2022 NFL Mock Draft: B/R NFL Scouting Dept.'s Post-Regular-Season Picks
A look ahead to the 2022 NFL draft can be both exciting and depressing at this time of year.
The NFL's first-ever 17-game regular season is complete. Excitement can be found in the possibilities of another offseason to improve the roster. Disappointment tends to linger after a team fails to reach its goals, though.
So, a full-time move into the latest draft cycle can be bittersweet. Even so, the process actually began nearly six months ago as team scouts got their assignments and hit the road.
Bleacher Report's Scouting Department consisting of Brandon Thorn, Brent Sobleski, Cory Giddings, Derrik Klassen and Nate Tice have been working together for nearly as long assembling prospect reports, draft boards and the latest mock draft.
A conundrum exists in the upcoming class. B/R doesn't have a single quarterback ranked among its Top 15, yet everyone understands those specific prospects will come off the board sooner rather than later because of need and positional value.
Who will be the first quarterback off the board and when? Those questions dictate the latest projection as over half the league experiences a regular-season hangover.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
The Jacksonville Jaguars once again sit atop year's draft. Fortunately, they chose Trevor Lawrence last year so they don't have to address the quarterback position in what appears to be a down year for the class.
Instead, the organization's approach now veers toward building around Lawrence to maximize his capabilities after a season of impeding his growth. Alabama's Evan Neal presents tremendous upside as a young left tackle prospect who's still growing and learning his position.
"At 6'7", 350 pounds with the ideal arm length, athletic ability and power, Neal has the look of a franchise left tackle and is still only 21 years old," Thorn said.
"On film, Neal is a bulldozer in the run game with the mobility and pad level to get underneath defenders and drive them off the spot while having the movement skills to intersect smaller targets at the second level. He will need to clean up his hand placement and reset quicker on blocks to better stay attached, but he is new to left tackle with time to improve on technical aspects of the position.
"Neal hasn't played the same position in consecutive seasons in college (left guard, right tackle, left tackle). Having the versatility that shows he can be effective at three positions is valuable, but once he is able to settle into one spot, it is reasonable to expect him to be able to clean up his fundamentals even more. Neal gives the Jaguars a much-needed plug-and-play starter at either tackle spot with the required upside to become a Pro Bowl-caliber player as the top overall pick."
2. Detroit Lions: Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Clearly, the talent found along the defensive line will dictate the 2022 NFL draft. Some combination of Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Purdue's George Karlaftis should come off the board quickly.
As this scenario presents, Detroit will have a significant decision to make. Should the Lions invest in the prospect with the higher long-term potential (Thibodeaux) or take the "hometown" prospect, who will likely provide a better short-term return (Hutchinson)?
At Bleacher Report, Thibodeaux is the class' top-rated prospect, which makes this choice rather easy.
"The Lions need a real-deal pass-rusher, and Thibodeaux is the best in the draft," Klassen said. "His blend of length, speed, power and bend makes for an enticing No. 1 pass-rusher. It's hard not to be excited about pairing someone with his potential next to all the other front-seven pieces the Lions have signed and drafted over the past couple of years."
With Julian and Romeo Okwara already on the roster, an investment in the prospect with the higher upside becomes even more obvious.
3. Houston Texans: Edge Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Despite owning a top-three selection, the Houston Texans' season went better than expected.
All things considered, four wins while experiencing a significant rebuilding process says a lot about the new coaching staff and the players still on the roster. In the end, the best possible scenario came to fruition.
The Texans seemingly found a promising young quarterback prospect in Davis Mills and remained competitive while still landing in a spot to draft a potential difference-maker.
Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson doesn't present the same long-term upside of Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux or even Purdue's George Karlaftis. With that said, his talent floor is much higher than both. Hutchinson thrives based on his size (6'6", 265 lbs), power, technique and relentlessness. Often, that's good enough to become a high-end pass-rusher at the NFL level.
Hutchinson can immediately step in and add even more oomph to a front that already has a couple of promising edge-defenders in the pipeline.
"The Texans have quietly gotten decent play from role players such as Jacob Martin and Jonathan Greenard, but they could use some more firepower," Klassen stated. "Hutchinson provides a hefty helping of power pass-rushing, crafty hands and a knack for shutting down opposing run games."
