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2022 NFL mock draft: Final first round mock with 2 big trades

It’s draft morning! Let’s go.

It’s the morning of the 2022 NFL Draft, and nobody is any closer to knowing what will happen. The first overall pick is a mystery, this class is deep, and anything could happen.

This may not be an incredibly sexy draft year for sure-thing top players, but we really could see huge numbers of players becoming league-staples, or perennial Pro Bowl talents. It’s a great year for good teams to find talent later than usual, and a very bad one for terrible teams wanting difference makers.

As it stands I have two big trades happening early, then nothing. I feel fairly confident we’ll see more deals on draft night, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see teams stand pat and wait for similarly graded players to fall to them. So, let’s go for it.

No. 1: Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, EDGE — Georgia

I don’t like this pick, but here we are. I could see this being Aidan Hutchinson, but in the end Trent Baalke’s addiction to promise and upside has him taking Travon Walker. It this pans out it will be a franchise-defining pick, if not it’ll be the next in a long list of failed Jaguars’ projects. I don’t think the risk is one Jacksonville can afford, but they’re going to try anyway.

No. 2: Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE — Michigan

This is a colossal sigh of relief for Detroit, who would have had a really difficult decision to make if Hutchinson went No. 1 overall. Instead the Lions sprint to the podium to take everything they’re looking for: Stability, reliability, pass rush. The fact he went to Michigan is just icing on the cake, and this is a stellar selection.

No. 3: Houston Texans: Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, CB — Cincinnati

I could really see Houston going a lot of ways here, but wait for what I have them doing a little later. Sauce Gardner is a special talent at defensive back who could become a terrifying hybrid mix of Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman. I love his length, feel for the game, and natural ability. Lovie Smith will be able to work on his discipline and help him reach his full potential.

No. 4: New York Jets: Ikem Ekwonu, OT — N.C. State

This will be called a “surprise,” but I don’t really see why. There’s a lot of belief the Jets will take an edge rusher here, but lest we forget, their offensive line is bad, too. New York ranked 20th in pass protection last year, according to PFF — and when you’re trying to develop Zach Wilson that’s not good enough. Ekwonu is the safest offensive tackle in this draft, and will vastly improve this team’s chances to win games immediately.

No. 5: New York Giants: Evan Neal, OT — Alabama

With Ekwonu off the board the Giants have a major decision to make. Ideally they want to come away with a pass rusher and a left tackle with the No. 5 and 7 picks, but this team knows if they leave an OT then Carolina will grab them before they pick again. The Giants take Evan Neal, who can anchor the left side of their line for a decade, regardless of whether it’s Daniel Jones throwing the ball, or a future upgrade at the position.

No. 6: **TRADE** Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE — Oregon

BOOM! It’s the first trade of the draft and there are high fives all over the Texans war room. Houston sends the No. 13 pick, along with their second round pick (No. 37 overall), and a future 4th to the Panthers to jump up and take a player they seriously considered drafting at No. 3. With the top two tackles off the board, the Panthers begrudgingly move back and lick their wounds by recouping a second rounder they gave away in the disastrous Sam Darnold trade. Meanwhile, Lovie Smith is rubbing his hands together like Birdman knowing he’ll have both Sauce Gardner and Kayvon Thibodeaux to work with in camp.

No. 7: New York Giants: Derek Stingley Jr., CB — LSU

The Giants’ risk to go OT with their first pick backfires a little, with Thibodeaux off the board. Still, the consolation prize is not bad at all. It wasn’t long ago that Stingley Jr. was the top-rated corner in this draft by a mile, and then injury scared some people off. New York isn’t concerned, and they need a defensive back as well, feeling very good about coming out of this Top 10 with two players who were viewed as Top 5 players at the start of this process.

No. 8: Atlanta Falcons: Drake London, WR — USC

There will be a lot of big discussions and arguments in the war room whether it’s time for the Falcons to go for it and take Malik Willis. In the end this team understands who they are, and will wait another year to find their QB of the future. Drake London is a fluid, big-bodied receiver with a huge catch radius, and when paired with Kyle Pitts could give this team the one-two punch they’ve been missing since Roddy White and Julio Jones. No matter who is the long-term QB in the ATL, they’ll be thrilled to have these weapons.

No. 9: Seattle Seahawks: Charles Cross, OT — Mississippi State

Much like Atlanta, the Seahawks too will have a discussion about quarterback here, but Cross is just too good to pass up. Arguably the best pass-blocking offensive tackle in this draft, Seattle will see if Drew Lock can give them anything before looking for a long term answer. This team needs reliable, established talent — and Cross is a hell of a player who fits them like a glove.

No. 10: New York Jets: Garrett Wilson, WR — Ohio State

The motto of this first round for the Jets is “help Zach Wilson.” They cannot start the season with the island of misfit toys they have at WR right now, and Garrett Wilson is the most complete, do-everything receiver in this class. Will the Wilson-to-Wilson connection become a thing? New York sure hopes so, and this pick just makes too much sense. The Jets would have taken Wilson over London even if both were on the board, so they’re loving this.

