2022 NFL mock draft: Top prospects in exciting 2022 draft class

Jan 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) throws the football prior facing Texas A&M Aggies at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, which means it’s time for a 2022 NFL mock draft. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell is the crown jewel of next year’s class, but there are plenty of top prospects NFL teams will covet.

While every draft class is worth getting excited about, next year’s crop of talent is especially exciting. Oregon Ducks edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is a generational talent, LSU Tigers cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is better than any defender from the 2021 draft class and it will be another year full of intriguing quarterback and receiver prospects.

Our 2022 NFL mock draft order is determined by preliminary projections for the 2021 NFL season.

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1. Houston Texans: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

The Houston Texans are the worst team in the NFL. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if they went 0-17 next season. Deshaun Watson is a goner and any quarterback who replaces him under center will have the worst supporting cast in the NFL. It will be a difficult spot for Sam Howell, but he’s the kind of talent you bet on.

Howell, the 2019 ACC Rookie of the Year, took his game to the next level this past season. In fact, he was the highest-graded ACC quarterback by Pro Football Focus. With a 68-14 TD-INT ratio and 7,227 passing yards in 25 career games, this 6-foot-1 quarterback is just getting started. With another step forward next season, he can prove why he’s the No. 1 pick in our 2022 NFL mock draft. – Matt Johnson

2. Detroit Lions: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

2022 NFL mock draft: Spencer Rattler
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Goodbye, Jared Goff. You’re a dinosaur, immobile pocket passer, and the modern NFL is about to pass you by. Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler struggled with weighty expectations at the outset of his college career, but settled in as the leader of the Sooners down the stretch of 2020. Since Howell is losing so much of his supporting cast to the 2021 draft, he may be in for a rude awakening. Meanwhile, Rattler could become the third No. 1 overall QB out of Oklahoma in the Lincoln Riley era, joining Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. – Matt Fitzgerald

3. Philadelphia Eagles: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

2022 NFL mock draft
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Standing at 6-foot-7, this 345-pound tackle is a force to be reckoned with. A five-star recruit in 2019, Evan Neal put himself on the NFL radar years ago. He began his college career at guard, but then got shifted to right tackle for the 2020 season. There are still little things for him to work on, but he projects as a top-five pick in 2022. As for the Eagles addressing quarterback, they could use their later first-round picks to move up for one when the 2022 NFL Draft rolls around. – Matt Johnson

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

2022 NFL mock draft: Derek Stingley Jr.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Keep investing in the secondary, Jacksonville. It’ll be necessary, because this defense is still multiple pieces away from being competent, much less elite. What’s great is, Derek Stingley Jr. may well be the best pure cornerback prospect to come out in recent draft history. He’s been a baller since a true freshman for the Tigers. It’s no easy task to step into that program and start right away. It speaks to the special skills Stingley has, and he’d absolutely transform the Jaguars’ defense. — Matt Fitzgerald

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DL, Oregon

2022 NFL mock draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux
Oregon star defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux celebrates after the Ducks’ victory over Colorado at Autzen Stadium on Oct. 11, 2019, in Eugene, Oregon. Eug 092520 Ducks Look To Get Back To Pac12 Football 1

Kayvon Thibodeaux would have been a top-five pick in 2022 NFL mock drafts coming out of high school. 247 Sports’ No. 2 recruit in 2019, Thibodeaux is on the Chase Young level of pass-rushing prospects. Through two seasons, he has recorded 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in 20 games. Keep in mind, opponents had to start using double teams on him almost instantly. Thibodeaux would be a ridiculous force on Cincinnati’s defense. – Matt Johnson

Related: NFL Power Rankings – Team outlooks after 2021 NFL Draft

6. New York Jets: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Prioritizing their rebuild around 2021 No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson, the Jets neglected defense on purpose in this year’s draft to set their rookie QB up for success. New York head coach Robert Saleh is a defensive guru who needs blue-chip players on that side of the ball that Gang Green has a seriously short supply of right now. Kaiir Elam could prove to be the best cover corner in the 2022 class this side of Stingley, so he’s worthy of the pick if the Jets are this high up. — Matt Fitzgerald

