Bold Predictions for 2022 NFL Draft from Bleacher Report Staff

NFL StaffContributor IApril 25, 2022

Bold Predictions for 2022 NFL Draft from Bleacher Report Staff

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    We've made it to the week of the 2022 NFL draft, which will take place in Las Vegas from Thursday through Saturday. Anyone who's interested in the predraft process has probably viewed a ton of mock projections. Why not go bold down the home stretch?

    Despite the importance of the quarterback position, we may not see a team select a passer until midway through the first round. Ironically, that's more realistic than a hot take.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick, and general manager Trent Baalke said the team has considered four prospects in that slot, which adds to the suspense leading up to Thursday.

    With that said, Bleacher Report NFL experts—Gary Davenport, Brent Sobleski and Maurice Motoncame together to provide some sizzling draft takes, which include some off-the-wall predictions, trade ideas and thoughts on the overall class.

    Let's tap into the minds of our three NFL analysts who have some opinions that will cross the line between brilliant and outright zany.

Most Surprising Pick

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    Liberty quarterback Malik Willis
    Liberty quarterback Malik WillisJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Gary Davenport: Malik Willis goes No. 2 overall to Detroit Lions 

    This wouldn't be a complete shocker—the Lions hosted Willis for a visit, and there has been some scuttlebutt that Detroit might consider the Liberty quarterback with the second overall pick. Lord knows Jared Goff isn't the long-term answer under center in Motown. But for all Willis' upside and potential, he's also very much a "project" quarterback. This is the sort of pick that either makes general managers look like geniuses or gets them fired.


    Maurice Moton: Tennessee Titans select QB Kenny Pickett at No. 26

    Last offseason, former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith accepted an offer to become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and Ryan Tannehill's production dipped significantly under new play-caller Todd Downing. He threw for 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while averaging 219.6 passing yards per game. Instead of adding a potential starter to a playoff team, the front office will put some pressure on its starting signal-caller.

    Tannehill may need an extended adjustment period in a new system, but he's going into his age-34 season with only two years left on his deal. The Titans attended Pickett's pro day, so if he's on the board, Tennessee may decide to pick him up for the long-term future. The Pittsburgh product could slip in the first round with only one highly productive collegiate term through four years as the primary starter.


    Brent Sobleski: Carolina Panthers pass on a quarterback with sixth overall pick 

    The Panthers haven't made a secret of the franchise's desire to upgrade behind center. They whiffed on trying to trade for Deshaun Watson, though. Russell Wilson landed with the Denver Broncos, and Matt Ryan was never in the cards. By missing out on those veteran options, the draft becomes the logical point to address the position, right? Wrong.

    Carolina has been thorough in its evaluations of this year's quarterback class. It will likely come to the same conclusion as many others: This year's QB crop is among the weakest in recent memory.

    The team shouldn't force the situation and take a new signal-caller just to take one. Instead, the organization can invest its first-round pick in a premium offensive tackle to address a glaring need. General manager Scott Fitterer can then make a play for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.

Biggest Draft-Day Trade

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    LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
    LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Gary Davenport: Pittsburgh Steelers move into top 10 to grab a QB

    It's not unheard of for the Steelers to make a move up in Round 1—the team traded up for linebacker Devin Bush back in 2019. But it would be pretty unprecedented for Pittsburgh to mortgage a future first-rounder to make a big move up the board.

    However, it's the dawn of a new era in the Steel City, and while Mitchell Trubisky may be a decent stopgap quarterback, he probably isn't much more than that. That's going to spur the Steelers to play Let's Make a Deal with one of the New York teams and shoot into the top 10 to grab either Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh or Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati.


    Maurice Moton: Philadelphia Eagles move into No. 10 spot for CB Derek Stingley Jr.

    Executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman takes another big swing via trade in the first round for consecutive years. In 2021, he made a move for wideout DeVonta Smith. On Thursday, the Eagles will slide into the No. 10 slot for Stingley.

