It’s never too early for a 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
While quarterbacks go to the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Football Team and Detroit Lions, the top of the draft enjoys the richness at edge defender and offensive tackle inside the top 10. Five cornerbacks come off the board after the first 10 selections in addition to four wideouts.
Here’s how the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft would look if I took over as general manager for all 32 NFL teams.
Click here for more PFF tools:
1. Detroit Lions: Edge Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Size, athleticism and production — Aidan Hutchinson has it all. In the PFF College era (2014-21), only Chase Young and Josh Allen have earned higher PFF pass-rushing grades in a single season than Hutchinson’s 93.6 in 2021. He also led all Power Five defenders in total pressures (73), including a whopping 15 against an Ohio State offensive line that was in the running for the Joe Moore Award before their November trip to Ann Arbor.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Michigan phenom should only continue to turn heads at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Coming in at No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s 2021 College Football Freaks List, Hutchinson reportedly timed a 6.54-second three-cone, 36-inch vertical, 4.07-second short shuttle and 4.64-second 40-yard dash.
“He’s gonna test really well when he goes to the combine,” one source said to Feldman. “He has a huge chip on his shoulder and can be right where Kwity was (in those agility numbers), running low 4.6s, with a mid-30s vert, but he’s over 6-6, and he’s gonna bench (225) in the 30s.”
The Hutchinson-Thibodeaux discourse will run through late April, but I’m riding with Jim Harbaugh right now.
Jim Harbaugh says Aidan Hutchinson is going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft ???? pic.twitter.com/LnCToNYCPC
— ESPN (@espn) December 12, 2021
Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux should go No. 1 and No. 2 overall, regardless of who is selected over the other. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Thibodeaux earned a 91.3 PFF pass-rushing grade that ranked fourth among all Power Five edge defenders in 2021, behind Hutchinson (93.6), South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare (92.5) and Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto (92.5). Thibodeaux is a premier player and a premium position — throw need out the window if he’s available at No. 2 overall.
3. Houston Texans: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
Evan Neal will draw comparisons to Tristan Wirfs throughout the pre-draft process because of his rare size-athleticism combination. The 6-foot-7, 350-pound behemoth landed at No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s College Football Freaks List and drew insanely high price for his explosiveness.
“At his size, he is the most impressive lower-body power athlete we have ever seen,” Alabama director of sports science Matt Rhea said to Feldman. “His jumping power is in the top one percent we have ever measured. At 350 pounds, he routinely hits box jumps at 48 inches.”
— Evan Neal (@ENeal73) July 12, 2021
This should be a sprint-the-card-in situation for a Houston team in desperate need of blue-chip talent at premium positions.
The Jets cornerback room is bereft of talent, and Derek Stingley Jr. is a premier cornerback prospect — New York’s brass should have no issue turning the card in early if he’s available at No. 4.
What Stingley did at 18 years old during LSU’s 2019 season will go down as one of the more impressive true freshman seasons college football has ever seen. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder earned a 91.7 PFF grade and should have won the Jim Thorpe Award for best defensive back that season. He’s battled injuries in every season since but will do away with any lingering doubt when he reports to Indianapolis fully healthy and tests out of this world at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
Safety isn’t a premium position and relatively low on the positional value chart because of it, but Kyle Hamilton is different. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Hamilton legitimately has all of the sideline-to-sideline range, size and ball skills to be a game-changer, regardless of scheme or role at the next level. Pair him up with Xavier McKinney in New York and watch the Giants’ defense start to turn the corner in 2022.
6. New York Giants (via Chicago): OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, Ekwonu has guard-tackle versatility but earned a legitimate shot to start his NFL career at offensive tackle after his spectacular 2021 campaign at left tackle with the Wolfpack. He earned a 91.6 overall grade and 93.8 run-blocking grade across more than 800 offensive snaps this season, the latter of which ranks sixth among all single-season marks for Power Five tackles since 2014. He’s a true road grader in the run game with improved polish and footwork in pass protection that shouldn’t still be available after the first 10 picks of April’s draft.
7. New York Jets (via Seattle): OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The 2022 NFL Draft class is rich offensive tackle talent, and Charles Cross is a big contributor to the class’ strength. PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner identified the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Cross as a potential riser prior to the 2021 college football season on Tailgate, and the big man really rose to the occasion.
After earning just a 64.4 PFF grade in 2020, Cross turned in an 86.7 overall grade, 84.9 pass-blocking grade and 87.2 run-blocking grade across 900-plus offensive snaps at left tackle for Mississippi State this season. He’s a smooth mover with great mobility for the position, all traits New York should chase at the top end of the draft, even with the investments they’re already made along the offensive line in Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Karlaftis will get tagged as just a lunchpail type with a high motor in a lot of lazy analysis this draft season, but he’s so much more than that. The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder was extremely productive for Purdue this season and should surprise many with his athletic testing at the combine. Another Feldman Freaks List member, Karlaftis reportedly recorded a 10-foot-1 broad jump, 375-inch vertical and 4.69-second 40-yard dash at just over 270 pounds this offseason. Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm also raved about Karlaftis’ efforts on and off the field in a Tailgate interview before the season.
