With one year to go until the 2022 NFL Draft, we project next year’s top picks.
CLEVELAND — Editor’s note: the video in the player above is from a previous story.
The 2022 NFL Draft is still a year away, but it’s never too early to start projecting the top picks.
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What follows is our first 2022 mock draft, using NFL.com’s latest power rankings to determine the draft order.
1. Detroit Lions – Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
One would imagine having the first pick would put the Lions in a position to draft a quarterback, but unless a clear-cut candidate emerges, that may not be the case. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux grades higher than any pass-rusher in the 2021 class did and could serve as a defensive building block for what is expected to be a multi-year rebuild in Detroit.
2. Houston Texans – Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Unlike Trevor Lawrence a year ago, a top quarterback prospect in the 2022 class has yet to be established. Much like Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018, a big season at Oklahoma could propel former 5-star prospect Spencer Rattler into that position.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Considering the expectations for Lawrence, picking third would be a disappointment for Jacksonville. On the bright side, it would give the Jaguars an opportunity to nab one of the best cornerback prospects in quite some time in LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
The Bengals used three draft picks on offensive linemen in 2021, including second-round pick Jackson Carman. But with protecting Joe Burrow being paramount, the opportunity to draft a talented and versatile former 5-star prospect in Evan Neal would likely be too appealing to pass on.
5. Carolina Panthers – Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
In each of the past two drafts, the Panthers have used top 10 picks to bolster their defense with the selections of Derrick Browns and Jaycee Horn. Another top 10 pick, however, would mean it’s time to accelerate the rebuild, with hometown prospect Sam Howell possessing the potential to be Carolina’s next franchise quarterback.
6. New York Jets – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
No NFL team has drafted a safety in the top 10 since the Jets picked Jamal Adams in 2017. One of the top defensive players in next year’s draft, Kyle Hamilton could give New York’s secondary the playmaker it has lacked since the Jets traded Adams to Seattle ahead of the 2020 season.
7. Denver Broncos – Zion Nelson, OT, Miami (Fla.)
This may seem like an obvious spot for the Broncos to pick a quarterback, but Denver’s roster seems better suited for a veteran than a rookie. If there’s one position — aside from quarterback — the Broncos could stand to improve, it’s offensive tackle, where Miami’s Zion Nelson has already emerged as one of next year’s top prospects.
8. Philadelphia Eagles – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Thought to be one of their roster’s more pressing needs, the Eagles waited until the fourth round of the 2021 draft to select a cornerback. Behind Stingley, Florida’s Kaiir Elam may be the top corner in the 2022 class.
9. Washington Football Team – Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
Washington enters 2021 with Ryan Fitzpatrick as its starter and didn’t select a quarterback in this year’s draft. Kedon Slovis possesses all the tools necessary to be one of next year’s top quarterback prospects.
10. Atlanta Falcons – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Falcons passed on the opportunity to draft Matt Ryan’s successor this year, but another top 10 selection might force Atlanta to look to the future. Considered one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in next year’s class, Malik Willis could sit behind Ryan for a season before ultimately taking over a Falcons’ offense loaded with promising young talent.
11. New York Giants – Drake Jackson, Edge, USC
Even if the Giants move on from Daniel Jones, picking at this point in the draft may make trading or signing a veteran a more appealing alternative. That would put them in a position to use their first-round pick to bolster their defense with one of next year’s top pass-rushers, like USC’s Drake Jackson.
12. Dallas Cowboys – Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State
The Cowboys’ offensive line has long been one of their strengths, but age is beginning to catch up. Penn State’s Rasheed Walker could take over for Tyron Smith as Dallas’ new franchise left tackle.
13. Las Vegas Raiders – Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
Regardless of who’s playing quarterback for the Raiders in 2022, he’s going to need more weapons than Las Vegas’ roster currently possesses. Before a spinal condition cost him his entire 2020 season, Justyn Ross — who is expected to play in 2021 — looked like one of the top prospects in the 2021 class.
14. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Having two picks in the first round should give the Giants the opportunity to get creative. Adding DeMarvin Leal and Jackson in the same round could give New York one of the most talented front-sevens in all of football.
15. New England Patriots – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Patriots haven’t had much success drafting wide receivers recently, but that shouldn’t stop them from trying. While Garrett Wilson may be the better overall prospect, Chris Olave’s versatility would seem to make for a better fit in New England.
