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The 2021 NFL Draft wrapped up less than a week ago, which means it’s already time to look forward. Forget about the regular season. Let’s talk about the 2022 NFL Draft. Plenty of star prospects could emerge over the next year, but we already know some of the best players in advance. Here’s a way-to-early look at the 2022 NFL Draft.
Let’s discuss a few caveats before getting into the article. The draft order for next year won’t materialize until the end of the 2022 regular season. I’m generating the order based on how I think each team will perform. Basically, there are a lot of ways for me to be wrong. Cut me some slack.
We’ve already seen quite a few trades that alter next year’s draft order. The Detroit Lions, New York Giants, and New York Jets have two picks each. Miami owns San Francisco’s first-round pick but shipped theirs to the Eagles. Philadelphia could wind up with three first-rounders if Carson Wentz plays at least 75% of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps or only plays 70% and the Colts make the playoffs this year.
The least likely part of this mock is that it includes six quarterbacks going in the first-round. The 2022 quarterback class is significantly weaker than the one we saw produce five top-32 selections a week ago. While Sam Howell and Spencer Rattler have claims for the top pick, neither falls in the same class as Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence.
No matter which way things go with Deshaun Watson’s legal battle, it seems like he’s done playing for the Texans. The perennial Pro Bowler made his intention to leave Houston known even before the accusations arose. If Tyrod Taylor is Houston’s quarterback in 2021, they might win three or four games at most.
Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley have a history of producing highly drafted quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy in 2017 and went first overall to Cleveland. Kyler Murray followed suit in 2018, and Jalen Hurts arrived via the transfer portal in 2019. He finished second in the Heisman race and went 53rd overall to Philadelphia. Next, it’s Rattler’s turn.
Last year marked Rattler’s first season as Oklahoma’s starter. He threw for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 11 games. The Sooners finished sixth in the final AP Poll.
The Lions took on Jared Goff’s unwieldy contract when they sent Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles. The earliest they can get out of his extension, which kicks in this year, is after the 2022 season. However, the former first overall pick shouldn’t prevent Detroit’s front office from targeting a quarterback when they inevitably have a high pick next year.
Howell set a high bar for himself as a freshman, throwing for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He followed up with another impressive performance this past year, and the Tar Heels finished 18th in the final AP Poll.
Howell’s top two running backs and wide receivers from the past two years heard their names called in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’ll have to adjust to some new faces this coming season.
Carolina invested heavily in its defense over the past several years, drafting Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos. While Gross-Matos was a second-round pick, he remains unproven as an NFL starter. Meanwhile, Thibodeaux could be the best defensive end prospect since Myles Garrett. As a freshman, Thibodeaux amassed nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
New York didn’t add any significant pieces to its offensive line in this past draft. Presumably, Matt Peart and Nate Solder will battle for the starting right tackle role. However, neither player is a good starting option at this point in their careers. Neal is Alabama’s starting right tackle. He could pair nicely with Andrew Thomas and give the Giants bookend tackles.
This situation assumes that New York isn’t in the quarterback market next year. However, it’s not a good sign for Daniel Jones if the Giants are picking this high in the draft.
The NFL values several premier positions. Quarterbacks dominate the hierarchy, and I’m not sure the Eagles have a long-term option there yet. Jalen Hurts has potential, but we can’t determine too much from his roughly 330 career offensive snaps. If Hurts falls apart this year, expect the Eagles to move on quickly and take a quarterback at this spot.
Stingley set college football on fire as a freshman in 2019, intercepting six passes and breaking up 15 other attempts. He was a Consensus All-American but couldn’t match that historic production in 2020. Even with the statistical drop, Stingley is the best cornerback prospect since Jalen Ramsey in 2016. He would’ve gone first among all corners in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Olave made the surprising decision to return to Ohio St. despite earning first-round interest early in the NFL offseason. While he’s never put together a 1,000-yard season, Olave averaged one touchdown and over 100 receiving yards per game in 2020. The Raiders could use a player capable of threatening defenses at every level.
