Photo Credit: Mark Konezny
Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42
Football fans, the time is finally here! After much anticipation, the 2022 NFL Draft will kick off on Thursday night. This is one of the most unpredictable drafts I can remember in the past few years as most teams could go in many different directions with their pick. There’s even still around four or five prospects that could be picked with the top pick! With that in mind, let me take a crack at what I believe will happen in the first round of this year’s draft.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker - EDGE, Georgia
For the second consecutive year, the Jaguars hold the top pick in the draft. There has been a lot of speculation about who they will pick here. For a while, it was Kayvon Thibodeaux then changed to either Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu at tackle, then to Aidan Hutchinson, but now in the past few weeks, a new name has emerged as the favorite. Travon Walker was a part of an all-time great defense this season at Georgia but didn’t get to fully stand out in my opinion the way he could. However, he has put on a show in the pre-draft process which has scouts projecting what he could be. To me, this pick could be risky but Walker has the athletic tools, play strength, and positional versatility to work with and could have a high ceiling if used the right way.
2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson - EDGE, Michigan
While I think there’s a chance they could take a swing at Malik Willis as their quarterback of the future here, the Lions need some impact players on defense. With Walker rising up, they get their hometown superstar to fall right into their lap. Hutchinson had an incredible year at Michigan this season, helping lead Michigan to the College Football Playoff and earning himself a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He has everything you want in a defensive end with a great combination of length, power, and speed. He will come in and be an immediate starter and I believe will be a perfect match for hard-nosed head coach Dan Campbell.
3. Houston Texans: Evan Neal - OT, Alabama
With the Texans being in a major rebuild, they have needs at almost every position. While they could go defense here, they need to protect their promising young quarterback Davis Mills. Evan Neal makes perfect sense here as he is the most fundamentally sound offensive tackle in this class. He has great footwork and technique in pass protection but is also an aggressive mauler in the run game. Neal on the opposite side of Laremy Tunsil gives the Texans a very dynamic young duo at the tackles to build their offensive line around.
4. New York Jets: Jermaine Johnson II - EDGE, Florida State
This pick for the Jets screams defense to me unless they want to add another tackle or receiver, but I believe they can wait on that. For a while, I had them taking a defensive back but a lot of talks have been swirling in the past few days about their love for Johnson. If they truly want him, they have to take him here in my eyes. Johnson has become one of my favorite prospects since the Senior Bowl after he truly dominated the whole week. He has the perfect build for an edge rusher and has incredible athleticism and is a powerful force when rushing the passer. I believe that when we look back in a few years, Johnson could end up being the most successful edge rusher from this stacked class.
5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu - OT, North Carolina State
Since they look to be sticking it out with Daniel Jones for at least one more year, the Giants need to continue to build their offensive line to try to help give him opportunities to succeed. While Neal is my OT1 and has been for a long time, Ekwonu came on strong this season and made it a very close competition for the top spot. Ekwonu is a physical freak that is a powerful finisher in the run game. He also moves very well for his size and shows promise as a pass blocker. Much like the Texans, drafting Ekwonu would give the Giants a solid young tackle duo to build around pairing him with 2020 first-round pick Andrew Thomas.
6. Carolina Panthers: Charles Cross - OT, Mississippi State
This is where things could get very tricky as I believe the Panthers could very easily go with a quarterback here or even trade back. However, I think they’ll either ride it out with Sam Darnold or trade for a veteran like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo when things are all said and done. With that being said, they have a very glaring need for an offensive tackle. Charles Cross makes perfect sense here as he can step in and start right away as a true left tackle. He has very impressive pass sets and mirror technique, and I actually believe he could be the best overall pass blocker in this year’s class. He could work on his strength in the run game but a good offensive line coach can help bring that out of him. Whoever is at quarterback for the Panthers next season will feel very comfortable with Cross protecting their blindside.
7. New York Giants (via Chicago): Kayvon Thibodeaux - EDGE, Oregon
After addressing their offensive line with their first pick, the Giants switch their focus to the defensive side of the ball here. This will be the first true steal of this year’s draft as Thibodeaux is actually my EDGE1 in this year’s class. After he was long considered the top overall prospect in the 2022 draft, he has slipped mainly due to some effort concerns which I haven’t seen personally but I also don’t work in the business full-time. Thibodeaux is an explosive edge rusher with the power to bully his way into the backfield and the athleticism to win with pass rush moves. He will come in and start right away and could become one of the rising stars of the league if he plays to his full potential.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson - WR, Ohio State
While the Falcons have many obvious needs on their roster, they must find a true WR1 for this offense, especially after losing Calvin Ridley to a year-long suspension. Wilson is the best pick here as he is the best all-around receiver in this class. He is in my opinion the best route runner in this class with great change of speed and direction skills. Wilson also can flat out go up and get the ball with great ball skills and contested catch ability. He also is a solid runner after the catch with the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He will be an immediate starter, most likely settling in the slot, and will give the Falcons another dynamic pass catcher alongside tight end Kyle Pitts.
9. Seattle Seahawks (via Denver): Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner - CB, Cincinnati
With the first pick that they acquired in the Russell Wilson trade, the Seahawks could go in many different directions in this pick, including getting a new quarterback to replace him. However, their secondary needs some serious improvement. Gardner would give them an immediate impact corner that can shut down one side of the field. He is a long, athletic corner who had great success in both man and zone schemes this season for the Bearcats. I also love his physicality and ball skills which will go a long way for him at the next level. If picked here, he has the potential to easily be the best cornerback they’ve had since the “Legion of Boom” split up.
10. New York Jets (via Seattle): Drake London - WR, USC
The Jets are another team that will benefit from having two picks in the top ten of this year’s draft after acquiring this pick in the Jamal Adams trade. With them going defense with their first pick, they need to get another weapon for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. While London doesn’t crack my top five at wide receiver in this year’s class, I have a strong feeling that he will be a top 10-12 pick. This is mainly due to teams falling in love with his frame and catch radius. He will be a true outside receiver at the next level that could also project as a bigger slot in some formations. I would like to see more from him from a route running perspective but his size and strength alone will likely help him make plays and he will fit in with the Jets as they need a true outside option at receiver.
11. Washington Commanders: Kyle Hamilton - Safety, Notre Dame
With the first pick of the Commanders area in Washington, they get the biggest steal of this entire draft! Hamilton is my top overall prospect in this year’s draft but will likely fall due to poor testing in the pre-draft process. My biggest message to scouts on Hamilton is to stick to what you see on film! Hamilton has a very high football IQ with great field vision and instincts. He showed countless times this season that speed is not an issue as he can react and make plays from across the field at any given moment. I truly believe that he will be an All-Pro caliber player at some point in his career and be a true game-changer for any team that picks him.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Derek Stingley Jr. - CB, LSU
At this spot, we have back-to-back steals for a defensive back prospect! Stingley is my CB1 despite Gardner’s rise this season. While he hasn’t performed as well as he did in his breakout freshman year, the traits and ceiling can’t be ignored with Stingley. He has elite athleticism and ball skills that will make him a very dynamic starting corner. Stingley can come in and start immediately alongside Patrick Peterson while also being able to learn a lot from the fellow former Tiger. I strongly believe that Stingley will come in and be one of the top corners in the league very early in his career.
13. Houston Texans (via Cleveland): Chris Olave - WR, Ohio State
With their first pick acquired from the Deshaun Watson trade, the Texans will stick to the offensive side of the ball and get another weapon for Mills. Chris Olave is one of the more complete/polished receivers in this class with the ability to play both outside and in the slot. He has elite route running ability and also has the speed to win vertically. Olave also has very reliable hands and is a strong runner after the catch. He will be their immediate WR2 alongside Brandin Cooks with the ability to turn into their go-to guy early in his career.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Jordan Davis - IDL, Georgia
After a rough 2021 season plagued with injuries, the Ravens are looking to regroup and contend once again this season. They can start that by adding some much-needed improvement to their once high-powered defense that has struggled lately. As a Steelers fan, I hate this pick as Davis is arguably my favorite player to watch in this class. For a man of his size at 6’6”, 341 pounds, he should not be able to move the way he does. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage, creating havoc with his initial push, which requires him to be double-teamed very frequently. He also has the quickness and lateral agility to move in space and get to the ball. This would also be a great pick for Baltimore as Davis is very hard to move out of his gap and would do a great job of freeing up star linebacker Patrick Queen to go make tackles.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Miami): Trent McDuffie - CB, Washington
The Eagles are a team talented enough to be in the NFC playoff picture but that still has several holes to fill on their roster. Luckily for them, they have two first-round picks to work with this year. After acquiring star cornerback Darius Slay in 2020, the Eagles need to find someone to put on the opposite side of the field. McDuffie is a player that can definitely fill that void. He is very reliable in both man and zone coverage, despite his lack of elite length at the position. McDuffie also isn’t afraid to come down and provide run support. With him and Slay in the starting lineup together, the Eagles should be very hard to throw against on the outside.
16. New Orleans Saints (via Indianapolis through Philadelphia): Trevor Penning - OT, Northern Iowa
After losing star left tackle Terron Armstead in free agency to the Dolphins, the Saints must find his replacement quickly at left tackle. Penning could fill in his shoes very effectively as I believe he could actually be taken even sooner than this. He is a big offensive tackle with a true mean streak to his game that I love to see. Whether it is in pass protection or in the run game, Penning finishes his blocks with a ton of physicality. He has a few technical issues to clean up but with solid coaching, Penning can be a very reliable starter in the league.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Devonte Wyatt - IDL, Georgia
The Chargers are a young and very talented team that I believe is only a few pieces away from being a true contender. After acquiring superstar edge rusher Khalil Mack to play alongside Joey Bosa, I believe that they need to improve the interior of their defensive line. Wyatt would be a very scary addition to this defensive front. He has the positional versatility to play from a few different techniques. Wyatt is very impressive both as a pass rusher and at stopping the run and plays with a high motor. He is the type of player that I believe could benefit from his surroundings to have a very impressive rookie season.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans): Devin Lloyd - LB, Utah
With their second first-round pick, I have the Eagles staying on the defensive side of the ball. For the past few seasons, I have been saying that they desperately need improvement at linebacker and they finally go get one this year. Lloyd is my LB1 in this class and was one of my favorite players to watch this past college football season. He has outstanding processing skills and bursts out of his stance like a cannon to meet ball carriers in the hole before offensive linemen can react. Lloyd also has the speed and athleticism to turn and run with receivers and tight ends in man coverage effectively. He will be a day one starter and I believe could turn into one of the better linebackers in the league.
19. New Orleans Saints (via Philadelphia): Jameson Williams - WR, Alabama
I thought about going with a quarterback here but Jameis Winston actually had some decent games when healthy last season and I believe he gets his opportunity to hold onto the starting job this season. With that being said, he needs another weapon. Williams is the perfect pick as he is a true burner that Winston can show off his impressive arm and throw the deep ball to. He does have an injury concern as he tore his ACL in the National Championship but his skill set is worth the risk. He has the speed to win in the vertical passing game, take short passes for long gains, and serve as a dangerous returner on special teams. He also has the positional versatility to play both in the slot, where I believe he is at his best, and on the outside. Once cleared to play, Williams will be an elite WR2 alongside Michael Thomas who can eventually be the top guy if Thomas doesn’t pan out in his return.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis - QB, Liberty
The Steelers are entering a new era in their franchise as their longtime future Hall of Fame starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement. Although they did sign Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, this is a no-brainer pick in my eyes. I understand this is a hot take for the first quarterback to go this late but this is a weak quarterback class in many eyes and if Willis doesn’t go in the top six picks, I could see him falling. It has been no secret that Mike Tomlin loves his game and I can see why as Willis has a superstar-level ceiling. His arm strength is incredible and he can also tuck the ball and become a very dangerous ball carrier. He does have some issues from an accuracy and fundamental standpoint but he could benefit from sitting behind Trubisky for maybe even a full season and learning the offense. Once he gets his shot, I believe he can take the Steelers’ offense to the next level.
