Kevin Hanson's 2022 NFL Mock Draft
BY KEVIN HANSON (@EDSFootball)
Updated: Monday, May 10th
Now that the 2021 NFL Draft is in our rearview mirror, it's time to look ahead to the upcoming NFL and college football seasons and even further ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft.
The pre-draft process should be more typical (fingers crossed) in 2022 with the NFL Scouting Combine, private workouts, etc. returning.
Perhaps the on-location draft weekend in Las Vegas will be anything but normal; I mean that in the best way possible. I'm looking forward to seeing the spectacle of a Vegas draft week(end)!
With that said, here is my way-too-early 2022 NFL Mock Draft:
Offseason trade demands and ongoing legal issues make Deshaun Watson's future with the Houston Texans anything but certain. If Houston is picking first in the 2022 NFL Draft, the organization could use this opportunity to draft a quarterback.
Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux will top my initial 2022 big board, but Howard is my QB1 a little less than a year out and a potential top-five pick. Like Watson, Howell has the ability to elevate the play of those around him and he's been one of the best deep passers in college football since his freshman season.
If the Lions are picking this high in 2022, it's possible that they could look to reset at quarterback. The Lions would only incur a $10 million cap hit if they moved on from Jared Goff next offseason. In addition, Lions general manager Brad Holmes recently said they "would have had to strongly consider" a quarterback at No. 7 if Penei Sewell weren't their highest-ranked player available.
Since 2018, two Sooner quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) have been selected first overall and another (Jalen Hurts) was a second-round pick. If there's a quarterback that will challenge Howell for the honor to be 2022's QB1, it's most likely Rattler. Based on props from Bovada, Rattler (11/2) is the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy over Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei (6/1), who's not eligible until the 2023 NFL Draft.
Arguably the top college football recruit in 2019, Thibodeaux has lived up to the hype so far with 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss over 21 games in his first two seasons. In a pair of Pac-12 Championship Games, he's been virtually unblockable -- 18 QB pressures, 4.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks in those two games combined.
Current Oregon (and former Texas A&M) DC Tim DeRuyter has compared Thibodeaux's explosiveness to that of Von Miller, one of DeRuyter's former players, as he said that Kayvon is "probably the first person that I've seen in a while who has that explosiveness off the edge like Von" [Miller].
The Bengals (17) ranked last in the NFL in sacks last season. Even though they signed Trey Hendrickson to a four-year deal, Carl Lawson (team-high 5.5 sacks) departed via free agency.
Although not as dominant last year as he was in 2019, Stingley's true freshman season was as good as it gets for any defensive back regardless of level of experience. When the Detroit Lions selected Jeffery Okudah third overall in 2019, ESPN's Ryan Clark said that some coaches agreed with him that Stingley "would've been the number one cornerback drafted in that draft" at only 18 years old. Given his elite combination of size, speed and ball skills, Stingley will be a top-five pick in 2022 (or whenever he declares).
Even though the Jaguars have selected C.J. Henderson (2020) and Tyson Campbell (2021) with top-33 picks in back-to-back drafts, I don't think that precludes them from passing on a talent like Stingley.
No safeties were drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but Hamilton will hear his named called early in 2022 and potentially inside the top-five picks. Leading Notre Dame in tackles last season, Hamilton has tremendous size and length (6-4, 219) at safety with the versatility to impact the game in a variety of ways.
A former five-star recruit, Leal (6-4, 290) has elite athleticism for his size and inside/outside versatility. Stout against the run and disruptive as a pass-rusher, Leal had a team-high eight pressures, seven TFLs, 2.5 sacks, an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery in 2020.
The Giants got a nice value with Azeez Ojulari falling to the middle of Round 2 in the 2021 NFL Draft and add to their pass rush here with Jackson. While not as productive in a shortened 2020 campaign, Jackson led USC in sacks (5.5) and TFLs (11.5) as a true freshman in 2019 and has the traits to become a top-five pick.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Eagles didn't add any competition via the draft for Jalen Hurts, but they will have three first-rounders in 2022 assuming that Carson Wentz plays a minimum of 75% of offensive snaps for the Colts in 2021. If they are picking this high based on their own performance (i.e., their original pick), the Eagles brass will likely add competition next year. A transfer from Auburn, Willis is arguably the most physically-gifted quarterback in this year's draft class with a chance to put himself in the mix for the top pick come next April.
Per The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, Coastal Carolina's DC Chad Staggs said the following about Willis: "We were undefeated, we had beat BYU, I thought we were pretty good on defense. And I felt like [Willis] single-handedly beat us. We couldn't tackle him. He's got a cannon. From a true physical ability thing, he was special."
A former five-star recruit out of IMG Academy, Neal has started at left guard (2019) and right tackle (2020) for the Crimson Tide and is expected to replace Alex Leatherwood at left tackle in 2021. The Panthers drafted Brady Christensen and Deonte Brown in the third and sixth round, respectively, but their best offensive lineman (right tackle Taylor Moton) will play 2021 on the franchise tag absent a new deal.
Washington missed out on the top five quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft and quarterback will be a very common position mocked to WFT in 2022 mocks, especially if they are picking inside the top 10. Ryan Fitzpatrick will start for Washington in his age-39 season, but he signed a one-year deal and there is no long-term answer currently on the roster.
One of college football's most accurate passers (70.0% career completion rate), Slovis had a bit of an up-and-down season in 2020 after a stellar freshman season, but he still led the Pac 12 in passing yards per game (320.2) last year.
Elam followed up a strong true freshman season as a reserve with two interceptions and 11 passes defended in his first season as a starter in 2020. With continued development, Elam (6-2, 193) has the potential to hear his name called on Day 1 in 2022 like his uncle Matt was several years ago.
The Giants have made a number of upgrades to their pass rush (including Drake Jackson earlier in this 2022 NFL mock draft) and to their secondary, but they could use a difference maker in the middle of the their defense. Harris enters his junior season as a three-year starter and had 79 tackles, seven TFLs, 4.5 sacks and an interception in 2020.
A number of Minnesota's cornerbacks -- Patrick Peterson, Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander -- will be UFAs after the 2021 season and last year's first-round pick -- Jeff Gladney -- had a disappointing rookie campaign (PFF's 102nd-graded corner). In addition, safeties Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods are scheduled to become free agents in 2022 as well. The Vikings allowed the third-most 20-yard pass plays (63) and tied for allowing the most 40-yard pass plays (12) in 2020. In other words, there's a good chance they use their first-round pick on the secondary and Mike Zimmer gets a versatile safety prospect with Bolden here.
Many expected the Cardinals to use an early pick on corner in the 2021 NFL Draft, but they used a pair of Day 3 picks instead to address the position with Florida's Marco Wilson and UCF's Tay Gowan in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Considering that Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford will be unrestricted free agents in 2022, corner will be a popular position mocked to the Cardinals again.
Since 2014, the Buckeyes have had seven cornerbacks selected in the first round. Banks, who led the Buckeyes with seven pass breakups in 2020, has a good combination of size (6-1, 200), length and footwork.
Before his announcement to return to school, Olave was often listed in 2021 first-round mock drafts. By returning to school, Olave has a chance to become the first receiver off the board in 2022. Olave isn't the biggest receiver (6-1, 188), but he is one of the best route-runners in college football and has outstanding hands and speed.
Ben Roethlisberger will turn 40 next offseason and if this year isn't his final year, it's obvious that there isn't much left in the tank. A former five-star recruit and USC transfer, Daniels threw for 1,231 yards, 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions in his four games for the Bulldogs in 2020.
Continue to 2022 NFL Mock Draft: Picks 17-32
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