16. Minnesota Vikings – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Considering the talent in this year’s class, a first-round run on wide receivers appears inevitable. In Minnesota, Wilson could pair with Justin Jefferson to give the Vikings one of the league’s most talented young duos.
17. Arizona Cardinals – Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M
After selecting Kyler Murray with the No. 1 pick in 2019, the Cardinals have used their next two first-round picks on linebackers. Here, they get their franchise quarterback some help in the form of the draft’s top tight end, Jalen Wydermyer, who could help take some of the focus off of DeAndre Hopkins.
18. Los Angeles Chargers – Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson
The Chargers used a second-round pick on Asante Samuel Jr. this year, but the Florida State product profile more as a nickel back than an outside corner. Prior to returning to Clemson for his senior season, Derion Kendrick was considered one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 class.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins) – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
The state of the Eagles’ wide receivers room is such that nobody could blame them for using first-round picks on the position in consecutive drafts. George Pickens’ production has yet to match his talent level, but he has the ability necessary to be one of 2022’s top wide receivers.
20. Indianapolis Colts – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
To the surprise of many, the Colts didn’t select an offensive lineman until the seventh round of this year’s draft. A 2020 second-team All-ACC selection, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu appears primed for a breakout season in 2021.
21. Tennessee Titans – Zach Harrison, Edge, Ohio State
The Titans had one of the league’s worst pass rushes in 2020 and it remains to be seen how much the signing of Bud Dupree will change that. Zach Harrison has yet to live up to his 5-star status at Ohio State, but possesses all of the tools to be a future first-round pick.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
Joe Haden is entering the final year of his contract and Justin Layne has been inconsistent — at best — since being selected in 2019. Sevyn Banks might not look like a first-round prospect just yet, but Ohio State’s recent track record at the cornerback position speaks for itself.
23. New Orleans Saints – John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
The Saints used their first three picks in this year’s draft on defense and only selected one skill player — in the seventh round. John Metchie III’s speed would fit well in an offense that already includes Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
24. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco 49ers) – Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M
The Dolphins had one of the weaker running back groups in 2020 and 2021 isn’t shaping up to look much different. Isaiah Spiller looks like the early favorite to be the top running back in next year’s class and could give Miami the every-down back it has lacked in recent years.
25. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks) – Brenton Cox, Edge, Florida
New Jets head coach Robert Saleh found success as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator thanks in large part to a steady stable of pass-rushers. A former 5-star prospect, Brenton Cox would give New York another chess piece to play with.
26. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams) – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
An additional first-round pick by way of the Rams could give the Lions the opportunity to take a late-first-round gamble. Desmond Ridder’s dual-threat ability and physical tools make him one of 2022’s most intriguing quarterback prospects.
27. Cleveland Browns – Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee
A potentially crowded salary cap situation could leave the Browns with holes on their offensive line a year from now. Cade Mays is a former 5-star prospect who profiles as a potential top-level guard at the next level.
28. Baltimore Ravens – Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
Even after using the No. 31 overall pick on Odafe Oweh this year, the Ravens’ pass rush could use some help. Aidan Hutchinson played for John Harbaugh’s brother at Michigan and would make for an ideal fit in Baltimore’s versatile scheme.
29. Green Bay Packers – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
This draft positioning seems to indicate that Aaron Rodgers will remain in Green Bay for at least one more season. And while that may seem unlikely, at this point, Jordan Love should be considered the favorite to be the Packers’ starter in 2022.
Either way, one would imagine Green Bay will want to get the 2020 first-round pick as much help as possible, with Treylon Burk possessing the size (6-foot-3, 232 pounds) and skills to be one of the 2022 class’ most intriguing pass-catchers.
30. Buffalo Bills – Zamir White, RB, Georgia
Rather than addressing their lackluster running game with a running back, the Bills opted to focus on their offensive line throughout the 2021 draft. Picking late again a year from now, however, could give them additional flexibility, with former 5-star prospect Zamir White standing out as a potential breakout player in the 2022 class.
31. Kansas City Chiefs – Bubba Bolden, S, Miami (Fla.)
Tyann Mathieu is entering the final season of his contract in Kansas City. Miami’s Bubba Bolden profiles as a potential idea replacement.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Will Mallory, TE, Miami (Fla.)
Gearing up for what could very well be Tom Brady’s final run, it would make sense for Tampa Bay to get him as many weapons as possible. No longer playing next to Brevin Jordan, Miami’s Will Mallory could be poised for a breakout season.