With the 2022 NFL Draft rapidly approaching, the front offices for all 32 teams are scrambling to arrange their draft boards in a way that most benefits them. There will never be a consensus ranking for every draft-eligible player, but each team will head to pro days, meet with the players and agents, watch thousands of hours of game film, huddle amongst themselves, and figure out an individual grade for every single one of those players. The process is absolutely exhausting and these teams absolutely cannot wait until the process has concluded. But for us, the analysts, the fans, the common folks, we all do our best to figure out what our favorite teams will do. The offseason has truly become an extension of the regular season, just as enjoyable. With that being said, we all love to project that top-ranked player coming to our team. But is that realistic? Does a team picking in the middle of round one have an opportunity to take that stud Defensive End? Will they consider a trade if the right player falls beyond expectation? We love to imagine nabbing Aaron Donald after 12 teams made the mistake of passing. Which players have the upside of a future Hall of Famer? To be honest, nobody truly ‘knows.’ There is no proven formula that works 100% of the time. All the experts can do is piece together information from the various avenues and make educated guesses. So, here are my initial guesses as to how the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft will play out. 1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan – Hutchinson is a do-it-all rusher. He wins with quickness, technique, power, and a relentless motor. He’s not the flashiest pass rusher the draft has ever seen, but there is no doubting his production. He has the ability to bend around the corner, bull rush opposing linemen, hold the point of attack in the run game, and simply make a splash play when it’s needed.
2. Detroit Lions – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon – Thibodeaux is an explosive player with the ideal length to play on the edge at the next level. His production in college was solid, if not excellent. He possesses all of the tools necessary to become an elite rusher. In an ideal world, he will not see nearly as many double teams with more help along the defensive line, which should lead to even better production. He might have the most upside of any player in the draft, regardless of position.
3. Carolina Panthers (via trade with Houston) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty – The Panthers have been searching all offseason for their QB, but have been unable to land DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, or any other high-end signal-caller. So, here, they make the move in front of the Giants to secure Willis, the athletic freak with a bazooka of an arm. They pay a hefty price to move up just three spots, but if they believe Willis is a franchise quarterback, it truly becomes a small price in the end. Willis will most likely need to start the season on the bench, but he has won over just about every NFL Executive with his personality and his tools.
4. New York Jets – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame – While safety isn’t often viewed as the most important position on the field, Hamilton may be the exception. He is enormous for safety, standing 6’4” and nearly 220 pounds. Oh, and he’s absolutely explosive as a pure athlete. He moves like a cornerback, looks like a linebacker, and has the ball skills of a receiver. It is not hyperbole to say that Hamilton may be the best safety prospect since Sean Taylor.
5. New York Giants – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama – Neal is a mountain of a man, standing 6’7” and roughly 350 pounds. In that regard, he reminds me of former Vikings’ 1st round pick Bryant “Mount” McKinley. The difference here is that Neal is much more fluid in his movement, which is much more of a requirement with the athletes that are rushing the passer in today’s NFL. The Giants have Andrew Thomas already penciled in at LT, but they need a lot of help along the line. It wouldn’t be out of the question to kick Thomas over to the right side, but that’s a problem for another day. For now, the G-Men need to add as many good players to the offensive line as possible. Adding Neal is a great start.
6. Houston Texans (via trade with Carolina) – Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida St – This is a bit of a shocker and may be viewed as a reach. But Johnson really could end up the best defensive player in this draft. He’s extremely versatile in his ability to play anywhere along the defensive front. He’s rushed from both sides and has no issues standing up in the A-gap and beating interior offensive linemen with his quickness. The Texans are in a rebuild and have a player with this type of versatility that allows them to attack the rest of the draft in any number of ways.
7. New York Giants – Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU – There are rumblings out of New York that starting CB James Bradberry could be on the move in the near future. Stingley could be the ready-made replacement. His freshman season at LSU was remarkable and he looked like he was on his way to being a sure-fire #1 overall pick. He has the size, athleticism, and change-of-direction skills that every team covets at the cornerback position. However, injuries really slowed his career at LSU and make this a risky pick. If the medicals check out, Stingley will likely find his way into the top 10 picks.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati – “Sauce” Gardner has really cemented himself as one of the elite prospects in this draft class. The Falcons appear to have hit a home run by selecting AJ Terrell in the 2020 draft, but they could certainly use an upgrade on the other side. With Sauce coming in, the Falcons would be building one of the best young duos in the league. A very, very pass-happy league, I might add. A reminder that the next touchdown that Gardner allows in coverage will be the first he has ever allowed in coverage. There is a full rebuild in Atlanta, which leads me to believe they will pass on the Matt Ryan replacement here and hope to land one of the studs in the 2023 draft class.
