Looking to the future is what Dec. 31 is all about.
As we all look back at what 2021 gave us — for good and bad — the hope that is born in the calendar turning over to a new year springs eternal.
For half of the NFL, the focus has already shifted to 2022 and the upcoming draft. For the other half, the playoff races are making life exciting for players, executives and fans. All while COVID continues to insert itself into the narrative at every turn.
Let’s take a moment before our calendars turn over to look ahead to the future. What could the 2022 NFL Draft look like? Here’s our latest three-round mock draft.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
Jacksonville has a clear path to selecting No. 1 overall with the Lions once again deciding they didn’t want the pressure/prestige of making the first overall pick. They’ll have their pick of the entire board, and we’re betting they go for the blow-you-away athleticism of Thibodeaux off the edge.
2. Detroit Lions — Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
A match made in heaven! The Lions need a face of the franchise. Hutchinson, in every way a “Michigan Man,” went back to Ann Arbor to beat Ohio State and did that — and earned runner-up honors in the Heisman voting along the way. He’s a superstar, and the Lions need that. The fact that he’s relatively home grown makes this a PR dream come true.
3. Houston Texans — Derek Stingley, Jr, CB, LSU
What we don’t know right now is whether or not the Texans will be able to trade Deshaun Watson by the time the draft begins/during the draft. What we do know is taking a QB at No. 3 is a huge reach in ’22. So they’ll take a talented corner instead.
4. New York Jets — Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
We’ve been locked on Hamilton being a great fit for the Jets and them taking the star safety from Notre Dame for almost the entire season. Great player + significant need = perfect pick. They’re back on the clock in a couple picks.
5. New York Giants — George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
We’ve been all over the place with the Giants’ first pick of the first round. They need a linebacker, a pass rusher, probably could use some depth at receiver and in the secondary, and need to protect whomever is their quarterback (another need). We’re going edge here with a great player from Purdue. They’ll be back on the clock soon as well.
6. Carolina Panthers — Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
The Panthers made the deal for Sam Darnold last year and it looked great over the first few weeks of the season. Then Darnold went back to the Darnold Jets fans have come to know too well, and they’re picking in the top ten with quarterback as a big need once again. Pickett’s your consensus QB1 in this class.
7. New York Jets (from SEA) — Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
They used their first pick on what they hope is a franchise quarterback a year ago, so now we’re going with the best tackle in the class to protect him. Neal is a terrific player and would improve the Jets’ offensive front. They may go interior offensive line here, but the top tackle being available gives them options.
8. New York Giants (from CHI) — Ikem Ekwomu, OL, North Carolina State
The Giants need help up front like their friends in the other home locker room at MetLife Stadium. With Neal off the board, they’ll go inside with a lock-down guard. This could be a wild card pick in the draft with the Giants also needing a potential future quarterback or going linebacker.
9. Washington Football Team — Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi
Washington has a huge need at quarterback and should be able to take one of the top players on the board with a top-ten selection. Corral can spin it and could be a sexy add for a team that needs someone to deliver on offense.
10. Atlanta Falcons — Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Atlanta has huge needs everywhere, and this could be where we see the talented group of receivers start coming off the board. They might look for a future heir to Matt Ryan here as well. But protecting their quarterback is a glaring need and Cross is really good at tackle.
11. Denver Broncos — David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Ojabo would theoretically come in to replace Von Miller. No pressure, kid. But he had a terrific season at Michigan opposite Hutchinson and would be the kind of impact player with great character the Broncos covet.
12. Minnesota Vikings — Andrew Booth, Jr., CB, Clemson
Lots of needs again in Minnesota, who have some ridiculously talented skill position players on offense but can’t get out of their own way and win games. We’ve got them looking at secondary help with their first pick. They still owe Kirk Cousins too much money to go quarterback this early.
13. Cleveland Browns — Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Browns had a terrific group of receivers. Now they need to restock at the position. Taking Wilson, a top prospect from the Buckeyes, is a marketing win and the right player at a position of need.
