2022 NFL Mock Draft: Indulging early-season overreactions

2022 NFL mock drafts in the early weeks of the college football season are always prone to overreactions. It’s simply a byproduct of the game’s structure. We have dozens of games within a 12-hour window on Saturday, and then we have six full days to hyper-analyze everything we saw from an NFL Draft perspective.

It’s important to recognize how easily recency bias can seep into the process this way. But at the same time, no one truly knows how the draft board will play out next April. In September, we can only have so much information. In a sense, that makes September perfect for indulging weekly overreactions — because the truth is, some of these overreactions might not end up as brash as we think.

With all this in mind, let’s use this time to explore different possibilities. Let’s mix things up. Let’s get weird. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, that’s exactly what we do.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | 1-16

Which players go off the board between picks 1-16 in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft? Quarterbacks dominate the group by virtue of positional value, but other talented prospects also break through.

1) Houston Texans: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

It’s been known, but it bears reinforcing — Malik Willis might have the highest upside in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Liberty quarterback has ridiculous arm strength and exceptional velocity generation. He was also one of Feldman’s Freaks earlier in the offseason, with a 4.5 40-yard dash and a 38.5-inch vertical on record at 6’1″, 215 pounds.

But like I said, we’ve known this. His physical talent pops on tape, and Week 1 confirmed a lot of what we already knew on that front. Yet, in his first 2021 action, Willis also showed hints of operational growth. He made quick, clean decisions. He threw the ball with touch and accuracy to all levels. His mechanics were consistent. If Willis can continue to channel his elite physical skill set through steady execution, this is where his ceiling lies.

2) Detroit Lions: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Much like Willis, Matt Corral entered the 2021 season as a supremely talented but volatile quarterback. 5-interception and 6-interception outbursts against LSU and Arkansas diluted his stock early on. However, the elite physical talent has always been clear. Corral’s arm might be more elastic and free-flowing than Willis’, and he also has great athleticism — flashing surprising twitch and explosiveness in open space.

Through all the mistakes last year, Corral’s promise shined through. And early on in 2021, he’s showing progression. Against a talented Louisville secondary last Monday, Corral was immaculate. He hit tight windows that only he could hit. He actively used deception to open up holes in the defense. That, combined with his fearless gunslinger mentality, could win over Dan Campbell come draft season — if he can keep trending up.

3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Any concerns about Evan Neal‘s refinement or balance were thrown out the window on Saturday. That’s not to say that Neal can’t still improve. But the Alabama left tackle was absolutely pulverizing Miami defenders in Week 1. The 6’7″, 350-pound tackle moves with unfair freedom at his size. He also carries devastating power and aggression at the point of attack. Some Hurricanes found that out the hard way.

Neal still isn’t a perfect prospect. Nevertheless, at this point, he’s in the tier where his upside is so immense, it’s hard to feel any consternation toward minor imperfections. Neal is a special athletic talent who’s clearly trending up with his hand usage and polish. For Jacksonville, the choice is simple — protect Trevor Lawrence. No one in this class projects better in that role than Neal.

4) New York Jets: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

We may need to wrap Kayvon Thibodeaux in bubble wrap and call it quits for the rest of the year. Thibodeaux inadvertently caused heart attacks in scouting circles across the nation when he suffered an ankle sprain last Saturday. Nevertheless, before he was taken out of the game, Thibodeaux showed us everything he needed to. In short, he’s as good as advertised.

Thibodeaux is a ferocious, transcendent physical talent who wins with an absurd, alien combination of length, twitch, and explosiveness. With that length and burst, he can generate devastating amounts of power on his rushes. Thibodeaux is the dream addition opposite Carl Lawson, who should be back from his Achilles tear in 2022.

5) Cincinnati Bengals: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

The upside was never the question with Andrew Booth Jr. Early on in the summer scouting process, his potential popped on film. The question was whether Booth could earn a starting role, stay consistent in that role, and reach his maximum potential. It’s early, but after Week 1 against Georgia, it seems as though Booth is well on his way to legitimately challenging Derek Stingley Jr. for the CB1 title.