    Though Stingley heads into the NFL with question marks concerning his durability and average play over the past two years, he still has upside because of his physical tools. Furthermore, teams remember his exceptional true freshman term at LSU when he recorded 15 pass breakups and six interceptions. The Eagles jump over the Minnesota Vikings (No. 12 overall), whom draft analysts have linked to Stingley. In the No. 11 spot, the Washington Commanders hang up on Roseman, but the New York Jets answer his call and take a deal.


    Brent Sobleski: Steelers move up for their preferred QB prospect 

    Think of this as Kevin Colbert's parting gift before he retires as the general manager. The Steelers are in limbo after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement because the team doesn't have a quality starting quarterback option in place. No, Trubisky isn't the answer. Pittsburgh's overt interest in all of the incoming quarterbacks signals what everyone already knows.

    The Steelers need a long-term solution behind center. But they sit further back with their current slotting. The 20th overall pick likely isn't high enough to choose their preferred target since the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints all pick in front of Pittsburgh. Colbert must make a move to make sure his beloved team will have some hope of a better future at the game's most important position. 

Biggest Steal of the Draft

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    Michigan edge-rusher David Ojabo
    Michigan edge-rusher David OjaboIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Gary Davenport: Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming

    When it comes to off-ball linebackers in the 2022 draft, all the talk centers around Utah's Devin Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean. At least one, and possibly both, will be first-round picks, while Muma may have to wait until Day 3 to hear his name called.

    But while Muma's 4.63-second 40-yard-dash time isn't blowing anyone away coming from a smaller school, he plays faster than that time, has great instincts and was wildly productive in college. Logan Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals has shown that Wyoming linebackers can be every-down players in the pros, and Muma is going to do Wilson one better. He's going to lead all rookies in tackles in 2022.


    Maurice Moton: David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan

    At Michigan's pro day, Ojabo tore his Achilles. Before his injury, B/R's NFL scouting department listed him as a first-rounder in a post-combine mock draft. Now, he may drop well into the second round, which is great value for a prospect with his talent.

    As a first-year starter, Ojabo logged 35 tackles, 12 for loss, 11 sacks and five forced fumbles through the 2021 season. Though he'll need to sharpen up his hand-fighting technique, the former Wolverine has the athleticism and fluid movement around the corner that clubs want in an edge-rusher.

    At 6'4", 250 pounds, Ojabo won't beat offensive linemen with power, but he knows how to use his speed and athleticism to collapse the pocket. If the standout pass-rusher slips to Day 2, one team will land an absolute steal at a premium position.


    Brent Sobleski: Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia

    No one ever got to see exactly what Woods could do at the collegiate level. The high school quarterback converted to tight end with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, where the coaching staff primarily used him in a blocking role. Upon transferring to Virginia, a knee injury slowed the renewed receiving target to a degree, though he did post career highs with 44 receptions for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. Woods' projection is built on two factors.

    First, he's a massive target at 6'7" and 259 pounds, but he's also an exceptional athlete. In fact, he posted the highest relative athletic score among tight ends over the last 35 years, according to Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte. Secondly, a fully healthy version of the tight end showed up at the Shrine Bowl and dominated the competition. He looked smooth, fluid and utterly uncoverable in the passing game.

    Woods has the potential to grow into one of the game's very best at his position. 

Hottest Draft Take

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    Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder
    Cincinnati quarterback Desmond RidderJeff Dean/Associated Press

    Gary Davenport: Desmond Ridder is the draft's best QB prospect

    There's been plenty said about Malik Willis' athleticism, Kenny Pickett's accuracy and Sam Howell's poise in the pocket. But while Ridder may not be the best prospect in his class in any one area, there also aren't any glaring weaknesses in his game. At the combine, Ridder showed that he's more athletic than he's given credit for. He's accurate, can make all the throws at the pro level and was a four-year starter for the Bearcats.

    The scouting department here at B/R graded Ridder as this year's top prospect under center. Most folks disagree, but after a few pro seasons, it's going to be shown they knew what they were talking about.


    Maurice Moton: Sam Howell will be the first QB in the class to start a game

    Howell hasn't generated a ton of predraft buzz, so he's under the radar in an underwhelming quarterback class that doesn't feature a clear-cut Day 1 starter. The North Carolina product ranked fifth among signal-callers in B/R's most recent draft rankings.

