Updated: Sep 6, 2022
2022 NFL Mock Draft: Aaron's 1.0
Written By: Aaron Ussery
Michigan EDGE Aiden Hutchinson, the current betting favorite to go Number 1 overall.
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.