NFL Mock Draft: Michigan's Hutchinson takes over top spot originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The strength of this draft class seems to be evenly distributed between the offense and defense. According to this mock there are 16 first round players a piece for each side of the ball.
Of course, there are several bowl games, a playoff tournament, the NFL combine and an assortment of campus "pro days" remaining to fully assess these prospects. However, I'm betting this will be a much more balanced draft than what we've seen over the past few years. Enjoy.
1. Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, DL, Michigan
For 11 consecutive weeks (12 of our 13 mock drafts) we've listed Kayvon Thibodeaux as the potential first pick in next year's draft. That distinction now belongs to Aiden Hutchinson, an impactful edge rusher and Heisman Trophy hopeful, who over the last few weeks has played inspired and determined with four sacks in his last two contests.
Hutchinson generated three sacks versus bitter rival and yearly tormentor Ohio State to win the Big Ten East Division and another sack against Iowa in winning the Big Ten Championship. Athletically underrated, Hutchinson is also bigger than Thibodeaux, standing an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier. Lastly, Hutchinson -- a native of Michigan, playing for his state college -- could ultimately play for his state's professional football team as its first overall pick.
2. Jaguars: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
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Drafting Neal would only improve an offensive that is 31st in scoring (15 points per game) and ranks sixth worse with a 35.1 percentage at converting third downs. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, its 23.6 percentage rate of ending drives with an offensive score is second worse in the NFL, whereas the league average currently sits at 37.3 percent. Neal's ability to drive block defenders in the run game and barricade edge rushers on passing plays, could immediately translate into better offensive production for the Jaguars.
3. Texans: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
If either Thibodeaux or Hutchinson -- the best pass rushers in this class -- are available when Houston picks, the Texans will be tempted to take one of the two. However, the more likely choice may be Corral, an athletic signal caller with a solid compact throwing motion and NFL level accuracy. In lieu of the legal issues revolving around former star quarterback, Deshaun Watson, Houston's onerous task of restoring its brand and image will begin by drafting Corral as his replacement.
4. Jets: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
The Jets front office decision makers could be pinching themselves if Thibodeaux were to fall to them in the fourth overall draft slot. Taking an elite and explosive edge rusher like Thibodeaux should alleviate the necessity to rely on blitzing to pressure the quarterback. Using exceptional acceleration and balance, Thibodeaux attacks in a variety of ways that keep offenses guessing. At times, Thibodeaux is arguably the most athletic player on the gridiron, showcasing speed that is intimidating and next level ready.
5. Jets (via SEA): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
How amazing would it be for the Jets' organization to draft back to back cornerstone building blocks for a beleaguered franchise that has struggled for decades? If this current draft order remains intact, New York may be able to effectively transform itself into overnight playoff contenders, improving its image and team branding significantly since the days of "Broadway" Joe Nameth. Across the board, most scouts and draft pundits consider Stingley an athletic prodigy with game-altering, playmaking skills beyond his years.
6. Giants (via CHI): Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The 2022 NFL draft will be held in Las Vegas. From 1965 to 2014, the draft was held at various venues throughout New York City. Imagine how memorable and possibly magical it would have been, if both New York football franchises were to have picks four through seven being called in the Big Apple at next year's draft. Should this drafting order subsist, the Giants would have the fifth and sixth slots and be able to significantly enhance the team's talent and quality depth. Lloyd is a leader and arguably the most complete inside linebacker in this draft class. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, he is an excellent blend of athleticism and discipline.
7. Giants: Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Kenyon Green's versatility as an offensive lineman could help at either guard or tackle for the G-Men. Green is an unrelenting road grader and stout pass protector. An enormous man with mass (6-foot-4, 325 pounds), Green, nonetheless is as flexible as many athletes half his size. Sound in technique and form, Green's ability to stay low in his stance increases his leverage against opponents. Extremely powerful with an explosive burst from his stance, he typically devastates defenders and dominates at line of scrimmage and beyond. An instant starter for the Giants' offensive line.
