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2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Steelers add a physical cornerback in Round 1

The Pittsburgh Steelers could use help in the secondary, and the latest mock draft has them addressing this in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

SMU v Cincinnati Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

We are just over three and a half months away from the 2022 NFL Draft, and with the college football season coming to a close on Monday night, it is time for my first mock draft of the 2022 draft season!

Between now and the draft, I will have a total of five mock drafts. This first mock will be just one round long, but it will include a full seven-round projection for the Steelers. The middle three mock drafts will go through round three, and the final mock will be a complete seven-round projection, predicting every pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Be sure to check out this year’s BTSC NFL Draft Big Board as well. Just like last year, we will go position by position, ranking players and giving extensive analysis for each prospect. The in-depth big board will be kicked off with the running backs this year, and its release is just a matter of days away. So stay tuned!

Although the Steelers are talked about as a quarterback-needy team, there are many other positions that could be in play as well. The Steelers do have some money to work with in free agency, but the offensive line is in shambles, the cupboard at cornerback is looking bare, and the defensive line is not getting any younger. The Steelers also have to decide on whether Terrell Edmunds, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington are worth bringing back. That puts wide receiver and safety on the list of potential needs as well.

As a reminder, the following is an early prediction of what I think would happen if the draft were today, not necessarily what I hope happens on draft night. Because the final draft order is not yet set, the draft order used for this mock is the current projection from Tankathon. I do project trades in my mock drafts, and the compensation received will be listed.

Let’s get to the mock!

Round 1

1. Jaguars- Aidan Hutchinson | EDGE | Michigan

The Jaguars have bigger needs than pass rusher, but Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux have begun to separate themselves as the premier prospects in this class. Thibodeaux may have more physical upside, but Hutchinson’s consistent production made him the biggest draft riser over the course of the 2021 season. With a solid combine performance, you can pencil him in as the number one pick in this draft.

2. Lions- Kayvon Thibodeaux | EDGE | Oregon

Thibodeaux was the consensus number one prospect coming into the season, but after dealing with an injury and struggling to produce in his tougher matchups, his stock slowly began to drop. He is still a top-three prospect in this class, but the numbers this season do not match what he brings to the table from a physical standpoint. However, we cannot forget the fact that he is an incredibly explosive pass-rusher when healthy. At 6’5”, 258 pounds, Thibodeaux can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He will give the Lions a true difference-maker up front for years to come.

3. Texans- Kyle Hamilton | S | Notre Dame

Justin Reid is an unrestricted free agent at the beginning of the new league year, and with no great option at quarterback, Hamilton makes a lot of Sense for Houston. Hamilton is a 6’4” safety who can not only come down and defend the run, but can also cover quite a bit of ground in coverage. He would be a nice building-block for a Texans defense that needs revamped.

4. Jets- Derek Stingley, Jr. | CB | LSU

The Jets have many needs headed into the offseason, none of which are more pressing than cornerback. Thankfully, the Jets are expected to have two first-round picks inside the top ten, and their first one puts them in a prime position to land the top corner in the draft. Stingley dealt with an injury for most of the 2021 season, and he did not play during the condensed 2020 season, but what he displayed his freshman year was unbelievable. He has lockdown-corner upside, and the Jets could use his playmaking ability in the secondary.

5. Giants- Evan Neal | OT | Alabama

Andrew Thomas has improved after a rocky start to his career, but the Giants do not have much else to offer on an offensive line they failed to fix during Dave Gettleman’s tenure. Neal is a 360-pound mammoth that would likely play right tackle for the Giants. He is a fluid mover for a man his size, and the functional strength is off the charts. Neal’s upside as an NFL tackle is through the roof.

6. Panthers- Andrew Booth, Jr. | CB | Clemson

Booth is one of my favorite prospects in this class, and he is starting to get the recognition he deserves. Booth took advantage of the opportunities he was given in 2020, but his talents were put on a larger display in 2021 with Derion Kendrick out of the picture, and he did not disappoint. He looks like a future lockdown corner when you watch him on tape, and with Carolina potentially losing Donte Jackson and Stephon Gilmore, corner could be a major need.

7. Jets (via Seattle)- David Ojabo | EDGE | Michigan

This is higher than many projections for Ojabo, but I love his fit with the Jets. There is not anything exuberating about the Jets’ current pass rushers, as John Franklin-Myers leads the team with six sacks. Ojabo is an explosive speed rusher who displays good hand usage and bend coming around the edge.