4. New York Jets: Edge George Karlaftis, Purdue
With a pair of Top 10 draft picks thanks to the Jamal Adams trade, the New York Jets can load up on premium talent. All the team has to do is sit back and take whichever of the top prospects falls to each slot.
In this case, Purdue's George Karlaftis can bring the same type of depth and talent to New York's defensive line as Robert Saleh had when he served as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.
The Jets already sunk significant financial assets into defensive ends Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers. Unfortunately, Lawson never played a down for the Jets this season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon during training camp. Even with Lawson expected back, New York shouldn't pass on an opportunity to further strengthen its defensive front with a premium prospect.
"Karlaftis is the perfect complement to Lawson," Klassen mentioned. "At 6'4" and 275 pounds, Karlaftis brings outrageous get-off for a player his size, as well as all the power and hand-fighting skills necessary to win as a pass-rusher. Karlaftis is also more flexible than his build suggests, and he is a reliable run defender with some explosive potential."
The first-team All-Big Ten performer is capable of moving all over the defensive front. Sub-packages with the rookie, Lawson and Franklin-Myers on the field at the same time is an exciting proposition.
5. New York Giants: OL Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
The New York Giants offensive line is a disaster. Aside from left tackle Andrew Thomas, who showed actual growth in his second season, the rest of the group can be scrapped. Maybe the team brings back the likes of Shane Lemieux and/or Billy Price to start next fall, but four of the five spots are replaceable.
The idea of landing arguably the best offensive line prospect in the class has to be exciting. Yes, Alabama's Evan Neal went No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. But North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu is every bit as good, even if he doesn't fit traditional left tackle standards because of his squatty frame. For that Giants, that's OK, because Ekwonu can slide to guard next to Thomas or take over at right tackle.
"With Thomas improving and playing at a solid level, Ekwonu would give them a much more explosive, high-upside player at the other tackle spot," Thorn mentioned. "Ekwonu's explosiveness, power and tenacity as a run-blocker are a more dominant collection of traits in an area than any other block has in this class.
"With that 'trump card' to his game, Ekwonu will transform a running game right away. He also has excellent athletic ability, quickness and movement skills that can serve as a foundation for him to continue refining his set points and hands in pass protection. The Giants need to bolster their line with a dynamic player, and Ekwonu gives them that."
With one more Top 10 selection thanks to last year's Justin Fields trade, the Giants may not be done along their front five.
6. Carolina Panthers: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The Carolina Panthers don't have a solution at quarterback, yet they're staring down a draft class without a legitimate standout option at the position.
The organization could reach for one if those within the front office and coaching staff believe in a certain prospect. Inevitably, some team is going to pull the trigger much sooner than expected because of the position's importance.
In this case, the more prudent approach is building a better cockpit for whoever starts behind center in 2022. The Panthers chose to move forward with Cam Erving as their starting left tackle. Unsurprisingly, he didn't fare particularly well. Maybe Brady Christensen will move into the role full time, but a better option exists in Mississippi State's Charles Cross, who's the class' best pure pass blocker, with Christensen sliding inside to guard.
"Cross should be in consideration for being the best tackle in the draft because of how technically proficient he is as a pass-blocker despite being extremely young and inexperienced," Thorn said. "With a rare level of refinement in his pass sets and hands, Cross uses outstanding balance, quickness and length to thrive on an island. This is exactly what the Panthers have been desperately in need of, and adding Cross would give them a high-, high-upside player who fills a major need.
"Cross is always under control as a run-blocker with the right demeanor and above-average play strength to be an asset there as well."
7. New York Giants (from Chicago): IOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Why stop with just one offensive lineman when the front five is clearly a point of contention and two elite prospects can be added?
Two Top 10 blockers might seem like overkill, but it's not for the New York Giants.
"The Giants would be getting the two best run-blockers in the class if it fell this way, and adding Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum gives them the potential to have two dynamic pieces paired with Ikem Ekwonu," Thorn said approvingly. "Linderbaum is the best run-blocking center prospect that I have scouted because of a rare blend of power, use of leverage and leg drive. The Rimington Trophy winner would give the Giants a true weapon at the pivot who can spearhead a zone-heavy run scheme while giving them an elite finisher who would also set the tone.
"Linderbaum's lack of size at a listed 290 pounds is a concern when isolated in pass protection, but he has enough quickness and play strength to work around it as long as his strike timing and use of hands continue to improve.
