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2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Evan Neal No. 1; Kenny Pickett First QB Taken

In The MMQB’s first full look at the opening round, the Commanders are the first team to select a quarterback. Here’s our projection for all 32 picks.

Slotting the top-ranked quarterback prospect to the team with the first pick is typically step one of creating an NFL mock draft. In fact, a quarterback has kicked things off in 18 of the past 24 drafts, including each of the past four years.

After selecting Trevor Lawrence No. 1 last year, the Jaguars clearly won’t use the top pick on a quarterback again.

Given how quarterbacks are often pushed up the board, however, would any other team select one if they were in Jacksonville’s (draft) position? That’s unlikely given this year’s crop of signal-callers, which in turn reduces the potential for a QB-needy franchise to make an aggressive move to the top spot in this draft.

Perhaps some teams will look ahead to what appears to be a better quarterback class in 2023, but another interesting feature of this draft class is the lack of clarity around who will be QB1. Not only will the first quarterback be drafted later than usual, but there is nothing close to a consensus on which one it will be.

Over the past quarter century, top picks used on players at other positions have featured prospects who either protect the quarterback (1997, 2008 and ’13) or pressure him (’00, ’06, ’14 and ’17).

While one of those two positions will likely start this year’s draft, there are multiple offensive tackles or edge defenders who could make their cases to be the first players selected at their respective positions. This year’s draft shouldn’t lack for mystery and intrigue.

With that said, here’s my first look at how the first round could play out on April 28.

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1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Those in Duval County could barely contain their excitement this time last year. The Jags were flush with cap space and draft capital, which included the opportunity to draft the prospect penciled into the top spot since he was a freshman. The Jaguars are picking first again after falling considerably short of expectations in the (less than) one-and-done Urban Meyer era.

With plenty of holes to fill, maximizing Lawrence’s development should be Jacksonville’s top priority heading into his second season. Assuming left tackle Cam Robinson is not tagged again or signed to an extension, Neal would become a Day 1 starter at left tackle. After starting 40 total career games, at a different position each season (LG, RT and LT, respectively), the versatile former five-star recruit has tremendous power to dominate at the point of attack and is an easy mover for a player with his massive 360-pound frame.

2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, edge, Michigan

Hutchinson collected postseason awards and honors in 2021 after setting Michigan’s single-season sack record (14), which included three against archrival Ohio State. While physical traits are valued more highly than collegiate production when projecting edge rushers to the next level, the former Wolverine is also expected to test well at next month’s combine. Hutchinson fills an on-field need as only the Broncos had a lower pass-rush win rate last season than the Lions, but his intangibles, work ethic and football character are a perfect fit for what Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes want to build in the Motor City.

3. Houston Texans: Kayvon Thibodeaux, edge, Oregon

The Texans can go in a few different directions here, but only four teams had fewer sacks than Houston (32) in 2021. Jonathan Greenard (eight sacks) had a breakout sophomore campaign, but the team’s other players with at least three sacks in ’21 will either be free agents (Jacob Martin and Kamu Grugier-Hill) or were released midseason (Whitney Mercilus). An ankle injury may have slowed Thibodeaux early in the season, but the former top high school recruit has the size, length and burst to form a talented pass-rushing duo with Greenard.

4. New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

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Given Joe Douglas’s preference to build through the trenches, it’s very possible Ikem Ekwonu will make it three consecutive Jets’ drafts with a first-round offensive lineman. For now, though, let’s operate under the premise the Jets will start George Fant at left tackle, shift Mekhi Becton to right tackle and “throw a lot of money” at a free-agent guard, as predicted last month by SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano.

A rangy playmaker with elite size (6' 4" and 219 pounds), Hamilton has the versatility to be used as a defensive chess piece and the coverage ability to erase top pass-catching tight ends. Hamilton had eight interceptions over three seasons in South Bend. Meanwhile, only the Raiders (six) picked off fewer passes than the Jets (seven) last season.

