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.
New York Jets land new wide receiver for Zach Wilson at No. 10
The Jets’ selection at No. 10 overall is the first mini-surprise of Kiper’s mock draft. He has New York landing USC wide receiver Drake London, the first wideout off the board. Kiper’s been a huge advocate of Alabama’s Jameson Williams as the top wide receiver in the class — he had him ranked sixth overall on his big board — but now has London as the WR1 following Williams’ torn ACL suffered in the national championship game.
Personally, I love this pick. London is the kind of receiver Wilson needs as he enters his second season in the league. The 6’5, 210 pounder is a physical freak with a my-ball mentality who can serve as Wilson’s bail-out option when plays begin to break down. Every young quarterback needs that, and in Kiper’s mock draft, the Jets get it right.
Kiper is pretty high on Malik Willis
Mock drafts aren’t necessarily a reflection of an analyst’s grade of a player, but it’s hard to ignore where Kiper has Liberty quarterback Malik Willis coming off the board: No. 11 overall to the Washington Football Team. Willis is Kiper’s first quarterback drafted, ahead of Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who’s usually the first passer to appear in 2022 mock drafts.
Kiper wasn’t shy about his affection for Willis, either.
“Put simply, Willis is the most talented quarterback in this class. He didn’t always get to show that at Liberty, which didn’t have much NFL talent around him. (He was sacked an astounding 51 times in 2021.) This is a dual-threat signal-caller — he rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons — with a powerful arm. I’m really excited to see him compete against the other top QBs in the Senior Bowl in a couple weeks.”
I’ll be in Mobile for the Senior Bowl and I’m going to use that week to really get a feel for which quarterback stands above the rest. As of now, Pickett is my preferred choice. But it’s still very close, and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl can have a big impact on final rankings.
It’s time to pay close attention to Utah LB Devin Lloyd
If you’ve been following the 2022 NFL draft class closely, then you already know about Lloyd. But for the casual fan, it’s time to pay attention to the Utah linebacker who’s beginning to build some serious buzz as a fast riser around the league. His athletic ability and on-field instincts have him being compared to players like Devin White and Roquan Smith in league circles, which suggests he could end up climbing into the top 10.
In Kiper’s mock draft, Lloyd comes off the board at No. 15 to the Philadelphia Eagles. He offers up the White comparison in his explanation of the pick.
“This is both a need and value pick, as Lloyd is coming off a tremendous season,” Kiper wrote. “I’ve compared him to Tampa Bay’s Devin White — he’s an off-ball linebacker with speed, versatility, range and run-and-hit ability. He had eight sacks and four picks last season. This would be a major boost to the Philly D.”
Jameson Williams to… the Patriots?
Wow. This would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Kiper’s love for Williams prevents him from falling out of the first round and instead sends him to the New England Patriots to pair with Mac Jones in what could become a pretty lethal combination in the AFC East.
Still, and as I’ve noted in multiple places by now, I’m not sure the NFL will agree with analysts like Kiper who refuse to drop Williams after his ACL injury.
“(Williams) would likely be in the top-10 range if he didn’t tear his ACL in the national title game, which means he might not be ready for training camp,” wrote Kiper. “Still, I don’t think he’s going to fall too far, because he’s a true No. 1 wideout when he’s healthy. This is good value for New England.”
I certainly wouldn’t fault the Patriots for taking a chance on Williams at the 21st overall pick, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening, either.
For Kiper’s complete mock draft, click here.