9. Seattle Seahawks – Ikem Ekwonu, OT/G, North Carolina St – The Seahawks have moved on from long-time QB Russell Wilson, which leaves them with a giant hole at the most important position. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is definitely an option here, but I think they will swing a deal for the Browns’ Baker Mayfield. With that being said, they have holes at a number of positions, with the offensive line among them. Ekwonu is a big, mean offensive tackle that leaves scouts a little divided. He may be forced to kick inside to guard, but it almost doesn’t matter. He’s is a beast that will be a long-time starter at the next level.
10. New York Jets – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio St – The Jets seem to have stuck their nose in on all available WRs this offseason. They made a big offer for former Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and are still looking for help on the outside for young QB Zach Wilson. Despite lacking prototypical size for the position, Wilson possesses the requisite explosiveness, route running, and hands teams love. He can pair with up-and-coming WR Elijah Moore to give Wilson another young receiver to work with.
11. Washington Commanders – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh – Pickett’s hand size has become a hot topic. He has among the smallest hands ever measured at the combine, leaving some teams really questioning his ability to throw the ball in inclement weather conditions. If the Commanders are comfortable with that trait, they could certainly make the decision to draft Pickett and let him battle with newly acquired Carson Wentz. Overall, Pickett has solid athleticism and arm strength, along with adequate experience to allow him a chance to start early in his career.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (via trade with Minnesota) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama – The Eagles appear to be committed to giving Jalen Hurts every opportunity to succeed. Last year’s rookie WR, DeVonta Smith proved to be an excellent selection in round 1. TE Dallas Goedert is among the best young TEs in the league. But the Eagles really need to add another weapon on the perimeter. With the fear of the Texans snagging Williams at pick #13, the Eagles make the move up and get their guy. Despite tearing his ACL in the National Championship game, Williams is expected to make a full recovery and be ready near the start of the regular season. When he’s back, he is an absolute burner. His ability to create space is perfect for just about any offense and he could prove to be a steal outside of the top 10.
13. Houston Texans – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington – McDuffie doesn’t have the ideal size for a perimeter cornerback, but he is one of the best athletes in the draft. He is sticky in coverage, physical at the line of scrimmage, and ultra-competitive. He is one of the most cerebral players in the draft, allowing him to excel in both man and zone coverages. This is a home run pick for Houston.
14. Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia – Flat out, men this size are not supposed to be able to move like Davis does. He simply cannot be moved in the run game and has enough athleticism to rush the passer. He didn’t play a full allotment of snaps at Georgia, but that was probably more due to the plethora of defensive linemen that were really good. He can stay on the field in obvious passing downs, though that’s not entirely likely. Either way, this is the top interior defensive lineman in this draft.
15. Minnesota Vikings (via trade with Philadelphia) – Andrew Booth Jr, CB, Clemson – The Vikings gambled by moving down and it did not pay off. They were targeting McDuffie, but end up with Booth, not exactly a bad consolation prize. Booth has the size and length teams love to deploy at cornerback, though he’s not quite the same athlete McDuffie is. He has excellent ball skills and is physical at the catch point. There is a real dearth of talent in Minnesota’s cornerback room, so Booth has a chance to be a Day 1 starter.
16. Philadelphia Eagles – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia – Dean is a blur in pursuit of ball carriers. He has the speed all defensive coordinators would love to deploy. While his speed has been excellent in chasing down RBs at the college level, Dean still has room for improvement in pass defense. He isn’t always the quickest to identify route combinations in zone coverage and can sometimes get caught looking in the backfield on play action. Despite this, his upside is immense and he’ll be an immediate starter in Philadelphia.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Travon Walker, DT/DE, Georgia – Walker has created a lot of buzz and has risen up the draft boards of a lot of scouts and NFL execs. His fall to 17 is somewhat surprising as he can create many mismatches along the defensive line with his versatility and athleticism. The Chargers have spent a lot of money adding to their defense this offseason with Khalil Mack and JC Jackson, but adding Walker gives them another weapon to rush the passer. The rich get richer.
18. New Orleans Saints – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State – The Saints lost LT Terron Armstead to the Dolphins and desperately need to replace him. The temptation would be to move up in this draft to secure that replacement, but in this scenario, they stand pat and still land their guy. A huge win for QB Jameis Winston and RB Alvin Kamara. Cross is an elite athlete for an offensive tackle, though it does come with a certain degree of inexperience. Still, Cross is a Day 1 starter and will have a long, long career as the blind-side protector in the bayou.
19. Philadelphia Eagles – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan – The Eagles have added a ton of athleticism to their roster with Jameson Williams and Nakobe Dean, and they continue that trend here with Hill. A true genetic freak, Hill is a low 4.3 40-yard dash player that attacks the run game and shuts down passing angles. Some analysts may not project Hill to go this high, but his speed can wreck offensive game plans.