With the 2022 NFL Draft just around the corner, here's my second crack at how Round 1 will unfold. The draft always delivers surprises, but this year feels even more unpredictable than usual, and I've tried to reflect that in this mock, with my final first-round projection coming out next week.
The debate in Duval continues: Which pass rusher to select with the No. 1 overall pick? In this mock, the expectation that this Georgia Bulldog will continue to ascend keeps him in the pole position.
Hutchinson is the top-rated player in the draft on many prognosticators' boards. The Lions and their fans will be more than happy to welcome him to the Motor City with their signature greeting of "What up, doe?!"
The Texans opt to give their second-year QB Davis Mills some additional protection by picking this extremely athletic -- and still growing -- Crimson Tide star, who's also the most versatile OT in the draft. Keep in mind that Texans GM Nick Caserio previously worked under the Patriots' Bill Belichick, and the New England-Alabama connection is a strong one.
It's a good time to be the guy they call "Sauce!" He had a terrific college career, approached the draft process like a true professional and has aced every test along the way. The Jets have their next lockdown CB1.
Powerful, plays with excellent leverage (wrestling background paying off) and extremely competitive. He's a starter as soon as the Giants turn in the card bearing his name. Daniel Jones approves this message.
I continue to agonize over what Carolina will do here. A more than strong case can be made to select OT Charles Cross from Mississippi State, but it still feels like a QB will be the Panthers' pick at No. 6 ... and it could easily be Pitt QB Kenny Pickett who gets welcomed to Charlotte.
He's exactly what the Giants need on defense, another edge rusher to aid Azeez Ojulari. Plus, this young man LOVES the bright lights, and none shine brighter than the ones on Broadway.
I've been convinced that WR is the right call here. Then I remembered that the Falcons have struggled -- and then some -- to accumulate sacks in a division that has Tom Brady and the Bucs' passing game setting the pace.
The Seahawks have not been shy about declaring their intention to make their defense more intricate, and the most talented CB in the draft would certainly help with that goal. We all know that coach Pete Carroll will not lack for confidence in his ability to get this young man back to his 2019 CB1 form.
The momentum continues to build that Williams will be back to full speed sooner than projected from the injury he suffered in the College Football Playoff National Championship, and that means he's back in the competition to be the first WR off the board.
When you have one Buckeye WR already producing at a Pro Bowl level, why not add another who has the same potential? After trading for QB Carson Wentz, the Commanders seek to give him every chance for success. Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton is a popular name to also consider in this spot.
With Patrick Peterson re-signing, this is a great opportunity to bring in a talented youngster who will benefit from being around a future Hall of Famer.
My favorite player in the draft will be a tad disappointed that he did not get his name called in the top 10, but he lands in a good spot. Lovie Smith is a defensive whiz. He will utilize Hamilton's talents at each level of his scheme.
The Ravens need stability at the pivot on offense, and this latest Hawkeye OL prodigy is the 2022 version of Creed Humphrey (who was fantastic for K.C. in 2021). I know, I know -- DT is also in heavy consideration here.
Wait, what? The Ravens didn't take a DT?! Well, the Eagles do, helping to fortify their front after bringing back six-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox.
The Saints are excited to get their two-time All-Pro WR Michael Thomas back at full speed. Add this flyer from Columbus to the mix, and their joy is full.
The Chargers can't believe their luck when the best pass-protecting OT in the draft is still available at No. 17 overall. Cross will help keep prized QB Justin Herbert upright and slingin' it.
Big frame, big catch radius, breaks tackles and tacks on additional yardage after the catch. QB Jalen Hurts gets another versatile wideout who will help him continue to expand his game. I thought hard about LB here, but past precedent suggests that's not a position the Eagles will target in Round 1.
I love this guy's competitiveness, strength, speed and bounce. He will provide consistent inside pass pressure for New Orleans.
Surprise! The Steelers have done their homework on this year's class, and opt for the high ceiling on this rising signal-caller. Yes, Kenny Pickett makes a ton of sense, but Ridder's overall athleticism really meshes with what OC Matt Canada wants to do on offense.
The more you watch him on tape, the more you like what you see. The Pats have lost Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson over the last two years, so this Clemson Tiger will be drafted to play right now.
Fast, fast, fast. Dotson improved his play each year at State College, capping his collegiate career with 91 catches last season. A huge added bonus is Dotson's beyond-his-years maturity, which will help him acclimate quicker with the Packers and all-world QB Aaron Rodgers.
STRONG! Plays the game with force and can move around within any offensive scheme, creating splashy plays as a receiver and as a runner. Coach Kliff Kingsbury will start drawing up a package for him on draft night.
The Cowboys' offensive identity has been dependent on their offensive line, and it's time for some reinforcements. Is Green the best pure guard prospect in this year's class? A case can definitely be made.
I've been a proponent of adding a WR here, but the secondary could use some assistance, too. Tre'Davious White is returning from a knee injury, and their is no clear-cut starter opposite him. Gordon's ability to make plays on the ball catches your eye on tape.
The Titans really rebounded on defense in 2021 by getting their pass rush, led by Harold Landry, pumped up. They keep it going with Karlaftis, whose edge-pressure numbers in college were tremendous. I project him to improve his sack numbers along the way, similar to the way Landry has progressed.
Tom Brady did not return to the Bucs to spend his time being harassed by inside pass rushers. Tampa lost two quality guards this offseason in Alex Cappa (free agency) and Pro Bowler Ali Marpet (retirement), so this BC Eagle (via Davidson) steps right in to protect TB12.
The Packers, eager to improve their offensive line, are beyond fortunate this aggressive lineman is still available. In my estimation, Penning competes right away to start at right tackle, allowing Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins to slide back inside to guard and contend for All-Pro honors.
A willowy receiver with sub-4.4 speed, Watson helps replenish "Track Club KC" with WR Tyreek Hill now in Miami.
I am struck by his speed and athleticism. He reminds me a lot of Frank Clark. Mafe has untapped potential as an inside rusher in sub or nickel packages. I have to believe Kansas City is considering Penn State edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie here, too.
The Bengals rolled up their sleeves and went to work on improving their offensive line in the offseason. Their CBs played above expectations in 2021, so it's a good idea to add in a fast, physical CB with really good NFL bloodlines (both his father and uncle played in the league).
I just returned from a quick trip to Motown, and the vibe of the city was broken into two areas for me: Media types advocating for a QB, even at No. 2 overall; and the voice of the fans, who want a defender. I was lobbied hard to prepare a Post-it with the words "Malik Willis ... no matter what," but how about taking this record-breaking ACC champion? Pickett is the top-rated quarterback for many evaluators, and the Lions select him at No. 32, which has been a landing spot for QBs in recent years thanks to the fifth-year option.