Updated: Jun 16
2022 NFL Mock Draft: Aaron's 1.0
Written By: Aaron Ussery
The first week of free agency is behind us, and well ... everything is different now. While many dominoes have yet to fall, there's no question that the draft's landscape has been radically altered. Now is a great time to look ahead and project how the first round will shake out in the wake of so many tectonic shifts.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Aiden Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Lost in the shuffle of massive trades and surprising free agent moves was the fact that Jaguars GM Trent Baalke decided, for the second year in a row, to franchise tag LT Cam Robinson. The move makes it less likely Jacksonville uses the top pick on a new tackle.
You figure new DC Mike Caldwell, as a disciple of Todd Bowles, will want his pass rush to be high energy and aggressive. Those are also two words that describe Aiden Hutchinson to a tee. The Michigan standout is still seen as the top EDGE talent in a very deep class, and for now he's my projection for the number one overall pick.
2. Detroit Lions - Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Hutchinson being off the board left me in a bit of a pickle here with the Lions. I think in this scenario they would most certainly prefer to trade down, but would there be any takers? I'm not so sure.
If they were forced to stay put and take a player, it would be hard to say no to someone like Kyle Hamilton. He's the draft's number one overall player in my opinion, possessing enough versatility to instantly transform a defense. Ignore the "S" after his name, because he's less of a "safety" and more of a "Queen" on the proverbial gridiron chess board. A player who can carry tight ends up the seam, smother slot receivers in short areas, roam deep in both single-high and two-high shells, and fill run fits like a linebacker is absolutely worth the number two overall pick in my opinion.
3. Houston Texans - Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Prior to free agency, it looked like LT Laremy Tunsil was on the way out. Even after the choice to restructure his deal, however, I think we could still see Houston select one of the draft's top tackles here. The right tackle spot could still use an upgrade, as we've seen both Tytus Howard and Charlie Heck struggle there in recent seasons.
Evan Neal was the RT for Alabama in 2020 before kicking over to the left side in 2021, so the position switch could be less of a struggle for him than it might be for others. His presence could form a really solid bookend tandem for the Texans as they work to set up QB Davis Mills for as much success as possible.
4. New York Jets - Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State
There continue to be murmurings about the team's dissatisfaction with Mekhi Becton, which made me consider Ikem Ekwonu here. As the draft's best run blocking tackle, he'd certainly be an excellent fit in Mike LaFleur's wide-zone system. But I think ultimately GM Joe Douglas won't want to move off his hand picked LT just yet. Becton had some struggles in Year 2 when trying to return from an injury, but his potential is still sky high.
That leaves EDGE as the highest priority, where the Jets would have a host of options. While the athletic potential of Travon Walker or Kayvon Thibodeaux would be tough to pass up, I currently prefer Jermaine Johnson over both. He is a far more developed player than Walker is right now, and his tape is much more consistent than Thibodeaux's (particularly against the run). If Carl Lawson can stay healthy, he and Johnson paired together could finally be enough to allow the Jets to move past their pass rushing woes.
5. New York Giants - Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Make no mistake about it, if either Ekwonu or Neal are here for the Giants then the card will be in Goodell's hand before he can even turn around.
The team has made moves to address their interior with guys like John Feliciano and Mark Glowinski, but the hole at right tackle remains. Neither Nate Solder or Matt Peart have looked like solutions, making Ekownu a natural choice. He has some work to do as a pass blocker, but his run blocking skills are already elite. And new HC Brian Daboll has shown an ability in the past to tailor his offensive approach to the skills of the players he has. Looking at the rest of the offensive line right now (Glowinski, Feliciano, Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, etc.), it certainly looks like a unit built to thrive on a powerful downhill run game.
6. Carolina Panthers - Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Panthers are in hell. It's pretty clear they were sinking everything into winding up with a big name at QB via trade this offseason. But the dust has now settled on the futures of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Deshaun Watson ... and Carolina wound up with none of them.
While a trade for Baker Mayfield or Gardner Minshew isn't off the table, I think the team still wants a true difference maker at the position. I think that could endear them to Willis, who possesses the highest ceiling of any QB in this draft class. His arm strength and mobility are both elite, and with the right coaching and development he could develop into a high-end starter in the league. That might be enough for the Panthers to select him here at number six overall.
