NFL mock draft 2022: Post-Super Bowl look includes QB for Lions, 3 early Michigan picks

Detroit Free Press

Super Bowl 56 is over, the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals crafting another Super Sunday classic in LA as the Rams won their second Lombardi Trophy and first while representing the City of Angels.

With the NFL’s longest-ever season, all 285 games of it, now complete, the league prepares to shift into what often seems like its busiest period: The offseason. The crown jewel of the football calendar — at least the portion that doesn’t contain any actual football — is the NFL draft. The 2022 draft order is solidified, meaning the Detroit Lions will pick second and 32nd, thanks to the Matthew Stafford trade. 

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Here’s an early projection of how things might unfold by the time April ends:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Evan Neal, Alabama: The Jags are in the enviable/unenviable position of being the second team in four years with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks. The Browns went pass rusher (Myles Garrett) plus quarterback (Baker Mayfield), a course Jacksonville might also use considering QB Trevor Lawrence was selected in 2021 and this year’s best players might be edge guys. However there’s a strong case to be made for Neal, who played guard and both tackle positions for the Tide, including the left side in 2021. And given that pending free agent LT Cam Robinson failed to perform like a franchise player in 2021, it might be most prudent for the Jaguars — they probably won’t find any trade partners for this choice in a draft seemingly devoid of elite quarterback prospects — to snag a 6-7, 350-pounder who can reliably safeguard Lawrence, perhaps for the next decade.

2. Detroit Lions – DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: Certainly a highly realistic chance he goes No. 1 to Jacksonville given his widely praised character, relentless effort between the lines and production. The Heisman Trophy runner-up set a Michigan football record with 14 sacks in 2021. The 6-6, 265-pounder’s approach to the game certainly seems to dovetail with the culture coach Dan Campbell is trying to cultivate, and Hutchinson’s local ties would surely make him a home run pick for Detroit … if he “falls” this far.

3. Houston Texans – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: There’s no telling what this team will do given the constant churn of players and coaches. This selection marks only the second time Houston has had a first-round slot since selecting QB Deshaun Watson 12th overall in 2017,  though a change in his status this year promises to entirely change the calculus of the Texans’ draft strategy. All that aside, Hamilton — his 6-4, 220-pound frame is atypical of his position — would be a worthy pick, able to cover, blitz, hit and generally serve as the multi-faceted chess piece so many defensive coordinators (or new head coach Lovie Smith, in this case) covet these days. Back line play was one of Houston’s numerous weaknesses in 2021, and S Justin Reid, a four-year starter, is headed to free agency.

4. New York Jets – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: He arguably has a higher ceiling than Hutchinson but is currently a more unrefined product. In 30 games with the Ducks, the 6-5, 258-pounder had 19 sacks and 35½ tackles for loss. His burst and tools would be a boon to a Jets defense that’s long lacked an elite pass rusher and can only hope veteran DE Carl Lawson (Achilles) will be ready to go in 2022.

5. New York Giants – OT Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State: If the new regime is as committed to QB Daniel Jones as it claims, then it’s time to protect him. The 6-4, 320-pound Ekwonu, who typically manned the left side for the Wolfpack, would make a formidable bookend to LT Andrew Thomas or could kick to guard, where he played significant snaps in 2020. A dominant run blocker, Ekwonu could also help the Giants unleash RB Saquon Barkley once again.

6. Carolina Panthers – CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati: A case could be made to go quarterback here as they head into the final year of Sam Darnold’s contract … but given how this year’s crop looks, meh. A case could be made for an O-lineman to improve the cast around Darnold … but do you go with the third one off the board if Neal and Ekwonu are gone? The best move might be for GM Scott Fitterer to trade back given this is currently his only selection in the first three rounds, and decent blocking options will be available deep into Round 1. (And, yes, much is likely to change between now and draft day anyway.) Barring such conjecture, going the good ol’ best available player route might be best, and “Sauce” might qualify at this spot. The consensus All-American allowed only 20 receptions in 2021, picked off three passes and — evidence of his all-around game — had 40 tackles and three sacks. His 6-3, 200-pound build is just another selling point to a league that likes big corners. He and 2021 first-rounder Jaycee Horn could be quite a tandem for Carolina, which stands to lose CBs Stephon Gilmore, Donte Jackson and Rashaan Melvin in free agency.

7. Giants (from Chicago Bears) – LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia: When you need help at the second level as badly as the G-Men do, what better way to go than a national championship-minted leader who’s also one of the smartest, rangiest players coming out of college? Bonus: Dean, the 2021 Butkus Award winner as college football’s top linebacker, was a teammate of 2021 Giants rookie OLB Azeez Ojulari in Athens.

