NFL mock draft 2022: Projecting more trades that could create first-round chaos
Mid-April, a month into the NFL's new league year, is typically a time to regroup – the latter stages of free agency often on pause as teams put the final touches on their pre-draft prospect boards.
Yet it's also often the point when smokescreens begin to bloom as clubs discuss trades of players and/or draft selections – DK Metcalf anyone? – a process that often leads to leaks ... and, sometimes, disinformation dissemination. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who moved down last year yet still landed Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons, said Wednesday: "I would trade up this draft."
More deals are inevitable, especially in a year when one quarter of the league's teams have multiple Round 1 selections while another 25% have none. So, as speculation around the 2022 draft begins to swirl, let's bake in some trades to this latest mock draft as we explore potential ways the first round could transform:
1. Detroit Lions [PROJECTED TRADE with Jacksonville Jaguars] – DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: The apparent lack of elite quarterback prospects makes this year's No. 1 overall pick less appealing than in most years. Yet the Jags might find a prospective buyer in Detroit, which currently sits in the No. 2 spot. Even if Hutchinson is the best player available, there's not much of a delta between him and the next guy. However the Plymouth, Michigan, native and University of Michigan blueblood could have unique value to a Lions organization that lacks a face of the franchise. Engaging off the field, relentless between the lines and highly productive, the Heisman Trophy finalist set a Wolverines record with 14 sacks in 2021. The 6-7, 260-pounder would be the perfect addition to a 29th-ranked defense that recently let go of oft-injured DE Trey Flowers. Detroit could feasibly flip positions with Jacksonville by also giving up its two third-round picks.
2. Jaguars [PROJECTED TRADE with Lions] – DE Travon Walker, Georgia: This year's combine superstar (4.51 40 time, 35½-inch vertical leap), the 6-5, 272-pounder could be the crown jewel of a Bulldogs defense teeming with NFL talent. And unlike Hutchinson, Walker is more familiar with lining up inside – potentially valuable on passing downs when the Jags are likely to deploy edge rushers Josh Allen, Arden Key and K'Lavon Chaisson. Walker wasn't especially productive on the stat sheet for Georgia (13 tackles for loss, 9½ sacks in three seasons), but he'll surely benefit from more snaps – most likely to come at end – in the pros. And his ability to defend the run would be especially alluring in a division featuring Titans RB Derrick Henry and Colts RB Jonathan Taylor.
3. Houston Texans – OT Ikem ‘Ickey’ Ekwonu, North Carolina State: Good luck finding an offensive line prospect this year with more upside. A devastating run blocker, he could start out at guard or right tackle – or settle in on QB Davis Mills' blind side if the Texans decide to move veteran LT Laremy Tunsil as part of their ongoing rebuild. The 6-4, 310-pound Ekwonu ran a sub-5-second 40-yard dash at the combine, one indicator of his elite athleticism.
4. New York Jets – CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Cincinnati: A franchise that's been looking for Darrelle Revis' successor for the past half-decade would benefit greatly from the 6-3, 190-pounder Gardner, who never surrendered a TD pass for the Bearcats. The consensus All-American allowed only 20 receptions in 2021, picked off three passes and – evidence of his all-around game – posted 40 tackles and three sacks. He's not going to sustain that kind of shutdown rep in a division now featuring WRs Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs, but he'd certainly upgrade the league's worst defense, both in terms of points and yards allowed in 2021.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers [PROJECTED TRADE with New York Giants] – QB Malik Willis, Liberty: The six-time Super Bowl champs need a long-term replacement for retired QB Ben Roethlisberger and will eventually have to bite the bullet and ascend for one given Mike Tomlin's inability to finish below .500 will never organically get Pittsburgh in position to draft one. Elevating 15 spots is a big jump, but Tomlin and outgoing GM Kevin Colbert could probably pull it off by sending the Giants next year's first-rounder in addition to No. 20. The Steel City could also be an ideal landing spot for Willis, the presence of newly acquired veteran Mitchell Trubisky giving the Auburn transfer time to adapt from Liberty to the NFL. But he's the kind of dual threat passer Tomlin covets, and his 74 combined TDs (pass/rush) are the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision over the past two seasons. With a little seasoning, his powerful arm and legs could leverage downfield threats Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool more than Big Ben could at the end while freeing room for second-year RB Najee Harris – his 6-1, 232-pound frame resembles Willis' – to operate.
