE LONDON, USC
The Falcons may need a quarterback, but the fanbase isn’t buying it at No. 8 overall. Only Malik Willis ranks among their top several draft picks, and he is taken in less than half the percentage of drafts as the top receivers. Drake London leads the way at that position, giving Atlanta another big-bodied receiver to go along with the hybrid skill set of Kyle Pitts. London made 19 contested catches in just eight games before injury ended his 2021 season.
9. Seattle Seahawks (Via DEN): EDGE JERMAINE JOHNSON II, FLORIDA STATE
Johnson’s draft-position prop is 9.5, -140 to the under. He’s -170 to go in the top 10 picks.
10. New York Jets (Via SEA): CB AHMAD “SAUCE” GARDNER, CINCINNATI
The Jets can very easily lock down the cornerstones of their defense with two top-10 picks in this draft. Gardner was born to play cornerback for Robert Saleh. He allowed a 31.8 passer rating on throws into his coverage in his entire college career.
With Washington star wideout Terry McLaurin looking for a new contract before the 2022 season gets underway, Washington makes a pick that provides leverage in negotiations in addition to the obvious value that comes with landing the Alabama speedster.
New Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz certainly made a habit of finding one of the great deep threats in wide receiver DeSean Jackson deep downfield during their time spent together in Philadelphia, and Williams could provide the field-stretching presence this offense needs.
Both Wentz’s Eagles and Ron Rivera’s Panthers teams put a lot of value on big-bodied receivers, so perhaps USC’s Drake London is the target here with a skill set that no one in Washington currently has, but Williams has the rare speed that can give opposing defenses fits while opening things up for others around him.
Stingley is a polarizing prospect at cornerback. Injuries and lackluster play over the last two seasons have some down on his prospects, but his 2019 freshman season was one of the greatest cornerback performances PFF has seen at the college level, and it shows an elite ceiling to his play. That year, Stingley allowed just 37% of the passes thrown his way to be caught and recorded 15 pass breakups along with six interceptions. He would make an immediate impact on a struggling Vikings secondary.
13. Houston Texans (Via CLV): S KYLE HAMILTON, NOTRE DAME
Why do the Texans select Hamilton?
Texans beat reporter John McClain recently came on the NFL Stock Exchange podcast as part of their guest mock draft series and selected Hamilton at third overall for the Texans.
Here is McClain’s reasoning for the pick: “Texans are desperate to improve their offensive line…They need a pass-rusher to play opposite Jonathan Greenard to complete their defensive line. But they need a safety worse than anything other than running back.”
If Hamilton slides as some are projecting following an uninspiring 40-yard dash time, this would be an easy decision for Houston. Hamilton is the clear-cut top safety in this class. He and Walker would give the Texans two foundational pieces — one on the defensive line and one in the secondary — to build around on defense.
Is it the right decision?
If the league is going to let Hamilton drop this far because of a 40-yard dash and positional value, Houston will gladly take advantage. Hamilton has rare size for the position, and his jumps showed that he’s an explosive athlete even if he doesn’t have the long speed. He’s coming off three consecutive seasons with 78.0-plus PFF coverage grades and could do a little bit of everything in Lovie Smith’s defense.
14. Baltimore Ravens: EDGE GEORGE KARLAFTIS, PURDUE
A former Greek national water polo player, Karlaftis possesses rare lower-body strength that shows up in his pass-rushing ability and run defense consistently. There are also zero question marks surrounding his work ethic and motor, as Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has called out multiple times that there wasn’t a player who worked harder or as consistently as Karlaftis with the Boilermakers. He earned a career-high 87.2 PFF grade and 90.7 pass-rushing grade as a junior in 2021.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA): LB DEVIN LLOYD, UTAH
The Eagles have not had a productive history drafting linebackers, with only three since 2016. It’s no wonder they were the 11th-worst team when defending the run (48.5 run-defense grade).
Even with this in mind, picking Devin Lloyd over Garrett Wilson is questionable, admittedly. Having a good wide receiver lineup alongside DeVonta Smith is an exciting prospect, and the Eagles have invested so much draft capital in mid-round receivers in recent years without much to show. Still, they are in need of a reliable SAM linebacker who can both cover and rush the passer. Having played safety in high school enables him to control space and close holes like no other linebacker in this draft class. Additionally, his 31 pressures in 2021 (sixth) and 88.4 pass-rush grade illustrate his ability to become an all-around linebacker who can contribute right away.
