These days, when I'm not eating, sleeping or yapping on NFL Network, I'm mock drafting.
Pro Football Focus' mock draft simulator is a great way to run through some of the scenarios that we could encounter at the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas (April 28-30). The cool thing about this PFF tool is that you can adjust the settings to shape how the simulated picks are made -- and that's what I did in this piece, looking to explore the age-old debate of drafting for need vs. taking the best player available (BPA). Most -- if not all -- general managers will tell you that they always employ a BPA strategy, but you know need plays a role at some point.
So I ran two simulations with the PFF mock draft machine: In the first go-around, I turned the settings all the way up on "Draft for needs" and all the way down on "Care for positional value"; in the second, I reversed those settings. This gave me a NEED and BPA option in each first-round slot. Ultimately, I chose one or the other for each pick, chronologically working my way from No. 1 through 32 like a real draft, taking players off the board as they were selected.
With that as the backdrop, here's how this NEED-vs.-BPA thought exercise played out ...
- NEED: Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
- BPA: Hutchinson
- MY PICK: Hutchinson
Jacksonville's biggest need is not a position. The Jaguars need a WINNER, and here they find the intersection of need and BPA in Hutchinson. This is a player who's going to provide the Jags with an immediate impact on the field while simultaneously boosting the club's culture. High-level prospect with the lowest level of risk. This pick is a 300-yard tee shot straight down the fairway at TPC Sawgrass. Duval County now has a franchise cornerstone on offense (last year's No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence) and defense.
- NEED: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
- BPA: Hamilton
- MY PICK: Hamilton
Hamilton is going to be a fantastic player in the league, and the Lions need as many guys of this caliber as they can get. That said, I personally feel the need was higher elsewhere, particularly at edge rusher, with high-level prospects like Travon Walker and Kayvon Thibodeaux still available. Detroit also re-upped safety Tracy Walker III this offseason with a three-year, $25 million contract. But Pro Football Focus has safety as a big-time need for the Lions, and given that PFF also has Hamilton as the No. 2 overall prospect (behind only Hutchinson), I didn't have any other option.
The PFF mock draft simulator lists team needs next to every pick, and for the Texans at No. 3, they simply cited "Every position." So I love the "need" selection of Ekwonu, even with Laremy Tunsil at LT. Houston sends Ekwonu to the right side in this scenario, allowing the Texans to get their five best O-linemen on the field -- and giving the franchise a future LT option if Tunsil should move on at some point. I didn't give much consideration to Stingley here, as Ekwonu feels like a much safer pick, given Stingley's lack of production since his sensational 2019 campaign.
- NEED: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
- BPA: Thibodeaux
- MY PICK: Thibodeaux
It's no secret the Jets need a pass rusher. While I personally would prefer Travon Walker here, Thibodeaux certainly fits the bill for a team that was near the bottom of the league in sack production last season. Thibodeaux is an interesting player with many high-level traits, but it's hard to know where he'll come off the board on April 28 -- pretty much anywhere in the first 10 picks feels possible at this point.
Lloyd is my favorite linebacker in this year's class, but the need choice here does not meet the value of this pick for the Giants. I have OT as a much bigger need overall for Brian Daboll's club, and while I'd prefer Evan Neal here, Cross is PFF's best player available and gives Big Blue a high-quality tackle opposite Andrew Thomas. Now, let the hard evaluation of QB Daniel Jones truly begin.
To QB or not to QB -- is that actually the question? The answer is quite clear in the eyes of the PFF mock machine: Saddle up for another season of Sam Darnold as the Panthers' starter. This sim clearly aims to support the current QB, as opposed to choosing a new one, offering up two OT options to pair with Taylor Moton. Either Neal or Ekwonu would work here, but we already selected the N.C. State stud at No. 3 overall. So the Panthers get the third OT off the board in this exercise in Neal, an athletic freak who could easily be the No. 1 tackle on their draft board.
The simulation is clearly trying to upgrade the Giants' secondary with the franchise's second top-10 pick. I'm not entirely sure why the need and BPA options end up being different players at the same position, and I would personally rather see Sauce Gardner here if the Giants do go corner. However, McDuffie is as technically sound as any prospect in this class. While he didn't post a supreme statistical line over the course of his career at Washington, that's largely because teams simply didn't throw at him.
I think the Falcons end up looking hard at a wideout here at No. 8, but PFF's BPA option would still be quite a score for a team that hit on corner in the first round of the 2020 draft with A.J. Terrell. This would give Atlanta the best cornerback duo in the NFC South -- and perhaps eventually, the league.
We just sent McDuffie to the Giants at No. 7, so Karlaftis is the pick. Honestly, even if McDuffie had been available, I still would've gone with Karlaftis, given the value of edge rushers in today's league and the relative absence of a premier one in Seattle since Frank Clark was traded.
