With the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft around the corner on Thursday, sports reporters Tammer Bagdasarian, Drew Silva and Zach Zafran predict the first-round picks in a mock draft. This article is the second part of two installments, containing picks 1-16.
Pick 16: New Orleans Saints (from Indianapolis Colts through Philadelphia Eagles) — Bernhard Raimann, T, Central Michigan
While Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning was initially above Raimann on several big boards, Penning’s extremely disappointing performance at the Senior Bowl warranted concern. Raimann, a first-team all-MAC selection, could fill a void that the Saints currently have at left tackle. Once a tight end, Raimann is able to use his hands in crafty ways to create leverage and tie up defenders. While there is a sizable gap between Raimann and the three tackles projected to go ahead of him, Raimann should be able to have an immediate impact on a Saints offense that looked miserable at times last season.
Pick 15: Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins) — Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Jameson Williams has game-changing speed. At Alabama, he burned defenses with ease, fitting well into complex offensive schemes. Though he is not a top-tier route runner at the moment, he can improve that skill in an NFL offensive system. For a team looking to give Jalen Hurts one more year with the starting job, the Eagles will probably look to fill a thin wide receiver room currently led by DeVonta Smith.
Part 14: Baltimore Ravens — Derek Stingley Jr. CB, LSU
At first glance, the Ravens’ cornerback room doesn’t appear to need help. Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey provide this secondary with a pair of the league’s premier defensive backs. The depth at the position, however, is completely lacking behind them. While Baltimore has needs at offensive tackle and edge rusher, not only does the team address a need, but it easily selects the best player available. Injuries are somewhat of a concern, as Stingley has played in just 10 games over the past two seasons. But when the DBU-product has seen the field, his uncommon blend of size, athleticism and skill give him one of the highest ceilings a cornerback can have. His film as a true freshman — three years ago — is enough to get scouts energized. Imagining what just a few years of healthy development can do for him is something to excite the Ravens’ front office.
Pick 13: Houston Texans (from Cleveland Browns) — Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State
For a Texans team that faces the likes of Jonathan Taylor and Derrick Henry twice a year, bolstering a dreadful run defense should be a priority in the draft. Houston should look no further than Jermaine Johnson. While his pass-rushing skills aren’t necessarily worthy of a top-15 selection, his run-stopping ability should allow the Texans’ front office to feel comfortable taking him this high. At 23 years old, he is one of the older first-round prospects, but his experience should allow him to contribute right away.
Pick 12: Pittsburgh Steelers trade from Minnesota Vikings — Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
If Malik Willis is still on the board at 12, look for the Steelers to go almost all-out for him if they haven’t already traded up. The Steelers are just about a perfect situation for Willis, who clearly needs at least one year of development and maturation before filling a starting job. With Mitchell Trubisky currently slated as QB1, it doesn’t seem as though the Steelers are looking to contend this year. Trubisky is a textbook bridge quarterback, a semi-seasoned borderline starter who can work with Willis and keep the Steelers afloat for the season. And it’s no secret that the Steelers love Willis, a raw but talented prospect who extolled the leadership of Mike Tomlin in the pre-draft process and has met several times with the team. On the Vikings side of the equation, they don’t have any desperate needs other than maybe at cornerback. But who knows if Stingley will still be available at 13, and they can still pick a top CB prospect up later in the first round. Any additional picks they get from this trade would allow them to build depth at positions like tight end and edge defender.
Pick 11: Washington Commanders — Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
It seems crazy to think that a talent like Kyle Hamilton would drop this far, but it speaks to the lack of need at this position for most teams. While Washington isn’t in dire need of a safety, and a cornerback like Derek Stingley Jr. from LSU provides appeal from both a talent and positional need standpoint, Hamilton serves as perfect example of when the best player available outweighs team need. The consensus All-American has few weaknesses and could serve as the cornerstone for the Commanders’ secondary on a promising, young defense that will look to get back on track after an off year.
Pick 10: New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks) — Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Despite the expensive free-agency signing of Corey Davis in 2021 and the breakout of rookie Elijah Moore at the end of last season, the Jets are still looking for an elite, number-one receiving option for quarterback Zach Wilson. Labeled by many analysts as the best receiver in the class, Garrett Wilson has 4.4 40-yard dash speed — which is evident when he has the ball in his hands, showcasing great ability to pick up yards after the catch. The Jets have the chance to set themselves up for years of Wilson-to-Wilson connections that could help them break their 11-year postseason drought.
Pick 9: Cowboys trade up – Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) — Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
This pick is more about who the Seahawks don’t want than who they do. According to my colleagues, Malik Willis will still be on the board at nine, and for some reason so will Charles Cross. But neither of these options is a good fit for the Seahawks, who have to be thinking about contending over the next year with Pete Carroll nearing retirement. Adding draft ammunition for later in the round may make more sense for the depleted team, and generational QB (and father of nine-month-old daughter Leighton) Desmond Ridder projects to still be available by pick 24. Instead, I see Dallas trading up to grab Charles Cross and fill some gaping holes in the trenches. Cross is powerful but athletic, polished and game-ready. With the Cowboys also looking to make a push while Dak Prescott is still under contract (the NFC looks ripe for the taking), I see no reason for Dallas to pass up on this opportunity if Cross drops to nine.
