The 2022 NFL draft is four weeks away, and I can’t wait. At the moment, 24 teams will have the chance to add at least one impact player in Round 1 — eight teams no longer have a first-round selection — and while this year’s class might be light on surefire franchise quarterbacks, it certainly has plenty of game-changing prospects.
As a former NFL general manager and executive, I’ve been through the draft process, from building a big board to submitting the picks. It’s difficult enough to manage one team’s picks. But today, I’m going to put my GM hat back on and make selections for every team with a first-rounder in 2022.
But this isn’t your traditional mock draft. I’m leaving the actual Round 1 predictions to my colleagues. This isn’t what I’m expecting or what I’m hearing. Instead, what follows is how I’d make each first-round pick if I were representing each of the 24 teams with at least one Day 1 selection. It’s based off my own evaluations and preferences, along with what I believe makes the most sense for every team on the board.
So here are my GM selections for the first 32 picks, starting with a no-brainer for Jaguars GM Trent Baalke at No. 1 overall. And be sure to check out our SportsCenter Special at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday (ESPN2).
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
The Jaguars already have allocated a lot of resources to their offensive line this offseason. They franchise-tagged left tackle Cam Robinson and signed guard Brandon Scherff to a three-year, $52.5 million deal. So while I thought about an offensive tackle here and might have gone that way a month ago, it has to be Hutchinson. He had 66 pressures in 2021, and he can be a culture-setter for Jacksonville for years to come.
Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
If I’m Detroit, I’m crossing my fingers that Jacksonville goes another way, leaving Hutchinson for an easy win here at No. 2. That’s not how things happened, though. And yes, I know the Lions used the No. 3 overall pick on cornerback Jeff Okudah just two years ago, but I also know he has ended up on injured reserve in both of his pro seasons and has been limited to 10 total games. The Lions gave up the NFL’s third-best opponent QBR (53.4) last year and still need a corner. Gardner didn’t surrender more than 13 yards in a game or a single TD all season in 2021.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
I’m not worried about the underwhelming 40-yard dash times he posted at the combine (4.59) and his pro day. Hamilton has rare versatility and traits for a safety, and he’d be an instant-impact player on the back end. Houston needs help everywhere, but considering it tied for the second-most yards allowed per play in the NFL last season (5.9), defense jumps out.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Jets did a nice job in free agency, but they still need a true No. 1 receiver after Tyreek Hill chose Miami over New York in a trade from the Chiefs. Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios are a solid trio, but Wilson is a difference-maker. Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson needs that. On 102 targets, Garrett Wilson had only two drops and caught 89.7% of his catchable balls, per ESPN Stats & Information tracking.
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
An offensive tackle pairing of Neal and Andrew Thomas gives quarterback Daniel Jones the protection he needs. Neal gave up just one sack last season, and he has 40 career starts under his belt. I considered NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu here, too, but I just believe there’s more certainty with Neal considering the level of competition he faced at Alabama. Being that dominant against SEC pass-rushers is something.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Yes, the Panthers still need a left tackle, and Ekwonu is still available. But as the stand-in GM, I’m instead thinking about the most important position on the field. Carolina missed out on Deshaun Watson and did nothing else to address a glaring weakness at quarterback. It’s a consequential year for coach Matt Rhule, and the Panthers need to start putting wins on the board. Pickett has 49 career starts and is the most NFL-ready signal-caller of the bunch. Maybe it’s a slight reach, but we’re talking about a QB who could start right away for a team that desperately needs a better option.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
The Giants managed just 34 sacks last season and have been looking for a game-changing pass-rusher for several years. No way they can pass on Thibodeaux’s ceiling, which is extremely high despite some concerns about his motor. He has the size, speed and power, and he posted 19 sacks over three seasons at Oregon. I’m pretty happy with the haul here for New York, landing Neal and Thibodeaux to address holes in a massive way.
Take a look at Kayvon Thibodeaux’s most aggressive plays at DE and see why he could be the best player to come out of the draft.
Drake London, WR, USC
Atlanta is searching for its next franchise QB after trading Matt Ryan, but Marcus Mariota can hold the fort for a year. The 2023 class promises to have more options under center. In the meantime, the Falcons have a star in Kyle Pitts at tight end, but their wide receiver room is barren. The current group includes the likes of Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge and Frank Darby. London is a phenomenal talent and makes a lot of sense for the Falcons.
Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Pass-rusher is going to be a spot to watch, and the Seahawks also need a quarterback. But they haven’t re-signed tackle Duane Brown — who remains a free agent — and could get a rebuild going with a young franchise left tackle. That’s Ekwonu, who has size (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) and lots of mobility. Seattle has allowed at least 42 sacks and finished in the bottom 10 in that department every season since 2015. Ekwonu allowed only nine pressures and three sacks during the 2021 season.
