The 2021 NFL season is over, after the Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI on Sunday night. The Rams don’t currently have a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, dealing it away to help land quarterback Matthew Stafford. It will be the sixth straight draft in which they relax on Day 1 — but I think it’s safe to say they’ll be OK with that. But for the rest of the teams, or at least the 27 that do have a first-round selection, it’s time to starting planning ahead and stacking prospect boards.
So it seems like a good time to once again predict the first 32 picks of April’s first round. Who will be the No. 1 pick? How will teams with multiple selections retool, and who will land the top prospects? And where will the quarterbacks go? You likely won’t see teams scrambling to jump into the top five for a QB this year, but I did project one draft-day trade. Which team moves up to take a potential franchise signal-caller?
Let’s remember that we still have the scouting combine, pro days and much more ahead. Things will change, teams will start to form their own preferences and prospects will slide up and down the first-round board. But for now, here is my current prediction of how the first round of the 2022 draft will play out. (And be sure to check out our SportsCenter mock draft special on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.)
Note: Historical notes are via ESPN Stats & Information.
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
The Jaguars’ top priority this offseason should be building around quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and that starts with the offensive line. Three starters along the line are set to be free agents — including left tackle Cam Robinson — and the other two are under contract for only one more year. Neal is a clear upgrade over Robinson at a lower cost, and he could be a foundational player on that offense with Lawrence for years to come. He has a massive frame, explosive power and versatility. Plus, Neal is a dominant run blocker, which will benefit James Robinson and Travis Etienne Jr. (set to return in 2022). New coach Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl with an elite offensive line, and the Jaguars know their success is tied to keeping Lawrence upright.
I also considered Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson here. He’s my top prospect, and it’s worth noting that Jacksonville was tied for 27th in the league in sacks (32) in 2021. I’d have no issue with the Jags taking Hutchinson instead, but I ultimately thought they needed to take the easy upgrade at a crucial spot. Neal would be the fifth offensive lineman taken at No. 1 overall in the common draft era (Eric Fisher in 2013 was the most recent).
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
This is a slam-dunk scenario for the Lions. They gave up 5.9 yards per play (29th) and 26.9 points per game (28th), opposing quarterbacks had the third-best QBR against them (53.4), and only two teams had fewer sacks than their 30 on the season. Hutchinson — who is from Michigan and played his college ball under an hour from Detroit — is a relentless pass-rusher who had 14.0 sacks and 66 pressures last year. He can take over a game on defense, and Detroit needs more players like that, especially because its top pass-rusher in 2021 (Charles Harris, 7.5 sacks) is a free agent.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The Texans can go a lot of different ways here. Do they take NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu? I thought about it, because they allowed 40 sacks in 2021 (tied for 11th most), but Laremy Tunsil is still locking down the left tackle spot, and there are other holes. One of them is edge rush, where they still haven’t replaced J.J. Watt and have struggled to get to the quarterback. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux could make sense. But in the end, I gave Houston the third-best player on my board in Hamilton.
Houston’s secondary has been abysmal — it gave up 8.0 yards allowed per pass (tied for last) — and Justin Reid is a free agent. Hamilton is a unique talent with an incredible combination of size, speed, strength and ball skills. GM Nick Caserio needs foundational stars in this Texans rebuild, and Hamilton has the versatility to impact multiple areas of new coach Lovie Smith’s defense. He’d be the sixth defensive back taken in the top three since 1967, with Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah (2020) being the most recent.
Ikem Ekwonu, OT/G, NC State
Ekwonu’s size makes him tough to get around, he plays with the power to bury defenders, and he’s a mauler in the run game. In fact, some people around the NFL even like him more than Evan Neal. Ekwonu would help New York protect Zach Wilson in the pass game and spring Michael Carter in the run game. The Jets allowed 53 sacks in 2021 (fourth most), but New York’s offensive line issues aren’t as massive as they seem. I think the team is one impact player away there. Morgan Moses played well last season, but he’s a free agent due for pay bump. Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ 2020 first-rounder, has struggled to stay healthy but still has a ton of upside.