Pick 8: Atlanta Falcons — Drake London, WR, USC
Most mock drafts have Garrett Wilson as the number-one wide receiver in this draft class, and for good reason, so this pick may raise some eyebrows. But a prospect like Drake London is too intriguing for Atlanta to pass up, and the fit makes more sense than Wilson. To put it bluntly, the Falcons’ wide receiver room is not good right now. Even with the (hopeful) return of Calvin Ridley, the position is thin. London compliments the rest of the skill position players — with a Swiss Army knife in Cordarrelle Patterson, big playmaker in Ridley, and hybrid weapon in Kyle Pitts, London could allow for a Kansas City–esque offense to develop in Atlanta.
Pick 7: New York Giants (from Chicago Bears) — Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
Walker looked like a freak of nature at the NFL Combine and has since been skyrocketing up big boards, with some mock drafts featuring him as the number-one overall pick. Despite being a powerful rusher, Walker’s technique has him below Thibodeaux and Hutchinson in some organizations. His blistering 4.51-second 40-yard dash at 276 pounds, however, should allow Walker to find success in the NFL, and the Giants would likely be thrilled if he were available.
Pick 6: Carolina Panthers — Kenny “Baby Hands” Pickett, QB, Pitt
Despite having tiny hands, Pickett is somehow still on some teams’ big boards. The Panthers outlook seems bleak at the moment (formerly the favorite to finish last in the NFL before it was discovered that Olamide Zaccheaus is the Falcons WR1). But even the bleakest of NFL teams cannot afford to put its fans through a single additional game of Sam Darnold at QB. Needing to pick up a team leader who is ready for the big stage, I predict the Panthers will pass up on the rawer Malik Willis. So what do we know about Kenny Pickett? His arm strength is mediocre, but so was Joe Burrow’s coming out of college. Pickett has pretty good mobility and possesses NFL-caliber reaction time and judgment from the pocket. He can also throw on the move, and he does not shy away from deep shots or tough hits. In a league that has seen players like Burrow and Drew Brees succeed, Pickett could be a straightforward project for a team like the Panthers needing to rebuild.
Pick 5: New York Giants — Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
The Giants are thin at many positions. And while the team is by no means exceptional on defense, its standing in the middle of the pack on that side of the ball leads me to believe they’ll address their offensive struggles with the fifth overall pick. As the organization decides to move forward with Daniel Jones at the helm, no position is more important to fill than offensive tackle. Building around Jones and providing the pieces for him to be successful should begin with constructing a strong offensive line. The front office has made efforts to do so this offseason, with the signing of Matt Gono, Jon Feliciano and Mark Glowinski — all interior linemen. While they’ve also added a pair of offensive tackles, it makes sense for them to select another one here when considering the talent available. Although Ekwonu is off the board at this point, they should have no issue selecting Alabama’s Evan Neal. Neal played against the toughest competition in college football and excelled. Obviously, the pro game is a different story, but his measurables combined with the feel he has for the game lead me to believe he can be an instant contributor and grow into a perennial offensive tackle.
Pick 4: New York Jets — Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Jets have already addressed their secondary this offseason with the signings of cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead, and a ball-hawking cornerback such as Gardner would help round out a much-improved secondary. After allowing zero touchdowns in over 1,000 snaps during his three seasons of college football, Gardner will be able to bolster a Jets unit that will be tasked with covering the likes of Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle twice a year. I also would not be surprised to see the Jets take Georgia defensive end Travon Walker or Thibodeaux if he were still available. Keep an eye out for a trade with Seattle centered around this pick and Seahawks’ star wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.
Pick 3: Houston Texans — Ikemefuna “Ickey” Ekwonu, T, North Carolina State
The Texans have plenty of work to do despite securing their franchise cornerstone last year — breakout star QB Davis Mills. The work will take time. Presumably, head coach Lovie Smith will have more than one year to try to build back the depleted Texans roster, so with the Texans looking at this draft as a still-early stage in a rebuild, look for them to target the trenches. In terms of positional value, left tackle is a great place to start. And NC State standout Ikemefuna Ekwonu already looks like a polished NFL product. The Texans need renewed strength on the line, not only for protecting the pass, but also in the run game. Ekwonu is practically a cheat code as a run defender. Despite his large stature, Ekwonu can move unexpectedly well, routinely sealing off multiple defenders. With a unique ability to produce highlight reel pancakes and use his overpowered hand strength, Ekwonu is an elite option to pair with Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard. For a team that couldn’t rack up more than four wins even with Deshaun Watson, Ekwonu or a comparable tackle is a necessary next step.
Pick 2: Detroit Lions — Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
For an organization like the Detroit Lions, the draft is not the time to try and find an instant contributor. Instead, it’s a golden opportunity to identify prospects with the highest ceilings and hope they develop into a cornerstone of the franchise. While I’m tempted to look at a player who addresses a serious team need like Kyle Hamilton, a safety from Notre Dame with extreme upside that could step into a role the Lions have little-to-no depth at — I’m using the second overall pick to draft the greatest potential. And that talent is the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Kayvon Thibodeaux. The edge rusher was slated to be a top pick before this year’s college season, but he has since slipped. Again, though, if I’m the Lions, I’m looking at upside, not instant production — and Thibodeaux has the frame and explosiveness to make this pick well worth it down the road.
Pick 1: Jacksonville Jaguars — Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
While this is the first time in the past few years that the number-one overall pick has not been entirely decided months before the draft, Hutchinson appears to be the clear choice for Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ poor offensive line play led some to believe that Alabama’s Evan Neal would be the choice here. Even so, the signing of Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff in free agency, the franchise tagging of tackle Cam Robinson and the promise shown by former Stanford tackle Walker Little in his rookie season should allow the Jaguars to feel comfortable taking Hutchinson. The Heisman Trophy runner-up impressed at the combine and will allow the Jaguars to significantly bolster their lackluster defensive line.