There are still two weeks left in the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs to be played, but for a number of fans, the look ahead to 2022 has already started. At this time, eight teams have already been eliminated from playoff contention. More are sure to follow in Week 17.
That means it is time for mock draft season. This is already my third mock of the season and my final one of 2021. The draft order has changed quite a bit over the course of the season as Miami and Kansas City completely turned around early-season slumps. Meanwhile, Carolina and Washington have faded down the stretch to the point where they are picking in the top 10.
This is the most up-to-date draft order according to Tankathon through the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. The outcome of Dolphins-Saints on Monday night will likely see each team slide a couple spots in either direction. So much of the NFL is grouped around that .500 mark right now.
As I continue to dissect film during bowl season, my evaluations of players have definitely changed. I know that there will likely be more quarterbacks off the board in the first round, but this is how I grade them at this stage. With no trades allowed, this is how I see the first round shaking out as of right now.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville could head a number of directions with the first pick, but taking the dominant edge rusher out of Michigan to pair with Josh Allen feels like the best bet. Hutchinson finished as the runner up for the Heisman for a reason. He has a bit of J.J. Watt to his game, beating tackles with a combination of speed and power.
2. Detroit Lions (2-12-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EGDE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.
3. Houston Texans (3-12) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
This is a situation of the Texans simply going with the best player available. Laremy Tunsil remains well entrenched at left tackle, but Houston could use an upgrade on the right side. Neal would give Davis Mills a chance to prove himself at quarterback. If not Mills, then whoever replaces him would have one of the best tackle pairings in the league. Neal is a mountain disguised as an offensive tackle. He checks all the physical boxes and passes the eye test.
4. New York Jets (4-11) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Morgan Moses is on an expiring contract and Mekhi Becton has not shown he can stay healthy. That creaks the door open for the Jets to sure up their offensive line. The offensive lineman in Joe Douglas will not be able to resist taking Ekwonu either. This guy is nasty and brings power that teams crave. He is certainly a bit raw in terms of technique. He needs a bit of polish, but keeping Zach Wilson upright has to be the biggest priority of the offseason.
5. New York Giants (4-11) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Daniel Jones is coming back in 2022. At least that is the word out of East Rutherford. That opens the door for New York to go with the best player available and continue to overhaul its roster. Kyle Hamilton is a bit of a unicorn. He has the size of a linebacker, but lines up at safety. He has the coverage skills to be a centerfielder, but can drop down into the box as well. With Jabril Peppers out of a contract this season and Logan Ryan turning 31, there is some need for another safety in New York as well.
6. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (5-10) – Ahmed Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
When you start all first- and second-year players in the secondary, there are bound to be some growing pains. That said, New York clearly still has a need for a true No. 1 corner. The man they call “Sauce” absolutely fits the bill. He has yet to allow a touchdown in his three years as a starter at Cincinnati. He brings the requisite length needed to play on the outside in the NFL. The only question will likely be about his speed. Gardner will be one to watch at the combine.
7. Carolina Panthers (5-10) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Let’s make this clear, this is a reach! I like Pickett as a passer, but at 23 years old, it is safe to assume he is already pretty far along in his development as a quarterback. Read that as a potentially low ceiling. However, this feels like a really good landing spot for Pickett. There is a lot of talent on the defense and a solid receiving corps. If Christian McCaffrey can get healthy, he will have one of the best offensive weapons in the entire league. Carolina would need to bolster the offensive line to make this work, but there is potential for this to be a hit.
8. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (5-10) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The aforementioned Daniel Jones has had his struggles, but he has rarely been protected. Tyler Linderbaum will help change that. He is an incredibly agile center with good blocking angles and great open field speed. He should be an asset in the run game as well with his ability to pull outside and set the edge. Targeting offensive line help makes a ton of sense for the Giants. Saquon Barkley would probably appreciate the move as well, assuming he can get onto the field.
9. Washington Football Team (6-9) – Drake London, WR, USC
With Pickett off the board, there are no quarterbacks that I can justify going in the top 10. Instead, Washington addresses the massive issue facing its receiving corps. There is no size. Drake London would solve that immediately. He might not be the most explosive athlete, but he plays a lot like Mike Evans. His ability to catch the ball away from his body and make contested grabs makes him an excellent security blanket for any quarterback. Perhaps Washington could trade back into the end of the first to snag a rookie quarterback. If not, load up this roster and try to find a veteran who can lead you to the playoffs.
10. Atlanta Falcons (7-8) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
A perfect blend of need and value, Atlanta desperately needs someone with George Karlaftis’ skill set. There is definitely some cause for concern when you put on the Ohio State film and see him overmatched by a pair of quality tackles. However, Karlaftis’ upside and raw traits make him worth the gamble in this spot. The Falcons desperately need pass rushing help. They rank last in the NFL in sacks by a sizeble margin, totaling nine fewer than the Jaguars and Lions so far this season.
