The 2021 NFL regular season is in the books and while 14 teams have their sights set on hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, the rest of the league is full steam ahead with draft prep. While it will be a long, long journey from now until reaching Las Vegas at the end of April, that doesn’t mean one can’t look at how things might play out in a fascinating year for prospects.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at who could go where in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
It says plenty about the Jags’ needs when they’re picking first overall in back-to-back drafts but at least they land an impact pass rusher in Thibodeaux. The former Ducks star can do it all and benefits from a polished repertoire of moves and a physical skill set that ticks every box.
2. Detroit Lions — Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
There are few more perfect marriages of player, head coach and team need than the terror off the edge from just up the road in Ann Arbor landing with the Lions. Hutchinson is in play to go with the top pick but those in Detroit hope that Week 18 win won’t cost them a shot at the Wolverine stud.
3. Houston Texans — Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State
Ekwonu is going to test off the charts at the Scouting Combine given some of the freaky measurements he’s got and could be a nice safe pick for a Texans franchise severely disappointed at seeing these quarterback options available.
4. New York Jets — Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Robert Saleh is going to run to turn in the card with Hamilton’s name on it given how much he can help that lackluster secondary for the Jets and provide the much-needed leadership on the back end. It’s rare a safety is worth a top-five pick but the Irish DB is more than worth it with his size, incredible coverage range and ability to hit.
5. New York Giants — George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue
The G-Men have to improve along both lines and Karlaftis’ incredible motor and ability to line up all over will earn him high marks in the draft process. The versatility he brings in a division full of mobile quarterbacks is definitely a factor too.
6. Carolina Panthers — Drake London, WR, USC
As much as ownership would love to sort out the QB position or head coach Matt Rhule would love to shore up the offensive line, London can turbo-charge the offense given his size, catch radius and ability to post up in the end zone. The team has lacked that true No. 1 since Steve Smith left and Sam Darnold's fellow Trojan can assume the mantle almost right away as a rookie.
7. New York Giants (from Chicago) — Evan Neal, OL, Alabama
General manager Dave Gettleman may no longer be picking for the franchise but his love for the big men can continue for another draft as they land one of the rare tackles who truly can play either side without missing a beat. Few players are built like Neal is and the new Giants head coach will benefit greatly from the improved protection up front.
8. Atlanta Falcons — Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
In most years, Stingley would be a no-brainer to be the first corner taken but his injuries and inconsistent team play do make things a little less clear coming into the draft this year. The Falcons won’t mind in the end however as he has the skills to come in right away as a starter and feel comfortable being out on an island without issue.
9. Denver Broncos — Tyler Linderbaum, OL, Iowa
Much of the Broncos’ draft direction will depend on what they do in free agency or via trade in terms of landing a veteran quarterback. If they don’t like the draft options under center, they might as well pick the best center to come through in ages instead.
10. New York Jets (from Seattle) — David Ojabo, Edge, Michigan
The other half of the Wolverines’ stellar pass rush is just scratching the surface of what he can do and physically has a chance to be an upper-tier guy off the edge.
11. Washington Football Team — Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
What a difference a year makes for Pickett, who goes from Day 3 selection to the first QB off the board as Washington buys in on his upside as an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke. His grit and determination will, if nothing else, earn him a fan in Ron Rivera.
12. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
The organization has moved on from their head coach and GM and it won’t be long before Kirk Cousins joins the list. Corral is a dynamic passer that certainly brings a bit of an "it" factor that is currently lacking in the Twin Cities.
13. Cleveland Browns — Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
After the OBJ mess this season, a drama-free receiver who runs impeccable routes and can stretch the field seems just like what head coach Kevin Stefanski can use to help jump-start that disappointing offense.
