Week 18 is finished, and the NFL Playoffs are underway. For some teams, this will be the exciting part of the season as their team tries to book their place in the grand Super Bowl fixture.
Others, however, have been looking ahead to the NFL Draft for weeks or months already as they look to a better season next year.
The NFL Draft is set to take place in Paradise, Nevada, on the 28th of April.
The draft is arguably the second biggest event on the NFL calendar and marks the beginning of the following season.
The draft order is determined by how well the teams have done over the course of the previous season. The first 18 teams are sorted in ascending order, by wins, with the final 14 teams’ draft position determined by how far they get in the NFL Playoffs.
Due to this, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the number one overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Having drafted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence at the top spot last year, the Jags are picking in the same place again after a poor season.
The NFL Draft is made up of seven rounds. Each team is given at least one pick in each of these rounds (they may receive more than one, these are known as compensatory picks). These picks can either be used to draft, or they can be used to trade for players already in the league.
Teams can also ‘trade up’ or ‘trade down’ with players and draft picks.
The NFL Draft is the main pathway through which players are inducted into the league. Players ‘declare’ themselves for the NFL Draft, making them eligible to be selected at the event by an NFL team. Most of the players are from college football.
This mock draft will focus on the first 18 picks of the upcoming NFL Draft, as these positions are set in stone already. It will also not consider any trades as it is too early to predict where the trades may come.
It is important to note just how many variables there are with regards to NFL Draft predictions. At the time of writing, many of the weaker teams are without Head Coaches (and even General Managers) – it is hard to gauge what direction these teams will go in the draft without this information.
There is also free agency, which could change up the draft needs of a lot of teams.
Added to this, the draft stock of college prospects will change in the lead up to the draft. There is still some college football to play, as well as the NFL Combine where the prospects will be evaluated on their athletic ability.
There will also be stories about the character of prospects that will either increase or decrease their stock.
With that said, here are my early projections for the first 18 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft:
1) Jacksonville Jaguars – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
There is always top EDGE talent in the NFL Draft – it is one of the most transferable positions from college football to the NFL. This year, however, the draft is blessed with two top talents – Thibodeaux and Hutchinson. It will be a tense debate leading up to the draft about who deserves to be the top pick, but Thibodeaux is there, for now. A big and powerful pass-rusher, Thibodeaux is a generational talent and is a sure-fire starter wherever he lands. While the Jaguars have EDGE talent, they surely cannot pass up either Thibodeaux or Hutchinson?
2) Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Hutchinson is the other toss-up for the draft’s top spot. If the Lions stay put at 2, expect them to take the remaining pass-rusher. Hutchinson, like Thibodeaux, is NFL-ready but offers a slightly different skillset to the Oregon man. His elite speed rush ability sets him apart from the rest of the draft class. Hutchinson would be a good fit in most schemes.
3) Houston Texans – Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Notre Dame
The Houston Texans have holes in most of their roster, including a franchise quarterback. However, Davis Mills played efficiently towards the end of the 20221/22 season so they could give him another season at starter. By drafting Hamilton, they get this year’s defensive ‘Swiss-army knife’. Hamilton is classed as a safety, but he has such versatility that he can line up nearly everywhere on the defensive side of the ball. An elite do-it-all talent, Hamilton is a can’t-miss prospect and could plug quite a few holes for the Texans if used properly.
4) New York Jets – Evan Neal, Offensive Tackle, Alabama
Neal’s stock has been rising of late, and not unjustifiably so. In fact, he has been mocked as a number one overall pick by a few pundits, which is not unfeasible. Neal is a dominant tackle and would be good protection for franchise quarterback Zach Wilson, who the Jets drafted last year. The Alabama prospect would complement Mekhi Becton well – a freakish left tackle who the Jets drafted two years ago – as Neal specialises in run-blocking on the right side of the line.
5) New York Giants – Kenny Pickett, Quarterback, Pittsburgh
The quarterback class of this year is weaker than the classes of the last couple years. Is Pickett the QB1? It is hard to say. He had a ‘breakout’ year at Pitt this season and has shown a strong development, especially in his reading of the game. Pickett will turn 24 before the start of the regular season however, which is slightly older than most rookies. Had Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman stayed in New York, current quarterback Daniel Jones would likely have kept his job, but expect the new regime to implement their own, new system starting with the quarterback position.
6) Carolina Panthers – Ikem Ekwonu, Offensive Tackle, North Carolina State
Ekwonu is an underrated prospect who projects as a starting left-tackle specialising in pass protection at the NFL level. The Panthers need a quarterback, but one may not be worth taking at this spot. Nevertheless, expect more quarterbacks to rise in draft stock in the lead up to the NFL Draft – they often do. Ekwonu would be a smart pick for the Panthers, however, as pass protection has been an issue for them this season.
