The lull between the end of the college football regular season and bowl season is the perfect time to examine the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
With a new No. 1 pick, quarterbacks shooting up draft boards, yet another deep receiver class and a very blurry tier of top-end talent, the first round will be as unpredictable as any in recent memory. Here's how the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft would look right now if I were in charge of all 32 NFL teams.
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1. Detroit Lions: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Hutchinson has taken his game to a level that has been untouched by anyone else in this class. He just hasn’t been blocked the past two weeks, and his 94.6 overall grade is in the Chase Young range. The Michigan star stays home and gives the Lions a certified game-changer.
ladies and gentlemen, Aidan Hutchinson: pic.twitter.com/I2t7g7O9vV
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) December 5, 2021
This isn’t giving up on K’Lavon Chaisson, but it is admitting they need to get after opposing quarterbacks better. Thibodeaux is still an athletic project, but he’s got the ideal explosiveness, length and bend combination to excel on the edge.
????How Kayvon Thibodeaux executes the ghost rush pic.twitter.com/Nyb8g3SczM
— Craig Roh (@craigroh) December 3, 2021
The Texans have to inspire hope for the future somehow, and third-rounder Davis Mills hasn’t been it. Even if this might look like an over-draft, Pickett has franchise quarterback tools. And unlike the massive risers around college football in recent memory, Pickett hasn’t had a ton of NFL talent propping him up.
KENNY PICKETT FAKED THE SLIDE AND RAN 58 YARDS FOR THE TD ???? pic.twitter.com/EypNNJZYHE
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 5, 2021
4. New York Jets: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
Drafting Neal wouldn't just give the Jets the most physically imposing tackle duo in the NFL, it would deliver what could be the most physically imposing tackle duo in NFL history. The 6-foot-7, 350-pounder has an elite physical skill set and has improved by leaps and bounds every year. He’s fresh off a one-loss performance in the 2021 SEC Championship Game against Georgia’s vaunted defense.
5. New York Jets (via Seattle): CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Zach Wilson gets his pass protection and Robert Saleh gets his shut-down corner. Stingley’s length and speed are tailor-made for Saleh’s defense, and he has the press pedigree in the best conference in America. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback was the country's highest-graded player at the position as a true freshman before injuries struck.
6. New York Giants (via Chicago): EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
Karlaftis was one of the most consistent edge-rushers in the country this past season, finishing with a 90.6 pass-rushing grade. He’s got inside-outside versatility and a motor that won’t quit. At 275 pounds, he’d be a decidedly different kind of edge rusher across from the speedier Azeez Ojulari.
The Giants need pass protection in any way, shape or form they can get it. Cross can bring that to the tackle position when Nate Solder moves on. He allowed only 16 pressures on a ridiculous 719 pass-blocking snaps this season.
Miss. St. OT Charles Cross is generating first round buzz and rightfully so. He looked the part against Alabama. Easy athleticism, and football IQ, but it’s his hand timing, and accuracy that are easily his two best traits. pic.twitter.com/Vr6M7SiV8j
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 20, 2021
Safeties may not have the positional value, but Hamilton is a different breed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. The Fighting Irish star recorded six combined picks and pass breakups in only seven games this season.
This Kyle Hamilton INT looks unreal from the wide angle but the endzone view is my favorite. Watch him appear out of nowhere and eat up this ground! pic.twitter.com/7jm1lPA8WK
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 6, 2021
While they’re stuck with Sam Darnold’s contract, they still have to address the quarterback position for the future. Corral oozes physical ability, but the 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback's size will be held against him, as will the favorable Ole Miss offense.
Insane play by Matt Corral
Wants to throw the bender but he gets a free rusher from the field. He sidesteps him, sees the strong curl flat drop into the bender window a bit, realize he's vacated the flat, gets to the flat on the move across the field. pic.twitter.com/utexWW5fbU
— Max Toscano (@maxtoscano1) December 3, 2021
10. Minnesota Vikings: EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia
The Vikings love themselves some physical freaks on the edge, and Walker qualifies as such. At 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, Walker has a rare get-off at that size. He’s still figuring out how to rush the passer, as evidenced by his 65.1 pass-rushing grade, but that’s a nice place to start.
Williams is the first receiver off the board because players with his kind of speed don’t last long in the draft. His 21.4 yards per reception this season would represent the perfect complement to Michael Thomas.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami): C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Positional value may cause Linderbaum to fall, but he’s as good a center prospect as you’ll see. Linderbaum has been the highest-graded player at the position in each of the past two seasons.
The Eagles love to build through the trenches, and Davis is about as strong an anchor as you’ll find. At 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, he’s near immovable in the middle of Georgia’s defense. He can also learn from one of the best bull-rushers of the past decade in Fletcher Cox.
Jordan Davis shutting down both A gaps in the run game, crosses the centers face and makes the play at the line. Monster against the run. pic.twitter.com/uTn8pEHn8C
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) December 4, 2021
14. Denver Broncos: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
The Broncos have been decimated at the position this season, so Lloyd would bring some needed stability. He’s as complete an all-around linebacker as you’ll see in college football and recorded 30 pressures, 52 stops and four picks this season.
