By this time last year, I was already several mock drafts in and ready for the draft process to be over. This year, I’ve sat back and allowed the draft process to go ahead and play out before giving my thoughts. I feel like a need a creative outlet, so what better way to do that than sitting down and diving into this draft class. What sets this draft apart from many of the recent ones is the lack of a clear-cut number 1 quarterback prospect. I believe that there is a mix of 5 quarterbacks who could be called No. 1. All of them have their glaring flaws, and none of them are perfect prospects. Where this draft does excel is elite talent at every other position on the field which might be why some people aren’t as excited for this draft. I am not one of those people, and I look forward to diving into each pick and giving my take.
#1: Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
It’s been the trendy pick over the past few weeks, and understandably so. Trent Baalke drafted Aldon Smith back in the day and must see some comparisons here. Walker has all the upside in the world and if he lives up to his potential, he’ll be one of the more dominant faces in the league.
#2: Detroit Lions: Aiden Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
If you’re a Lions fan, buy a lotto ticket because you just scored. Hutchinson went to school just up the road and fits the type of player Dan Campbell wants in his locker room. He comes in and assumes the alpha role immediately on a team who needs one.
#3: Houston Texans: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
It would’ve been t0o easy to mock an edge defender to the Texans. Ekwonu has shot up draft boards almost like Walker since the end of the season, and for good reason. He improved every season at NC State and flat out dominated during his final year. This pick allows the Texans to provide Davis Mills extra protection while adding some insurance in case Laremy Tunsil decides to want out of the rebuild Houston is about to undergo
#4: New York Jets: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Neal is my favorite tackle in this class due to his athleticism and the pedigree that comes with playing offensive tackle in the SEC. Him opposite of Mekhi Becton will allow Zach Wilson to have time in the pocket and utilize that arm that set him apart during the draft last year.
#5: New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
The once-thought No. 1 overall pick lands with the Giants at 5. He’ll provide an instant pass rush for a team that finished with the 11th fewest sacks per game last year. His confidence will fit right in in New York.
#6: Projected Trade: Seattle Seahawks (Via CAR): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Carolina needs draft capital in the worst way. After this pick, they wouldn’t have had a pick until 137 in the 4th round. They can target quarterback/tackle needy teams to try and trade down and get some picks. For Seattle, drafting Cross to protect pass happy Drew Lock is a match made in heaven. He racked up as many pass-protection reps as anybody playing for Mike Leach and can offer protection to whichever quarterback is under center next season. A corner back is very much in play here.
#7: New York Giants (Via CHI): Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Notre Dame
Taking a tackle here could be seen as a reach, so you could see the Giants trade back here. In this instance, I think this benefits their defense. Hamilton is the best player available and while positional value might disagree with me here, I think he’s worthy of a top 10 pick.
#8: Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
There are no players here available that the Falcons shouldn’t want to draft. It just comes down to how their big board rolls out. They’re also another team that is a hot trade candidate due to the roster overhaul they’ll be experiencing soon. Wilson is a safe pick to have a solid NFL career. It gives Marcus Mariota (and whoever the quarterback in 2023 will be) a deep threat to pair next to Calvin Ridley when he returns from his suspension.
#9: Projected Trade: Carolina Panthers (Via SEA): Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of this pick at all, but desperate times call for desperate measures and Matt Rhule and Co. are desperate. Pickett is like a Sam Darnold clone, and I think it’s a lateral move, but Rhule has a prior connection to Pickett due to recruiting his from his Temple days. I think they should continue to trade back, but I don’t know how many teams are willing to give up what they’d likely be asking for.
#10: New York Jets (Via SEA): Drake London, WR, USC
Having a big body threat who Zach Wilson can go to for 50/50 balls could help accelerate his development drastically. London is one of the saftest picks in the draft and safe is what the Jets need right now.