7) New York Giants – Charles Cross, Offensive Tackle, Mississippi State
The Giants have seemed to have offensive line problems for a while now. They controversially drafted Andrew Thomas in the 2019 NFL Draft, a player who had a solid sophomore season after a poor rookie year. In Cross, the Giants would find themselves with a clash at left tackle, but Cross could be deployed on the right side of the line – he would be a difficult prospect to pass up given the Giants’ woes at offensive line generally.
8) Atlanta Falcons – Derek Stingley Jr., Cornerback, Louisianna State University
Stingley has fallen in this mock draft and, to be honest, it is much more likely that he is picked within the top six picks as things stand. Stingley is an excellent, well-rounded cornerback who is undoubtedly one of the best cornerback prospects in recent memory. He would be excellent in the Falcons secondary which already includes shutdown corner A.J. Terrell. Scheme is not a talent for Stingley due to his high-end talent and versatility.
9) Denver Broncos – Matt Corrall, Quarterback, Ole Miss
As mentioned before, the quarterback class is hard to gauge currently and will likely be continuously changing as we get closer to the draft. Corrall is a strong quarterback prospect who would be a good fit for most teams, though he may need to be given time to study in the league before being starter. The Broncos can give him that flexibility with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock as ‘bridge’ quarterbacks. Corrall is in the new blend of the ‘modern quarterback’ in the sense that his mobility is a large part of his game. While not lightning quick, he is efficient with his legs and is decent at throwing on the run. Decision-making will be the make-or-break with this talented signal-caller.
10) New York Jets – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Karlaftis is a high-motor player who is one of the best power rushers in this year’s class. Having signed Carl Lawson last year, Karlaftis would be a great defender to compliment the former Bengal. While the Jets use a hybrid 3-4 system and Karlaftis is better suited to a 4-3, his talent makes him hard to pass up and, as a rookie, he could be used as an early down defender on the edge and in blitz packages if nothing else.
11) Washington Football Team – Andrew Booth Jr., Cornerback, Clemson
The Football Team are in a position where they should simply take the best player available and, in this scenario, Booth would be a great selection. While many pundits mock quarterbacks to the Football Team, it would seem rash to bench Taylor Heinicke after a solid season. In Booth, Washington get a lockdown cornerback who can start immediately, aiding a malnourished secondary group.
12) Minnesota Vikings – DeMarvin Leal, Interior Defensive Line, Texas A&M
Leal’s stock is hard to judge right now – he has been floated around as an early first talent by some but a second-round talent by others. He would be a good fit for the Vikings, however, who would benefit greatly from the former five-star recruit. Leal has demonstrated good versatility at college level but projects best at interior defensive line, and he can bolster a solid front seven group in Minnesota.
13) Cleveland Browns – Jameson Williams, Wide Receiver, Alabama
Williams’ stock has shot up of late, and he appears to be the best wide receiver of this class. The Browns currently have Donnovan Peoples-Jones and Jarvis Landry but could benefit from a top talent at receiver given that the Odell Beckham Jr. project spectacularly failed. Williams would be an excellent pick for the Browns and could start straight away.
14) Baltimore Ravens – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
The Ravens’ season was largely derailed by inconsistent play by Lamar Jackson, as well as injuries to their star man. Their roster, when healthy, is playoff ready and so they are in a position where they can pick the best player available. Last year, they took Odafe Oweh in the first round, a versatile EDGE defender. They could go EDGE again this year with Ojabo, an EDGE defender who brings a slightly different skillset to Oweh.
15) Philadelphia Eagles – Roger McCreary, Cornerback, Auburn
The Eagles have back-to-back first-round picks here and so expect them to trade at least one of them. For this mock draft, however, they keep both picks. With the first, they select McCreary, a top cornerback who projects well in the NFL. He has an innate ability to stick with receivers, allowing very little separation.
16) Philadelphia Eagles – Kenyon Green, Interior Offensive Line, Texas A&M
With their second pick, the Eagles take Green. Green is a highly versatile offensive lineman who can play at guard or at right tackle. Run blocking is a particular strength but Green is a well-polished prospect overall who would be a good fit for the Eagles, who have a couple of holes on their offensive line.
17) Los Angeles Chargers – Kaiir Elam, Cornerback, Florida
There is a very good chance that Elam will end up being taken higher than this – he is a freaky athlete who projects as an outside starting cornerback in any scheme. Having taken Asante Samuel Jr. last year, the Chargers would find themselves with a solid, young secondary group to build around defensively
18) New Orleans Saints – Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
There is debate about whether Wilson is better than fellow Ohio State receiver Chris Olave. For now, it appears that Wilson’s stock is trending better, making him the selection here for the Saints. Outside of Alvin Kamara, the Saints have struggled offensively and will need some more weapons for Jameis Winston to throw to. Michael Thomas has not played a lot of football in two years, making him hard to trust despite being the Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.