A lot can change from now until draft day April 28, 2022, but that doesn’t mean it's too early to projecting what could happen. Here is a look at some of the top players to keep an eye on in a preseason 2022 NFL Mock Draft:
It seems as if Deshaun Watson has played his final snap as a Houston Texan, which means they need a new signal-caller. The top quarterback spot is up for grabs next season and there is no reason why Strong can’t be the first one off the board. He has excellent size and a cannon for an arm. Not to mention fantastic upper-body mechanics that should make his transition to the next level very smooth. Strong took a massive leap in Year 2 as a starter and with the return of Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks and Cole Turner, he should put up video-game numbers for the Wolfpack next season.
The Lions currently have Jared Goff as their starter, but he won’t be able to get them over the hump. Willis is an extremely talented quarterback who is perfect for the modern NFL. He is an elite runner and has the best velocity on his passes in the class. Willis is fantastic outside of structure and is a playmaker. He will enter the league as one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in recent memory.
3. New York Jets: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
With the Jets addressing the offense in the 2021 draft, they still have many holes defensively. None more than the defensive end position. Karlaftis is a pro-ready prospect who is quick, unbelievably strong and a complete player. He is reminiscent of Nick Bosa, who head coach Robert Saleh had in San Francisco when he was the defensive coordinator there. With Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins already on the defensive line, this group could be elite with the addition of Karlaftis.
On tape, Leal moves exceptionally well for a 290-pound defensive lineman. He is versatile and has dominated in the SEC since arriving in College Station. Leal has the chance to be a perennial Pro-Bowl player at the next level, contributing as a pass rusher and against the run. Expect him to help lead the Aggies to their first College Football Playoff berth next season. He is that kind of difference-maker.
5. New York Giants: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The Giants have lacked a true superstar on defense since Michael Strahan retired. Hamilton has the chance to be their next Hall of Fame inductee. He is one of the most talented safety prospects ever and has the maturity to thrive as the face of the Giants defense. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will be able to use Hamilton in a multitude of ways. He can play single high, is an excellent blitzer and has the athleticism to be a tight-end eraser. This would be a home-run pick for the Giants.
Jacksonville has already invested a lot of high draft capital into their defensive line, but Thibodeaux is too good to pass up on. He is very underrated against the run and can get after the quarterback with ease. He is a surefire talent, so if K’Lavon Chaisson can join Josh Allen as a quality player, their edge-rusher group will wreak havoc for years to come.
There are still question marks surrounding the quarterback position in Philadelphia, but they drafted Jalen Hurts with the purpose of letting him develop into a starter. Their defense has enough concerns to put the Eagles at seven, especially the secondary. It doesn’t get much better than adding Stingley to be a No. 1 cornerback. He was the best cornerback in the nation as a true freshman and has all the tools to be an elite player. It isn’t a stretch to say he is on the level of Patrick Peterson as a prospect coming out of LSU.
8. Las Vegas Raiders: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Last season was a career year for Derek Carr, but the Raiders can’t seem to get over the hump with him at quarterback. Rattler has a great arm and progressed down the stretch last season. He makes some wow throws, but needs to play more consistently. With the weapons he has, that shouldn’t be hard for the former five-star recruit. Rattler and speedster Henry Ruggs III would be an exciting duo for Las Vegas.
Few players deserve a comparison as lofty as Quenton Nelson, but Green is one of them. He is the best offensive lineman returning to the SEC and should continue to dominate, even with a switch to left tackle. His combination of athleticism and play strength is hard to find. Green should be a Pro Bowler very early in his career and help the development of quarterback Sam Darnold.
10. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
As a true freshman, college football fans were introduced to Wilson and why he was such a high recruit. Wilson is a special wide receiver and could have been a first-round pick off his freshman tape. Last year, he continued his success with quarterback Justin Fields. Wilson is one of the best route-runners in college football and is a great athlete. Not to mention, his hands are fantastic. The Falcons traded away Julio Jones and need to find their next top-tier receiver. Wilson can step into the NFL from Day 1 and be that. Adding him to Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley would give the Falcons the best receiving group in the league.
11. Washington Football Team: Rasheed Walker, T, Penn State
Washington struggled without Trent Williams. Trading him away left a big hole at left tackle and Walker is the replacement they need to secure the left-tackle spot for the next decade. His natural tools and athletic ability are both rare for an offensive lineman. Walker’s film is also very good. He has a lot of "wow" moments on tape in both pass protection and against the run. Walker should shoot up draft boards with another good season at Penn State this year.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Tyreke Smith, DE, Ohio State
Under head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings identity has been getting after the quarterback from the edge. However, they currently don't have much aside from Danielle Hunter. Smith went on a tear down the stretch for the Buckeyes and should continue that this season. He is a very advanced pass rusher for his age and has the play-strength to win with power. He’ll step in and be a quality starter for Minnesota.