In Week 1 against the Bulldogs, Booth was extremely active, putting up 4 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass deflection. On the screen, he was electric. He brought back his trademark twitch, explosiveness, and length, moving with torrid play speed. He saw plays quickly, reacted to them with confidence, and played a large part in minimizing Georgia’s offense. What’s even more exciting is that we didn’t see Booth make any gravity-defying plays on the ball. But we know he can.

Booth can be a cheat code in the secondary, and for a Bengals defense that may need a new boundary starter with Trae Waynes failing to produce, Booth is an elite talent as a replacement.

6) Carolina Panthers: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

It’s easy to be optimistic that Joe Brady can fix Sam Darnold in Carolina. Regardless, some quarterbacks are broken past the point of return. Time will tell, but the Vegas odds don’t seem bullish on the possibility of Darnold rebounding. If Carolina picks this early in the 2022 NFL Draft, they’ll need to seriously consider resetting at quarterback. Matt Rhule hasn’t been able to choose “his guy” yet, but he can do that here.

Carson Strong has long had fans as a sleeper for the QB1 mantle. He’s more of a pocket passer, but in structure, he might be the most well-rounded signal-caller in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Strong’s arm is superb, and the Nevada passer also has great poise, processing speed, navigation ability, and accuracy. Additionally, he has enough mobility to go off-script if he needs to. In Strong, Carolina gets a fresh QB with tons of potential.

7) Philadephia Eagles: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

Derek Stingley Jr. falls a bit in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, but this is close to where his floor should be. Stingley didn’t have a great season opener against UCLA. He had his moments of elite recognition and closing speed. Yet, there were also times where he failed to finish or show maximum effort in tackling situations.

Regardless, Stingley is still one of the top coverage talents in football, and we should receive reminders of that as the season progresses. Stingley has an elite athleticism/length combination, and he can be an eraser in contested situations. Additionally, he carries searing speed when breaking back toward the ball, and few passes are truly safe from his reach. For Philadelphia, he’s a blue-chip talent at a position of need.

8) Las Vegas Raiders: DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M

DeMarvin Leal is mocked to the Las Vegas Raiders at such a high frequency that it shouldn’t be expected to happen at this point. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden are known for often defying expectations in Round 1 — at the cost of their own job security — but Leal is arguably the best pick here for many reasons.

For Las Vegas, the argument for picking Leal centers on both need and BPA. Leal is easily one of the best players available at this pick, and he also fills a major need on defense. The Raiders didn’t do enough to address their interior line. Leal — who wins with grip strength, violent hands, and a massive 6’4″, 290-pound frame — will help with that. Meanwhile, he has the athleticism to shift all across the front.

9) New York Giants: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

If the Giants want a player who can emulate their mascot with startling accuracy, George Karlaftis is a solid pick. Beyond that, Karlaftis also profiles as an excellent fit for a defense still needing added edge-rushing presence.

Standing around 6’4″, 275 pounds, Karlaftis is a massive human being, and he boasts just as much power as you’d expect for that size. However, he isn’t just a power rusher. He has surprising closing speed and short-area burst for his frame. Furthermore, he can adjust angles with relative ease. Karlaftis has the size and athleticism to rush from several different alignments, and his forceful hands ensure that he always finds a way to produce.

10) Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft based on early-season overreactions, this pick may be somewhat confusing. After Kyle Hamilton‘s performance last week, the reactive thing to do would be to put up at first overall. Hamilton was electric on Sunday against the Florida State Seminoles. He made plays all across the board, picking off a pair of passes and showing off his elite range for his 6’4″, 219-pound frame.

Hamilton is a top-three prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, no matter how you spin it. The drop here can be attributed more to perceived positional value. Trust me, I don’t agree with it — but safeties historically don’t go within the top 5-8 picks very often. Derwin James, viewed as a transcendent talent by some, went 17th overall. I think Hamilton is a better prospect than James, though. And in a Dean Pees defense that prioritizes versatility, he’s in prime position to make nine teams regret their picks.

11) New York Giants: Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M

It wasn’t a perfect 2021 debut for Kenyon Green, who saw his first action at right tackle after starting at guard last season. Green still had his moments; his athleticism, balance, and power showed up consistently. But at tackle, his lack of elite length was a problem around the edge at times. He still has time to improve at tackle, but it looks like he projects better at guard in the NFL.

