ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. published his first mock draft of the 2022 NFL Draft season on Wednesday and, to be honest, it was pretty chalk. Kiper doesn’t have many surprises in his early first-round picks but he does offer a unique take on who the first quarterback and wide receiver off the board will be.
Let’s dive into it.
Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux remain Picks 1 & 2
Kiper swims with the masses for his first two picks, the premier edge rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hutchinson and Thibodeaux stand well above the rest of the class at this point and there’s little reason to think that will change. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler flipped the script in his latest NFL mock draft — he has NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu going first overall — but that seems more like an anomaly than something that will soon become a trend.
In Kiper’s mock, it’s Hutchinson who’s the pick of the Jaguars, and it’s hard to argue against it. He dismisses the idea of Jacksonville pivoting to an offensive lineman, too.
“He’s a safe No. 1 pick. They can play him on the other side of Josh Allen, who is a really nice player,” Kiper wrote. “Now, there could be some talk about the Jags taking a left tackle here, but I’m not buying that over the value of having a truly great edge rusher. Yes, left tackle might be more of a “need,” but they should take the best prospect, not fill the biggest need.”
For the Lions, they stick with Thibodeaux, who by the time April rolls around may just surpass Hutchinson on most analysts’ Big Boards.
“His get-off at the snap is lightning-quick, and though he’s still developing secondary pass-rush moves, he doesn’t need them when he can blow by offensive tackles before they’re out of their stance,” Kiper wrote of the Oregon Ducks star. “Thibodeaux had half as many sacks (seven) as Hutchinson this season, but he had the second-best pressure rate in the country (17.8%). Charles Harris, who led Detroit with 7.5 sacks this season, is a free agent, which makes this even more of a problem position.”
In a year without a franchise quarterback, the next best option for teams at the top of the draft is to draft a player at a position who can impact the quarterback. In 2022, it’ll be the pass rushers.