7. New York Giants - Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Walker's absurd testing at the NFL Combine will get him taken in the top ten. He doesn't show much development as a pass rusher right now, but his strength and quickness are flat out rare.
I think the Giants are also a particularly good landing spot for him. DC Wink Martindale loves to employ disguised blitz packages into his scheme, similar to what Kirby Smart likes to do at Georgia. Walker was used all over the defensive line there, anywhere from 5 tech to 2i/shade nose, and would often be asked to stunt and crash on different gap assignments. I think Martindale would have a lot of fun figuring out how to do the same with Walker.
8. Atlanta Falcons - Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
There's plenty of argument to be made for finding a pass catcher in the wake of Calvin Ridley's gambling suspension, but the depth in this class coupled with the presence of Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts might make that less of a priority than EDGE — where the starters on the depth chart are currently listed as Adetokunbo Ogundeji and James Vaughters. Help is needed.
Thibodeaux would qualify as help. There are mounting questions regarding his consistency and on-field effort, but no EDGE player in this class shows higher highs. Coaches can say what they want regarding things like "football character," but when push comes to shove I still think Thibodeaux will be a top ten pick. He'd immediately be the most talented player on Atlanta's defensive line.
9. Seattle Seahawks - Sauce Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Seahawks are starting over, whether they realize it or not. Pete Carroll can talk all he wants about ”win now mode”, but the fact is that this team needs to completely rebuild the foundation of its roster. With four picks in the draft's first two days, the focus needs to be squarely on finding cornerstones at key positions -- ie. OT, EDGE, and CB.
For my money, Sauce Gardner is the best player on the board at any of those spots. With his textbook frame, sound technique, and fluid movement skills -- I don't see how Pete Carroll could pass this guy up. Placing him in the secondary alongside Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams could help Seattle take a step towards returning to the kind of defense that they want to play.
10. New York Jets - Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
With the gaping hole at EDGE now accounted for, the Jets can get back to the central focus on their 2022 offseason: building this offense up around Zach Wilson. I think their selection here at 10 is a prime spot for the first wide receiver to come off the board.
It's anyone's guess who that ends up being. In this scenario, I could see Garrett Wilson being the guy. He'd fit well as a Brandon Aiyuk-type player who can succeed as both a deep field threat and a YAC monster when targeted on screens and short/intermediate passes. Pairing him alongside Corey Davis and Elijah Moore would give the Jets a diverse set of pass catchers who all fill very distinct roles.
11. Washington Commanders - Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
It seems like teams aren't very concerned about Williams' ACL injury, as the rehab process continues to progress ahead of schedule for him. Before the injury, he was an easy top-15 pick.
I’ll take him off the board here for the Commanders, who have been looking to install more of a vertical passing game for a few seasons now. With Williams in the fold to go along with Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Dyami Brown -- this Washington passing attack would be one of the fastest in the entire league. That could help them generate enough big plays down the field to hopefully make up for the inevitable negative plays that Carson Wentz will be responsible for.
12. Minnesota Vikings - Derek Stingley, CB, LSU
Stingley may end up falling even farther than this. His medicals are a real concern, as the Lisfranc injury he suffered continues to linger. If that doesn't check out, it may scare teams off of Stingley as a first round pick altogether.
I'm not positive we're there just yet, however. And a glance over the Vikings depth chart shows a serious dearth of talent at the CB position. If they feel as though Stingley can overcome his injuries and return to the leave of play we saw from him back in 2019, then he would make a lot of sense here.
13. Houston Texans - Jordan Davis, IDL, Georgia
With the first of the many picks they received from Cleveland in the Deshaun Watson trade, the Texans add one of the most intriguing players in the class.
Davis' draft stock is a point of contention, as many still aren't sold on his every down ability despite his historic testing at the combine. I am not amongst that crowd however. What Davis did at his size is rare. Actually, "rare" doesn't even do it justice. It's unheard of. It does not happen. A player with his strength and quickness in the middle of the defensive line would pretty much rewrite the script every single snap. And Nick Caserio knows the impact that a rare athlete can have while playing the two-gapping nose tackle role in a defense. After all, he watched Vince Wilfork dominate in New England for years.
