NFL mock draft 2022: Quarterbacks once again dominant

Oct 10, 2020; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) leaves the field after the Red River Showdown college football game between the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Texas Longhorns (UT) at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Oklahoma won 53-45 in four overtimes. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Terry-USA TODAY NETWORK

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.

As for the 2022 quarterback class, there’s plenty of intrigue. Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell are the top contenders for the No. 1 pick and lead our 2021 college football quarterback rankings. But with Kedon Slovis, Carson Strong and Malik Willis, surprises will happen.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2022

Our 2022 NFL mock draft order is based on our playoff predictions and our team NFL schedule projections.

1. Houston Texans: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma

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

The popular pick for the Houston Texans is Sam Howell, but until he proves he can overcome losing his entire cast of prominent skill position players, smart money is on Spencer Rattler right now. Lincoln Riley has already produced two No. 1 overall quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and could have a third in Rattler. — Matt Fitzgerald

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

2022 NFL mock draft: Sam Howell
Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are building something, but it’s going to take time. There is a foundation in place with a strong, young offensive line and that is crucial to establishing an identity. Jared Goff will be fine for a year, but Detroit needs a franchise quarterback. If Sam Howell can repeat the success (68-14 TD-INT ratio, 168.8 passer rating, 9.4 ypa) in his first two seasons with the Tar Heels in 2021, he’s a lock for a top-five pick. – Matt Johnson

Related: See every team’s NFL schedule, plus weekly schedules and much more now

3. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

2022 NFL mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

My fellow Matt colleague floated the theory that Joe Brady could take over the Cincinnati Bengals’ coaching gig in 2022 to rejoin with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Not a bad idea for Cincinnati. If that happens, why not transform the defense with another Baton Rouge product in Stingley, who happens to be the best cornerback prospect in this class? — Matt Fitzgerald

4. New York Jets: 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

The 2021 NFL Draft didn’t have a game-changing pass rusher, the same can’t be said for next year’s class. Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class, is an unstoppable force off the edge. Think of what Nick Bosa did with Robert Saleh and that’s how dominant Thibodeaux can be for New York. – Matt Johnson

5. New York Giants (via CHI): Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

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

Even though we have the New York Giants making strides this coming season, if they’re picking in the top five, they should take a QB. It’s not like Daniel Jones is a transcendent talent. Malik Willis is. We’re talking about an arm that rivals Josh Allen’s, not to mention tons of running ability. Willis would be a huge hit in the Big Apple. — Matt Fitzgerald

6. Denver Broncos: Carson Strong, QB, Nevada

NFL mock draft
Calvert-USA TODAY Sports

If the Denver Broncos can’t pull off an Aaron Rodgers trade, they’ll be searching desperately for an option better than Drew Lock in 2022. Kedon Slovis is intriguing, but the Broncos need a quarterback with a cannon. Strong broke out this past season at Nevada (27-4 TD-INT ratio, 160.6 passer rating). According to Pro Football Focus, Strong threw four touchdowns on 40-plus yard throws in 2020, every other FBS quarterback combined for eight. – Matt Johnson

7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

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

Failing to address the offensive line adequately this offseason will cost the Pittsburgh Steelers. They won’t make that mistake again in the first round of the upcoming draft. Evan Neal is yet another strong prospect out of Alabama who’d start right away. Yes, the Steelers pass on a QB here, because they’ll probably have the hubris to roll with Dwayne Haskins. — Matt Fitzgerald

8. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

2022 NFL mock draft
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons will consider a quarterback, but you don’t pass on Justin Fields only to take Slovis a year later. It’s been a few years since Atlanta had a true impact player at safety, Hamilton is the caliber of prospect worthy of a top-10 pick. With tremendous size (6-foot-4) and instincts, he profiles as a perennial Pro Bowl selection. – Matt Johnson

Related: NFL defense rankings – Outlook for 2021 season

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

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

Just absolutely freakish tools to work with when it comes to Demarvin Leal as a prospect. He’d be able to play anywhere on the Las Vegas Raiders’ front and would probably form a dynamic duo with Yannick Ngakoue. — Matt Fitzgerald

