As the 2021 NFL regular season comes to a close this weekend, the bottom 18 picks will become locked and draft season will officially be in full force. Naturally, there are a lot of uncertainties with this class, as we have well over four months of analysis and events before we can really put the pen to paper on our final mock drafts. However, this is also the time to get ahead and start forming early takes on how this class may stack up. It’s January 5, 2022 and I feel as I am roughly 2% complete when it comes to my full analysis for this year, but at the end of the day who really cares? These are my way too early opinions and predictions to 5 Considerable Uncertainties En Route to the 2022 NFL Draft.
1. Who is QB1?
In modern draft history, the quarterback position has run the early portion of the first round. Since 2016, we have seen 23 drafted in the 1st round and one taken 1st overall in 6 out of the last 7 years. This year, roughly all mock drafts point to an edge rusher going 1st overall, but could that be particularly due to the fact that there is no consensus QB1 yet? Although the Jags are extremely unlikely to go QB at 1, there’s a great chance that a team could put together a package to move up and secure their guy and cut off the Lions at 2. As we approach the draft, it should become rather clear what the intentions of the top few teams are and rumors will swirl regarding the QB big board. At this moment in time, I have one QB above the rest and that is Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. Is Pickett up to par with previous QB1s? That is TBD. However, there is a lot to love about his game and I see a lot of similarities to former 1st overall pick, Joe Burrow. Pickett has deceptive athleticism and arm strength, while displaying a keen understanding of the game that is clearly displayed in his 2021 tape. He throws with great anticipation and really has the timing down and trust to make high IQ throws to his receivers. He is an absolute chain mover, which makes his game a bit less flashy than others, but is an absolute necessity at the next level that has a certain correlation to early success. The biggest knock on Pickett is certainly hand size, but maybe he is onto something with the gloves?
Another contender at the position is Matt Corral, who has a flashier skillset than Pickett, which has led to many highlight plays throughout the season. Corral and the Ole Miss offense ran a ton of RPO reads, in which he improved on greatly throughout his career. Not only did he reduce the number of interceptions from 14 to 5, but he improved the team from 5-5 to 10-3 and a Sugar Bowl appearance. He has become a quick decision maker and arguably has the best arm in the class. He had a knack for tucking the ball and running, but I just don’t think that will translate to being a big time running QB, however, the mobility is clearly there. He is a bit small at just 200 lbs and durability is starting to possibly become something to watch after several, albeit minor, ankle injuries. Others may like Howell, Willis, Ridder and even Strong, but as of now I see this being between Pickett and Corral.
2. Hutchinson or Thibodeaux?
If you are big into mock drafts, then you have certainly noticed a nearly even split between the two edge rushers going 1st overall (unless you check out Jack Borowsky’s awesome mocks that have Pickett there). Why are these analysts all split between the two, you may ask? There are a couple answers to that question. First of all, a lot of these “experts” haven’t watched the tape besides what they have found on YouTube and simply have fallen in love with one or the others highlight tape. More seriously though, they are two very different type of prospects with separate strengths and weakness, scheme fits and college production.
Let’s start with Kayvon Thibodeaux, who started off as the unanimous number one pick following conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft. Thibodeaux is a freak athlete with a prototypical build and insane combination of strength and speed. He may not be the most polished prospect, but he certainly appears to have one of the highest ceilings in the class.
Aidan Hutchinson is an inch taller and a few pounds heavier, but his strength relies in his technique and on-tape production rather than a freakishly high ceiling. Don’t get me wrong, his ceiling is high, but he does’t possess the same amount of raw ability and athleticism that Thibodeaux has. So the question comes down to, do you want to draft the higher risk prospect with the elite athleticism, who underproduced in college or go with the guy who may have a bit of a lower ceiling, but a proven floor and consistent production? Before you come at me with pitchforks, I KNOW HUTCH HAS AN INSANE CEILING TOO…but the argument that scouts are making is that Thibodeaux’s ceiling as a prospect could be at the same level as Myles Garrett and Chase Young when they were prospects, while Hutchinson’s is a bit below that. If I was a GM of a team drafting this high, I would trade down and bank on possibly winning the Will Anderson sweepstakes in 2023.
3. Over/Under 5 CBs drafted on Day 1.
In terms of depth at the top, this class has tons of cornerbacks with a first round grade. Since 2012, we have seen at least 5 cornerbacks drafted in the first round in all but 2019. As of today, I have 8 cornerbacks in my top 50, all of who could hear their name called on Thursday Night. At the top of the class sits Derek Stingley, who has been coined an elite tier lockdown prospect since his incredible freshman campaign in 2019 and will likely land inside the top 10, if not the top 5. I also have Roger McCreary and Ahmad Gardner as first round locks and potential top 15 picks. Then I have a slew of prospects who will likely move around and all could be justified as first round players. Andrew Booth Jr., Trent McDuffie, Kaiir Elam, Coby Bryant and Derion Kendrick all have potential to be taken and at the end of the first night, which is why I absolutely expect at least 5 CBs taken.
4. Who trades up into the top 5?
We have seen a team trade up into the top 5 in four out of the six years, but will we see it happen in 2022? This is tough to predict because the draft order is not yet set and we have not seen the results of the season, but there are a few teams that I think could benefit from a trade up. The QB-needy Panthers may move up a bit to target “their guy”, but with just one top 100 pick, I think they may more likely will trade back into the draft. The Washington Football Team seems to have a solid roster built, but lack a QB, therefore, they also could certainly make a move up to land the guy of their future. Cleveland may be making a move that could involve Baker Mayfield, so don’t count them out. Lastly, Atlanta and Denver should be sitting around the 10th pick and both have veterans they could spare, so both could qualify to take a shot into the top 5. Regardless of who moves up, it is almost always to secure a QB.
5. Who is the most overhyped, media prospect?
The closer we get to the draft, the more that rumors and front office conversations will begin to leak. Due to the massive media coverage of the draft, there will naturally be flashy, “highlight play” type prospects that will enjoy the bump in praise. As of now, there are a couple of names that come to mind when thinking about “overrated” prospects. DeMarvin Leal entered the season as a media coined “no brainer top 5 pick”, but seems to be closer to mid to late 1st round grade. Malik Willis was an early riser that was mentioned in the QB1 territory, but has slid to a late 1st to 2nd round prospect. Lastly, Kyle Hamilton, who is one of my top 5 prospects and favorite players in the class, plays safety. Due to positional value, he could turn into a pick that falls out of the top 10, but whoever lands him may cash out on one of the best players in the class. Often teams worry about scheme fit or position-less players, but last year the Cowboys may have landed the pick of the draft with Micah Parsons. We are quickly approaching smokescreen season and remember that it only takes one team to like a prospect for them to be taken at a certain spot.