The 2022 NFL Draft is almost here, and like most fans, the writers in our team communities have strong feelings about their team’s draft needs and the players who could best meet those needs.
This project is going to be unique for several reasons. First, it takes place for the first time in the glitz and glamor of the Las Vegas Strip, Nevada.
Last year there were several top quarterback prospects, and where they were all heading (apart from Trevor Lawrence, who was usually expected to go to the Jaguars with the first overall pick) was the subject of many discussions. This year’s top quarterbacks – Sam Howell, Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral aren’t generating as much excitement because they seem to need some development to become NFL-ready starters, but it It’s always going to be fascinating to see where they land and how willing draft teams are to take a chance.
And third, due to a myriad of trades, eight teams have two first-round picks this year. Of course, that shakes things up a bit.
Without further ado, welcome to the 16th Annual SB Nation NFL Community Draft.
No. 1: Jaguars select Aiden Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
The one need the team didn’t meet much of in free agency, however, was the rush rusher, which was one of the team’s biggest needs at the end of the season. Now, with Hutchinson, the team will finally have a surefire rusher against former first-round pick Josh Allen.
No. 2: Lions select Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
There may be concerns about his form in Detroit now that they’ve said they’ll employ more four-man sets, and Thibodeaux is coming off a 3-4 pattern at Oregon. And, yes, he will have to improve as a running defender to the next level.
But what Thibodeaux provides as a passing thrower in this league is rare and extremely coveted. The Lions finished 30th in sacks, 29th in pressure rate, 31st in team pass completion rate. Thibodeaux will immediately improve the weakest point in Detroit’s defense. Perhaps the best part of him is that his physical tools will make him a Day 1 impact player, and he has plenty of room to improve his technique, which means his cap might even be higher than his college production level.
No. 3: Texans select Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Hamilton spent time lining up in multiple places on the Notre Dame defense during his three years at South Bend. In 31 career games, he produced 139 tackles, eight interceptions and 16 passes defended. He covered slot receivers, lined up as a deep “read and react” safety, came off the edge like a rusher at the line of scrimmage and showed his hard-hitting demeanor while also working out of the box.
In Lovie Smith’s base Tampa-2 defense, Hamilton’s versatility means he can start on Day 1. Whether that start happens as one of two “high” safeties responsible for covering half the court during of a given passing game, or as a key element in the running game who can crash into the ball from the box remains to be seen.
No. 4: Jets select Ikem Ekonwu, T, NC State
Looking at the team as it is currently built, you might wonder if the offensive line is worth the extra investment. The line is one of the strongest position groups on the Jets’ roster.
There are, however, underlying issues that make this a higher priority than you might think. While Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker were drafted within the past two years, the other three starters in contention will be 29 or older at the start of the 2022 season. Two of the three will enter the final season of their respective contracts.
George Fant is one such lineman. Fant, soon to be 30, is entering his contract year after his best season in the NFL. Can he reproduce it? Even if he can, how much longer will he be able to play at a high level? Will the Jets be able to re-sign him?
Those questions alone make drafting another offensive lineman a viable approach, especially one that was as dominant in the running game as Ekwonu was at NC State. We haven’t even discussed the question marks surrounding Becton who missed 18 games through injury in his first two seasons.
No. 5: Giants select Evan Neal, T, Alabama
Now comes the 2022 NFL Draft. With picks No. 5 and 7, no matter what else he does or in what order he does it, the league-wide assumption seems to be that Schoen has to pretty much get out of the first round with a right tackle to partner with left tackle. Andrew Thomas, the team’s first choice in 2020.
There are three entering the discussion – Ikem Ekwonu of NC State, Evan Neal of Alabama, Charles Cross of Mississippi State.
In this fictional draft, where we don’t consider trade opportunities the way Schoen should with one of his two picks, the New York Jets took Ekwonu at No. 4.
That leaves No. 5 a choice between Neal and Cross. While I like Cross’ smooth pass protection and potential, Neal’s pick is easy to make here. Neal is a plug and play starter at right tackle for the Giants. He has a plethora of experience at both tackle and guard, positional flexibility that Cross doesn’t have should there come a time when the Giants might want or need to move Neal inside.
No. 6: Panthers select Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
With a big arm, big legs and an already established mentor/mentee relationship with Cam Newton, Willis has been a popular pick by some Panthers fans throughout the offseason. For the team, Willis has all the physical tools you could ask for and a demonstrated ability to create plays from offense structure – a trait that has historically been useful when playing behind a Panthers offensive line. .
The high ceiling that Willis features is, unsurprisingly, paired with a lower floor than some other quarterbacks in this class. Guys like Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral are considered more pro-ready. However, the Panthers are looking for a long-term answer and “Andy Dalton of 2022” is not that.
Many of Willis’ difficulties in college stemmed from botched mechanics that a competent coaching staff might be able to iron out. Since the Panthers seem determined to prove that Matt Rhule is just that, Willis is their obvious answer.
No. 7: Giants select Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
I expect the Giants to add a pass rusher in this draft. I don’t with this selection, however.
Defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale.
Watch Martindale’s history as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. Coverage, especially high-level cornerbacks, has always been more important to Martindale’s defense than early pass rushers.
Martindale’s calling card is the pressure defense up front with plenty of press coverage at the back, where cornerbacks are left on an island to fend for themselves. He’ll dispatch additional rushers, often from unique angles, but will also craft exotic four-man pressure packages. His history has shown that he needed high-level cornerbacks more than elite rushers. … With that in mind, my pick for the Giants at No. 7 is Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner.
No. 8: Falcons select Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, FSU
I picked Johnson because I think he’s a very, very good player who will have an immediate impact on the Falcons. It is the first item in what is likely a multi-year retooling of the Edge group. While Johnson lacks the dizzying passing ceiling of top players in the class, he is an elite running defender with very good ground at position. I don’t think we’ll ever see Johnson shove 12-15 sacks in a season, but what if he reliably gets 10 and adds a ton of production against the run? He’s still a great player and a worthy eighth overall pick.
Johnson wins with a combination of power, explosiveness and technique that makes him versatile and one of the most pro-ready players in the class. He continued to improve every week at FSU and capped off his season with an incredibly dominant senior bowl performance. Johnson was legitimately Mobile’s best player, and it wasn’t close.
No. 9: Seahawks select Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Penning played both tackle and right guard, which should immediately intrigue the Seahawks front office. Jamarco Jones didn’t really do well during his time in Seattle, but he pretty much earned a spot on the roster solely because he was deep at tackle and guard. In Penning’s case, he’s much better suited at tackle than Jones ever was, so even though he’s usually on the left side, he could switch to right tackle at professional level.
Stands out as a run blocker
Again, this is partly ironic. With the departure of Russell Wilson, I think it’s highly likely that the Seahawks will once again become one of the heaviest teams in the NFL. Penning’s highlights in the running game stand out a bit more than his pass protection, and there’s no doubt the Seahawks will look to any OL who can execute the block well, and PFF gave Penning a race blocking rating of 99.9 for 2021.
Best remaining players:
- Derek Stingley Jr., BC, LSU
- Charles Cross, T, Mississippi State
- Trent McDuffie, BC, Washington
- George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
- Drake London, WR, USC