10. Carolina Panthers: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

NFL mock draft
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina is building a defense that fans should be excited about. The pairing of Donte Jackson with Jaycee Horn offers plenty of upside and Jeremy Chinn will be roaming around at safety. For this to become an elite defense, the Panthers need to improve the pass rush. Put Drake Jackson opposite Brent Burns, this will be a top-10 unit. – Matt Johnson

11. New Orleans Saints: Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

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

It’s a great fit here between Kedon Slovis and the New Orleans Saints. Sean Payton is looking for a savvy, accurate distributor who’s an overall good decision-maker and can handle the spotlight and high expectations. Don’t listen to the whole “USC curse” talk about QBs. Slovis has the skills to break that spell, and would likely be an upgrade over Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill as a passer. – Matt Fitzgerald

12. Philadelphia Eagles: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

2022 NFL mock draft
Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) pulls in an interception over Vanderbilt wide receiver Chris Pierce Jr. (19) during the fourth quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. Nas Vandy Florida 031

Philadelphia missed out on a top cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft, that can’t happen again. According to PFF, Elam has allowed just 33 catches on 77 targets and he keeps getting better. The Eagles need a shutdown corner and Elam (6-foot2_ can be just that.

13. Minnesota Vikings: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue

2022 NFL mock draft
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Already an advanced pass-rusher with an impressive set of moves in his arsenal, Purdue’s George Karlafitis projects as a Week 1 starter. He’s someone Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer would love to mold, and it’d give the team a necessary threat opposite Danielle Hunter —provided he’s still on the team. — Matt Fitzgerald

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

NFL mock draft
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

15. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington

2022 NFL mock draft
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

JAX going to JAX. How cool is that? But seriously, unless the Jacksonville Jaguars get a lot out of underachieving tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor in 2021, they’ll be in the market to upgrade the edge protection for Trevor Lawrence. That’s where Jaxson Kirkland would fit in nicely. — Matt Fitzgerald

16. New York Giants: Zion Nelson, OT, Miami (FL)

New York Giants
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

New York knocked it out of the park with Andrew Thomas, who flashed the ability to be a dominant left tackle as a rookie. But the Giants need another foundational piece on the other side, that’s where Zion steps in. He really struggled early in his collegiate career, but the final stretch of the 2020 season highlighted what he is capable of when developed. Hey, New York finally got Zion! – Matt Johnson

17. Philadelphia Eagles (IND): Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

2022 NFL mock draft
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

A Zach Ertz trade is going down any day now, and the Eagles need depth at the tight end position behind Dallas Goedert. Wydermyer has the ceiling to be a true difference-maker, and he’d give Jalen Hurts yet another big-bodied target in the middle of the field. — Matt Fitzgerald

Philadelphia Eagles

18. New England Patriots: John Metchie III, Alabama

NFL mock draft
Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via 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

19. Arizona Cardinals: Noah Daniels, CB, TCU

2022 NFL mock draft
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At some point the Arizona Cardinals need to boost their group of cornerbacks. There’s hardly a better way to do that than by drafting someone like Noah Daniels. A lack of depth at corner is probably going to cost Arizona some games in 2021, and Daniels is the type of cover man who can help address that weakness. — Matt Fitzgerald

20. Washington Football Team: 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

It’s perfectly fine to deploy Ryan Fitzpatrick for a year, but Washington needs a long-term answer at quarterback. Ridder has always shown flashes of great potential and 2021 could be huge for his resume. 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

21. Tennessee Titans: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

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

The Tennessee Titans did a fine job addressing their secondary with Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden in the 2021 NFL Draft. They’re still missing some juice on the front seven, though, which is where a playmaking linebacker like Alabama’s Christian Harris would make a huge impact. — Matt Fitzgerald

22. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA): 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

