Here we are again. The Los Angeles Rams are a few days removed from being crowned Super Bowl champs. Now that it’s officially the offseason in the NFL that means a few things. It means free agency, more retirements, cap casualties and of course, draft season! The NFL draft kicks off on April 28th but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to make our own selections. This draft class is not like last year’s when it comes to explosive offensive talent. In fact, there’s a good balance between offense and defense when it comes to who’s the best of the best! Today this is all about the top half of the first round (picks 1-16), tomorrow the bottom half will get their chance to shine! Let’s get into this 2022 NFL mock draft 1.0 part 1!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14): Evan Neal OT Alabama
This is subject to change. Currently, Cam Robinson is expected to test free agency which obviously means the Jaguars could lose an offensive lineman. If Robinson leaves, Evan Neal is the perfect replacement. Neal anchored the dominant offensive line Alabama had this past season and is overall the best offensive lineman in this draft. The Jaguars need to protect Trevor Lawrence at all costs if they want to be a successful offense.
2. Detroit Lions (3-13-1): Aidan Hutchinson DE Michigan
This was another season of regret and forget for the Detroit Lions. Aidan Hutchinson is coming into the NFL as the top defensive star and overall perhaps the best player in the draft. Coming into his senior year Hutchinson only had three and a half sacks. He had 14 to cap off his career at Michigan. Hutchinson was also the runner up this year to the Heisman trophy, and won just about every defensive award including Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year. It’s safe to say the Lions are getting an absolute gem of a player in Aidan Hutchinson.
3. Houston Texans (4-13): Kayvon Thibodeaux DE Oregon
The Texans unsurprisingly had an awful year on both sides of the ball. This was the first season without J.J. Watt and it’s more than obvious they need a pass rusher. Kayvon Thibodeaux fits the mold of the pass rusher the Texans need. Thibodeaux is coming off a season where he racked up seven sacks and 49 total tackles. A defensive machine to simply put it. Thibodeaux could be the second coming of J.J. Watt for the Texans. Fans in Houston should be excited about the talent Thibodeaux brings.
4. New York Jets (4-13): Ikem Ekwonu OT N.C. State
The Jets need so much help with just about every position. They’re in a pick your poison position based off of how much help this team needs. Why not get more protection for Zach Wilson who will be entering his second season with the team. It’s no secret he wasn’t the most protected quarterback last season which is why Ikem Ekwonu would be a great choice for the Jets here. Ekwonu was a force to reckon with during his time at N.C. State and will transition to the NFL smoothly.
5. New York Giants (4-13): Charles Cross OT Mississippi State
This is all about protecting Daniel Jones. The Giants need all the help they can get on the offensive line. Insert Charles Cross and Jones will be protected. Cross doesn’t give up many sacks or tackles in the backfield which is what the Giants need. The Giants need a lot of help, but addressing the offensive line at pick five is a must.
6. Carolina Panthers (5-12): Malik Willis QB Liberty
The Panthers need a future quarterback. Yes, it looked like it was going to be Sam Darnold, but that ship has sailed after last season. Willis impressed during Senior Bowl week and rose his draft stock to be considered one of the best if not the best quarterback in this draft. Last season he threw for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Willis would fit right in with the Panthers offense.
7. New York Giants (4-13; from Chicago 6-11): George Karlaftis EDGE Purdue
The New York Giants address two big needs. They get an offensive tackle with their original pick and then here they get a much needed pass rusher. With Thibodeaux and Hutchinson gone, George Karlaftis is the next best pick. He’s coming off a season where he tallied 39 total tackles, 10 of them being tackles for a loss, and four and a half sacks. Karlaftis also had four passes defended and two fumble recoveries. This is a perfect fit for both sides.
