Most way-too-early mock drafts aren’t as bad as people may think. There are 11-15 players that are first-round talents and will remain there for the entirety of the draft cycle.
Then there are guys like Marvin Wilson and Shaun Wade, who take a significant step back. No one is able to project players like Zaven Collins, Payton Turner or Jamin Davis in the first round. It is hard to say that their own teammates or head coaches would have expected them to be a top-32 selection going into the season. The majority of mocks will get about a dozen correctly. The goal of this exercise is to predict 20 of the players who end up hearing their name called on Day 1. That means a lot of new names are included in this not-too early 2022 mock draft.
1. Houston Texans: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
If Houston is selecting first overall next season, it means that Davis Mills and Tyrod Taylor aren’t thought of as long-term solutions at the position. What happens with Deshaun Watson is still up in the air, but no matter what, it feels like he won’t be a Texan next season. Rattler is the best quarterback in the draft by a considerable margin. He is similar to Zach Wilson. Rattler progressed a tremendous amount as his first year as a starter progressed, and the NFL loves Oklahoma quarterbacks. With the roster the Sooners have, they could legitimately win the national championship, which would mean Rattler probably wins the Heisman Trophy. The character concerns are there with Rattler, but the Texans will be desperate to find a new signal-caller, and Rattler is the best of the bunch.
2. Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
The Lions have the option to take the best non-quarterback in the draft. Jared Goff isn’t perfect, but no quarterback is worthy of being the second player selected. General manager Brad Holmes is building through the trenches, and Kayvon Thibodeaux is the best pass rusher in the draft. He doesn’t have the frame that Chase Young or Myles Garrett have, but he is still a fantastic pass rusher. Thibodeaux is underrated against the run and can get after the quarterback in a multitude of ways. The Lions went with Penei Sewell in the first round in 2021 and go back to the Oregon well here.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
The Bengals are becoming LSU North. They selected Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, and Stingley Jr. would be another great addition. He is one of the best cornerback prospects ever. He has all the tools to develop into an elite cornerback and has been a shutdown cornerback since arriving at LSU. He is a tier above Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II, and there is an argument to be made that he is already a better prospect than Jeff Okudah. The Bengals need to eventually address the offensive line, but Stingley Jr. is too good to pass up.
4. New York Jets: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Through two drafts so far, it is easy to see that general manager Joe Douglas is a great evaluator. The Jets, however, still haven’t added to their defensive front. Head coach Robert Saleh loves to stockpile pass rushers. He almost had too many in San Francisco. The Jets added Carl Lawson in free agency, but they still are missing a true difference-maker. Karlaftis didn’t play much in 2020 because of injuries, which shows how good his freshman tape was for him to be considered a potential top-five selection. He is versatile and is a ready-made product. Karlaftis is extremely quick off the ball and also has elite play strength. He should put up All-America numbers as the alpha on the Purdue defense.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: DeMarvin Leal, DE, Texas A&M
Based on his 2021 draft, head coach Urban Meyer values five-star recruits. Leal fits that bill, and he hasn’t disappointed at Texas A&M. Leal can play any position on the defensive line. He is an extremely advanced pass rusher for his age. Leal has grown-man strength and throws around offensive linemen on film. At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, he is one of the most unique players in the draft. Leal is also a great run defender. He’d be a perfect 3-4 defensive end in Meyer’s new defense.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Eagles are slowly deteriorating. They are stuck in no man’s land. If they are picking this high, it means the team could be moving on from general manager Howie Roseman and looking for a new quarterback. Willis is supremely gifted for the quarterback position. He has a cannon for an arm. Few quarterbacks have the velocity that Willis does. He is also an excellent runner. He’ll be able to lean on his running ability early on in his career. Liberty should be good again in 2021, and Willis should put up great numbers in the air and on the ground.
7. New York Giants (via Bears): Tyreke Smith, DE, Ohio State
Even with the addition of Azeez Ojulari, the Giants need pass-rush help. With two first-round picks in the 2022 draft, they’ll need to address the position. Smith’s film down the stretch in 2020 would have made him a first-round pick had he declared early. He can win as a pass rusher in a number of different ways. His spin move is fantastic, and he can win with speed to power. His tape is better than Kwity Paye, who is a similar player. The Giants are known for going against the consensus early, and that should continue if general manager Dave Gettleman is still at the helm. Smith is the most underrated player in the nation and should be a quick riser next season.
8. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Most analysts felt that Kyle Pitts was the best player in this past draft class. This should be the same with Hamilton. Both don’t play the most valuable positions, but have the chance to put on a gold jacket when their careers are over. Pairing Hamilton with Jeremy Chinn will give the Panthers the most versatile safety duo in the NFL. Both have linebacker size, to go with elite athleticism. Pair them with cornerback Jaycee Horn, and this has the makings of an elite secondary.