8. Giants- Nakobe Dean | ILB | Georgia

Some linebackers just have a nose for the football and have a knack for making big plays at opportune times. That is the case with Dean, who boosted his draft stock after making his presence felt in the College Football Playoff Semifinals against Michigan. Blake Martinez still has one year left on his deal, but the Giants could save $8 million by cutting him. Considering he is coming off an injury, I expect them to look for a replacement.

9. Washington- Kenyon Green | G | Texas A&M

Green played left tackle for the Aggies and actually did quite well, but he projects as a guard at the next level. Brandon Scherff is a free agent, and, while this could be an ideal spot for the first quarterback to be taken off the board, I could see Washington prioritizing the offensive line before selecting their guy at quarterback.

10. Falcons- Jameson Williams | WR | Alabama

Williams could go much higher than this, but just based on team needs inside the top ten, he may drop a few spots. With Calvin Ridley away from football indefinitely, it is vital that the Falcons add a premier talent at wide receiver. Williams was the most dangerous deep threat in the country this season, averaging over 20 yards per reception. I thought about mocking Kenny Pickett here, but the value of Williams is just too good to pass up.

11. Broncos- Kenny Pickett | QB | Pittsburgh

Every year, there is a quarterback who comes out of nowhere and emerges as a first-round prospect. This year, that player was Kenny Pickett. Pickett was considered a day-three pick in last year’s draft before deciding to return to Pitt, but after a record-setting season that made him a Heisman finalist, he has the opportunity to be the first quarterback off the board.

12. Vikings- George Karlaftis | DE | Purdue

The Vikings are yet another team in desperate need of some help in the pass-rushing department. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are not near as good as they once were, and Griffen is a free agent. Karlaftis has battled injuries during his collegiate career, but he is a talented pass rusher who would be a great fit in Minnesota’s 4-3 scheme.

13. Browns- Drake London | WR | USC

Donovan Peoples-Jones has emerged as a legitimate receiving threat, but he and Jarvis Landry are the only two notable receivers on the roster. London was the best receiver in college football when healthy this season, displaying his 6’5” frame on 50/50 balls deep down the field. He would be a perfect fit for what Cleveland needs on the perimeter.

14. Eagles (via Miami)- Devin Lloyd | ILB | Utah

Jalen Hurts has led the Eagles to a playoff birth, which may be enough for Philly to decide to pass on a quarterback. They have needs all over the defensive side of the ball, but getting a physical linebacker in the middle of the defense is a good first step toward fixing their defensive woes. Lloyd is a tackling machine who can blitz as well as drop into coverage. He lacks elite speed, but he has enough in the tank to keep him from being a liability in coverage.

**PROJECTED TRADE** (Saints receive Dolphins 1st and 2nd round picks)

15. Dolphins- Tyler Linderbaum | C | Iowa

I do not expect many trades to occur inside the top 10 this year, but teams picking between picks 10 and 20 will have plenty of opportunities to move down. The Dolphins have invested greatly in their offensive line, but center Austin Reiter is a free agent, and Linderbaum is the only elite center in this class. Perhaps the top center prospect in the past decade, Linderbaum’s only major flaw is his 290 pound frame, and he should easily be able to pack more weight onto his 6’3” frame.

16. Ravens- Ikem Ekwonu | OL | North Carolina State

Ekwonu played left tackle for the Wolfpack in 2021, but many believe he is a better long-term fit at guard. However, the Ravens have a dire need at offensive tackle, and in Baltimore’s run-heavy scheme, he may be a better fit at tackle. Ekwonu is a nasty run-blocker who, when he gets out of his stance quick enough, has held his own in pass protection as well.

17. Steelers- Ahmad Gardner | CB | Cincinnati

If the Steelers are picking this low, it is highly unlikely Tyler Linderbaum falls to the Steelers. While offensive tackle is just as big a need, the Steelers, for some odd reason, do not prioritize that position as highly as most other teams. Jordan Davis was extremely tempting here, but the Steelers love their SPARQ guys early on. While Ahmad Gardner may not be an athletic freak, his blend of length, physicality, and long speed will be tempting for Kevin Colbert.