5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

Ekwonu is in the mix to be the first pick, and he would be an easy choice for the Giants here, if available. Even with left tackle Andrew Thomas playing much better in 2021 than he did as a rookie in ’20, the Giants had one of the league’s worst offensive lines last season, and several of their starters are impending free agents, including right tackle Nate Solder. Dubbed “Mr. Pancake” (with 67 syrup bottles to represent each of his pancake blocks), Ekwonu is a mauler in the run game with the traits to continue to develop as a pass blocker and the experience and versatility to play either tackle or guard.

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

Could this be the point where the first quarterback comes off the board? Sure, but I think the Panthers will instead cross off (pun intended) one of their other biggest needs here at left tackle. With only this pick in the first three rounds, the Panthers could pursue a trade partner to slide back and acquire more picks as well. In Mike Leach’s Air Raid system, Cross gained tons of pass-blocking experience (1,293 snaps over two seasons, per PFF), and the former five-star recruit uses his length and light feet to excel in pass protection.

7. New York Giants (via Bears): David Ojabo, edge, Michigan

Second-round rookie Azeez Ojulari led the Giants in sacks (eight) in 2021, but the team still ranked 30th in pass-rush win rate last season. Relatively raw, Ojabo began playing organized football as a junior in high school and was only a one-year starter at Michigan. That said, he recorded double-digit sacks (11) last season. While he can start his career as a situational pass rusher, his length, explosiveness and bend give him as much upside as any pass rusher in this class.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Following his 2019 true freshman season, Stingley seemed destined to be the CB1 lock in this draft class, but he has played only 10 games since then and not at the same elite level. One of the youngest prospects in the draft (he turns 21 in June), the former five-star recruit has prototypical size and length, and elite athleticism and ball skills. If he reaches his potential at the next level, the duo of A.J. Terrell and Stingley will make it extremely difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

9. Denver Broncos: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Will the Broncos use this pick (and more) to trade for Aaron Rodgers (or another quarterback)? Time will tell, but new Broncos coach (and ex-Packers offensive coordinator) Nathanial Hackett is reportedly “pushing hard to trade” for Rodgers. If the Broncos retain this pick (and don’t draft a quarterback), Lloyd would give them a playmaker in the middle of the defense. Several of Denver’s inside linebackers—Kenny Young, A.J. Johnson and Josey Jewell—are unrestricted free agents next month. The Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year, the do-it-all former Ute ended 2021 with 110 tackles, 22 TFLs, eight sacks and four interceptions.

10. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Jermaine Johnson II, edge, Florida State

Later in this mock, you’ll see four Georgia defenders, but is it possible that a former Bulldog will be selected before any of them? In his lone season after transferring from Georgia, Johnson led the ACC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (17.5) and was named the conference’s 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. After his stellar week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Johnson may have put himself in the top-10 mix come April.

11. Washington Commanders: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

Finally, a quarterback is selected. In search of stability at the position, Washington has started three different quarterbacks in four consecutive seasons and has had a total of 10 different starters over that span. Pickett turns 24 in June and is as pro-ready as any quarterback in this draft class. After throwing 39 touchdowns and 25 interceptions from 2017 to ’20, Pickett threw 42 touchdowns to only seven interceptions last season.

12. Minnesota Vikings: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

Three Minnesota cornerbacks played more than 160 defensive snaps last year, and two of them—Patrick Peterson (884) and Mackensie Alexander (689)—are headed toward free agency. If Stingley isn’t CB1, chances are that Gardner will be. With ideal length and smooth footwork, the ball-hawking—three interceptions in each of past three seasons—cornerback has the versatility to excel in either press or off coverage.

13. Cleveland Browns: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

The Browns cut Odell Beckham Jr. midseason, Rashard Higgins will be a free agent next month and Jarvis Landry may be a salary-cap casualty. If Landry is released, it would save the Browns over $15 million toward the cap. This year’s draft class may lack an elite top-five talent like Ja’Marr Chase, but it’s still one of the stronger position groups in the draft, and the Browns could have their choice at a position of need. My top-ranked receiver in this class, Wilson has outstanding body control and run-after-catch ability.

