Just three weeks from the 2022 NFL Draft, it's time to take my first crack at mocking the first round.
REMINDER: As always, this isn't what I would do -- it's what I'm hearing from my sources around the league.
I've heard that this is far from a slam dunk, and that Jacksonville is keeping its options open and truly going through the process. The word out of Michigan is that Hutchinson's the real deal in every way off the field, and he proved he can do it on the field as the Heisman Trophy runner-up with 14 sacks in 2021. He had the fifth-fastest 20-yard shuttle time out of all players at the NFL Scouting Combine, too.
He's awfully confident (yes, a turnoff for some), he seems to be quite interested in his brand (yes, a turnoff for others), and there's talk that his motor doesn't show up every play on film (again, a red flag). But the former No. 1 overall high school recruit is whip smart, loves ball and his teammates at Oregon rave about him. Oh, yeah -- he's also an awesome pass rusher. Emmanuel Sanders was on GMFB this week and put it well: "If a quarterback was talking like that, it would scare me. ... But a defensive lineman talking like that, I'm like, 'OK, you're supposed to feel that way; you want to be able to dominate guys.' "
Neal is as gifted a physical specimen as you'll find in this draft, and at 6-foot-7, 337 pounds, he can move. He has been a constant in Tuscaloosa on the offensive line since the day he arrived and can play inside or outside. The Texans are basically starting from the ground up again, with Neal becoming the new regime's first Round 1 selection.
Gardner is a 6-3, 190-pound corner who never gave up a touchdown pass in his collegiate career at Cincinnati. He walks the walk, talks the talk and interviewed incredibly well at the combine. There's very little negativity surrounding Gardner's game at all, and in a passing league, CBs have become all the more valued. Robert Saleh is a defensive coach, and Gardner might just be the one can't-miss corner in this class.
The Giants are starting a new era in East Rutherford, and if Ickey falls to No. 5, there'd be a lot of happiness in Big Blue land. The 6-4, 310-pound road paver came to N.C. State as the lesser-recruited Ekwonu brother (his twin went to Notre Dame, where he currently plays) and has emerged as a potential top-five pick.
Not every team will be clamoring for Pickett in this draft, but if there's a franchise that makes sense, it's Carolina. Pickett is considered the most NFL-ready QB in this class, ran an NFL-style West Coast offense at Pitt and was recruited by Matt Rhule when he was the coach at Temple. Oh, and owner David Tepper is a University of Pittsburgh graduate who got his MBA from nearby Carnegie Mellon. The thought is that Pickett can start for an NFL team on Day 1, and given the Panthers' recent QB woes, that's quite appealing, too.
Walker could very well go first overall in this draft, as no prospect has seen his stock rise as fast as this Georgia product's has over the last few months. His combine performance was legendary. And yet, there's this notion that, for all his athletic ability and great football IQ (he apparently has been wonderful in the room during meetings with teams), the production simply doesn't show up on tape. The Giants have gone to the UGA well before in recent years, with Andrew Thomas (No. 4 overall, 2020) and Azeez Ojulari (No. 50, 2021). I can see them going right back to it if Walker falls to No. 7, as he does here.
When it's all said and done, Johnson could certainly go this high. Atlanta has a slew of needs and are in Best Player Available mode. I think Marcus Mariota, who spent years with Arthur Smith in Tennessee, is not just a "for now" QB. Hence, passing on Malik Willis and others.
The Seahawks are in rebuild mode. With the pick they landed from Denver in the Russell Wilson deal, I see them scooping up the talented Cross, who wasn't asked to do much run protection in his time under Mike Leach but dominated in pass protection against some of the SEC's best. Cross had a great combine week and can protect whomever the QB ends up being.
Your first shocker of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Jets go with the electric Williams, who likely won't be able to take the field until at least midway through his rookie season. Before the ACL injury, Williams was the top WR in this draft class, and when it's all said and done, I think he still very well could be. The Jets are in this for the long haul, not just 2022. The expectation is that Williams will return to full health and end up being a true WR1.
Hamilton is a Ron Rivera-type player: Smart, competitive and a leader. He immediately boosts the Commanders' defense and is that dude behind their loaded front. Hamilton's 40 time has gotten a lot of press, but he's a true captain of a defense, and the film reveals his intelligence. Hamilton's awesome instincts far outweigh his speed in the dash.
Stingley recently received a clean bill of health and that's huge. Before the injury, he was widely viewed as a sure-thing top-10 pick. Having dominated at LSU his freshman season, he had the luxury of squaring off against Justin Jefferson (a future teammate?) and Ja'Marr Chase in practice, where he more than held his own. Who better to groom him than former LSU star and possible Pro Football Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson?
The do-everything linebacker out of Utah is viewed as an alpha-dog leader, is as instinctive as they come and can diagnose plays in real time. Lloyd is a franchise-cornerstone player and person, someone Houston can build around.
I'm not sure there's a prospect in this draft class who seeks contact -- and looks to completely dominate his opponent -- more than this guy. Penning is a nasty, light-footed, 6-7 mauler who had his way with defensive linemen while starring at Northern Iowa. And then he was tremendous against top-level competition at the Senior Bowl, opening eyes everywhere. He can play tackle or guard. More protection for Lamar Jackson.