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6. Carolina Panthers – QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: Questionable a strategy as it might be for GM Scott Fitterer, embattled coach Matt Rhule and this organization generally, signs seem to be pointing to a quarterback. Rhule was a regular on the QB pro day circuit and – barring a trade down – probably has to get Sam Darnold's (eventual?) replacement here given the Panthers will have to wait 131 selections until their next pick near the end of Round 4. Pickett might be the most NFL-ready passer in the draft and brings poise, accuracy, a quick release, production (4,319 yards and 42 TDs passing in 2021) and underappreciated athleticism to the table. And if RB Christian McCaffrey and WRs DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall Jr. are all on the field, Pickett need only efficiently play point guard at the outset for this attack to improve markedly.
7. Giants (from Chicago Bears) – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: Given his off-field aspirations, including a post-football career in broadcasting, the Ducks star probably couldn't hope to land in a better market ... assuming, of course, he brings all of his prodigious talent to bear in The Big Apple. Perhaps the prize of the 2019 recruiting class, Thibodeaux might have more potential than any other player in this draft but will have to dispel questions about his dedication to the game and what appears a lack of hustle at times. In 30 games with the Ducks, the 6-4, 254-pounder had 19 sacks and 35½ TFLs. Big Blue had 34 sacks and 53 TFLs in 2021, so a difference maker of Thibodeaux's stature would most certainly be welcome. New York obtained this pick last year when the Bears moved up to select QB Justin Fields.
8. Atlanta Falcons – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: Given all the holes on his roster and dearth of cap space this year, GM Terry Fontenot should want to deal out of this spot to begin collecting assets for an overdue rebuild. But if Willis is already gone, might be a lot tougher to vacate this position given the quality depth available at most other positions. If Fontenot sticks and picks, the 2022 suspension of Calvin Ridley and free agent departure of Russell Gage may move wideout right to the top of his wish list. After laying down a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine, the 6-foot, 183-pound Wilson bolstered the argument he might be the top pass-catching prospect in a very extensive class of them. He's effective both outside and from the slot and is especially dangerous after the catch, scoring 13 TDs last season (one as a rusher). He would pair very nicely in the pass game – in whatever form it takes – with last year's first-rounder, TE Kyle Pitts.
9. New Orleans Saints [PROJECTED TRADE with Seattle Seahawks] – OT Evan Neal, Alabama: Originally property of the Denver Broncos, this slot conveyed to Seattle as part of the Russell Wilson package. It goes to New Orleans in this scenario with the reloading Seahawks securing picks No. 16 and 49 (second round) in exchange. The Saints snatch Neal to reinforce an offensive line that's been such a linchpin to their recent success but was stripped of LT Terron Armstead in free agency. Neal (6-8, 337 pounds) should be a cornerstone left tackle or, worst case, a dominant guard for RB Alvin Kamara to run behind.
10. Jets (from Seahawks) – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama: With the final piece of the 2020 Jamal Adams trade, NYJ GM Joe Douglas needs a home run draft after failing to lure any blue-chip free agents this year and coming up short in the derby to pry Hill out of Kansas City. Williams could well become that caliber of playmaker for second-year QB Zach Wilson ... once he fully recovers from the ACL tear suffered in the national championship game against Georgia. So the reward could be worth the risk for a 26th-ranked offense that didn't stretch the field enough when Wilson was on it. Williams was remarkably productive in 2021, averaging 100 receiving yards and a TD catch per game.
11. Washington Commanders – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: He's 6-4 and 220 pounds with sub-4.6 speed and can shore up deficiencies at the second and/or third levels. Hamilton can provide coverage, a box presence, blitzing ability and an intimidation factor – a varied skill set recently released S Landon Collins just couldn't provide in D.C.
12. Minnesota Vikings – CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU: His talents as a cover man are undeniable and were apparent for the 2019 national champions, for whom he had six interceptions, earning All-American honors for his efforts. But Lisfranc surgery limited him to three games in 2021 – a year after he was slowed by ankle issues. However a promising showing at LSU's pro day should cement Stingley into the top half of the first round. And what better way to break into the NFL than under the watchful eye of Bayou Bengals great Patrick Peterson, who's back in the Twin Cities for another year?
13. Texans (from Cleveland Browns) – OLB/DE Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State: This is where Houston officially begins its post-Deshaun Watson recovery, though it's apparent Mills is the man under center for the foreseeable future. But the Texans also need to regenerate their pass rush after years of relying on J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Johnson (6-5, 262) could form a nice bookend opposite Jonathan Greenard. A Georgia transfer who dazzled at the combine with a sub-4.6 40 time, Johnson comes off a productive senior season that included 11½ sacks and 17½ TFLs.
