The 2022 NFL draft is full of questions. Who will be the first quarterback drafted, and when will he be picked? What will the teams with multiple first-rounders — there are six — do to reload? Where will former top recruits Derek Stingley Jr. and Kayvon Thibodeaux land?
And maybe most importantly — what will your favorite team do to improve its roster?
In our first notebook ahead of April’s draft, ESPN analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid take a look at those questions while also posting their individual top-10 mock drafts — how they see the top of the class going right now — with notes from the pro days of quarterbacks Malik Willis and Matt Corral and more on the latest rumors and news from around the league. They have notes on Nakobe Dean, Breece Hall, Tyler Smith, Jelani Woods and more top-100 prospects.
The first of a new weekly series, the draft notebook will run every Friday from now until Round 1 begins on April 28. Let’s start with a scenario that could shake up the entire first round:
Jump to a big topic:
Miller’s top-10 mini mock draft
Reid’s top-10 mini mock draft
How high could Walker be drafted?
How Willis, Corral fared at pro days
Will there be a Round 1 running back?
Which receivers could KC and GB target?
Big questions: Major decisions in the top five picks
Is there any way the Lions will take a quarterback at No. 2?
Miller: Yes! With the Jaguars widely expected to select defensive end Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 1 pick, the Lions are certainly in play for a quarterback — or a possible trade back slightly in Round 1 to allow an offensive tackle-hungry team to come up the board yet still keep themselves in position to draft Liberty’s Malik Willis. After a very strong pre-draft process, Willis should be shooting up boards. Some might ask how a player can improve so much without playing in a game, and for Willis it’s much like how Josh Allen’s stock rose in 2018 despite his season being over at Wyoming. Both Willis and Allen showed improvement throughout the process. From the first day of Senior Bowl practices through the game, their accuracy and mechanics got better with guidance from NFL staffs and private coaching.
Willis, who has been working with quarterback trainer Quincy Avery, got better every day in Mobile, Alabama, in January. He has parlayed that into the best showing of any quarterback at the combine earlier this month and put an exclamation mark on his scouting report with a “wow” workout at his pro day this week. For months we’ve heard that this is a weak quarterback class, but Willis’ arm strength, mobility and character should put him in the conversation as a top-10 pick. With Detroit having only Jared Goff in place, it’s a perfect situation for a “draft-and-develop” plan.
Could Travon Walker be the second defender off the board in Round 1?
Reid: Absolutely. It’s trending in the direction of the Georgia edge rusher going before Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) in the top 10, which would have been extremely surprising three months ago. Thibodeaux and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU) received the most hype coming into the 2021 season, but scouts I’ve talked to about Walker have him rising. At 6-foot-5, 272 pounds, evaluators are enamored with the possibilities of what he could become two or three years from now. As one area scout told me this week:
“A lot of teams passed over Danielle Hunter [in 2015] and the [Odafe] Oweh kid last year because of the lack of production even though they have ridiculous athleticism,” he said. “It’s not going to happen a third time with Walker.”
Walker’s combination of size, physical traits and upside could put him in the top-five picks. The common theme when talking about him with evaluators: He didn’t get enough pass-rush opportunities in a Georgia scheme that forced him into tight alignments over the outside shoulder of offensive tackles. He was forced to stack-and-shed tackles more than show his acceleration around the cup of the pocket. NFL teams think he will be a star with proper coaching and more edge-rush opportunities.
Miller: How I see the top 10 picks right now
Mock drafts are a prediction of what we think happens while marrying information from sources with teams and our own analysis of players. More so than any year I can remember, the top 10 of 2022 is the most unpredictable. That sets up for plenty of intrigue and excitement, even if we have a good idea what the Jaguars will do to kick things off. Here’s my projected top 10 as of now:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Free-agent moves have pointed to the Jaguars selecting Hutchinson, but let’s not forget he’s also the best prospect in this class. With the offensive line largely upgraded with veteran signings, Jacksonville gets the best player in the class.
2. Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Maybe I’m buying into the pro day hype, but Willis has looked amazing throughout the pre-draft process. Detroit won’t find a player with his upside or traits with its second first-round pick (No. 32). If the Lions are going in on a quarterback this draft, it should be Willis.
Watch the best plays from former Liberty QB and NFL prospect Malik Willis ahead of the NFL draft.
3. Houston Texans: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
A high-character leader is exactly what the Texans need after losing Justin Reid in free agency. Hamilton can make a Day 1 impact and is a near can’t-miss player.
4. New York Jets: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
The biggest riser on my board this offseason goes to a perfect landing spot with the Jets. His potential is the highest of any pass-rusher in the class.
5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Andrew Thomas on one side and Ekwonu on the other should give the Giants’ new brain trust a good look at what Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley can do this season. It’s evaluation time for both, and a good offensive line makes that an easier job for general manager Joe Schoen & Co.
6. Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
After missing out on the quarterback derby again, the Panthers make a smart selection and get the best offensive tackle in the class. And now Neal is in place at left tackle for a future quarterback selection in 2023.
7. New York Giants (from CHI): Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Scouts are all over the map about Thibodeaux’s stock, but he still has elite first-step quickness and awesome production when he’s on the field. The Giants are desperate for pass-rush help, and after David Ojabo’s torn Achilles at the Michigan pro day, Thibodeaux is the next man up.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Some might point to Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett here — and he’s certainly in play — but the wide receiver corps in Atlanta has been zeroed out this offseason. Wilson is a pro-ready, savvy receiver with jaw-dropping ability after the catch and sweet feet in his route tree.
9. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
A quarterback or pass-rusher would be preferred here, but there isn’t one available who fits the value of the No. 9 overall selection. Both positions will be high on the Seahawks’ list in Round 2. For now, they get a cornerback I’ve compared to Richard Sherman based on physical traits.
10. New York Jets (from SEA): Drake London, WR, USC
Zach Wilson needs a receiver who can win over the top, beat up press coverage and be a go-to option in the red zone. That’s London, who dominated Pac-12 defenses with 88 catches in eight games before fracturing his ankle in late October.
It’s a wild top 10, and one trade will throw this all out of whack, but, Jordan, I’m eager to learn where you have Willis landing after his pro day and just how you see the offensive tackles and wide receivers shaping this mock.
Reid: How I see the top 10 picks right now
We both agree on the landing spot for Willis, Matt. He impressed again at his pro day. This class is similar to 2014, in that an edge rusher is likely to go at the top and then the top 10 involves a mixture of pass-rushers and offensive tackles with a surprise quarterback and wide receiver as possibilities. Here’s what I’m thinking:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
After the Jaguars franchise-tagged Cam Robinson and signed Brandon Scherff in free agency, it became apparent that they were leaning toward addressing the defense here.
2. Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Expect this pairing to become more popular as we get closer to the draft. The breadcrumbs are apparent. The Lions’ staff coached Willis at the Senior Bowl, and they have a ready-made offensive line, an ideal bridge option in Jared Goff and cap space to build around a young quarterback.
3. Houston Texans: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Walker is the biggest winner of the pre-draft process, as scouts and coaches have steadily praised him and his rise. Texans general manager Nick Caserio, who was part of the Patriots’ glory days, experienced the importance of versatile base ends on defense. Walker has some Richard Seymour to his game, although he’s lighter and has better physical traits.
4. New York Jets: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Thibodeaux has been one of the most polarizing prospects in this class, but he’s still my top-ranked defensive end based on his talent and traits. The Jets have to get better on the edge, and Thibodeaux satisfies that need as an immediate starter.
Take a look at Kayvon Thibodeaux’s most aggressive plays at DE and see why he could be the best player to come out of the draft.
5. New York Giants: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
The Giants have a few directions they could go with two top-seven picks. The light turned on for left tackle Andrew Thomas last season, as he showed he was worthy of a top-five pick in 2020. Pairing him with Neal gives the team two promising bookends. Neal’s experience at right tackle (13 starts in 2020) means he could transition there as a Day 1 starter.
6. Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
With only one pick inside of the top 100, this selection is likely to be a quarterback or offensive tackle. I’d lean toward the best prospect available, and Ekwonu would be the first offensive lineman Carolina has taken in the first round since 2008 (Jeff Otah). The Panthers could take an in-state player who has immediate value at left tackle opposite of Taylor Moton.