8. Atlanta Falcons – DE/OLB David Ojabo, Michigan: A native of Nigeria who grew up in Scotland, he had one tackle as a sophomore in 2020, so bit of an understatement to deem Ojabo raw. But what a breakout during his junior year, when the 6-5, 250-pounder erupted for 11 sacks — though it certainly didn’t hurt playing opposite Hutchinson. Atlanta, which hasn’t had a player register even five sacks in the past two seasons, desperately needs a player who can bring the heat. The Falcons’ 18 sacks in 2021 were 11 fewer than the next-worst team. And given they’re in a bit of a rebuild situation, Ojabo should have a grace period to refine his skills.

9. Denver Broncos – DE George Karlaftis, Purdue: Quarterback is this team’s obvious need, but let’s assume — for now — that GM George Paton finds another avenue to address Denver’s hole under center. Paton also needs to replace departed OLB Von Miller’s production for a defense that finished with a middling 36 sacks. This isn’t to suggest Karlaftis is a similar player to Miller — who is? — but in two full seasons (2019, 2021) for the Boilermakers, he compiled 13 sacks, 32 QB hits and 64 hurries.

10. Jets (from Seattle Seahawks) – CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU: New York, owner of the NFL’s worst defense in 2021 (both in terms of points and yards allowed), would be wise to invest both of its top-10 picks on that side of the ball — and Stingley will almost certainly be under consideration at No. 4, too — and not give in to any temptation to get QB Zach Wilson more toys. (GM Joe Douglas has two second-round picks, so Wilson will get help eventually.) Stingley’s talents as a cover man are undeniable and were apparent for the 2019 national champions, for whom he had six interceptions, earning All-American honors for his efforts. But foot surgery limited him to three games in 2021. Still, it would be hard for the Jets to bypass this kind of talent, especially if Stingley is still there at No. 10 and given the team’s weakness at the position.

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11. Washington Commanders – QB Malik Willis, Liberty: His attributes were on full display during Senior Bowl week; the big arm, the powerful legs and an alpha personality. Sure, Willis will have to overcome the perception he hasn’t played against big-time competition while proving he can be more consistent. But Washington needs a Commander, and he has all the ability in the world … and time to harness it behind Taylor Heinicke if Willis isn’t ready to play immediately.

12. Minnesota Vikings – CB Trent McDuffie, Washington: A plug-and-play cover man who’s made to order for a defense that’s been sabotaged by the position in recent years. McDuffie allowed 22 catches in his last 15 games for the Huskies. The Vikes are also scheduled to lose veteran CBs Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander in free agency, further underscoring the need for such a quality replacement.

13. Cleveland Browns – WR Drake London, USC: What better way to assist QB Baker Mayfield and supplement a 27th-ranked passing offense than adding a Mike Evans-type player? London (6-5, 210 pounds) had seven TD grabs in eight games last season.

14. Baltimore Ravens – DE Travon Walker, Georgia: A scheme-diverse 6-5, 275-pounder, Walker can do it all from applying pressure to dropping into coverage if needed. He only had 9½ sacks in three seasons with the Dawgs, but the ability is there — and so is the need for a 25th-ranked defense about to lose veterans such as Calais Campbell and Justin Houston from its front.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins) – WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas: Yes, this would mean a first-round wideout for a third consecutive year for Philly, but the team can afford this move given how flush GM Howie Roseman is with options in 2022. At 6-3, 225 pounds, Burks would bring a different element to a Smurf-ish group that hasn’t gotten enough from holdovers like Jalen Reagor or 2019 second-round bust J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Burks’ size would also be a plus for sometimes scattershot QB Jalen Hurts, and his potential as a Deebo Samuel-type weapon would be a boon to any team while beautifully complementing 2021 first-rounder DeVonta Smith.

16. Eagles (from Indianapolis Colts) – C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa: Yes, Philadelphia drafted C Landon Dickerson in the second round last year. However the Eagles lost G Brandon Brooks to retirement and could bid farewell to longtime C Jason Kelce in free agency. All that aside, Linderbaum’s upside is hard to ignore, and based on how Philly played in 2021, it’s probably incumbent to remain stout up front.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia: If the Bolts had had this brick wall of a man in Week 18 to plug their porous running lanes, they might have moved on to the playoffs.

18. New Orleans Saints – QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: Not to be prematurely unfair, but let’s be prematurely unfair. He has some Drew Brees-like traits given his poise, accuracy, quick release and production … plus an average arm. Pickett can also make more plays with his legs than Brees and could stabilize the position with veterans Jameis Winston and Trevor Siemian likely moving on.

19. Eagles – DB Daxton Hill, Michigan: He can play in the slot, box or center field. Given starters Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are eligible to go free, Philadelphia will likely have a “help wanted” sign up at safety.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Sam Howell, North Carolina: Mike Tomlin wants a mobile quarterback to replace retired Ben Roethlisberger. Well, Howell ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, so … He’s also been a heckuva leader and passer for the Tar Heels, posting 92 TD throws and more than 10,000 yards in three years — despite losing so many weapons for the 2021 campaign — and could be a seamless fit in the Steel City despite his 6-1, 220-pound measurements.

