It’s NFL mock draft time, and as always, I’m attacking this one through the lens of what I would do rather than predicting the first round.
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The quarterbacks are always the story of the draft, but due to a lack of a consensus at the top, I’ve played it more conservatively for QB-needy teams.
I focused on finding fits for the quarterbacks with teams that could embrace a long-term approach; therefore, only two signal-callers ended up in the first round.
Beyond that, it was all about finding value and team-building with more than just this year in mind. Here’s my first mock draft of the season.
The Jaguars have plenty of needs, but this draft class only has a few slam-dunk prospects. I’m going with Hutchinson, who is coming off an elite 94.5 overall PFF grade and is the best combination of run defender and pass-rusher in the draft.
Safety is usually not in consideration in the top few picks of the draft, but Hamilton has game-changing playmaking ability. His length and range bring incredible versatility to any defense, and he ranks in the 90th percentile in forcing incompletions compared to recent NFL prospects.
3. Houston Texans: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
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.
4. New York Jets: Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
The Jets have needs all over the defensive side of the ball, but they attack the defensive line first with Thibodeaux, who lived up to his 2021 preseason hype with a 91.5 PFF pass-rush grade last year. He’ll pair with the returning Carl Lawson to get the Jets' pass rush back on track after it ranked 23rd last season.
One of the best run-blockers in the draft, Ekwonu can make any block and has recorded back-to-back elite run-blocking grades over the last two years. He’s an improved pass-blocker, but there’s still room to grow in that department. He’ll move to the right side opposite 2020 first-rounder Andrew Thomas to start New York's offensive line overhaul.
The offensive line has to be a top priority in Carolina this offseason, so the Panthers take the third tackle off the board in Cross. He took a huge step forward in 2021, grading at 87.2 as a pass-blocker while allowing just 16 pressures across 719 pass-blocking snaps. Cross is less effective in the run game, but he can improve there and should step in as the Panthers' starting left tackle.
7. New York Giants (via CHI): CB Derek Stingley, LSU
This is a forward-looking move that has home run potential for the Giants. Stingley has an incredible skill set to go with a freshman season in 2019 that is one of the best PFF has seen from any college corner since 2014. He’s battled injuries and a drop in performance since then, but if he gets back on track, he has top-five cornerback potential. The Giants can ease him in or look to trade James Bradberry, who enters the final year of his contract.
Atlanta has holes all over its defense, but McDuffie can slot in to pair with 2020 first-rounder A.J. Terrell to form one of the best young duos in the league. McDuffie flies around the field with excellent skills to play both man or zone coverage and has three years of 80-plus PFF grades.
9. Denver Broncos: Edge George Karlaftis, Purdue
Karlaftis is a powerful edge defender who fits a need in the Broncos’ front seven. He recorded a 90.9 pass-rush grade last season and one of the best pass-rush win rates in recent years, but he still needs to clean up some of his work in the run game.
10. New York Jets (via SEA): CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Big Board Rank: 11
Doubling up on defense, the Jets add one of the best corners in the draft in Gardner, a playmaker who produced at a high level in college. He’s a menace at the catch point and has the length to play both man and zone coverage.
Big Board Rank: 10
Assuming quarterback gets resolved prior to the draft or in later rounds, the Commanders add London as a big-bodied complement to Terry McLaurin. London is more than just a 6-foot-5 catch-point winner, as he moves well and adds value to all levels of the field.
Big Board Rank: 22
With a quarterback class filled with question marks, I’m looking for teams who can approach the position with patience and a long-term mindset. The Vikings have a new regime and quarterback Kirk Cousins under contract for one more year, making this a good spot for Willis to develop. He has an outstanding arm and plus rushing ability. An offense can be crafted to take advantage of both while mitigating Willis’ accuracy concerns.
Big Board Rank: 13
Receiver and defensive line are high on Cleveland's to-do list, and Wilson is a slick route runner who has the body control to move the chains using the entire route tree. He has high-volume potential to pair with wide receiver Jarvis Landry and the big-play threats Cleveland has added in recent years.
Big Board Rank: 12
Perhaps the best center prospect PFF has seen since 2014, Linderbaum is a perfect fit for a zone-heavy scheme. He can make every block in the run game, and he’s good enough to expand upon Baltimore’s gap-heavy system. Linderbaum fills the final starting role along the Baltimore offensive line while making the Ravens even more dangerous if they expand their rushing attack.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA): WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
Big Board Rank: 17
This would mark the third year in a row that the Eagles draft a receiver in the first round, but with two more picks, they can take this chance. Williams has next-level speed and burst, which is why he's the best vertical threat in the draft. The only question is Williams’ ACL injury, but multiple first-round picks allow the Eagles to swing for the fences with this one.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND): LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
Big Board Rank: 14
The best all-around linebacker in the draft, Lloyd graded at 80.0-plus in all three facets (run defense, pass rush, coverage) last season. As a unit, Eagles linebackers ranked among the league’s worst in both run defense and coverage, so help is needed there.