14. Baltimore Ravens – CB Trent McDuffie, Washington: The latest in a long line of quality Huskies corners, he has 4.4 speed, elite cover skills, smarts and the versatility to play in just about any scheme. The Ravens have historically stockpiled first-rate DBs yet have developed a need with Tavon Young moving to Chicago and Marcus Peters, who's got a year left on his contract, trying to rebound from a torn ACL.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins) – WR Drake London, USC: Yes, this would mean a first-round wideout for a third straight year in Philly. But at 6-4, 219 pounds, London would bring a different element to a Smurf-ish group that hasn’t gotten enough from holdovers like Jalen Reagor or 2019 second-round bust J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. London’s size would also be a plus for sometimes scattershot QB Jalen Hurts, who could use a Mike Evans-type target. London had 88 catches for 1,084 yards and seven scores in eight games in 2021 before a broken ankle cut his season short.
16. Seahawks [PROJECTED TRADE with Saints] – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia: Though the "Legion of Boom" secondary largely defined Seattle's defense in its heyday, a deep and dangerous line was just as intrinsic to the success of a unit that allowed the fewest points in the league every season from 2012 to 2015. If coach Pete Carroll wants to get back to that formula in the post-Russell Wilson era, Davis would be a good starting point – and the type of player who might provide maximum results in a rotational role, much like he was deployed in Athens. A 6-6, 341-pound All-American who somehow ran a 4.78 40 at the scouting combine, Davis can crush a pocket and is also a valuable run stuffer – an important weapon against teams like the 49ers and Rams, who historically seek to establish their ground attacks.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State: For an offense that appears so reliant on an aerial assault – and needs to safeguard QB Justin Herbert over the long haul – logic dictates taking Cross, perhaps this draft's premier pure pass protector.
18. Eagles (from Saints) – DT Devonte Wyatt, Georgia: Davis' running mate with the Dawgs, Wyatt ran even faster (4.77) than his buddy in Indianapolis ... though he is a diminutive 6-3 and 304 pounds by comparison. Cat quick, Wyatt has the size that ought to allow him to operate in multiple fronts and roles. And, like Walker, his stats at Georgia probably suffered due to the Bulldogs' deep rotation. Wyatt should fit nicely into a Philly front that looks to be in transition with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham likely entering their final seasons here.
19. Saints (from Eagles) – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State: If you buy into the notion that New Orleans added a second first-round pick in order to make a push in the seemingly depleted NFC, then acquiring a player with Olave's talent seems sensible. His speed and smooth route running could eventually make him a clear-cut No. 1 target, not to mention his ability to find the end zone – that occurring 32 times in his last 33 games for Ohio State. But in the near term, he'd be a dangerous complement to fellow Buckeye Michael Thomas and Kamara.
20. Giants [PROJECTED TRADE with Steelers] – LB Devin Lloyd, Utah: They got a first-hand look at the impact a multi-talented 'backer can have after seeing what Parsons, whom New York could have drafted in 2021, did for Dallas last season. Lloyd had seven sacks ands 22 TFLs for last year's Pac-12 champions but is also stellar in coverage and able to lead a defense. Quite a windfall if Big Blue could land him and Thibodeaux.
21. Kansas City Chiefs [PROJECTED TRADE with New England Patriots] – WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State: K.C. let Hill go and has only added hyphens since – JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Not enough, though. No one, especially a rookie, is going to come in and replace Hill's prodigious production and impact. But Dotson (5-11, 178 with 4.4 speed) is a home run hitter with similar stature and explosiveness and very reliable hands. The Chiefs almost certainly need a more consistent deep threat than MVS to deter defenses from ganging up on TE Travis Kelce. And this would be a fairly easy move for Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach to make, packing their 29th pick (previously owned by the San Francisco 49ers and Dolphins) with a third- and fourth-rounder off to New England – meaning Kansas City would still get two cracks in Rounds 1 and 2 while getting ahead of the receiver-starved Packers.
22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders) – WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State: They haven’t drafted a receiver in Round 1 since Javon Walker in 2002. But this should be the year they’ll need to strongly consider it, most especially with the pick acquired in the show-stopping deal for All-Pro Davante Adams, who had 110 catches in three of the past four seasons. Watson won't replace Adams – who would? – but a 6-5, 208-pound target with 4.36 speed would be a dangerous option for QB Aaron Rodgers.
