Justin Rogers’ 2022 NFL mock draft 2.0, post-free agency edition

Detroit News

At the NFL’s annual league meeting this week, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes said he’s still looking for pieces to add in free agency. But as we enter April, it’s reasonable to acknowledge most of the team’s impact signings have likely already been completed.

That shifts the focus back to the draft, where the Lions hold nine selections. That includes three of the top 50 picks and five of the first 100.

Following the league’s free-agency frenzy, with many teams plugging immediate roster holes, it’s also a reasonable time to reassess our first-round projection. So welcome to our second mock draft of the offseason.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan

The Jaguars haven’t ruled out drafting an offensive lineman, but actions speak louder than words. The team has already committed significant resources to protecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence, placing the franchise tag on Cam Robinson and signing Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff. That doesn’t necessarily prohibit them from continuing to address the unit, but Hutchinson provides more immediate impact. And with the way Jacksonville spent this offseason, they clearly have little interest in a patient approach.

2. Detroit Lions — Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia

As frustrating as it is to admit this less than a month from the draft, there isn’t an obvious solution here, but an edge rusher still feels like a better value over a roll of the dice on a developmental quarterback or taking a safety earlier than any team in the past three decades. Walker possesses an ideal combination of size, length and athleticism, giving him a tremendous ceiling if his pass rush move set can be further developed.

3. Houston Texans — Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State

As the Texans march forward with the franchise’s rebuild, it feels like offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil is the next trade domino to fall. That would seem to run counter to the team’s goal of building around quarterback Davis Mills, which is where Ekwonu comes into play. Not only is he steady in pass protection, but he’s a mauling run blocker, which is the best security blanket a team can provide a young passer.

4. New York Jets — Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Similarly building around a young quarterback, the Jets need a better option opposite Mekhi Becton to protect Zach Wilson. Putting Neal at the other bookend, paired with the recent investment in guards Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laken Tomlinson, gives New York the foundation of a strong offensive front.

5. New York Giants — Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

It feels as if the Giants have already made a decision on Daniel Jones’ future, with reports the team won’t be picking up quarterback’s fifth-year option. While navigating that transition, the team might as well take the best players on their board with two picks inside the top 10. That starts with Hamilton. The Norte Dame standout has been described as a unicorn at his position because of his exceptionally large frame (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and proven playmaking ability.

6. Carolina Panthers — Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

The Panthers are also in no man’s land at the quarterback position, but with coach Matt Rhule pressed to win now after a rocky start to his tenure in Carolina, the Panthers need immediate impact ahead of a developmental passer. Cross is a good pass protector who should make for an excellent tackle pairing with former Western Michigan standout Taylor Moton.

7. New York Giants — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon

Long projected as the No. 1 pick, Thibodeaux’s stock has dipped slightly because of limited development with his pass-rush repertoire, questions about the consistency of his effort and confidence that borders on off-putting arrogance. Added up, those factors are cause for concern, but it doesn’t detract from his near-elite physical gifts and his lofty potential as an inside-outside rusher with above-average ability to defend against the run. Those relatively minor football character concerns could result in the Giants getting a steal.

8. Atlanta Falcons — Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Much like the Lions a year ago, the Falcons pulled the bandage off and traded their longtime franchise quarterback this offseason. Unlike the Lions, the Falcons didn’t get much in return beyond the cap relief of shedding Matt Ryan’s contract. Regardless, it’s time to rebuild, and with Marcus Mariota brought into to serve as a stopgap, Arthur Smith can take a year to mold Willis into an NFL-ready dual-threat for the coach’s run-heavy offensive scheme.

9. Seattle Seahawks — Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

The Seahawks are telling everyone they really believe in quarterback Drew Lock, so, maybe against our better judgement, we’ll take them at their word. In Gardner, Seattle is getting an elite man-coverage cornerback who didn’t surrender a single touchdown during his college career.

10. New York Jets — Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State

After taking care of the offensive trench a few picks earlier, the Jets can turn to the defensive side of the ball and add Johnson. A rising edge rusher with a complete skill set, he impressed with both his performance at the Senior Bowl and speed at the combine.

11. Washington Commanders — Drake London, WR, USC

After striking out on some of the bigger-name quarterback options the past couple offseasons, the Commanders settled for a trade that brings in Carson Wentz. The former No. 2 pick has battled inconsistency throughout his career, so if Washington is going to maximize its investment, it needs to surround him with high-quality weapons. Terry McLaurin is one of the league’s top young receivers and the big-bodied London will really add some juice to the corps.

