Here we go: Two weeks (OK, 15 days) until the start of the 2022 NFL draft.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock, of course, but they’re not the most interesting team in this draft. There are a whopping eight teams with two first-round picks — a record if it shakes out that way on April 28 — including Super Bowl contenders such as the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. There are a lot of ways Round 1 could go, especially with the questions (and concerns) around the quarterback class.
Let’s get into my annual two-round mock draft, projecting Picks 1-64. I have four quarterbacks and 12 wide receivers here, plus four edge defenders in the top seven picks. I have interesting landing spots for the offensive tackles. And I have one trade for a team moving back into Round 1 to get a critical need — and leaping another franchise that needs that position.
I’m projecting these 64 picks based on a combination of my updated rankings, team needs and what I’m hearing from execs, scouts and coaches in the league. For the second round, in particular, so much could change between now and when teams are on the clock, so I’m using my Big Board as a guide on value.
If you want to go deeper than the first two rounds, check out Jordan Reid’s seven-round mock. And you can watch our one-hour SportsCenter Special on ESPN+.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
There’s really no need to overthink things here. Hutchinson is the best prospect in this class — an edge rusher who could average 12 sacks a year for a decade — and he plays a premier position. He could play as a stand-up outside linebacker or hand-in-the-dirt end for the Jaguars, meeting quarterbacks in the backfield with 2019 first-rounder Josh Allen.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Can I interest you in a 6-foot-3 corner with long arms and 4.41 40-yard dash speed who didn’t allow a single touchdown in coverage in college? That’s Gardner. The Lions have several needs and would likely jump at Aidan Hutchinson if he somehow fell here. But if they select Gardner and get something out of Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 draft who has played just 10 games in two seasons, they could have a much-improved secondary.
I don’t think anyone outside the organization really knows what the Texans will do in Round 1. For this mock, I’m trying to think long-term with Houston, which just has to add some talent. Walker is a bit of a risk in the top 10; NFL teams are betting that his physical tools will win out over his subpar college production (9.5 sacks in three seasons). Coaches want to try to maximize that upside. There is a lot of buzz on Walker going early.
I’m not buying a Thibodeaux drop. He might be the most talented prospect in this class. The Jets have to add some juice to their pass rush, and this is the spot to do it. It’s also not out of the question that they take a receiver here — Drake London or Garrett Wilson? — because their top guy might be off the board by the time they pick at No. 10.
If the board shakes out this way, the Giants would have to be thrilled to get their pick of the top two offensive tackles. I have Ekwonu just slightly over Evan Neal, but it’s tough to go wrong with either — they are my Nos. 2 and 3 prospects in this class. Ekwonu answered every question about his pass-protection ability last season. If left tackle Andrew Thomas keeps improving, these two could form one of the NFL’s best bookend pairings.
Doesn’t Carolina coach Matt Rhule have to take a swing on a quarterback here? The Panthers don’t have second- or third-round picks. Rhule will enter the season on the hot seat, and this is his chance to buy some time with a high-ceiling rookie signal-caller. Willis is going to make some mistakes, but he will be fun to watch. He might nail a perfect deep ball to Robby Anderson and then throw a pick in the red zone on the next play. But he’s going to keep getting better with time, and Carolina does have some skill position talent to help him.
7. New York Giants (via CHI)
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
The Giants can get their tackle at No. 5 and then focus on their defense, which allowed 4.7 yards per play last season (31st in the NFL). Johnson had 12 sacks last season and was one of the most impressive prospects at the Senior Bowl in January. He already has a few veteran pass-rush moves and can be an instant starter. He also played a lot of outside linebacker for the Seminoles, so he will have some versatility in Don Martindale’s defense. And if you’re keeping track, this makes four edge rushers in the top seven picks.
I’m going to stick with this prediction because … who is Marcus Mariota going to throw to next season? The Falcons just don’t have any starting-caliber receivers. Wilson can run every route and beat defenders after the catch. He could be the early favorite for Rookie of the Year if he lands here — he’d get a bunch of targets. Atlanta will likely be tracking the edge rushers closely, but there isn’t value at this point on my board.play
Look back at Garrett Wilson’s college career and why he is a star in the making at WR.
9. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN)
This is another team that ends up with an ideal scenario. Veteran left tackle Duane Brown is still unsigned, so Neal could start from Day 1. It just makes too much sense. I’m not a huge believer that Drew Lock will be Seattle’s quarterback answer for the long term, but Neal could be a stalwart on the left side for years to come.
10. New York Jets (via SEA)
If the Jets can pull this off — a top-tier receiver here and a high-upside edge rusher at No. 4 — shouldn’t they be considered one of the most improved teams of the offseason? I like what they’ve done, and they haven’t had to break the bank. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be AFC East contenders just yet. London is a 6-foot-4 target who will dominate in the red zone and pull down 50-50 balls to boost Zach Wilson’s completion percentage.
11. Washington Commanders
Hamilton has been dinged a little bit because of his 40 time, which was a 4.59 at the combine and a little slower at his pro day. He’s a fantastic player, but he doesn’t have rare physical tools, which means he could fall out of the top 10. I would want him on my team. At 6-foot-4, he could play multiple positions, from center fielder to box linebacker. He would make plays for a Washington defense that disappointed in 2021.
This is a great fit for both sides. The Vikings could get a corner with an elite, All-Pro ceiling and plug a hole, while Stingley could join a team with a few other former LSU stars (Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter, Patrick Peterson). The concern about Stingley is that his best tape is from 2019, when he starred as a true freshman. Can he return to form in the NFL — and stay healthy? That’s a risk teams will have to consider. Still, I feel better making that bet at No. 12 than if I were picking in the top five.
13. Houston Texans (via CLE)
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
I’m going to stick to my board here, and since my top 11 prospects have all been picked (plus Malik Willis), I’ll move on to No. 12. Cross is a superb pass-blocker who needs some refinement in the run game — because he just didn’t get the reps to do so while playing for Mike Leach. If the Texans are going to give Davis Mills the 2022 season to prove he’s their guy at quarterback, Mills needs a better right tackle. That could be Cross.
The Ravens could go in several directions here, including offensive tackle (will Ronnie Stanley ever be the same again?) and defensive end (Calais Campbell is back, but he’s 35). When I look at this depth chart, though, I see corner depth as an issue. McDuffie has the versatility to play outside and in the slot, and he also will wrap up and bring down ball carriers in the run game. He’s physical.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA)