This year’s NFL Draft features plenty of intrigue at the top. We will likely see the top part of the 2022 NFL Draft filled with linemen as I currently project three of the top five players off the board to play in the trenches. However, the most intriguing part of this year’s draft is a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers potentially moving up to take Malik Willis in the top five.
In this week’s NFL Draft Notebook we take a look at the top ten of the 2022 NFL Draft and also highlight the following
- The top middle linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft
- A return man who had a strong pro day
- And much more
Top Ten Picks of the 2022 NFL Draft
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
While there was talk earlier in the offseason that the Jaguars might take an offensive tackle with this pick they addressed that need early in free agency. They have yet to spend the resources they have on the offensive line on the defensive side of the ball which leads me to think they will focus on that side of the ball in the NFL Draft. Hutchison is a complete player who should be able to record eight to ten sacks a year.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
The Steelers make a big move up the draft board to add their quarterback of the future. In this trade, the Steelers send the 20th overall pick a 2022 second-round choice and a first-rounder next year to move up 18 spots. Mike Tomlin has already stated how he is a fan of Willis and it doesn’t look like Detriot is sold on Willis being their franchise quarterback. Also, with this trade, the Lions will have three first-round picks next year which should give them enough ammunition to move up and take a quarterback next year.
3. Houston Texans: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
In his latest Texans mock draft, NFL Mock’s Jacob Schyvinck had the Houston Texans taking Georgia defensive end Travon Walker with the third pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which is a move that would make a lot of sense. This would be a good pick for the Texans since the team needs a pass rusher opposite Jonathan Greenard and Walker is a prospect who is seeing his stock skyrocket currently.
4. New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
With the fourth pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the New York Jets get the best player in the draft. This move makes sense for New York as Robert Saleh isn’t overly impressed with any of the top defensive ends in the draft, and we already see two of the top defensive ends off the board at this point. Hamilton is a big safety who plays with great range and would be a good addition to the Jets’ young secondary.
5. New York Giants: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
If the New York Giants want this to be a make or break season for quarterback Daniel Jones they are going to need to provide some production for him. Alabama’s Evan Neal is the top offensive tackle in the draft and has the versatility to play left or right tackle and even slid inside to offensive guard if needed.
6. Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
While the Carolina Panthers will consider a quarterback with this pick, it would make more sense for them to trade for a veteran quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield. This would be the wise move for the Panthers since Matt Rhule needs to have a strong season this year, and a seasoned vet gives him a much better chance of doing that this season. It also allows him to address the offensive line which is a major need for the team.
7. New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
After addressing the offensive line with their first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Giants address the defensive line with this selection. Thibodeaux is an explosive pass rusher who if he can stay motivated will be one of the top players in this year’s draft.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
The Falcons find their replacement for Matt Ryan who they traded to the Indianapolis Colts earlier this offseason. Pickett is similar to Ryan in that both are quarterbacks with a high football IQ, throw with good accuracy, and are strong leaders.
9. Seattle Seahawks: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Last season, the Seahawks finished dead last in the NFC in pass defense so adding the top corner in the 2022 NFL Draft would be a smart choice. Gardner is a long athletic corner who would be a good fit in Seattle’s defense.
10. New York Jets: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
After addressing the defensive side of the ball with their first pick the Jets come back and get some protection for Zach Wilson. Cross is the top pass blocker in the NFL Draft, and should instantly help upgrade New York’s offensive line which finished 29th in sacks allowed per game.
2022 NFL Draft Inside Linebacker Rankings
Top prospect: Devin Lloyd, Utah
One of the more productive players in the 2022 NFL Draft is Utah’s Devin Lloyd. Last season, Lloyd finished with 110 tackles and led the Pac-12 in tackles for loss with 22. In addition to his outstanding production, Lloyd has the skillset to be a day one starter at linebacker. Some of his top traits as a linebacker include his ability to hold up well in coverage, the intensity he plays with and his ability to consistently make the tackle in open space.
Sleeper: Justin Rice, Utah State
One of the most productive players in college football the past four seasons has been Utah State linebacker Justin Rice. Last season, he recorded 124 tackles and over his career, he was able to account for 325 tackles. When looking at how Rice will transition to the NFL he has enough working in his favor to be a late-round pick and find a home in the NFL as a backup. Some of his top traits include the ability to play sideline to sideline, the fluid hips to hold up in coverage and showing good closing speed when making the tackle.
Most overrated: Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
While Darrian Beavers is receiving early day three draft grades by most draft analysts his lack of elite athletic ability should make him more of a late-round selection. One concern is how stiff he plays. He struggles changing directions and displays tight hips on film. He also has only average speed running the 40-yard dash at his pro day in 4.67 seconds. On the positive side, he is a proven pass rusher who can possibly make a name for himself covering kicks.