13. New England Patriots: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
The Patriots have always had an elite secondary, especially at free safety with Devin McCourty. Even with McCourty still playing at an extremely high level, New England always likes to look to their future. Cine could have that same impact as McCourty and be the leader of the Patriots' defense as they try and start a new dynasty. Head coach Bill Belichick will love Cine's play-style. He is the hardest hitter in college football, but is also an elite tackler. He is perfect for the modern NFL. Cine can cover, has excellent range and is a leader teams need in the back end of their defense.
Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert looks like the real deal and adding a tight end like Wydermyer would give the Chargers their next Philip Rivers/Antonio Gates duo. Wydermyer is a wide receiver with the size of a tight end. He has excellent hands to go along with very good route-running. Wydermyer also elevates his game against better opponents and has been very productive through his first two years at Texas A&M. He has rare talent and production for a tight end, warranting a top 15 selection.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
Pittsburgh has one of the best defenses in the NFL but they are still missing an elite outside cornerback. Banks has all the traits to become one. In his first year as a starter for the Buckeyes last season, he looked very good against some of the best wide receivers in college football. Next season, expect opponents to avoid Banks at all cost. He is next up when it comes to top-tier Ohio State cornerbacks being selected in the first round. Offenses will struggle if Pittsburgh can pair Banks with Minkah Fitzpatrick in its secondary.
16. Denver Broncos: Nik Bonitto, OLB, Oklahoma
The Broncos have done a great job of constantly restocking at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. Von Miller is getting older and becomes an unrestricted free agernt next March at the age of 33. Denver could look to replace him and Bonitto would be a perfect fit in their defense. He can get after the quarterback with ease. Bonitto has a great first step and even better bend. He will be one of the most productive pass rushers in college football next season. What separates Bonitto, though, is his upside in coverage. Bonitto has very loose hips and great instincts that will allow him to cover slot wideouts, tight ends or running backs. He could be a Pro-Bowl player in Denver’s defense and make Miller expendable.
If the Giants are to be Super Bowl contenders, they have to improve their offensive line. West is a plug-and-play center or guard, who would step in from Day 1 as their best interior offensive lineman. He is a phenomenal athlete with outstanding grip strength. West does a great job of getting to the second level and is scheme-versatile. An anchor like West on New York’s offensive line could make a huge difference in the development of quarterback Daniel Jones. He is on the level of Alijah Vera-Tucker as an interior offensive line prospect, who was selected 14th overall by the Jets in this year's draft.
The Cardinals moved on from cornerback Patrick Peterson this past offseason and have a huge need there. Young has exceptional tape in the Big Ten. He can play on the outside or in the slot and is one of the smartest players in college football. His ability to line up in man coverage and shut down a wide receiver with no help is special. Arizona needs their next Peterson-type player and Young has the talent fill the bill.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Even though the Eagles added DeVonta Smith in the first round in the 2021 draft, they still need help at wide receiver. Olave is one of the most NFL-ready prospects in next year’s draft. He is a fantastic route-runner, has great hands and outstanding body control. Olave is very similar to Terry McLaurin, who has had a lot of success early on in his career. Drafting Olave could help the development of quarterback Jalen Hurts and resurrect a struggling offense.
New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is trying to replicate the defense he had during his time with the Seattle Seahawks. They have some pieces, but don’t have a top-tier safety in the back end. Battle is a phenomenal safety prospect. He progressed significantly throughout the 2020 season and has all the traits to be a first-round pick. Battle hits hard, has great range and can cover very well. Dallas has struggled to find consistency at safety, so drafting Battle could help turn a major weakness into a strength.
21. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State
The Jets added a lot to their offense in the 2021 draft, but are still missing a difference-making tight end. With offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur coming over from the 49ers with head coach Robert Saleh, he needs a George Kittle to replicate what he did in San Francisco. Ruckert has a very similar skillset to Kittle, as he is an elite blocker, with the athleticism to be a mismatch nightmare at the next level. Ruckert returns to college football as the top senior tight end and should do very well at both the Senior Bowl and Combine. Expect him to come in and be quarterback Zach Wilson’s favorite target early on with a rise similar to Kittle not out of the question.
If Tennessee hopes to continue their smash-mouth play style, they will continue to add to the offensive line. Neal is too good to pass up at 21, even though they drafted Dillon Radunz in this past draft. Neal can play left tackle, right tackle and guard. He should test similarly to Mekhi Becton and has that kind of upside.
