The godfather of the NFL Draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., combined with his colleague Todd McShay to conduct a mini-mock draft on their podcast, First Draft, this week. With the first 18 picks in Round 1 locked and loaded, Kiper and McShay are finally dipping back into the chaotic world of mock drafting.
Kiper had the first pick, and like most mock drafts making the rounds right now, he has the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Aidan Hutchinson, the impressive pass-rusher from Michigan. Hutchinson’s experienced a meteoric rise up the first round in 2021 after beginning the year as a solid first-round prospect but far from the best in the class. Whether he holds onto that top spot is another story. At No. 2 overall, McShay has the Detroit Lions picking Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, who began the 2021 college football season as the most coveted player in the draft. He hasn’t lost much ground, and by the time April rolls around, there’s a good chance he’ll retake his place atop the board.
The third selection, owned by the Houston Texans, is the first mini-surprise. Kiper has the Texans selecting Alabama’s Evan Neal, the massive left tackle who’s holding on for dear life to his draft ranking. He’s already been passed on most draft analyst’s boards by NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu, and there are some scouts who prefer Mississippi State’s Charles Cross over him, too. But Neal’s standing as a top-shelf offensive tackle prospect remains, and there’s no doubt — at all — that he’ll be a top-10 pick. For Kiper, he’s a top-five guy, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many analysts who’d have a big problem with this pick.
McShay, at No. 4 overall, has the New York Jets picking LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. It’s a pick that makes sense for New York’s team needs, but I don’t think Stingley will end up with a grade this high by the time we get to draft weekend. First-rounder? Sure. But he doesn’t profile as a cornerback whose traits are consistent with some of the names we’ve seen go this high at the position in recent years. I’d be much more comfortable with the Jets taking him at No. 10 overall, which feels like a more likely draft slot for a player whose best season came as a freshman a few years ago.
Kiper wraps up the top five with the New York Giants’ selection of Ekwonu, which is probably the best value meeting need pick among this bunch. There’s no doubt the Giants will address the offensive line early and often in the 2022 NFL Draft, and, in a way, Kiper protects his selection of Neal to the Texans with Ekwonu going here at No. 5. Both tackles could easily be top-five picks, and with a big chunk of the draft calendar yet to take place, their positioning can flip flop several times.