Well, the simulator served us up quite the predicament here, since both players have already come off the board -- and most likely will be gone by this point on April 28, as well. But assessing that potential choice in a vacuum -- Gardner vs. Neal -- I think Jets GM Joe Douglas would send Sauce to Commissioner Roger Goodell for a hug. There's a glaring need at corner, and the value is too much to pass on at this point, whereas the Jets are in a safe enough place at tackle as long as Mekhi Becton returns to the dominant form of his rookie year.
Now, I've passed on Stingley a couple times here in the top 10, and with that being the case, the simulator didn't spit him out to me as an option again. So let's go ahead and give the Jets the cover man who very well might've been the first CB off the board in the 2020 draft if he'd been eligible.
Terry McLaurin is one of my favorite receivers in the league. I love his leadership and play-making ability, but the Commanders need more options for newly acquired QB Carson Wentz. London checks in as the sim's best player available. The big-bodied wideout with contested-catch and red-zone ability provides Washington with a great complement to McLaurin -- and he fits in with Wentz' off-schedule (and sometimes-risky) play at quarterback.
Well, this is an absolute no-brainer. Yes, Karlaftis is already gone, but if Walker remains on the board for the Vikings' pick, they'll be off the clock about as quickly as it takes new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to write the Georgia product's name on the card. Apparently, given that Walker's name didn't even come up until No. 12, PFF is concerned about the rawness of his skill set and relative lack of college production. He's an upside prospect, no doubt, but it's hard to not get excited about the ultra-smooth and explosive aspects of his game.
With Walker finally off the board, here's a chance for the Texans to continue building around last year's third-round QB selection, Davis Mills, by handing him a stud at wideout. We already gave Houston a nasty tackle in Ekwonu to shore up the offensive line; now the Texans get Daniel Jeremiah's No. 1 receiver. The Buckeye playmaker represents the best all-around wideout in a class that features a lot of different flavors at the position. Wilson packs plenty of speed and strength into a 6-foot frame, possessing the ability to turn 6 yards into 60 at any point.
This is a really interesting choice for the Ravens. Calais Campbell's re-signing over the weekend lessens the immediate need at defensive line, helping Lloyd feel like the better value for Baltimore in this slot. And you wonder if the Ravens would prefer Wyatt's teammate, Jordan Davis, from an interior D-line perspective. All of that clears the picture to select PFF's best available player and the top linebacker in this draft. Lloyd is a nice fit on the second level of the Ravens' defense, joining fellow young 'backers Patrick Queen, Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh.
Jason Kelce is back for another season, but this feels like a curtain call for the 12th-year pro and five-time Pro Bowler. If that is indeed the case, why not get the next decade-long stalwart at center. I did give some consideration to Raimann, but Philly has some solid resources at tackle, so planning for the future at center -- while providing some depth and flexibility immediately on the interior of the offensive line -- makes more sense to me.
I love the idea of the Saints upgrading at wideout to give Michael Thomas (assuming he's healthy) and Jameis Winston some help. Would have loved Garrett Wilson here for the immediate impact, but he went off the board to the Texans, so the choice is PFF's best available. Williams offers extreme athleticism and big-play production, but the torn ACL from January's national title game might put some question into the immediacy of his contributions to New Orleans' offense.
I would argue that the Chargers' biggest area of need is actually more in line with PFF's BPA choice here. The point is mute, though, since London is already off the board to begin with. The Bolts made clear their intentions to upgrade their 30th-ranked rush defense from last season with their free agency acquisitions of Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson. Now they get a premier prospect at the position, too. That's a win.
We gave Philly an interior offensive lineman at No. 15, and I don't see OT as the team's most immediate need, so I'd rather hop on PFF's BPA option. The Eagles signed Kyzir White in free agency and they have some young players in the linebacker room, but Dean would provide an instant injection of alpha-dog talent to this defense.
Back on the clock here at No. 19, the Saints face one of the most intriguing selections of the entire first round. Cross is long gone in this mock simulation, but he would've filled an obvious need at left tackle, with Terron Armstead relocating to Miami in free agency. Following New Orleans' failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson -- and the subsequent re-signing of Jameis Winston -- a quarterback would make plenty of sense here. Could Howell represent the future of the franchise? Perhaps, but I'm here for the drama of the pick in the meantime.
After not seeing a signal-caller come off the board in the first 18 slots, we suddenly get back-to-back QB picks. Would the Steelers consider beefing up their pass rush behind T.J. Watt? Sure, but following Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, there's no greater need on this roster than quarterback -- and according to PFF, the Liberty QB also represents the best player available. Done and done.