11. Denver Broncos (7-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Denver will be disappointed to see Karlaftis off the board, but will take the next best edge rusher on the board. That has to be David Ojabo after the breakout season he had across from Aidan Hutchinson. Ojabo is not nearly as polished as his partner in crime, but his traits are incredible. With Von Miller now in Los Angeles, the Broncos definitely need someone to pitch in across from Bradley Chubb. Ojabo has a long way to go in order to replicate Miller’s production, but he will help soften the blow nonetheless.
12. Minnesota Vikings (7-8) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Another mock, another corner to the Vikings. If it’s broken, keep trying to fix it. Minnesota ranks in the bottom 10 for passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed. The Vikings will be thrilled to see Singley still available. His stock has slipped following an injury-riddled season, but the physical ability and top-end potential is all still there. If he tests at the combine, there is a good chance he will not last this long on draft day.
13. Cleveland Browns (7-8) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield may well be the problem in Cleveland, but he could still definitely use an improved receivers room. Jarvis Landry is declining and Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Rashad Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones are excellent depth options, but the Browns need a new go-to playmaker. Enter Garrett Wilson. He is a silky smooth route runner with solid speed, good hands and a nose for the end zone. Keeping him in state would be a great move by the front office.
14. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (7-7) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Philadelphia has been a pleasant surprise in the second half of the year. While there are questions about Jalen Hurts as the long-term answer at quarterback, there is no one worth replacing him with in this spot. Instead, the Eagles finally address the shortcomings of their linebacker unit. Lloyd would be an upgrade over any of Philly’s current starters. He is very athletic with some ability to rush the passer. Feels like a slam dunk pick for this defense.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-7) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
While quarterback could certainly be in play, this is still much too early for QB2 on my board. Even if the Saints did take a quarterback, he would have no one to throw to. New Orleans’ group of receivers is on par with Detroit and the Jets when it comes to proven playmakers. If Michael Thomas returns, that could change things a bit, but there is still room for more additions at the position. Burks was a bit inconsistent this year, but showed flashes of elite ability. He lit up Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, but disappeared against LSU and Georgia. There is a lot to like about his upside.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Yes, the Steelers need a new quarterback. No, that does not mean they should reach for one in the middle of the first round. Pittsburgh has a host of other issues it still needs to address to get back into championship contention. The biggest being a porous offensive line. Cross lacks much experience as a run blocker, but has a lot of solid tape in pass protection. He is far from perfect, with several holding calls and uneven technique, but he anchors well and has the size to excel at the next level. He would be in the mix to start at left tackle from Day 1 in Pittsburgh.
17. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Same old Chargers. Los Angeles has shown signs of progress this season, but it still cannot avoid the pitfalls. The Achilles heel has been the run defense. Only three teams are allowing more rushing yards per game or yards per attempt this season. Finding some help on the interior of the defense line is the key to turning things around. Leal is a talented pass rusher who can hold his own against the run. He has the versatility to flex out to the edge as well. Brandon Staley would have a lot of fun exploring the ways he could deploy Leal against opposing offenses.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Las Vegas has room to improve in the trenches on both sides of the ball. It is hard to overlook Jordan Davis, both literally and figuratively. He is huge, listed at 6’6″ and 340 pounds. He definitely excels as a run stuffer, but shows flashes of pass-rush brilliances. He has a quick first step and rarely loses ground. He could help transform the Raiders defensive front. Davis, Max Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue is the beginnings of a scary unit.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
As great as Darius Slay has been this season, Philadelphia cannot continue to rely on him to do everything in their secondary. Clemson might have had a down year, but the struggles were all on the offense. Defensively, the Tigers were still stocked with future NFL players, led by Andrew Booth Jr. The rangy cornerback has good size and impeccable athleticism. He will need a bit of coaching to truly take the step in his development, but there is a lot to like about his potential fit in the NFL.
20. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Baltimore is tied for the most sacks allowed this season. Some of that is a byproduct of having mobile quarterbacks who hang onto the ball longer than he probably should, but most of it falls on underperforming tackles and injuries. Trevor Penning may face a bit of a learning curve arriving from FCS powerhouse UNI, but his intangibles point to a seamless transition. If he can protect Lamar Jackson, this will be a pick well spent.
21. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (8-7) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Miami is on an incredible run right now, winning six in a row heading into Monday Night Football. However, that should not erase the deficiencies that showed up during the first half of the season when the Dolphins were 1-7. Tua Tagovailoa’s protection has room for improvement. Kenyon Green has the potential to be a Day 1 starter at either guard spot, providing some much-needed stability. He has some experience at tackle as well, which only adds to his value.