"The Giants need difference-makers on their line, and Linderbaum has a clear area where he can provide that."
One draft class could almost completely solve the Giants' issues up front as long as whoever is the general manager is willing to make this type of investment and legitimately improve the group.
8. Atlanta Falcons: WR Drake London, USC
The Atlanta Falcons cast their lot upon the shoulder of veteran quarterback Matt Ryan through the 2022 season. Unless something drastic happens, the franchise's all-time leading passer will continue to pad his stats as the new regime tries to build up the rest of the roster.
An offensive lineman would be the most sensible selection here, but the top three options are already off the board, and a drop-off exists beyond that point. Instead, the Falcons can load up with even more talent at the skill positions by drafting the class' WR1.
"USC's Drake London has the size (6'5", 210 lbs), athleticism and skill set to be a true mismatch against any defense he goes against," Tice stated. "With Calvin Ridley's future as a Falcon up in the air, pairing London with Kyle Pitts will give the Falcons' passing game advantages week in and week out and strain defensive coordinators trying to figure out how to contain both of them."
If and when Ridley does return, the Falcons' trio of weapons would be outrageously good.
An extra caveat must be mentioned as well: London's final season on campus ended prematurely when he suffered a fractured ankle. His status as an elite prospect is dependent on clearing medical evaluations prior to the draft.
9. Denver Broncos: QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The Denver Broncos are the first team to take the leap into the shallow quarterback pool. In this case, the Broncos land the class' top prospect in Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder.
"Ridder is an athletic quarterback who flashes advanced processing and pocket movement already," Tice stated. "He's improved tremendously throughout his senior season, and plopping him onto a Broncos team that has talent throughout its roster—including the wide receiver and tight end positions—would mean he wouldn't have to shoulder as much of a load as he adjusts to the NFL level. He could be a great fit for a team that has been trying to find its answer at the position for years."
Tice didn't mention how good the Broncos are in the running game to take further pressure off Ridder. Melvin Gordon is a pending free agent, but Javonte Williams is poised to become a workhorse as one of the game's best young backs.
Situations matter for all prospects, particularly for the quarterback position. Ridder presents as much upside as anyone in the class with the arm talent, athleticism and processing to become a top-half-of-the-league starter.
Obviously, the Broncos can't move forward with Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock. Maybe they get lucky and land an Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. Until that actually happens, the top quarterback prospect in the class is the ideal solution to the franchise's problem.
10. New York Jets (from Seattle): S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
The New York Jets' secondary is terrible. Granted, injuries and an overreliance on younger players haven't helped, but fielding the league's 29th-ranked pass defense has to stick in head coach Robert Saleh's craw after previously serving as a defensive coordinator.
Furthermore, veteran defensive backs Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner are set to enter free agency after this season.
Fortunately, the Jets have their pick of top secondary prospects at this slot. Earlier, the organization boosted its pass rush by adding George Karlaftis. That pick will help all three levels of the defense. Now, New York can add another versatile difference-maker in safety Kyle Hamilton.
"With a majority of last year's draft going toward rebuilding the offense, the Jets now turn their focus to the defensive side of the ball with a one-of-a-kind player in this draft class," Giddings noted. "Since a large majority of their secondary is set to hit free agency, this makes total sense for the Jets."
An argument can be made in cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.'s favor and no one would argue. At the same time, Hamilton is a rare athlete and versatile safety prospect capable of playing numerous roles within any scheme. Though some irony exists in taking him with the pick acquired in the Jamal Adams trade.
11. Washington Football Team: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
The second quarterback comes off the board probably half a round sooner than he should, but the Washington Football Team can't wait. The soon-to-be rebranded franchise needs a fresh start behind center with Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett being the best available option for their particular situation.
"Pickett is an accurate quarterback and good athlete with some ability to create plays outside of structure that would help Washington's offense take a step forward," Tice mentioned. "He doesn't have the upside of the quarterbacks in last year's draft, but he is able to process enough to make an offense competent. His anticipation and timing to get the ball out quickly will significantly help talented teammates Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson."
Obviously, Pickett isn't Bleacher Report's top-rated quarterback prospect. Cincinnati Desmond Ridder is. However, Pickett is the closest thing to a plug-and-play starter among a weak crop of incoming signal-callers.
The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner will be 24 before he ever plays an official NFL game. He's also spent the last three seasons learning a pro-style offense under former NFL assistant coach Mark Whipple. Pickett doesn't present as much upside as other quarterbacks in his class, but he is the most likely to make the transition and at least serve as a competent starting option.
12. Minnesota Vikings: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
The Minnesota Vikings should be ecstatic to land a prospect the caliber of Derek Stingley Jr. outside of the Top 10. From a pure talent perspective, Stingley is the class' best pure cover corner, though he's coming off a season-ending foot injury.
"Stingley is the top-rated cornerback in this draft, and the Vikings are in need of young blood," Giddings mentioned. "With Patrick Peterson's contract coming to an end, it would be wise for the team to address this need in the draft."
Peterson's pending contract status is only part of the equation. Mackensie Alexander played out his one-year contract as well. Outside of Cameron Dantzler, none of the team's cornerbacks have performed particularly well. Minnesota finished the regular season among the bottom 10 in pass defense.
The Vikings spent the last few years as a mediocre squad under head coach Mike Zimmer, who stressed investments in the secondary. Yet that same group disappointed, and the team's investments didn't pan out for the most part.
An opportunity to land an elite talent at a premium position while simultaneously addressing previous failures will go a long way to shoring up the Vikings roster.
13. Cleveland Browns: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
So much of the Cleveland Browns' offseason dialogue will center on quarterback Baker Mayfield and his future. Within the past week, two conflicting reports already surfaced about potential discontentment from the quarterback to Cleveland planning to move forward with Mayfield as its starting quarterback.
Mayfield starting in 2022 is the most logical path forward for the franchise since the Browns already picked up his fifth-year rookie option and viable alternatives aren't readily available.
The next step is doing everything in the organization's power to make sure the 2018 No. 1 overall pick is successful. A revamped wide receiver room—which already began with Odell Beckham Jr.'s departure—will go a long way in helping.
"The Browns have built (and paid) their offensive line and are still trying to figure out if Mayfield is their future at the quarterback position. For whoever is lining up behind center, the Browns will need weapons on the perimeter for him," Tice said. "Ohio State's Chris Olave is a polished receiver already with an advanced route tree and good hands. Other receivers might have more upside than Olave, but he can be dropped in and be the No. 1 option for the Browns' passing attack and hit the ground running."
Olave is the class' best route-runner. A polished and reliable target on the outside who's where he's supposed to be in a timing offense will be a welcome change of pace.
14. Baltimore Ravens: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
The Baltimore Ravens' cornerback depth chart may undergo significant change this offseason.
Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith are pending free agents. Also, Marcus Peters, who just turned 29, is coming off a torn ACL, while his salary-cap charge escalates to $15.5 million this fall.
Obviously, Peters and the Ravens can rework his deal to make it more manageable, but an insurance policy to play opposite Marlon Humphrey, who suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle, would be a smart path forward.
"There are a couple of different ways in which the Ravens could go with this pick," Giddings noted. "Help is needed on the defensive side of the ball, and the Ravens could choose to go with Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner. As a long corner who has shown to be consistent, Gardner could provide immediate support to the secondary."
Gardner has the traits the Ravens like as a big (6'3", 200 lbs), physical corner who is comfortable being left on an island. He can step in immediately and play outside or over the slot depending on how the rest of the cornerback room comes together.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami): DL Jordan Davis, Georgia
Thanks to a couple of shrewd trades last offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles are in the envious position of being a playoff squad while holding three first-round picks.
With so much draft capital, the Eagles don't need to force anything. Instead, general manager Howie Roseman can take advantage of significantly upgrading his squad's talent at multiple levels by simply taking the best talent available at each slot, starting with Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis.
"If there's anything the Eagles will do, they will build through the trenches," Klassen said. "Javon Hargrave, while great, experiences a significant salary-cap hike in 2022 of more than $12 million, and Fletcher Cox is 31 years old.
"Davis is a mountain of a man and will eat up space in the middle better than anyone they have on the roster right now while still sporting the movement skills and explosiveness to be a menace in the backfield."
The Outland Trophy winner is a difference-maker, but he's not an every-down defender. His addition to a rotation featuring Hargrave and Cox will make the Eagles one of the league's best along the defensive interior. A year from now when Hargrave is set to enter free agency and Cox is another year older, an early investment in Davis will provide Philadelphia with a long-term defensive anchor.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Traditionally, the Philadelphia Eagles don't invest much in the linebacker position. It's shown over the years.
To be fair, Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards aren't awful. In fact, they've combined to make over 160 tackles this season. But neither is a difference-maker. Georgia's Nakobe Dean can be.
"Why not pair the best linebacker in the class with a college teammate who played directly in front of him?" Klassen wondered when considering the idea of Jordan Davis and Dean reuniting at the professional level. "While the Eagles have gotten surprisingly competent play from Edwards at points, Dean brings a completely different degree of speed, physicality and blitzing prowess.
"Dean may need a bit of time to settle in as a zone coverage defender, but the rest of his skill set is more than good enough to be an impact player right off the bat."
The reigning Butkus Award winner flies all over the field. He's a weapon in blitz packages and covers a lot of space. As Klassen noted, Dean needs to be better in coverage, but his movement skills and playmaking ability portend a top-end linebacker if utilized properly.
When Edwards and Singleton are unrestricted free agents after the 2022 campaign, Dean can move into a full-time role as the tone-setter at linebacker.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
The Los Angeles Chargers should continue down the path they started this past offseason by building around quarterback Justin Herbert. Last offseason, the team's offensive line took priority. Now, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco can continue to add weapons around the talented signal-caller, especially if a key contributor leaves in free agency.
"A pairing of Alabama's Jameson Williams with Herbert would be incredibly exciting to watch as a football fan," Tice said. "With Mike Williams set to become a free agent, Jameson Williams gives the Chargers' receiving room a different skill set than what they already have with Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer. He's explosive and can take the top off defenses while also having a polished route tree and good hands."
Even if Mike Williams returns, the possibility of adding the Biletnikoff Award finalist shouldn't be ruled out of the equation.
Jameson Williams can be used in a variety of manners to complement those already on the roster, whether the group includes Mike Williams or not. Furthermore, Keenan Allen turns 30 later this year, and his salary-cap charges top $21 million in 2023 and '24.
By landing a top wide receiver prospect now, the Chargers can help Hebert while simultaneously planning for the future.
18. New Orleans Saints: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Quarterback discussion will dominate the New Orleans Saints' offseason.
Can the team pull off a trade for a proven veteran? Will the Saints draft a quarterback to take over Sean Payton's offense? Could Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill return to lead the way?
Obviously, the team can't add a proven veteran at this point in the draft. The top two quarterback prospects are already off the board in this scenario. Winston or Hill, specifically the former, may be the most logical path forward for the time being.
With no clear quarterback plan in place, the best New Orleans can do is build around the position, and Penn State's Jahan Dotson would bring a different dynamic.
"The Saints offense is in desperate need of receiving talent and speed, something Dotson provides in abundance," Tice mentioned. "No matter who the Saints trot out at quarterback in 2022, Dotson will provide legit home run hitting ability on every snap that will let the offense breathe a little bit."
Michael Thomas' uncertain future with the organization makes Dotson's inclusion all the more important. If Thomas and the Saints were to move forward with their relationship, the first-team All-Big Ten performer will create more space for the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year to operate.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (from Indianapolis): CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
So far, the Philadelphia Eagles landed the class' top-rated interior defender and linebacker with subsequent first-round picks.
How about going three-for-three by making the secondary better as well?
"As it looks like Jalen Hurts has earned himself another year as the team's starting quarterback, the B/R team selected Jordan Davis as the team's earlier pick from the Dolphins and Nakobe Dean with their own selection. With this pick, the Eagles will stay on the defensive side and choose Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam. He adds length and scheme flexibility."
The 20-year old defensive back can help shore up a secondary that could be in transition.
The Eagles have Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox and Zech McPhearson under contract for next season. But Steven Nelson, as well as safeties Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod, are pending free agents.
Elam is more of an outside corner, but Maddox and McPhearson are both more than capable of playing over the slot. With his addition, the Eagles will be building a deep cornerback depth chart to concentrate on safety through other avenues. Three first-round picks to address all three levels of the defense will ultimately help an offense that found its identity during the 2021 campaign.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
As of now, the Pittsburgh Steelers will go into the 2022 campaign with Mason Rudolph as their starting quarterback. It's not an ideal situation after the 2018 third-round pick failed to impress during his opportunities.
