The Ringer’s NFL writers answer questions ahead of the 2022 NFL draft, including first-round sleepers and the perfect pairings.
1. Which Round 1 prospect most intrigues you?
Kevin Clark: In the draft, I value athleticism more than anything else. I look at guys like Sam Houston State cornerback Zyon McCollum (who won’t be a first-round pick), or Virginia Tech edge rusher Amaré Barno (4.36-second 40-yard dash, 37-inch vertical jump at 246 pounds) and drool. I know this is really basic, but among the top prospects, I am really fascinated with the top two players in the draft, Aidan Hutchinson and Travon Walker. They really are both special athletes: Hutchinson has one of the best three-cones ever for a guy his size, and Walker has one of the best 40s for a guy his size. I’d select Hutchinson, but Walker’s measurables leave the door wide open to make that a mistake. I legit don’t know. Thank God Trent Baalke’s got this under control.
Danny Heifetz: Nothing in this entire draft cycle has intrigued me more than Ole Miss QB Matt Corral transferring to a different high school because he fought Wayne Gretzky’s son at a basketball game.
Kaelen Jones: Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams is my favorite prospect in this class. Any teams hesitant to take him early because of his January knee injury need to check out his recent recovery clips, then run through the SEC championship tape when he put 7-184-2 on Georgia. I’m almost surprised DK didn’t use “A Stick of Dynamite” as the official draft comp.
Danny Kelly: I gotta go with Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who is legitimately one of the best all-around athletes in the draft’s history. We know he can be a force against the run in the NFL, but if he can unlock his pass rush potential, man, look out.
Nora Princiotti: Kyle Hamilton—a generational talent who plays a position (safety) only some teams really know what they’re doing with.
Steven Ruiz: It’s Malik Willis, and I wrote about why earlier in the week. This is obviously a weaker QB class, and Willis is the only interesting one in it. Desmond Ridder should be a fine pro, but nothing more; Kenny Pickett is a one-year wonder with tiny hands and unimpressive tape; and Sam Howell is a worse version of Baker Mayfield. Willis could end up being the worst of the bunch, but he could also be awesome—and he’s the only quarterback in the class we can say that about.
Ben Solak: Jameson Williams. Apparently teams grade him as the best receiver in the class, but he is coming off of an ACL injury. Will he be ready for Week 1? Does that matter to teams drafting in the top 10? Does the lone year of production give anyone pause? How about the long, thin frame? Who is going to trade up to go get him? Multiple teams reportedly want to. If there’s a surprise in the top 10, it could be Williams.
2. What’s your favorite (realistic) player-team pairing in Round 1?
Clark: I keep thinking about Jordan Davis, a generationally athletic big man, sliding to no. 14 and going to Baltimore. With that defense, in that locker room, I think he’d be perfect. Baltimore has shown the ability to swoop in when a no-brainer selection starts to slip, and we could be seeing that now.
Heifetz: Desmond Ridder to the Steelers. Ridder is the only QB in this class I trust. Pittsburgh is the only team that needs a QB this year that I trust to not screw him up.
Jones: The Chiefs and Georgia wide receiver George Pickens. Tyreek Hill is gone, but the Chiefs have an intriguing collection of receivers in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Mecole Hardman. Kansas City’s offense is still missing a reliable, tall wideout who specializes in acrobatic catches, which is what Pickens offers. Sounds like the type of complementary player Patrick Mahomes would enjoy playing with.
Kelly: Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks and the Packers. I think he’d be a great fit for the style of offense Green Bay plays and I would love to see him paired up with a great quarterback like Aaron Rodgers early in his career.
Princiotti: I’d love to see Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner on the Giants. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves to blitz, but the Giants secondary needs to get better before anyone can be left on an island. Drafting the best cover corner in this class makes perfect sense.
Ruiz: Jordan Davis and the Chargers. I can’t sit through another season of watching Jerry Tillery get pushed around in the run game. The Chargers’ inability to stop anyone on the ground cost Justin Herbert a trip to the playoffs, and I will never forgive their front seven for that. L.A. already signed Sebastian Joseph-Day, who played for Brandon Staley with the Rams, to shore up the interior line, but imagine adding this …
Put Jordan Davis in the mockdraftable hall of fame pic.twitter.com/jzqsL31AEd— Brodell Haggins (@brodell_haggin) March 16, 2022
… to a group that includes Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. The Chargers might not give up a single rushing yard next season. Make it happen, Chargers.
Solak: Jordan Davis to the Ravens. For a long time under GM Ozzie Newsome, and still under his protégé Eric DeCosta, Baltimore is a team that just makes good picks. They’re always around when someone is falling (Lamar Jackson). Their athletes always pan out (Odafe Oweh). And even when guys don’t fully hit (Marquise Brown, Patrick Queen), they still get good usage out of them. Having long enjoyed the dominant interior force of 340-pounder Michael Pierce at the nose, the Ravens picking Davis makes sense. They’ll know how to get the most out of him and he’ll make an immediate impact on what is perennially an intimidating defense.
3. How many QBs do you think will be taken in Round 1, and in what order?
Clark: I’m guessing three: Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, and a wild card. It’s not like this draft is deep in other positions, with many teams saying there are only 15 or so first-round grades. A team might trade up to get into the later part of the first round to take Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, or Sam Howell.
