2022 NFL Draft: 10 Predictions with Under a Month to Go

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVApril 6, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: 10 Predictions with Under a Month to Go

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    With the majority of impact free agents already signed, it's clear NFL teams have moved their focus toward the 2022 draft. The April 28-30 event is less than one month away, and front offices are jockeying for position. A whopping five first-round picks have already been traded this offseason.

    After evaluating each free-agent move and gaining insight from the combine and pro day performances, we've put together 10 predictions about how the draft will play out. They address team needs and follow the trends each front office has shown us in the past. The draft is the most unpredictable event of the year, so expect most mock drafts you've seen to look ridiculous in hindsight.

    From major trade-ups to shocking selections, let's sink our teeth into the possibilities.

10. New Orleans Trades Up Again for Malik Willis

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    The New Orleans Saints made an aggressive move to acquire a second first-round pick three weeks before the draft. By giving up the 18th pick, a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick in 2022, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick, the Saints acquired the 16th pick, the 19th pick and a sixth-rounder from the Philadelphia Eagles.

    This mortgaging of future selections only makes sense if the Saints have their eye on a quarterback.

    New head coach Dennis Allen welcomes back many key roster pieces and coaches from last year's staff after Sean Payton's departure, meaning he can afford to swing on the quarterback of the future. Even though Jameis Winston did a fine job in 2021 before tearing his ACL, the Saints may not have a better opportunity to get a star signal-caller.

    Trading up from the 16th pick into the top 10 for Malik Willis makes the most sense.

    Willis is a dynamic talent who has enormous upside. Carolina (No. 6 pick), Atlanta (No. 8) and Seattle (No. 9) should all consider drafting the former Liberty star. To prevent the Panthers from landing the dual-threat quarterback, the Saints should cash in their two first-round picks to get a future franchise passer.

    Trading up with their newly acquired 16th and 19th picks, plus a middle-rounder, to the New York Giants for No. 5 would be a clean deal in terms of the value for both teams.

9. Kayvon Thibodeaux Doesn't Slide

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    Early speculation that Kayvon Thibodeaux would slide closer to the 10th pick than the top pick will look foolish come draft night. While there's been questions about the edge-rusher's drive throughout the draft process, the former Oregon star was as productive and consistent as any defender in this class.

    He's incredibly talented and can be a defensive cornerstone with the right staff.

    There's not a better staff in the top 10 to develop Thibodeaux's raw talent and youthful energy than the Detroit Lions'. We saw how their coaches, filled with former players, resonated with an undermanned roster throughout 2021. Their ability to relate and get the most out of their players will instill confidence in general manager Brad Holmes' decision to grab Thibodeaux at No. 2.

    The Lions' future can quickly brighten with the addition of a franchise pass-rusher and whoever they take with the 32nd overall pick. The alternative would be awkward and riskier than taking Thibodeaux, considering there's not a corner, safety or a playmaker worthy of the selection.

    The drop in on-field play from Thibodeaux to Georgia's Travon Walker is just enough that the Lions must not fall for Walker's combine dominance. Walker's career production pales in comparison to Thibodeaux's 19 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and seven pass deflections in 30 games. While stats aren't everything in projection, it's notable Walker had only 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and three pass deflections over 32 contests.

8. Jimmy Garoppolo Is Traded to Carolina

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    Only two notable veteran quarterbacks remain on the market, and both the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks have been left without a clear answer at the position for 2022.

    With Baker Mayfield wearing out his welcome in Cleveland after injuries and behind-the-scenes issues with several coaching staffs, his value is next to nothing. Instead, the Panthers need a veteran who will reliably execute an offense and be a leader in the locker room.

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the perfect fit, as head coach Matt Rhule is fighting for his job. While a rookie is tempting, bolstering the offensive line with the sixth pick and acquiring Garoppolo is wiser.

    With a competent quarterback and improved set of blockers, the Panthers can challenge for a wild-card spot in 2022. Last year's horrible offensive display was due to inept quarterback play from Sam Darnold and Cam Newton, below-average blockers and major injuries to playmakers.

    Garoppolo isn't a perfect player and has his own injury issues, but he's been beloved in the 49ers locker room for his toughness and personality. He's accurate within a good scheme and rarely derails the offense.

    We're predicting San Francisco will move him for a 2023 draft pick as it recoups some value, sheds his $24.2 million salary and turns to the Trey Lance era.

7. Kyle Hamilton Lands Outside the Top 10

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    One unfortunate reality hits every draft cycle: The media overrates a player compared to NFL evaluators. Notre Dame's talented safety Kyle Hamilton is the top player at his position in this class after a stellar career, but talk of his going in the top five was artificial. His pro day 40-yard dash time of 4.7 seconds further cemented he'd be an extremely risky top-10 pick when factoring in his positional value.

    Hamilton's lack of top-end speed showed on tape too. While he is experienced in a variety of assignments and his large 6'4", 220-pound build is intriguing for tight end coverage, most of his highlights simply show him being in position to tackle the receiver instead of making plays on the ball.

    He's nowhere near the prospect that Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James were as safeties.

    If Washington at No. 11 or Houston at No. 13 pass on Hamilton, he could free-fall into the 20s. That may be the best-case for him so expectations aren't unrealistically high. He's a solid player who will work well within a team unit, but he's not a surefire superstar.

6. Kansas City Trades Up for Jameson Williams

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs' decision to trade Tyreek Hill instead of paying him like the star he is will be one of the most controversial moves of the last few years if the Chiefs fail to reach the Super Bowl in the next three seasons. Hill is an irreplaceable playmaker, and the team must retool its offense to feature more traditional concepts to offset his loss.