I am a big fan of Gardner as a prospect, but I am a bit concerned about his overall fit in Pittsburgh’s zone defense. Here is an excerpt from my latest Top 25 Big Board:

“Gardner does a great job bumping receivers off their route at the line of scrimmage and forcing them to re-route. He gets good position and does a good job forcing receivers to the outside. If he can develop better skills in zone, he could become a valuable asset for any team. Until then, he will be a scheme-specific prospect who really needs to go to a team that plays a healthy amount of man coverage.”

While this would not be new territory for the Steelers, it is a philosophy that has failed to work in recent history. Perhaps Teryl Austin becomes the new defensive coordinator in the near future and the Steelers decide to play more man coverage, but the Steelers have tried fitting man corners (i.e. Artie Burns, Justin Layne) into their current cover 3 heavy defense over the past few years, and it has not worked out. Although I think Gardner is a much better overall prospect than either Burns or Layne were, I would still have reservations as to how well the Steelers would utilize him and as to how well the Steelers would adjust the defense to his play strengths.

Nonetheless, cornerback is a big need, and Gardner is by far the best cornerback prospect remaining on the board. He fits the mold of what the Steelers look for in a first-round pick, and he has lockdown corner upside in the right scheme.

18. Raiders- Garrett Wilson | WR | Ohio State

Vegas struck out big time with their last first-round receiver, Henry Ruggs, who will never play in the NFL again after killing a woman in a DUI accident last fall. That leaves the Raiders still devoid of talent at wide receiver, and finding someone who can take the top off a defense should be a priority this offseason. Wilson is a big-play threat who can take a catch to the house at any given moment.

**PROJECTED TRADE** (Eagles receive Lions 2022 1st round pick (30), 3rd round pick, and 2022 2nd round pick)

19. Lions- Desmond Ridder | QB | Cincinnati

There is no quarterback the Lions can take with their first pick, as none would match the value of that pick. However, the Lions have another first rounder thanks to the Matthew Stafford trade, and they could couple that pick with some day-two picks to move into the middle of the first round and select their guy. Ridder is a true winner who was the heart and soul of Cincinnati’s 2021 team that made the College Football Playoff. Accuracy is sporadic, but he has an NFL arm and good mobility.

20. Chargers- Jordan Davis | DT | Georgia

Defensive tackle is already a need for the Chargers, but the potential loss of Linval Joseph in free agency only makes it worse. Davis is a top-notch run defender who, at 6’6”, 340 pounds, can make a difference on all three downs. Although he only accounted for 2 sacks in 2021, he had 9 quarterback hurries, and he was a consistent pocket-pusher for the Georgia defense. Plug him in at nose tackle, and you can forget about having to address that position for another 10-12 years.

21. Eagles (via Indianapolis)- Roger McCreary | CB | Auburn

This is a little high for McCreary, but he held up well all season against tough SEC competition. He should test very well at the combine, and we know how much Howie Roseman loves athletes. Steven Nelson is a free agent, and the Eagles will need to find a replacement for him as the cornerback opposite Darius Slay. Thus, McCreary makes sense for Philadelphia at this point.

22. Saints (projected from Miami)- Malik Willis | QB | Liberty

New Orleans is in an absolutely horrible state financially, and they have several key players about to hit free agency. Willis had an inconsistent 2021 season, but he had terrible offensive line play and very little help from his receivers. If he can sit for a year, and if the team that drafts him adjusts the offense to his strengths, he could become one of the league’s brightest stars as early as year two.

23. Patriots- Jahan Dotson | WR | Penn State

Mac Jones has been solid in his rookie season, but if New England wants him to take that next step as a quarterback, they need to get him an explosive playmaker on the outside. Dotson is an excellent route-runner who displays reliable hands, good speed, and impressive body control. He would be a welcome site in New England.

24. Cardinals- Charles Cross | OT | Mississippi State

Every draft analyst seems to have a different opinion on Cross. Some project him as a top-ten pick, while others say he is just a fringe first-round prospect. I currently have Cross rated as the 20th best prospect in this year’s class, but his athletic upside could push him up draft boards as we get closer to April. Arizona will need a new left tackle in the near future, and Cross’ fluidity and footwork in pass protection make him a worthwhile choice for the pass-happy Cardinals.