21. New England Patriots: Nakobe Dean - LB, Georgia
With Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills being the new kings of the AFC East and not looking to slow down any time soon, the Patriots must improve the defensive side of the ball. They need a true leader to take charge at inside linebacker and Nakobe Dean is the man for the job! He had an outstanding senior season for the Bulldogs, helping them win the National Championship and earning unanimous First Team All-American and All-SEC honors. He has a very high football IQ with the ability to put his teammates in the correct position pre-snap and read his keys effectively. Once he makes his read, he comes downhill quickly and is a physical tackler. He is also very effective in coverage with the ability to turn and run with tight ends and running backs in man coverage while also having great route awareness in zone coverage. Dean will be an immediate starter as a rookie and could easily be a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker.
22. Green Bay Packers (via Las Vegas): Treylon Burks - WR, Arkansas
With their first pick acquired in the Davante Adams trade, the Packers must find a replacement for him immediately. Treylon Burks would give them an immediate impact player that would make Aaron Rodgers a very happy man. Although he didn’t test great, Burks has the speed to create separation in the deep game and to get up the field and pick up yards after the catch. He is a strong runner after the catch that can run through defenders but also has the elusiveness to make defenders miss. He also has great contested catch ability with very strong hands. Burks projects best on the outside but could be used in a Deebo Samuel type of role as he saw a lot of snaps in college on jet sweeps in motion, out of the backfield as a running back, and as a returner on special teams.
23. Arizona Cardinals: George Karlaftis - EDGE, Purdue
After losing Chandler Jones in free agency, the Cardinals must find his replacement off the edge. George Karlaftis would be a great value pick here as he was a player that was very high on a lot of draft boards early on and fell simply due to other players rising. He has the strength to dominate against the run and win with a bull rush but also has the speed to win off the outside edge as well. Once Karlaftis gets to the football, he is a very physical finisher. I see him being an instant contributor in Arizona and likely earning a starting spot early on as a rookie.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Zion Johnson - IOL, Boston College
While the Cowboys still have a solid foundation on their roster, they still have a few needs to fill if they want to be a true contender. These needs start upfront as their offensive line hasn’t been near as strong as in the past. Zion Johnson is a player that I became a huge fan of at the Senior Bowl as he was one of the hardest workers there and showed the positional versatility to play both guard and center while also having played some tackle during college. He creates solid movement off the line of scrimmage in the run game and is very fundamentally sound in pass protection with strong anchor ability. For the Cowboys, I see him sliding into the starting spot at left guard with the ability to slide inside to center if needed.
25. Buffalo Bills: Andrew Booth Jr. - CB, Clemson
Coming into the 2022 season, the Bills are my current favorite to win the Super Bowl. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any needs to fill. Buffalo truly needs another talented corner to play alongside Tre’Davious White and I believe Booth would fill that role immediately. He would be a steal at this spot as he is my CB3 in this draft class. Booth is a long, aggressive corner that can be effective in multiple schemes but is truly at his best in man coverage. He has the athleticism and ball skills to lock down his side of the field. I see him as a Day 1 starter that can grow into a Pro Bowl-caliber corner.