No. 11: Washington Commanders: Kyle Hamilton, S — Notre Dame

Kyle Hamilton is such a Ron Rivera player it hurts, and this team will be overjoyed that he fell because of position. Safety has been de-emphasized in recent years, but Hamilton is a special player with football IQ the defense will love. He’s a natural leader, and will be a staple for Washington for the next decade.

No. 12: **TRADE** Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Oh boy, here we go. Everyone is primed for the Steelers to take Kenny Pickett with the idea of him staying in Pittsburgh, but then the swerve comes. Not wanting to let Carolina make the decision for them, the Steelers send the 20th pick, their second rounder (No. 52), and a future 5th to the Vikings to move up and select Malik Willis. The only QB in this class with truly rare traits, Willis will be able to sit behind Mitch Trubisky for a year and adjust to the NFL, learning the Steelers offense and more importantly, working on reading NFL defenses. When he’s ready Pittsburgh will get astounding big-play potential through the air, not dissimilar to what they had with Ben Roethlisberger, but paired with mobility in the pocket.

No. 13: Carolina Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB — Pitt

Panthers fans are screaming as Willis goes a pick earlier, but the war room breathes a sigh of relief. They didn’t want to have to justify taking Pickett over Willis to the fans, even if they liked the Pitt QB better. It’s absolutely not the right decision for Carolina, who seem hell-bent on trying to compete immediately, but with a second round pick they received in a trade they can look for an offensive tackle there. Questions will abound whether the Panthers got too cute in this process vs. staying and taking Charles Cross, and it’s a fair critique, but this team has been zeroed in on Pickett for a while and tried to hide their hand.

No. 14: Baltimore Ravens: Jermaine Johnson, EDGE — Florida State

For a long time I’ve had this spot earmarked for Tyler Linderbaum, and truth be told I still love the idea of him heading to Baltimore. That said, I recognize that center just isn’t a position you can spend a Top 15 pick on — no matter how good the player is. Instead I have the Ravens getting back to their defensive roots, and take FSU’s Jermaine Johnson, who can thrive in the Ravens’ system. Johnson thrived as a transfer from Georgia to Florida State when he was able to work out of wider alignment than a traditional 4-3, and he’ll be even better standing up in the 3-4 where his speed can be showcased. There will be some learning to be done, but in a year or two this pick will be genius.

No. 15: Philadelphia Eagles: George Karlaftis, EDGE — Purdue

The Eagles manage to get a top 4-3 defensive end at a great value spot. Karlaftis could reasonably go anywhere from 10-15, so nabbing him here is great value. Philadelphia’s defense needs major work to take the next step, and getting the pass rusher here is the key to get that going. Karlaftis has great size, and natural pass rush traits. He’s not an A++ athlete, so his future could be on the strong side — but he’ll need to become a better run stopper to make that his home in the NFL. Either way, he’ll be a long-term pass rush force, even if he’s perhaps better served being in a tandem.

No. 16: New Orleans Saints: Chris Olave, WR — Ohio State

New Orleans made the move to amass more picks well before the draft as they traded with Philly, showing an eye on the future. To me, this is the kind of move you’re looking for. The Saints play with the cap as much as they play football, and the writing is on the wall. In order to keep solid cap solvency in the modern NFL you need to have top receivers and quarterbacks locked on rookie contracts, and that’s what they do. I’m not trying to take anything away from Chris Olave, who is a fantastic talent at this spot and will be a huge talent upgrade across from Michael Thomas.

No. 17: Los Angeles Chargers: Jameson Williams, WR — Alabama

I could absolutely see the Chargers getting itchy phone fingers deciding whether they need to move up and get Jameson Williams, but in the end they hang tight and breathe a sigh of relief he’s still available. It’s unclear what the future holds for Keenan Allen in L.A., but either way Williams will be the future for Justin Herbert along with Mike Williams. These two can easily become one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL, and I’m convinced that if Jameson hadn’t been injured in the National Championship we’d hear his name a whole lot earlier.

No. 18: Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Davis, DT — Georgia

The reformation of the defensive line continues with a player who garnered similar combine buzz as his teammate Travon Walker. Davis is lightning fast for a man his size, and gifted at eating space in the middle. While he’s never going to be an Aaron Donald-style penetrator, he’s also 341 pounds — so that’s an unreasonable expectation. He will, however, collapse the pocket and push a lineman back in a QB’s face while edge rushers get to eat, and in this role he will thrive.

No. 19: New Orleans Saints: Desmond Ridder, QB — Cincinnati

This might be met with some surprise, but it shouldn’t be. New Orleans knows they won’t be bad enough to pick in the Top 10 next year and get a quarterback, especially with the Falcons and Panthers in the NFC South. Couple this with the fact Ridder has a lot more upside that most QBs taken in the back-half of first rounds past and this is great fit. Ridder will have a year to sit behind Jameis Winston, and then inherit a really solid team.