7. New York Giants (from CHI): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
After fortifying the trenches, general manager Joe Schoen makes a luxury pick in Hamilton. The top-ranked overall player on my board, the versatility of Hamilton unlocks everyone on the defense. With defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s scheme relying heavily on consistency on the back end, the former Irish standout makes a lot of sense here.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
Outside of the Texans, there’s a strong argument the Falcons have the league’s worst roster. Following the trade of Matt Ryan to the Colts, quarterback sits atop the team’s list of needs. With Marcus Mariota as a bridge QB option, the team must find a way to get better in the trenches. Johnson is a seasoned run defender and natural pressure generator. He’s exactly what the team seeks for defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ 3-4 defense, which had a league-low 18 sacks last season.
9. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The Seahawks have a huge hole at offensive tackle. This fit will be a bit of a litmus test for how the franchise feels about his run blocking due to its admiration for keeping things on the ground. Cross has put plenty of promising run-blocking reps on tape during his two seasons as a starter. He’s the best pass protector in the class.
10. New York Jets (from SEA): Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
In a division that includes Stefon Diggs, Jaylen Waddle and now Tyreek Hill, it’s important to have strong corners. Gardner has shut-down ability on the perimeter, which the Jets have lacked for nearly a decade. This would mean two impact defenders for the Jets in the top 10.
I can’t remember a top 10 being more unpredictable, Matt. There’s still a long ways to go until we have more clarity.
Reid: I checked out Willis’ pro day in person Tuesday, and all 32 teams were present at Liberty’s indoor practice facility to watch him, including three general managers — Terry Fontenot (Falcons), Kevin Colbert (Steelers) and Scott Fitterer (Panthers). Many scouts came away impressed with the workout, a 72-throw script that included every type of throw imaginable, from off-platform, under center and even ones that required awkward arm angles.
Measuring 6-foot even and weighing 225 pounds, Willis is a quarterback in a running back’s body. He showed off his arm strength and was accurate to all three levels of the field. He was sharp with timing routes that required touch. Pro days aren’t weighed heavily by most scouts, but for executives — the guys who are making the decisions in draft rooms — they are a dress rehearsal for quarterbacks and teams’ first opportunity to see a player throw the ball in person. Willis passed the test and displayed exactly what he needed to in a strenuous environment.
Miller: Stock way up on Virginia tight end Jelani Woods, who has wowed us with his measurables both at the combine and his March 24 pro day. The 6-foot-7, 251-pound Woods ran a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash at the combine while posting explosion and quickness numbers that are rare for his size: 37.5-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump, a 4.22-second short shuttle and a 6.91 three-cone drill.
Those numbers might not mean much to the average fan, but they are golden to scouts. Woods’ numbers make him one of the most physically gifted tight end prospects of the past 30 years. A blocking tight end at Oklahoma State until he transferred to Virginia last year, Woods exploded onto the scene with 44 catches and eight touchdowns in 2021. The combination of production and measurables has him climbing draft boards. He’ll make an appearance in my top 100 and my top-five tight end rankings soon.
Reid: Wednesday was the first day for NFL teams to see Corral throw since he suffered a high ankle sprain in the Sugar Bowl in early January. He demonstrated exactly what he showed on tape throughout 2021. Corral has a lightning-quick release and ties his feet to his eyes on his release. After talking to a handful of scouts following the workout, the consensus was that he impressed. If there was a negative takeaway from the workout, though, it was that he must continue to improve his touch and feel on deep throws. There were some instances in which he overthrew targets, which I saw on his Ole Miss tape, too.
Like the rest of this QB class, it’s difficult to gauge his range. There are some teams that view him as a mid-to-late first-rounder, while others feel more comfortable taking him on Day 2.
Miller: The Texas A&M pro day left scouts checking their stopwatch batteries after a number of prospects didn’t run well, notably tight end Jalen Wydermyer and running back Isaiah Spiller. Wydermyer’s 5.05 time in the 40-yard dash could disqualify him from even being drafted, according to multiple scouts to whom I’ve spoken. Spiller’s 4.63 time wasn’t quite as pedestrian as Wydermyer’s, but it’s a concern still for a running back. What should help both is that their game speed looks much faster — neither appeared slow during the past two years at Texas A&M — but these times will no doubt cause both to fall on draft weekend, likely into Day 3.