14. Baltimore Ravens: George Karlaftis, edge, Purdue

Karlaftis often faced double or even triple teams at Purdue, but he wins with power, heavy hands, a quick first step and a relentless motor. At 275 pounds, the true junior has inside-outside versatility. Justin Houston will be a free agent next month.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dolphins): Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

Could the Eagles draft a first-round wide receiver for a third year in a row? Perhaps it’s too early to throw in the towel on Jalen Reagor, but Burks would complement the 170-pound DeVonta Smith well. Burks has a special blend of size (6' 3", 225 pounds) and breakaway speed. Due to his physicality, run-after-catch prowess and how the Razorbacks varied his alignments, it’s easy to see how the Eagles could use Burks similarly to how the 49ers use Deebo Samuel.

16. Philadelphia Eagles (via Colts): Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa

After earning his fourth first-team All-Pro selection in 2021, Jason Kelce may be back for his age-35 season next year. While Landon Dickerson may have been drafted to eventually replace Kelce, he has the versatility to remain at guard if the Eagles were to draft Linderbaum. Earning plenty of comps to Kelce, Linderbaum is the most athletic center prospect in this year’s draft class.

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Davis, IDL, Georgia

Georgia has a loaded defense, but Davis was a big reason why the Bulldogs ranked top-three nationally in run defense in each of the past three seasons. Adding an elite run-stuffing nose tackle like Davis would go a long way toward shoring up the Chargers’ run defense, which ranked 30th in Football Outsiders DVOA.

18. New Orleans Saints: Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi

A wide receiver—such as Drake London, Jameson Williams or Chris Olave—would make sense here, but the Saints opt for a long-term upgrade at quarterback instead. Not only is Jameis Winston a free agent, but the Saints lack salary-cap flexibility. Corral has a quick release, and his dual-threat skill set allows him to escape pressure to extend plays or be a weapon on designed runs.

19. Philadelphia Eagles: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

I strongly considered slotting Nakobe Dean (I know, the Eagles don’t take first-round linebackers) or his former Georgia teammate Travon Walker here. Interestingly enough, it’s also been 20 years since the Eagles have selected a cornerback in the first round (Lito Shepard, 2002). With all of that said, Booth is a good athlete with outstanding ball skills and Steven Nelson is a free agent.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

By default, Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement moves Mason Rudolph into the QB1 spot. For now. Pittsburgh’s interest in Willis is no secret, and the Auburn-to-Liberty signal-caller has as much upside as any quarterback in this class. While he needs to show more consistency, the ball jumps off his hands and he’s the most dangerous runner at the position.

21. New England Patriots: Drake London, WR, USC

Drafting early-round wide receivers has been more miss than hit for Bill Belichick, but London is a top-15 talent who should elevate to the WR1 role early in his career for the Patriots. A former USC basketball player, the 6' 5" wideout uses his large frame and wide catch radius to dominate at the catch point.

22. Las Vegas Raiders: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Given a depth chart loaded with former five-star recruits, Ohio State may have become college football’s WRU. But their loss (with Williams) became Alabama’s gain as the former Buckeye had a breakout season (78/1,561/15) in Tuscaloosa in 2021. While his torn ACL suffered against Georgia may push him into the back half of Round 1, Williams will become the fifth first-round wide receiver for Bama in three years. His game-changing speed would complement the Raiders’ receiving corps well with what they had hoped impending free agent DeSean Jackson could provide.

23. Arizona Cardinals: Travon Walker, edge, Georgia

Walker’s sack totals (six over 15 games in 2021) don’t jump off the page, but he led the Bulldogs with 36 QB hurries and his best football is ahead of him. Walker has some inside-outside versatility, and he’s even dropped some in coverage despite weighing 275 pounds. Not only is Chandler Jones an impending free agent, but J.J. Watt has averaged only 9.2 games over his past six seasons and will be 33 in March.

