- ESPN College Football and NFL Draft Analyst
- Joined ESPN in 2006
- Played quarterback in high school and was a backup QB for the University of Richmond.
The 2022 NFL draft is here. Months of evaluating prospects, talking to team personnel, stacking my board and everything else that goes into draft prep concludes with one final mock draft ahead of Thursday night’s Round 1.
Remember, these predictions are based on what I think a team will do, rather than what I think it should do. And that’s no simple task this year. There will be plenty of surprises in the opening 32 selections, and the intrigue begins right at No. 1 with the Jaguars. Jacksonville, and the teams that follow, will have options, though. This class is stacked with high-caliber players who should slide right into starting spots and make an impact.
But where will those talented prospects end up in the draft? How will the eight teams currently set to have multiple first-round selections approach the board? Who will land a quarterback? And will we see a run on wide receivers in a deep class? Here is my final projection of the opening 32 picks, including a trade. Catch all the action Thursday night, starting at 8 ET on ABC, ESPN and the ESPN App, and follow along live with our NFL Draftcast.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
As I said on Monday, signs are now strongly pointing to Walker as the top pick. He is versatile, explosive and powerful, and he’d team up with Josh Allen to form a solid edge-rush pairing for new coach Doug Pederson. Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson — who was long rumored to be the guy here — has the production résumé, but Jacksonville is intrigued by Walker’s upside and traits. And while taking an offensive tackle isn’t out of the question, Wednesday’s three-year extension for Cam Robinson certainly made the Jags’ direction here much more clear.
Detroit might turn in the draft card before commissioner Roger Goodell is even finished reading Walker’s name. Landing Hutchinson would be a big win for general manager Brad Holmes and the rebuilding Lions. Hutchinson is my No. 1 overall prospect and would immediately be a leader on the Detroit defense. And he could top the team in sacks as a rookie thanks to his relentless and technically sound approach to rushing the passer.
In true Las Vegas fashion, Houston is keeping its cards close to its vest. I could see Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux or NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu here, but I’ve heard the Texans are high on Stingley, and they could certainly use a cornerback with his ball skills and massive upside. There is a wide range of opinions about Stingley’s game and what he will bring to the NFL, but the ceiling is undeniable. He was one of the best players in the country as a freshman in 2019.
The Jets are going to be playing the value game here, with another pick lined up at No. 10. Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner would be tempting if things fall this way, and I wouldn’t rule out the Jets addressing the edge rush concern now rather than later. But Ekwonu is a mauler who would immediately upgrade the offensive line, and he has the versatility to play all over.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
I’ve heard the Giants and the Panthers both love Cross, who is the best pure pass-protector in the entire class. So New York will likely want to first address the line and land its guy ahead of Carolina before looking at other needs at No. 7. Pairing Cross with Andrew Thomas gives the Giants a solid duo, helping put Daniel Jones in the best possible position to succeed in a make-or-break season for the fourth-year quarterback.
Neal is nearly impossible to get around in pass protection, and he takes great angles in the run game, which would help spring Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers gave up 52 sacks last season, and while I like what they did on the interior in free agency, offensive tackle is still a need. Quarterback is, of course, also a consideration, but it’s just too early, and it doesn’t matter who is under center if the team can’t keep him upright.
7. New York Giants (via CHI)
It’s not often that a team gets good value this high on the board, but the chance to add a true shutdown cornerback might be enough for the Giants to skip out on the pass rush for the time being. And remember, it’s possible that cornerback could become the bigger of the two needs if the team’s salary-cap concerns forces it to move on from James Bradberry. The Giants can pop the champagne early and celebrate adding two high-level young starters before the sun even sets in Las Vegas.
Atlanta would think long and hard about a wide receiver here — Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson or Southern California’s Drake London would be the two to watch — but it would probably jump at the chance to stop Thibodeaux’s slide down the top 10. The Falcons’ 18 sacks were No. 32 in the NFL last season — 11 clear of the second-worst team — and Thibodeaux explodes off the line. Atlanta can concentrate on wideout in Round 2 with a deep pass-catching group.
9. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN)
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
The drop-off at edge rusher after Johnson is steep, and all of the wide receivers are still on the board, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Seattle trade out of this pick. But if the Seahawks can’t find a dance partner or opt to stay home, Johnson’s high-rev motor, first-step quickness and powerful hands would spark their pass rush. Others to watch, should they fall, include Stingley, Thibodeaux and the top three tackles.play
Check out the highlights from Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II.
10. New York Jets (via SEA)
The cornerback and edge rusher groups each took an early hit, but the wide receiver class remained untouched through nine picks. So it’s a pretty easy move here. Wilson has elite body control and great speed, which would provide quarterback Zach Wilson with a trusty target in the vertical and red zone games. With Ekwonu blocking and plenty of other playmakers already in place, the Jets can look to the Wilson-to-Wilson connection for Year 1 fireworks. As for defensive needs, remember that the Jets have two more picks inside the top 40.
11. Washington Commanders
Terry McLaurin had 1,053 receiving yards last season, but no other Washington player broke 400. I love London’s ability to box out defenders and come down with tough contested catches, and new Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz would too.
Xavier Woods left in free agency, and Harrison Smith is 33 years old. Hamilton comes at pretty good value, and he has a unique combination of range, size, length and ball skills. Before his knee injury in October, Hamilton picked off three passes.
MOCK TRADE: Dallas skips the line
The Texans already have 10 picks in this draft, but a rebuilding team can never have enough. To make this deal happen, the Cowboys would likely have to send a package in the ballpark of No. 24, No. 56 and a 2023 second-rounder to Houston. (As an aside, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Texans do the opposite here and move into the top 10 for a wide receiver.)
13. Dallas Cowboys (via mock trade with HOU/CLE)
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The Cowboys released La’el Collins this offseason, leaving a hole opposite Tyron Smith. Penning would help buy time for quarterback Dak Prescott in the pocket; but Penning’s real value to Dallas might come in the run game, where he truly excels. Eleven spots is quite a jump up the board, but there’s a noticeable drop-off at offensive tackle in this class after Penning.
This is probably the latest that Davis would come off the board. Even after signing Michael Pierce, Baltimore could use a massive, double-team-eating run-stopper like Davis to clog the middle of the field. We all know about his legendary combine workout by now — I mean, a 4.78-second 40-yard dash at 341 pounds is ridiculous — and if Davis stays at his current weight, he’ll be a nightmare for opponents every Sunday.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA)