NFL mock draft 2022: How Matt Ryan trade, free agency alter first round

Another week, another mock draft attempting (yet again) to forecast the 2022 NFL draft.

The latest variable that might potentially shake up Round 1 was interjected by Monday’s trade of quarterback Matt Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons to the Indianapolis Colts. And while no first-round picks changed hands – amazingly, Atlanta didn’t even extract the Colts’ second-rounder, 42nd overall – the Falcons may have to reconsider their approach for importing Ryan’s long-term replacement.

The calculus for other clubs has also shifted as free agency, which has unofficially been ongoing for more than a week given the negotiating window opened March 14, lurches on. With Ryan and recent signings in mind, we nip and tuck the 2022 first-round projection once more:

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1. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: The Jags might have quietly altered the top of this draft after franchising LT Cam Robinson for the second straight year. While it would make sense to move Robinson to the right side – or keep him as a placeholder for another year while also drafting the next blind side sentinel for QB Trevor Lawrence – it’s pretty unusual to pay right tackles or temps $16.7 million. Yet why wouldn’t you create a fallback plan that better enables you to tab Hutchinson, who’s widely considered as the top prospect available this spring – a sentiment that may be growing? Engaging off the field, relentless between the lines and highly productive, the Heisman Trophy finalist set a Wolverines record with 14 sacks in 2021. The 6-7, 260-pounder would form quite the QB-hunting tandem opposite Jacksonville’s Josh Allen.

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2. Detroit Lions – DE Travon Walker, Georgia: They’re in a weird spot. Hutchinson would likely be a home-run selection if available, yet Detroit doesn’t need one of the draft’s stellar offensive tackles – that position set for the Lions with Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. Barring a trade, fast-rising Walker would be a sensible alternative, especially in the aftermath of DE Trey Flowers’ release. A scheme-diverse, explosive (4.51 40 time and 35½-inch vertical leap), 6-5, 272-pounder, Walker can pretty much do it all – from applying pressure to shutting down run lanes to dropping into coverage. He only had 9½ sacks in three seasons with the Dawgs, so the lack of production is slightly puzzling even when viewed in the context of Georgia’s depth and fact Walker often lined up inside. But the ability is there – and so, too, might be increased opportunities by teaming him with Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara, a trio that could form a decent pass rush.

3. Houston Texans – OT Evan Neal, Alabama: Even after landing the mother lode (three first-rounders and more) for QB Deshaun Watson, it would be perfectly sensible for GM Nick Caserio to deal this pick. He could also consider trading incumbent LT Laremy Tunsil in a bid for draft capital needed to reconstruct this tattered roster. But if the Texans stay put – regardless of Tunsil’s status – Neal (6-8, 337 pounds) would fit well given he can play either tackle spot or guard and could become a nice cornerstone of a team in dire need of a new foundation. He could solidify himself as the top tackle prospect with a strong showing at the Crimson Tide’s pro day next week.

4. New York Jets – OT Ikem ‘Ickey’ Ekwonu, North Carolina State: The NYJ do not appear blessed with a security blanket to protect second-year QB Zach Wilson given the way former first-rounder Mekhi Becton’s career seems to be coming off the rails – and the 6-7, 363-pounder might fit better on the right side, assuming he can stay healthy. Enter Ekwonu, who’s a mauler with sweet feet on the blind side – the 6-4, 310-pounder ran a sub-5-second 40-yard dash at the combine – and has more than enough upside to reach his All-Pro potential. And why not draft a kid who might not only be the best prospect in the field, but was also a star on stage as a kid – give him the chance to be … “Broadway Ickey?”

5. New York Giants – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: He’s 6-4 and 220 pounds with sub-4.6 speed and can shore up deficiencies at the second and/or third levels. Hamilton can provide coverage, a box presence, blitzing ability and an intimidation factor. And with veteran Logan Ryan’s release opening a job, sure seems like pairing Hamilton with improving Xavier McKinney would give Big Blue a heckuva safety tandem.

6. Carolina Panthers – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: Currently their only selection among the draft’s first 136 choices, Carolina – the Panthers have several gaping holes along the roster – better nail this. No. 6 may also be one of the draft’s early inflection points if GM Scott Fitterer can scratch together extra assets that might allow him to better address his left tackle, pass rush and quarterbacking issues after failing to lure Watson. But Thibodeaux may be too tantalizing to bypass, especially after the Panthers’ leading sack man in 2021, Haason Reddick, left for Philadelphia. Thibodeaux arguably has a higher ceiling than Hutchinson but is currently a more unrefined product – and somewhat enigmatic, his decision to skip combine field drills the most recent case in point. In 30 games with the Ducks, the 6-4, 254-pounder had 19 sacks and 35½ tackles for loss.