Heifetz: Call me crazy, but I think the only QB who’ll go in the first round is Desmond Ridder.
Jones: Three: Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, and Desmond Ridder.
Kelly: I think I’ve landed on two: Kenny Pickett, then Malik Willis. I think Desmond Ridder deserves to be a Round 1 pick but I could see him falling into the early second.
Princiotti: Three: Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, and Desmond Ridder.
Ruiz: Three. Willis and Ridder are worthy of the picks, and some team (the Panthers) will talk itself into Pickett (it will be the Carolina Panthers). Howell, Corral, and Carson Strong are decent options on Day 2, but taking any of them in the first round is just too big of a reach and I don’t think there are too many teams that thirsty for a QB.
Solak: I think three QBs go in Round 1: Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, and then Kenny Pickett. I also think there’s a chance none go in the first round, and also nine go in the first round. I have no idea what to believe anymore.
4. Which prospect do you think people are sleeping on?
Clark: I don’t think Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd or Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton should even approach the middle of the first round. I’d take one of them, or Jordan Davis, around 10th. I think all three have a ceiling to be special, much more so than a few guys mocked higher than them.
Heifetz: LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. In three years he’s going to be an All-Pro, but he’s not even the no. 1 player at his position for many people because he doesn’t have a cool nickname like “Sauce” Gardner.
Jones: Michigan DB Dax Hill. There’s a handful of talented safety prospects in this class, including Kyle Hamilton and Baylor’s Jalen Pitre, who aren’t discussed enough. But I think Hill has star potential that’s gone unmentioned. He’s very buzzy and showed versatility lining up in the slot, the box, and as a deep safety at Michigan.
Kelly: One of my favorite sleepers is Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir. He’s a versatile playmaker who can line up anywhere in the formation and make dudes miss after the catch. I think he could really outplay his draft spot (which is looking like late Day 2 or early Day 3).
Princiotti: Desmond Ridder. He’s not particularly thrilling, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s still starting in the NFL a decade from now.
Ruiz: Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean. Due to his size—Dean is tiny by NFL linebacker standards—it’s looking like he might slip out of the first round, and fellow Bulldog linebacker Quay Walker could even be drafted ahead of him despite the fact that Dean is, you know, better at football. The dude basically acted as a coach during Georgia’s spring camp, he has true sideline-to-sideline speed, and he’s also one of the best blitzing linebackers we’ve seen in the past decade. Dean is a good football player. Drafting good football players is smart. No need to overthink this one.
Solak: Chad Muma, linebacker, Wyoming. Is it starting to feel like every year there’s a great off-ball linebacker that goes outside of Round 1? Darius Leonard, Fred Warner, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah? That guy this year is Muma. Long, explosive, clever, physical. He’s a starter in Year 1 if a team lets him be.
5. Which team has the highest-stake selection(s) in Round 1?
Clark: The Jaguars must hit on the no. 1 pick. It’s early, but there’s a very real possibility that Trevor Lawrence will be failed by the decision-makers in Jacksonville over the course of his rookie deal. The team needs to draft a franchise-changing defensive player in order to build some momentum. That might not even be enough.
Heifetz: Green Bay. The Packers traded away Davante Adams, and if they don’t find a good replacement in the draft their fans will want blood.
Jones: Packers. With Davante Adams out of the fold and Aaron Rodgers entering his age-39 season, Green Bay needs to add instant-impact players in order to seriously maintain championship aspirations.
Kelly: The Jets and Giants each have two top-10 picks. If they mess this up …
Princiotti: The Giants have the most resources at stake, with two top-10 picks. The fifth and seventh picks combined add up to be worth more than the first pick, according to the old Jimmy Johnson draft value chart. The Saints also feel like they have a lot riding on this first round, since they already traded up with the Eagles and seem primed to move up again. New Orleans currently has picks nos. 16 and 19 in the first round. Since few teams are interested in moving up this year, that potentially puts the Saints in a good spot to get a favorable deal with one of the many teams who’d like to move back.
Ruiz: It has to be Detroit. The Lions have two picks in the first round and they’re in the market for a quarterback. If they land, say, Kayvon Thibodeaux and A QB To Be Named Later, it will be easy to get excited about the direction Dan Campbell’s team is headed. It’s been a while since we could say that about the Lions. In fact, I don’t recall any time in my life when I could say that with a straight face.
Solak: The New York Jets. They have two top-10 picks, have spent a ton of money recently in free agency, and drafted a QB no. 2 last year. These are all of the ingredients of a rebuild that should work. If this plane doesn’t get off the ground by the end of the 2022 season—clear, marked improvement from the young guys, as well as quality contributions from big free agents—then serious questions have to be asked about the job GM Joe Douglas has done over the past few seasons.
6. Describe the NFL offseason thus far in one sentence.
Clark: Wide receivers are rich.
Heifetz: Fuck them picks.
Jones: The Simulation is real; it’s just a Madden franchise mode file where a million players get traded.
Kelly: There are no untradeable players.
Princiotti: Tom Brady retired and then unretired, so of course everything else seems a little dull by comparison.
Ruiz: A handful of mediocre teams made desperate trades just to come in second or third in their respective divisions.
Solak: Quarterbacks (but only in March).