The Eagles have devoted so many top picks to offense in recent years, it’s time to flip the script. After landing a No. 1 cornerback, Philadelphia complements that selection with an intriguing edge rusher. Zach Harrison hasn’t quite put it all together with the Buckeyes. But the combination of length, power and athleticism will make him a coveted prospect. – Matt Johnson

23. Los Angeles Chargers: Bubba Bolden, S, Miami

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

There are concerns around All-Pro Derwin James and his ability to stay healthy. As both an insurance policy at the safety position and a surefire starter who can allow James’ versatility to shine, Bubba Bolden would be an excellent addition to the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense under new coach Brandon Staley. — Matt Fitzgerald

24. Miami Dolphins (via SF): Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

NFL mock draft
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Many in Miami were disappointed when the franchise didn’t address running back early in the 2021 NFL Draft. After another year of building the roster, that should change in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hall erupted for 1,572 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns as a sophomore last season. As Iowa State’s featured back, expect another phenomenal year from him in 2021.  – Matt Johnson

25. New York Jets (via SEA): Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

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

The numbers don’t lie when it comes to Ahmad Gardner’s production from 2020. After the New York Jets prioritized offense atop their 2021 draft class to support Zach Wilson, look for Gang Green to go defense in Round 1 next year. Gardner has the skill set to be a legitimate lockdown corner and could easily be off the board before No. 25. — Matt Fitzgerald

26. Baltimore Ravens: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

2022 NFL mock draft
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore wisely traded Orlando Brown Jr., it had to make the best of a bad situation. But this team needs to find his replacement and that will likely come in the 2022 NFL Draft. Cross really impressed in his first season at left tackle for Mississippi State and another year at that level against SEC competition will cement his stock. – Matt Johnson

27. Green Bay Packers: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

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

Finally, the Green Bay Packers take a hint. They’ve angered Aaron Rodgersenough to probably force him out of Titletown, but Jordan Love will likely reap the benefits of having a premier playmaker in Garrett Wilson on the perimeter. Let’s hope Green Bay doesn’t mess this up if Wilson is still on the board. — Matt Fitzgerald

28. Buffalo Bills: Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M

NFL mock draft
John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Things didn’t work out great the last time Buffalo spent a first-round pick on a Spiller, but circumstances are very different. The Bills already have an elite offense in place, a running back is really the only thing missing. Spiller has racked up 2,378 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns on 411 career touches. The talents are worthy of a late first-round pick. – Matt Johnson

29. Detroit Lions (via LAR): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

2022 NFL mock draft: Chris Olave
Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

As precise of a route-runner as there figures to be in the 2022 class, Chris Olave could’ve actually gone pro a year earlier and might’ve been a first-round pick. The Lions should sprint to the podium with this pick to help their QB of the future. — Matt Fitzgerald

30. Kansas City Chiefs: George Pickens, WR, Georgia

NFL mock draft
Jan 1, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game between Georgia and Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2021. Joshua L. Jones-USA TODAY NETWORK/Athens Banner-Herald Ncaa Football Chick Fil A Peach Bowl Georgia Vs Cincinnati

If Pickens doesn’t tear his ACL in March, the 6-foot-3 playmaker likely elevates his stock this fall with a dominating season. Even with the former five-star recruit sidelined for most of 2021, he is still a first-round talent. He drew comparisons to Mike Williams out of high school and you know Patrick Mahomes would love a new kind of weapon. – Matt Johnson

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 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

Adding interior offensive line depth will be key for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going forward. Tyler Linderbaum could be the Bucs’ new center, as Ryan Jensen is entering a contract year in 2021. That’d allow Ali Marpet to stay at guard, and give Tampa Bay a ready starter in Week 1. — Matt Fitzgerald

32. Cleveland Browns: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

2022 NFL mock draft
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2020 season, Hutchinson was viewed as a potential first-round pick. But his junior season was derailed by a season-ending injury after three games, so he returns to Michigan. The Browns need an edge rusher opposite Myles Garrett and Hutchinson could be the perfect 2022 replacement for Jadeveon Clowney. – Matt Johnson

Related: 5 Most Valuable Football Cards 1990s: Includes Manning And Favre