7. Giants (from Chicago Bears) – CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Cincinnati: Totally feasible that New York could take a pair of defensive backs in a three-pick span, this one obtained in last year’s draft day deal involving QB Justin Fields. Gardner would be a safe plug-and-play selection, the consensus All-American allowing only 20 receptions in 2021, picking off three passes and – evidence of his all-around game – posting 40 tackles and three sacks. And talk about shutdown, he never allowed a TD pass while with the Bearcats. His 6-3, 190-pound build is another selling point to a league that likes big corners. Adding Gardner might also trigger a deal of veteran CB James Bradberry and bring more needed draft ammo back to the Big Apple.

8. Atlanta Falcons – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: Ryan is gone and newly signed Marcus Mariota is more than likely a one-year stopgap. A team with this many personnel shortfalls (aside from quarterback) has several options, including a trade, given GM Terry Fontenot doesn’t have much cap space, dead money and all, to patch his problems even with Ryan’s exit. However the 2022 suspension of Calvin Ridley and free agent departure of Russell Gage may move wideout right to the top of Fontenot’s wish list. After laying down a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine, the 6-foot, 183-pound Wilson bolstered the argument he might be the top pass-catching prospect in a very deep class of them. He’s effective both outside and from the slot and is especially dangerous after the catch, scoring 13 TDs last season (one as a rusher). He would pair very nicely in the pass game – in whatever form it takes – with last year’s first-rounder, TE Kyle Pitts.

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9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State: Seattle is back in Round 1 after acquiring Denver’s pick in the Russell Wilson deal. So now what? The reflexive consideration is quarterback for a club currently mulling Drew Lock and Jacob Eason as its starting options. But it sure seems like coach Pete Carroll wants to get back to running the ball and playing suffocating defense, things the Seahawks often struggled to do in the latter part of Wilson’s reign. If they’re going to give Lock, presumably, and this offense a chance, it may be incumbent to go with a tackle given 2021 starters Duane Brown and Brandon Shell are both unsigned. Cross is an exceptional pass blocker, which doesn’t do Wilson any good but is a crucial asset for any team in today’s NFL.

10. Jets (from Seahawks) – OLB/DE Jermaine Johnson II: New York, owner of the NFL’s worst defense in 2021 (both in terms of points and yards allowed), needs plenty of help throughout its depth chart – but gets a boost after obtaining this selection in the 2020 Jamal Adams trade. Johnson would be a boon to a unit that’s long lacked an elite pass rusher and can only hope veteran DE Carl Lawson (Achilles tear) will be ready to go in 2022. Johnson (6-5, 254), who dazzled at the combine with a sub-4.6 40 time, comes off a productive senior season that included 11½ sacks and 17½ TFLs.

11. Washington Commanders – WR Drake London, USC: They nominally addressed their quarterback dilemma with the acquisition of Carson Wentz – and must be kicking themselves for not holding out for a player like Ryan to come free. But what better way to assist Wentz and supplement WR1 Terry McLaurin than with a 6-4, 219-pound Mike Evans type? London had seven TD grabs in eight games last season, which ended early due to a broken ankle that also kept him from competing at the combine.

12. Minnesota Vikings – CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU: His talents as a cover man are undeniable and were apparent for the 2019 national champions, for whom he had six interceptions, earning All-American honors for his efforts. But Lisfranc surgery limited him to three games in 2021 – a year after he was slowed by ankle issues – and prevented him from working out in Indy. But if Stingley performs well at LSU’s pro day on April 6, he could vault himself back into consideration as a top-five option, possibly ahead of Gardner. Either would be an asset to a Minnesota defense that has struggled in coverage lately and has not re-signed veteran CBs Patrick Peterson or Mackensie Alexander in free agency.

13. Texans (from Cleveland Browns) – LB Devin Lloyd, Utah: As Houston begins the post-Watson rebuild, really no area of the roster it should consider fortified. Lloyd provides an all-around skill set that allows him to be a multi-faceted weapon, something a 31st-ranked defense hasn’t enjoyed in some time. He had 22 TFLs in 2021 and might be capable of a Micah Parsons-lite impact in the pros. Yet Lloyd also has the speed, coverage and diagnostic skills to anchor the middle of the Tampa 2 defense new coach Lovie Smith has long employed.