14. New Orleans Saints — Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Williams, formerly of Ohio State, would be a solid potential replacement for Michael Thomas — also, formerly of Ohio State. The Saints desperately need a quarterback but we think they’ll look for value later in the draft before reaching if Corral (the best fit for Sean Payton’s offense in this class in our opinion) is off the board.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers — Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa
The Steelers, like the Saints, have a huge need at quarterback. They, too, won’t reach for that player in the middle of the first round. Instead, we think the Steelers draft a center to anchor their offensive line for the next decade. Linderbaum could be a top ten overall selection. He’s a stud.
16. Baltimore Ravens — DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
The Ravens have seemingly always drafted insanely well. Leal falling to them would be the kind of pick that makes them always look so good. He’s top-ten talent and has the versatility to play inside or outside on a defensive front. This is tremendous value at position(s) of need for Baltimore.
17. Las Vegas Raiders — Drake London, WR, USC
The Raiders have had plenty of off-field issues this year and now need to replace recently drafted players at receiver and corner. We’ve got London, a potential superstar, going to Vegas here. He’s the kind of receiver who makes quarterbacks look good.
18. Los Angeles Chargers — Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Chargers need to improve their defense in a division that’s getting better around them. We’ve had Dean going as high as the Giants inside the top ten overall in previous mocks, but could see the inside linebackers sliding a little. This would be a great get for the Chargers.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA) — Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
20. Philadelphia Eagles — Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The draft sets up for the Iggles to have back-to-back picks here, which is much better than a couple months ago when it appeared Philly could have had all three of their first rounders inside the top 12 overall. The Eagles are expected to go heavy on defense early in the draft but we think they’ll consider a good tackle if the right one’s available in the first round.
21. Miami Dolphins (from SF) — Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
The Dolphins have surged into playoff contention, so this pick being only a couple places behind where their pick is naturally slotted works out well for Miami. Green is a supremely gifted inside lineman who holds his own.
22. Cincinnati Bengals — Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Bengals could use a little swagger on defense, and “Sauce” could be a huge addition to their secondary. He’s got the size and playmaking ability that could see him off the board well before the Bengals are on the clock.
23. Buffalo Bills — Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
The Bills defensive front is a huge issue. They can’t stop the run. We would absolutely love to see them land Jordan Davis, but having his teammate available here would be a nice pick as well.
24. New England Patriots — Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Pats have some needs on defense, specifically at corner and linebacker. But taking a No. 1 receiver for Mac Jones would be a nice thought. And Olave is precisely the kind of receiver the Patriots love. This would be a nice fit this late in the round.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (from IND) — Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The Eagles would improve their defensive front significantly if Davis and Lloyd were two of their first three picks. An anchor tackle and playmaking linebacker would change the dynamics of that side of the ball immediately.
26. Arizona Cardinals — Cameron Thomas, EDGE, San Diego State
The Cardinals could go a number of directions here, but we’ve got Thomas as the best available player who fits a potential need. He’s a marvelous athlete who gets after the quarterback well. This pick could also be up for grabs if the Cardinals feel they can move back and add future picks without sacrificing value.
27. Tennessee Titans — Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
The top tight end in the class slides into the late first round in this mock. McBride would be the kind of player who Mike Vrabel would use in a number of ways, giving his offense more options and layers of deception.
28. Detroit Lions (from LAR) — Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
The College Football Playoff is a huge accomplishment for Cincinnati, and Ridder is a huge part of their success. With Atlanta, Minnesota, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and even Vegas potentially considering a quarterback earlier in the round, he could be long gone. But the Lions are looking for a winner; Ridder is absolutely that.
29. Dallas Cowboys — Drake Jackson, DE, USC
The Cowboys will need to replace their depth on the defensive front and Jackson is the kind of player that fits what they’ve been building on that side of the ball.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Bucs would love to rebuild their depth at linebacker and defensive line but the better value for them in an area of need here is corner. McCreary is one of the top prospects in the ’22 class and would be a nice fit. If Tampa’s the far back in the draft, they might just go ahead and move back a little more to add additional assets.