Biggest risk: Jake Hansen, Illinois
When on the field Jake Hansen is one of the better linebackers in the Big Ten, but unfortunately staying on the field has been a challenge for him. He has suffered three season-ending injuries during his career including a knee injury this season. If he can stay healthy he could find a home in the NFL as a backup linebacker.
Player who had a breakout year: Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Going into the season one of the biggest questions with Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean was his ability to be a playmaker on the Bulldog’s defense. In his first two seasons for Georgia, he only accounted for 3 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, however, he answered that question this season. Dean finished the 2021 season with 10.5 tackles for loss while also picking up six sacks. His ability to make the big play this year is one of the reasons he went from a player who carried a fourth-round grade to one that now carries a high second-round grade.
Outstanding tester: Christian Harris, Alabama
One of the more athletically gifted linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft is Christian Harris. He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine running it in 4.44 seconds. He also had the second-best broad jump with a broad jump of 132 inches. While he is an elite athlete he only carries a mid-second grade since he is not the most physical backer and only shows average instincts vs. the run.
2022 NFL Draft Inside Linebacker Overall Rankings
1. Devin Lloyd, Utah (first round)
2. Nakobe Dean, Georgia (second round)
3. Christian Harris, Alabama (second round)
4. Chad Muma, Wyoming (second round)
5. Channing Tindall, Georgia (third round)
6. Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma (third round)
7. Leo Chenal, Wisconsin (third round)
8. Quay Walker, Georgia (third round)
9. James Skalski, Clemson (fifth round)
10. Damone Clark, LSU (fifth round)
11. Chance Campbell, Mississippi (fifth round)
12. Micah McFadden, Indiana (sixth round)
13. Ellis Brooks, Penn State (sixth round)
14. Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati (sixth round)
15. D’Marco Jackson, Appalachian State (seventh round)
16. Nephi Sewell, Utah (seventh round)
17. Justin Rice, Utah State (seventh round)
18. Jake Hansen, Illinois (free agent)
19. Nate Landman, Colorado (free agent)
20 Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin (free agent)
2022 NFL Draft Scouting Notes
— A connection to watch in the 2022 NFL Draft is Minnesota Vikings defensive back coach Daronte Jones to LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Jones coached Stingley last year while he served as LSU defensive coordinator. While this could be a positive for Stingley it could also be enough to scare the Vikings off of Stingley. He might not receive the highest grades in toughness from Jones since Stingley only played three games last year and his effort has been questioned in the past.
— One of the biggest moves in the NFL was the Kansas City Chiefs trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. While the signing of Marquez Valdes-Scantling helps fill this void the team still loses a lot of explosiveness with Hill now gone. One player the Chiefs should consider on day two of the draft is Calvin Austin II out of Memphis. Austin is one of the fastest wide receivers in this year’s draft class having posted a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine which was the third-best mark of any receiver. He also excels at picking up yards after the catch which was one of Hill’s biggest assets.
— One corner the New England Patriots have an interest in is Kaiir Elam of Florida. Going into the season Elam was viewed as a top ten prospect but he battled a knee injury this year which made the 2021 season a disappointing year for Elam. However, he has the traits to be a high-quality NFL starting cornerback. Some of these traits include an impressive combination of speed and size. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Combine and measured in at 6-foot-1 and a half. In terms of his play on the field, he is a good press corner who is not afraid to be physical with wide receivers.
— Utah’s Britain Covey had a strong pro day last month. His top testing number was his 4.43 40-yard dash which proved he has the speed to be viewed as one of the better return men in the 2022 NFL Draft. In addition to his speed, Covey has the production that will surely excite special teams coaches. having been named All-Pac-12 as a return man three times during his college career and setting the Utah school record in career punt return yards with 1,092 yards. Along with his ability to be a key member of a team’s special teams unit he should also be able to contribute as a number four or five wide receivers in the NFL having caught 132 passes during his career.
— LSU’s Damone Clark had a breakout season in his first year as full-time starter. In 2021 he led the SEC in tackles with 135 which also played him second in the nation. He also had a strong Senior Bowl where he was named the top linebacker on the American squad. Unfortunately, though his stock saw a drop since he underwent spinal fusion surgery which could cost him his rookie year.
Quote of the Week
“He’s less instinctive and less physical than I’m used to seeing from an Alabama linebacker.”
— Personnel director for NFC team, via NFL.com, on Alabama linebacker Christian Harris