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2022 NFL Mock Draft: A Debate Over the Best Defensive End

Might Kayvon Thibodeaux not be the best defensive prospect in the upcoming draft class?

The 2021 draft is entirely in the rearview mirror, and fans have shifted focus to the start of the upcoming college football season. A lot will change by next April, but here is an advance look to put some names on your radar in a preseason 2022 mock draft:

1. Houston Texans: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

The Mountain West has had its fair share of success at the quarterback position recently with Josh Allen and Jordan Love. Strong is next up in the conference and has the most upside out of any 2022 draft-eligible quarterback. He has a fantastic supporting cast at Nevada and is in a perfect offense to put up great numbers. Strong's deep ball is the best in the class and his overall mechanics are very impressive. His freshman to sophomore season jump showed a quarterback who puts in the work in the offseason. If he takes another step this season, he has the chance to be the clear-cut top quarterback prospect in next year's draft.

2. Detroit Lions: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

General manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell want to build from the trenches. The quarterback position remains a mystery, but Karlaftis is too good to pass up. As a prospect, Karlaftis is the complete package. His overall quickness and athleticism at 270 pounds are hard to find. Not only that, Karlaftis is fantastic against the run. In a full season next year, expect him to put up All-America numbers for the Boilermakers. The Big Ten has a history of edge rushers being selected in the top five and Karlaftis has the talent to be the next one selected there.

3. New York Jets: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

The Jets have done an excellent job of rebuilding their offense under general manager Joe Douglas. With that being said, their defense is still lacking a premier pass rusher. Thibodeaux came in as a top recruit to Eugene and has been a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive line. His bend is fantastic and Thibodeaux has developed a lot as a run defender. His standout game against USC in 2020 was indeed one of the most dominant performances by anyone last year. If he continues that, he'll be hard to pass on atop the draft. 

4. Cincinnati Bengals: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M

Even though he plays defensive end now, Leal projects as a future All-Pro defensive tackle at the next level. At 290 pounds, Leal is one of the strongest defensive lineman returning to college football. He understands how to use his play strength to his advantage, as he consistently wins the leverage battle. As a pass rusher, Leal can win with power and also has violent hands. The Bengals need an impact player defensively like Leal, who should be the first defensive tackle off the board in April. 

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

After a very successful junior campaign, Olave decided to stay for his senior season. His junior tape was very similar to that of DeVonta Smith. Olave's route-running is fantastic and he has excellent hands. He was consistently getting open and top cornerbacks struggled to stay in phase with him. Head coach Urban Meyer has a superb receiving corps, but could acquire a true No. 1 weapon in the draft. Olave is a very safe prospect, as his game should translate exceptionally well at the next level.

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

It was easy to see that Stingley would be a first-round prospect dating back to his freshman season. Last year, he took a step back, but still showed why he deserves to be the first cornerback off the board. His man-to-man coverage skills and overall instincts make him a potential lockdown cornerback at the next level. The Eagles have always struggled to find high-quality cornerbacks, so pairing Stingley with Darius Slay could give them a solid duo.

7. Las Vegas Raiders: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

There are serious character concerns with Rattler that were first brought to light on the hit show QB1. However, on the field, Rattler can do some extraordinary things with the football. Now in Las Vegas, head coach Jon Gruden needs to add more excitement to the team. Derek Carr is a solid quarterback, but Rattler's upside makes him a clear upgrade over Carr. If it all clicks for Rattler next season, he could be the next Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Having Rattler, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes in the same division could make this one of most competitive groups for years to come.

8. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

The only reason Hamilton won't be the first overall pick is that NFL teams don't value safeties as highly as quarterbacks, defensive ends and left tackles. Hamilton is the best player in the draft and has Hall of Fame potential. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he isn't just a box safety. He can play single high, cover wideouts in the slot and is fantastic in deep zones. Hamilton will also test off the charts at the Scouting Combine. There is genuinely no weakness in his game. Hamilton is a transcendent prospect. Pairing him with Jeremy Chinn in the back end of the Panthers defense would give defensive coordinator Phil Snow the best safety pairing in the NFL, and it wouldn't be close. 