8. Falcons: DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Leal is possibly the most versatile and difficult to block defensive lineman in this draft class. An athletic 6-foot-4, 290 pounder, Leal's quick, balanced feet enhance his ability to hold his base and shift weight when battling at the line of scrimmage. To date, he's accumulated 25 tackles for loss and 13 sacks that attest to his disruptive skill set. Atlanta desperately needs help defensively, having allowed 363.3 yards per contest over the last three years combined (6th worse in NFL). Flash forward to this season, where the Falcons surrender 27.7 points per game, ranking 31st in the league.
9. Panthers: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Kismet -- fancy word to describe destiny or fate, which is exactly what it would be for Howell, if he's drafted by his home state's professional football team. Born and raised in North Carolina (Indian Trail, N.C.), Howell has competed at the University of North Carolina, amassing over ten thousand passing yards and a combined total of 110 touchdowns. The Panthers are unstable at the quarterback position, sometimes playing adrift and directionless like a rudderless boat. They need someone like Howell, a strong armed quarterback with competent athleticism, whose potential can be tapped by the right organization.
10. Vikings: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Minnesota's pass rush, particularly from its edge position, is unproductive and in disarray, due in part to Danielle Hunter's season ending injury and Everson Griffen's mental health issues. Griffen is an unrestricted free agent who'll be 34 next season and considering his mental health concerns probably has played his final games for the Vikings organization. The backups at the edge positions are not making enough of an impact, so, Minnesota may target Karlaftis, an intense and aggressive pass rusher with strong run stuffing ability.
11. Saints: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
The fact that the Saints re-signed Jameis Winston to just a one-year deal entering the 2021 season indicates how unsure the decision makers were of his long term viability as their franchise quarterback. It's possible New Orleans re-signs Winston for another season, however, if a first round caliber signal caller is available the Saints may not hesitate to take him. Pickett played in 52 collegiate games and produced 81 aerial scores, while logging over 12,300 passing yards with a 62.4 completion percentage. Talented and coachable, Pickett's skill set potentially matches the requirements for a Sean Payton offense.
12. Eagles (via MIA): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Hamilton exudes top five NFL talent, yet because of his position and the various needs of teams drafting before the Eagles, he may be a player who drops out of the top 10. Should he fall into Philadelphia's lap, the Eagles will immediately select this uniquely skilled and athletically gifted competitor from Notre Dame. Hamilton has uncommon size for a safety (6-foot-4, 219 pounds), and exceptional athleticism buoyed with an explosive fluidity.
13. Eagles: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Much like the Jets and Giants, it's possible the Eagles might have back to back draft picks and an opportunity to solidify areas of weakness before the second round begins. If Philly takes Hamilton and follows that selection with the choosing of Gardner, it'll possibly have two transformative defensive acquisitions that can dominate for several years. Gardner is a high-level producer, having intercepted nine passes, returning two for scores while defending 16 passes in just 32 career games.
14. Broncos: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Fuller was signed to a $9.5 million contract to be a premier boundary corner and being moved to the slot is not a good sign. In addition, Fuller along with three other cornerbacks are unrestricted free agents, so drafting an exceptional coverage defender adept in man and zone schemes is enticing. Booth's one handed interception against Virginia last season, is indicative of the special playmaking skills he possesses. His ability to contest throws and out-duel wideouts for 50-50 passes could benefit the Broncos' aggressive defensive style.
15. Raiders: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Dean won the Butkus Award for the nation's best high school linebacker, and has continued to excel at the collegiate level. An explosive, quick twitch, reactive athlete, Dean's agility and speed make him equally adept at blitzing or dropping into coverage. Las Vegas' inconsistent linebacking production could certainly use Dean's three-down capabilities within its second level of defense. Dean could have the same effect on the Raiders' defense that Micah Parsons is having for the Dallas Cowboys this season.