14. Baltimore Ravens — Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Keeping Lamar Jackson upright remains a priority and the way the Ravens' offensive line got hit with injuries this season makes bringing in somebody like Green with five-tool versatility a priority.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami) — Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The Eagles linebacking corps has been below average for years and thanks to these back-to-back picks, they can address it in one fell swoop with a pair of athletic studs who are as capable of dropping into coverage as they are bringing down a dual-threat QB.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (from Indianapolis) — Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
The Chargers’ run defense and associated issues were front and center as they slipped out of the playoff picture. Davis is a load in the middle and can solve that overnight by his mere presence in the lineup.
18. New Orleans Saints — Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Sean Payton can’t believe his luck in seeing Wilson slip this far. He’s tailor-made to score touchdowns in that Saints offense no matter who is the quarterback.
Note: Picks 19-32 won't be finalized until the postseason concludes. These are currently ordered by playoff teams' record, using strength of schedule as the first tiebreaker.
19. Philadelphia Eagles — Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Gardner lost out on the Thorpe Award as CFB’s best defensive back to his teammate Coby Bryant largely because he was so good teams never even looked his way. The Eagles’ defensive overhaul can add another piece with the aptly named "Sauce" being a perfect complement to Darius Slay and others.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers — Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
The Big Ben era looks to be over and none of the team’s backups have proven worthy of being the successor. Ridder is far from a finished product but his arm and physical attributes could allow for a better pro career than an already great college one.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The Bengals haven’t been afraid of taking players who others might knock for being a tad short so McDuffie becomes a seamless fit with that Bengals defense that continues to make quality moves to plug holes on the depth chart.
22. New England Patriots — Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Hill seems like just the kind of versatile inside-out defensive back that can come in and have an early impact for Bill Belichick’s defense. The defender’s ability to cover the field and pattern match so fluidly should help him slot right into a secondary that could be rebuilding itself this offseason.
23. Miami Dolphins (from San Francisco) — Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia
Lots of folks tuning into see the Bulldogs’ top-notch defense this season were drawn to the play of Walker, who has every physical tool imaginable and incredible twitch.
24. Las Vegas Raiders — Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
Playing in the AFC West means you can never have too many good corners and McCreary’s ability to play at the line and recover if needed makes him a nice fit in Sin City. Plus, he’s not shy in covering the opposing No. 1 and holding down the fort.
25. Buffalo Bills — Cam Thomas, Edge, San Diego State
Sean McDermott is going to need some reinforcements in the front seven this offseason and Thomas’ ability to wreak havoc will turn him into a draft darling. He’s got the size to move around the front and would slot in nicely next to the pieces already on the Bills' roster.
26. Arizona Cardinals — Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The team has to keep Kyler Murray healthy over the course of 18 games and Cross’ ability to pass block makes this a bit of a steal late in the first. Plus, he’ll have little issue transitioning from college to the pros given the similar system his old and new head coach run.
27. Tennessee Titans — Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
The Titans have built their identity around running the ball and that just so happens to be what Penning can do better than just about anybody in this draft class with his bulk and movement skills.
28. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) — Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Amon-Ra St. Brown has turned into a nice bright spot for the Lions out of the slot but throwing Burks into the mix would be an even nicer weapon to have for the team’s quarterback given the size and speed the former Hog brings to the table.
29. Dallas Cowboys — DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
Jerry Jones has turned in several great drafts in a row that has delivered some high-end talent to the roster and Leal could add to the haul. His quickness off the line is underrated and he could become even more dangerous given what might surround him in Big D along the line.
30. Kansas City Chiefs — Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Even despite turning things around in the middle of the season, the Chiefs’ defense needs reinforcements on the back end and Booth has a chance to step in immediately to contribute given how smooth he is.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
Wyatt can get upfield in the blink of an eye and while extending Tom Brady’s window with weapons remains a priority, those needs can wait until Day 2 when you have such a rare interior lineman available.
32. Green Bay Packers — David Bell, WR, Purdue
Assuming he’s still around, Aaron Rodgers finally gets some first-round draft help in the form of the playmaking Bell. His ability to make incredible catches and haul in difficult throws make him a nice insurance policy as much as a potential complement to Davante Adams should the latter return in 2022.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.