24. Dallas Cowboys: Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M

The highly-penalized Connor Williams will become a free agent, so the Cowboys need an upgrade/replacement at left guard. A three-year starter, Green started at RG in 2019 and LG in ’20, and showed off his versatility in ’21 by making starts at four different positions—all but center—along the offensive line.

25. Buffalo Bills: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

Levi Wallace led Buffalo’s corners in snaps played and will be an unrestricted free agent next month. Meanwhile, the team’s top cornerback (Tre’Davious White) is recovering from a torn ACL. While you can never have too many talented cornerbacks, McDuffie could be off the board much earlier than this and would be a wise choice for the Bills.

26. Tennessee Titans: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

Dean may not last this deep into the draft, but Mike Vrabel and the Titans should be thrilled if he does. Although he’s not the biggest (6' 0" and 225 pounds), Dean’s football IQ, instincts and exceptional athleticism allow him to diagnose quickly and make plays from sideline to sideline in the run and pass game.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

Would Bruce Arians be comfortable starting Kyle Trask in Year 2? Perhaps so, based on recent comments, but there’s also only one quarterback under contract (Trask) for 2022, and he was inactive for every game as a rookie. Arguably the best deep passer in this draft class, Howell would match stylistically with what Arians would like to do in the vertical passing game.

28. Green Bay Packers: Devonte Wyatt, IDL, Georgia

Will Aaron Rodgers be under center for the Packers in 2022? Will Davante Adams and/or Marquez Valdes-Scantling be back? The answers to those questions could change the direction of this pick in future iterations of my mock, but for now, the front office gets some help for Kenny Clark. Like several other key contributors to Georgia’s loaded defense, Wyatt’s stats won’t wow anyone. That said, he has elite quickness and The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman labeled Wyatt as the team’s “biggest Freak.” After generating plenty of buzz at the Senior Bowl, Wyatt should continue that positive momentum with elite testing numbers at the combine.

29. Miami Dolphins (via 49ers): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Addressing one of Miami’s biggest needs heading into the offseason would help to support Tua Tagovailoa’s development. Olave is a polished route-runner with the ability to be a weapon in the vertical passing game. The former Buckeye holds the school record with 35 receiving touchdowns and has averaged 15.4 yards per catch over his career.

30. Kansas City Chiefs: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan

Safety Tyrann Mathieu wants to re-sign with the Chiefs, but four of the team’s top six defensive backs in terms of snaps played are currently unsigned for 2022. The brother of Ravens running back Justice Hill and a former five-star recruit out of Oklahoma, Hill will test off the charts next month in Indy and has the versatility to be utilized in a variety of alignments.

31. Cincinnati Bengals: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa

Before the 2021 season, the Jaguars and Bengals had similar longshot odds to win Super Bowl LVI. Unlike the Jaguars, the Bengals vastly exceeded all expectations. Counting the playoffs, Joe Burrow was sacked a combined 70 times in 20 games. Yes, Chase was the right decision in the Chase vs. Penei Sewell debate, but improving Burrow’s protection has to be the team’s top priority this offseason. Penning would immediately become an upgrade over right tackle Isaiah Prince, who graded out as PFF’s 82nd of 83 qualified offensive tackles in ’21. I’d expect the Bengals to devote multiple draft picks to address their offensive line woes.

32. Detroit Lions (via Rams): Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

After finding success on Day 3 of last year’s draft with Amon-Ra St. Brown, one of the team’s few bright spots in 2021, the Lions still need to add more weapons in the passing game. Although he’s the sixth receiver off the board in this mock, Dotson is a first-round talent with excellent quickness, hands and route-running prowess.

Kevin Hanson is contributing mock drafts and position rankings to The MMQB during the 2022 NFL draft season. His mock drafts have graded as the seventh-most accurate (tied) over the past five years, per The Huddle Report. His 2015 NFL mock draft graded as the most accurate.

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