2022 NFL Mock Draft: The trenches take center stage

The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints’ blockbuster trade threw a twist in the NFL Draft order. We roll with the punches too, and with that, here’s our latest 2022 NFL Mock Draft. The first quarterback comes off the board in the top 10, and there’s a good mixture of offense and defense throughout Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16

We kick off this 2022 NFL Mock Draft the same way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will in just a few weeks — with the Jacksonville Jaguars on the clock. With plenty of speculation on which way they might be leaning, let’s get right to it with their selection.

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, DL, Georgia

It doesn’t come down to need. It comes back to talent, and Walker has the kind of talent that shouldn’t be passed up by a franchise looking to rebound under new head coach Doug Pederson.

Excerpt from Travon Walker’s NFL Scouting Report: Walker is explosive off the snap and has excellent lateral agility, allowing him to cut from outside to the interior in the blink of an eye. Furthermore, his lateral agility allows him to scrape across the line easily, making him dangerous against the run.

Against the run, Walker showcases tremendous speed in pursuit. He also puts his long levers to use tackling from behind, making it almost impossible for a ball carrier to escape his clutches when he latches his long arms around them.

2) Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

The Lions are looking for a pure pass rusher and Thibodeaux fits the bill perfectly.

Excerpt from Kayvon Thibodeaux’s NFL Scouting Report: The combination of agility and speed gives Thibodeaux a clear advantage in rushing off the edge. Yet, he can also effortlessly transition from attacking outside to winning inside, possessing pass-rush versatility.

For as impressive as his pass-rush potential at the next level is, Thibodeaux also dominates in the ground game. He has the football intelligence to fight through traffic and locate the ball carrier. His speed ensures he can chase down a ball carrier further downfield, and he also demonstrates an excellent understanding of angles to make a play.

3) Houston Texans: Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

The Texans don’t have a shutdown corner. Gardner is a scheme fit who adds swagger and talent to Lovie Smith’s defense.

Excerpt from Ahmad Gardner’s NFL Scouting Report: Physically, Gardner is one of the more enticing talents in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, some of the most appealing parts of his game are mental rather than physical.

The Detroit, Michigan product plays with an infectious attitude, and he’s always incredibly alert and aware of his surroundings. He can change initiative at a moment’s notice, and he owns the wherewithal to position himself well against 2-on-1 opportunities for the offense. The Cincinnati CB is exceptionally quick to read and react to passes. His game-winning pick-six against ECU from 2019 is just one example of his instincts in action.

4) New York Jets: Ikem ‘Ickey’ Ekwonu, OT, NC State

Ekwonu is a mobile road-grader. He makes the Jets better the moment he gets drafted.

Excerpt from Ikem Ekownu’s NFL Scouting Report: There is a reason why he’s been labeled “the most feared lineman in the ACC.” One of the critical components of player evaluation is ascertaining competitive toughness, and Ekwonu has enough to fuel three players.

He looks to finish every play devastatingly, and more often than not, he is successful with dramatic consequences. There were multiple examples in the games studied — North Carolina, Miami, Wake Forest, and Duke — but one play where he shows blatant disregard for Hurricanes safety Bubba Bolden sticks in mind the most.

5) New York Giants: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

The Giants need someone to protect Daniel Jones. Neal is a rare commodity as a blocker.

Excerpt from Evan Neal’s NFL Scouting Report: At 6’7″ and 360 pounds, Neal is a roadblock in every sense of the word. When coupled with impressive arm length, it’s almost unfair for opposing pass rushers who have to try and find a way around him.

With a man of Neal’s size, you would question his mobility and athleticism. Yet, there are no concerns there. Neal moves incredibly well for his size and demonstrates impressive play speed. This has been evident both as a guard in 2019 and as an offensive tackle in 2020. He can get out to the next level to take on linebackers and showcases a tremendous explosion out of his stance.

6) Carolina Panthers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Willis might not save Matt Rhule’s job, but he would upgrade the talent at the position. This is a call for Scott Fitterer and owner David Tepper.