16. New Orleans Saints (Via IND, via PHI): WR GARRETT WILSON, OHIO STATE
Michael Thomas is expected to return at full strength after missing last season with an ankle injury, but it remains to be seen if he will be as effective without future Hall of Famer Drew Brees throwing him the ball. Even if he is, the Saints desperately need an upgrade in the second spot over Marquez Callaway and his 69.3 grade last season. Wilson ran a 4.38 at the combine after averaging 5.86 YAC/reception in 2021. He will fit nicely into the Saints' West Coast-oriented system.
The Chargers need to attack their offensive line again to make sure that the good work from a year ago is not undone by this offseason's losses, and a lineman such as Penning would go a long way toward ensuring that. Penning has supreme size and athleticism as well as a nasty streak that will make NFL coaches drool. He had an absurd 97.3 PFF grade at Northern Iowa this past season and has been working with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather to clean up some of his flaws.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (Via NO): WR TREYLON BURKS, ARKANSAS
The Eagles need playmakers. Enter Burks, who has an awesome combination of size, speed and after-the-catch ability with room to grow as a player.
19. New Orleans Saints (Via PHI): T BERNHARD RAIMANN, CENTRAL MICHIGAN
While it may take some time to adjust to the NFL, Raimann is an incredibly promising prospect. He grew up in Austria, came to the USA as a foreign exchange student, and secured a scholarship at Central Michigan after one year of high school football. He started his career at tight end for two seasons before switching to tackle the past two seasons and notably earned PFF MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors for his performance in 2021.
Measuring in at 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds, Raimann earned a 94.3 PFF grade last season, putting up a 93.3 run-block grade and an 88.7 pass-block grade to boot. He was virtually flawless in pass protection over his last six games, too, with zero pressures allowed in that span.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: QB KENNY PICKETT, PITTSBURGH
Steelers fans want Malik Willis at this pick, but he is long gone in this mock draft. Raimann was the second-most popular pick, and he was sniped one selection earlier by the Saints. This leaves Pittsburgh fans with their third-most-popular selection, quarterback Kenny Pickett. The talk about Pickett all offseason has been about his unusually small hands for a quarterback, measuring at 8.5 inches, half an inch shorter than the nine-inch cut-off teams like to see. Pickett had an outstanding final college season, seeing his PFF grade jump more than 20 grading points from the previous year.
McDuffie has top-10 tape but could slide as far as this because he doesn’t have the measurables teams want to see at the position. His arm length ranks in the ninth percentile, while his height sits in the 39th percentile. Chasing outliers is typically a fast track to a bad draft, but McDuffie has the kind of production that warrants overlooking those concerns. He didn’t give up a touchdown in either of his last two years, and at this point in the first round, he would be a steal for New England at a position of need.
22. Green Bay Packers (Via LV): WR CHRIS OLAVE, OHIO STATE
With the top crop of wide receivers off the board and A.J. Green recently re-signed, Arizona addresses a critical need: the interior of their offensive line. In the disastrous playoff game against the Rams that ended Arizona’s season, Aaron Donald recorded four quarterback pressures and a sack on just 28 pass-rush snaps. The Cardinals got beat on the interior far too often, and that left quarterback Kyler Murray running for dear life shortly after the snap.
Johnson has the ability to play all three spots along the interior, so he could become Rodney Hudson‘s eventual successor at center. Presumably, he would start ahead of free-agent addition Will Hernandez at right guard early in his career.
24. Dallas Cowboys: IOL KENYON GREEN, TEXAS A&M
Green played 80-plus offensive snaps at left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle in 2021, and he still earned a career-high 79.8 PFF grade despite the constant positioning shifts. Teams will appreciate his versatility at the next level, but he’ll come off the board inside the first 50 picks of April’s draft more so because of what he can develop into at either guard position in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder projects as a Day 1 starter on the interior with a legit chance of developing into one of the league’s marquee guards.
After the Bills signed Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, and Von Miller, cornerback now becomes their clear-cut first-round priority, especially with Levi Wallace gone, too. Booth is a long athletic corner who is still developing but presents a high ceiling as a man and zone coverage player.
The highest-graded wide receiver of the 2021 college football season wasn’t any of the Power Five top prospects — it was Western Michigan's Skyy Moore.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound receiver's 26 broken tackles after the catch tied for the most among wide receivers in 2021, and he ranked in the 95th percentile in separation percentage. Despite his smaller stature, Moore had no issue handling press coverage on the outside, ranking top-five in yards per route run on those reps last season at 3.58. The cherry on top is his strong hands — the Western Michigan pass-catcher checked in with the largest hands of anyone at the Combine (10.25 inches) and dropped just three of his 125 targets in 2021 while catching eight of his 13 contested opportunities.
