The 2022 National Football League Player Selection Meeting, otherwise known as the NFL draft, is less than three months away.
It feels like just last week that five quarterbacks were selected in the top half of the first round of the 2021 draft, with Trevor Lawrence going first overall to the Jaguars.
My initial projection for the first three rounds of the 2022 draft comes with an optimistic outlook for where this year's top signal-callers will be picked. I was similarly optimistic last year, projecting the "fab five" to be gone by Pick No. 14 in my first mock draft.
There is an argument to be made that this year's crop of quarterbacks is not as talented as the 2021 group. One or two of the five passers listed in the first round of this mock might not go in Round 1. We'll see how evaluations of the prospects take shape in the coming weeks.
Note that this mock draft includes projected compensatory picks in Round 3 based on the forecast outlined by my colleague Lance Zierlein last spring. In addition, all picks acquired via trade in Round 3 of this mock are a projection. The official list of compensatory picks will be made available by the league in the weeks to come. Six additional picks were added to the end of the third round for franchises losing minority employees to head coach or general manager positions throughout the league, but the order for those selections is also a projection.
Neal's athleticism will shine at the NFL Scouting Combine, adding another feather in his cap after he excelled at three positions (left guard as a freshman, right tackle in 2020, left tackle in 2021) in three years at Alabama. The Jaguars could select one of the top pass rushers, but franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence needs to be protected.
Keeping the winner of the 2021 Ted Hendricks (top DE) and Lombardi (top lineman) Awards in Michigan will, of course, help the team's pass rush. Hutchinson's toughness against the run and football intelligence, however, also played big roles in making him the Heisman Trophy runner-up and a top-five prospect.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH TEXANS
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule's search for a QB1 continues and, in this scenario, Carolina trades up for the playmaking Willis despite sending valuable draft picks to the Jets for Sam Darnold a year ago.
Hamilton missed the final six games of last season due to a knee injury, but that shouldn't be an issue as long as his medical exams check out. The former Irish star's height, agility and ball skills remind me of the Bengals' Jessie Bates.
Ekwonu is a wide-bodied stud who has lighter feet than you'd expect for someone with his girth. The Giants could play him at guard or tackle.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH PANTHERS
If the Texans believe Davis Mills is as good as any of the quarterbacks available in this draft, then perhaps they'll accept a trade offer. In this case, the Panthers send their 2023 first-rounder and a fourth-round selection to Houston to move up. The Texans are still able to secure much-needed defensive help in the form of a difference-making edge rusher.
Lloyd steps into the middle of the Giants' defense, providing run-stopping ability but also the athleticism to work in coverage and attack the passer. He showed some potential to affect games as a pass rusher like Dallas Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons did last fall when given the chance.
Ojabo is just scratching the surface of his potential as a pass rusher, but he's not so raw that he can't make an impact as a rookie.
Pickett's double-jointed thumb should not distract people from his ability to lead an offense. The Broncos will appreciate his underrated athleticism and competitive nature.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH JETS
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is stepping down after the draft. I suspect he'll make his best effort to acquire the team's future starting QB before he departs. Trading up for Howell would cost the Steelers their 2023 first-round pick and one of their third-rounders this year. Howell's production was down in 2021, but he showed the same leadership, arm strength and gumption during the Senior Bowl that was on display over the past three years at North Carolina.
Washington selects Corral to be the team's future at the position. The Ole Miss product's arm strength and athleticism give him a chance to become an excellent NFL QB.
Stingley's instincts and ball skills would be welcomed in the Vikings' secondary. After missing all but the first three games of last season due to injury, Stingley will need to use the NFL Scouting Combine to display the strong hands and short-area quickness needed to be a stopper on the outside.
Burks is a big-bodied receiver (listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds) with excellent open-field agility that Baker Mayfield will lean on as the former Razorbacks star acclimates to the pro game.
The Ravens could play Penning at either tackle spot, and the FCS All-American will have fun coming off the ball with bad intentions in the team's running game.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH EAGLES
Cross is an athletic and technically sound pass protector who should be picked earlier than 15th overall. However, we've seen some talented tackles fall into the middle of the first round in the past. If the Saints are unable to re-sign pending free agent Terron Armstead, Cross is a natural fit for them at left tackle.
Karlaftis uses his hands as well as any player in this draft. His motor and strength on the outside could lead a team to select him earlier than 16th. The Eagles, who have a definite need for a pass rusher, would be thrilled to see him waiting to be selected in the middle of the round.
The Chargers get their new nose tackle in Davis, who moves smaller offensive linemen out of his path and possesses better quickness to attack gaps than expected, given his 6-6, 340-pound frame.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH SAINTS
Sauce could be the first corner off the board, but Stingley's athleticism gives him the edge in this scenario. The Eagles get a fine cover corner midway through the first round, and pick up a late third-round pick from the Saints in the process.
If Jason Kelce does not return for 2022, Linderbaum would make for an excellent replacement. The Iowa product could easily be selected a bit earlier, given his quickness, strong grip and knowledge of the game.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH PATRIOTS
With Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith looming as potential cap casualties, the Packers might need a powerful edge player to complement Rashan Gary. Johnson fits that bill. Trading up for him will cost Green Bay two fourth-round picks (the team could pick up a compensatory fourth-rounder for the loss of Corey Linsley).
Williams is fresh off a torn ACL, but considering how quickly players come back from this injury -- as well as this particular wideout's elite speed and playmaking ability -- I suspect he won't make it past Vegas as long as he shows promising progress before the draft. The team might pick up a veteran deep threat, as well, but Williams' value is too strong to ignore.
McDuffie might not be the biggest or fastest corner in this class, but his physicality and sound coverage technique could land him in the top 20. If McDuffie's still available here, the Cardinals should snap him up.
The Bucs could lose erstwhile veteran center Ryan Jensen in free agency. Johnson proved at the Senior Bowl that he could make the move to the pivot without an issue, showing his pure strength and intelligence. His experience at left tackle and guard will help him become a leader on the line in no time.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH PACKERS
Pickens has an elite skill set as an outside playmaker and proved his work ethic coming back from a torn ACL in the spring to be a factor in the late stages of the Bulldogs' title run. He's worth the investment at this point of the first round.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH DOLPHINS
Jackson's length and bend off the edge will intrigue NFL scouts, and the Jets will be looking for a pass rusher if they select Hamilton with their top pick. The trade-up costs general manager Joe Douglas the fourth-round pick his team received from the Panthers in the Sam Darnold deal.
In my opinion, Ridder played well enough for the Bearcats and at the Senior Bowl to earn a top-50 grade. The Lions could select Ridder to eventually take over for Jared Goff, or they could trade this pick to a different team looking to land a future starting QB whose contract will include a fifth-year option.