26. Tennessee Titans: Kenyon Green - IOL, Texas A&M
For anyone that watched the Titans last season, it is obvious that they live and die by the ground game, especially when Derrick Henry is healthy. With that in mind, it only makes sense to continue to build their offensive line. Green is a versatile offensive lineman that saw time at both guard and tackle spots in college. He projects best at the inside at guard due to his large frame and his impressive ability to create movement off the line of scrimmage. In pass protection, he has strong anchor ability and pop in his hands but could use some improvement in his mirror technique. For the Titans, I see him being an immediate starter at either guard spot with the ability to move to right tackle if needed at any point in the season.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Perrion Winfrey - IDL, Oklahoma
With Tom Brady back in the mix, the Buccaneers look to be dangerous title contenders once again this season. While their offense is in great hands, they could use some improvement on the defensive side of the ball. They need some depth on their interior defensive line to play alongside Vita Vea and I believe Winfrey would be a great fit. Winfrey has caught a lot of attention in the pre-draft process, especially with his dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. He plays with a super high motor and has a ton of physicality in his game. I also saw him display some very impressive pass rush moves on the interior. I see Winfrey starting off as a key rotational piece as a rookie but eventually carving out a starting role as a three-technique.
28. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Smith - OL, Tulsa
After getting an offensive weapon with their first pick, I see the Packers staying on that side of the ball to keep Rodgers happy. With Elgton Jenkins out to start the season, the Packers will need some depth with the ability to start on the offensive line. Tyler Smith is one of my surprise players that could jump into the first round. He is a versatile offensive lineman that played left tackle at Tulsa but is projected to move to the inside due to his size at 6’5”, 324 pounds, and his true mauling ability in the run game. He can be a very moveable piece for the Packers that I believe will likely start out at guard but could easily move to tackle if they struggle without Jenkins or want to move him back inside to guard once he returns.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (via San Francisco through Miami): Christian Watson - WR, North Dakota State
After trading star-wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, the Chiefs will be looking to add another receiver or two in this year’s draft. Christian Watson was my favorite receiver to watch at the Senior Bowl and I believe he can very easily jump into the first round. I think he would fit in perfectly to the Chiefs' offense as their new deep threat. He has the speed to stretch the field, is very dangerous after the catch, is a good route runner, and has very reliable hands, even in contested catch situations. Watson has shown the ability to win in the slot and on the outside but projects best on the outside. The Chiefs will be able to scheme up ways for him to succeed as he also has shown to be a dangerous ball carrier on jet sweeps. The combination of Watson, Travis Kelce, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Mecole Hardman with Mahomes throwing the ball will make this offense very dangerous once again.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Kaiir Elam - CB, Florida
With their second of back-to-back picks, the Chiefs will address the defensive side of the ball. They desperately need to improve their secondary, especially at corner. Elam will be a great fit for them as a true outside corner. He has a great combination of length, ball skills, and physicality to be very reliable in zone and press-man coverage. He could still develop some parts of his game but I believe that Elam’s skill set will allow him to see playing time early on as a rookie and eventually slide into one of the starting outside corner spots.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Linderbaum - OC, Iowa
While they did make a Super Bowl run last season, the Bengals still have an obvious need for improvement on the offensive line if they want to keep their star quarterback Joe Burrow healthy. Linderbaum falling all the way to them at 31 is a huge steal in my eyes as I have him as a top ten prospect in this class but just isn’t in a premium position at center. He is a very fundamentally sound center that shows outstanding aggression. Linderbaum is a people mover in the run game off the line of scrimmage and also plays with a high motor, showing the willingness to run down the field and find work, destroying anything in his way. He doesn’t have the versatility to move to guard so I believe the best course of action would be for the Bengals to slide Ted Karras to guard and plug Linderbaum into the starting center spot. I believe he can truly be an All-Pro caliber center early in his career.
32. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams): Kenny Pickett - QB, Pittsburgh
With their second first-round pick which they acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade, the Lions find who they believe could be their next franchise quarterback. Pickett is QB2 in my eyes but also the most pro-ready quarterback so he could go a lot higher than this. While he is the most pro-ready, I still believe he could benefit from being eased into the starting role which he will be while sitting behind Jared Goff. Pickett improved tremendously this season from a decision-making standpoint while also showing impressive zip into tight windows on his passes and the ability to pick up yards on the ground. If Goff struggles to start the season, I can see Pickett being thrown in as the starter very early in his rookie year.