23. Arizona Cardinals – OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa: Perhaps one way to appease disgruntled QB Kyler Murray would be to improve his protection with a bodyguard who will literally fight on his behalf. Also, veteran OTs D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum are both headed for free agency in 2023.
24. Dallas Cowboys – OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M: He played every O-line position but center for the Aggies in 2021 but took most of his college snaps at left guard. That kind of versatility – and a nice streak of nastiness – would be a boon to a once dominant unit that lost two starters (RT La'el Collins, LG Connor Williams) in free agency and had shown signs of slippage anyway.
25. Buffalo Bills – RB Breece Hall, Iowa State: It's strongly worth considering. Buffalo hasn't had a 900-yard rusher since QB Josh Allen was drafted in 2018, and he's had to shoulder too much of the run game's responsibilities. For a team that appears primed for a Super Bowl run, especially amid Kansas City's loss of Hill, why not add one more difference maker? Hall (6-1, 220) could be an every-down option whose 4.39 speed could bust many games open while reducing wear and tear on Allen. Hall had 3,526 yards from scrimmage and 46 TDs during his last two seasons with the Cyclones.
26. Tennessee Titans – OL Zion Johnson, Boston College: Strong as an ox (combine-high 32 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press) but with light feet, Johnson can line up at tackle or guard – he could replace departed LG Rodger Saffold immediately and LT Taylor Lewan down the line – and would provide a nice boost to a physical offense that wants to dominate up front before Henry runs over the remnants.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DB Daxton Hill, Michigan: The Bucs are suddenly thin at safety and slot corner. Hill can kill two birds with one stone. His 4.38 speed is an asset at nickel, the box or center field and would create more options for newly promoted head coach Todd Bowles, who will remain intimately involved with the defense.
28. Packers – WR Skyy Moore, Western Michigan: We're doubling down on receivers for a franchise that hasn't taken one in Round 1 in two decades. Moore (95 catches for 1,292 yards and 10 TDs in 2021) is a quick, shifty type who can operate out wide or from the slot and broke an FBS-high 26 tackles last season. He'd pair nicely with Watson while giving the Pack two chances to find a guy who might at least replicate a healthy fraction of Adams' lost production. And given Allen Lazard's inconsistency, Randall Cobb's decline – both are free agents next year – and Amari Rodgers' lack of impact (4 receptions) as a rookie, GM Brian Gutekunst might be wise to continue throwing resources at this critical position.
29. Patriots [PROJECTED TRADE with Chiefs] – LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia: New England covets good football players, and Bill Belichick seems less likely to be deterred by Dean's 5-11, 229-pound stature given how intelligent, instinctive and rangy the Butkus Award winner and leader of Georgia's championship defense is. (Tedy Bruschi was undersized and underpowered once upon a time, too.) There also appears to be a need here given longtime Pats LB Dont'a Hightower remains a free agent.
30. Chiefs – DE Boye Mafe, Minnesota: He had seven sacks in 2021, and his quick first step was partially quantified by the 6-4, 261-pounder's 4.53 40 clocking at the combine. K.C. could certainly use another edge presence in a division now teeming with quality pass rushers hunting its elite quarterbacks, and Mafe could break in as a sub package specialist supplementing Frank Clark and Chris Jones.
31. Cincinnati Bengals – CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson: The AFC champs can actually look to improve other areas of their roster after getting three new offensive linemen for QB Joe Burrow in free agency. An All-ACC performer in 2021, Booth (6 feet, 200 pounds) could immediately push to replace Eli Apple as a starter for Cincy's defense ... which couldn't slow down the Rams' passing game in the pivotal moments of Super Bowl 56.
32. Seahawks [PROJECTED TRADE with Lions] – QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati: A first round that might begin with a trade will most certainly end with one – guaranteed since Detroit currently owns the 32nd pick by virtue of last year's deal of QB Matthew Stafford to the Rams. But if the Lions don't spring for a quarterback here, another team very likely could given the value of the fifth-year contract option afforded first-round players – all the more enticing when it comes to the game's most important position. (Lamar Jackson and Teddy Bridgewater were both targeted by teams trading up into the 32nd spot in recent drafts.) With Wilson now gone, perhaps no club has a bigger question under center than Seattle. Ridder is a renowned leader, winner and worker –plus a very good athlete to boot. Sound a bit like the guy he would replace in this scenario? From Detroit's perspective, a deal with Seattle would mean the Lions would only have to move down from No. 32 to 40 while probably adding a fourth-rounder to square the deal.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.