NFL Draft 2022: Latest Expert Mocks, Projections for Tough 1st-Round Decisions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIApril 10, 2022

NFL Draft 2022: Latest Expert Mocks, Projections for Tough 1st-Round Decisions

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Sometimes it's obvious which player will be selected first in the NFL draft. It was no surprise when Joe Burrow (2020) and Trevor Lawrence (2021) heard their names called to open the event in the past two years. Everybody knew that would be the case.

    Things are less certain for the 2022 NFL draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars own the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row, but there's no clear-cut top prospect on the board. So they could go numerous different ways, and their decision will greatly influence how the rest of the draft unfolds.

    The Jags aren't the only team that will have a tough decision to make in the first round. Other franchises will also have to choose between talented players at various positions.

    Here's a look at the teams with the toughest decisions to make and what expert mocks are projecting them to do.

Who Will Jaguars Take with the No. 1 Pick?

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    Last year, Jacksonville took Lawrence at No. 1 overall, acquiring a franchise quarterback to build around. This time, the Jaguars have options. Do they continue to strengthen their offensive line to protect Lawrence? Do they take somebody else on that side of the ball? Or could they add a defensive player instead?

    The Athletic's Dane Brugler has the Jags drafting NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu. And he's heard that could be the most likely scenario for how this year's draft begins.

    "Based on conversations at the combine, the NC State left tackle is absolutely in the mix for the Jaguars, with some around the league believing he is the favorite," Brugler wrote.

    But it's not a sure thing. ESPN's Todd McShay and's Chad Reuter each has Jacksonville taking Michigan edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson with the top pick. It's highly probable that Hutchinson will be taken either No. 1 or No. 2, as it's unlikely the Detroit Lions will pass over him if he's still on the board.

    The Jaguars have missed the playoffs in 13 of the past 14 seasons, so it's important they continue to have strong drafts and keep building a core that can help the franchise have success.

What Will Jets Do with Their Pair of Top-10 Picks?

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The New York Jets used the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft to take quarterback Zach Wilson. They won't be on the clock quite as early this year, but they have a good opportunity to bolster their core with a pair of top-10 selections: No. 4 and No. 10.

    It's possible that the Jets won't keep those picks, though. Reuter's mock has them trading the No. 4 selection to the Seattle Seahawks and the No. 10 selection to the Philadelphia Eagles. He has New York taking Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner at No. 9 and USC wide receiver Drake London at No. 15 instead.

    Whatever the Jets do, they are likely going to improve their offense to try to put Wilson in a better position to succeed. McShay is projecting New York to take Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson at No. 4 and Gardner at No. 10. Brugler, meanwhile, predicts it will draft Alabama tackle Evan Neal (No. 4) and Florida State edge-rusher Jermaine Johnson II (No. 10).

    And there are plenty of other talented prospects for the Jets to consider. So while there are many scenarios that could unfold for New York, the team with the longest active postseason drought in the NFL (dating back to 2010) needs to keep adding talent on both sides of the ball.

Are Panthers Going to Draft a New Franchise QB?

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Sam Darnold may not be the Carolina Panthers' long-term answer at quarterback. Last offseason, they acquired him in a trade with the New York Jets, but he didn't put up huge numbers in 2021, passing for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games.

    So it wouldn't be a surprise if Carolina opted to draft a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick. And it could be the first team to select a signal-caller this year. McShay is predicting that the Panthers will use the pick on Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, who is among the best quarterback prospects in a class that doesn't have a clear-cut top option.

    "Simply put, coach Matt Rhule needs to win now and has one of the worst quarterback situations in the entire league," McShay wrote.

    Carolina has other options, though. In Reuter's mock, Neal falls to No. 6 and the Panthers strengthen their offensive line by taking him. Brugler also has Carolina improving its O-line, although he has the team drafting Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning.

    Or maybe the Panthers take a different QB, as Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated recently reported the team was going to host Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis, Ole Miss' Matt Corral, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, North Carolina's Sam Howell and Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe for visits. So it appears Carolina is considering all its options at QB.