Given some unknowns here, Ekwonu’s versatility matches what the Jets need. Coach Robert Saleh would have options with Ekwonu in the fold, including but not limited to bumping the rookie inside or sliding Becton to the right side. Alternatively, the Jets could consider Kayvon Thibodeaux to address the edge rush after generating just 33 sacks last year (tied for 28th).
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
Yes, the Giants need offensive linemen, but with a second top-10 pick on deck and the top two linemen off the board, we’re pivoting to the other massive weakness: pass rush. And wouldn’t you know it, Thibodeaux falls right into the Giants’ lap here. He has great quickness, a good arsenal of pass-rush moves and plenty of versatility. His tape is up and down, hence a mild slide to No. 5, but he’d immediately elevate a New York pass rush that had 34 sacks (tied for 22nd) last season. And he’d perfectly complement Leonard Williams and Azeez Ojulari, the team’s 2021 second-rounder who led the defense with 8.0 sacks in his rookie year.
Projected top-5 NFL draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux joins SportsCenter to discuss his plans for the combine as well as his best intangible as a player.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
This was the most difficult pick for me. For one, the QB situation remains unresolved. The Panthers are financially invested in Sam Darnold for 2022, but it’s apparent he isn’t the long-term solution. Even so, No. 6 is too rich for any of the signal-callers in this class, and if Carolina is set on drafting one, a move back would be prudent. Then there is the offensive line, which surrendered 52 sacks in 2021 (fifth most). But again, the board doesn’t fill the holes. Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross could work, but he’s No. 22 on my board at the moment. (I’m a little lower on him than some teams, and he could be a top-10 pick.)
So I ended up going with the best available, and that’s absolutely Gardner. I mean, he gave up all of 60 yards in 14 games last season. That’s a true shutdown cornerback. And yes, the Panthers took Jaycee Horn at No. 8 last season, but this duo would be one of the best young tandems in the league. A team has used top-10 picks on defensive backs just three times in the common draft era — and Carolina traded for CJ Henderson, who was Jacksonville’s ninth pick in 2019 — but Stephon Gilmore and Donte Jackson are both free agents, meaning this group isn’t as strong as it appears.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
As I mentioned above, I’m not totally sure Cross is a top-10 pick. But he handles speed rushers well and plays with patience, and I see good angles on tape in the run game. He’s the next best tackle on the board, and after landing Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5, New York can afford to reach a little bit here. With a new GM, head coach and offensive coordinator, the Giants are going to give quarterback Daniel Jones every chance to succeed in 2022 before making a decision after their future under center. Jones has taken a lot of hits, and though left tackle Andrew Thomas rounded into form in 2021, the line remains a glaring problem. Cross, who gave up one sack on 683 pass-block snaps last season, helps.
Drake London, WR, USC
A team has used top-10 picks on pass-catchers in back-to-back drafts three times since 1967, so this might seem odd for a roster that just went 7-10. But the offense could lose five of the eight players who had at least 70 receiving yards last season to free agency, and it’s possible the Falcons additionally look to trade Calvin Ridley, who played in five games last year while taking time off to focus on his mental health. London, meanwhile, was on his way to a massive campaign for USC before breaking his right ankle in October. He’s a 6-foot-5 target who has the body control and contact balance to make plays over the middle, the speed to produce vertically and the instincts to create against different defensive looks.
The Falcons passed on a strong QB class at No. 4 last April to draft tight end Kyle Pitts, but it might decide to go that route now. Matt Ryan is their guy for 2022, but if they fall in love with one of the signal-callers, it’s a good spot to draft an heir to sit and learn behind Ryan. Perhaps Pitt’s Kenny Pickett could fit.
Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah
Will Denver end up with Aaron Rodgers? It’s hard to project anything for the Broncos until they figure out the quarterback situation. They have had zero success drafting and developing QBs. Drew Lock deserves a shot to compete if they don’t land a proven veteran, but no one is saying they’re Super Bowl bound with the 2019 draft pick under center, especially in a division that features Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr.