Leal plays defensive end for the Aggies, but he’s 290 lbs. He doesn’t have to change positions, but an eventual move to defensive tackle seems imminent. Robert Saleh already has Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams manning New York’s defensive front. Adding Leal creates the best defensive line in the AFC East. It’s just a question of who plays outside and who stays inside.
Give Luke Fickell and his staff credit for injecting talent into Cincinnati’s program over the past few years. The Bearcats currently have one of the nation’s best cornerbacks entering his junior year. Gardner intercepted three passes and broke up six in each of his first two collegiate seasons. If not for Stingley, he’d be the best cornerback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Mays plays right guard for the Volunteers. While I don’t usually condone drafting a guard this high, Mays is one of next year’s best offensive line prospects. He’ll enter the NFL as both of Jacksonville’s starting guards (A.J. Cann and Andrew Norwell) enter free agency. The Jaguars must prioritize protecting Trevor Lawrence.
Even after drafting AJ Terrell with the 16th overall pick in 2020 and taking two more corners last weekend, the Falcons don’t have a completed secondary. Atlanta struggled to put together a competent defense during Matt Ryan’s prime. With the former MVP nearing his 36th birthday, the Falcons must finally get their defense right.
Playing in the NFL is a family affair for the Elam’s. Kaiir’s father, safety Abram Elam, spent seven seasons in the NFL after going undrafted. The rising junior’s uncle, safety Matt Elam, also played for the Gators and was the 32nd overall pick in 2013.
Sean Payton has an interesting taste in quarterbacks. The Saints have rookie Ian Book, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, and Jameis Winston under contract for this coming season, but only Book’s deal extends past 2021. If New Orleans falls apart after shedding veteran contracts in the spring, Payton might take a swing at a long-term answer.
Slovis made a name for himself as a true freshman in USC’s air raid offense. He stole JT Daniel’s job in 2019 and threw for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. The freshman phenom’s encore was less impressive. He threw 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions in only six games last year.
Tyron Smith is 30 years old and hasn’t appeared in more than 13 games since 2015. He only made two appearances last season. Now, the Cowboys are staring down a 17-game regular season, with Dak Prescott coming off a significant injury. It’s about time Dallas finds its next franchise left tackle. However, Smith has three expensive years left on his contract.
The Giants run a 3-4 defense which might not fit Karlaftis perfectly, but it’s hard to overlook New York’s need for sack artists. Grabbing Azeez Ojulari in the second-round this year was a genius move by David Gettleman, but the defensive front still isn’t as impressive as those that won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
Karlaftis produced 54 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks during his freshman season at Purdue.
The Buckeyes have two elite wide receiver prospects that are draft eligible for 2022. Olave is more experienced and entering his senior year, but there’s a chance Wilson becomes the better player. Arizona recently used a second-round pick on Rondale Moore, but Wilson already has a better route tree and a much shorter injury history. Pair him with DeAndre Hopkins and Moore.
Minnesota let Anthony Harris walk this offseason, and Mike Zimmer’s team could do the same to Harrison Smith when the former All-Pro becomes a free agent next spring. Xavier Woods is also on a one-year deal. The Vikings can reset their safety room by drafting Hamilton, a 6-4, 219 lb. beast from Notre Dame. He has five interceptions over the past two seasons.
The Titans elected not to pick up Rashaan Evans’ fifth-year option. The former 22nd overall pick started all 32 games for Tennessee over the past two seasons. However, he’s yet to top his rookie 65.5 grade from Pro Football Focus. Unless recently selected Georgia product Monty Rice is the answer, Tennessee could swing at another Alabama linebacker next year.
Ben Roethlisberger is 39 years old and in the final season of his current contract. Even if he wants to play in 2022, Pittsburgh won’t bring him back. This season is Big Ben’s last hurrah, and Mike Tomlin’s team has no succession plan. At best, the Steelers sneak into the playoffs this year and grab a quarterback. At worst, they’ll pick in the top ten and still land a quarterback.
Ridder has three years of solid play with the Bearcats, but he’ll need an impressive leap to solidify himself as a first-rounder. Most early mock drafts had Ridder as a second or third-round selection heading into the 2021 NFL offseason.