25. Bills- DeMarvin Leal | DL | Texas A&M

Leal was arrested back in December for possession of an illegal substance, but before this occurrence, he was a consensus top-15 pick. If he falls to Buffalo, the value may be too good to pass up. The Bills are not set long-term on the defensive line, and Leal’s athleticism and versatility would be exactly what Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier need to bolster Buffalo’s pass rush.

26. Bengals- Trevor Penning | OT | Northern Iowa

Cincinnati drafted Jackson Carman in the second round of last year’s draft, but it looks as if they plan to keep him at guard. With Riley Reiff set to hit free agency, this makes offensive tackle a major need for the Bengals. Penning is a long, athletic tackle who is not getting much hype but will have a chance to make a name for himself at the Senior Bowl later this month.

**PROJECTED TRADE** (Cowboys receive (2) 2022 Falcons 2nd round picks and a 2022 5th round pick)

27. Falcons- Matt Corral | QB | Ole Miss

I am not a big fan of Corral, but I appreciate his team-first attitude. Corral could have easily opted out of the Sugar Bowl, but he wanted to be there for his team and help them win one final game. Unfortunately, he left the game with an ankle sprain, but it does not look as if it is anything serious moving forward. With Matt Ryan turning 37 this may, Atlanta may be on the lookout for its next franchise quarterback, and that may require trading back into the first round to secure the guy they want.

28. Buccaneers- Devonte Wyatt | DT | Georgia

Wide receiver could make sense here as well, but Ndamukong Suh is a free agent, and the Bucs defense could use some youth along the defensive line. Wyatt’s best fit is in a 4-3 scheme, but he is built in a similar mold to Suh. While he is a good penetrator who can collapse the pocket, but his performance defending the run was not near as good whenever Jordan Davis was not in the game next to him. Nonetheless, Wyatt offers a good bit of athletic upside and will likely be a riser after the combine.

29. Chiefs- Treylon Burks | WR | Arkansas

Kansas City could be in play for a cornerback or safety, especially if Tyrann Mathieu leaves in free agency. However, the need for a big body on the perimeter is evident, as there are no receivers currently on Kansas City’s roster that have been able to take defenses’ attention off Tyreek Hill. Getting the physical 6’3” Burks would do wonders for Kansas City’s high-powered offense.

30. Eagles- Trayvon Walker | DE | Georgia

Walker is a former five-star recruit who is not yet polished. Despite numerous quarterback hurries, Walker only accounted for 5 sacks in 2022. Nonetheless, the upside is high, and the Eagles need another dynamic edge rusher, especially with Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham both set to hit free agency.

31. Titans- Kaiir Elam | CB | Florida

Elam is your typical cover 3 cornerback, except with plenty of speed. While he may not look like an ideal fit with the Titans, he has a physical profile that may make NFL scouts consider him as a scheme-versatile prospect. The Titans spent a first-round pick on Caleb Farley last year, but they lack depth behind him, as Kristian Fulton is the only other relevant name on the depth chart. Adding Elam to the mix could make Tennessee’s secondary a strength.

**PROJECTED TRADE** (Packers receive Washington’s 2nd and 3rd round picks)

32. Washington- Carson Strong | QB | Nevada

It is not a strange occurrence to see teams leap into the back end of the first round to grab their guy at quarterback and get that fifth-year option. Strong has dealt with Knee injuries in the past, but if he can pass the medicals at the combine, he could rise much higher than this. He has arguably the best arm in this class, and he generally makes good decisions with the football.

Steelers 7-Round Projection

*Asterisk denotes compensatory pick

Round 1, Pick 17- Ahmad Gardner | CB | Cincinnati

Analysis provided above.

Round 2, Pick 49- Lecitus Smith | G | Virginia Tech

Many of you are probably surprised not to see a center yet, but the Steelers are not the type to give up on their draft prospects after only one year. Kendrick Green has struggled mightily in his rookie season, but after seeing the improvement J.C. Hassenaur made from year one to year two, the Steelers may hope the same thing happens for Green. If Tyler Linderbaum falls to the Steelers in round one, I could see the Steelers thinking long and hard about it, but there are no other fantastic options at center in this draft. If the Steelers do not get Linderbaum, I expect them to roll the dice with Green and Hassenaur in 2022.

However, guard is also a need with Trai Turner expected to become a free agent this March. Smith is a phenomenal athlete who has proven to be a road-grader in the run game. He is an excellent puller who moves incredibly well laterally, and he rarely gets pushed off-balance in pass protection. It is also worth noting that Smith is experienced playing in an inside and outside zone-heavy blocking scheme, which makes him an even better fit for what the Steelers are looking to do on the offensive line.