Excerpt from Malik Willis’ NFL Scouting Report: A dual-threat quarterback with two years of starting experience at the college level, Willis is a dynamic playmaker with both his arm and legs. At 6’1″, he won’t be the tallest quarterback in the class, but the NFL shouldn’t hold that against him. At 215 pounds, he has an excellent build to hold up to the elevated physical rigors at the next level.

That allows Willis to play the game with impressive toughness. That presents itself in multiple ways. He can hang tough in the pocket and take a hit. Furthermore, Willis demonstrates grit as a ball carrier when escaping the pocket. He is challenging to take down in the open field due to his toughness and athletic ability.

7) New York Giants (from CHI): Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

Hutchinson can flat-out play. The fact that he sets a tone of intensity is a bonus.

Excerpt from Aidan Hutchinson’s NFL Scouting Report: With his frame, Hutchinson possesses decent length, which he uses with universal proactivity. He extends quickly, sets the edge well in run defense, actively disrupts passing windows, and seeks to make opposing QBs uncomfortable.

Among other things, Hutchinson has good grip strength, which he can use to wrench down opposing anchors. He also has a strong base and good balance. As a result, Hutchinson can stand his ground against opposing power and force. Additionally, the Michigan product has above-average explosiveness, lateral agility, and great twitch. He also flashes solid weight-transfer ability when shuffling between gaps.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

The Falcons need more playmakers. Wilson gives Atlanta a complementary threat to go with Kyle Pitts.

Excerpt from Garrett Wilson’s NFL Scouting Report: When evaluating wide receivers, a useful exercise is to break up each evaluation process into three categories — before the catch, at the catch, and after the catch. Some traits are unique to one category, but others span across all three.

Wilson is exceptionally fluid, sudden, and explosive as an athlete. Before the catch, he uses this suddenness and twitch to gain separation. He has the unique ability to disconnect his upper and lower body movements to sow deception, and on top of that, his feet are swift and precise. The Buckeye also uses his head and eyes to feign intent.

9) Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

With Willis off the board, Pete Carroll doesn’t settle for Kenny Pickett. Instead, he adds the type of cornerback the Seahawks have wanted for years.

Excerpt from Derek Stingley Jr.’s NFL Scouting Report: The LSU CB has stellar footwork, helping him mirror receivers’ routes. Additionally, he displays tremendous change-of-direction ability. Stingley is also explosive in short areas, allowing him to jump routes and make plays on the ball. Without eye discipline, athleticism goes to waste. Still, the LSU cornerback keeps his eyes focused on his opponents’ feet early in phase and uses his intelligence to switch focus to the quarterback’s intentions.

Stingley puts his experience as a wide receiver to use at the catch point. He demonstrates impressive ball-tracking prowess and regularly puts himself in a position to make a play. When the ball is in the air in his vicinity, there is every chance of a turnover.

10) New York Jets (from SEA): Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State

Pass rush is what the Jets need. Johnson is the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s an ascending talent.

Excerpt from Jermaine Johnson II’s NFL Scouting Report: Johnson’s athletic ability has been lauded since his high school days. That doesn’t always translate as your career progresses. However, for Johnson, it certainly has.

He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash in high school. Against Alabama, he went toe to toe with Najee Harris, who ran a 4.45 at the 2021 NFL Combine.

He routinely shows this speed in pursuit, and there were several examples in the games studied of him tracking down a player beyond the line of scrimmage. Athletic ability isn’t defined purely by speed, however. Johnson also has an impressive first step, explosiveness at the line of scrimmage, and has showcased remarkable lateral agility.

11) Washington Commanders: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

After cutting Landon Collins, the Commanders need help. Hamilton is the kind of big, rangy center fielder they need.

Excerpt from Kyle Hamilton’s NFL Scouting Report: Hamilton has uncommon size for the safety position. At 6’4″ and 219 pounds, he is a physical specimen. There are linebackers playing the game that don’t possess the same size as the Notre Dame safety. In addition to his size, Hamilton has elite length. Both his height and length make him a difficult proposition to throw against.

With that coverage radius, he can get his hands up to snag the ball out of the air. He can also use his long levers to reach around opposition receivers to disrupt the ball, knocking it away from their grasp. Hamilton is extremely disruptive at the catch point.