The defense got strong returns from Pat Surtain II in his rookie year, but there are definitely some weak spots on that side of the ball. The Broncos were bottom six in both pass rush win rate (31.3%, 32nd) and run stop win rate (27.8%, 27th). And linebackers Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell and Kenny Young are all primed for free agency. Lloyd plays fast, is rangy and has great recognition skills. I have Georgia’s Nakobe Dean ranked higher, but I’m hearing some teams like Lloyd a bit more. He’s a plug-and-play starter who can be Denver’s leader on defense.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
The Jets went offense with their first four picks in 2021, and we just handed them an offensive tackle (Ikem Ekwonu) at No. 4. So yeah, this is defense all the way, especially with safety Marcus Maye facing free agency. The Jets could certainly get by with Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols at corner, but Stingley could be the steal of the draft if things go this way. The big question is whether the LSU product can return to form and produce as he did in his 2019 freshman year, when he had six interceptions. A left foot injury held him out of all but three games in 2021, but if he realizes his potential, Stingley would certainly improve a defense that gave up 8.0 yards per pass attempt and hauled in just seven interceptions in 2021.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Washington has a team name, and now it needs a quarterback. Perhaps the Commanders trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. Perhaps they get into the Jameis Winston mix in free agency. But if nothing comes along on those fronts, they’d be happy to have the entire QB class available to them at No. 11. (The last time zero QBs went in the top 10 was 2013.)
I personally have Liberty’s Malik Willis slightly ahead of Pickett, but the Pitt signal-caller is more NFL ready, and it’s more likely he’s the first QB off the board in April. Pickett reads the field well, has good touch and timing on his throws and shows sneaky pocket mobility. I’d be intrigued to see a competition between him and Taylor Heinicke in camp, and if Heinicke wins the job, he can keep the seat warm while Pickett gets acclimated to the NFL.
NFL prospects Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett show what they can do during Senior Bowl practice.
Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The Vikings have used four first-round picks on defensive backs since 2013, and one more here would tie them with the Packers for the most over that 10-draft span. It’s still an issue. Minnesota allowed 5.7 yards per play in 2021 (26th), and its top two cornerbacks — Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander — aren’t under contract. McDuffie is smooth and displays good route recognition.
As an aside: This is another spot where quarterback wouldn’t be shocking. Kirk Cousins has one more year left on his deal, so perhaps new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and new coach Kevin O’Connell opt to take a step toward the future, especially with Liberty’s Malik Willis still available.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Whether or not Baker Mayfield is still the Browns’ plan at quarterback, the offense is begging for some pass-catchers. Donovan Peoples-Jones led the team with just 597 receiving yards in 2021. Jarvis Landry is turning 30 next season and has one year left on his deal. Tight end David Njoku and receiver Rashard Higgins are free agents. But Wilson would immediately give Mayfield a playmaker. His best trait is body control, as he can adjust to passes in the air, but he is also a sudden route runner with fantastic speed and acceleration.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The Ravens went 8-9, but they were ravaged by injuries and are set up for a bounce-back year. A key to getting back on track will be protecting Lamar Jackson — who missed five games in 2021 — and opening lanes for J.K. Dobbins, who will return from a torn ACL. Tackle is the big question mark on the offensive line, with Ronnie Stanley missing 26 regular-season games over the past two years and Alejandro Villanueva turning 34 in September. Maybe Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning is the pick?
I instead opted for Linderbaum, who is one of the best 15 players in the class. Current Ravens center Bradley Bozeman is a free agent, and Linderbaum anchors well and is effective as a combo blocker at the second level. He’d help a Baltimore front that allowed 57 sacks last season (second most).
Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia
The Eagles have a chance to get a whole lot better in a short period of time here; this is their first of three picks in the next five. Buckle up, Philly fans. Let’s get started with Dean, who is my No. 6 prospect. He does it all, from using his speed and sideline-to-sideline range to match with running backs in coverage, to blitzing through gaps and pressuring quarterbacks, to stopping the run and wrapping up ball carriers. His motor never stops, and his instincts make him a true game-breaker. The Eagles have taken just one linebacker in the first round over the past 40 years (Marcus Smith in 2014), but the middle of their defense covets someone like Dean.
Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
An NFL team has never taken college teammates with back-to-back picks, but the Eagles’ pass-rush was atrocious, and Walker is incredibly disruptive. Philadelphia’s 29 sacks were 31st in the NFL last season, Derek Barnett is a free agent, and Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are both north of 30 years old. Plus, Graham is returning from an Achilles injury. Walker, meanwhile, is a power-based edge rusher who keeps getting better. It’s time to stock the pass-rush cupboard a bit.
TRADE: Steelers jump ahead to get their QB
If we get to this point and all but one of the quarterbacks are still on the board, the Steelers have to be on the phone with Chargers GM Tom Telesco. The Saints are lurking there at No. 18, and Pittsburgh knows it has to make a move to get its guy before New Orleans is on the clock. Los Angeles, meanwhile, knows that a three-pick slide to No. 20 doesn’t impact its draft much. The Steelers would go QB, and the Saints could follow suit. That means the Chargers would in all likelihood get the same player at No. 20 that they would have gotten at No. 17. Plus, they’d get another pick or two.
In this case, I think a third-rounder and a late-rounder — in addition to the No. 20 selection — would get it done. Worst case for Pittsburgh, it’s a second-rounder, if L.A. really dug in. But this is a franchise QB we’re talking about, and the Steelers have to make this move if they’re confident they have their answer under center going forward. But which QB?
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Kevin Colbert has been with the Steelers for 22 seasons — and has been their GM since 2010 — and saw them draft Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Now that Roethlisberger is retired and Colbert is stepping down, I think he’ll want to leave the organization in a good place for the future. It already has the defense and a run game, and it was even a playoff team this past season. But the AFC North has some excellent quarterbacks, and the Steelers need an answer under center to keep contending.
My top QB, Willis has the strongest arm in the class and can create outside the pocket, making tough off-platform throws look easy. He’s still developing, and he threw 12 interceptions last season, but the Steelers can build the offense around this dynamic passer.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Despite a big contract, Taysom Hill isn’t the Saints’ answer at quarterback. Will they re-sign Jameis Winston? Could they find a way to make a big improvement via trade? New coach Dennis Allen will exhaust all options under center, though the team’s perpetual salary-cap concerns could limit them. New Orleans tied Carolina for a league-low 58.1% completion percentage in 2021, and their 187.4 passing yards per game were last in the NFL. Corral has a live arm, will lead receivers into extra yardage and can tuck-and-run when necessary. He’s tough in the pocket, but that has brought on some durability concerns that will need to be evaluated. Corral hurt his ankle in Ole Miss’ bowl game.
Field Yates and Mel Kiper Jr. discuss Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and his potential of being a quarterback in the NFL.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
So no quarterback change via the draft. I think the Eagles stick with Jalen Hurts unless they find a way to make the massive deal for a big-name QB. But Hurts could use another target, even after Philadelphia drafted receivers in the first round in each of the past two drafts (Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith). The only team to take a first-round receiver in three straight drafts was the Lions in 2003-05, but consider that the Eagles were 25th in the league last season in pass-game yardage — and 30th when reduced to just wide receivers.
Burks has 6-foot-3 size, great hands and a wide catch radius. He’d be a mismatch in the slot for coach Nick Sirianni and has the ability to tack on extra yards after the catch with smooth acceleration upfield. Burks, Nakobe Dean and Travon Walker make for a great draft class.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
In addition to the extra picks acquired via our mock trade, the Chargers would still get a massive space eater here to improve a woeful run defense. Their 4.6 yards allowed per carry tied for the fifth-worst rate in the NFL last season, and now defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Justin Jones are both free agents. Davis’ 340-pound frame demands double-team attention, so in addition to clogging up rushing holes, he’d potentially open up some opportunities for Joey Bosa and Co. to get after the QB a little easier.
Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington
The Patriots were second in passing yards allowed per game (187.1), tied for second in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.4) and second in interceptions (23). And they were one of three teams to keep opponents under 60% completion percentage. But the back seven could lose several starters to free agency, including cornerback J.C. Jackson, safety Devin McCourty and linebacker D’onta Hightower. It could also use an influx of speed in that area, of which Gordon has a ton. His versatility and ability to jump routes would also be welcome on one of the league’s top defenses — and he’d make the potential loss of Jackson a little easier to handle.
Linebacker and safety are two other areas to watch, and I’d watch how the receiver class is playing out as New England nears its pick. Ohio State’s Chris Olave would give quarterback Mac Jones a smooth route runner with great separating speed. Alternatively, Alabama’s Jameson Williams will likely miss some time but could end up the top receiver in the class. Bill Belichick would find ways to get the ball into his hands.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
This is a no-brainer. Olave is a polished route runner. He’s fast with great explosion off the line. His ball skills are excellent. And his production speaks for itself: Olave found the end zone in nine of 11 games last season. Hunter Renfrow had a great season for Las Vegas, but tight end Darren Waller struggled to stay healthy and receiver Zay Jones is now a free agent. If the Raiders want to stay in stride with the other AFC West offenses — especially if Denver finds a way to trade for Aaron Rodgers — then they have to get quarterback Derek Carr a better supporting cast and get their first-round draft success back on track.
Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
Arizona’s roster has impact players headed toward free agency all over the place, but one of the biggest is edge rusher Chandler Jones. Coupled with the fact that soon-to-be 33-year-old J.J. Watt is coming off a shoulder surgery, this pass rush — which produced 41 sacks last season, tied for 13th most — could take a step back in 2022. Johnson had 12 sacks and 45 pressures at Florida State in 2021 and then put on a show at the Senior Bowl. Even if the Cardinals lose Jones this March, Johnson could join Markus Golden and Watt to form a solid pass-rush group.
It’s noteworthy that the team’s top-two running backs — James Conner and Chase Edmonds — are also free agents. That said, I don’t see a running back worth even considering in Round 1 this year. Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller is my top-rated back, way back at No. 55 on my board. We’ve seen only two first rounds without a running back (2013 and 2014), but this is shaping up to be one of those years.
David Ojabo, DE, Michigan
Dallas drafted a star in Micah Parsons last April, but the linebacker was forced into more of an edge rush role last season due to injuries. The question for Dallas is where does it want to predominantly play him going forward. In my eyes, the key is to answer that question and then focus on the other area. Free Parsons up to be even more dominant. The Cowboys could look hard at the linebacker crop and let Parsons rush the QB more, but it’d be difficult for them to pass on Ojabo. Parsons had 13 sacks, but Randy Gregory (six) and Dorance Armstrong (five) were the only other Dallas players to have at least four — and both are free agents. Ojabo’s 11 sacks tied for 11th in the nation last season, and his lightning-fast first step and high-end instincts create problems for blockers.
With Dalton Schultz hitting free agency, Dallas could kick the tires on Colorado State tight end Trey McBride, too. He’s a matchup problem with elite ball skills. But I think it’s a little early.
Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
The Bills’ depth issues at cornerback were made very clear once Tre’Davious White got injured. Things aren’t about to get better, either, with Levi Wallace hitting the open market. If Buffalo can find a solid CB2 opposite White, with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde patrolling at safety, the secondary would be downright scary. Booth is a press corner with a smooth backpedal and great ball skills, but he can play off-man and zone, too. He picked off three passes in 2021 for the Tigers and would fit in nicely with a team ready to win a Super Bowl.
George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
I can’t imagine Tennessee lets Harold Landry III walk after a 12-sack season, but he could break the bank. Denico Autry settled in nicely with nine sacks, and Jeffery Simmons is a force on the inside. But the Titans’ edge rush could benefit from another playmaker, especially if they can’t re-sign Landry. Karlaftis wins with power, and he can even bump inside on obvious passing downs.
Tennessee also took 47 sacks (seventh most), though, and a good chunk of the offensive line will be playing 2022 on the final year of their deals, so I could also see the Titans drafting Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning or Central Michigan offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann.
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Tom Brady is gone, but Tampa Bay seems like one of the QB-needy teams that will go the veteran route. The Buccaneers used a second-rounder on Kyle Trask last year, so they already have a hope-we-can-develop-him young passer in the mix. Instead, I’m looking at Williams, who is probably the most talented receiver in the class. He is coming off a torn ACL and will likely miss part of the season, but he’s big-play receiver with elite speed and shiftiness as a ball carrier. He piled up 1,572 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021. Antonio Brown is gone, Chris Godwin is a pending free agent and Rob Gronkowski could re-retire. The Buccaneers will make a move to re-sign Godwin, but even if they do, Williams is a game-breaker Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich would love to scheme up.