7. Atlanta Falcons: Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

2022 NFL mock draft: Kedon Slovis
© Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons passed on their next franchise quarterback in 2021, they won’t be making that same mistake in 2022. Kedon Slovis opened the 2019 season as the backup behind JT Daniels. When Daniels went down, it opened the door to something special. Through two seasons, Slovis has a 47-16 TD-INT ratio and a 158.2 passer rating. With a strong arm and improving decision-making, he’s got a bright future ahead and he’d be a great fit with Arthur Smith. – Matt Johnson

8. Las Vegas Raiders: Demarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s really hard to guess just what the Raiders are going to do in any given draft. Demarvin Leal feels like a pretty safe pick, because he can align anywhere in the trenches and make an impact. Las Vegas also lacks depth on the interior defensive line. Leal’s impact could have a trickle-down effect that helps the Silver and Black’s perpetually maligned pass rush that must improve in the AFC West division against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. — Matt Fitzgerald

9. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

2022 NFL mock draft
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft wasn’t loaded with elite talent on the defensive side, the same can’t be said about next year’s class. While safeties don’t typically get taken with a top-10 pick, Kyle Hamilton isn’t your ordinary safety. There just aren’t many 6-foot-4 defensive backs with the instincts of an NFL veteran and the athleticism to make plays all over the field. Put him in this defense with Jeremy Chinn, Carolina’s defense gets scary. – Matt Johnson

Related: NFL defense rankings – Fallout from 2021 NFL Draft

10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Four quarterbacks in the top 10! Who said the 2022 QB class is weak? It’s all projection and conjecture at this point, and while Corral did have some ugly moments last season, his good football was as good as anyone’s in the country. With another year under Lane Kiffin in a system that should allow him to produce big numbers in the SEC, Corral is going to jump onto NFL Draft radars next season. The Steelers will be in the market for a Ben Roethlisberger successor, whether it’s Corrall or someone else. — Matt Fitzgerald

11. Dallas Cowboys: Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M

Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green (55) celebrates a touchdown scored by a teammate during a SEC game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Texas A&M Aggies held at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, December 19, 2020. Kns Vols Football Texas A M Bp

This might be the highest Kenyon Green will be in a 2022 NFL mock draft, at least for now. A five-star recruit in 2019, Texas A&M loves what this 6-foot-4 bulldozer has done at guard. Interior linemen are a bit undervalued, but Green might not have to worry about that. If he handles the move to left tackle nicely, his draft stock will soar. – Matt Johnson

12. New York Giants (via CHI): Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

With that extra first-round pick from the Chicago Bears acquired in the Justin Fields trade, the Giants go back to the well for a pass-rusher in USC’s Drake Jackson. He seems like a good fit in New York coordinator Patrick Graham’s base 3-4 defensive alignment. If he can pop, and 2021 second-round pick Azeez Ojulari overcomes medical red flags that caused his stock to drop, this Giants defense could look really formidable in 2022. — Matt Fitzgerald

Read More: New York Giants pick Azeez Ojulari in second round of 2021 NFL Draft

13. New Orleans Saints: Desmond Ridder, QB Cincinnati

2022 NFL mock draft
Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) drops back to pass in the second quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia Bulldogs Vs Cincinnati Bearcats Chick Fil A Peach Bowl 2020 Jan 1 2021

The New Orleans Saints can’t roll with Taysom Hill as their long-term quarterback. Enter Desmond Ridder, an exciting senior who will have a great chance to become a first-round pick next year. The 30-5 record will impress coaches, scouts will love a 6-foot-4 quarterback with excellent athleticism and a strong arm. If he takes that next step forward as a passer, improving his touch on deep throws, Cincinnati is in the CFB Playoff picture, RIdder will have a breakout year and could be a top-10 pick. – Matt Johnson

14. New York Giants: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Patrick Breen-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Engram could be on the way out after this season, and if the Giants are picking here, they’ll either want to help Daniel Jones with yet another weapon, or go with a quarterback. Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar has the athleticism to split out wide and be a matchup problem. Plugging him into a skill position group of the future that already features Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton and Kadarius Toney sounds like a fun proposition New York could entertain. — Matt Fitzgerald