21. Las Vegas Raiders – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State: No reason to waste time before remedying last year’s first-round mistake with OL Alex Leatherwood. Cross can immediately provide an upgrade at right tackle or flip to the more familiar left side if asked … and maybe Leatherwood figures it out at guard. But the blocking must get better in front of QB Derek Carr if new coach Josh McDaniels is going to take this offense to the next level.

22. New England Patriots – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama: No reason to waste (more) time before remedying 2019’s first-round mistake with WR N’Keal Harry. Williams might be a top-10 pick had he not torn an ACL in the national championship loss to Georgia. He’s a burner who was remarkably productive in 2021, averaging 100 receiving yards and a TD catch per game. The Ohio State transfer didn’t play with Pats QB Mac Jones in Tuscaloosa, but — as soon as he’s healthy — he has the goods to develop into the dominant target this team has long lacked.

23. Arizona Cardinals – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: Wouldn’t be a surprise if somebody jumps on this smooth pass catcher much earlier. Wilson isn’t the biggest guy (6-0, 192) or necessarily a blazer, but he gets open and finds the paint (12 TDs in 2021). Maybe he eventually supplants DeAndre Hopkins as the Cards’ WR1, but he’d more immediately plug a gap given A.J. Green and Christian Kirk are unsigned.

24. Dallas Cowboys – LB Devin Lloyd, Utah: Let’s not compare him to newly crowned Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons … but let’s admit Lloyd also possesses an all-around skill set that allows him to be a multifaceted weapon as Parsons is. And pairing them? Nasty. And this wouldn’t be a luxury pick given the release of Jaylon Smith and seemingly imminent exits of Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal.

25. Buffalo Bills – DE Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State: He had eight sacks among 52 QB pressures in 2021. Buffalo’s aging D-line is poised to be stripped of its depth in free agency, but Ebiketie and 2021 rookies Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham could form a next-gen nucleus up front.

26. Tennessee Titans – OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa: It’s been two years since this team missed on right tackle prospect Isaiah Wilson in Round 1. Now the Titans stand to lose 2021 starting RT David Quessenberry in free agency, not ideal for a team that’s so reliant on its running game. Penning could step in straight away, and the nasty demeanor he showcased at the Senior Bowl is certain to be a hit with his linemates and RB Derrick Henry.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State: Given the exodus it seems they’re facing — unless (for now) retired QB Tom Brady reverses himself — the Bucs could go any number of directions in the draft. One could be reloading a wideout corps already devoid of Antonio Brown and maybe soon to lose 2021 franchise player Chris Godwin, Brady’s top target last season. Olave’s speed and smooth route running could make him a perfect complement to a rebounder like Evans, though both can find the end zone, Olave with 32 TD catches in his last 33 games for the Buckeyes.

28. Green Bay Packers – TE Trey McBride, Colorado State: The Pack are another team potentially in major flux, the focus currently centered on the futures of QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Davante Adams, whose contract is expiring. TE Robert Tonyan and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling are also pending free agents, so pretty likely Rodgers (or his replacement) will need reinforcements in the passing game. McBride might be that guy, the 2021 All-American and Mackey Award winner as college football’s top tight end in 2021 and an exceptional possession receiver (91 catches for 1,125 yards last season) who’s also the increasingly rare dual-threat tight end able to serve as an effective blocker.

29. Dolphins (from San Francisco 49ers) – OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan: The head coach, Mike McDaniel, might be new, but the necessity to safeguard — and better evaluate — QB Tua Tagovailoa does not change. One seemingly obvious way to do that is by upgrading one of the league’s worst offensive lines with an athletic tackle.

30. Kansas City Chiefs – CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson: Given how often the ball is — and likely will remain — in the air in the AFC West, you can never have enough good corners. And the Chiefs may be in desperate need of one if Charvarius Ward and/or Mike Hughes sign elsewhere this offseason.

31. Cincinnati Bengals – OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M: When you might have the league’s next great quarterback (Joe Burrow) on your roster, but he’s sacked a league-high 51 times in the regular season… and a record-tying nine more in one playoff game … and a record-tying seven more in the Super Bowl defeat to the Rams – it’s obvious what needs to be done. Green played every O-line position but center for the Aggies in 2021 but took most of his college snaps at left guard. Even if Cincinnati adds blockers in free agency, a near overhaul might be required.

32. Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – QB Matt Corral, Mississippi: He’s not big (6-1, 205), though might be a different story if you could measure his heart. He’s also got sizable arm strength and athleticism and might be the kind of guy you want to invest in for a year – or at least part of a season – before unleashing him. Due to the structure of his contract, Detroit will likely have QB Jared Goff for one more season. But Corral might be worth a late first-round pick that could solidify this franchise’s long-term outlook.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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