With over 2,200 defensive snaps played in his Auburn career, McCreary will be one of the more experienced cornerbacks entering the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s a sticky cover corner who has improved his PFF grade every year of his career with the Tigers. He allowed more than 90 yards in just one game throughout the 2021 season and finished the year with an impressive 89.9 PFF grade.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami): WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
The Ohio State duo will have their suitors in April’s draft, but Williams will be the favorite for every team looking to add freaky high-end speed at the position. A finalist for the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award, Williams caught 67-of-102 targets for 1,434 yards and 15 touchdowns with Alabama this season. He also dropped just six passes all year long while averaging north of 3.1 yards per route run on an absurdly high 15.2 average depth of target. He is the class’ premier deep threat and a perfect pairing with DeVonta Smith in Philly.
DO NOT OVERREACT, EAGLES FANS. JALEN HURTS HAS BEEN SOLID THIS YEAR. THIS DOES NOT MEAN PHILLY IS GIVING UP ON JALEN HURTS.
If you’ve made it to this point, Eagles faithful, I applaud you for working past the CMND+F “Eagles” and hearing me out. Hurts ranks 11th among all quarterbacks in PFF grade (80.0) this season. He’s played well and exceeded a lot of people’s expectations — so much so that Philadelphia’s brass should feel that they can keep him in their plans, at least for the immediate future.
However, the Eagles do have three first-round picks in 2022 and, therefore, an opportunity to add talent around Hurts and add competition at the most important position in football. Give Hurts the starting nod (obviously) in 2022 and reward him if he continues to improve and lead Philly to successful postseason efforts. Corral will still have obvious value in a league where trades for Sam Darnold and Carson Wentz are receiving second-round picks on the open market. And if Hurts doesn’t rise to the occasion in 2022, give the reins to Corral and get an early start on finding the quarterback of the future.
12. Minnesota Vikings: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
Elam’s PFF grade isn’t all that impressive, but a lot of that is because of some costly penalties. He still allowed just 19 receptions for 191 yards on 34 targets this season while going toe-to-toe with some top-end SEC receiver talent.
What Trent McDuffie lacks in size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), he makes up for in short-area quicks and polish. He allowed just 16-of-36 targets for 111 yards and zero touchdowns on 296 coverage snaps in 2021, earning an impressive 88.7 PFF coverage grade in the process.
Las Vegas needs help everywhere — it's a story as old as time. But, regardless of whether Derek Carr is or isn’t the quarterback for the Raiders in 2022, the offense is in desperate need of separators at the receiver position outside of slot superstar Hunter Renfrow. Garrett Wilson has improved every season of his career at Ohio State and caught 70-of-102 targets for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to an 84.1 PFF grade in 2021. He’s a smooth route-runner with spectacular catch ability and dynamism with and without the ball in his hands.
A consistent knock on Kenny Pickett will be that he’s a fifth-year senior and one of the older quarterback prospects in the 2022 class, but that shouldn’t keep him from being a top-20 pick in April’s draft. A finalist for the Heisman, Pickett completed 334-of-499 attempts for 4,308 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He earned a career-high 92.3 PFF grade that ranked top-five among all quarterbacks in 2021. His PFF passing grade when kept clean was also among the best in all of college football at 94.3.
16. Denver Broncos: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
All of “Draft Twitter” will fall in love with Devin Lloyd. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Utah off-ball linebacker was a heat-seeking missile for the Utes and an every-down impact player. He earned a 91.1 PFF grade as one of college football’s top defenders in the country in 2021.
Dean possesses a lot of the traits NFL defenses look for in a modern off-ball linebacker. He’s a rangy athlete with insane explosiveness that shows up in the passing game when blitzing and in coverage. He earned a 91.6 pass-rushing grade and a 90.5 coverage grade as a key piece of the top-ranked Georgia defense in 2021.
18. Cleveland Browns: Edge Trevon Walker, Georgia
Walker is far from a finished product, but he doesn’t have to be to come off the board early in the 2022 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive lineman has rare physical tools that NFL teams will look to develop into high-end production at the next level.
Howell watched his top receivers and top running backs go onto the NFL while he stayed back at Chapel Hill and still managed to earn a 90.0 PFF grade in 2021. The drop-off in talent with his supporting cast took a baseball bat to UNC’s chances to be competitive in the ACC, but Howell still showed out as one of college football’s top signal-callers. He has a rocket arm with plus mobility for the position, enough for Washington to pull the trigger on his talents at No. 18 overall, if not sooner.