15. New England Patriots: John Metchie, WR, Alabama

2022 NFL mock draft
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama is “Wide Receiver U” and Jon Metchie will be the latest star to go from dominating with the Crimson Tide to rolling into the first round. With an expanded role in 2020 and Mac Jones launching deep balls, Metchie racked up 916 receiving yards (16.7 ypc) and snagged six touchdowns. He’ll be the No. 1 receiver this year and the go-to weapon in the passing attack. After that, he can reunite with his college quarterback in New England. – Matt Johnson

16. Denver Broncos: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

It was somewhat surprising that the Broncos didn’t take a linebacker in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, or a quarterback for that matter. Provided they figure out who’ll lead their offense — could it be Aaron Rodgers? — Denver should find that ‘backer to patrol the heart of Vic Fangio’s defense. Harris is the latest, promising prospect at this position for the Crimson Tide, and he has a unique blitzing element to his game, too (4.5 sacks in 2020). — Matt Fitzgerald

17. Minnesota Vikings: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

2022 NFL mock draft: Chris Olave
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Olave made a bold decision to not enter the 2021 NFL Draft, but the first 2022 NFL mock draft is a sign it could be the right call. A projected late first-round pick, this 6-foot-1 speedster knows how to get open deep. He’s also a touchdown machine, finding the end zone 19 times in his last 20 games. Playing without Justin Fields will be an adjustment but Olave’s talent will still shine. As for the fit, the Minnesota Vikings need to find an eventual replacement for Adam Thielen and pairing Olave with Justin Jefferson is exactly what Kellen Mond, or Kirk Cousins, wants. – Matt Johnson

18. Tennessee Titans: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Going with back-to-back Buckeyes receivers isn’t a knock on Justin Fields, don’t worry. It’s just that Wilson is such a freakish talent that he can’t be passed on. He’s definitely not as polished as Olave, but even as a freshman, Wilson managed to get on the field amid a sea of talented Ohio State wideouts and flash how special he can be. In just eight games last season, Wilson had 723 yards receiving and six touchdowns on 16.8 yards per catch. — Matt Fitzgerald

19. Miami Dolphins (via SF): Ventrell Miller, LB, Florida

2022 NFL mock draft
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Miami prioritized building around Tua Tagovailoa early in the 2021 NFL Draft. When next offseason rolls around, Brian Flores will be looking for chess pieces to add on defense. Ventrell Miller, who recorded 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and three pass deflections in 2020, needed another year to prove he is more than just an athlete. With NFL teams looking for linebackers with great range, a strong 2021 season could push Miller into Round 1. – Matt Johnson

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

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Dennis Nett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Another quarterback? Well, it’s fun at this early stage to at least get some names on the radar at the most important position on the field, and Malik Willis is definitely a sleeper worthy of attention. He transferred from Auburn and sat out for 2019, but showed improved polish as a passer last year in addition to running for 944 yards and 14 scores. He also notched a quality win against Coastal Carolina in the FBC Mortage Cure Bowl. Just saying, keep an eye on Willis. –Matt Fitzgerald

21. Los Angeles Chargers: Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State

2022 NFL mock draft
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison (9) combines for a tackle with defensive tackle Jerron Cage (86) on Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) during the third quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. Cfb Ohio State Buckeyes At Michigan State Spartans

Zach Harrison might be a top-10 pick in our 2022 NFL mock draft by November. A five-star recruit in 2019, 247 Sports’ second-ranked defensive linemen, Harrison has produced just 5.5 sacks through his first 17 games. But 6-foot-6 edge rushers with great length and athleticism can take time to develop and that junior season breakout could be coming for Harrison. Add him to Brandon Staley’s defense, Los Angeles won’t need shootouts to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. – Matt Johnson

22. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND): Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to be overshadowed by players like Patrick Surtain II and the haul of future NFL players Nick Saban recruits, but 2021 should be Jobe’s time to shine in the Crimson Tide’s defensive backfield. Jobe has excellent play strength, loves to step up in run support and is very sticky in coverage — rarely out of position. If he can improve on his ball skills and nab a few more interceptions this coming season, Jobe may shoot even higher up draft boards come next April. — Matt Fitzgerald

23. New York Jets (via SEA): George Karlaftis, DL, Purdue

2022 NFL mock draft
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets are going to enjoy the returns from the Jamal Adams trade. George Karlaftis missed the majority of the 2020 season after testing positive for COVID-19. Before that, he was becoming one of the best pass rushers in college football. Twice selected second-team All-Big Ten, Karlaftis recorded 19 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in his first 14 games. With all the physical tools coming together, another repeat performance of his 2019 season (17 TFL) will make Karlaftis a top-20 pick. – Matt Johnson

24. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA): Bubba Bolden, S, Miami

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles’ secondary is still a little suspect, because Anthony Harris is only on a one-year deal, and the cornerback position isn’t solidified outside of Darius Slay. Getting a tone-setting physical presence like Bolden would be a big boost for Philadelphia on the back end. Bolden is a decisive player in coverage and against the run who can diagnose plays very well. In making 74 total tackles last season, Bolden also forced four fumbles. — Matt Fitzgerald

25. Green Bay Packers: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

If there’s an Aaron Rodgers trade, the Green Bay Packers will be picking much higher than this in the 2022 NFL Draft. No matter what happens, the Packers always prioritize the offensive line. They are strong in the interior and left tackle David Bakhtiari should remain an All-Pro blocker for the next few years, but a right tackle is needed. Cross played left tackle this past season, but the former five-star recruit should be a brick wall at whatever side of the line his team asks. – Matt Johnson.

26. Baltimore Ravens: George Pickens, WR, Georgia

Joshua L. Jones-USA TODAY NETWORK/Athens Banner-Herald

Despite drafting Rashod Bateman in Round 1 this year, the Ravens could still surround Lamar Jackson with another target who has a huge catch radius. It’ll be important to find cost-effective pass-catchers with Jackson due for a massive payday. Pickens is an excellent prospect who has a torn ACL in his medical background, but as long as that checks out, he could round out a phenomenal receiving corps of the future. — Matt Fitzgerald

27. Arizona Cardinals: Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State

2022 NFL mock draft
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in a 2022 NFL mock draft, it’s about betting on potential. Sevyn Banks, a four-star recruit in 2018, boasts the size (6-foot-1) and speed (4.5 40-yard dash) you look for in a prototypical cornerback. An honorable mention on Pro Football Focus’s All-Big Ten Team, Banks was one of Ohio State’s best defenders this past season. If he takes another step forward in his senior year, Banks will be a first-round pick. – Matt Johnson

28. Buffalo Bills: Tyler Linderbaum, iOL, Iowa

Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC
Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The interior of the Bills’ offensive line could still use work. Quarterback Josh Allen is going to get a massive contract extension sometime soon enough, and it’s absolutely vital for Buffalo to protect him. It’s not a bad idea to bet on a Hawkeyes lineman like Linderbaum, who comes from a long lineage of successful Iowa blockers and projects as a solid pro as of now entering the 2021 campaign. — Matt Fitzgerald

29. Detroit Lions (via LAR): Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

2022 NFL mock draft
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone was excited for Justyn Ross before the 2020 season. He racked up 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first two seasons and another strong year would cement his status as a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a congenital fusion in his spine that required surgery. He’ll be back on the field in 2021, operating out of the slot with DJ Uiagalelei throwing him the football. If Ross can put this medical scare behind him, teams will be willing to take him in Round 1. – Matt Johnson

30. Cleveland Browns: Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

With David Njoku hitting free agency in 2022 and Austin Hooper not living up to his huge contract, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Browns invest in a position that’s vital to their offensive scheme. Wydermyer is a huge talent who plays in a pro-style offense and has 78 receptions, 953 yards and 12 touchdowns in the past two seasons. — Matt Fitzgerald

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cade Mays, iOL, Tennessee

2022 NFL mock draft
Tennessee offensive lineman Cade Mays (68) runs on the field during the first quarter during a game between Tennessee and Missouri at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. 100320 Tenn Mo Jpg

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must start thinking about the future on the interior offensive line. Fortunately, Cade Mays falls right into their lap in our first 2022 NFL mock draft. While the Volunteers were a disaster in 2020, Mays was one of the few bright spots. A former five-star recruit, he is going to thrive with NFL coaching. – Matt Johnson

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Building the defense should be the Chiefs’ priority after their offensive line overhaul this offseason. Kansas City needs more depth on defense to ensure it continues to compete at the highest possible level for Super Bowls. Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey has improved his conditioning during the spring, and is primed for a breakout season. If he lives up to his potential, Winfrey could be a scary tackle to pair with Chiefs star Chris Jones if such a scenario would come to pass. — Matt Fitzgerald