With the Big Ten having a shortened season and players like Odafe Oweh and Shaka Toney ahead of him, the media didn’t get to see how good Isaac is. Oweh and Toney are both off to the NFL, so Isaac should become the true No. 1 pass rusher for the Nittany Lions. He is a freak athlete with unbelievable bend. Isaac has flashed incredible pass-rush ability and has breakout written all over him. The Dolphins added Jaelan Phillips to their pass-rush corps in this past draft and pairing him with Isaac could give head coach Brian Flores the best defense in the NFL.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis Colts): Ali Gaye, DE, LSU
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is always looking to add pass-rush help. Gaye has a very similar skillset to Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL throughout his career. Gaye’s overall length is off the charts, which is why he led the nation in batted passes last season. Gaye is 6-foot-6 and has the frame to continue to add more weight. His upside is evident on tape and he was LSU’s best player during the 2020 campaign. Next season will be Gaye’s second year in the SEC and he has the talent to be the best edge rusher from the conference. Pair that with great testing numbers and Gaye has first round written all over him.
25. New Orleans Saints: Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor
The best comparison for Pitre’s play-style is Jamal Adams, but with cover skills. He is listed as a safety, but he is more of a defensive weapon. Pitre plays all over the field for Baylor and is the perfect defender for the modern NFL. He has loose hips and is a very fluid mover. Pitre can cover wideouts in the slot or tight ends. Baylor plays him in the box and around the line of scrimmage, but Pitre also has the versatility to play 2-high. His acceleration is exceptional and he is simply a playmaker. He will be a perfect addition to a defense that has already had success with versatile defensive backs.
26. Cleveland Browns: Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State
Cleveland has become a very good team and general manager Andrew Berry looks like he is going to be around for a while. The Browns have Myles Garrett on one side of their defensive line, but are missing a true long-term answer at the other defensive -end spot. Harrison has a tremendous amount of upside. He looks like he was built in a lab at 6-foot-6' with close to 36-inch arms. Harrison has the ability to rise up draft boards after the Combine. He hasn’t produced at a high level yet, but it is hard to find the traits Harrison has.
27. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams): Tykee Smith, S, Georgia
The Lions are trying to create an identity they have been missing for the better part of the past decade. They added to their defensive line in this past draft and now need to address the secondary. Smith is an elite safety prospect who has looked phenomenal on tape. He should transition very easily to Georgia’s defense and continue his success in the SEC. Smith is great in man coverage and has the ball skills to be a difference-maker on a defense. He has a strong frame and can defend against the run. Smith is very consistent on tape and has the same qualities Budda Baker has. These kinds of safeties are hard to find, which is why Smith could hear his name called very early next April.
28. Buffalo Bills: Tyrique Stevenson, CB, Miami
There aren’t many weaknesses on the Bills roster. Their only glaring hole is at outside cornerback on the other side of Tre’Davious White. Stevenson was very good at Georgia and flashed the ability to be a high-level cornerback prospect, similar to Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell. At Miami, he should take the reins as the No. 1 cornerback, which could help vault him to first-round status. He checks all the boxes to be a first-round pick, but he needs to show it as a full-time starter, which should happen at Miami next season.
The Ravens have always done a good job of developing pass rushers but don’t bring them back. Outside of the first-round pick Odafe Oweh, who will take some time to develop, it isn’t a great group. Jackson could change that. He has been very good at USC throughout his career. Jackson is very athletic and has great size. This isn’t the best scheme fit, as Jackson would be better in a 4-3, but at pick 29, he is worth it. Jackson will be a Day-1 starter for the Ravens.
30. Green Bay Packers: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Is this the year the Packers finally address the receiver position? Burks might be that guy. He is almost the size of a tight end, which is one of the receiver types Aaron Rodgers prefers. Burks can play in the slot or even as a gadget player in the backfield. He is a much better version of Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan, who have played well in the Packers offense. Burks should find success early on and alleviate some of the pressure off Davante Adams.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford
As long as Patrick Mahomes is under center, the Chiefs will have one of the best offenses in the NFL. What has consistently hurt them over the past few years has been their secondary. They don’t have a legit No. 1 cornerback. Kelly could change that. He popped as a true freshman and should be a standout next season when Stanford has a normal schedule. Kelly looks the part and has extremely long arms. For a bigger cornerback, Kelly does an excellent job of moving laterally. His football IQ is off the charts and Kelly’s route recognition is fantastic. He reads receivers’ hips well at the top of the route and has the instinct to make a play on the football. The Chiefs could take their defense to another level by adding a cornerback like Kelly in the first round.
If the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl again, it means quarterback Tom Brady is still at the helm. It also means they will probably be losing a lot of their weapons on offense. Metchie might not be on the level of Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, but he is a very good receiver. He is also pro-ready and would be a perfect replacement for Chris Godwin if he leaves in free agency next season. Metchie is an excellent route-runner and has great hands. There aren’t many holes in his game, making him a smart pick to contribute early on for a Super Bowl contender.