When the NFL calendar hits December, there develops a key separation of teams with something for which to play in 2021 from those who need to start looking ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Jets, Giants and Eagles won’t be making the playoffs, but they can look forward most to next year with two first-round picks each. At the moment, based on their respective past trade partners — Seahawks, Bears and Dolphins — also looking like also-rans — those three marquee East Coast teams all would pick twice in the top 10.
With the fluctuating value of prospects before the college playoffs, bowls and all-star games ahead, there’s also a shakeup of where the best players, including the quarterbacks, might go. Based on the updated draft order, plus keeping in mind the structure of the current NFL playoff picture, here are the latest projections for the first-round picks in 2022, from 1-32:
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NFL mock draft 2022
1. Detroit Lions
Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon (6-5, 258 pounds)
There will be some local push to go after Michigan superstar Aidan Hutchinson, a native of the state, but he’s a better fit in a 4-3 front as a defensive end. But Thibodeaux, on top of the being the more athletic and disruptive pass rusher overall, is more versatile to thrive in Aaron Glenn’s front seven.
2. Houston Texans
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (6-0, 200 pounds)
The Texans need help in many areas but the ugly Deshaun Watson they need to think quarterback first above all else. They need to take a deep dive into whom they prefer most as a prospect, but it’s a good chance to be Corral. He is a dynamic athlete and confident runner who also shows aggressiveness with a big arm. He has quickly refined his raw skills under Lane Kiffin.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama (6-7, 350 pounds)
Trevor Lawrence will need better offensive line support in Year 2. So will Travis Etienne when he returns from his foot injury, to boost his running game. Neal is a no-brainer to dominate as a pass protector and run blocker for many years to come. Cam Robinson is fading badly as a pending free agent, so Neal should straight right away at left tackle.
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4. New York Jets (from Seahawks)
Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan (6-6, 265 pounds)
Hutchinson would be the ideal rebuilding block for Robert Saleh’s defense, with his high effort, energy and level of production in the Big Ten should remind of the 49ers’ star from Ohio State, Nick Bosa. The Jets also play the 4-3 scheme to maximize Hutchinson getting to the QB and also playing the run well.
5. New York Jets
Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU (6-1, 195 pounds)
The Jets have gotten some good cornerback play in the first year Saleh’s defense, but in a zone scheme that connects to Seattle’s “Legion of Boom,” they need a more dynamic playmaking presence. Stingley is a do-everything impact defensive back who can cover a lot of ground and different types of receivers. Hutchinson and Stingley would be an amazing combination to upgrade the pass defense.
6. New York Giants
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa (6-3, 290 pounds)
The Giants would be smart to double up on can’t-miss offensive lineman in the first round. Linderbaum, an intelligent rock of an interior blocker and a perfect long-term line leader, would be a great fit, too, as a major upgrade from Billy Price.
7. New York Giants (from Bears)
Ikem Ekwonu, G, N.C. State (6-4, 320 pounds)
While Linderbaum bumps the Giants up from Price, Ekwonu can change the game at guard replacing another pending free agent, Will Hernandez. Saquon Barkley would love to have this nasty and powerful run blocking flanking Linderbaum.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame (6-4, 220 pounds)
The Eagles will have a need at safety in 2022, either needing to replace aging Rodney McLeod or pending free agent Anthony Harris. Hamilton makes a lot of sense as an intelligent all-around force to clean up for defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (from Dolphins)
George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue (6-4, 275 pounds)
The Eagles also need to rev up the edge pass rush defensively with Brandon Graham tearing his Achilles’ before his age 34 pending free agent season and Derek Barnett heading into free agency. Karlaftis possesses elite athleticism for his size and is still tapping into his immense pass-rush potential.
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10. Carolina Panthers
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (6-1, 215 pounds)
The Panthers brought Cam Newton back and got intrigued by what a running threat at QB can do for the rest of Joe Brady’s offense. What was missing was the big arm and less wear. Willis has a cannon for an arm and great speed. He should have the potential to make scouting jaws drop at the position and make them less concerned about his small-school status given his awesome play so far.
11. New Orleans Saints
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 189 pounds)
The Saints need to address wideout with Michael Thomas’ future clouded by injury and discontent, so it’s nice they can go back to Ohio State, this time in the first round instead. Olave has great speed, quickness and burst to emerge as their new No. 1 for whoever’s the quarterback.
12. Atlanta Falcons
- DeMarvin Leal, DT/DE, Texas A&M (6-4, 290 pounds)
The Falcons need more impact up front with Grady Jarrett given Jonathan Bullard is a pending free agent. Leal is a versatile disruptor who can thrive lining up anywhere inside or outside on Dean Pees three-man front. He’s shown off his interior pass-rushing skills with 8.5 sacks but he also is a stout run stopper.
13. Minnesota Vikings
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (6-3, 235 pounds)
The Vikings will need to address the second level for Mike Zimmer with oft-injured aging Anthony Barr heading into free agency along with Nick Vigil. Lloyd is a strong rangy athlete who stands out making plays, with smarts and good instincts made for their zone scheme.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Colts)
David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan (6-5, 250 pounds)
The Eagles shouldn’t mind going bookends for their 4-3 after taking Karlaftis out of Purdue. Ojabo would give them another flashy freakish player after his speed, explosiveness and energy added up to his big rise behind his end-mate Hutchinson.