9. New York Giants: Kenyon Green, T, Texas A&M

If the Giants don't address the quarterback position in next year's first round, they will need to address the offensive line. Green is an elite guard who is moving to tackle next season. Based on his tape, Green should have no problem with the transition. His flexibility will allow the Giants to play him at either guard or tackle, depending on how their young players develop. Having Green blocking for running back Saquon Barkley could take his game to the next level. No matter where he plays, Green is a top prospect for the 2022 draft and shouldn't have to wait long to hear his name called.

10. Atlanta Falcons: Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State 

The Falcons have always been known for their high-powered offense, but need to improve their defense to get back to their winning ways. A.J. Terrell showed some promise in his rookie year, but there are still many question marks in the secondary. Banks checks all the boxes teams look for in an outside cornerback, but he can also kick inside, allowing him to travel with opposing teams' top wideouts.

11. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears): Drake Jackson, DE, USC

The Giants primarily run a 3-4, but with so many sub-package defenses in today's game, Jackson will give them flexibility. He can stand up or put his hand in the dirt. As a pass rusher, Jackson finds success with a combination of speed and power. His athleticism allows him to do a lot, and he has flashed a lot in his two years with the Trojans. There is still some rawness to his game, but the upside is there for Jackson to be a high-level starter in the NFL.

12. Washington Football Team: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia 

The rich get richer. Washington already has a great defense, but could use a difference-making safety. Cine is an old-school style of safety, with the traits to be an elite modern-day player. He is rangy and can cover a lot of ground. On film, his football IQ stands out. Cine is always in the correct position and is a great tackler. He'll be a coach's dream and would take Washington's defense to another level.

13. Minnesota Vikings: Ali Gaye, DE, LSU

The Vikings have had success with LSU pass rushers in the past and go back to the well here. Gaye has all the physical tools to be one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. It is hard to miss Gaye on LSU's tape. His motor is excellent, and he flashes the ability to contribute in a multitude of ways. For a first-year player last year in the SEC, Gaye looked like he belonged. He had great performances against NFL-caliber tackles on Alabama and LSU. If Gaye takes the next step this fall, he'll be one of the biggest risers for the upcoming draft. Gaye is the exact prototype the NFL is moving toward at defensive end and is perfect for what head coach Mike Zimmer looks for at the position. 

14. Pittsburgh Steelers: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

If the Steelers are to continue having one of the best defenses in the NFL, they'll need to address the cornerback position. Joe Haden turned 36 in April and Pittsburgh doesn't have much depth. Booth could fix the problems the Steelers currently have. He is a great athlete who improved a tremendous amount as a sophomore. With more playing time next season, he should solidify himself as a first-round pick. 

15. Arizona Cardinals: Ainias Smith, WR, Texas A&M

Similar to Christian McCaffrey, Smith will be an offensive weapon for whoever drafts him. He is an elite running back with some of the best route-running skills in the country. It didn't matter if it was a linebacker or cornerback trying to cover Smith; no one could stay with him. Next season, he'll be moving to the slot, where he'll be able to display how good he is as a receiver. Combined with what he has already shown as a runner, Smith is the perfect player for a modern NFL offense. Adding him to an offense that already has Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins would make the Cardinals the most exciting offense in the NFL. Smith is one of the most unique prospects in recent memory and has the chance to be remarkable. 

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16. New Orleans Saints: Jahleel Billingsley, TE, Alabama

 Last season, Billingsley took college football by storm down the stretch. He was impossible to stop, which is hard to do at the tight-end position. For his size, it is rare to find a player with Billingsley's speed and separation ability. The Saints have one of the best coaching staffs in the league and could help make Billingsley a top-five tight end very early in his career and a perennial Pro Bowler. 

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Dohnovan West, G, Arizona State

The Chargers addressed the offensive line early in the 2021 draft, but still have a significant need at guard. West has the flexibility to be an elite player at either guard or center and is a plug-and-play starter. On tape, it is effortless for West. He gets to the second level with ease and is excellent when asked to pull. West also has outstanding grip strength and leverage, which allows him to get a hold of defensive tackles and drive them backward. Giving second-year quarterback Justin Herbert a blocker like West could help his development.

18. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco 49ers): Sean Rhyan, T, UCLA

If left tackle Austin Jackson doesn't take the next step in Year 2, the Dolphins could replace him. Head coach Brian Flores does things his way, so addressing the position again wouldn't be out of the question, especially if Rhyan is on the board. The UCLA left tackle has excellent technique and is a bully in the run game. He always finishes plays and consistently puts defenders in the dirt. He'll be a reliable left tackle for a long time, which is seemingly becoming harder and harder to find.

19. Denver Broncos: Kaleb Eleby, QB, Western Michigan

As of now, it doesn't look like Drew Lock is the answer in Denver. With new general manager George Paton not tied to him, the Broncos could address the quarterback position in the draft; Eleby had a historic redshirt sophomore season last year for Western Michigan. He had 18 touchdown passes to only two interceptions and displayed an NFL arm on tape. Eleby helped turn D'Wayne Eskridge into a second-round pick, and if he takes that next step in the fall, the tools are there for him to be a first-round pick. 

20. Dallas Cowboys: Austin Stogner, TE, Oklahoma

The Cowboys have one of the best offenses in football, and their only weak spot is at tight end. Stogner is a better prospect than Mark Andrews and has an even higher ceiling. With Spencer Rattler at quarterback, Stogner should put up outstanding numbers next season. He is a complete player and is everything coaches want at the position. Stogner can block, has a big catch radius and shows upside as a route -runner. Tight ends of Stogner's quality don't have to wait long to hear their name called.

21. New England Patriots: Zion Tupuola-Fetui, DE, Washington

In this past draft, Dayo Odeyingbo was a top 55 selection coming off a torn Achilles. Tupuola-Fetui is a much better player than Odeyingbo, who deserved to be a first-round pick despite the injury. Tupuola-Fetui exploded onto the scene for the Huskies this past season with seven sacks in four games. At 280 pounds, Tupuola-Fetui is still extremely athletic. So athletic, Washington even had him drop back into coverage. Tupuola-Fetui can win in many ways and had some of the best tape from an edge rusher in 2020. Head coach Bill Belichick will know how to get the most out of Tupuola-Fetui, as he can line up all over the defensive line and contribute in both the run game and as a pass rusher. Tupuola-Fetui is the perfect Patriots player and would be a long-time contributor on their defense. 

22. Indianapolis Colts: Avery Young, CB, Rutgers

If the Colts keep their first-round pick, they'll need to address the cornerback position. Young is arguably the best pure man-to-man cornerback in the draft. He can play in the slot or on the outside and is lockdown in coverage. Young is excellent at mirroring receivers and staying in their hip pocket. On tape last year, he shut down some of the best wide receivers in the nation. Young could be one of the most coveted cornerbacks in the draft with a good showing at the Senior Bowl. He is worthy of being a first-round pick now and a future No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. 

23. Tennessee Titans: Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

After adding Julio Jones this offseason, the Titans' receivers room is set. However, that can't be said for their tight-end group. With the loss of Jonnu Smith in free agency, the Titans don't have much at the position. Wydermyer is a plug-and-play starting tight end and could be a key contributor on a playoff-caliber team. At 265 pounds, Wydermyer is a great receiver. He is very quick for his size and is a hand catcher. Wydermyer does an excellent job of separating the ball from his body. He'll be hard to cover at the next level and will add another dimension to an already potent Titans offense.

24. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Ricky Stromberg, C, Arkansas 

The first center comes off the board at pick 24. Stromberg is one of the most underrated players in the nation. In pass protection, it doesn't get much better. He is very consistent and can handle both speed and power. As a run blocker, Stromberg wins with strength, moving defensive linemen off their spot. The Jets still don't have a high-end starter at center, and Stromberg could be that missing piece to turn this offensive line into a top-five unit in the league.

25. Green Bay Packers: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia

The situation surrounding Aaron Rodgers is murky, but the Packers will want to give former first-round pick Jordan Love a shot if they choose to part ways with their star quarterback. The Packers could still use some help on their defensive line and Walker is a perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end. It starts with his length. Walker can control offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage and use his size to make plays in the run game. As a former five-star recruit, the potential is there for Walker to have a big jump in production next season and move into the first-round conversation.

26. Cleveland Browns: Brian Asamoah, LB, Oklahoma

The Browns have done a complete 180, turning into one of the best organizations in football. They don't have many needs, but could use a high-level linebacker like Asamoah. Asamoah is an elite athlete who should be one of the best testers at the Combine. He shows the ability to drop back in zone coverage and burst downhill to make a play on the ball-carrier. Kenneth Murray was a first-round pick from Oklahoma at linebacker and Asamoah has the upside to be one.

27. Baltimore Ravens: Trevor Penning, T, Northern Iowa

With Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens need high-level run blockers at tackle. Penning is a dominant run blocker and stood out on tape. His play strength is imposing, and he would fit well in a power scheme. The Ravens have a hole at right tackle after trading Orlando Brown Jr., so Penning could be the answer and help the Ravens continue their run-first play-style.

28. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami Dolphins): Travis Jones, DT, UConn

With UConn opting out of the season last year, Jones wasn't able to continue his dominance for the Huskies. However, based on his 2019 tape, Jones has the talent to be a first-round pick. He is an unbelievable run defender who offensive linemen couldn't move. Jones will be able to rack up tackles for a loss. As a pass rusher, Jones was able to get after the quarterback, as he has a quick first step and can convert speed to power. Jones retooled his body this offseason and should be one of the best defensive tackles in college football next season. If he can build off his 2019 campaign and continue to improve as a pass rusher, Jones could be a first-round selection. 

29. Los Angeles Rams: Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse 

The Orange lost three talented defensive backs to the NFL, but the best of the bunch is returning next year. Williams is eerily similar to Jaire Alexander, who is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His instincts and man coverage skills are exceptional and Williams also contributes as a run defender. The ball skills are there with him, too, and in the ACC next season, he should be able to show his shutdown coverage ability against some of the best wideouts in the nation. The Rams have had success with developing cornerbacks alongside Jalen Ramsey, and adding a plug-and-play star like Williams could help solidify their secondary.

30. Buffalo Bills: Payton Wilson, LB, North Carolina State

It doesn't get much better than Wilson's skill set at the linebacker position in terms of pure talent. His overall acceleration and movement skills are excellent. He can track down ball-carriers and is terrific working sideline to sideline. The only concern with Wilson is his injury history. Both Jaelan Phillips and Landon Dickerson were top 50 picks with worse injury histories than Wilson. He is too good of a talent, which is why he could still hear his name called on the first day of the draft.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jordan Battle, S, Alabama

The Buccaneers have not shied away from adding to their secondary even when it isn't a need. Battle is an exciting safety who is one of the best players for Alabama. He is a big hitter and has excellent coverage skills for a safety. All the tools are there for him to develop into one of the best safeties in the NFL. If he continues to improve on tape this season, teams will be looking to select him in the first round of next year's draft. 

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Jadon Haselwood, WR, Oklahoma

If Haselwood improves on his freshman campaign, there is a chance he gets drafted much higher than this. Haselwood has swift feet and can beat press coverage with ease. His speed is there and he has excellent hands. Haselwood has flashed a tremendous amount of potential when on the field, and with Oklahoma's offense, he should have much success. The Chiefs don't have much outside of Tyreek Hill at the receiver position, so Haselwood could be that player alongside him. He is an upside pick as Haselwood has the chance to be one of the best receivers in the NFL.