#11: Washington Commanders: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Corner, Cincinnati
Gardner falling this far isn’t due to his skill, but rather teams addressing other positional needs. Gardner is one of the best overall players in this draft and will get the chance to show it with the Commanders. He should bolster the secondary and give Washington a lock down corner that so many teams covet.
#12: Minnesota Vikings: Derek Stingley Jr., Corner, LSU
After a stellar freshman season, many expected Stingley to be a top 5 pick heading into this season. Then, after two years of injury and tape that didn’t match up to his freshman year, people were wondering just how far he dropped. He quelled those questions a bit by having a stellar pro day in which he probably wasn’t even 100% healthy. If he can remain healthy and show the skill he did his freshman year, he’ll be a perennial all-pro.
#13: Houston Texans (Via CLE): Jordan Davis, DT, Texans
The Texans need to address best player available with every pick considering they have on of the worst rosters in the league. Davis can be a foundational piece right in the middle of the defense, something I’m sure new head coach Lovie Smith would appreciate.
#14: Baltimore Ravens: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Ravens caught the injury bug during the pre-season and couldn’t shake it the entire year. With a fully healthy roster back and a bad taste in their mouth, look for the Ravens to return to prominence next year and contend for an AFC North title and contend for a Super Bowl. Olave will elevate this offense and give Lamar Jackson one of the most interesting receiving cores in the league.
#15: Philadelphia Eagles (Via MIA): Trent McDuffie, Corner, Washington
Corner seems to be a constant need for the Eagles. With McDuffie, they can put that to rest. In my opinion, he’s the safest corner and Washington has always been able to develop great secondary players. He’s the next in a long line and will be ready to go day one in Philly.
#16: New Orleans Saints (Via IND): Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
New Orleans has another pick coming in at 19, but with the Steelers lurking a few picks after and two teams that don’t need quarterbacks sandwiched between their picks, New Orleans needs to jump on their guy now before Pittsburgh gets a chance. Willis is the biggest project out of the top 5 quarterbacks, but he has the highest ceiling with a cannon of an arm and elite athleticism. He needs to be able to sit for a year or two, and with Jameis Winston in place, they can do just that.
#17: LA Chargers: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
If the Chargers can address their right tackle situation, they can be heavily considered to be one of the favorites in the AFC West. Penning has a nasty streak to him and has really shot up draft boards due to his run blocking tape and his elite athleticism for his size. He can play opposite of Rashawn Slater and give the Chargers one of the best offensive lines in football.
#18: Philadelphia Eagles (Via NO): Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
The selection should be Devin Lloyd of Utah, but the Eagles never draft a linebacker in the first round, and I don’t think it’ll change this year. Plus, Johnson also addresses another need for them. He had a breakout season for the Seminoles after transferring from Georgia where he struggled to get playing time. He’s a bit on the older side, but he allows Philly to get back to what they used to thrive in: getting after the quarterback.
#19: New Orleans Saints (Via PHI): Jameson Williams, WR Alabama
The Saints have been looking for another receiver to pair with Michael Thomas for a few years now and one just fell right into their lap. If healthy, Williams is the best receiver in this class. He has game breaking speed and has the route running prowess all Alabama receivers leave with. Both Winston and Willis have elite, deep-ball arms, so whoever his quarterback is going forward will be able to utilize him fully once he’s healthy.
#20: Pittsburgh Steelers: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Mike Tomlin paid close attention to Malik Willis during the pre-draft process, but according to this mock draft, he misses out on his guy. The next best thing for the Steelers organization is the signal caller from Cincinnati. Ridder is the most pro-ready quarterback out of the top 5 and could step in right away if need be or sit behind Mitchell Trubisky. Either way, he’ll be ready.
#21: New England Patriots: Andrew Booth Jr., Corner, Clemson
With Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson long gone, corner is a glaring hole on this Patriot’s defense. Booth only has one season as a full-time starter under his belt, but his tape shows a guy who’s scheme versatile and who has improved every year of college. In a division with Tyrek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Stefon Gilmore, and possible Drake London, corner should be the first priority for New England.