15. Cleveland Browns
Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State (6-0, 188 pounds)
The Browns also should be in the market for a No. 1 outside and can also tap into Columbus for much-needed passing game pop in Cleveland. Wilson has been a good complementary technician to Olave and does everything required of him well but he also has his share of big-play qualities.
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16. Pittsburgh Steelers
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (6-3, 220 pounds)
Pickett has surged into first-round consideration with other big-name QBs fading thanks to outstanding play to make the Panthers a formidable ranked offensive-minded foe in the ACC. He has natural deep-ball accuracy and football intelligence, both which profile well in the current Steelers offense under Matt Canada. The ideal successor is lining up for Ben Roethlisberger.
17. Denver Broncos
- Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (6-4, 215 pounds)
Ridder has been a great, tough leader for the Bearcats, also showing he’s a natural dual threat for the NFL with his strong arm and running skills. The Broncos are getting good play from Teddy Bridgewater but he’s only a bridge and Drew Lock already has proved not to be John Elway’s answer.
18. Las Vegas Raiders
- Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M (6-4, 325 pounds)
Whether’s it’s left guard John Simpson or pending free agent right tackle Brandon Parker, the Raiders need an offensive line upgrade to support Kolten Miller. Either way, they should think about moving Alex Leatherwood outside. Green gives them options. His size and strength profile as that of a long-time run-blocking rock.
19. Washington Football Team
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State (6-5, 310 pounds)
Charles Leno Jr. has been solid at left tackle for them but he’s 30 and on a one-year deal. They got rookie Sam Cosmi to shore up right tackle and figure to spend again to keep Brandon Scherff at right guard, so it makes sense to replace Leno with more of a long-term Charles. Cross has a powerful upper body, strong hands and a mean and nasty aspect to his blocking.
20. Los Angeles Chargers
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (6-6, 340 pounds)
The Chargers have a terrible run defense and it starts with showing more punch in their 3-4 front. Brandon Staley should be in the search of his new version of Aaron Donald. Davis, the Bulldogs’ best defender, has great athleticism to disrupt plays with his massive frame.
21. Miami Dolphins (from 49ers)
Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia (6-0, 225 pounds)
The Dolphins need a big upgrade from Elandon Roberts and Jerome Baker for Brian Flores. Dean is having a big year, honing his pass rush skills inside on top of his rangy athleticism that allow him fly sideline-to-sideline to make plays. There were concerns about his size (heft vs more than height) but his playmaking is starting to more than compensate for that.
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22. Buffalo Bills
The Bills will need to address cornerback should they let Levi Wallace walk in free agency. Elam has the size and coverage efficiency to develop into a savvy shutdown type.
23. Detroit Lions (from Rams)
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (6-1, 220 pounds)
The nature of this draft should allow for some good value for a potential long-time starting quarterback late in the first round. This would be ideal for the Lions to land Thibodeaux earlier and land their passer of choice here. Howell is a smart, seasoned and accurate pocket passer.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson (6-0, 200 pounds)
The Bengals have played much improved defense but still are weak at cornerback with well-traveled Eli Apple starting before his pending free agency. Booth is a strong, active corner who has the speed and ball skills to make a lot of big plays.
25. Dallas Cowboys
Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn (6-0, 190 pounds)
The Cowboys need a steady complementary corner to Trevon Diggs and an upgrade outside from Anthony Brown. McCreary has risen up boards because of his size, physicality, fluidity and ability to play well in any downfield coverage scheme.
26. Kansas City Chiefs
Drake London, WR, USC (6-5, 210 pounds)
The Chiefs need to add a viable third option to complement Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce with Mecole Hardman not being that guy and three wide receivers heading into free agency. London matches his nice catch radius with great hands and quickness, which makes him a big-play and red zone threat.
27. Tennessee Titans
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa (6-7, 321 pounds)
The Titans still have Taylor Lewan on the left side but could use an upgrade at right tackle who can also succeed him when needed in a few years. Penning can develop his athleticism while using his strong, powerful frame to help them in the downhill running game.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati (6-3, 200)
The Buccaneers may not be able to afford to re-sign Carlton Davis with other free agency priorities to keep Tom Brady’s contending team intact. Gardner has great agility given his length and can move around wherever need to handle vertical or horizontal coverage.
29. New England Patriots
Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington (5-11, 195 pounds)
The Patriots may pass on re-signing J.C. Jackson to a massive and expensive deal before he enters free agency. McDuffie has appeal as a replacement who can develop well for Bill Belichick. He offers great explosiveness and quickness to stay with his coverage assignments.
30. Green Bay Packers
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (6-3, 225 pounds)
Regardless of what happens with Davante Adams in free agency, the Packers are long overdue to use a high draft pick to either complement him better or to try to Burks is a huge size-speed target with reliable big hands to match.
31. Baltimore Ravens
Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State (6-1, 200 pounds)
The Ravens could use an upgrade in safety as they haven’t been the same since the Ed Reed days and didn’t get what they needed from Earl Thomas. Brisker is adept at making plays all over the field with his great speed and range plus smarts to read quarterbacks well in coverage.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State (6-4, 260 pounds)
The Cardinals have liked throwing to the tight end to add another element to their offense but both Maxx Williams (coming off major injury) and Zach Ertz (31) are free agents in 2022. McBride offers toughness, good hands and ability to stretch the seam. He uses his body well when running routes.