Mel Kiper 2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Hutchinson to Jaguars, Thibodeaux to Lions

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 19, 2022

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson watches during warm ups before the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game against Georgia, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. released his first mock draft for the 2022 NFL draft on Wednesday, with Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson going to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 1 overall pick.

Another edge-rusher, Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, is predicted by Kiper to land with the Detroit Lions at No. 2.

Here's a look at the top five selections:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

2. Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

3. Houston Texans: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

4. New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

The first quarterback doesn't come off the board until No. 11, when the Washington Football Team selects Liberty signal-caller Malik Willis.

Hutchinson and Thibodeaux will headline the pre-draft process as they fight for the top spot on the board. They are both potentially game-changing players, and Jacksonville needs a few of those on both sides of the ball before it turns the corner toward contention.

The other option for the Jags is to take an offensive tackle to protect the blind side for quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was sacked 32 times and faced consistent pressure as a rookie, which played a role in the lackluster numbers posted by last year's No. 1 pick.

Another weapon on the outside for Lawrence is also on the team's wishlist, but no offensive playmaking prospect has emerged as an option in the top spot at this stage. So, at least for now, it appears the Jaguars will end up taking one of the two edge-rushers.

Meanwhile, the Lions would love if there was a ready-made franchise quarterback available at No. 2, but it would take a standout performance from Willis or one of the other prospects over the next few months to warrant taking that early in the draft.

Other signal-callers to watch include UNC's Sam Howell, Ole Miss' Matt Corral and Pitt's Kenny Pickett. A strong showing from any of them during the pre-draft workouts could send them rocketing up the board and into Detroit's conversation with the No. 2 choice.

If that doesn't happen, the Lions will likely select whichever one of the top defensive ends is still on the board after Jacksonville makes it choice. Detroit then owns the Los Angeles Rams' first-round pick, which will be somewhere late in the round and more in the wheelhouse to take a QB.

Perhaps the most notable big-picture takeaway from Kiper's first mock draft is the limited number of high-end offensive skill players in this year's class. His projections include no running backs in the first round, no tight end until the No. 32 pick and no wide receivers until No. 10.

The teams that will benefit are those looking to upgrade in the trenches, especially the defensive front seven, which makes up more than a third (11 of 32) of Kiper's predicted picks.