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10): Kyle Hamilton S Notre Dame
The Falcons front office should be jumping up and down of excitement at this. Kyle Hamilton took advantage of Notre Dame joining the ACC in the 2020 season and boosted his draft stock. In 2021 his stats took a dive compared to the 2020 season due to Notre Dame going back to being an independent school. But, nonetheless, Hamilton was still dominant on the field. Hamilton finished the season with 34 total tackles and three interceptions. He also had four passes defended. Atlanta needs a player like Hamilton who can come in and make an impact on day one.
9. Denver Broncos (7-10): Kenny Pickett QB Pittsburgh
It’s no secret that the Denver Broncos need a franchise quarterback. With Malik Willis off the board, Kenny Pickett is the next best quarterback available. Pickett showed off in his final season with Pittsburgh with being overall the best quarterback in the ACC. There was no stopping him as he threw for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. The 2021 ACC Player of the Year will be the immediate starter in Denver assuming a certain quarterback in Green Bay doesn’t join the team during the offseason.
10. New York Jets (4-13; from Seattle 7-10): Trent McDuffie CB Washington
The Jets had an abysmal defense last year. It’s no secret their defense needs help. Trent McDuffie can help. McDuffie has the skill set to be a number one cornerback in the NFL. He is a tackling machine that can defend the pass. McDuffie racked up a total of 45 tackles this past season with two interceptions. Yes, it was a down year for Washington, but McDuffie was one of the diamonds in the rough.
11. Washington Commanders (7-10): Matt Corral QB Ole Miss
This is easy. The Commanders need a franchise quarterback. Yes, Taylor Heinicke is in Washington, but he’s not the long term answer. Matt Corral is. Corral threw for 3,349 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in his final year with the Rebels. He may be undersized, but he still has the full package to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
12. Minnesota Vikings (8-9): Roger McCreary CB Auburn
Being in the SEC, McCreary saw plenty of talented wide receivers every Saturday. McCreary did what was expected of him on the field, which was go out and defend the passes thrown his way. He ended up being tied for fourth in the SEC with 14 passes defended to go along with 49 total tackles, two interceptions and one touchdown. Minnesota is in dire need of a cornerback and McCreary will fit right in to the Minnesota defense. First year coach Kevin O’Connell could have a steal here at 12.
13. Cleveland Browns (8-9): Garret Wilson WR Ohio State
Garret Wilson is the king of separation. The Browns need a downfield threat who can make big plays. Wilson is that guy for the Browns. This pick is going to make Baker Mayfield a happy camper and also help him return to his 2020 form where he looked like a top ten quarterback. Wilson finished this season with 70 receptions, 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged just over 15 yards per reception. Wilson will give the Browns offense a spark they need.
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-9): Derek Stingley Jr. CB LSU
It looked like Stingley Jr. was going to be a top pick in this draft after his freshman year. However, his following seasons haven’t been as good as his freshman year. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a first round talent. He’s flashy on the defensive side of the ball and can step up and make a play. Stingley only saw the field for four games this season after suffering a season ending foot injury. However, the Ravens could pull off an epic steal here if Stingley pans out to be as dominant as he was his freshman season.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8; from Miami 9-8): Nakobe Dean LB Georgia
This is the first of three picks the Eagles have in the first round. Expect to see Philadelphia do some positive damage. The Eagles were a surprise last year as they made it to the postseason. Now, with a little more of a high expectation for the team, it’s time to bolster the defense. Nakobe Dean is one of the many reasons why Georgia was as dominant as they were on defense. Dean was a tackling machine with 72 total tackles and six sacks. He also had two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Dean is this year’s Micah Parsons and will have a similar impact that Parsons did with the Cowboys.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8; from Indianapolis 9-8): Drake London WR USC
The Eagles have the luxury of having back to back picks. It’s safe to safe that Jalen Raegor is not the answer at wide receiver. So now it’s time to try again. London, who is a tall wide receiver had a season to remember. This past season London had 88 receptions, 1,084 yards and and seven touchdowns. If he pans out in Philadelphia, the Eagles could be a dangerous team to look out for.
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-Matt Burnett (@mattthew_jordan on Twitter)