The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine is set to kick off this week at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It’s one of the best weeks of the NFL draft process because of how much it impacts the landscape of the first round and beyond. Players who are routinely mocked in the top-32 of 2022 NFL mock drafts will fall out of the first-round mix while prospects who’ve been pegged as day-two guys will suddenly make that jump into day one.
Before we get there, however, it’s worth taking a look at the latest 2022 NFL mock draft from USA Today. It’s one that continues the trending storyline of Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II’s ascent into the top-10 picks and has a surprise pick for the Denver Broncos at No. 9 overall.
Here are our takeaways from USA Today’s mock draft.
Jermaine Johnson off the board at No. 7 overall
USA Today’s Luke Easterling sends Johnson to the New York Giants at the seventh overall pick in a move that is a bit rich for my blood… right now. Johnson has a chance to exit the NFL Scouting Combine as one of the big winners, as he did following his performance at the 2022 Senior Bowl. If he runs, jumps, and lifts as impressively as he practiced in Mobile, Alabama, then yeah… he’s going to be a top-10 pick.
This is part of what makes the 2022 NFL Draft so unique. There’s as much of a chance that Johnson will be a top-10 pick as there is of him falling into the 20s. The early portion of round one remains extremely unsettled, which is why this year’s scouting combine is even more important than it usually is.
Evan Neal is the safe bet to go No. 1 overall
It’s beginning to feel like Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal has a strong grip on being the first overall pick. In Easterling’s mock, Neal is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ choice, and he’s now the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 in Vegas, too.
Is this an exciting pick? No. Is it the right pick? Absolutely.
The only chance the Jaguars have at becoming a relevant team in the AFC is Trevor Lawrence. And if he’s on his back more than he’s throwing passes downfield, that’s a problem. Enter Neal, who routinely dominated top SEC defenders throughout his career with the Crimson Tide.
The goal anytime a team has the first overall pick is to land a player who can be a high-impact starter for a decade. Neal is that guy; he’s the right choice.
Broncos pick linebacker over quarterback
This is the first big head-scratcher of Easterling’s mock draft. With Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett still on the board, Easterling sends the Denver Broncos linebacker Devin Lloyd. Sure, Lloyd is a top-notch prospect who is a plug-and-play starter, but the Broncos are a quarterback away from being a legitimate playoff team.
There’s a chance the Broncos end up with Aaron Rodgers, and if they do, adding a linebacker like Lloyd is a home run. But we can only predict what a team will do based on what we know right now, and for the Broncos, that means it’s quarterback or bust.
In this 2022 NFL mock draft, Easterling has Liberty’s Malik Willis headed to the Carolina Panthers with the sixth pick, which leaves Pickett sitting there… almost begging Denver to take him. He’s the perfect facilitator; a point guard of sorts. With the cast of skill players the Broncos already have on their roster, a distributor like Pickett is a perfect value meeting need scenario.
This was a big missed opportunity.
George Karlaftis falls to No. 23 overall
This one shocked me. George Karlaftis, who currently ranks as our No. 5 overall prospect, falls all the way down to No. 23 to the Arizona Cardinals.
“The Cardinals need another talented edge rusher to pair with Chandler Jones, and this year’s deep class gives them the perfect opportunity,” Easterling wrote. “Karlaftis is a complete prospect who excels as both a pass rusher and a run stuffer, with the polish to make an immediate impact.”
The depth of the 2022 NFL draft could result in a player like Karlaftis experiencing a draft-day slide. And if he gets outworked by players like Jermaine Johnson at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, his stock will trend downward. I just don’t see that happening, and his game film is among the best players — regardless of position — in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Karlaftis brings an approach to the field that NFL coaches will covet. He’s a freakish athlete, too, so don’t rule him out as being one of the stars of the 2022 combine. I don’t see any way he falls out of the top 10.
Wide receivers dominate the end of Round 1
Talk about a run on wide receivers at the end of the first round in USA Today’s mock draft. Beginning with the 27th pick, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, and Ohio State’s Chris Olave all come off the board in the final six selections.
Burks heads to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Williams to the Green Bay Packers at No. 28; and Olave to the Detroit Lions at No. 32.
I kind of like how Easterling has the first-round wide receivers falling. We tend to get carried away with how high we mock pass-catchers in the first round only to be surprised by their eventual slide. And with so much talent at the offensive and defensive lines in this year’s class, there has to be a position that gets pushed down a bit. Wide receiver is a good candidate to be that group, and while Easterling does have Drake London as the eighth pick to the Atlanta Falcons and Garrett Wilson the Cleveland Browns’ pick at No. 13, this end-of-round run feels like something that is a very real possibility come draft weekend.