20. Buffalo Bills: Edge David Ojabo, Michigan
There’s no debating that Michigan edge defender David Ojabo had an absurd 2021 campaign. After playing just 26 total defensive snaps for the Wolverines in years prior and kicking off his football career in 2017, Ojabo totaled 41 pressures and an 88.2 pass-rushing grade this season. He’s a raw prospect who will need to test through the roof at the combine to go in the first round come April, but that’s well within the realm of possibility for the young superstar.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis): DI DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
The NFL team that drafts DeMarvin Leal in the first 50 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft will be drafting him for the player he can be, not the player he is right now. The 6-foot-4, 290-pounder has rare size and athleticism that should translate to legitimate success at the next level if he can hone his skill set. After earning an 88.3 PFF grade as a true sophomore playing mostly edge defender in 2020, he kicked inside in 2021 and earned just a 70.3 PFF grade across 698 defensive snaps.
22. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco): IOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Linderbaum finished the 2021 season as PFF’s highest-graded interior offensive lineman and the top-ranked interior offensive lineman expected to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. He’ll likely slip in the first round due to positional value, but I doubt he gets past Miami.
Booth is an aggressive tackler and smooth athlete at 6-foot, 195 pounds. The former five-star recruit has improved his PFF grade every year of his Clemson career and closed the 2021 season with a 78.7 PFF coverage grade and allowed just 29 receptions for 312 yards on 46 targets. He also allowed just two total touchdowns while logging three passes defensed and three picks.
24. Detroit Lions (via LA Rams): QB Malik Willis, Liberty
Detroit is fortunate to have two first-round picks with the 2022 quarterback class much weaker relative to recent years. After adding Hutchinson with the No. 1 overall pick, the Lions can add Liberty’s Malik Willis with their later first-round pick in an effort to upgrade a quarterback room in obvious need for an upgrade.
Willis’ 2021 campaign was a bit of a roller coaster but also extremely hard to evaluate, given the disaster that was the Liberty offensive line. However, he still earned a 90.9 PFF grade and flashed a lot of high-end traits that will play at the next level if given a fair shot to develop with even an average supporting cast.
25. Baltimore Ravens: IOL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Green played right tackle, right guard, left tackle and left guard all at different times in the 2021 season alone for Texas A&M and still managed to earn a 79.8 overall grade and an 83.6 run-blocking grade. He’ll likely settle at either guard spot in the NFL and should very quickly become an impact player at the position.
A physical, uber-talented cover corner, Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner had one of the most impressive seasons we’ve ever seen for a college cornerback. He played 448 coverage snaps and allowed receptions on just 17-of-36 targets for 117 yards and zero touchdowns.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Drake London, USC
London’s stellar 2021 campaign was unfortunately cut short due to a fractured right ankle he suffered in Week 9 against Arizona. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder won’t be a burner by any means, but he’s a polished possession receiver with insane success in contested-catch situations and after the catch. He’ll play inside and outside at the next level and should assume a very productive role early in his NFL career.
Burks is built like a taller running back at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He dominates after the catch and will surprise defensive backs with his speed with and without the ball in his hands. He’ll likely assume a slot role at the next level, but he’ll still command a lot of attention wreaking havoc on the inside. He earned 88.0-plus receiving grades in back-to-back seasons to close out his career at Arkansas.
Enagbare simply isn’t getting enough love in the 2022 class. After deciding to return to South Carolina for his senior season, the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder recorded an 88.5 overall grade and 92.5 pass-rushing grade across 550-plus defensive snaps. He’s a productive edge player who might not have the high-end athleticism others do in this class, but it’s still enough to warrant a top-50 selection in April.
The Buccaneers won’t regret investing high draft capital in the secondary, especially after their injury-plagued 2021 season. Martin Emerson could very well be off the board by the time the Bucs get on the clock, but if he is available, he should be a value selection at the back end of the first round. He earned a 78.4 PFF grade with Mississippi State in 2021 and allowed just 29 receptions for 358 yards and three touchdowns on 375 coverage snaps.
Even after adding Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor this past offseason, the Patriots still need help at receiver. Ohio State’s Chris Olave is a former high school track star with solid straight-line speed and smooth route-running ability. He averaged more than 3.00 yards per route run in both his 2019 and 2020 campaigns before a crowded 2021 Buckeye receiver room drove his target share down.
One of the biggest risers following the 2021 college football season, the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Bernhard Raimann earned a 94.6 overall grade, 88.7 pass-blocking grade and 94.6 run-blocking grade with Central Michigan this year. He didn’t earn a PFF grade above 75.1 in any season prior. Expect his 2021 campaign and a strong Senior Bowl to vault him into the first round.