    Nonetheless, in the second round, Howell could land with a team that values his three-year collegiate starting experience. Keep an eye on the Seattle Seahawks, who have back-to-back selections at Nos. 40 and 41. If they pass on a quarterback with the No. 9 pick, the team may take Howell and allow him a chance to compete against Geno Smith and Drew Lock for the starting job. In that situation, he could beat two passers who have mostly struggled throughout their careers or replace one of them midseason.


    Brent Sobleski: Liberty QB Malik Willis is not a first-round talent

    Potential just means a player hasn't done it yet.

    In Willis' case, he presents the most physical potential of anyone in this year's draft class. Yet he's much further behind the other quarterback prospects on the developmental curve. Through no fault of his own, the Liberty Flames employed a simplistic offense thanks to Hugh Freeze's typical approach, and Willis thrived. The quarterback's mobility and raw arm strength are truly special. Some team will bank on those physical traits much earlier than it probably should because of what Willis could potentially become.

    Josh Allen's development skewed how many now look at the position. They see the outlier and think he's the new norm instead of understanding how much it took to get a talent like Allen to what he is now. For Willis, he simply wasn't asked to consistently make NFL reads and throws. His decision-making, how he sees the field and erratic ball placement are significant question marks.

    No one will ever deny Willis' upside. If his skills are properly harnessed, he'll be a massive headache for opposing defenses at the highest level. But he needs to learn how to play the quarterback position as the NFL demands. 

Off-the-Wall Prediction

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    Georgia wide receiver George Pickens
    Georgia wide receiver George PickensMichael Woods/Associated Press

    Gary Davenport: Four quarterbacks will be drafted inside the top 10

    There has been no shortage of lamentations regarding this year's crop of quarterbacks. In their latest mock at ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay forecasted that two quarterbacks (Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett) will be drafted in the top 20. Well, I'm here to tell you that double that number is going to get drafted in half as many picks.

    I'm already out on the proverbial limb with the Detroit Lions dropping jaws by taking Willis at No. 2 overall and with the Pittsburgh Steelers trading up to grab a signal-caller—for argument's sake we'll say a deal with the New York Jets to draft Desmond Ridder at No. 10. Now, add in the Carolina Panthers snaring Pickett at No. 6, the Atlanta Falcons rolling the dice on Sam Howell at No. 8, and you have four quarterbacks gone inside the top 10.


    Maurice Moton: Edge-rushers take the first four draft spots

    The Jacksonville Jaguars could take Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 1 overall pick, which isn't a surprise. At No. 2, the Lions may gamble on Travon Walker's upside to bolster their defense, which allowed the second-most points and fourth-most yards in 2021. The Houston Texans also need an edge-rusher after finishing 28th in pressure rate (20.7 percent) and tying for 27th in sacks (32) last year. They could select Kayvon Thibodeaux.

    Here's where it goes off the wall. The Jets may follow suit and make it four in a row for edge-rushers with Jermaine Johnson II. The Gang Green fan community would probably rather see him in the No. 10 slot, but the Florida State product fills a need for a defense that lost defensive end Carl Lawson for the entire 2021 campaign because of a ruptured Achilles. Even if he's back to 100 percent, the Jets need a consistent pass-rusher on the opposite side.


    Brent Sobleski: Eight WRs will hear their names called in the first round

    Just look at the way the NFL is trending. Young wide receivers around the league are demanding to be paid top dollar or be traded. Current financial standing has turned wide receiver into a premium position.

    As such, the market will overcorrect. Teams will see the writing on the wall and place an emphasis on drafting talented, young targets to get them on those sweet rookie deals for the next four to five years instead of paying a proven option at a rate of $20-30 million per season.

    In this year's class, six wide receivers—USC's Drake London, Alabama's Jameson Williams, Arkansas' Treylon Burks, Penn State's Jahan Dotson, and Ohio State's Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson—were already considered strong first-round possibilities. Two more could easily sneak into the back end of the first round with Georgia's George Pickens and North Dakota State's Christian Watson being the most likely candidates. After all, the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Lions all have picks after the 20th overall selection and could use more receiver help.