PATS REPORTER

2022 NFL Mock Draft: Patriots opt to protect Mac Jones in Round 1

PATS REPORTER

What do we do with no game to preview this week? Why not preview the three-day game in the spring that determines where players play their actual games in the fall?

The 2022 NFL Draft figures to be a fascinating exercise from a Patriots perspective. They are no longer a rebuilding team. They rebuilt -- past tense -- over the period of about two months between mid-March and mid-May when they signed a deep free-agent class and drafted key pieces on both sides of the ball.

So what's next for Bill Belichick in the draft? 

He may want to build around his young quarterback to help max out Mac Jones' productivity while he's on a rookie contract. He may want to look toward the future on the defensive side of the ball, with key pieces perhaps moving on at linebacker, safety and cornerback.

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Whatever he does, he'll be happy to be picking a lot later in the first round than he did in 2021.

1. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan

As far as premium positions in this year's draft go, Hutchinson may be the safest bet of them all. Speed. Power. Aggressiveness. Would be a No. 1 overall choice well spent.

 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Length. Athleticism. Flexibility. Thibodeaux has rare traits. You could make an argument he should be the first player off the board.

3. Houston Texans: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

Time to start throwing darts, Nick Caserio. The Deshaun Watson situation will get resolved eventually, and when it does it should result in real draft capital coming back to Houston. But with the No. 3 projected pick this year, good time to roll the dice on arguably the top passer in this year's class.

4. New York Jets: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

With this pick, the Jets would be on their way to building what would have to be one of the largest offensive lines in league history. For more on Neal, check out this episode of Next Pats with Bruce Feldman, who authors The Athletic's annual college football "Freaks" list.

5. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

If Robert Saleh's club could come away with two of the top players in the draft at two of the most valuable positions in the sport, that would have to feel like a massive victory for their long-term future. Stingley has long had a claim on the title of "CB1" in this class thanks to his top-end speed, instincts and ball skills.

6. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears): George Karlatis, EDGE, Purdue

Will the Giants make the leap and take a quarterback to replace Daniel Jones? Perhaps they should. But they don't here, instead taking a potential game-changer off the edge.

7. New York Giants: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa

If the Giants go in on Jones, they might as well try to protect him better than they have. Even though he doesn't play tackle, Linderbaum might be worth a top-10 selection because he's so solid in the middle.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

Atlanta has invested at tackle ... but that doesn't mean it isn't a problem. Cross has shown out against some high-end competition in the SEC and should be the type of player to provide Matt Ryan the protection he needs.

9. Carolina Panthers: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Carolina has a problem at quarterback. Will Corral solve it? He has a live arm, and he's athletic enough to give the Panthers some run-game options behind center. 

10. Minnesota Vikings: Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M

Minnesota's offensive line is struggling. Green won't solve all their problems, but he'd be a start. He can play a variety of roles for the Vikes, though his best spot looks like it would be inside.

11. New Orleans Saints: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

The passing game in New Orleans has been a disaster on a few different fronts. Doesn't help that their No. 1 option throwing the football has been out for weeks. But even when Jameis Winston is healthy, there are questions there as to how functional the offense can be over the long haul. Whoever is back there needs more to throw to than what they have now. Wilson is a stud.

12. Philadelphia Eagles: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

Philly is so loaded with picks right now, who knows what they'll end up doing with them all? If one is spent on Dean, they could do a lot worse. The Butkus Award winner was one of the cornerstone pieces to what was a historically effective Georgia defense in 2021.

 

13. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dolphins): Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

When you have three first-round picks, you can afford to go after really good players who happen to fall your way. That's what happens here with Hamilton, who has the burst and nose for the ball every team covets at safety. 

14. Denver Broncos: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

Might this be Drew Lock 2.0? Might be. Still... Do you want to roll with Teddy Bridgewater as the long-term choice? In a division littered with explosive passing games? The Broncos are good enough elsewhere on the roster that a gamble on a quarterback seems like the play.

15. Las Vegas Raiders: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Somewhere Al Davis is fist-pumping. A receiver who flies? In the first round? Please. Williams is a true outside-the-numbers threat, which the Raiders could use, and he's been willing to play special teams for Nick Saban. 

16. Cleveland Browns: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Cleveland still needs to figure out who is playing quarterback there in the years to come. They could try to find an answer at this point in the draft. Cincy's Desmond Ridder? Liberty's Malik Willis?

Instead they opt to help their Quarterback To Be Named Later with one of the smoothest receivers in the class.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (via Indianapolis Colts): Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn

Philly re-signed pending free agent corner Avonte Maddox to a three-year deal midseason, and they already have Darius Slay locked up. But they could use a No. 2 opposite Slay. Enter McCreary. If you like speed and SEC production from your corners, he's for you.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

This is another team that could end up going quarterback, but here they choose to bolster the line protecting that spot instead. Ekwonu has shown all kinds of power at the point of attack. And he's mean. Or at least he plays that way. Which is exactly what you're looking for.