12. Minnesota Vikings — Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

The superstar of the combine, Davis brings an unprecedented combination of size, strength and athleticism at his position. Simply put, there haven’t been many 330-plus pounders that have moved like him in human history. An elite run defender, there’s reason to believe Davis can offer far more as a pocket-collapsing pass rusher than he did at Georgia, as long as he can keep his weight in check and improve his endurance.

13. Houston Texans — Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

After his freshman season a couple years back, Stingley looked like a lock to be a top-five pick. Unfortunately, injury and decreased ball production have put him in position to be a value pick in the middle of the round. Beyond talent-deficient, the Texans will take all the value they can get, especially at a premium position like cornerback.

14. Baltimore Ravens — Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa

He’s never going to be a pocket passer, but, presumably, Lamar Jackson will look to lean less on his mobility as the hits accumulate over the course of his career. Linderbaum is the premier center prospect in this draft. He has the athleticism to hold up in protection as Jackson extends plays with his feet, as well as the ability to get out in front of his quarterback on designed runs.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

The Eagles seemingly plugged their immediate need at linebacker, signing Kyzir White to a one-year deal after the first wave of free agency. That said, Lloyd can still be a fit due to his versatility. The Utah product is competent rushing the passer, playing the run and dropping into coverage. His addition would give the Eagles a formidable linebacker group, along with T.J. Edwards, who racked up 130 tackles in 2021.

16. Philadelphia Eagles — Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

The Eagles have selected a receiver in the first round each of the past two years, and also went to that well in the second round of the 2019 draft. Still, Wilson is too good to pass up. It might mean phasing out or moving on from Jalen Reagor, but Wilson and DeVonta Smith are a pair of impressive route runners who would be difficult for opposing defenses to cover.

17. Los Angeles Chargers — Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

The Chargers hit a home run with Rashawn Slater in last year’s draft, but still have a pretty significant need for an upgrade at the other tackle spot. Penning will have doubters due to the level of competition he faced in college, but he has ideal length and unbelievable athleticism. That makes the projection to the next level a little easier.

18. New Orleans Saints — Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

After missing the 2021 campaign, Michael Thomas should be back in the mix for the Saints. He averaged 137 catches in 2018 and 2019, so it will be a welcomed return for a team that struggled to move the ball last year. By adding Burks, a supersized slot receiver who was lethal in the open field for the Razorbacks, New Orleans could ignite the team’s passing attack for quarterback Jameis Winston. Remember, he is only a couple years removed from throwing for 5,100 yards in a season.

19. Philadelphia Eagles — Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

McDuffie, a fluid cornerback who thrives playing zone coverage, is a perfect fit for the Eagles’ zone-heavy coverage schemes. His quickness and instincts will make for a strong pairing opposite Darius Slay, who continues to play at a high level into his early 30s, earning his fourth Pro Bowl selection last season.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers — Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

What felt like a good fit months ago still seems like a good match as the draft nears. Pickett might have small hands, which could lead to some ball security concerns, but we already know what that looks like playing in Pittsburgh. A natural leader with good size, a quick release and underrated mobility, he can be the franchise’s long-term solution for replacing future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. Pickett is mature enough to start right away but won’t necessarily have to, with Mitch Trubisky coming in on a short-term deal.

21. New England Patriots — George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue

A high-effort player with good size and plus-athleticism, Karlaftis feels like a natural fit for the Patriots’ do-your-job defense. The Purdue edge rusher can set a hard edge against the run and disrupt the pocket with power, filling that strong side defensive end role in the scheme opposite former Grand Valley State standout Matt Judon.

22. Green Bay Packers — Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

The Packers convinced Aaron Rodgers to return, only to trade his top target, Davante Adams, days later. There’s no way the veteran quarterback wasn’t apprised of the situation before Green Bay pulled the trigger on that deal, but it’s clear the team needs to restock Rodgers’ weapons. Olave is a great start. Similar to Adams, the Ohio State standout has the footwork to create quick separation at the line, while routinely showcasing the ability to be a deep threat during his college career.