12) Minnesota Vikings: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

Fluid cover skills define McDuffie’s game, and he’s a match for the Vikings with the 12th overall selection in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

Excerpt from Trent McDuffie’s NFL Scouting Report: McDuffie is truly in the highest tier athletically. His elite explosiveness is visible in multiple phases. He has searing quickness charging the backfield, and he also has the vertical burst to rise up for high passes. His explosiveness translates to spry, sudden feet at the line of scrimmage.

Furthermore, McDuffie is a quick-twitch athlete with a ton of potential energy stored in his frame. He owns the lateral suddenness to slip past blocks, and his twitch and explosion allow him to recover ground against double moves swiftly. He also has unreal range when pursuing plays.

13) Houston Texans (from CLE): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

The Texans need to plan ahead across the offensive line. Cross is the top pass protector in the draft.

Excerpt from Charles Cross’ NFL Scouting Report: At 6’5″, Cross meets the requisite size of an NFL tackle. Despite having bulked up from 270 pounds two years ago to a listed 305 pounds, Cross is a very lean offensive tackle. Ideally, he will add another 10 pounds as he has the frame to do so.

Nevertheless, being lean doesn’t stop Cross from being a violent and physical tackle who exudes competitive toughness. Finishing a play doesn’t always mean putting your man in the dirt, but it appears that the Mississippi State OT did not get that memo.

Cross looks to punish his opponent every play, whether in pass protection or as a mauler in the ground game. Despite his lean frame, he’s powerful and displays a decent anchor in pass protection.

14) Baltimore Ravens: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

Penning has a nasty streak reminiscent of Marshal Yanda and makes a lot of sense for the Ravens in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

Excerpt from Trevor Penning’s NFL Scouting Report: Penning is a powerful blocker who dominates lighter defenders at the point of attack. He has great upper-body torque and a ton of stored potential energy within his frame.

The Northern Iowa OT brings good straight-line burst when moving to the second level, and he’s exceptionally explosive out of his stance. When matching rushers along the edge, Penning is a fairly efficient mover. He can flip his hips to match defenders around the edge and wall off the pocket with his frame.

On top of Penning’s athletic traits, he’s also extremely strong. That’s evidenced not only by his weight room numbers but also by his on-field play. Penning has imposing grip strength. He can latch onto players and wrestle them into submission.

15) Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA): Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

Booth is recovering from surgery, but his medical outlook is sound. He can play zone coverage to work in tandem with Darius Slay.

Excerpt from Andrew Booth Jr.’s NFL Scouting Report: Booth has an advantage in contested-catch situations due to his physicality. The Clemson cornerback is not afraid to mix it up with bigger receivers, helped by his belief that he’s the best player out there. He plays the game with archetypal cornerback swagger and has the goods to back it up. Booth’s physicality shows with his willingness to impact the ground game.

Despite impressing in all of the above areas, Booth’s best attribute as an NFL Draft prospect will be his athleticism. The Clemson cornerback is fast, fluid, and full of energy.

16) New Orleans Saints (from IND via PHI): Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

The Saints find their quarterback of the future halfway through the first round of this 2022 NFL Mock Draft.

Excerpt from Kenny Pickett’s NFL Scouting Report: Pickett’s strong off-script profile is one of his most appealing features. But the Pitt QB has a degree of polish, which comes with experience. Pickett has exceptional mechanics in structure. He keeps his feet and shoulders squared toward his target, and he continually resets his base as he goes through his progressions. Pickett’s never idle on his feet, and he navigates the pocket well. He knows how to manipulate throwing lanes with his positioning.

Diving into the minutia of Pickett’s mechanics — especially in 2021 — reveals impressive consistency with lower and upper-body mechanics. Pickett isn’t perfect; he sometimes has scissor feet in the pocket, crossing his feet on dropbacks when he should be staying within his cylinder.

But with his strong muscle memory, he almost always snaps back to congruence and loads his hips ahead of his throws. His shoulders are consistently level — even off-platform — and that helps him maintain reliability and accuracy in off-script situations.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: The trenches take center stage

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