Jason Peters isn’t walking through that door, which is probably a good thing for Philadelphia. The 39-year-old is far past his prime. That leaves Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata battling for the left tackle role. Dillard was a first-round pick in 2019 but only started four games as a rookie before missing all of 2020 with an injury.
Mailata was a seventh-round pick in 2018. He started ten games last year, allowing seven sacks. The 24-year-old ended up on injured reserve in 2018 and 2019.
The Eagles could use a new face on the offensive line, considering the injury questions surrounding Dillard, Mailata, and former All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson.
The Broncos love taking chances on underdeveloped quarterbacks. How else can you explain one organization drafting Paxton Lynch and Drew Lock? I know George Paton replaced John Elway as Denver’s general manager, but some tendencies never change. Teddy Bridgewater, who Denver recently traded for, is a free agent next year. Lock has two more years left on his deal, but he was one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks last season.
Daniels transferred to Georgia after losing his job at USC. This pick is a massive projection for the junior, considering he’s only played in five games over the last two years. In 2020, Daniels appeared in four games, tossing ten touchdowns and two interceptions. A team won’t pick Daniels before the fourth-round unless the transfer produces an NFL-caliber season in 2021.
Bill Belichick spent a lot of money on free agent pass catchers this offseason and still didn’t sign a true No. 1 receiver. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne are decent second and third options, but New England needs a go-to star for rookie Mac Jones. Belichick is banking on Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith carrying his team’s passing game. Let’s change that.
At 6-4, 255 lbs., Jackson has the build to fit in Brandon Staley’s 3-4 defense. Los Angeles didn’t find a replacement for Melvin Ingram in the 2021 NFL Draft, meaning Joey Bosa remains the team’s only standout pass rusher. Jackson has 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in his 17 games played for USC. He’ll give Bosa a helping hand.
New York just wrapped up a fantastic draft that should eventually get Gang Green out of the AFC East’s basement. However, the team’s depth chart remains critically bare at cornerback. Neither of the corners Saleh’s team took in the 2021 NFL Draft project as outside starters.
Banks can help bring some stardom and stability back to the cornerback room.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a one-year rental that might buy Ron Rivera’s team another trip to the playoffs. Even if Fitzpatrick performs well, he’s already 38 years old. Washington needs a long-term solution at quarterback.
Willis is an Auburn transfer that broke onto the scene at Liberty last year, throwing for 2,250 yards, 20 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He also ran for 944 yards and 14 touchdowns. Willis fits the NFL’s trend of mobile quarterbacks, but there’s a chance he slips to the later rounds.
The NFL doesn’t place a premium on running backs in the draft anymore, but two backs still heard their names called in the first-round this year. Javonte Williams also came off the board early. I’d advise against taking a running back at 24th overall, but Miami has elite or above average players at most other positions.
This pick hinges on Tua Tagovailoa’s continued development.
Baltimore loves tight ends. Mark Andrews led all Ravens pass catchers in all major receiving categories over the past two seasons. The team also invested a first-round pick in Hayden Hurst several years ago, but Andrews became the better player. However, Andrews is in the final year of his rookie contract and could demand a deal worth nearly five times his current annual salary.
NFL teams rarely spend first-round selections on tight ends, but there’s always one player in the discussion. Wydermyer is that prospect for 2022. He’s 6-5, weighs 265 lbs., and has 953 receiving yards through his first two seasons with the Aggies.
Medicals could drop Ross out of the first-round, but he was one of the nation’s best receivers the last time we saw him. Ross missed the entire 2020 season as he recovered from surgery on his neck. The 21-year-old amassed 112 receptions, 1,865 yards, and 17 touchdowns during his first two years with the Tigers. Many analysts even viewed him as a better option than teammate Tee Higgins.
Philadelphia spent first-round picks on wide receivers in each of the past two drafts. Ross’ game is significantly different than Jalen Reagor’s or DeVonta Smith’s. That trio could give Philadelphia the best group of young receivers in the NFL.
