Steelers find Big Ben’s replacement at Boston College

Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is almost over. As we enter the last week in July, the summer months of football stretch out ahead of us. The dark days are over, and good times are coming. What better way to celebrate the return of football than with a 4-Round 2022 NFL Mock Draft? You may know some of the first-round names, but below are 132 NFL Draft prospects to get familiar with ahead of the 2021 college football season.

2022 NFL Mock Draft | 1-16

This 4-Round 2022 NFL Mock Draft uses the current Vegas odds for the 2021 NFL season to ascertain the order.

1. Houston Texans: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

Picture the scene. Aaron Rodgers has taken up his residence as guest host of Jeopardy. With a wry smile barely disguised by his mustachioed upper lip, he calmly proclaims: “your clues are ditch water, the fog around a haunted house, the Tennessee ‘cash-in-a-bag’ scandal.” Without hesitation, the contestant — let’s call him David from Houston — confidently answers: “What is less murky than the Houston Texans quarterback situation?”

Dave would be correct. As rumors continue to circulate around potential trade destinations for Deshaun Watson, it appears extremely unlikely that the former Clemson quarterback suits up for the Texans again. Tyrod Taylor isn’t the franchise’s future, and third-round selection Davis Mills is probably not the guy either.

Spencer Rattler, however, can be THE guy for the Texans. The Oklahoma quarterback boasts a sensational pedigree as the Arizona high school passing yards record holder. Last season for the Sooners, he emerged down the stretch as one of the best signal-callers in the nation. A big-armed passer whose pocket awareness and decision-making developed significantly as the year progressed, Rattler is on an upward trajectory to be the first overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

2. Detroit Lions: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

The fact that the Detroit Lions are picking second in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft represents something of a win. They’ve been projected to be the first overall pick next April throughout the spring and into the early summer. Maybe Dan Campbell’s knee-biting enthusiasm has begun to rub off on analysts, odds-makers, and fans alike. Maybe there’s growing optimism about Jared Goff’s ability to guide the team since his trade from the Los Angeles Rams.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that the Texans are a larger dumpster fire than the Lions at this moment in time. Detroit faces a quandary of epic proportions with the second overall pick. Arguably the best player in the class, Kayvon Thibodeaux, is available. He’d be an instant upgrade to a Lions’ defense that gave up the most yardage in the NFL last fall.

However, if they pick this low, the issue will likely have been Jared Goff’s inability to run the offense. As a result, they swoop for the future of the franchise in North Carolina’s Sam Howell. Not only does Howell possess a belter of an arm that would unlock the downfield passing game, but his robust frame and style of play also fit with the culture that Campbell is looking to build in Detroit.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

It would not be very reasonable to assume that even the most outstanding quarterback prospect in recent memory could immediately turn around the fortunes of the Jaguars’ franchise. There’s no question Trevor Lawrence will be an immediate upgrade to the offense. Still, let’s not pretend that the offense was the only issue in Duval last season.

In addition to giving up the second-most yards in the NFL, Jacksonville ranked near the bottom of the league across several defensive metrics. The last time the Jaguars were good, their success was predicated on defense. If they’re selecting this early again next spring, it’s likely that the defense is still a work in progress. Adding Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux to that unit escalates them from “work in progress” to “work of art.”

Many superlatives describe the versatile defensive end, but “monster” and “freak” are an excellent start. Thibodeaux is an insane athlete who took college football by storm with ridiculous productivity levels as a freshman. Although he is an outstanding pass rusher, Thibodeaux is equally adept at stopping the run. The dismal Duval defense gets an immediate upgrade with the former Duck.

4. New York Jets: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

With the mud-slinging over money surrounding Marcus Maye, it would appear that the New York Jets are set to lose another safety. Even if they do come to an agreement, I would still hold firm with this selection in our 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Let’s call it…I don’t know…safety in numbers for want of an even more terrible pun.

Or we could call it what it is. I’ve often referred to Thibodeaux as the best player in the draft, and playing the defensive end position adds additional value to the Oregon pass rusher. Be under no illusion, though, that it’s a foregone conclusion. Kyle Hamilton‘s unique physical profile and skill set have him closer to Thibodeaux than most people would admit.

The Notre Dame safety is an athletically gifted playmaker in the secondary. Hamilton has all the tools to be impactful against the run, disruptive in coverage, and possesses impressive versatility. Further additions to the defensive backfield come in the second round with new Georgia cornerback Derion Kendrick, turning the weakness of the Jets’ defense very much into a strength.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

On 31 separate occasions last season, Joe Burrow watched helplessly as his offensive line let another pass rusher plow through and put him on his back. The rookie quarterback would pick himself up, dust himself off, and go again. Yet on the 32nd time, Burrow didn’t bounce back up. As a result, the Bengals were left without their No. 1 overall pick for the rest of the season.

Burrow had more hits than the Beatles in his first season for the Bengals. Despite this, they opted to reunite him with Ja’Marr Chase rather than provide him with protection this April. If the Bengals are selecting this early again, Burrow likely spent more time on his back than lobbing touchdowns to his former LSU teammate.

Enter Evan Neal. A Goliath at 6’7″ and 360 pounds, the Alabama offensive tackle would form a formidable wall for Burrow. As we’re constantly being reassured, size isn’t everything, but Neal also possesses impressive power and athleticism at the position. Additionally, his experience playing across the line gives the Bengals some maneuverability to play their best possible bookend combination.

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

How invested in Jalen Hurts are the Eagles’ front office? Their moves this offseason were a resounding display of faith in the former Sooners’ signal-caller. They surrounded Hurts with talent rather than providing him with competition. Nevertheless, that leash will only extend so far – especially if the Eagles are once again selecting early in Round 1.

Some healthy competition/a replacement comes later in Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels but let’s not pretend that Philadelphia’s primary problems are purely related to their passer. They have to get some production out of their secondary to compete in the NFC East. They ranked in the bottom 10 for several defensive metrics last season, which just isn’t good enough.

The defensive backfield in the City of Brotherly Love needs to become, well — less loving. In Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., they get a ferocious playmaker who plays with the nastiness and swagger that has come to epitomize the CB position. At this moment in time, his development is a projection. But Booth has the athleticism, size, and highlight-reel ball skills for him to challenge to be the CB1 of this class.

7. New York Giants: Kenyon Green, OG/T, Texas A&M

The NFC East has the potential to be a quarterback carousel after this season. Aside from the Dallas Cowboys, no team is truly set at the position. Similar to the Eagles above them, the Giants appeared to put all their eggs in Daniel Jones’ basket this offseason. They added multiple pieces to the receiver room, with further additions on the offensive line.

Although they add a quarterback later in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, grading the offensive line figures to be the first act of business. Texas A&M’s versatile offensive lineman Kenyon Green is comfortably the best player on the offensive side of the trenches. Green has been an elite guard for the Aggies. Furthermore, he is set to kick outside to left tackle this season, further increasing his value.

Whether he ultimately plays at tackle or guard in the NFL, Green presents an elite talent to protect Jones and pave the way for Saquon Barkley.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

The Falcons were expected to strike for Matt Ryan’s successor in the spring, but the former Boston College quarterback instead found himself with an elite weapon to play with in Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. Ryan continues to be one of the better passers in the NFL, but he can’t go on forever. In Round 2 of our 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the Falcons find his replacement in the highly entertaining, if not somewhat volatile, Matt Corral.

Yet, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. While finding Ryan’s replacement or even adding a pass catcher to replace the departed Julio Jones may seem like the priority in April, there are some more pressing matters at hand. The Falcons had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last fall. They allowed the most passing yards and gave up the fourth-most passing touchdowns.

With all due respect to A.J. Terrell and Kendall Sheffield, they don’t have an elite cornerback duo. Derek Stingley Jr. is an elite cornerback prospect. There aren’t many players in football who have the LSU cornerback’s combination of exceptional athleticism and ball skills. A genuine lockdown cornerback who comes with a gaudy stat sheet, Stingley automatically upgrades the Falcons’ secondary.

9. Carolina Panthers: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

Although the Panthers added a first-round cornerback and multiple defensive tackles this year, Matt Rhule’s defensive overhaul continues in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. Imagine if Rhule was around when Luke Kuechly controlled everything from the heart of the Panthers’ linebacker group. That would have been fun, right?

As it stands, the linebacker trio of Shaq Thompson, Denzel Perryman, and Jermaine Carter Jr. is serviceable, but if we’re honest, it’s not outstanding. Furthermore, Carter and several other linebackers are out of contract after the season.

Adding Alabama’s Christian Harris gives them a tenacious, athletic, and intelligent replacement at linebacker. Sound familiar, Panthers fans? Now, I’m not comparing Harris to Kuechly. That would be absurd. Nevertheless, he does upgrade the linebacker group significantly and brings a ferocious presence for a defense that is trending towards being one of the nastiest in the NFL.

10. New York Giants: Drake Jackson, OLB, USC

A large part of the 2021 offseason was spent theorizing whether the Giants would address their abysmal pass rush in free agency or the NFL Draft. The G-men were seen as a contender to select a first-round pass-rush prospect. However, they ultimately waited until the second round with the selection of Azeez Ojulari. The Georgia pass rusher fell to the Giants due to reported “significant medical red flags.”

Although he was arguably a steal if he stays healthy, it’s not a solid foundation for building a defense for the future. Moreover, Lorenzo Carter is set to hit free agency at the end of the season. As a result, pass rush still figures to be a need in the 2022 NFL Draft.

USC’s Drake Jackson offers the Giants a unique blend of size, bend, and athletic ability. Despite standing at 6’4″ and having played north of 270 pounds during his career, Jackson has an impressive ability to get around or under opposing linemen to impose himself on the QB. Currently set to play outside linebacker for the second consecutive season, the USC pass rusher also has experience as a traditional defensive end.

2022 NFL Mock Draft: Steelers find Big Ben's replacement at Boston College

11. Denver Broncos: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

The Cooper Temple Clause once sang, “we can’t keep making the same mistakes.” Honestly, they could have been singing about the Denver Broncos’ seemingly never-ending quest to find a talented successor to Peyton Manning. The organization was widely derided for passing on Justin Fields this spring, with the jury still very much out on incumbent quarterback Drew Lock.