16. Browns: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Jadeveon Clowney is an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2022 off-season, but more importantly, several key players will be free agents the following year. Having enough money available to pay players like Jarvis Landry (WR), Jack Conklin (OT), Denzel Ward (CB) and former overall number one pick Baker Mayfield (QB) in 2023, may prompt the Browns to draft a premier edge rusher in this upcoming draft. Jackson has an explosive first step and plays with leverage along the edge of the line. Raw but athletic, he projects incredible upside with little downside to his game.
17. Eagles (via IND): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia's first round pick from 2020 (21st overall) is underperforming and raising questions as to his long term viability as a dependable receiving option. Taking Olave could lessen the pressure and expectations on Reagor and strengthen the Eagles inconsistent receiving unit. Olave is a polished wideout with excellent awareness and body control. His ability to create separation, find soft spots in defensive coverages and win contested passes makes him a prized commodity.
18. Steelers: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Like I mentioned last week, Ridder is a winner, having won 33 of his last 36 games while leading the Bearcats -- a mid-major football program, from a "lesser" conference -- into the college football playoffs. Ridder is an ascending talent with dual-threat ability who seems to elevate his play against top competition. Should he and his Bearcat offense prove to be the deciding factor in an upset of favored Alabama, Ridder's stock may soar into a top 10 selection on April 28th.
19. Dolphins (via SF): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Cross may be the most athletic offensive linemen in this draft class and that athleticism could translate well at the combine, raising his stock considerably heading into April. Despite how gracefully Cross moves he is not a finesse offensive lineman, he regularly mauls defenders while run blocking, and is adept at punishing players attempting to bypass him on the way to the quarterback. Cross might be the bookend lineman the Dolphins are searching for, making them a formidable blocking unit that could control the line of scrimmage.
20. Washington: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Linderbaum is the only center in this draft class worthy of being a potential first round choice. Another product of the Iowa offensive lineman assembly line, Linderbaum wins with sound fundamentals and well-choregraphed hand/foot placement, creating a balanced and leveraged advantage over his opponents. Linderbaum plays with an active mind, utilizing angles and rarely compromises his position in pass protection or when blocking downfield.
21. Bills: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Over the past three games, the Bills passing attack has been ineffective with starting quarterback Josh Allen averaging approximately 204 yards through the air. Buffalo lost two of those three contests and scored 15 points or less in defeat while throwing just seven touchdowns to four interceptions. Venerable wideout Emmanuel Sanders (age 35) is an unrestricted free agent, so drafting a younger more affordable skilled receiver like Wilson could happen. A threat to score vertically, he would make a nice downfield target for the cannon-armed Josh Allen.
22. Bengals: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
The Bengals are an historically frugal organization operating in a smaller media market (36th ranked ). With five unrestricted free agent cornerbacks, the money-conscious Bengals may target a defensive back to help fortify their secondary. Elam is an "in-your-face" defensive back who is versatile in zone as well as man coverage. His length and size (6-foot-2, 192 pounds) make him incredibly difficult to pass around, and his short-area quickness stymies most receivers.
23. Chargers: Ikem Ekwonu, OL, North Carolina State
Standing an imposing 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, Ekwonu looks every part the enforcer his reputation declares. A violent run blocker, he routinely mauls defenders downfield well past the second level of the defense. His combative mentality and powerful, athletic moves could fit nicely within the Chargers' versatile offensive schemes. A versatile blocker, Ekwonu competed as both a guard and tackle, but it's his incredible strength that may be his best attribute for the Chargers.
24. Lions (via LAR): Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Hallelujah! Eureka! Hooray! The Lions finally won a game by besting the Vikings this past weekend. However, at the end of the day, Detroit is still a woefully under-skilled team bereft of talented players. Detroit is not a quarterback away from competing in the playoffs, so choosing a signal caller for a team in the midst of an entire overall would be wasteful and ill-timed. The Lions have a successful, playoff-tested quarterback directing their team (Jared Goff played in Super Bowl 53), so drafting a true primary receiver could provide immediate help. Burks showcases the size, strength and speed to be a match up nightmare for most defensive backs.