Devin Lloyd can keep running all the way to the first round this April pic.twitter.com/vSCDX2LTsi
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) December 4, 2021
Dean may be on the small side for the position, at 6-foot and 225 pounds, but he’s a tone-setter nonetheless. He earned a 91.3 pass-rushing grade and 90.5 coverage grade this season.
The pick-six and what he does on defense will get a lot of the love, but it’s not just that about Nakobe Dean. Look at who the first player is down the field on the punt team making the tackle.
Number 17. pic.twitter.com/D8obwAZD56
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 30, 2021
Wilson finished the regular season on a tear, recording 371 yards and six scores in his final three games. He possesses elite separation ability and is a terror for corners to try and stick with at every level of the field.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis): EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan
Ojabo has been playing football for only five years, which makes his rocket-ship ascent even more intriguing when projecting to the NFL. After only playing 26 snaps in his Michigan career before this season, Ojabo has an 88.2 pass-rushing grade on 508 snaps this year.
How David Ojabo execute the bull slip
— Craig Roh (@craigroh) November 27, 2021
Even after a disappointing junior campaign as a passer, Howell still has the kind of arm talent NFL evaluators will fall in love with. He’s also protected the ball well over his career, with only 21 turnover-worthy plays over the past two seasons combined.
So Sam Howell might have a strong arm ???? pic.twitter.com/doUd7r0dwE
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 12, 2021
19. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco): WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Burks has the YAC ability to easily fit into the Dolphins' offense, as he broke 15 tackles on 65 receptions this season. He also brings a vertical threat on the outside that DeVante Parker hasn’t quite provided.
Treylon Burks is RIDICULOUSpic.twitter.com/HaRIDWvSDV
— Smart Football (@SmartfootbalI) December 3, 2021
With Charles Leno Jr. on a one-year deal, Ekwonu can be the long-term answer at left tackle. The N.C. State product leads all offensive tackles in college football in big-time blocks and has made big strides by allowing only 13 pressures this season.
Booth has such easy movement skills and only improved the more playing time he got this past season. He came down with three picks and two pass breakups in his final two games.
McDuffie is tailor-made to play in Brandon Staley’s defense. He’s an exceptional tackler with tremendous instincts. For his career, he’s missed only six tackles on 101 attempts.
23. Buffalo Bills: IOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Green has experience at every offensive line position except center that will come in handy with the underperforming Bills line. He’s allowed only 20 pressures over the past two seasons.
24. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams): WR Drake London, USC
London was a shoo-in for the Biletnikoff Award before breaking his ankle in Week 9 against Arizona. He piled up 1,084 yards on 88 catches with 22 broken tackles and 19 contested catches in only eight games.
Drake London leads the country with 19 contested catches…
He hasn't played since October 30th ????pic.twitter.com/eihh1UPO0N
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 4, 2021
25. Dallas Cowboys: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
Opposite Trevon Diggs, Elam has the length for Dan Quinn’s defense that would give opposing offenses fits. The Florida cornerback allowed just 46.8% of his targets to be caught over his three-year career in the SEC.
Kaiir Elam with sticky coverage vs Jameson Williams.
Elam is confident in his ability to turn & run w/ him.
He stays square at LOS. Shoots the outside hand and squeezes. Remains in phase, forces the pbu! Williams pushed, Elam, pulled. ????pic.twitter.com/5bV55nMZuy
— Damian Parson ???? (@DP_NFL) November 3, 2021
Ahmad Gardner has a chance to make himself a ton of money against Jameson Williams in the playoffs. He’s given up only 117 yards all season long but hasn’t faced much in the way of top competition.
The Ravens love versatile and athletic secondary defenders — and that’s Brisker. He’s been consistent as can be, too, with overall grades of 82.0, 82.8 and 82.4 in his three seasons at Penn State.
Olave is an incredibly polished route-runner with reliable hands. The Bucs could lose multiple receivers this offseason, and their vertical offense could also use Olave’s 4.4 speed.
29. Tennessee Titans: EDGE Drake Jackson, USC
Jackson was one of the few bright spots on USC this season. He made a significant leap from 2020, going from a 66.6 pass-rushing grade to 87.7.
One of the biggest risers in the draft class. Raimann only transitioned from tight end to tackle in 2020 and is now the second-highest-graded tackle in college football.
Bernhard Raimann is showing off why he earned that Senior Bowl invite. He’s absolutely blowing defenders up in space today. pic.twitter.com/8CX4glRcTf
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) November 26, 2021
McCreary has the press-man pedigree the Patriots will love. He’s also earned the highest coverage grade in college football this season at 89.7.
Roger McCreary among CBs this season:
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) November 16, 2021
32. Arizona Cardinals: EDGE DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
The true junior has already declared, but he didn’t exactly do his draft stock any big favors this year. After earning an 88.3 overall grade as a sophomore in 2020, his production fell off to 70.3 this season. Some of that was workload and kicking inside more, but his inability to produce from the interior at 290 pounds is a tad concerning. Still, he has a similar body type to J.J. Watt and could learn from the future Hall of Famer.
DE DeMarvin Leal tossing big Evan Neal around
That wind-up (watch elbows flare back) from Neal is slow and exposes chest…. Then he’s off balance and it’s over
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 13, 2021