The Los Angeles Rams just won the Super Bowl despite minimizing the importance of the NFL draft, but for most teams it’s an integral part of roster construction.
Here is my early peg at the first round, with the caveat that changes will be coming when needs are addressed through trades and free agency.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
Even though Aidan Hutchinson has slightly better odds to be the top pick according to BetMGM, Neal has a massive ceiling and would help protect quarterback Trevor Lawrence. It’s en vogue for teams to surround their young signal-callers with as much offensive talent as possible and Jacksonville will follow that trend.
2. Detroit Lions: Edge Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Kayvon Thibodeaux may have more upside, but Hutchinson seems like a safe bet to be a consistent pass-rushing presence, and the Lions can’t afford to miss so high in the draft. This pairing makes plenty of sense.
3. Houston Texans: OT Ikem Okwonu, North Carolina State
There are rumors star left tackle Laremy Tunsil could be on the move as Houston is deep in rebuild territory. If so, Houston will need more help on the offensive line, and Okwonu is another elite prospect capable of locking down the left tackle spot for years.
4. New York Jets: Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Thibodeaux has become one of the more polarizing prospects in the draft, but the upside and athleticism is undeniable. The Jets need stars and Thibodeaux has that ability.
5. New York Giants: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Hamilton doesn’t play a premium position like the first four picks, but he’s a natural playmaker. The Giants would be able to count on an impact from Day 1.
Highest Safeties Drafted last 4 years
2021: Jevon Holand (36), Richie Grant (40)
2020: Xavier McKinney (36), Kyle Dugger (37)
2019: Darnell Savage (21), Jon Abraham (27)
2018: M. Fitzpatrick (11), D.James (17)
Kyle Hamilton would be the first top-10 SAF since Jamal Adams in '17
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) February 21, 2022
6. Carolina Panthers: QB Malik Willis, Liberty
The Panthers have a solid overall roster that was torpedoed by horrific quarterback play last year. Sam Darnold and Cam Newton are not the answers, and Willis has the type of natural ability that will give him helium during the draft process.
7. New York Giants: OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
Andrew Thomas made serious strides in Year 2 and should be a solid tackle for the foreseeable future. If the Giants can add another bookend, it would be great news for quarterback Daniel Jones – or whoever takes his place next season if New York searches for a replacement.
8. Atlanta Falcons: WR Drake London, USC
Calvin Ridley is most likely headed elsewhere, and even though the Falcons can use help on the line, they may copy the Bengals’ playbook and keep loading up at the skill positions after taking tight end Kyle Pitts in the top-5 a year ago.
9. Denver Broncos: Edge David Ojabo, Michigan
Quarterback is a clear need, but a veteran option could make more sense for the Broncos, who have the type of roster that can win immediately with an upgrade at the position. With that in mind, the board is pretty open, and Denver goes for the best player available in Ojabo, who seems like a good scheme fit.
10. New York Jets: CB Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
The Jets need to make the most of their two top-10 selections and grabbing a potential shutdown cornerback alongside Thibodeaux would be a solid move. New York needs help on offense but game-changing talent at premium positions will be too hard to pass up.
11. Washington Commanders: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Washington has some solid pieces on the roster but can’t seriously compete in the NFC East without a quarterback. The Commanders are likely to be aggressive if any veteran signal-callers become available. If not, Pickett’s experience and arm talent will be intriguing enough to get a look.
Seasons with the highest Passing Grade by ACC QBs since 2014:
🥇 Kenny Pickett (2021) – 92.2
🥈 Sam Howell (2020) – 91.5 pic.twitter.com/dF51l8YKfO
— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 23, 2022
12. Minnesota Vikings: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Kirk Cousins rumors are flying, but the most likely scenario is for him to stay put in Minnesota. The Vikings need to keep Cousins protected, and Linderbaum could step in immediately and shore up the interior.
13. Cleveland Browns: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The Browns have built a fantastic roster everywhere but quarterback. Baker Mayfield may get one more year as the starter but Cleveland should be looking elsewhere for the future. Corral holds promise, and the analytically-savvy front office would be happy to have another rookie contract signal-caller over Mayfield beginning in 2023.