Reid: A pro day performance that flew under the radar was from Nebraska center Cam Jurgens. At 6-foot-3, 304 pounds, he participated in only the 40-yard dash (4.92) and bench press (25 reps) at the combine earlier this month. At his pro day, Jurgens posted a 7.19 three-cone drill and had a 33.5-inch vertical and 9-foot, 11-inch broad jump. Those would have ranked him inside some of the best marks ever seen for an interior offensive lineman at the combine.
Teams seeking a wide- or zone-scheme center could take Jurgens in the third round. Don’t be surprised if he goes in the top 75 picks.
News, notes and everything we heard this week
Miller: As much as it will anger our guy Mel Kiper, there is legitimate talk about Iowa State running back Breece Hall landing in the late first round. Hall, a do-it-all back, would be an instant upgrade for the Bills (No. 27), who need a spark in the backfield. If we see a run on receivers, the teams drafting late first looking for upgrades on offense could focus on Hall to boost their scoring.
Reid: Where could Michigan outside linebacker David Ojabo, who tore his Achilles at his pro day, be drafted now? He was previously thought to be a top-15 pick, but I expect him to go off the board in the range of Nos. 25-45 now. The circumstances and timing of his injury are similar to cornerback Sidney Jones, who was projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick in 2017 before he suffered an Achilles injury that March. Jones wound up in Round 2 (No. 43) to the Eagles.
Miller: The Chiefs’ decision to trade Tyreek Hill was a stunner, but a source with the team told me they expect a more “well-rounded wide receiver group” in 2022. That could mean the Chiefs won’t necessarily target a speedy receiver to replace Hill, and that they instead want the best three to five receivers possible without trying to duplicate the track-star ability they had previously. (They added Marquez Valdes-Scantling on Thursday.) Kansas City now has picks 29 and 30, and a trade up might be the most likely scenario. If it doesn’t trade up, though, keep an eye on George Pickens (Georgia) and Christian Watson (North Dakota State).
Reid: Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith has been a huge riser since the conclusion of the season and is now in the first-round conversation. Kiper just projected him to the Cowboys at No. 24. One of the youngest prospects in this class, Smith will begin his career as a 20-year-old rookie. At 6-foot-5, 324 pounds, he’s a mauling blocker who is still learning his technique; he was credited with 16 penalties last season. Smith’s desire to play through the whistle excites scouts, but sharpening his technique will be an adventure. Some teams have Smith graded as a tackle, while others view him as a guard (I see him as a guard). He’s a name to watch closely during the back half of Day 1.
Mel Kiper Jr. identifies the wide receiver the Packers could look at late in the first round.
Miller: The Chiefs and Packers — who each have two first-round picks — will be eyeing receivers in this draft, and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks will be of interest to them. As I’ve polled scouts and decision-makers around the league, though, Burks’ name is often mentioned as someone the media is higher on than teams. Burks currently ranks No. 24 overall on my board, but he could slip to the early portions of Round 2 following a poor showing at the combine and at his pro day.
Reid: Speaking of the Packers, the Davante Adams trade means they now have five picks inside the top 92, including Nos. 22 and 28 in Round 1 and Nos. 53 and 59 in Round 2. The last time they drafted a wideout in the first round was Javon Walker in 2002, and they have since found Greg Jennings (2006), James Jones (2007), Jordy Nelson (2008) and Adams (2014) all on the second day of the draft. Adams won’t be easy to replace, but this is a deep wideout class, and Green Bay is going to have options. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it took two in its top five picks.
You mentioned Pickens for the Chiefs late in Round 1, Matt, and I could see Chris Olave (Ohio State) and Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) as fits for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers as well.
Miller: Nakobe Dean was the focal point of a loaded Georgia defense in 2021, but scouts aren’t as enamored with him as SEC offensive coaches seemed to be. Dean, who measured in at 5-foot-11, 229 pounds at the combine, has yet to run a 40-yard dash or do agility drills. Multiple scouts have mentioned to me that they gave him a Round 2 grade after the season. With smaller measurables and no testing to date, Dean could be a surprise slip on draft night.
Reid: I’ve gotten some mixed feedback on Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis. With a game centered around power, some scouts think he translates well to the next level, but there are others who have questions about how he’ll consistently win and which scheme he fits best. That means the range for where he’ll get drafted is wide — there are a few top-20 grades on him, along with others in Round 2.