14. Baltimore Ravens - Devonte Wyatt, IDL, Georgia
Jordan Davis would be an excellent fit here, but with him off the board I’ll instead have the Ravens go with his Georgia teammate.
That might seem like a panic move, but it isn't. Wyatt is a dominant player in his own right, possessing elite quickness and a devastating first step packaged in a 310 lbs frame. He could pair with Justin Madubuike and the returning Michael Pierce to form a devastating interior D-Line.
15. Philadelphia Eagles - Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Eagles need to continue accumulating talent at the wideout position. After years of misfires, it looks like they finally got one right with Devonta Smith last year. With three first rounders this time around, GM Howie Roseman can afford to go back to the well and find Smith a running mate.
I like Burks for that role. He would compliment the undersized Smith incredibly well with his huge frame, physical ball-winning skills, and tremendous YAC ability.
16. Philadelphia Eagles - Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
With Burks in the fold, the Eagles now visit the other side of the ball. The corner spot opposite of Darius Slay continues to be a problem, and there's ample opportunity to find a solution there in this draft class.
Elam was a big riser during the combine, showcasing better speed and fluidity than what was expected of him. His performance, coupled with some disappointing showings from other players, could vault him upward into the mid-first round conversation. That puts him in range here for the Eagles, where he would provide a strong number two outside presence across from Slay. Elam has excellent length that would let him thrive in DC Jonathan Gannon's zone-heavy scheme.
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The Chargers used free agency to fill many of their defensive needs. That leaves them some freedom to continue building around Justin Herbert on the offensive side of the ball.
Charles Cross is a top ten player for me, but slides a bit in this scenario. That works out just fine for LA, as they watch a blue-chip OT prospect fall into their laps for the second year in a row. Cross isn't a natural fit at RT, and would definitely encounter some growing pains there. But the upside is worth it, as the bookend pairing he'd form with Rashawn Slater would be too good to pass up.
18. New Orleans Saints - Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Saints could opt to use this first round pick on a QB. However, I think the team will likely bring back Jameis Winston for another season and opt to select a QB later in the draft (if at all.)
Chris Olave would bring a new element to the Saints offense, which still lacks a reliable number two option across from Michael Thomas. Olave showcased a great ability to separate down the field at Ohio State, and his showing at the combine all but eliminated any questions about his athleticism. He'd give the Saints passing attack an element of speed that they've been missing - and would allow whoever steps in at QB to generate more big plays down the field.
19. Philadelphia Eagles - Zion Johnson, IOL, Boston College
You can bet that Howie Roseman will be using at least one of these three picks on a trench player. EDGE was a consideration, but in light of David Ojabo's Achilles injury I wasn't sure the Eagles would be comfortable taking him this high.
So instead I opt for Zion, who is my favorite interior offensive lineman in this class. He has all the makings of a longtime starter at guard. He also showed a willingness to play some center as well, which boosts both his versatility and his value.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers - Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
QB and O-Line were common choices for the Steelers prior to free agency. However, I think the addition of Mitchell Trubisky will preclude them from reaching on a QB in the first round, and they seem confident in their projected starting unit of LT Dan Moore, LG Kevin Dotson, C Kendrick Green, RG James Daniels, and RT Chuks Okorafor.
Instead, I think they could look to upgrade the secondary. SS Terrell Edmunds hasn't been brought back yet, indicating that they are looking for an upgrade. That brings me to Daxton Hill, who was a versatile playmaker in the back end of Michigan's defense last season. He has the ability to play deep, in the box, and in the nickel -- all of which could allow Pittsburgh to keep Minkah Fitzpatrick in more of a true single high role like what he wants. The two of them would immediately make for one of the more exciting safety pairings in the league, and could help Pittsburgh continue to thrive defensively while the offense tries to take a step forward.
21. New England Patriots - Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Dont'a Hightower is gone, and with him goes a decade of stability at the middle linebacker position. Having a big, imposing, and above all smart presence in the middle of the defense is important for how Bill Belichick wants to run his defense. Finding a replacement for Hightower is a top priority.