    The best way to lessen the blow is to inject similar speed.

    Alabama's Jameson Williams will not fall too far despite tearing his ACL in January. His top-end speed makes him an ideal fit for any offense, and the receiver class has a considerable drop-off after the obvious first-rounders. It's hard to imagine Williams would fall farther than New England at No. 21.

    With the 29th and 30th picks, Kansas City has the ammunition to move up into the teens for Williams and fill a massive hole in its offense. The Chiefs could also steal Williams from their divisional rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers, if they can leap ahead of the 17th pick. Using one of their late first-rounders and one of their second-round picks as key parts of a move up is an easy cost to swallow for Williams.

5. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave Are the Top 2 Receivers Drafted

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    Speed and versatility are must-haves for any receiving corps, putting a premium on the position. It just so happens that the most polished and pro-ready receivers in this class come from the same university: Ohio State. Former Buckeyes Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will continue to excel as they hear their names called first at the position.

    The Atlanta Falcons can justify going several directions at No. 8, but taking one of the two can restore balance to an offense that has lost receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage within the last year. Wilson is the higher-upside prospect because of his ability to win contested catches and his elite speed. But Olave isn't far behind.

    Olave was seemingly always wide open throughout his career. His 4.39 40-yard dash verified his ability to get past defenders, and his polished route running is best-in-class. The New York Jets at No. 10 and Washington Commanders at No. 11 would benefit immensely from his addition.

4. Nakobe Dean Falls Out of the 1st Round

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    There's always a collegiate star who falls into the second round because of concerns that seem overblown in the moment. Most mock drafts have Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean falling in the first round, but it's much more likely he's pushed into the second round. His blend of small measurables, lack of explosive physical traits and the way linebackers are valued will hurt his stock.

    The 5'11", 229-pounder is as tough as nails and has excellent leadership qualities. He's the type of linebacker Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would love thanks to his intellect and instinct, but not someone who will succeed in just any situation. The scheme must protect Dean more than a traditionally sized linebacker with similar skills.

    There's not an obvious fit for Dean at the end of the first round besides the Dallas Cowboys at No. 24. While Dallas could justify moving Micah Parsons to the edge full-time, the team could also simply take an edge defender and continue unleashing Parsons' full powers as a hybrid presence.

    It's more likely Dean finds a home early on Day 2.

3. The Bills Grab Breece Hall

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    Few teams have the right situation to justify taking a first-round running back who isn't a lock to be an All-Pro for many years. This season, only the Buffalo Bills have the right roster situation to overlook needs at more premium positions if the right back is on the board.

    With the 25th pick, they must consider taking Iowa State's Breece Hall.

    He is the top back in this year's class, and he's furthered the gap between himself and his peers through athletic testing. The 5'11", 217-pounder blazed a 4.39 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical and 10-foot, six-inch broad jump at the combine. He's an elite athlete as well as a polished but punishing back

    The Bills offense has sorely needed a more reliable option who can also spring big plays. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary are mere depth pieces, whereas Hall can be a Pro Bowler thanks to his rushing and receiving ability. Supercharging this offense as much as they can around Josh Allen is the best move they can make.

2. Houston Ruins Mock Drafts by Selecting Travon Walker

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    The biggest winner from the draft process has been Georgia defensive end Travon Walker. He didn't fill the stat sheet like his peers in part because the Bulldogs were deeper and more talented than any defense in recent memory. He made evaluators go back to the film after putting up Myles Garrett-type athletic numbers between the combine and his pro day, and he's shot up boards.

    Walker, at 6'5" and 272 pounds, is a prototypical pass-rusher. He dropped jaws with his explosiveness numbers, which are critical for elite NFL edge-defenders to possess. Notably, he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, a 4.32-second 20-yard shuttle and a 6.89-second three-cone drill, and posted a 10-foot, three-inch broad jump.

    Those numbers have put Walker in the discussion for the top overall pick for good reason. Every defense needs a physical marvel to create havoc, and Walker has that upside. Currently, few projections have Houston considering Walker at No. 3, but it makes far more sense to take the Bulldogs defender than a corner or safety, considering the status of the Texans roster.

    Unless Houston wants a quarterback, Walker is the most obvious choice if he's on the board.

1. Aidan Hutchinson Goes No. 1

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    It's hard to imagine the Jacksonville Jaguars would take an offensive tackle No. 1 after investing so much into the position over the last few years. Their decision to franchise-tag Cam Robinson for the second time was a good sign the team plans to take an edge-rusher No. 1 overall. Considering the dominant season and fantastic combine that Aidan Hutchinson produced, he's the best pick for the Jaguars.

    The Heisman Trophy runner-up checked all of the boxes throughout his senior season. He took over key games against Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa by notching a combined seven sacks in those matchups. He erased any doubt of his ability to derail powerful offenses single-handedly, and even Georgia threw several defenders at him throughout the Orange Bowl to lessen his impact.

    At 6'7", 260 pounds with stellar change-of-direction marks and a relentless motor, there's not a better face for change in Jacksonville both in terms of mentality and impact. We could see Hutchinson moved between defensive end, outside linebacker and defensive tackle to take advantage of his physical gifts and terrorize less talented blockers.

    Other options such as Travon Walker and Kayvon Thibodeaux aren't lacking in talent or upside, but Hutchinson has a nearly flawless resume. The Jaguars need certainty as they rebuild their image after a disastrous 2021 season, and there's no cleaner fit than the former Wolverine.