Even so, a viable alternative needs to be found to change the organization's current trajectory. The draft could serve as a plausible option, though the top two options are already off the board, and a selection of Ole Miss' Matt Corral, Liberty's Malik Willis or North Carolina's Sam Howell should be viewed as a significant reach.
Instead, the Steelers can concentrate on getting better in the trenches.
"Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning has the size, length, natural power and demeanor of a longtime starting tackle in the NFL," Thorn stated. "He has been able to largely bully competition at Northern Iowa, so how he performs at the Senior Bowl will be critical in his evaluation. He will need to learn to be more disciplined with his pad level and hands against higher competition, as the tape showed that he can get lackadaisical. His range on an island in protection is also merely solid, so being an elite pass protector is probably out of the question.
"Despite needing to prove himself a little bit more leading up to the draft, the tools are in place for him to become an above-average starter and potential impact run-blocker. It also helps that Penning is training with Duke Manyweather of OL Masterminds leading up to the draft, which increases the chances of him reaching his full potential."
21. New England Patriots: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The thought of investing a first-round pick in a wide receiver after A) N'Keal Harry's failure to develop into a consistent target and B) the free-agent signings of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor last offseason probably has New England Patriots' faithful a little antsy.
But those two instances should have exposed a specific need within New England's offense.
"After head coach Bill Belichick went on a spending spree last offseason to bring in receiving options for their offense, a need for a big receiver with some explosive playmaking ability has cropped up," Tice mentioned. "Arkansas' Treylon Burks would be the cherry on top for the Patriots offense and provide quarterback Mac Jones with another target who complements what they already have."
Burks is a 6'3", 225-pound target with massive hands. He's a major downfield threat when facing single coverage. At the same time, he excels by creating after the catch when touches are manufactured within the offense. As an added bonus, the 21-year-old should be able to play multiple positions out of the gate since he excelled as both an outside and slot receiver for the Razorbacks.
The Patriots found their guy in Jones. The continued addition of weapons around the young quarterback will benefit everyone involved.
22. Miami Dolphins (from San Francisco): RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
Should a team invest in a running back this early in the process? It's a legitimate question. Conversely, the Miami Dolphins own the league's worst running back stable and an awful run game to take some pressure off quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and a porous offensive line that has to deal with a defense pinning its ears back at all times.
While a running back investment may be ill-advised in theory, the Dolphins are poor enough in this specific area to rationalize getting the best prospect at his respective position later in the first round.
"Whether they go offensive line or running back, the Dolphins need help in their run game," Tice stated. "Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III is a great package of burst, vision and power who will help create both efficient and explosive plays for the offense, even if the blocking won't always be there."
The Pittsburgh Steelers made the same bet this past year when they chose Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick. Harris may have had his struggles behind a shaky offensive front, but he became an offensive focal point and worked his way into NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration (though that award will eventually belong to the Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase).
Walker will make life better for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins' offensive line while allowing Miami's offense to open up things, particularly with standout wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
23. Las Vegas Raiders: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
The Las Vegas Raiders overcame significant on- and off-field turbulence to make the playoffs. The performance is a testament to everyone still in the locker room when the entire organization could have folded up shop after losing five of its six games coming out of the bye week.
The Raiders continued to compete and kept their playoff hopes alive all the way until the end. While the franchise deserves credit for its performance, the squad is clearly lacking in certain areas.
"The Raiders haven't had much luck at the cornerback position in recent years, and McDuffie would be a great pick. Casey Hayward Jr. is also a pending free agent. With McDuffie's ability to play both man and zone, he should have the opportunity to come right in and compete."
His selection will help offset the disastrous decision to select Damon Arnette with the 19th overall pick in the 2020 draft. The 20-year-old defender could team up with Trayvon Mullen and Nate Hobbs to form an exciting young trio of corners entering the 2022 campaign.
24. Arizona Cardinals: CB Derion Kendrick, Georgia
The Arizona Cardinals could finally have multiple young cornerbacks on the roster after searching for years to find someone capable of playing opposite Patrick Peterson (when he was there).
In this case, Georgia's Derion Kendrick can team with Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson to give the Cardinals a complete trio for the starting lineup.
"There are a couple of cornerbacks—Robert Alford and Kevin Peterson—who will be free agents this year, leaving the room somewhat bare," Giddings noted. "With Murphy and Wilson being two of the presumed starters, the Cardinals would be best served to pick up another cornerback early on in the draft. With Kendrick, Arizona gains a cornerback with man cover skills and someone who will come in to compete and add depth to the room."