#22: Green Bay Packers (Via LV): Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Burks provides Aaron Rodgers with a target that can be moved all over the field. He mostly played in the slot at Arkansas and dominated the middle of the field but with his combination of size, length, and speed, he projects as an outside receiver at the next level. He’s not polished, but with some proper coaching he could dominate in this league for 10+ seasons.
#23: Arizona Cardinals: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
They lost Christian Kirk in free agency and their quarterback reportedly wants a new deal. The bigger news in my mind is that they lost Chandler Jones (I’m just being dramatic). Karlaftis converts speed to power and vice versa so seamlessly. As a pure pass rusher, he could use some help developing a go to move but playing with J.J. Watt should clean that up as soon as week 1.
#24: Dallas Cowboys: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College
Drafting a guy named Zion out of the ACC tends to be a good idea regardless of the sport. Johnson played at Davidson for 2 years before transferring to BC and being an anchor for them from the jump. He’s an immediate day 1 starter with very little concerns. With the regional factor being in play, Kenyon Green could be the pick (wouldn’t be an issue) but Johnson has less to work on than Green.
#25: Buffalo Bills: Kaiir Elam, Corner, Florida
Let’s be honest; if Elam didn’t deal with injuries this year, he would’ve been gone a long time ago and would’ve been in consideration for the best corner in this class. His size-speed combination is excellent, and he has the tape that shows he can be a legit No. 2 guy opposite of Tre’Davious White.
#26: Tennessee Titans: Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M
With where the Titans are picking, it would be difficult to address any other need outside of guard. Green had some issues during the season but brings versatility to the board for Tennessee, having played at least a game’s worth of snaps at every position outside of center this year. No matter what position he plays, he’ll add juice to a line that could use it.
#27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Devonte Wyatt is another freak of nature that played on that Georgia defensive line this past season and he lands with the perfect team for him. They don’t need him to be incredible right away but there’s a big chance he will be. He could replace Ndamukong Suh unless he decides to return. In that case, he’d join an elite defensive line group and be a disruptive force.
#28: Green Bay Packers: Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
If there’s a pass rushing linebacker coming out of Penn State, chances are you want to draft him. The Packers use their second pick of the night to replace Za’Darius Smith. Ebiketie shot up draft boards after a terrific pre-draft process and heads to the north.
#29: Kansas City Chiefs (Via SF): Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa
Protect the franchise. Keeping Patrick Mahomes upright is a surefire way to compete in this conference, no matter who he’s throwing to. Smith might not be ready day 1, but they might not need him to be, especially if he’s at right tackle. His potential is off the charts and the Chiefs could be laughing in the end for getting him this low.
#30: Kansas City Chiefs: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
If Kyle Hamilton wasn’t such a freak of nature, Cine could easily be the top safety in this class. He played all over the field, primarily deep but having plenty of reps in the box and in the slot. Suring up the safety position could do wonders for a team with huge question marks in the secondary (and defense as a whole).
#31: Cincinnati Bengals: Kyler Gordon, Corner, Washington
Eli Apple got torched in the Super Bowl. There’s no other way to look at it. The Bengals need help at corner, and a versatile option like Gordon could help fix several needs. He looked good on both the outside and slot and has great game speed. He’s slowly creeped into first round consideration and after the top 5 corners have come of the board, he’s primed to go to Cincinnati.
#32: Detroit Lions (Via LAR): Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
How bad are the Lions going to be in 2022? I’m not sure. They have the first two days of the draft to fill some important needs and add several starters. Will they be bad enough to be in the running for players like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud in 2023? There’s a chance they won’t. Instead of risking it, the use the final pick of the first round to draft the guy with the best arm who has been dominating for the longest amount of time out of the top 5 quarterbacks. Picking Howell here also ensures you get that 5th year option on his contract. He can sit behind Goff and learn or be thrown into the mix whenever with a good offensive line and an improved receiving core.