If London slips this far, someone could trade up to get him -- like we saw the Eagles do with DeVonta Smith last year. In this scenario, though, Philly gets to stick and pick. But, wait ... Could the Eagles actually spend a third straight first-rounder on a wideout? Sure, why not? Nick Sirianni is an offensive coach, Howie Roseman isn't scared to go back to the well, and Jalen Reagor hasn't played up to expectations. Not to mention, Smith and London -- two different body types -- would be a nasty 1-2 punch.
The receiver run will occur right around here in the first round, when London, Wilson, Chris Olave, Treylon Burks and Jahan Dotson could hear their names called. Smaller-school guys like Christian Watson and Skyy Moore could be in the mix, too. The Saints traded up to get here, and they get one of the Ohio State guys to pair with former Buckeye Michael Thomas.
GM Tom Telesco hit big on his two most recent picks in the teens: Rashawn Slater (No. 13, 2021) and Derwin James (No. 17, 2018). This may seem like a luxury for the Chargers -- who already have two top wideouts in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, as well as a second-year talent in Josh Palmer -- but in a loaded AFC West ... The more weapons, the merrier! Olave at No. 17 would be a heck of a value pick.
There may be University of Washington scar tissue at the corner spot in Philly after the Sidney Jones pick a few years back, but I don't think that will block Howie Roseman from addressing an area of need and doing so with a talented prospect. McDuffie and his teammate, Kyler Gordon, are right up there after Gardner and Stingley on CB boards.
The combine superhero slips all the way to No. 19, where the Saints gladly scoop him up. Davis is the most intimidating man in every building he walks into. He put on a show at Lucas Oil Stadium weighing 341 pounds -- will he play at that weight in the NFL? Or will he be the 360-or-so pounds that he weighed during most of his last season at UGA? Great person and talent. I like this fit in Dennis Allen's D.
Willis certainly could go higher than 20th overall. I know at least one NFL head coach who said the Liberty product is his No. 1 QB on the board. I do believe Pittsburgh is all in on Mitchell Trubisky. But with Willis slipping, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers' front office select a quarterback with unlimited upside and a ton of charisma.
Johnson's stock began to soar at the combine, and I'm hearing he's interviewing incredibly well with teams. He can play center or guard and has a high football IQ. I think the Patriots can go a variety of ways (bold take!), but beefing up their offensive line and getting Mac Jones another protector up front makes sense.
Burks is a big-bodied receiver (6-2, 225) with excellent ball skills. He did it all for Arkansas the last two seasons and views himself in the same mold as Deebo Samuel -- in that he can be the big man in traffic or carry the rock if needed. If Aaron Rodgers wants a quick glimpse of what he could be getting in Burks, he should watch the wideout's tape against Alabama, where he went for 179 yards and 2 TDs.
I don't see a scenario in which the Cardinals take a defensive player on Day 1 after selecting linebackers in the first round of the previous two drafts and losing Christian Kirk this offseason. DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore are the team's current WR1 & 2. I can 100 percent see Arizona going receiver here. Dotson is the top one left on the board.
Tyron, meet Tyler -- and teach him everything you know. The Cowboys are going through a transition across their offensive line, and it's time to reload with new, young talent. Smith is viewed as being a bit raw, but also as having one of the highest upsides among tackles in this draft. I don't see him falling out of the top 32.
Yes, Buffalo just added Von Miller in free agency. And yes, the Bills drafted pass rushers with their top two picks a season ago. That doesn't mean they're done on D. Walker was yet another combine star from UGA, and he's versatile enough to fit in Leslie Frazier's scheme at multiple spots.
Dean, whose decorated collegiate career includes the Butkus Award, first-team AP All-American honors and a national title, was described to me by one NFL GM as, "The alpha on a defense filled with alphas." Mike Vrabel has a host of great young defenders with edge in his front seven. Here's another one for the former LB to play chess with.
The Bucs went with a Washington defender (Joe Tryon-Shoyinka) in the first round last year. Run it back here. Gordon is a former competitive dancer who uses his martial arts background for preparation on the field. He has a lot of fans around the league and may end up hearing his name called before his more heralded teammate, Trent McDuffie.
I know Packers fans may want two offensive weapons with these first-round picks, but I can see Green Bay adding a talented front-seven defender if one falls. Wyatt is that dude here. His selection would make five Georgia defenders in the first 28 picks -- six if you include Jermaine Johnson II, who transferred from UGA to FSU.
Jones had a breakout performance at the Senior Bowl and backed it up with an impressive showing at the combine. Connecticut has produced some quality NFL players in recent years, with a couple earning lucrative second contracts (Byron Jones, Foley Fatukasi). I like this fit for Steve Spagnuolo's D.
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The Seahawks likely won't go QB at No. 9, but I can see them sneaking back into the end of the first round to secure a QB and the coveted fifth-year option. Corral is a Long Beach Poly (California) kid who played for Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. Think Pete Carroll knows a thing or two about those programs? I can see Corral suiting up for Seattle.
Karlaftis had 11.5 tackles for loss last season at Purdue, despite being the only elite talent on the defense. The Bengals get another young pass rusher to join their already promising unit.
I've heard from coaches at the college level, his Jets coaches at the Reese's Senior Bowl and other coaches who have spent time with Ridder that he has the "It" quality you look for in a starting quarterback. The third-winningest QB in college football history, Ridder could be a culture changer in the NFL. Jared Goff seems to be the guy in Detroit for now, but wouldn't it make sense for the Lions to nab Ridder at 32nd overall?