It's important to note that Murphy is the Cardinals' primary slot defender. He would continue to work against inside receivers while Kendrick plays outside corner. Kendrick is a smooth cover corner with excellent ball skills. After all, he's a wide receiver convert.
Scouts will dig deep into Kendrick's background after being dismissed by the Clemson football program, but his upside in coverage is immense.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: OG Zion Johnson, Boston College
Nothing needs to be mentioned other than the fact that no quarterback endured more sacks this season than the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow.
The offensive line remains a major question mark for the second straight offseason. With Burrow and his talented trio of wide receivers set, now is the time to get serious about proper protection.
Boston College's Zion Johnson is a plug-and-play interior defender to take over at guard for Quinton Spain, who is a pending free agency, or Jackson Carman, who underwhelmed as a rookie.
"Johnson is the best guard in the draft with an excellent collection of traits, tape and skills to be an instant-impact starter," Thorn stated. "Johnson has left tackle experience that showcases his comfortability in space, though his size (6'3", 316 lbs) and length make him a better fit along the interior.
"The first-team All-American is an excellent run-blocker with calm, patient hands in pass protection. Boston College utilizes an NFL scheme with a multiple run game, and we saw him execute every block needed. He should be an ideal fit in the Bengals' multiple run scheme under offensive line coach Frank Pollack.
"The Bengals will need an upgrade at left guard, and my comparison for Johnson is Kevin Zeitler, a former standout Bengals guard."
26. Buffalo Bills: OG Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Guard has been a weak spot for the Buffalo Bills offense. Darryl Williams, Cody Ford, Jon Feliciano, Ike Boettger and Ryan Bates have all started games along the interior.
A permanent solution needs to be found. The Bills could slide Williams inside with Spencer Brown at right tackle to solve one of the spots. Still, the Bills need a long-term possibility on the other side.
Texas A&M's Kenyon Green bounced all over the Aggies offensive line. A permanent switch to the interior would be beneficial to his growth once he reaches the professional level.
"There's an argument for Green having more upside than any guard in the draft because of his pedigree as a 5-star recruit with an outstanding combination of power, size (6'4", 325 lbs) and athletic ability.
"Green is able to generate immediate movement on contact when his pad level and hands are low and inside while having the foot quickness to survive at tackle in a pinch. Green is also only 21 years old, so there is a runway for him to clean up the technical issues in his game and become a high-quality starter while he's still in his early 20s.
"The Bills have a very good line coach in Bobby Johnson with a downhill run scheme that requires big bodies, so the fit for Green to become the best version of himself is there in Buffalo."
27. Detroit Lions (from LA Rams): WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
The Detroit Lions should be downright giddy if they have an opportunity to draft a wide receiver the caliber of Ohio State's Garrett Wilson this late in the first round.
"Wilson is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands who would provide the Lions offense with a different flavor than what they already have," Tice noted. "He is still improving as a route-runner, but his big-play ability would pair nicely with the more steady underneath options the Lions currently have in T.J. Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown."
St. Brown has been a revelation as a fourth-round rookie-turned-leading receiver. The slot receiver finished his first campaign with 90 receptions for 912 yards and five touchdowns. He and Hockenson are significant threats working against zone coverage.
Whereas, Wilson is a coverage-buster. He's a threat to take any catch and turn it into a touchdown. The 21-year-old shows explosive traits that can be used through manufactured touches, yards after the catch or as a downfield threat.
Jared Goff probably isn't the long-term answer behind center. Still, the team can do worse than building around Goff and a strong offensive front while adding more weapons to the mix.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Edge David Ojabo, Michigan
The Dallas Cowboys should continue stacking their front and making the unit more difficult to block with each passing year based on the talent the front office adds to the defense.
"The 2021 Cowboys do not need Michigan's David Ojabo," Klassen mentioned. "But with Randy Gregory becoming a free agent this offseason, the '22 Cowboys may need him. Ojabo, while a bit rough in the run game right now, offers rare speed and bend around the corner as a pass-rusher. His movement skills off the edge are special, and any degree of coaching up with his hand usage and run-defense skills in Dallas could take his game to the next level."