I like this fit, but the Buccaneers could really look at a lot of different prospects. Consider some of their impact players who are unsigned and the potential resulting holes: Ryan Jensen, Carlton Davis, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, Jordan Whitehead, Alex Cappa, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston.
Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
This is a pure value pick for Green Bay. The first look was to wide receiver, with Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling perhaps signing elsewhere this March. Five are already off the board, leaving Penn State’s Jahan Dotson as the top remaining. Alabama’s Jameson Williams could be a really fun selection that would excite Aaron Rodgers if the QB stays in Green Bay, but he just went off the board. And with the Packers taking Amari Rodgers last April to play out of the slot, Dotson might not make much sense. Even if Adams doesn’t return, the free-agent receiver class is high end, and I think the Packers could address the position there.
So turning our attention to defense, how about Wyatt, a Senior Bowl standout? He has tons of upper-body strength and is always moving his feet. The Packers allowed 4.7 yards per carry last season (30th in the NFL), and opponents had the seventh-highest QBR (51.5). Wyatt would help in both areas and give Kenny Clark a running mate in the middle of the defense. Also: This makes it four Georgia defenders in Round 1. Miami in 2004 and Florida State in 2006 are the only other schools to have that many on the defensive side of the ball.
Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The Dolphins’ offensive line is a mess, but it’s not for a lack of trying. They’ve used four picks on Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft on the position group over the past three years. Not much has panned out, though, as Miami’s 46.6% pass block win rate was last in the NFL in 2021. And only the Texans average fewer yards per carry on the ground than the Dolphins’ 3.6. Penning is a mauler with a lot of upside. He pushes defenders off the ball and moves pretty well for a 6-foot-7, 321-pounder.
With tight end Mike Gesicki off to free agency, this is another team that could use Colorado State’s Trey McBride. But I just can’t imagine Miami focusing anywhere but offensive line. Things could change once free agency sorts itself out, but GM Chris Grier has to find a way to keep oft-injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa upright.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Kansas City could fixate on defense, considering it allowed 5.9 yards per play in 2021 (30th). The pass-rush needs attention, and Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie would fit the bill there. Defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward are currently without a contract, so UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen might be in play. And there will be more turnover on the offensive line, too, even if the Chiefs re-sign Orlando Brown Jr.
So a receiver? The Chiefs will still have Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce next year, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes thrives on distributing the football. Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson are headed toward free agency. Dotson is lightning quick in and out of his breaks, and despite a 5-foot-11 frame, he can pluck on the run and produce after the catch. He’d be a great possession receiver for Mahomes after catching 91 passes in 2021, including at least five in 11 of 12 games. Dotson would be the sixth receiver here, and it’d be the third straight class of at least five first-rounders. That has never been done.
Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
Do we even need to explain this one? Cincinnati allowed 55 sacks in 2021 (third most), and then it took 19 more across four playoff games. Its 48.8% pass block win rate was 30th in the NFL. The season ultimately ended on a pressure, as Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald got to quarterback Joe Burrow on the Bengals’ final offensive play of the Super Bowl. Burrow is one of the best young passers in the game, and Cincinnati must, must, must clean up the offensive line to keep him healthy and let him operate the offense with more ease. Raimann has a powerful upper body and shuts down pass-rushers when he gets his hands inside.
Mel Kiper Jr. expresses the importance of the Bengals drafting multiple offensive linemen in the upcoming draft.
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Detroit already has Aidan Hutchinson from its first pick of Day 1. Now it can take advantage of the final pick with a fifth-year option attached to it and draft a quarterback — not unlike what the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson in 2018. Tough and competitive, Howell fits well with the Lions’ organization. He is super accurate hitting the deep rail shots, and he has a quick delivery and good touch. But his footwork needs work, and he will need to improve the anticipatory intermediate-level throws. Let Howell sit behind Jared Goff, whose dead money falls from $30.5 million in 2022 to $10 million in 2023 and $5 million in 2024. I’d like to see Howell link up with receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown to jump-start the Lions’ passing attack, which had the league’s 25th-best Total QBR in 2021 (37.6).