I struggled with this one, since both players seem like viable options. Things haven't quite worked out for the last first-round wideout the Patriots picked, N'Keal Harry, but that shouldn't scare Bill Belichick away from selecting a much more refined player. My favorite route runner in this class, Olave also showcased speed to burn with his 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. I understand the need for a quality pass rusher, as PFF suggests here, but the Pats are adept at finding ways to manufacture pressure, and there's no guarantee of Ojabo's readiness this year anyway, given the Achilles tear suffered at his pro day in March.
There are corners I like more than Elam in this spot, but Linderbaum is already off the board. Finding a solid corner who can deal with a heavy workload is paramount for Green Bay, since Packers' CB1, Jaire Alexander, has established himself as a premier player at the position and someone opposing teams like to avoid.
The Cardinals haven't had a dominant interior disruptor since Calais Campbell left for Jacksonville in free agency, so I love that Davis is the BPA option here. I turn in the card quickly if I'm Steve Keim. At 6-6 and 341 pounds, Davis' freakish athleticism is quite rare -- and his presence would command enough attention from opposing offenses that it could free up J.J. Watt to maximize his impact in Year 2 with the Cards.
The Cowboys have been in this position before, albeit in the second round ... An elite talent is on the board when Dallas gets on the clock, but there's no guarantee of the player's availability in Year 1 due to a serious injury. Sound familiar? Think: Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith. Similar situation with Ojabo, who tore his Achilles at the Michigan pro day. His raw talent is undeniable -- and could be too much to resist for a team that just lost Randy Gregory in free agency.
The Bills took Northern Iowa tackle Spencer Brown on Day 2 of last year's draft and he started a good chunk of games at right tackle, so I'd be a little surprised if Brown's college teammate, Trevor Penning, were the choice here. However, offensive line is the name of the game, according to the PFF simulator, and while Penning represents the best available player, I'm going with the greater need on the interior. Green played all over the offensive line during his career at Texas A&M, so he can give the Bills some depth at tackle as a bonus.
- NEED: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
- BPA: Jermaine Johnson II, Edge, Florida State
- MY PICK: Johnson
The Titans have a terrific trio of pass rushers up front, with Harold Landry and Bud Dupree coming off the edge while Jeffery Simmons causes havoc from the interior. Consequently, pass rusher is not high on Tennessee's priority list. BUT, with a potential top-10 pick in Johnson still available here, GM Jon Robinson can't turn down the value of taking the best available player here.
With Johnson off the board, I'm left with PFF's best available player at a position that isn't a huge need for Tampa. That said, Booth represents a real value pick as one of the top corners in this draft class. The Bucs have arguably spent more high draft capital on defensive backs in recent years than any team in the league, and they add to that haul here, giving them an embarrassment of riches in the secondary.
This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the last time the Packers selected a receiver in the first round (Javon Walker back in 2002). After trading Davante Adams this offseason, the need at wideout is clear. Olave's off the board, but Burks is no slouch here at No. 28. I really like the physical, big-bodied wideout's potential within this Packers offense. The transition hasn't always been seamless for young receivers acclimating to QB Aaron Rodgers, but Burks' Swiss Army Knife skill set could alleviate some of those issues. You can get him the ball in so many different ways, including handoffs, jet sweeps and quick screens.
Elam is already gone in this draft, but I could definitely see the Chiefs looking at a cornerback after watching Charvarius Ward sign with the 49ers in free agency. Now, you might not be familiar with Asamoah just yet, as he's generally in the Day 2 conversation, but he could pair nicely at linebacker with last year's second-round steal, Nick Bolton.
Again, I personally see cornerback as the bigger need for the Chiefs here. With Davis already selected, we're fortunate the BPA option is at least a defensive back. Pitre boosts a Kansas City secondary that also lost Tyrann Mathieu this offseason.
Even with the acquisitions of Alex Cappa, La'el Collins and Ted Karras in free agency, I still view offensive line as a need for the Bengals. They couldn't go wrong by taking the best available offensive lineman as they attempt to build a fortress around Joe Burrow. Even if linebacker is a bigger need, I'd expect a few other names like Quay Walker, Christian Harris and Chad Muma to come off the board before Smith. That said, safety may not be a huge need, with Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell teaming up to form one of the most dynamic duos at that position in the NFL. But you'd love to provide depth and amplify a position of strength here with PFF's best available player.
The PFF simulation had us taking Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the Lions' first pick at No. 2 overall, so I don't think safety registers as a need with the final pick of the round. This could be a really intriguing spot not just for the Lions, but for teams that are interested in the third or fourth quarterback (remember the fifth-year option). So a trade market could certainly develop. If the Lions stick and pick, I like PFF's best available player at this point. Moore would be another boost to a wide receiver room that saw a rookie excel down the stretch last year in Amon-Ra St. Brown.