23. Arizona Cardinals — Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

The Cardinals lost Christian Kirk in free agency, and even though they might bring A.J. Green back, he’s clearly on the back end of his career. Williams, who is recovering from a torn ACL, is the premier speed-and-space receiver in this class. That skill set should work well opposite DeAndre Hopkins, giving quarterback Kyler Murray an ideal pair of options in the passing game.

24. Dallas Cowboys — Zion Johnson, G, Boston College

The Cowboys have consistently committed resources to their offensive line over the years. After losing Connor Williams in free agency, and cutting La’el Collins in a cap-savings move, the team will need to reinvest up front. Johnson is a little on the short side, but he compensates with good length and a thick build. He’s fluid in pass protection and a powerful run blocker, providing Dallas with a plug-and-play solution.

25. Buffalo Bills — Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State  

A running back in the first round? Sure, why not? The Bills’ offense was explosive in spite of lacking consistent production from the backfield. Devin Singletary leads the rotation, racking up more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but he topped 80 rushing yards just four times in 2021. Hall is a workhorse with a patient running style who quelled concerns about his speed and athleticism at the combine. Paired with Singletary in the short term, and penciled in to take over as the lead back in 2023, Hall could take Buffalo’s offense to new heights.

26. Tennessee Titans — Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

A somewhat surprising drop for Dean, but even though the league is placing more value on speed over size at the position, there’s likely to be some hesitation to select the 5-foot-11, 229-pounder. He also hasn’t done himself any favors missing the combine and his pro day with an injury, prohibiting him from rubber-stamping his athleticism. The film shows a highly instinctual player with the desired play speed and range. Is that enough to dismiss concerns about his build?

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M

Following the early retirement of one starting guard, and the loss of another in free agency, the Buccaneers shouldn’t mess around with an opportunity to protect the team’s most important player, quarterback Tom Brady. Green didn’t test great at the combine, but he’s put together a strong resume on film, which includes the versatility to play all across the offensive line.

28. Green Bay Packers — Boye Mafe, Edge, Minnesota

The Packers could absolutely justify going back to back with receivers in the first round, but the team also needs some edge-rushing help following the departure of two-time Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith. Mafe is an athletic marvel who has a sky-high ceiling but is likely going to require some patience as his skill set is developed. He could be brought along slowly to start the season, putting him in position to hit his stride for the stretch run.

29. Kansas City Chiefs — Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

It’s not like the Chiefs are devoid of receiving talent after trading Tyreek Hill, but there’s room to add to a room now led by Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Josh Gordon. Dotson’s ability to play outside and in the slot, along with his skill set built on acceleration and strong hands, makes him a nice fit for the Chiefs’ offense. That includes added value working scramble drills when quarterback Patrick Mahomes extends a play.

30. Kansas City Chiefs — Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia

Outside the perennially outstanding Chris Jones, the Chiefs didn’t get much out of their defensive interior last season. On top of that, they also lost Jarran Reed’s 700 defensive snaps in free agency, so there’s a clear void to fill. It just so happens Wyatt would also be an exceptional value this deep into the first round, although there’s a case to be made for UConn’s Travis Jones, given Kansas City’s recent struggles against the run.

31. Cincinnati Bengals — Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson

The Bengals went into the offseason in need of significant offensive line help and found plenty of it in free agency, signing Alex Cappa, La’el Collins and Ted Karras. That helps avoid forcing anything in the draft and allows the team to add Booth to the secondary. He would likely serve as a backup to start his career, being groomed to replace Eli Apple in 2023.

32. Detroit Lions — Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State

The Lions locked up half of their split-safety equation when they re-signed Tracy Walker, but it would be a mistake to lean on Will Harris being the complement in the back end. It’s fair to question whether Brisker is an ideal schematic fit, but there’s undeniable value in a physical run defender who is capable of covering a tight end one-on-one from the slot. Brisker isn’t a big-time playmaker, but he did manage to come up with five interceptions in 34 games across three seasons for Penn State.

Bonus: 34. Detroit Lions — Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State

In our first mock draft, we slotted Purdue’s David Bell to Detroit. That is no longer on the table after a terrible showing at the combine. Yes, the need for receiver isn’t quite as pressing following the addition of DJ Chark and the re-signing of Josh Reynolds, but there’s still room for long-term help. While we also like Georgia’s George Pickens at this spot, Watson is bigger and even more athletic, with a similar commitment to his role as a blocker in the run game. With the team’s current depth at the position, the Lions could ease him into the mix with an eye on a bigger role if Chark departs in free agency next offseason.


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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