Guard is likely where the Giants would use Green. As underwhelming as Andrew Thomas has been to this point, it’s still too early to close the book on him. A contingency plan may be needed behind Nate Solder, but we can find that later on. For now, going with the elite interior line prospect is the right move, and that’s what Green is. He’s an explosive, powerful lineman who offers a mauler mentality that Joe Judge will crave.

12) Washington Football Team: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

When you’re talking about the next Zach Wilson, this is who you pick. Not Corral or Phil Jurkovec, but someone who was essentially off the radar entirely heading into 2021. This year, Will Levis has vaulted into the top spot for that title after tearing apart UL Monroe in his first action as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. Coming into 2021, Levis only had 102 career passes under his belt. That makes the promise he showed in Week 1 even more impressive.

When it comes to physical traits, few quarterbacks in the 2022 class have more potential than Levis. The 6’3″, 232-pound quarterback is a great athlete with creation capacity and a rocket arm. His deep accuracy is uncanny, but he also has the elasticity to generate velocity when moving off-script. Going further, Levis is in a great situation to project further growth. At Kentucky, he has protection and weapons. As he gets more experience, his talent should only continue to shine through.

13) Arizona Cardinals: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Cornerback is a major need for the Arizona Cardinals. However, if Garrett Wilson is still around, Kliff Kingsbury may see this pick as an opportunity to replenish the offense around Kyler Murray. A.J. Green and Christian Kirk are both scheduled to be free agents after this season, and Andy Isabella’s long-term future with the team is unclear. With all that uncertainty, passing up the top receiver on the board this late is tough to do.

It’s still incredibly close, but Wilson is a notch above teammate Chris Olave on PFN’s Top 50 Big Board — the difference being his explosive lateral twitch and contested-catch ability. While Olave might be a better receiver right now, Wilson’s three-level potential is higher. Wilson has the vertical explosiveness and body control to haul in deep passes from Murray, and his burst also translates to run-after-catch yards in open space.

14) Pittsburgh Steelers: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

It’s hard to imagine Spencer Rattler falling to the 14th pick, let alone out of the top 10. But if Rattler struggles to progress in 2021, this could ultimately be in the range of outcomes. Last week, Rattler didn’t carry his 2020 development into the next season. His mechanics and decision-making were inconsistent against Tulane, and his pocket presence was shaky.

There’s still plenty of time for Rattler to bounce back, and his arm talent is arguably the best in the class. Still, Rattler isn’t an elite athlete or creator, and that will only make things worse if he can’t show executional growth through the fall. Luckily for Rattler, there are many QB-needy teams this year. In this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, he lands with the Steelers, where he’ll have a ton of weapons, as well as Matt Canada’s play-action-heavy offense to benefit from.

15) Denver Broncos: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

It’s not uncommon to see quarterbacks stack and send upper-echelon talents at other positions down the board. That’s exactly what’s happened here, as the Denver Broncos get to succeed Von Miller with USC edge rusher Drake Jackson.

Jackson has some of the most exciting raw talent in the 2022 edge class — and that’s saying a lot. Jackson has a ton of upside at the next level with a mix of explosiveness, energy, and bend coiled up within a 6’4″, 250-pound frame. He’s fairly versatile for his size and can stunt inside with his power and burst. With Jackson, Vic Fangio may have to issue a heat advisory in Denver because his defense will bring a lot of it.

16) Minnesota Vikings: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

The Vikings added some intriguing young talent to their EDGE room this offseason, but they may need to revisit the position sooner rather than later. Danielle Hunter could very well be gone after this season, and there’s no proven ability beyond him in that position group. Everson Griffen was brought back for the 2021 season, but established young talent is in short supply.

The Vikings can use their first-round pick to quell those concerns and solidify a unit that needs to be solid. Aidan Hutchinson presents the combination of length and energy that Mike Zimmer desires from his defensive ends. Hutchinson wreaked havoc against Western Michigan in Week 1, and his high motor ensures that he’s always in on plays.

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