14. Baltimore Ravens – DT Devonte Wyatt, Georgia: Combine standout Jordan Davis’ running mate in Athens, Wyatt actually ran even faster (4.77) than his buddy in Indianapolis … though he is a diminutive 6-3 and 304 pounds by comparison. Cat quick, Wyatt has the size that should allow him to operate in multiple fronts and roles. And, like Walker, his stats at Georgia probably suffered due to the Bulldogs’ deep rotation. Wyatt should be a top priority for a 25th-ranked defense now without veterans such as Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Houston on its front wall.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins) – WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas: Yes, this would mean a first-round wideout for a third consecutive year for Philly, but the team can afford this move given how flush GM Howie Roseman is with options in 2022. Burks’ 4.55 combine 40 seems downright pedestrian when stacked up against his receiver peers. But at 6-2, 225 pounds, he would bring a different element to a Smurf-ish group that hasn’t gotten enough from holdovers like Jalen Reagor or 2019 second-round bust J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Burks’ size would also be a plus for sometimes scattershot QB Jalen Hurts, and his potential as a Deebo Samuel-type weapon (1,216 yards and 12 TDs by way of 80 touches from scrimmage last season) would be a boon to any team while beautifully complementing 2021 first-rounder DeVonta Smith.

16. Eagles (from Indianapolis Colts) – CB Trent McDuffie, Washington: With a 4.44 40 time, elite cover skills and smarts, he’s pretty much made to order for a secondary that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it aside from CB Darius Slay. This is the spot Philly picked up in its 2021 Wentz deal.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa: An excellent athlete who locked down the left side in college, Penning would bring a little fire to the Bolts – a team that should continue upgrading the protection of QB Justin Herbert after the release of RT Bryan Bulaga and at a time when the AFC West is in a pass rusher arms race.

18. New Orleans Saints – DE George Karlaftis, Purdue: They also whiffed on Watson but brought back QB Jameis Winston on a two-year deal Monday – and that very likely takes the Saints out of the rookie quarterback market for at least this year. Going with a left tackle or wideout would be nice ways to retool around Winston, but this team’s 2022 playoffs hopes may once again largely reside with the defense. And with disappointing Marcus Davenport in the last year of his deal, and stellar DE Cam Jordan about to turn 33, giving new coach Dennis Allen another disruptor makes a lot of sense in a division where it’s all about stopping Tom Brady and the Bucs. In two full seasons (2019, 2021) for the Boilermakers, Karlaftis compiled 13 sacks, 32 QB hits and 64 hurries.

19. Falcons [PROJECTED TRADE with Eagles] – QB Malik Willis, Liberty: Why not, right? Philadelphia’s reload could benefit with some of its draft stockpile repackaged – maybe getting Atlanta’s 2023 first-rounder and change, or both of this year’s Round 2 picks or some combination thereof? From the Falcons’ perspective, Willis has to be an intriguing consideration given what an athletic quarterback like Ryan Tannehill did in coach Arthur Smith’s system. Willis, who moves like a tank and throws like a howitzer, could benefit from watching Mariota in the near term but also has the personality and leadership skills that could galvanize this team and city anew. And if Atlanta targets Willis, probably gonna need to leapfrog the Steelers to get him.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Matt Corral, Mississippi: He’s not big (6-2, 212 pounds), though might be a different story if you could measure his heart. He’s also got sizable arm strength and athleticism and might be the kind of guy you want to invest in for a year – or at least part of a season – before unleashing him. He needs to dial back his devil-may-care approach, which won’t work so well when he breaks the pocket to take on NFL defenders. But Corral would satisfy coach Mike Tomlin’s desire for a dual-threat QB and would allow outgoing GM Kevin Colbert to leave behind a new potential franchise face in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. And with Watson joining Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow in the AFC North, it’s going to take more than Mitch Trubisky and good defense for Pittsburgh to excel.

21. New England Patriots – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia: Perhaps the star of the combine after the 6-6, 341-pounder – and that’s a slimmed down version – blazed a 4.78 40 and looked great in the drills. An All-American in 2021, Davis also won the Bednarik Award as college football’s top defensive player. Imagine what Bill Belichick, who got 11 mostly dominant years out of massive NT Vince Wilfork, might do with Davis’ tool set.