9. Atlanta Falcons: Boye Mafe, DE, Minnesota
The Falcons are getting a freak athlete in Mafe. He will test off the chart and put up very good tape as a junior. He’ll be one of the best pass rushers in the nation next season and then win the Combine in March. This could lead to a rise into the top 10. Atlanta has some pieces defensively, but is missing an elite player off the edge. Mafe has the upside to be that. He is going to be athletic like Odafe Oweh, with fantastic tape.
10. Las Vegas Raiders: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Raiders love to draft players from Clemson. They were planning on taking A.J. Terrell in the 2020 draft before the Falcons selected him three picks earlier. Atlanta passed on Booth and the Raiders get a legit No. 1 cornerback. He isn’t a top-10 talent yet, but Booth could be there by the time the draft rolls around. His upside could make him that playmaker head coach Jon Gruden has been missing in the back half of his defense. The Raiders usually go with a surprise in Round 1, but they will take Booth if he falls to them at this spot.
11. Washington Football Team: Nick Broeker, T, Mississippi
Outside of the quarterback position, Washington’s biggest need is at tackle. They added Samuel Cosmi in the draft, but he is more of a long-term project. Broeker has put up two year’s worth of very good tape in the SEC. He has feet and is very athletic. With another year of experience and added play strength, Broeker has the talent to be the first offensive lineman off the board.
12. New York Giants: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
After adding pass-rush help at No. 7, Gettleman gets his linebacker. Harris is far and away the best linebacker in the draft. He is built like an NFL linebacker and will be a plug-and-play starter. The Giants went offensive-heavy in the 2021 draft and will need to bolster their defense with multiple first-round picks.
13. Minnesota Vikings: Drake Jackson, DE, USC
On tape, Jackson is a great athlete. He is just played out of position. USC will use him as a stand-up rusher, but Jackson is best as a traditional 4-3 end. He has the size the Vikings are looking for and the talent to develop into one of the better pass rushers in the league. Minnesota desperately needs someone outside of Danielle Hunter to help, and Jackson could be that answer.
14. Arizona Cardinals: Ainias Smith, WR, Texas A&M
The position doesn’t matter with Smith. He is an offensive weapon and will be perfect to pair with Kyler Murray. Smith has the quickness and explosiveness of Kadarius Toney and is a better route-runner. What makes Smith unique is that he is also a great ball-carrier. He is a mix between Toney and Alvin Kamara. Smith was Kellen Mond’s No. 1 offensive weapon and should put up video-game numbers in the Cardinals' offense.
15. Los Angeles Chargers: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The Chargers were considering Jaycee Horn if he fell to them at 13 this year. McDuffie doesn’t get the same attention as Stingley or Booth, but he is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. McDuffie has loose hips and a great overall feel for what receivers are going to do. He can also tackle and is next in line at Washington's cornerback factory. He just doesn’t give up receptions on film.
16. New Orleans Saints: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
The Saints have one of the best rosters in football. With that being said, they don’t have the long-term answer at quarterback. Jameis Winston shows flashes, but is never consistent enough to be a franchise quarterback. Both Ian Book and Taysom Hill don’t have the arm talent necessary to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Pickett will enter the league as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in college football. He is an athlete and works well outside of structure. Pickett has elevated his teammates throughout his career as a Panther. With a full season of work and talented weapons around him, Pickett could be the senior who makes the jump to first-round status.
17. Tennessee Titans: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
It was shocking when Olave decided to go back to school. He dominated down the stretch for Ohio State. On tape, he is an elite route-runner. Olave can create separation with ease and understands blind spots very well. He has sure hands and good enough speed to be a top-20 pick. The Titans have A.J. Brown, but need to add another weapon for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans' offense will need more threats if they want to continue to compete for a Super Bowl.
18. New England Patriots: Avery Young, CB, Rutgers
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has always loved Rutgers players. He has hit on almost all of them and will look to continue his success with Young. Young is an elite man-to-man cover cornerback. He is also a great run defender. The Patriots will be able to utilize him in the slot or on the outside. Stephon Gilmore is still around, but with J.C. Jackson potentially leaving after the 2021 season, the Patriots find Gilmore’s running mate.
19. Miami Dolphins (via 49ers): Adam Anderson, DE, Georgia
The Dolphins added Jaelan Phillips in the 2021 draft and have a good pass-rush group, but Anderson would take them to another level. His get-off is phenomenal. Anderson is the best pure pass rusher returning to college football. With that being said, he is sub-230 pounds and isn’t a great run defender. If he can put on weight, he won’t make it to 18.