Taking Jordan Davis to slot in alongside Vita Vea would take Tampa’s run defense to another level. It’s no secret that the 6-foot-6, 341-pounder is a freaky athlete, and he projects as a high-level run-stuffer at the next level.
Davis earned an 89.2 run-defense grade while collecting 47 run stops and 17 tackles for loss or no gain over the last three years. He missed just four of his 75 tackle attempts against the run over that span.
The problem is that Davis is far from a refined pass-rusher and not an every-down player. He played just over a third of the team’s snaps this past season and turned in a lackluster 69.0 pass-rush grade for the season.
Run-stuffing interior defensive linemen are valuable pieces in the NFL, but Davis' ceiling will only be so high if this playstyle remains. For that reason, Davis comes off the board late in Round 1 for me.
28. Green Bay Packers: EDGE ARNOLD EBIKETIE, PENN STATE
While Ebiketie is significantly smaller than the Packers’ current edge rushers, his 22.2% pass-rush win rate ranked 13th in the FBS among rushers with at least 250 pass-rush snaps. This ability, coupled with his 34-inch arms, should supply much-needed depth for the Packers’ pressure as Preston Smith approaches the wrong side of 30.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (Via SF, via MIA): DI DEVONTE WYATT, GEORGIA
The Chiefs have cycled through a handful of interior defenders next to stalwart Chris Jones, even moving Jones out on the edge more in an attempt to generate more pass rush production. While Jones appears to fit best as a three-technique defensive tackle — the same spot where Wyatt thrives — perhaps Kansas City and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can get creative again with a better fill-in for Jones in Wyatt.
Wyatt’s talent may simply be too good to pass up if he falls this far. The Chiefs will sort out the rest later.
Chiefs replace Tyrann Mathieu with the second safety taken in our mock draft, with the prop for number of safeties taken 1.5, -250 to the over.
Why do the Bengals select Linderbaum?
The Bengals have gone a long way toward rebuilding their offensive line this offseason with the Alex Cappa, Ted Karras and La’el Collins acquisitions. That doesn’t mean they should stop there, though.
Linderbaum is widely regarded as one of the best overall players in this draft class but is being pushed down boards because he’s viewed as a “center only” who is best suited in a zone scheme. He earned 80-plus PFF grades in three consecutive seasons at Iowa with 90.0-plus grades in each of the last two years. You’re not going to find too many better football players available this late in the draft.
His slide could open the door for the Bengals to solidify another spot on their offensive line (center) while kicking Karras over to left guard, where he played well for the Patriots in 2021.
Is it the right decision?
If Cincinnati’s top priority this offseason was to protect Joe Burrow and improve the offensive line, Linderbaum helps achieve it. Just because the plan was to start Karras at center, that shouldn’t preclude the Bengals from drafting a prospect like Linderbaum and changing plans.
32. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (VIA DET, VIA LA): QB DESMOND RIDDER, CINCINNATI
Trade terms: SEA receives 32; DET receives 40 & 2023 3rd round selection
Why do the Seahawks trade up for Ridder?
The Seahawks, along with the Panthers, are one of two teams that doesn’t have a clear starting option at quarterback for next season. They could roll with Drew Lock, but that’s admitting a lost season given what we’ve seen from Lock to begin his NFL career. Ridder has started to settle in as the consensus QB3 in this year’s class behind Willis and Pickett with some, such as PFF’s Anthony Treash and Austin Gayle, believing that Ridder is QB1.
Ridder is a quick processor and natural leader with above-average athleticism for the position. He’s one of the quarterbacks better equipped to step in and start in Week 1 as a rookie.
If he’s still available as the first round winds down, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Seattle try to jump a few spots to secure Ridder and a fifth-year option for him.
Is it the right decision?
The No. 9 overall pick is probably a bit too rich for Ridder, especially for Seattle given that it is well-positioned to fill needs at offensive tackle, cornerback or edge defender with that selection. However, it will continue to make more sense for the Seahawks to move back up into the first round with some of the draft capital that they acquired in the Russell Wilson trade the further that Ridder slides.
A 2023 third-round pick is a small price to pay to move up and add an average starting quarterback with some upside on a rookie contract.