No. 20: Minnesota Vikings: Trent McDuffie, CB — Washington

I’ll admit that moving back this far is a risk for the Vikings, but with Sauce and Stingley Jr. off the board they made the right move. McDuffie is a really solid player they could have stayed and taken out of necessity at No. 12 anyway, so amassing more assets and still getting him here is a great move.

No. 21: New England Patriots: Daxton Hill, S — Michigan

The only thing certain about a Patriots draft pick is that nothing is certain. Would Daxton Hill would be a great pick here? Absolutely. Could I see the Patriots picking some obscured outside linebacker from a DIII school who ends up becoming an All Pro? Yup. That said, I gotta pick someone that at least makes sense, and a rangy, athletic safety with cornerback instincts is exactly what this team needs.

No. 22: Green Bay Packers: Treylon Burks, WR — Arkansas

I’m having the Packers pick two wide receivers in the first round, and I won’t apologize — because they need to. You don’t bring back Aaron Rodgers and sign him to a massive new extension, then trade away Davante Adams unless there’s a plan. Grabbing an aging WR in the death knells of free agency is not the move. So with this first pick I have them grabbing Burks, a big, smooth, natural route runner with major upside.

No. 23: Arizona Cardinals: Kaiir Elam, CB — Florida

This probably isn’t the board the Cardinals envisioned, but I really like Elam for Arizona. He’s been underrated for much of draft season and can hang with a lot of the guys taken earlier on this list. Florida has been a breeding ground for great defensive backs, and he’s next in line. He’s above-average in every area that matters, and just needs to become a little more disciplined with his man, and not be afraid to press more at the line.

No. 24: Dallas Cowboys: Kenyon Green, OG — Texas A&M

There’s no pick in this draft that feels like more of a lock than this one. Dallas really needs interior line help to open holes for Zeke, and Green is such a plus-level player in this area. The Cowboys will have had tons of time to scout him, the position and fit are perfect — and I have no doubt he’s gonna be a perennial pro bowler for the Boys.

No. 25: Buffalo Bills: Breece Hall, RB — Iowa State

I have a lot of potential players here, but Hall just feels right. The one thing the Bills have been lacking is a top-tier running back, and the physicality Breece Hall brings to the position is a natural fit. There is absolutely no way he’ll last beyond the Top 10 picks of the second round, making grabbing him here a necessity. This rounds out Buffalo’s offense and gives them a whole other dimension.

No. 26: Tennessee Titans: Trevor Penning, OT — Northern Iowa

I need to see Penning block for Derrick Henry. A real throwback lineman, Penning is a country-strong mauler who relishes tearing apart linemen and brings an edge the Titans line needs. If you like fun, you like this pick. If you like old-school football, you like this pick. If you’re a Titans fan, you should love this pick.

No. 27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Zion Johnson, OG — Boston College

There aren’t a lot of needs to fill, but the Bucs’ offensive line has been poached recently, particularly at the guard spots. Zion Johnson is a stellar interior blocker who can hold up penetrating pass rushers, or manipulate the point of attack for runners. For a team without a lot of needs, this one is a great choice.

No. 28: Green Bay Packers: George Pickens, WR — Georgia

Hey hey, we’re back with another WR. After taking Treylon Burks I have the Packers going back to the well for an even bigger, stronger receiver. I have no doubt this duo could become elite. Pickens is battling back from injury, but he’ll fight for the ball in the air better than any pass catcher in this draft. He can become an elite red zone tool, with range far beyond that.

No. 29: Kansas City Chiefs: Devonte Wyatt, DT — Georgia

Wyatt going in the first round is a testament to how amazing Georgia’s defensive line was this year. While Wyatt doesn’t have near the same hype behind him as Walker and Davis, he’s a really productive lineman in his own right. Wyatt is potentially the most reliable of the Goergia linemen, even if he doesn’t have the same upside. Reliability is needed in Kansas City, and he fits really well.

No. 30: Kansas City Chiefs: Skyy Moore, WR — Western Michigan

I’m a huge Skyy Moore fan, and even more considering the fit here. The Chiefs have a type when it comes to receivers, and where I see Moore being an average starter in most teams, he could become a force with Patrick Mahomes. We’re not talking Tyreek Hill’s electric speed, but he shares some of those traits.

No. 31: Cincinnati Bengals: Andrew Booth Jr., CB — Clemson

There aren’t many needs for the Bengals, so I have them getting the best corner available. Booth will become a plus-level starter and offers a great combination of speed and size. It wasn’t long ago Booth was being mocked in the teens, and he’s worth that kind of pick in any other draft. This is a sign of the depth, and that’s the Bengals’ gain.

No. 32: Detroit Lions: Lewis Cine, S — Georgia

Detroit could go a lot of different ways here, which leaves us with a player who I suspect they’ll be afraid won’t last to their next pick. The Jaguars could take Cine with their top pick in the second, someone could trade up for him — there are a lot of scenarios where he’s not available. This solidification of their defense in the first round allows for a more offensive-minded draft deeper, and Dan Campbell will love Cine’s aggression and love of leveling receivers over the middle to force fumbles.