22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders) – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State: No, the Pack haven’t drafted a receiver in Round 1 since former Brett Favre favorite Sterling Sharpe in 1988. Yes, this should be the year they’ll need to strongly consider it, most especially with the pick acquired in last week’s show-stopping deal for All-Pro Davante Adams, who had 110 catches in three of the past four seasons. Olave’s speed and smooth route running could eventually make him a clear-cut No. 1 option, not to mention his ability to find the end zone – that occurring 32 times in his last 33 games for the Buckeyes.

23. Arizona Cardinals – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama: Amid QB Kyler Murray’s contractual bellyaching, the Cards extended the contracts of GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury through 2027. So rather than make more short-term decisions on expensive and aging veterans, why not take a longer view? Williams might be a top-10 pick had he not torn an ACL in the national championship loss to Georgia. He’s a burner who was remarkably productive in 2021, averaging 100 receiving yards and a TD catch per game. As soon as he’s healthy, he’s got the goods to eventually assume WR1 duties from DeAndre Hopkins and – in the nearer term, maybe even in 2022 – he can contribute to a team that’s already lost Christian Kirk to free agency and may not bring aging A.J. Green back, either.

24. Dallas Cowboys – DT Travis Jones, Connecticut: Coming off his career with the Huskies, when he posted 8½ sacks and 19 TFLs in three seasons, Jones was a standout at the Senior Bowl before the 6-4, 325-pounder tested well at the combine – highlighted by a 4.9 40-yard dash. Dallas DC Dan Quinn has experience maximizing the talents of big men – think Red Bryant or Brandon Mebane – in this scheme, and Dallas definitely needs some heft in between DEs DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler Jr.

25. Buffalo Bills – LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia: The two-time-defending AFC East champs aren’t lacking for much – especially with pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller coming aboard – but could use more juice at the second level, especially as MLB Tremaine Edmunds enters his walk year. Dean’s instincts, range, intelligence, leadership and background with a championship program would make him a great fit … even if his 5-11, 229-pound stature is suboptimal.

26. Tennessee Titans – QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: He might be the most NFL-ready passer in the draft … though Nashville isn’t a place Pickett would have to play immediately. However change may be necessary sooner than later as Tannehill’s playoff shortcomings continue to mount. A four-year starter for the Panthers, Pickett has poise, accuracy, a quick release, production (4,319 yards and 42 TDs passing in 2021) and solid athleticism – perhaps enough NFL traits that he could slide into the driver’s seat for a capable outfit like Tennessee, which wouldn’t need its offense to revolve around him. Bonus: Monday’s Pitt pro day revealed Pickett’s hands have somehow expanded.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M: He played every O-line position but center for the Aggies in 2021 but took most of his college snaps at left guard … which is exactly where Brady would need him now that Ali Marpet has retired.

28. Packers – DE Boye Mafe, Minnesota: He had seven sacks in 2021, and his quick first step was partially quantified by the 6-4, 261-pounder’s 4.53 40 at the combine. A team that had to part with OLB Za’Darius Smith for cap reasons could certainly use another force coming off the edge.

29. Dolphins (from San Francisco 49ers) – C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa: The head coach, Mike McDaniel, is new, but the necessity to safeguard – and better evaluate – QB Tua Tagovailoa does not change. One seemingly obvious way to do that is by upgrading one of the league’s worst offensive lines with a consensus All-American and 2021 Rimington Trophy winner. Linderbaum’s upside and athleticism are hard to ignore – and should largely offset any concern about his short arms.

30. Kansas City Chiefs – CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson: Given how often the ball is – and likely will remain – in the air in the AFC West, you can never have enough good corners. And the Chiefs could definitely use a new one with Charvarius Ward off to San Francisco and Mike Hughes headed to Detroit. An All-ACC performer in 2021, Booth’s stock has slipped a bit after a leg injury kept him out of the combine plus last week’s revelation that he needs core muscle surgery. But he could represent solid value at this slot.

31. Cincinnati Bengals – CB Kaiir Elam, Florida: The AFC champs can actually look to improve other areas of their roster after getting three new offensive linemen for Burrow in free agency. Elam is a big (6-2, 191), fast (4.39 40) corner who could immediately push to replace Eli Apple as a starter for Cincy’s defense … which couldn’t slow down the Rams’ passing game in the pivotal moments of Super Bowl 56.

32. Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – DB Dax Hill, Michigan: He can play in the slot, box or center field, his 4.38 speed a welcome trait at any of those spots. And Detroit’s secondary remains a mess despite use of the third overall pick on CB Jeff Okudah in 2020. May as well give that Buckeye some help inside with a scrappy Wolverine.


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