Green Bay recently invested mid and late-round selections on Royce Newman and Cole Van Lanen. Meanwhile, Billy Turner is under contract through 2022, but the Packers could save roughly four million dollars by cutting him next offseason. While Walker plays left tackle for Penn St., he could immediately step in as a starting right tackle for Green Bay.
For all of their successes in the 2021 NFL Draft, Cleveland didn’t invest in a defensive end. Kevin Stefanski’s team enters the upcoming season with Jadeveon Clowney on a one-year contract. The former first overall pick is a great partner for Myles Garrett when healthy, but Clowney hasn’t appeared in more than 13 games since 2018.
Harrison offers a long-term solution for the defensive end position opposite of Garrett.
Detroit already added its future franchise quarterback earlier in the draft. It’s time to get Howell some weapons. The Lions have one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Breshad Perriman, rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyrell Williams headline the depleted unit. Metchie gives Howell an extra set of hands from a proven wide receiver factory.
Buffalo has one of the best rosters in the NFL. However, the franchise needs a talented cornerback to start over Levi Wallace, opposite of Tre’Davious White. Jobe stepped into a larger role for the Crimson Tide this past season, amassing two sacks, two forced fumbles, and 11 passes defensed. He only has one collegiate interception.
Tampa Bay was the best team in the NFL last year. Bruce Arians and Jason Licht plan on maximizing the remainder of Tom Brady’s career. Assuming Brady returns for the final season of his contract (2022), the Buccaneers could target a replacement for Alex Cappa at right guard. Although, recent third-round pick Robert Hainsey might take that job before the end of 2021.
Kansas City almost has too many options along the interior offensive line after a hectic offseason. Orlando Brown Jr. solidifies the left tackle role while Mike Remmers and 2020 third-rounder Lucas Niang handle the right side. However, it’s easier to draft Munford and move him to right tackle than wait on Niang’s development.
Quarterback– Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Jayden Daniels (Arizona St.), Dillon Gabriel (UCF), D’Eriq King (Miami), Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina), Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana), Tyler Shough (Texas Tech), Carson Strong (Nevada)
Running Back– Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma), Jerrion Ealy (Ole Miss), Breece Hall (Iowa St.), Brian Robinson Jr. (Alabama)
Tight End– Charlie Kolar (Iowa St.)
Wide Receiver– David Bell (Purdue), Treylon Burks (Arkansas), Ty Fryfogle (Indiana), Jaquarii Roberson (Wake Forest), Khalil Shakir (Boise St.)
Offensive Tackle– Logan Brown (Wisconsin), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), Jordan McFadden (Clemson)
Interior Offensive Line– Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), Jarrett Patterson (Notre Dame), Lecitus Smith (Virginia Tech)
Interior Defensive Line– Jordan Davis (Georgia), Tyler Davis (Clemson), Haskell Garrett (Ohio St.), Phidarian Mathis (Alabama), Perrion Winfrey (Oklahoma),
EDGE– Adam Anderson (Georgia), Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), Thomas Booker (Stanford), Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame), Ali Gaye (LSU), Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan), Adisa Isaac (Penn St.), Durrell Johnson (Liberty), Merlin Robertson (Arizona St.), Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati), Tyreke Smith (Ohio St.), Demetrius Taylor (Appalachian St.), Xavier Thomas (Clemson), Zion Tupuola-Fetui (Washington)
Linebacker– Brenton Cox (Florida), Devin Lloyd (Utah), Ventrell Miller (Florida), DeMarvion Overshown (Texas), Owen Pappoe (Auburn), Mike Rose (Iowa St.), Payton Wilson (North Carolina St.)
Cornerback– Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson (TCU), Sheridan Jones (Clemson), Derion Kendrick (TBD), Trent McDuffie (Washington), Tiawan Mullen (Indiana), Chris Steele (USC), Mykael Wright (Oregon), Avery Young (Rutgers)
Safety– Jordan Battle (Alabama), Bubba Bolden (Miami), Marcus Hooker (Ohio St.), Brandon Joseph (Northwestern), Verone McKinley III (Oregon), Tykee Smith (West Virginia)
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