Most Ideal Landing Spots for 2022 NFL Draft's Top Prospects

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2022

Most Ideal Landing Spots for 2022 NFL Draft's Top Prospects

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, and each of them has had a different experience in his inaugural NFL campaign.

    No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence has struggled to consistently play a competent brand of football, while 15th pick Mac Jones has performed like a seasoned veteran more often than not. This doesn't mean Jones was a better quarterback prospect all along, of course, only that he landed in a much, much better situation.

    Jones plays for the New England Patriots, who are still in the hunt for a division title. Lawrence plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are close to locking up the top draft pick for a second successive year.

    The 2021 season has been a stark reminder that draft status doesn't yield NFL success quite the way landing in the right spot does. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels utilizes a run-heavy, timing-based offense that is perfect for a pocket-passing distributor like Jones.

    Here, we'll examine the top 10 prospects on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's draft board and pair them with ideal 2022 landing spots. Factors like team need, supporting cast, scheme and coaching style will be considered when applicable.

    We're also keeping these potential pairings in the realm of possibility. Teams are always capable of trading up, but only teams currently projected to pick inside the top 16 will be considered here.

    Players are listed according to their draft-board ranking.

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos

    Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is the top-ranked prospect on the B/R board, but it's worth noting that three of the top four prospects are edge defenders. There's no telling the order in which they'll be drafted, and teams with traditional 4-3 base defenses could potentially bypass Thibodeaux.

    "He'd ideally add more mass to his frame if drafted by a 4-3 team," Drae Harris of The Draft Network wrote of Thibodeaux.

    The Denver Broncos, currently 11th in the draft order, could move into the top five to snag Thibodeaux if he starts to fall.

    There's little doubt that the 6'5", 258-pound Thibodeaux could fit right in with the New York Jets or Houston Texans, but the Broncos could provide a more ideal home. Denver defensive coordinator Ed Donatell runs more of a 3-4 scheme with linebacker Bradley Chubb often working as a dedicated pass-rusher.

    With Von Miller no longer in Denver, Thibodeaux could slot in as Chubb's pass-rushing complement with a tremendous secondary filling in behind them. The Broncos rank sixth in passing yards allowed and third in points allowed.

    With excellent coverage in the secondary and Chubb drawing his fair share of blocking attention, Thibodeaux should have frequent opportunities to add to his rookie sack total in Denver.

2. George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue

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    New York Jets

    At 6'4" and 275 pounds, Purdue's George Karlaftis is better-suited to power-rush from the end position than Thibodeaux. He won't necessarily win with speed around the edge, but he can collapse the pocket and bulldoze his way into opposing quarterbacks.

    "He does not appear to play with the ideal length and separation skills as an edge defender, but he's become quite refined as a puncher and with his shedding techniques to help enable him to win ground and get good 'knockback' at the point of attack," Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network wrote.

    The Jets happen to run more of a traditional 4-3 front, and they could use an edge defender in a big way. Carl Lawson should return from his torn Achilles in 2022, but many of New York's sacks have come from interior pressure.

    Defensive tackles Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins are responsible for nine of New York's 33 sacks.

    While the Jets' defensive rankings (last in yards and points allowed) might suggest otherwise, head coach Robert Saleh knows how to generate quarterback pressure. As the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator in 2019, he oversaw a pass-rushing rotation that utilized Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa.

    Saleh could have a similar rotation involving John Franklin-Myers, Lawson and Karlaftis. Despite being part of a rotation, Bosa went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019. Karlaftis might just do the same in New York.

3. Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

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    Jacksonville Jaguars

    If the Jaguars hold onto the No. 1 pick, there's a high likelihood they use it on one of the top three pass-rushers. However, Alabama left tackle Evan Neal could be a better option. Jacksonville already has one high-end pass-rusher in Josh Allen. What they may not have in 2022 is a franchise left tackle to protect franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

    Cam Robinson, who is playing on the franchise tag, has done an admirable job of protecting Lawrence this season. He's been responsible for only five penalties and one sack allowed through his first 856 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

    However, if Robinson leaves in free agency, the Jags will have a need on Lawrence's blind side. Jacksonville might not be willing to commit to Robinson based on this year alone, either. Between 2019 and 2020, he was responsible for 16 penalties and 13 sacks allowed, according to PFF.

    If Jacksonville tabs Neal as its left-tackle-of-the-future, it will be getting a tremendous player. According to PFF, Neal allowed just one sack in 532 pass-blocking snaps this season. Keith Sanchez of the Draft Network compared Neal, as a prospect, to Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr.

    Protecting and developing Lawrence should be Jacksonville's No. 1 priority moving forward, regardless of who the next coach is. Neal would be a smart choice at No. 1, and the Jags could offer him the chance to block for a quarterback with perennial All-Pro potential.

4. Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Detroit Lions

    Though he's ranked as the No. 3 pass-rusher on the B/R board, Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson could still be the first off the board. A high profile won't hurt his draft stock, and Hutchinson and the Wolverines just played on a massive stage in the Orange Bowl.

    ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has Hutchinson as his top prospect.

    "Hutchinson plays a powerful game and is truly relentless in pursuit," McShay wrote. "He also has fast eyes and locates the ball really well. I also like his inside move, and his ability to line up on either side and drop in coverage will be valuable to NFL teams."

    A short trip from Ann Arbor to Detroit could provide Hutchinson with a nice transition to the NFL. The Lions—who have just 25 sacks on the season—could desperately use a player of his caliber. While Detroit's defense may not be loaded with talent, it plays extremely hard for head coach Dan Campbell.

    Detroit is one of the league's most talent-starved teams but has won two of its last five games.

    Campbell's "bite-a-kneecap-off" philosophy should mesh perfectly with the high-motor Hutchinson, and the Plymouth-born, in-state product could become the new face of the Lions defense.

5. Tyler Linderbaum, IOL, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    New York Giants

    Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is unquestionably an ideal draft choice for the New York Giants. The Giants need help along their offensive interior in a big way. Guard Will Hernandez has been responsible for eight penalties and seven sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Center Billy Price has five penalties and one sack allowed, per PFF. Both are scheduled to reach the free-agent market this offseason.

    Linderbaum, meanwhile, might be the best center prospect in recent memory and perhaps the highest-taken ever.

    "I do believe that Linderbaum is good enough to become the highest center drafted in the modern era, particularly in this class where the first-round talent is more evenly dispersed rather than focused heavily at the top," Brandon Thorn of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    New York could offer Linderbaum an immediate starting opportunity and a chance to block for running back Saquon Barkley, who, ideally, will finally return to Pro Bowl form in 2022.

    Barkley hasn't been the same since tearing his right ACL in 2020, but he was an electric playmaker in his first two seasons. Blocking for a player who compiled 3,469 scrimmage yards in his first two seasons should be a joy for an interior lineman like Linderbaum.

6. Ikem Ekwonu, OL, North Carolina State

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    New York Giants

    If the season ended today, the Giants would have two picks in the top eight thanks to last year's trade that allowed the Chicago Bears to draft Justin Fields.

    Partnering versatile North Carolina State lineman Ikem Ekwonu with Linderbaum and 2020 first-round tackle Andrew Thomas could quickly turn a subpar Giants line into a tremendous one. Ekwonu could play either tackle or guard but might be best-suited on the interior.

    "I think he is a better fit at guard in the NFL, and he can develop into a mauling starter there," McShay wrote. "Ekwonu plays with an edge and looks to bury defenders."

    Thomas has been much better in his second season, at least when healthy. He briefly landed on injured reserve with an ankle injury but has allowed just two sacks in 740 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

    If the Giants take Linderbaum and Ekwonu is willing to play left guard, he could join arguably the best left side in football.

7. Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Carolina Panthers

    We're pairing the No. 7 prospect with the Carolina Panthers, who currently hold the No. 6 pick in the draft. This potential partnership is about more than numbers, though. Carolina would give Davis an opportunity to become a star.

    The Panthers feature a stout front seven headlined by defensive tackle Derrick Brown and pass-rushers Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. Of course, the partnership could be contingent on Carolina keeping Reddick and allowing defensive tackle DaQuan Jones to depart in free agency.

    If that happens, Davis could help form one of the best defensive fronts in football. He and Brown would make for a promising young interior tandem, though Brown hasn't fully lived up to his potential as the seventh pick in the 2020 draft.

    Regardless of how Brown continues to develop, Davis would benefit greatly from Burns and Reddick attacking on the edges. The range of those two should help push runs inside, where Davis is capable of swallowing ball-carriers.

    The Panthers have struggled to stop the run in recent weeks, surrendering at least 110 rushing yards in five of the past six games. Davis could help Carolina turn the proverbial corner in that department.

8. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

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    Atlanta Falcons

    LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. has been out since October with a foot injury, but that may not impact his draft stock significantly.

    "Stingley doesn't have a history of injuries, though. If he is able to fully recover from his injured foot and doctors clear him at the NFL combine, he should get the thumbs up as an elite prospect," Cory Giddings of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    If Stingley does remain the top-ranked cornerback prospect, he could find a fine fit with the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta already has one elite pass-defender in A.J. Terrell, who was arguably this year's biggest Pro Bowl snub.

    Terrell has 15 passes defended, three interceptions and has allowed an opposing passer rating of only 60.8, according to Pro Football Reference.

    What's better than having one shutdown corner? Having two, of course, and the Falcons could have exactly that by snagging Stingley and potentially forging the league's best young cornerback tandem.

9. Drake London, WR, USC

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns

    The Cleveland Browns are now officially out of the playoff race. If the season ended today, though, they would own the 13th pick in the draft. It's not a stretch to see Cleveland trading into the top 10 to land USC wideout Drake London.

    Donovan Peoples-Jones currently leads the Browns with a mere 483 receiving yards.

    Cleveland has a massive need for a No. 1 receiver, and London could fill that role perfectly. With a 6'5" frame, he is capable of making contested catches down the field and in space off play-action. He would be a perfect vertical target for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who tends to miss high when he's off target.

    London's physicality would also mesh perfectly with Kevin Stefanski's run-oriented offense.

    "In the run game, he has the potential to be a dominant run blocker due to his toughness, length, and competitive spirit," Drae Harris of The Draft Network wrote.

    The Browns will likely fall out of London's range if they go on to make the playoffs. However, Cleveland would give him the chance to immediately become a top target and a star.

10. Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    New York Jets

    Like the Giants, the Jets could end up with two top-10 selections. They currently have their own No. 4 selection, plus the Seattle Seahawks' No. 7 pick from the Jamal Adams trade.

    With Adams long gone and fellow safety Marcus Maye set to hit free agency—and also on injured reserve with a torn Achilles—New York should have an immediate starting spot available for a draft prospect like Kyle Hamilton.

    The Notre Dame product could fill multiple roles in New York's defense.

    "Hamilton is a nightmare matchup for offenses," McShay wrote. "He has great size and closing burst while playing all over the defense. You'll see him line up deep in coverage, over the slot and even at linebacker."

    Hamilton would be a fantastic addition for New York, as he could help cover AFC East tight ends like Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Dawson Knox. The Jets haven't had a defender like him since Adams was traded, and in New York, Hamilton could become a defensive superstar.


    *Salary-cap and contract information via Spotrac. Draft order via Tankathon.