Devin Lloyd is a downhill thumper at 6'3" and nearly 240 lbs, making him the perfect type of linebacker for this defense. He also showcased the type of intelligence and leadership you'd expect from a 5th year senior for the Utah defense last season, which would only endear him to New England even more. This is one of the more obvious marriages in the draft class in my opinion, so if Lloyd did fall to this spot I think there's almost no way Belichick would pass on him.
22. Green Bay Packers - Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
I have to say, the Davante Adams trade was one I didn't see coming. And while it obviously leaves the Packers receiver room pretty barren, the team now has two firsts AND two seconds to try and add new pass catching talent.
Meanwhile, the team has some other needs that have to be addressed as well. Offensive line is one of those needs. Right tackle is a huge question mark, and we still aren't sure if LT David Bahktiari is ever going to be back to form on the other side as well. Trevor Penning is a bit raw, and might need to be reined in a bit at the next level in order to avoid costly penalties, but you already know O-Line coaches are going to love how much of a bully he is. He has textbook size and strength, and his experience playing at either spot allows for flexibility in where he can line up. There would likely be growing pains, but the Packers history of developing O-Line talent is very strong. I think Penning would have a great chance to develop into Green Bay's RT of the future.
23. Arizona Cardinals - Kenyon Green, IOL, Texas A&M
Arizona is in dire need of better protection up the middle. The pressure Kyler Murray faced from the Rams ferocious pass rush in the Wildcard Round was a big reason they lost that game. Keeping guys out of Murray's face is incredibly important given his 5'10" height.
Green projects as a very steady presence at guard in the NFL. He's got the ability to anchor in pass protection that would come in handy when you need to face Aaron Donald twice a year, and would also help boost the run game as a true road grader for James Connor.
24. Dallas Cowboys - Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
I know what you're thinking. A linebacker in the first round? Again?
There are certainly other needs for Dallas given how this offseason has gone for them thus far. Who replaces Connor Williams and La'el Collins along the offensive line? Is James Washington enough to cushion the blow of losing Amari Cooper? Can Dante Fowler step in for Randy Gregory? And what in the world is even happening at the safety position?
But with all that considered, I still think Nakobe Dean is the best player for them here. There's an opening at the WILL spot that Keanu Neal manned last season, and Nakobe Dean is exactly the type of player Dan Quinn wants in that role. He's a heat-seeking missile with absolutely incredible sideline-to-sideline range, which would take pressure off of Leighton Vander Esch and allow him to focus more on downhill run fits. This would also let Micah Parsons potentially transition into even more of a full time pass-rushing role, letting Dallas's defense improve at multiple spots. And when they do want to have both Parsons and Dean playing off ball at the same time ... whoo brother. That's a lot of speed in the middle.
25. Buffalo Bills - Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State
The Bills have done a wonderful job addressing their roster needs via free agency. The D-Line has been revamped with the additions of Von Miller, DaQuan Jones, and Tim Settle. The O-Line now includes Rodger Saffold to help patch up the interior. So with these spots taken car of, what do the Bills do in the first round?
Strength on top of strength, baby. The Bills wideout room is already very good, with Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie producing well in complimentary roles alongside Stefon Diggs. But what if we were to add a 6'4" 210 lbs player with sub 4.40 speed to the mix? Forget the small school pedigree, Christian Watson is a monster. He has the size and physicality to dominate in the NFL as a downfield ball-winner, which happens to be a type of player that the Bills offense is currently lacking. Him and Josh Allen together would be exactly as unfair as it sounds.
26. Tennessee Titans - David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
The Titans have a thing for taking first-round fliers on injured players. It's ended up paying off in the past, and there's no reason to think that wouldn't be the case here.
Ojabo's Achilles injury is obviously very disappointing, but I don't know that it will drop him out of the first round altogether. Tennessee needs a long term EDGE solution opposite of Harold Landry, as Bud Dupree hasn't quite lived up to his contract so far. His presence would allow the Titans to be patient with Ojabo, however, as he rehabs his injury and works to get onto the field. And his level of pass rushing upside and talent makes him worth the investment.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Travis Jones, IDL, Connecticut
With Brady back in the fold for at least one more year, Tampa can focus their efforts on adding players who can make an instant impact to help them for another Super Bowl run.