22. New England Patriots (9-6) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
This may be my worst nightmare. Letting Bill Belichick get his hands on a playmaker like Dean is dangerous for the rest of the league. He is often compared to Jonathan Vilma between his size and downhill play style. Dont’a Hightower is turning 32 in March and will be a free agent after the season. Dean could help fill the void and eventually grow into a similar defensive leader.
23. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-6) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Might as well return to the well. Philadelphia seems to have hit big time with Devonta Smith, so it would be wise to find another Alabama receiver to play alongside him. While Smith is certainly capable of big plays, Williams excels at it. He would be what the team hoped to get in drafting Jalen Reagor. There are certainly some drops on his film, but most of them are avoidable. Coaching could solve that. It’s not something to ignore, but it is correctable. This sets up Jalen Hurts or whoever takes over at quarterback in the future for success.
24. Arizona Cardinals (10-5) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Arizona is once again fading in the second half of the season. While there are questions to ask of the offense, the secondary is getting torn to shreds. Adding a tall, long corner in Elam could change the trajectory of the unit entirely. Hopefully, that size will come into play in the red zone, where the Cardinals have been dreadful down the stretch.
25. Buffalo Bills (9-6) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT, Ohio State
Buffalo needs to invest along the interior of its offensive line. While Petit-Frère is not an interior lineman, he could allow the Bills to kick Spencer Brown inside. If not, the Ohio State tackle could move to guard himself. He has shown the ability to handle top speed rushers on the outside with his play against George Karlaftis. On the other hand, he struggled against Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Either way, he should help keep Josh Allen clean now and into the future.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
Cincinnati’s secondary has played surprisingly well this season, but lacks staying power. For one, the Bengals can get out from under Trae Waynes’ horrible contract this offseason. They also need Chidobe Awuzie to replicate a career year for this unit to have a chance in 2022. Adding the upside of McCreary gives them someone to develop into the future. He brings an exciting blend of athleticism and size that makes it easy to project him as an NFL starter.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Tampa Bay will be disappointed to see the top corners off the board by this stage and will simply turn to a best player available approach. With a number of key defensive players on expiring contracts, adding another player in the front seven could help ease the blow. Drake Jackson is a long edge rusher with solid production from his time at USC. Much of his stock is based on the projection of what he could become if he can marry his physical tools with improved technique and pass-rush planning at the next level.
28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (11-4) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
If there was ever a team that could afford to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward quarterback, it is the Detroit Lions. With the extra pick in the 2022 draft from the Matthew Stafford trade, the Lions could attempt to find his replacement. Willis brings incredible physical traits, namely blazing speed and a very strong arm. He needs a lot of refining though. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, often times misses reads and bails out of the pocket a bit too frequently. Selecting Willis does not prevent Detroit from taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2023 draft either if it ends up with a chance to take Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. This is just one shot at the dartboard with potential to net future draft capital if he is moved. What I love about this is that Jared Goff can start for one more season before his contract expires and the Lions can make a real run at turning the roster around.
29. Tennessee Titans (10-5) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Julio Jones has not been the reliable option across from A.J. Brown that the Titans were hoping for. Injuries have derailed most of his previous two seasons and he will turn 33 in February. Tennessee needs another receiver for Ryan Tannehill to turn to. Chris Olave could be the perfect complement to Brown. He is well-rounded and can generate separation. Not to mention good size at 6’1″. He would only open things up more for Derrick Henry as defenses had to respect his speed.
30. Dallas Cowboys (11-4) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
The turnaround by Dallas’ defense is truly remarkable. However, it is also benefiting from an unsustainable turnover rate. 33 forced turnovers in 15 games is impressive and hard to repeat. With the top corners off the board, the Cowboys grab a versatile safety with some slot corner experience in Hill. He has tons of athletic upside and regularly ends up around the football. The offense has had its struggles, but there is more than enough talent to see things stabilize. Now it is time to build a defense to match.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Kansas City has evolved over the course of the season. Its defensive renaissance does not mean help on that side of the ball is no longer needed. That being said, it is hard to resist Jahan Dotson in this spot. He is a reliable target capable of making contested catches over the middle of the field. I think he could be a perfect fit for what the Chiefs need in this offense past Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. If Kansas City lands a defensive lineman or cornerback in the second round, this will feel like a really strong start to the draft.
32. Green Bay Packers (12-3) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Aaron Rodgers does not care about the wide receivers you would like to mock to Green Bay. Instead, the Packers continue to build in the trenches. Devonte Wyatt does not get the headlines of his more famous teammates like Nakobe Dean or Jordan Davis, but he should start soon. He is a violent game wrecker. He might not be quite as athletically gifted as those teammates and definitely needs to improve his gap discipline, but there is a lot to like about his tape. With a few potential cap casualties on defense this offseason, finding cost-effective defenders is a must. Don’t rule out a trade back with a quarterback needy team here. Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver could all move up to get a quarterback with that coveted fifth-year option.