Big Board Rank: 15
The Chargers did a fantastic job overhauling their offensive line last offseason, but right tackle was still an issue. Raimann can slot in there because Bryan Bulaga is older and injury-prone. In addition, backup Storm Norton struggled in pass protection. Raimann is young to the position, but he still graded at 94.6 overall last season.
Big Board Rank: 29
Another team that will address quarterback elsewhere, but the Saints 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. Philadelphia Eagles: EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan
Big Board Rank: 26
The Eagles' third first-rounder is another home-run swing with Ojabo, who has played just 560 snaps in his college career. He’s an explosive pass-rusher who posted an impressive 86.9 pass-rush grade last season, but he has work to do in the run game and will likely start off as a specialist off the edge.
Big Board Rank: 24
The Steelers will also wait on quarterback in this iteration while addressing the offensive line with Penning, who is an absolute mauler in the run game. Penning dominated the FCS level, and as PFF’s Mike Renner states, “Penning's tape at Northern Iowa looks like someone’s dad subbed into a pop warner game.” He’ll fit in nicely as Pittsburgh continues its offensive line overhaul.
Big Board Rank: 19
The Patriots go back to receiver in the first round, but this time they select a smooth route runner in Olave. He gets open, has sure hands and features a second gear that makes him effective across all levels of the field.
Big Board Rank: 18
The Raiders have work to do in the secondary, so they add Booth, who is smooth-moving and scheme diverse. Booth played just under 1,000 snaps in his college career, so there’s room to grow for the true junior.
23. Arizona Cardinals: Edge Travon Walker, Georgia
Big Board Rank: 23
Edge rusher is an offseason priority in Arizona due to Chandler Jones hitting free agency and J.J. Watt heading into the 12th year of his career. Walker is a projectable, long athlete who moves like a linebacker at 275 pounds and can line up all over Arizona's defensive front.
24. Dallas Cowboys: DI Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
Big Board Rank: 25
Interior defensive line is an annual issue for the Cowboys, and Wyatt adds another dynamic pass-rusher to their already fearsome front. Wyatt flies into the backfield, and he was the highest-graded defensive lineman on a loaded Georgia defense.
25. Buffalo Bills: CB Roger McCreary, Auburn
Big Board Rank: 49
McCreary’s short arms (29 1/4 inches) may keep him off certain draft boards, but he’s performed extremely well against a gauntlet of tough receivers in the SEC. He’s coming off an 89.9 overall grade, and he forced incompletions at a higher rate than all but eight of the last 192 NFL-caliber prospects. McCreary slots in at the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Tre’Davious White.
2022 NFL Draft position rankings:
Top 10 players at every position
26. Tennessee Titans: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Big Board Rank: 16
Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown are both scheduled to hit free agency, opening the door for Dean to step in as a starter for the Titans. Dean is a three-down linebacker who can cover, play the run and add value as a blitzer, which all amounted up to the nation’s top grade at 91.8 last season.
Big Board Rank: 42
With wide receiver Chris Godwin potentially moving on, the Bucs have to reload at receiver. Dotson can play outside, but he has the route running, hands and spectacular catch ability to replace Godwin in the slot, as well.
Big Board Rank: 27
This is a forward-thinking move for the Packers, who have a good group of edge rushers that are not locked up beyond 2022. Johnson is a power edge who broke out in 2021 and carried that success into one of the most impressive practice weeks at the Senior Bowl.
29. Miami Dolphins (via SF): G/T Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Big Board Rank: 21
Miami has had serious offensive line issues for years, so that will be a huge focus this offseason. Green is a versatile lineman who likely lines up at guard but could also develop at tackle. That’s a good fit for the Dolphins, who just need to get better up front.
Big Board Rank: 31
While Elam is coming off the worst year of his college career, he had excellent production early on. He has the size and movement skills to play one-on-one on the outside, making him a great option to help replace free agent Charvarius Ward.
Big Board Rank: 41
Of course, the offensive line is going to be the talk of the offseason in Cincinnati, and while the Bengals shouldn’t force a pick here, Johnson is a good fit who fills a need and provides value. He’s an excellent all-around player who improved his grades every year and can make an impact both in the run game and in pass protection.
32. Detroit Lions (via LAR): QB Sam Howell, North Carolina
Big Board Rank: 20
The second quarterback comes off the board, and it’s another situation where the team is in a position to exhibit patience. The Lions draft Howell with the fifth-year option in mind, and they can redshirt him behind Jared Goff in 2022 if necessary. Howell did his best work as a passer in 2020, so there are questions about his development, but he has the best track record as a passer among this quarterback class.