Ojabo may be the fourth edge-defender off the board, but he has as much upside as top-10 picks Kayvon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson and George Karlaftis. In Ojabo's case, he's further behind on the developmental curve as a Nigerian-via-Scottish immigrant who started to play the game in high school as an alternative to basketball.
Even if Gregory returns, Ojabo's potential addition is exciting because the Cowboys could come at opponents in waves with both of them, Demarcus Lawrence and/or Micah Parsons attacking opposing quarterbacks. No defensive front would be feared more.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
The allure of Utah's Devin Lloyd starts with his versatility. He's unique compared to most collegiate linebackers because he plays Sam backer in base sets and then moves to Mike in sub-packages. His adaptability should be a strong selling point, especially for a team like the Kansas City Chiefs.
"The Chiefs still use a sort of odd linebacker rotation that features Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann despite the investment they put into young players such as Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr.," Klassen noted. "Above all else, Lloyd can provide a degree of speed and versatility that these other players do not offer as well. Lloyd plays with good speed, the ability to slip blocks in space and impressive coverage chops. Hopefully, he can be the full-time starting linebacker they have been searching for."
Hitchens' status may be the crux of this potential selection because the eight-year veteran turns 30 later this year and the Chiefs can save $8.5 million with his release.
Lloyd can step in and play alongside both Bolton and Gay to give the Chiefs a young and dynamic linebacker corps that would have the athleticism to match up with most offenses.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DL Logan Hall, Houston
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers received plenty of credit for maintaining the entirety of their starting Super Bowl lineup, and deservedly so. The upcoming offseason should be quite different with multiple free agents expected to depart, either through their or the team's choice.
The Bucs could be hit heaviest along the defensive front since Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Steve McLendon and Jason Pierre-Paul aren't under contract beyond this season. The transition from these veterans likely played a part in Tampa Bay signing nose tackle Vita Vea to a four-year, $73 million contract extension.
Vea will be the centerpiece in the middle, but he'll need running mates. Houston's Logan Hall would slide seamlessly into Tampa Bay's defense.
"Hall is a brawler," Klassen said. "He plays with heavy hands and a relentless leg drive that regularly overwhelms opponents. Though not the flashiest player or smoothest mover in space, Hall is the perfect guy to flip between 3-technique and 4i/5-technique for the Bucs defense. Hall is going to be a force in the run game and as a pocket-pusher for years to come."
Vea, Hall, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Shaquil Barrett would be a formidable four-man front.
31. Tennessee Titans: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
The Tennessee Titans seemingly have depth at cornerback, but it's suspect at best.
"Last year's first-round pick, Caleb Farley, is recovering from ACL surgery," Giddings noted. "The Titans should continue to look for help in the draft, and at this point, Clemson's Andrew Booth Jr. would be a great pick. This would give the Titans two young cornerbacks who they could build their secondary around."
Farley may have been a first-round pick less than a year ago, though he's not exactly the young cornerback the Titans will pair with Booth. Elijah Molden and Kristian Fulton are both excellent candidates. The Titans took a chance on Farley despite his extensive injury history only to see him end up on injured reserve. If he returns, stays healthy and shows the type of athleticism that warranted first-round consideration, the Titans will be well off in the secondary.
Until then, general manager Jon Robinson should hedge his bet, especially since the defensive unit has relied so heavily on Janoris Jenkins, who turns 34 next season. Booth is fluid in his movement and can immediately take over as an outside corner if the organization decides to release the veteran and save $7 million.
32. Green Bay Packers: DL Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
The Green Bay Packers will have plenty to worry about once their postseason run is complete.
Aaron Rodgers and the organization must come to some type of agreement, whether the quarterback decides to stay, chooses to play elsewhere or retires.
As that drama plays itself out, the Packers' roster is littered with pending free agents, including wide receiver Davante Adams, tight end Robert Tonyan and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell.
Plus, a team sitting at the back end of the first round can't force the situation. It needs to see what's available. In this case, an opportunity to bolster the defensive front with an ideal scheme fit alongside Kenny Clark is too tempting.
"Georgia's Devonte Wyatt might have the nastiest first step of any defensive lineman in this class," Klassen mentioned. "He erupts out of his stance at the snap of the ball. While his hand placement can get a bit wild, he is too explosive and smooth in space to not bet on."
Wyatt could take a spot from Kingsley Keke and give the Packers one of the biggest and most active fronts in football.