19. Miami Dolphins (via San Francisco 49ers): Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan

What do you do here if you're Miami? You've tried to upgrade along the offensive line for multiple offseasons now. Really! You have! It just hasn't come together.

Maybe Brian Flores and his staff will draft Raimann and hope he can be the Austrian version of Sebastian Vollmer. Raimann hit Central Michigan as an exchange student who played tight end. Now he's a potential first-round tackle prospect.

20. Washington Football Team: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Looks like it's not a bad year to need a corner. (Unless you're picking at the very end of the first round... We'll get to the Patriots later.) At 6-foot-2, Elam has excellent size and press ability. Plus, when the ball is in the air, he has the ability to change the game.

21. Buffalo Bills: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

This pick isn't a reaction to Tre'Davious White's season-ending injury. It's more so that they are thin behind White. Especially with Levi Wallace, their No. 2, set to hit free agency in the spring. McDuffie is smart and physical and could excel in Sean McDermott's scheme.

22. Cincinnati Bengals: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

We've got a run on corners! "Sauce" Gardner has been one of the toughest corners in college football in 2021, allowing just 117 total yards this season, per Pro Football Focus. His combination of body control, burst and awareness make him a good fit to stick in Cincy here.

23. Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

In Los Angeles, where Brandon Staley likes to use two-high safety coverages, there's is a real need for big bodies up front who can help stop the run. Makes sense, right? More bodies deep... Need bigger bodies at the line to make up for the lack of numbers in the box.

 

The Chargers won't find a bigger or more physically-imposing body than Davis. Listed at 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, he was named this year's Bednarik Award winner as the top defensive player in the country.

24. Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams): Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Detroit's goal in the draft? Add good players. No matter the position. That's the position you're in when everything is a "need." Lloyd, the Pac-12 Championship MVP, can do a little bit of everything at the second level.

25. Dallas Cowboys: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan

Aidan Hutchinson isn't the only edge defender with high-end talent for the Wolverines this year. Explosiveness personified, Ojabo has a chance to be another in a long line of top-end athletes to depart Ann Arbor and hit the NFL as a first-rounder.

Randy Gregory is slated to hit free agency so the Cowboys could use him. Could form a scary tandem aligned opposite Micah Parsons.

26. Kansas City Chiefs: Drake London, USC, WR

Kansas City is known as an explosive passing offense, but they really are a two-man operation when it comes to their pass-catchers: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Not a bad duo. But they could use a dependable third option.

Maybe that's London (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), whose physical style would provide the Chiefs something very different than what they have in Hill.

27. Baltimore Ravens: DeMarvin Leal, EDGE, Texas A&M

Baltimore has a couple of young and talented edge players in Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser, but they're scheduled to see Calais Campbell and Justin Houston walk this offseason. Leal would give the team depth at a spot where it likes to rotate bodies to keep rushers fresh. 

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson

The Bucs have to get some help at corner. Their lack of depth there may be what eventually does them in this season. Booth can play. He's an off-the-charts athlete, and he has hands that would make receivers jealous. 

29. Tennessee Titans: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

We've got a run on USC Drakes! Tennessee is in a good spot with former Boston College star Harold Landry on one edge. Getting Jackson on the other -- with Jeffery Simmons on the interior -- could make this pass-rushing unit frightening.

30. Green Bay Packers: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

Is Aaron Rodgers done in Green Bay? If he isn't, give him another weapon. If he is, might not be a bad idea to give Jordan Love a physically-dominant pass-catcher. Burks isn't on the level of Davante Adams, who is set to become a free agent this offseason, but he's a bit of a freak! 

31. New England Patriots: Darian Kinnard, OT, Kentucky

Kinnard checks all sorts of boxes for the Patriots. He was a first-team All-SEC selection this year and he won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which goes to the best blocker in the SEC. With that background, Bill Belichick can feel good about the fact that Kinnard -- who has also accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl -- has fared well against the best of the best in college football. 

Then there's Kinnard's play style. He's one of the most powerful and aggressive run-blockers in the draft. It hasn't been a perfect year for him. But this is pick No. 31. No perfect tackle prospects here. Those guys go higher.

 

Still, Kinnard is intriguing. He's seen time at both tackle spots, and his massive frame -- he's listed at 6-foot-5, 345 pounds and reportedly has 11-inch hands and 35-inch arms -- will help him fit right in with the ground-and-pound approach the Patriots have embraced lately.

Trent Brown has been tremendous for the offensive line in New England when healthy, but he's finishing up a one-year deal. Isaiah Wynn is going into a contract year in 2022. The Patriots have the ability to turn to Mike Onwenu on the edge, but it seems as though they like him best at guard.

It would make sense for the Patriots to add some depth on the outside, and few players in this class seem to make as much sense for the Patriots as Kinnard.

32. Arizona Cardinals: Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State

One of the advantages to having a star quarterback on a rookie contract who makes his receivers and offensive linemen better? You can load up on defense in the draft. Emerson would be their third-straight first-rounder on the defensive side for Arizona, and he'd make for a nice fit on the outside in Vance Joseph's defense.