It’s time for the prognostication to give way to actual picks.
The 2022 NFL draft is set to start Thursday in Las Vegas, and fans are still largely in the dark as to how the first round could take shape. But teams themselves also might be in for a surprise, as there are a number of different ways that Day 1 could pan out. And while coaches and general managers might have left some bread crumbs in recent weeks, there also might have been several smokescreens to hide decision-makers’ true intentions.
With all that in mind, here’s USA TODAY Sports’ final 2022 NFL mock draft:
NFL DRAFT RANKINGS:Who are top 50 prospects in 2022 class?
NFL DRAFT TWISTS:These moves could create chaos in first round
ADVICE:What all 32 teams should do to maximize NFL draft picks
MORE:Five players who could fall out of NFL draft’s first round
SURPRISE:Five prospects who could rise into NFL draft’s first round
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
In an NFL draft that has been shrouded in mystery for months, Walker ascending all the way to the top would be a fitting outcome. Though Aidan Hutchinson is the more proven pass rusher and seemingly more stable projection, the 6-5, 272-pound athletic marvel is the kind of rangier player who aligns with Trent Baalke’s style. While he should make his mark early blowing up run plays, Walker ultimately will be judged on whether he can post the gaudy sack numbers expected of a No. 1 pick. And after posting just 9 1/2 sacks in three years at Georgia, he will have to develop his pass-rush plan to better utilize his 4.51-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
2. Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
Would the hometown prospect long seen as the front-runner for the top spot make for an open-and-shut case for the Lions? With his abundant athleticism and relentless motor, Hutchinson seems like exactly the kind of prospect that coach Dan Campbell would covet. Even if he never becomes the outright “game-changer” that general manager Brad Holmes is seeking in this slot, the 6-7, 260-pounder could still spark the Lions’ rebuild by becoming a cornerstone of the defense.
3. Houston Texans – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
General manager Nick Caserio’s intentions are difficult to pinpoint, and there are a number of different directions he could go with this selection. Stingley, however, would give an undermanned defense a potential lockdown corner with sublime ball skills to make a play on any pass thrown in his area.
4. New York Jets – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Gang Green seemingly has more pressing needs, but general manager Joe Douglas isn’t in position to pass up the best player available – especially one who can help out second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. A nimble mover at 6-4 and 310 pounds, Ekwonu could take over at left tackle if the Jets want to cut bait on Mekhi Becton, but he should help fortify the front regardless of where he ends up.
5. New York Giants – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Perhaps finally the Giants can put their issues up front behind them. New general manager Joe Schoen might face a difficult decision between Neal and Charles Cross, but the 6-8, 337-pound Alabama product would be a natural answer at right tackle given his strength, massive frame and consistent track record against college football’s best edge rushers.
6. Carolina Panthers – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Barring a trade back, sure seems more reasonable for Carolina to grab a long-sought left tackle than force the issue at quarterback here. Cross is already ahead of the curve as a pass protector, and he could become even more formidable as he fills out his frame and develops a stronger anchor.
7. Giants (from Chicago Bears) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Start up the “Big Apple ‘Sauce'” headlines. A smothering presence at 6-3 and 190 pounds, Gardner sizes up as the perfect cornerback for defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s hyper-aggressive scheme. All the better for a secondary that likely will be bidding farewell to James Bradberry in the near future.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Drake London, WR, USC
Plenty of different potential considerations for a team that is going to “take it on the chin” in a transition year, according to general manager Terry Fontenot. A good starting point, however, might be a go-to target for arguably the league’s most underwhelming collection of wide receivers. While Atlanta has been linked to Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson frequently, the 6-4, 219-pound London has demonstrated he can be the focal point of a passing attack, and his massive catch radius and box-out skills would help Marcus Mariota settle in until the Falcons identify a successor.
9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, OLB/DE, Oregon
This would mark a precipitous fall for Thibodeaux, who could be in play as early as No. 2. Should he last this long, it would be no-brainer for Pete Carroll and Co. to grab a game-wrecking pass rusher to reboot a defense that looks to be in a precarious position.
10. Jets (from Seahawks) – Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
Much as the Jets might be drawn toward a wide receiver at this slot, ignoring their last-ranked defense with each of their top-10 picks would be a dangerous move. Instead, Robert Saleh gets his coveted pass rusher, albeit not with the Jets’ top selection. Though Johnson isn’t as bendy as the other top edge rushers ticketed for the top 10, he can deploy his long frame, powerful punch and agile feet to routinely beat blockers and make plays in the backfield.
11. Washington Commanders – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
How about a nearly all-Buckeye receiving corps with Wilson joining Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel? The 6-0, 183-pound target can make life easier for Carson Wentz with his acrobatic grabs and knack for turning short passes into long gains, though he’ll have to work on becoming a more polished route runner.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Minnesota has been in search of stability in the secondary for years, and McDuffie might be the right man to provide it. The 5-11, 193-pound cornerback is well schooled at the nuances of the position, allowing him to stay glued to receivers all over the field.
13. Texans (from Cleveland Browns) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Grabbing a first-round safety might seem like a luxury for a Texans team dotted with deficiencies, but this is a roster in need of reliable playmakers. Hamilton can deter defenses from testing an otherwise suspect secondary and punish them if they do.