Round 3, Pick 81- Travis Jones | NT | Connecticut

Tyson Alualu will hopefully come back as good as he was before his injury that cost him most of the 2021 season, but either way, he will be on the final year of his contract in 2022. Knowing how the Steelers like to draft for the following season’s needs, nose tackle would make sense early on. While I think Jordan Davis is an excellent fit with the Steelers, the team may not feel as if it can afford to take a nose tackle in round one. If this is indeed the case, Travis Jones will likely be on the Steelers’ radar.

Jones is a 328 pound defensive tackle who dominated lesser competition and will have a chance to shine in Mobile later this month. Jones has respectable quickness off the snap, and he uses his length well, combining his long arms with good hand usage to gain leverage and get penetration up the middle. He could be one of the best value picks on day two.

*Round 4, Pick 135- Calvin Austin III | WR | Memphis

I could see the Steelers adding a mature veteran wide receiver in free agency, but with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool being the only two receivers under contract next season, Kevin Colbert will still likely take at least one pass-catcher in a draft that is filled with them. Austin is an explosive slot receiver, but he is incredibly small (5’9”, 162 lbs.). It would serve him well to pack on a few more pounds, but there is no denying his big-play ability.

He has game-breaking speed and twitchiness in the open field, but because of his size, he struggles to get off the line when the opposing defense is in press coverage, and he does not have a large catch-radius. At the end of the day, the team that drafts him will have to recognize his limitations and set reasonable expectations. Still, Austin would provide Matt Canada with elite speed and big-play capabilities, and he could be a RayRay McCloud replacement as a kick returner as well.

*Round 5, Pick 176- Isaiah Pola-Mao | S | USC

In case you were wondering, Pola-Mao is the cousin of Steelers legend Troy Polamalu. It is surprising that he has flown under the radar, as there is a ton of untapped potential here. Pola-Mao ran a 4.54 40 coming out of high school, which gets me excited for how fast he could potentially run at the combine.

I still need to watch more tape on Pola-Mao before I make my final judgment, but it did not seem as if USC put him in position to create many splash plays in 2021. I also feel as if he was playing out of position, aligning primarily at free safety for the Trojans. At 6’3”, I think the best scenario would be for him to add a few pounds and move to strong safety, where his physicality and blitzing ability would be utilized in a better way. With Terrell Edmunds not under contract in 2022, the Steelers have a potential void at strong safety. Pola-Mao is more than likely not the next Troy, but he could be a nice toy for Teryl Austin in the secondary. If you would like to look into Pola-Mao’s game more extensively, check out this film breakdown by former BTSC contributor current Pro Football Network analyst Nick Farabaugh.

Round 7, Pick 222- Olakunle Fatukasi | ILB | Rutgers

Robert Spillane is a restricted free agent, and the play of the starting inside linebackers has been somewhat inconsistent. Although the Steelers did draft Buddy Johnson last year, I would not be surprised to see them bring in another body for depth. Fatukasi is an intriguing prospect who enjoyed great production for the Scarlet Knights, highlighted by his 11 tackles for loss in 2021. The fifth-year senior is an instinctually sound linebacker who is a good communicator on the field. Open-field tackling is a bit of a concern, but he could develop into a nice depth piece down the line if he can clean up that aspect of his game.

Round 7, Pick 235- Myron Cunningham | OT | Arkansas

As much as I would love to believe that the Steelers will consider drafting a tackle early, the organization has never prioritized the tackles like they have the interior of the line. Dan Moore has shown nice development and will likely be a starter at either right tackle or left tackle in 2022, but the Steelers may use free agency to find someone to plug in on the opposite side. However, depth is also an issue, and using a late-round pick on a developmental tackle would be something I could see the Steelers doing. Cunningham is a JUCO transfer who had an improved season for the Razorbacks in 2021, using his length more effectively and creating better leverage in the run game. He is 24 years old, but with his athletic traits, he could sill develop into a nice swing tackle down the road.

After reading Mock Draft 1.0, which selections made the most sense to you in round 1? As for the Steelers selections, which picks seemed the most reasonable in your mind? Which pick was your favorite? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things NFL Draft!