The common position you see mocked to them right now is IOL, since LG spot remains a bit of a question mark after Ali Marpet's retirement. However, there's no guard here who I would consider appropriate value - and Tyler Linderbaum projects as a center only to me. That brings my attention to the other side of the ball, where Vita Vea currently seems to be the only interior defensive lineman under contract for next season. Let's do something about that. Travis Jones is a dynamic talent at DT, and has done enough this offseason in both the Senior Bowl and the Combine to warrant first round consideration. He'd pair with Vea, Shaq Barrett, and last year's first round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to form an incredibly athletic front four -- just like how DC Todd Bowles wants it.
28. Green Bay Packers - Drake London, WR, USC
Drake London wouldn't be a direct replacement for Davante Adams (nobody would), but he would add a new wrinkle to Matt LaFleur's offense. This is a big body player who can win outside in contested catch situations, while also possessing enough savvy as a route runner to win inside as a power slot.
London also excels as a run blocker, which is obviously important for what LaFleur wants to do. I think Adam's departure could prelude even more of a shift into the Shanahan style, run-heavy offense that the Green Bay HC comes from.
29. Miami Dolphins - Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa
If this happened, I image new HC Mike McDaniel would need a cigar or two. Linderbaum is exactly the type of center he needs for his offense. He has incredible downfield and lateral movement skills, which would allow him to succeed on pulls and reaches and let McDaniel's wide zone scheme flourish.
I personally value Linderbaum much, much higher than this - but I'm not so sure the NFL will feel the same. We've seen excellent center prospects fall before, including Creed Humphrey last year. And with Linderbaum's profile as a center-only prospect (meaning he likely can't make the switch to guard), I won't be shocked if he falls a bit on draft day. If he fell into Miami's lap here, however, they'd take him in a heartbeat.
30. Kansas City Chiefs - Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The Chiefs watched Charvarius Ward walk out the door in free agency, and have yet to bring back Mike Hughes. In addition to that, Tyrann Mathieu won't be returning either. This leaves holes at both the outside corner and nickel positions in Steve Spagnuolo's defense.
Enter Trent McDuffie, who projects mainly as a nickel but has the right stuff to stick at outside corner as well. His length and height are a bit of a concern, but you can't argue with the instincts he showcases on tape. Bringing him in, alongside new addition Justin Reid, would help Kansas City continue the retooling of its secondary. Which has become even more important when you consider some of the additions to the rest of their division this offseason...
31. Cincinnati Bengals - Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson
As I write this, it looks like the Bengals have won the La'el Collins sweepstakes. This completes the revamp of their offensive line, alongisde the additions of C Ted Karras and G Alex Cappa. Now given some flexibility in what they can do here, I think they could go in a number of different directions.
In this scenario, I opt to give them Andrew Booth. They are in need of some more longterm answers at the CB position, with Eli Apple only back on a one-year deal. Booth has a good chance of providing an immediate upgrade over Apple anyways, showcasing lightning quick reflexes and sticky man coverage skills on tape. A couple of nagging injuries have prevented him from being able to test this offseason, which figures to knock him down draft boards a bit. That works out fine for the Bengals, as they nab someone I consider a top-20 talent all the way down here at pick 31.
32. Detroit Lions - George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
With the Lions opting to go Kyle Hamilton with the number two overall pick, that leaves a few options here at the end of round one. While it's true that they could consider a QB here in order to get the fifth year option, if you're Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes... what's the rush? You're in year two of what was expected to be a multi-season rebuild. And they have another pick at the top of the second round they can use on a rookie signal caller if they're inclined to do so. Taking someone like Kenny Pickett or Desmond Ridder in the second round is also less of a binding investment and more of a casual rolling of the dice - which I think is more appropriate for who they are as prospects.
So instead, let's give Detroit an EDGE player since they passed on one in the top ten. George Karlaftis is every bit as strong and technically refined as Aiden Hutchinson is, but with just a bit less "juice". That doesn't mean he can't be as productive in the NFL, however. With his array of pass rushing moves, I think he projects as a very productive starter in the NFL. Adding him to the mix alongside Romeo and Julien Okwara, as well as Levi Onwuzurike, Michael Brockers, and Alim McNeill in the interior, would give Detroit a very deep and very sturdy defensive line group.