14. Baltimore Ravens – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
With the top-tier cornerbacks and pass rushers spoken here, Baltimore takes a different route for bolstering its defense. Lloyd is a do-it-all defender in the middle, capable of jump-starting the pass rush as a blitzer and holding down a variety of coverage responsibilities.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
One year after hitting it big by trading up for DeVonta Smith, the Eagles could be poised to strike for another prolific Crimson Tide wide receiver. In this scenario, however, Philadelphia doesn’t have to move up to draft the speedy Williams, who should be a game-breaker once fully recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the national championship game.
16. New Orleans Saints (from Indianapolis Colts via Eagles) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
If the Saints are truly intent on taking Willis, they might be inclined to move up a few spots to get him, and there should be several takers looking to recoup more assets in a deal. As it stands, however, this very well could be the first draft since 2013 to not feature a quarterback in the top 10. Of all Willis’ possible landing spots, New Orleans might be the most promising, as the 6-1, 219-pound passer could sit behind Jameis Winston before taking over a playoff-caliber outfit with ample support on both offense and defense.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
One year after locking down the left side of their line with Rashawn Slater, the Chargers could be poised to search for an answer at right tackle. Penning represents a significant gamble as a raw pass protector who could be in for a jolt in his transition from the Football Championship Subdivision, but the 6-7, 325-pound blocker has substantial upside if he can clean up his fundamentals.
18. Eagles (from Saints) – Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave aren’t signed beyond this season, and Philadelphia would benefit from adding someone alongside 2021 third-rounder Milton Williams for a potential changing of the guard on the interior. The 6-6, 341-pound Davis could continue to make waves in a rotational role as a rookie while preparing for a starting job by working on his conditioning.
19. Saints (from Eagles) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Regardless of whether the Saints invest highly in a quarterback, New Orleans should be in good position to add a needed complement to Michael Thomas. A smooth route-runner with certifiable deep speed (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Olave figures to be an early asset for the passing attack, no matter who is behind center.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Time to see exactly what the Steelers’ buy-in for a quarterback is. Would they really risk letting their passer of choice be scooped up before this spot? Or might outgoing general manager Kevin Colbert pull an uncharacteristic move and part with future assets to leap up the board? With Willis off the board, Pittsburgh trains its focus on Pickett as the potential challenger to Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph
21. New England Patriots – Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
Surprised? Don’t be. The 6-4, 241-pound Walker is another Georgia defender on a rise that could take him all the way to the first round. He shows recognition skills far beyond his limited experience as a one-year starter, and his rare combination of size and athleticism could be a major draw for Bill Belichick.
22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders) – George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Passing on a receiver with this pick might make Aaron Rodgers apoplectic. But with the top four pass catchers off the board, Green Bay might be inclined to wait a little longer for a pass catcher. Karlaftis would deepen and diversify the Packers’ pass rush by providing a punishing presence up front.
23. Arizona Cardinals – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
A fine way to invigorate a passing attack prone to stalling would be to equip Kyler Murray with a major threat after the catch. That’s the role that the 6-2, 225-pound Burks should fill with his next team, though Kliff Kingsbury might need to get more creative in order to find ways to get the ball in the hands of an underdeveloped route runner.
24. Dallas Cowboys – Zion Johnson, G, Boston College
If Johnson is available at this spot, there shouldn’t be much debate among Dallas’ decision-makers. Sturdy from his frame to his play, the 6-3, 312-pound blocker fits the bill of what the Cowboys need from the interior of their offensive line after last year’s rocky experience.
25. Buffalo Bills – Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
Brandon Beane said recently that the team is not looking for a “short-term fix.” That mentality could aid the odds for Gordon, a dynamic playmaker with burgeoning coverage skills but a
26. Tennessee Titans – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Maybe it’s not the flashy move that some might desire for a team that flamed out of the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 1 seed and could be due for a more significant change to keep pace in the conference. Green, however, offers a dose of versatility and reliability to a front that could hold the key to Tennessee’s fortunes as is.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Even amid the win-now landscape for Tampa Bay in Tom Brady’s return, the Buccaneers can serve their short- and long-term interests with this selection. The versatile Hill operates comfortably either from deep or in the slot, and his ability to slide in as a cornerback could serve a defense that is set to have Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting hit free agency next year.
28. Packers – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Don’t rule out the possibility that the Packers wait until the second round to add a receiver, depending on who’s available. Here, however, the 6-3, 195-pound Pickens steps in as a needed vertical threat who can win over Rodgers with his attacking approach.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (from San Francisco 49ers via Dolphins) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Keeping up with the newly recharged AFC West could be a severe challenge for Kansas City’s secondary, especially after parting ways with Charvarius Ward and Tyrann Mathieu. At 6-2 and 191 pounds, Elam antagonizes wide receivers with his physicality at the line of scrimmage and his fluidity to mirror routes.
30. Chiefs – Boye Mafe, DE, Minnesota
A double-dip on defense probably isn’t what many expected for Kansas City when it added another first-round pick via the Tyreek Hill trade. But the Chiefs can’t expect to secure highly disruptive pass rushers with their four Day 2 picks, and Mafe offers the kind of explosiveness off the edge that’s hard to find anywhere in the draft.
31. Cincinnati Bengals – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Well-built (6-0, 194 pounds) and aggressive, Booth gives the Bengals a battle-tested cornerback who can start off the bat. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add his playmaking skills given that the only player on last year’s defense with more than two interceptions was linebacker Logan Wilson, who hauled in four.
32. Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
Another hard-charging vocal leader for the defense should make Detroit’s brain trust joyful with its first-round haul. The 6-2, 199-pound Cine is at his best working downhill, though he has the makings of a promising piece in man coverage.