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NFL Mock Draft, Pt. 1

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

The 2021 NFL season is officially over, but the league’s 32 teams are already putting in the work for the 2022 campaign. It’s never too early to look ahead, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft, which will take place April 28-30 in Las Vegas. Here’s my projection for the first eight selections in this year’s draft:

  1. JACKSONVILLE: EVAN NEAL, OT, ALABAMA. The 2021 season was a nightmare for the Jags, and Urban Meyer has already been shown the door. New head coach Doug Pederson, who guided the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl championship in 2017, is viewed as a QB guru who can help Trevor Lawrence blossom after his so-so rookie campaign. The team’s offensive line wasn’t horrible last season, giving up “only” 32 sacks. But five linemen will be free agents, and it makes sense to bring in the 6’7”, 350-lb. Neal to protect Lawrence and keep him upright. Strong, nimble and explosive, Neal can play either tackle position, although the Jags would surely want him on the left side
  2. DETROIT: AIDAN HUTCHINSON, EDGE, MICHIGAN. The hapless Lions need help seemingly everywhere. The team scored big by drafting OT Penei Sewell in last year’s draft, so this time around they might want to address the defense. Detroit had the second-worst scoring defense in the league in 2021. Hutchinson is a 6’6”, 265-lb. defensive end who was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season after registering 14 sacks and leading the Wolverines to the CFP Playoffs. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also a homegrown product, being born and raised in Plymouth, Michigan.
  3. HOUSTON: KAYVON THIBODEAUX, EDGE, OREGON. If Hutchison isn’t the top edge rusher in this year’s draft, then the 6’5”, 258-lb. Thibodeaux most certainly is. He is an athletic freak with all the tools to become a future All-Pro. There is the possibility that the Texans may want to trade down to pick up extra picks and draft a QB. But until the team resolves their situation with Deshaun Watson, there will be more than enough uncertainty and question marks for the franchise. Better to go for the sure thing.
  4. N.Y. JETS: KYLE HAMILTON, S, NOTRE DAME. Former University of Hawaii linebacker Jeff Ulbrich survived a painful first season as the Jets’ defensive coordinator. You know he’s love to get his hands on Hamilton, who at 6’3” and 195 lbs. is considered to be the best safety prospect in the last 25 years. He is adept at defending both the run and pass, and is a sound tackler who makes instinctive plays and competes with aggression.
  5. N.Y. GIANTS: DEREK STINGLEY, JR., CB, LSU. STINGLEY is the grandson of the late Darryl Stingley, who played wide receiver for the New England Patriots. Admittedly, the 6’1”, 190-lb. corner hasn’t lived up to the hype after an eye-opening freshman year in 2019, when he had six INTs and 15 passes defended. Injuries played a role in that.
  6. CAROLINA: MALIK WILLIS, QB, LIBERTY. No, this is not a strong QB draft class. And yes, selecting Willis at this spot would be considered a risk. But unless the Panthers can make a splash in free agency, this team has no shot at contending in the NFC South. (Sorry, but Sam Darnold isn’t going to cut it.) The 6’1”, 220-lb. Willis had a pretty dismal showing at the Senior Bowl, but he might have the highest upside among this year’s QB prospects. He has a strong arm, great poise and the ability to make plays with his feet. He’d be worth the gamble.
  7. N.Y. GIANTS (via CHICAGO): DRAKE LONDON, WR, USC. In this mock draft, the Giants address their defense with pick No. 5. Now they turn their attention to the offensive side of the ball. Daniel Jones may or may not be the team’s answer at QB, but it hasn’t helped that the Giants receiving corps has largely been subpar. A lot of it has been due to injuries. Nonetheless, it would behoove New York to bring in a weapon like the 6’5”, 215-lb. London. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kipper has compared the former Trojan standout to current Bucs star Mike Evans. He has a big frame, is athletic and is deceptively quick.
  8. ATLANTA: GEORGE KARLAFTIS, EDGE, PURDUE. The Falcons’ defense collected 19 sacks in 2021, the fewest in the NFL. Addressing the pass rush seems like a logical direction here, and Karlaftis is an intriguing option. The 6’4”, 285-lb. defensive end was a force for the Boilermakers, scoring a 90.6 pass rush grade this past season. The Athens, Greece native is football’s version of the “Greek Freak,” carrying an imposing frame, a strong work ethic and a big upside.

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