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
Maybe I’m just trying to make up for trading away John Abraham 16 years ago. But the way I see it, the Jets still lack edge rushing depth even with Carl Lawson set to return from an Achilles injury. Only six teams had fewer sacks than the Jets last season (33), but Johnson had 12 last year at Florida State. He’s a physical edge setter, too, and I see him as a more consistent prospect than Georgia’s Travon Walker, who might also get some consideration here. I’m pumped if I walk away from Round 1 with Wilson and Johnson.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Commanders were in the bottom half of the league in just about every passing category last season, and while Carson Wentz represents an upgrade at quarterback, his pass-catching group could use a boost, too. Terry McLaurin is a free agent in 2023, and we’re witnessing a receiver market that is only getting more and more expensive. Curtis Samuel missed 12 games last year, and Adam Humphries — the only other Washington wide receiver besides McLaurin to have more than 25 catches in 2021 — is unsigned. Olave joining McLaurin, his former Ohio State teammate, gives the Commanders a solid duo outside.
Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
Walker’s combine workout was tremendous, but production inconsistency (only 9.5 sacks over 36 career games) concerns me. That’s why I have him falling a bit to No. 12 here. But he is a versatile player who can develop into a force off the edge. A trio of Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith and Walker would cause problems for opposing quarterbacks.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Houston is back on the board thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade, and I’m giving the Texans a smooth-moving pass protector in Cross at No. 13. I drafted Laremy Tunsil in Miami when I was the GM there, and I’m jumping at the chance to draft his bookend on the other side. Cross allowed six pressures on 683 pass-block snaps last season … in the SEC. That’s fantastic. Offensive line is critical for the Texans, after they once again allowed 40-plus sacks last season and are trying to develop second-year QB Davis Mills. Houston should be happy with its Day 1 picks, Hamilton and Cross.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
This one is pretty easy. Bradley Bozeman left Baltimore to sign in Carolina, and Linderbaum is a Day 1 starter at center for a team that needs to open running lanes for running back J.K. Dobbins and quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah
April 28 would be a fun night to be the Eagles’ GM. Three picks inside the top 20, starting here! Philadelphia hasn’t taken a first-round linebacker in almost a decade, but Lloyd can be a do-it-all player in the middle of the Eagles’ defense. He’s a three-down defender who plays faster than his 4.66-second time in the 40-yard dash suggests.
Kenyon Green, G/C, Texas A&M
I love this guy’s versatility. He has at least 100 snaps at four different positions along the offensive line, and he’s capable of playing the fifth (center). Center Jason Kelce re-signed but for only a year, and guard Brandon Brooks just retired, so the Eagles could use a player like Green.
Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia
Dean reminds me of Jonathan Vilma. He’s slightly undersized at 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, but he plays with excellent instincts and has the production to be a three-down linebacker up the middle. I could see the Chargers perhaps adding another run-stopper up the middle, but Dean can help there while also affecting multiple other parts of the game. And Los Angeles gets a complete upgrade at every level of the defense, with Khalil Mack coming in off the edge opposite Joey Bosa, J.C. Jackson ballhawking outside, Sebastian Joseph-Day filling gaps against the run and Dean controlling the middle of the field. Los Angeles did take linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. in the first round two years ago, but he has struggled a bit.
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Penning is a perfect fit to replace Terron Armstead, who signed with Miami. He’s tough and physical at the line of scrimmage, and he’d keep the offensive line as one of the Saints’ strengths. Penning turned in a fantastic combine workout, which included the fifth-fastest 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash among linemen (1.65), despite weighing in at 325 pounds.
Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
So I already got the Eagles a linebacker in Lloyd and a lineman in Green. Now I’m focusing on cornerback, where Philly needs a starter opposite Darius Slay. The Eagles tied for the worst completion percentage against in 2021, allowing opponents to connect on nearly 70% of their attempts. But McDuffie is shutdown material. He allowed just 3.8 yards per pass attempt thrown his way last season, which tied for the third-best number in college football, and he can play in man or zone schemes.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
With Mitch Trubisky serving as a bridge starter, the Steelers can take advantage of Willis still being available, draft the big-armed Liberty quarterback and let him develop before taking over in the QB-heavy AFC North. I love his mobility in and out of the pocket, and I think he has a chance to be a very good starting QB in the NFL. Pittsburgh has to find its guy under center following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, and this is a great scenario for the Steelers.
Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Just two years ago, the Patriots had J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore in their cornerbacks room. Now they are starting Malcolm Butler and Jalen Mills on the outside. Booth has great quickness, scheme flexibility and the ability to play all over. And why Booth over LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr.? Stingley has played only 10 games over the past two seasons, and his production over that time left a lot to be desired. That’s concerning, and I’m leaning toward Booth, because I know what I’m getting from him.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Dotson kind of plays like Marvin Harrison did; he’s undersized but has tremendous speed and soft hands. The Packers need a possession receiver with Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling out of town, and Dotson caught 91 passes last season at Penn State. He also had only two drops on 142 targets and should be able to gain quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ trust quickly.
Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay break down which teams need to draft a wide receiver.
David Ojabo, OLB, Michigan
Ojabo tore an Achilles during Michigan’s pro day, and there’s a chance he falls even further than this. But Arizona should be excited to land a player with his pass-rushing traits, even if it means he won’t debut until, at the earliest, late in the 2022 season. Chandler Jones is gone. J.J. Watt and Markus Golden are both north of 30 years old. We’ve seen players suffer injuries during the draft process and still go on to be high picks and excel in the NFL, including cornerback Sidney Jones IV and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. And once Arizona gets Ojabo back to full strength, it would have a productive disruptor off the edge.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Imagine Trevon Diggs and Stingley covering up opposing receivers. There is incredible potential there. Stingley is an intriguing yet confusing prospect. At his best, he’s one of the top three or four players in the entire class. But his injury history and uneven play create a lot of risk. But at No. 24 overall, Dallas could get a steal if he plays anywhere near his ceiling.
Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
Tre’Davious White is coming off an ACL tear, and Levi Wallace signed in Pittsburgh. The cornerbacks are coming off the board quickly, and while Gordon didn’t run anywhere near expectations at the combine (4.52 in the 40), he has good 6-foot size and can play strong man-to-man coverage on the outside. He limited opposing receivers to just 15 catches and zero touchdowns in 2021 while picking off a pair of passes.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Titans released Julio Jones. They traded for Robert Woods, but he is returning from a knee injury. A.J. Brown is entering a contract year. You get the point. The team has a lot of questions at the receiver position. Burks is 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, and he plays a physical style. Ryan Tannehill would love to have someone like him in the red zone, and I think he’s a perfect fit for the Titans.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Ndamukong Suh could still re-sign to fill the Bucs’ void at defensive tackle, but I’m just picturing opponents trying to rush up the middle against Vita Vea and Davis. Remember that NFC South offenses have the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara taking handoffs. You have to have a great run defense in that division, and Davis is the ultimate run-stopper. His combine workout was legendary, and if he stays in the 340-pound range, he will be a dominant defensive tackle in the NFL for a long time.
Zion Johnson, G/C, Boston College
Johnson can be a Day 1 starter at guard or offensive tackle, and he could potentially develop into a center. He worked hard on taking snaps as a center at the Senior Bowl, and there’s no reason he couldn’t end up there in the NFL. Johnson has 34-inch arms and didn’t allow a single pressure or sack in 2021. Elgton Jenkins is recovering from an ACL tear, so Johnson could step in at left guard or replace Royce Newman or Yosh Nijman on the right side.
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
The Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill. Now they have the chance to use one of the picks that came to Kansas City in return to draft his replacement. Williams tore his ACL and won’t be ready for Week 1, but his explosion and speed make him the ideal Chiefs draft pick. I was really impressed with Williams’ play in the SEC Championship, when he had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Check out the best moments from Jameson Williams at Alabama as he gets ready for the NFL draft.
Arnold Ebiketie, DE, Penn State
Turning to defense, I want to get a productive edge rusher. Only three teams had fewer sacks than the Chiefs’ 31 in 2021, but Ebiketie posted 9.5 sacks for Penn State last season after transferring from Temple.
Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Bengals did a lot of work to their offensive line in free agency, including signing offensive tackle La’el Collins, guard Alex Cappa and interior lineman Ted Karras. I feel pretty good about that, so I’m focusing elsewhere: cornerback. Competition for Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie would be a good thing for Cincinnati, and McCreary is a feisty undersized corner with upside.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Getting the fifth-year option is important for drafting a quarterback. The Ravens used the 32nd pick on Lamar Jackson in 2018, and it gave them an extra year on Jackson’s rookie deal. Detroit — after drafting Gardner earlier — can do the same with Corral. The Lions have Jared Goff under contract, so there’s no need to rush Corral into action, especially because he’s still working his way all the way back from an ankle injury. But he’s a quick prospect with a smooth release. I’m intrigued by the upside here.
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