NFL Draft 2022: Reviewing Latest 1st-Round Expert Mocks with 1 Week Remaining

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2022

NFL Draft 2022: Reviewing Latest 1st-Round Expert Mocks with 1 Week Remaining

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    The 2022 NFL draft is going to be a fun one, in large part because we don't know what to expect. Heading into the 2021 draft, everyone pretty much knew that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were going No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and that the San Francisco 49ers were taking a quarterback third.

    Things are much different this year, with the drama beginning at No. 1 instead of No. 4. We're still not sure where the Jacksonville Jaguars are leaning with the first overall selection, and there's not much clarity after the first pick either.

    Draft predictions are all over the place this year, and that's helping to set up one of the most intriguing first rounds in years.

    Here, we'll dive into some of those predictions and search out the biggest disparities and most notable common threads from some of the latest mock drafts around the web.

    Let's start with what Jacksonville could do at No. 1.

Travon Walker the Trendy Pick at No. 1

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    Travon Walker
    Travon WalkerAssociated Press

    We're looking for fresh predictions, so today, we'll dive into Nate Tice's mock draft for The Athletic, a joint mock from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, one from CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso, and one from NFL Network's Peter Schrager—all four published this week.

    Three of the four mocks examined have the Jaguars taking Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker at No. 1, the ESPN mock being the exception. This seems to be the trending thought after Walker impressed during the predraft process.

    Walker ran hot at the scouting combine, posting a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and a 123-inch broad jump at 6'5" and 272 pounds. His traits could indeed mack Walker the pick over a "safe" prospect like Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson.

    "I would be more comfortable taking Walker in the teens of this draft, but he has excellent traits that are hard to find and could convince Jaguars decision makers that he is a moldable piece of clay with the always tantalizing 'upside' decision-makers love—even if his college production was severely lacking," Tice wrote.

    McShay and Kiper went with Hutchinson in their mock, and the former Wolverines standout could still be the pick. As Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer noted, Jaguars GM Trent Baalke could be pressured into avoiding a boom-or-bust player like Walker.

    "Multiple rival executives raised to me that Baalke is also sensitive to a perception problem he and his team have right now, and that he, and the team, will get roasted if they do anything other than take Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson or get a king's ransom for the pick," Breer wrote.

    With a week to go, though, draft experts seem to believe that the Jags will be willing to gamble at No. 1.

There Is Still No Consensus QB1

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    Malik Willis
    Malik WillisKendall Warner/Associated Press

    In the past three drafts, there has been a clear-cut top signal-caller. One must go back to 2018—when the Cleveland Browns took Baker Mayfield over Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson—to find uncertainty about the top prospect at the game's most important position.

    We're back to that point now, though, with Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett and Liberty's Malik Willis each in the mix to be QB1.

    Kiper and McShay have Willis as the first quarterback taken, as does Tice. Schrager and Trapasso both have Pickett going first—and both to the Carolina Panthers at No. 6.

    "With only one other pick in the top 140, I think the Panthers just take their QB of choice, hold their nose and deal with any draft-day critiques suggesting they reached with this selection." Schrager wrote.

    Tice is the only one not mocking a quarterback to Carolina, as he has the Panthers taking NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu instead.

    There's plenty of disparity to be found with the quarterbacks too. While two mocks have Pickett at No. 6, Tice has the Detroit Lions landing him at 34th overall. McShay and Kiper have the Pittsburgh Steelers taking Pickett at No. 20.

    It's also noteworthy that three of the four mocks have the Steelers taking a quarterback, and a different one at that. Schrager has the Steelers landing Willis, while Tice has them taking Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder.

    Trapasso projects a trade down for Pittsburgh that allows the Atlanta Falcons to move up and take Ohio State receiver Chris Olave.

Ahmad Gardner Is a Likely Top-10 Pick

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    Ahmad Gardner
    Ahmad GardnerJeff Dean/Associated Press

    There is no "sure thing" in this draft class and no real locks for a particular team or draft slot. Hutchinson appears close, as he's either the first or second pick in all four mocks examined here.

    Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner could be close to being a top-10 lock, and he's going to be one of the first defenders off the board. The former Bearcats star goes no later than 10th overall (Trapasso) in any of the four mocks.

    Kiper and McShay have Gardner going fourth overall to the New York Jets.

    "With the top three edge rushers gone, I think the Jets will go with the best defender available. Gardner can be a shutdown corner," Kiper wrote.

    Trapasso also has Gardner going to the Jets, only with their second of two first-round selections. Tice and Schrager both have him going to the New York Giants at No. 7.

    "Gardner is a long corner with the athleticism and coverage skills to live in the man coverage that Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves," Tice wrote.

    Another interesting thing to note is that Gardner seems to have supplanted LSU's  Derek Stingley Jr. as the top corner in this class. Stingley comes with health concerns following two injury-impacted seasons, but he has elite upside and is the seventh-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's big board.

    According to Schrager, "there's a big drop-off on teams' overall boards" after Gardner and Stingley. Both should go in the top half of Round 1.

    Right now, it looks like Gardner will go first.

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