14. Baltimore Ravens: CB Derek Stingley, Jr., LSU
The Ravens have a pair of good cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, but both are coming off major injuries. Stingley would be well-served to learn under their tutelage for a season and then become a key piece of the defense in 2023, when Peters will be a free agent.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
First of all, I would not be surprised if the Eagles used some of their copious draft capital to make a run at one of the star quarterbacks that could come available on the trade market. If they stand pat, the Eagles could look at Wilson to complement DeVonta Smith at wideout.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: Edge George Karlaftis, Purdue
The Eagles continue to grab guys at key positions, as Karlaftis should be able to come in and help the pass-rush as a rookie.
.@BuckyBrooks’ Top 5 edge rushers:
1️⃣ @UMichFootball’s Aidan Hutchinson⁰2️⃣ @oregonfootball’s Kayvon Thibodeaux
3️⃣ @BoilerFootball’s George Karlaftis⁰4️⃣ @UMichFootball’s David Ojabo⁰5️⃣ @FSUFootball’s Jermaine Johnson II pic.twitter.com/ct2ss7nNSU
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 23, 2022
17. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
The Chargers plan to be competitive for a long time with star quarterback Justin Herbert leading the way, so choosing an elite talent like Williams would be well worth it despite the torn ACL he suffered in the national championship game.
18. New Orleans Saints: QB Sam Howell, North Carolina
The Saints are hitting the reset button after the departure of star quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton in the past two years. Howell is far from a sure thing but has intriguing traits.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
The Eagles add another playmaker with their third pick of the first round. Lloyd doesn’t play a premium position but is an intriguing off-ball linebacker with great coverage chops.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
Yes, the Steelers badly need a quarterback, but the offensive line is also an issue. A veteran signal-caller makes more sense with the roster otherwise ready to win now, and adding a talented offensive lineman in the draft would help protect him.
21. New England Patriots: Edge Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
The Patriots finished No. 23 in pass-rush win rate in 2021 and could use a boost up front alongside Matt Judon.
22. Las Vegas Raiders: G/T Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
The Raiders have some good pieces on offense, and if Green can play right tackle, it could help solidify the bookends to keep Derek Carr upright. If not, he should still be able to slide inside.
23. Arizona Cardinals: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Cardinals’ offense dropped off precipitously after DeAndre Hopkins got injured, and another outside threat should be the main priority this offseason. Olave showed the ability to separate at-will in college, which is something A.J. Green can no longer accomplish at this stage of his career.
Lab work🔥🔥 workin with & against the best everyday https://t.co/mrWSMtskNF
— Chris Olave (@chrisolave_) February 22, 2022
24. Dallas Cowboys: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Micah Parsons is a dominant player wherever he lines up, but would be most valuable on the edge. Dean can slot in at middle linebacker right away, which would further improve the defensive front-seven.
25. Buffalo Bills: CB Andrew Booth, Jr., Clemson
The Bills don’t need much on either side of the ball, but cornerback is always a nice place to add reinforcements. Booth is a supreme athlete with solid production, a combination that should intrigue Buffalo.
26. Tennessee Titans: DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
The Titans have a burgeoning star on the defensive line in Jeffrey Simmons, and Davis could be another impact piece up-front.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Kyler Gordon, Washington
The Buccaneers’ big question is at quarterback, but Gordon is an intriguing athlete that can add some firepower to a secondary that had its issues a year ago.
28. Green Bay Packers: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The Packers’ plan is two-fold these days. Aim for a Super Bowl and keep Aaron Rodgers happy. The selection of Burks would help both goals.
29. Miami Dolphins: OT Tyler Smith, Tulsa
Miami is in dire need of improvement on the offensive line. Tackles are in such demand that it’s not always a given that end-of-first-rounders will work out, but Smith could turn into a really good player if things go well.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: DL Travon Walker, Georgia
Walker isn’t as polished as many of the other prospects in the first round but has massive upside. The Chiefs are a team that can take that kind of risk and hope for a superstar find.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: G Zion Johnson, Boston College
The Bengals’ main weakness is crystal clear, and there is little question they will be looking closely at offensive linemen in free agency and the draft. Johnson could slide in at guard to help protect quarterback Joe Burrow.
32. Detroit Lions: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington
The Lions need help wherever they can get it, and if a player as talented as McDuffie drops to the end of the first round, they should pounce.