20. Dallas Cowboys: Charles Cross, T, Mississippi State
Because of the injury history with Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, the Cowboys will need to find their eventual replacements sooner rather than later. Cross showed a lot of promise in his first year as a starter. He was a former five-star recruit and displayed all the tools to develop into a high-end tackle. Cross still needs to put on weight, but he held his own against some of the best pass rushers in the SEC. Cross could end up as the best pure left tackle in the 2022 class.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on his last legs. Howell is a very similar player to Baker Mayfield. He is very accurate down the field and looks great when making good decisions. However, Howell needs to improve his decision-making. If he does that, he’ll be able to improve his draft stock. After a fantastic freshman season, Howell played “hero ball” too often as a sophomore, and it cost him at times.
22. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Evan Neal, T, Alabama
Alabama players consistently go high in the draft. This year, Alex Leatherwood was more of a Round-2 talent, yet he went 17th overall. Neal has a lot of upside, but is an odd build at 6-foot-7,' 360 pounds. He isn’t a road grader either. Neal lacks play strength and can be off-balance too often as a run blocker. In pass protection, though, Neal rarely gives up pressures. He is athletic enough at his size, making it extremely difficult for pass rushers to get around him. He’ll be able to start at right tackle from Day 1.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dolphins): John Metchie, WR, Alabama
Even though the Eagles took a wide receiver in the first round in 2020 and 2021, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t continue to address one of their weakest positions. DeVonta Smith and Metchie were a great duo this past season and should be a great pairing in Philadelphia. If Jalen Reagor pans out, that is an added bonus, but the Eagles would have two legitimate threats at the receiver position if they add Metchie.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (via Colts): Jahleel Billingsley, TE, Alabama
The Alabama theme continues. Billingsley is almost a big wide receiver at the tight-end position. He’ll be an excellent replacement for Zach Ertz. Billingsley broke out toward the end of the Alabama national championship run, but should be on full display as Alabama’s No. 2 option next season. He is extremely fast and is great with the ball in his hands. Adding Willis, Metchie and Billingsley would suddenly make the Eagles one of the most fun offenses in the NFL.
25. Denver Broncos: Sean Rhyan, T, UCLA
The Broncos don’t have many holes on their roster. Their only glaring weakness is at right tackle. Rhyan plays left tackle, but has the skill set to move to the right side. He is a fantastic run defender with unbelievable play strength. Rhyan creates gaping holes for ball-carriers to run through. His overall balance and hand usage make him a good enough pass protector. There are a lot of pancake blocks on his tape.
26. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Every year moving forward, there will be questions surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ future with the Packers. Green Bay, however, won’t change the way they draft. The loss of Corey Linsley to the Chargers in free agency created a need at center. Linderbaum is undersized, but is excellent on tape. He is the perfect player for the Packers to add to an already good offensive line. The Packers might not believe in drafting wide receivers, but they have done a great job of adding offensive linemen in the draft.
27. Cleveland Browns: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Browns have the luxury of taking the best player available in the first round next year. Burks could be that player if he falls to 27. Burks’ tape shows a mismatch nightmare for defenses. He plays in the slot and is essentially the size of a tight end at the receiver position. His combination of size and speed is hard to find. There are still areas of his game that need refinement, but the upside as a chess piece is there with Burks.
28. Buffalo Bills: Woodi Washington, CB, Oklahoma
The Bills are another team with few needs. They have Tre’Davious White, but will need to give him a running mate. Washington is undersized similar to White, but has all the upside to be a quality No. 2 cornerback. He was great as a redshirt freshman and could end up as a Round-1 pick with another good season.
29. Detroit Lions (via Rams): David Ugwoegbu, LB, Oklahoma
Detroit is going to have one of the top defenses in the NFL if they continue to address it early. Ugwuegbu is built like Tarzan. He is 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, and is extremely athletic for his size. Once he puts it all together, he could be a potential first-round pick. Size, speed and length are all valuable at the linebacker position, and Ugwoegbu’s overall play progressed significantly as this past season went on.
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30. Baltimore Ravens: Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
The Ravens' run-first offense needs to add more talent to the interior. They have gotten away with sub-par play, but that will end quickly. Green is the best guard in the draft. He is a finisher in the run game and is also a great pass protector. His tape is on a different level than most interior offensive linemen. His positional value may drop him, but Green is a top-15 talent in the 2022 draft.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
The Buccaneers love to add talent to their secondary. Cine is an old-school thumper at safety. Combine that with athleticism to play in the modern NFL and Cine is a first-round talent. He and Antoine Winfield Jr. would be an excellent tandem for years to come.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The rich get richer here. Wilson is simply a good wideout. He may drop because he doesn’t currently have a trump card, but his tape is worthy of him being a top-32 selection. Wilson doesn’t drop passes, is a good route-runner and has excellent body control. The Chiefs are still missing a high-level wideout aside from Tyreek Hill. Wilson would be a great complement to him.