31. Kansas City Chiefs — Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
The Chiefs being at No. 31 means another Super Bowl appearance for Patrick Mahomes and Co. But the bell is going to toll for their receiving group at some point and this might be a spot where they look to replenish that position. But the top safety in the draft to help their secondary is a smart play as well.
32. Green Bay Packers — Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Back-to-back Nittany Lions to finish the first round would play well in Happy Valley. Dotson is a nice prospect who could potentially be the first receiver off the board. The Packers may need to replace both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams so thinking receiver here makes sense.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars — Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State
34. Detroit Lions — John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
35. Houston Texans — Logan Hall, DT, Houston
36. New York Jets — Jalen Wynermyer, TE, Texas A&M
37. New York Giants — Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
38. New York Jets (from CAR) — Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
39. Seattle Seahawks — Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky
40. Chicago Bears — Daxton Hill, DB, Michigan
41. Washington Football Team — Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
42. Atlanta Falcons — Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama
43. Denver Broncos — Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia
44. Minnesota Vikings — JJ Enagbare, EDGE, South Carolina
45. Cleveland Browns — Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
46. New Orleans Saints — Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
47. Pittsburgh Steelers — Carson Strong, QB, Nevada
48. Baltimore Ravens — Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
49. Las Vegas Raiders — Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
50. Los Angeles Chargers — George Pickens, WR, Georgia
51. Miami Dolphins — Brandon Smith, EDGE, Penn State
52. Philadelphia Eagles — Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
53. San Francisco 49ers — Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
54. Cincinnati Bengals — Zion Johnson, iOL, Boston College
55. Buffalo Bills — Jaxson Kirkland, OL, Washington
56. New England Patriots — Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
57. Indianapolis Colts — Storm Duck, CB, North Carolina
58. Arizona Cardinals — Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia
59. Atlanta Falcons (from TEN) — Nik Bonnito, EDGE, Oklahoma
60. Denver Broncos (from LAR) — Thayer Munford, OT, Ohio State
61. Dallas Cowboys — Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State
62. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
63. Kansas City Chiefs — David Bell, WR, Purdue
64. Green Bay Packers — Myjai Sanders, EDGE, Cincinnati
65. Jacksonville Jaguars — Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
66. Detroit Lions — Obinna Eze, OT, TCU
67. Houston Texans — Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M
68. New York Jets — Arnold Ebiketie, EDGE, Penn State
69. New York Giants — Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
70. Jacksonville Jaguars (from CAR) — Jahleel Billingsley, TE, Alabama
71. Seattle Seahawks — Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
72. Chicago Bears — Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati
73. Washington Football Team — Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama
74. Atlanta Falcons — Riley Moss, CB, Iowa
75. Denver Broncos — Cade Otten, TE, Washington
76. Minnesota Vikings — Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State
77. Cleveland Browns — Cam Taylor-Britt, CB, Nebraska
78. Houston Texans (from NO) — Dontay Demus, Jr., WR, Maryland
79. Pittsburgh Steelers — Damone Clark, LB, LSU
80. Baltimore Ravens — Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota
81. Las Vegas Raiders — Kellen Diesch, OT, Arizona State
82. Los Angeles Chargers — John Ridgeway, DT, Arkansas
83. New York Giants (from MIA) — Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
84. Philadelphia Eagles — Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State
85. San Francisco 49ers — Romeo Doubs, WR, Nevada
86. Cincinnati Bengals — Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State
87. Buffalo Bills — Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State
88. New England Patriots — Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
89. Indianapolis Colts — Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia
90. Arizona Cardinals — Jermayne Lole, DT, Arizona State
91. Atlanta Falcons (from TEN) — Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
92. Denver Broncos (from LAR) — Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson
93. Dallas Cowboys — Logan Bruss, OL, Wisconsin
94. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Zachary Carter, DT, Florida
95. Kansas City Chiefs — Braxton Jones, OT, Southern Utah
96. Green Bay Packers — Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
97. Detroit Lions (comp) — Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State
98. New Orleans Saints (comp) — Sam Williams, EDGE, Mississippi
99. Pittsburgh Steelers (comp) — Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati
100. Baltimore Ravens (comp) — Jalen Catalon, S, Arkansas
101. Los Angeles Rams (comp) — Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame