Fantasy football managers and fans of high-flying offense may be in for a disappointment in the 2022 NFL Draft. Sure, there are some quality offensive skill players who will be selected in the first round, but the top of the draft is headlined by stars on defense, as proven by the latest 2022 mock draft from Pro Football Focus.
PFF’s mock draft kicks off with five straight defensive studs: (1) Jacksonville Jaguars – Aidan Hutchinson (Edge, Michigan), (2)Detroit Lions – Kayvon Thibodeaux (Edge, Oregon), (3) Houston Texans – Derek Stingley Jr. (CB, LSU), (4) New York Jets – Kyle Hamilton (SAF, Notre Dame), and (5) New York Giants – George Karlaftis (Edge, Purdue). In a way, it’s the football gods’ effort to balance power in the NFL. Three of the first five picks are pass rushers, one is an elite cornerback, and the other is arguably the best all-around football player in the class. All five will combat players like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the struggle to bring defense back to the forefront of the game.
The first player on offense who comes off the board isn’t a guy who will touch the ball, either. Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal goes sixth overall to the Carolina Panthers in a pick that only briefly stops the run on defense. The seventh pick returns to that side of the ball with the Jets’ selection of Georgia linebacker, Nakobe Dean. It isn’t until the ninth pick that we see a skill player (and a quarterback at that) come off the board with the soon-to-be renamed Washington Football Team’s selection of UNC’s Sam Howell.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, PFF has four in the first round, which seems like a fair number. Howell is joined by Ole Miss’ Matt Corral (No. 12 overall to the Denver Broncos), Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder (No. 17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers), and Liberty’s Malik Willis (No. 30 to the Detroit Lions). A surprising omission is Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who many draft analysts currently have as the top quarterback in the class. This year’s group of quarterbacks is a tough one to figure out, and there’s as good of a chance that only one or two of these names — including Pickett — end up in the top 32 as there is four or even five of them getting picked.
The 2022 NFL draft season will rev into high gear once the Senior Bowl kicks off later this month. The narrative around this year’s class will shift quite a bit, but one thing seems like a foregone conclusion: The 2022 draft is all about defense.