If the Broncos find themselves selecting in the top half of the first round next April, it seems inevitable that they’ll move on. Denver was inextricably linked with Aaron Rodgers before the draft, and new general manager George Paton has a history of trying to work with veteran quarterbacks. Coincidentally, he was at the helm when the Minnesota Vikings brought Brett Favre to Minnesota to close his career.

The selection of Carson Strong with the 11th overall pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft assumes that the Broncos don’t make that veteran move. Strong fits the quarterback profile that John Elway has always favored for the Broncos. Yes, I’m aware that he isn’t pulling strings in Denver. Still, I’d bet good money that he maintains a hold as a puppet master behind decisions at the QB position. At 6’4″, 215 pounds, with a cannon for an arm, and enough mobility to manipulate the pocket, Strong could rejuvenate the Broncos’ offense.

12. Las Vegas Raiders: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Once a team built on ferocity and fear, the Raiders’ defense was one of the easiest teams to throw on last season. Some of that can be attributed to quarterbacks having more time to drop back and throw than the most avid gambler would spend in a Las Vegas casino. However, there are glaring holes within the secondary, and they finished in the bottom 10 of multiple pass defense categories.

Reports have already circled concerning Damon Arnette being written off just over a year after being a surprise first-round selection. Decisions like that have raised question marks over Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden’s tenures, and they can’t afford to make another false step next April.

Not only would Kaiir Elam not be a false step, but he’d be regarded as a steal with the 12th overall pick in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft. The Florida cornerback has all the tools to challenge for the CB1 spot in this class. At 6’2″ and just shy of 200 pounds, Elam has the prototypical size to play cornerback in the NFL. The nephew of former Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam has exceptional speed, fluidity, and ball skills. All his profile is lacking at the moment is the gaudy stat sheet of his cornerback contemporaries in this class.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

The Cardinals’ need to upgrade at cornerback was perfectly demonstrated with the addition of three college prospects this spring. Both their current starters at the position are in their 30s. Additionally, Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford are out of contract at the end of the season. Although there is talent in Tay Gowan, the need to add an immediate impact contributor in Arizona is abundantly apparent.

In addition to instinct, explosion, and impact in coverage, Ahmad Gardner also has the size and length to be a monster on the outside of an NFL defense. The Cincinnati cornerback brings the heat heading downhill against the running game. Moreover, he has impressive tackling technique and strength.

Perhaps most importantly, Gardner has that infectious swagger that separates the good and great at the position. This was on full display when he calmly laid out his expectations for this season to Pro Football Network’s Cam Mellor.

“My main expectation is to be the #1 shutdown corner in all of college football, which I think is easy to do.”

14. Washington Football Team: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Do you believe in Fitz-magic? The former Harvard alum continues to defy convention as he makes his whirlwind trip around the NFL. Washington will be his ninth different stop in his 16-year NFL career. Although he showed last season that he can still get the job done — being arguably the better quarterback in Miami — his performances also have the reliability of a London bus timetable. No one is under the illusion that he’s the future of the Football Team, but he’s sure to deliver a fun time over the next few months.

With the selection of Malik Willis in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft, Washington gets their future and fun all rolled into one. The breakout star of last season’s college football season, Willis was electric as the Liberty Flames lit up the nation. The former Auburn transfer has one of the strongest arms in the class. Meanwhile, his creativity in and out of the pocket will draw inevitable comparisons to Lamar Jackson.

With a bright young quarterback/wide receiver duo and one of the NFL’s best defenses, Washington should be a competitor in the NFC East every year.

15. Minnesota Vikings: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

Ranking near the bottom of the NFL in sacks, pressures, and quarterback knockdowns last season, the Vikings failed to live up to the pillaging stereotype of their Nordic namesake. Although they added Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson to standout defensive end Danielle Hunter this spring, there’s every chance that they’ll need to add a genuine impact maker at the position in the 2022 NFL Draft.

There’s no bigger impact maker available in this 2022 NFL Mock Draft than the gargantuan Greek, George Karlaftis. Despite not playing football until the eighth grade, the Purdue pass rusher has quickly become a dominant defensive end. At 6’5″ and 275 pounds, he has the size and strength to rush inside or out, making him a versatile piece on the defensive line. Additionally, Karlaftis has deceptive speed and athleticism, making him an extremely dangerous proposition for opposing offensive linemen.

16. Los Angeles Chargers: Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

Tight end was considered a need for the Chargers in the last draft. Although they came out with Georgia’s Tre’ McKitty, he represented more of a gamble on athletic profile over college production. He was barely utilized in the Bulldogs offense, and thus, remains somewhat of an unknown quantity. The Chargers also signed veteran Jared Cook, further enforcing the franchise’s focus on the position.

Although there are other potential needs to address, acquiring a weapon like Jalen Wydermyer to the Chargers’ offense is too irresistible to avoid. For me, the Texas A&M product is easily the best tight end in the class. His combination of route-running savvy, pass-catching ability, and physicality as a blocker make him an intriguing weapon in the Los Angeles offense.

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