25. Cowboys: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
The Cowboys are relatively stacked at most every position on both sides of the ball. However, the specter of NFL financial cap limitations, may induce Dallas into making difficult roster decisions. Four of Dallas' safeties are unrestricted free agents, so drafting an affordable option at that position seems reasonable. Hill ran a 40-time of 4.3 seconds and logged a vertical leap of 43 inches, illustrating how freakishly athletic and gifted he is. If Hill lasts until the 25th pick, Dallas may have chance to draft an overlooked "diamond in the rough" type of player.
26. Chiefs: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Week after week, Williams continues to impress and shoot up draft boards. He is having a phenomenal year, tabulating 1445 receiving yards at 21.3 yards per reception while catching 15 touchdown passes en route to the college playoffs. An explosive player with elite level acceleration, Williams' size (6-foot-2, 188 pounds) and long speed would fit nicely with the Chiefs' superstar signal caller, Patrick Mahomes' accurate, deep throwing skill set.
27. Ravens: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Davis would be the perfect fit for Baltimore's 3-4 defensive formations, especially with aging veterans like Brandon Williams, whose contract ends after this season. Standing at 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds it’s easy to imagine Davis dominating across the line of scrimmage. Incredibly strong and unusually athletic, Jordan must be double-teamed consistently or he may disrupt plays before they fully develop. Collapsing offensive pockets with impunity, Davis is a force to be reckoned with along the line of scrimmage.
28. Buccaneers: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Tampa Bay's roster is comprised of 25 unrestricted free agents and several players at or over the age of 30. Acquiring younger players through the draft is cost effective and logical when veterans become older and more expensive to keep. The skepticism surrounding Ojabo's "overnight success," a single season where he recorded 12 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and five forced fumbles, may make some general managers cautious. The Bucs, however, are in a good position to take a chance on a raw, inexperienced talent with a tremendous ceiling.
29. Titans: Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Tennessee's run oriented offense needs an infusion of talented pass catchers, to keep defenses honest and less inclined on exclusively focusing their efforts against the Titans vaunted rushing attack. Dotson is an electrifying talent with the quick twitch suddenness, who can attack from anywhere on the field and help balance Tennessee's one-note offense. He is a tough competitor who can catch passes fearlessly across the middle of the field, or score on a quick screen, going 70 plus yards in the blink of an eye to the endzone.
30. Packers: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Injuries, quality of depth and protecting an aging and temperamental Aaron Rodgers are just a few of the reasons Green Bay should draft an offensive lineman in the first round. It's borderline illegal how Penning competes on the FCS level -- during a game against Missouri State Bears game (March 20, 2021), a lone defensive back was unceremoniously pummeled into the turf and there was nothing he could about it. Penning plays with great mobility for his size (6-foot-7, 329 pounds) and his dogged attitude would mesh well with Green Bay's power running attack.
31. Patriots: Drake London, WR, USC
London possesses NFL-caliber size and length to be a featured option in an offense's passing attack. The Patriots' rookie signal caller Mac Jones is conducting a solid first year campaign as New England's starting quarterback. Chances are he'll be named Offensive Rookie of the Year at season's end, but he still doesn't have access to a "true" primary receiver. A lean athlete with good speed, London moves fluidly in and out his breaks, displaying all the tools to be a primary receiver and possibly elevate New England's basic passing attack.
32. Cardinals: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Generally, at this point in the first round, teams draft the proverbial "best player available." If Arizona fosters that mindset, then taking McDuffie would be a solid choice toward strengthening the Cardinals secondary. Never panicked or in a hurry, McDuffie's patience and confident pre-snap assessments generally position him in areas to make plays. McDuffie moves well in space, plays with balance and enough agility to cover tightly without drawing interference calls.