As 14 teams battle to reach Super Bowl LVI over the next month, 18 will be sitting at home, wondering what moves they can make so that next season will be different. Well, look no further than the 2022 NFL Draft.
It's a time for bottom-dwellers to begin turning their franchises around and for average teams to take the next step. Not every pick works out, but the ones that do can set up organizations for long-term success.
We're still more than three months away from the three-day palooza in Las Vegas, so a lot can (and will) change before then. However, the first 18 spots of the draft order are set, allowing hopeful fanbases to begin daydreaming about who their next potential star might be. In this edition, four quarterbacks are taken in the first round while CBS Sports' No. 1 player falls out of the top 10, but you'll have to keep reading to find out where all of the top prospects end up.
For a more extensive draft discussion beyond the mock drafts, check out the CBS Sports draft experts' weekly show every Tuesday on YouTube!
Round 1 - Pick 1
Kayvon Thibodeaux EDGE
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
There's a case to be made for the Jaguars to grab what they hope will be a franchise left tackle, such as Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu, to protect Trevor Lawrence's blind side. But in this scenario, Jacksonville chooses a player in Thibodeaux who appears to have the highest ceiling in the class when taking positional importance into account. The big, strong, athletic edge rusher could develop into an All-Pro in just a few seasons.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Michigan • Sr • 6'6" / 265 lbs
There are a lot of reasons Hutchinson to the Lions make sense. For one, he's among the two best pass rushers in the class, and the Jags just took the prospect he's competing for that title with. But even if Jacksonville opts for an offensive lineman, head coach Dan Campbell and the Lions could be ecstatic to land a defender as relentlessly energetic and technically sound. A homegrown product who has spent his entire life in the state of Michigan, Hutchinson could make a significant impact for Detroit right away.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Evan Neal OL
Alabama • Jr • 6'7" / 350 lbs
With an uninspiring quarterback class compared to past years, the Texans could get away with rolling with improved rookie Davis Mills for at least another year while stabilizing other positions. They cross off a big need with the selection of Neal, a 6-foot-7, 350-pound wall who allowed just one sack this season for the Crimson Tide.
Round 1 - Pick 4
LSU • Jr • 6'1" / 195 lbs
General manager Joe Douglas has used top-15 picks on offensive lineman in each of the last two years (Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker), but it's time to equip Robert Saleh with a versatile, shut-down cornerback like Stingley. Once he's fully healthy from the foot injury that ended his 2021 campaign in early October, he has all the tools to help improve what was one of the NFL's worst pass defenses this season.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Pittsburgh • Sr • 6'3" / 220 lbs
Had Joe Judge stayed, I think the Giants would have given Daniel Jones a final chance to prove he's capable of leading the franchise. Judge was fired Tuesday night, however, and with the move went Jones' perceived job security. Pickett has experienced a monumental one-year rise up draft boards thanks to his Heisman finalist campaign, but he is simply not a top-five quarterback prospect in most years. That said, the new Giants brass will have the fifth and seventh picks and will likely be hard pressed to move back. Plus, with the Panthers choosing in between them, there's a chance they could lose Pickett to Carolina. If Pickett is New York's top-rated quarterback, there's a chance the franchise goes all-in on him here.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Ikem Ekwonu OT
NC State • Soph • 6'4" / 320 lbs
The Panthers definitely need a quarterback, but for this exercise they pass on a signal-caller and instead sure up their offensive line with Ekwonu, who is a mauler in the run game and can play either guard or tackle. Ideally Ekwonu would work out outside and pair with Taylor Moton to provide whoever is under center with ample protection off the edges.
From Chicago Bears
Round 1 - Pick 7
Mississippi State • Soph • 6'5" / 310 lbs
Addressing the offensive line is a major priority for the Giants this offseason. It becomes even more important if they use one of their top-10 picks on a quarterback. That's the case in this mock draft, so New York immediately grabs Cross to protect Pickett. The Mississippi State product made big strides as a redshirt sophomore, allowing one sack and five pressures in one of the most pass-heavy offenses in all of college football. His freaky athleticism also allows plenty of room for upside.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Purdue • Jr • 6'4" / 275 lbs
Atlanta needs a successor for 36-year-old Matt Ryan, but this isn't the year to reach in the first round unless the Falcons fall in love with one of the signal-callers. For this exercise, the team decides to address its by-far-NFL-worst 18 sacks in 2021 with the selection of Karlaftis. As CBS Sports draft expert Chris Trapasso wrote in November, the former Purdue edge rusher can be both an immediate playmaker while developing into a defensive cornerstone.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Nakobe Dean LB
Georgia • Jr • 6'0" / 225 lbs
The Broncos seem like a team that will attempt to find their next franchise quarterback in free agency or via trade, meaning they can use this pick (if they have it) to add a premier second-level defender to elevate what is already a solid defense. Dean is a do-it-all off-ball linebacker and a proven leader, evident by being a captain on one of the best defenses in college football in recent memory. Denver experienced a rash of injuries at the position in 2021, and while its backups showed flashes of promise, Dean would be a mainstay in the Mile High City.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 10
Ohio State • Jr • 6'0" / 192 lbs
With the top three offensive linemen off the board, the Jets get Zach Wilson another playmaker. Garrett Wilson burst onto the scene as a junior at Ohio State, going over 1,000 yards and finding the end zone 12 times. He could immediately become New York's No. 1 receiver for a passing attack that will also include solid veteran Corey Davis and emerging youngster Elijah Moore, who was highly productive for several weeks before an injury ended his campaign in early December.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Matt Corral QB
Ole Miss • Jr • 6'2" / 205 lbs
Washington went the veteran free agent route last year, and to no fault of its own, it completely backfired with Ryan Fitzpatrick suffering a season-ending injury in the first half of Week 1. Taylor Heinicke performed extremely well considering where he was a little more than a year ago (his couch), but he is a sturdy backup -- not a starter. However, the free agent quarterback market isn't much better, so Ron Rivera and Co. go with Corral, a dual-threat playmaker who improved his pocket presence and decision making at Ole Miss this past season.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Notre Dame • Jr • 6'4" / 220 lbs
Somehow, CBS Sports' top-overall prospect is available at No. 12, which would be too good for a Vikings team with an aging defense to pass up. Minnesota could have gone with a cornerback, such as Andrew Booth Jr. or Ahmad Gardner, but Hamilton can impact all three levels of the defense with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, quality coverage skills and sure tackling. He'd make life easier for the other 10 defenders on the field.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Chris Olave WR
Ohio State • Sr • 6'1" / 188 lbs
The Browns offense needs a healthy Baker Mayfield first and foremost, but it also needs an explosive receiver, especially since veteran Jarvis Landry could be on his way out as a salary-cap casualty. Even if Landry were to stay, Olave could quickly become the team's featured target thanks to his football IQ and refined route running. Not only will those help him gain separation on the short and intermediate routes, but he's a big-play threat as well, evidenced by his 15.4 yards-per-reception average at Ohio State.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Jordan Davis DL
Georgia • Soph • 6'6" / 330 lbs
Defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell are the team's most-expensive players expected to become free agents, and there's a good chance, for a multitude of reasons, that neither of them are back in Baltimore in 2022. That would leave a gaping hole up front, but one that the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis could immediately fill. Davis won't add much as a pass rusher, but he'll be huge (literally) in clogging up running lanes to free up linebackers.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 15
Devin Lloyd LB
Utah • Jr • 6'3" / 235 lbs
The Eagles have not selected a linebacker in the first-round since Jerry Robinson in 1979, but after all of these years, it may finally be time to revisit the well. Philadelphia has not received enough from its current linebacker corps -- Alex Singleton and Genard Avery both have PFF grades below 50 -- and Lloyd is one of, if not the best prospect at the position in the class. His length, versatility and coverage ability will allow him to become an impact off-ball backer at the professional level.
From Indianapolis Colts
Round 1 - Pick 16
Iowa • Jr • 6'3" / 290 lbs
Some of you may be asking: Why would the Eagles draft a center in the first round when their center just made his third straight Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro from 2017-19? Yes, Jason Kelce has been a model of consistency, dependability and excellence since arriving in Philadelphia in 2011, but he's 34 years old and set to become a free agent. Meanwhile, Tyler Linderbaum is CBS Sports' top-ranked offensive lineman regardless of position, which is rarely the case for a center. Linderbaum could replace Kelce right away, leaving the Eagles without a worry there for perhaps another decade.
Round 1 - Pick 17
David Ojabo LB
Michigan • Jr • 6'5" / 250 lbs
The behemoth that is Jordan Davis would have been an ideal prospect to quickly improve the Chargers' 30th-ranked run defense. But with him already off the board, the Chargers opt for a twitchy pass-rusher to line up opposite perennial Pro Bowler Joey Bosa. Ojabo is still raw, but he made monumental strides playing with potential No. 1 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson at Michigan. He'll make some flashy plays as a rookie while developing the necessary traits to win consistently against NFL tackles.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Alabama • Jr • 6'2" / 189 lbs
The Saints were 5-2 with Jameis Winston as the starter before his injury, so it would make sense for them to re-sign him and see if he truly can be the long-term replacement for Drew Brees. Putting quality players around Winston will only help him, and with all the hoopla that has surrounded former All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas, Sean Payton grabs Williams in the middle of the first round. Williams suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game, which will likely hurt his draft stock in some capacity, but he's expected to make a full recovery — and Williams at full strength may be the best receiver in this entire class.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Clemson • Jr • 6'0" / 200 lbs
What a spot to be in if you're the Eagles. Jalen Hurts leads you to the playoffs while the two teams you received first-round picks from (Dolphins and Colts) miss out despite postseason expectations. With its third selection in five picks, Philadelphia bolsters the secondary by pairing a first-team All-ACC selection with Darius Slay. Booth has everything defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon could want in a starting outside cornerback.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Malik Willis QB
Liberty • Jr • 6'1" / 215 lbs
Ben Roethlisberger calls it quits following an improbable playoff appearance, but the Steelers don't waste any time trying to find the next quarterback to star in the Steel City. Willis is already a dynamic runner who can spray the ball all over the field, but he must become more accurate, a better decision-maker and take better care of the ball. Willis is too raw to start right away, so maybe Pittsburgh brings in an established veteran for him to learn behind. Once he's ready, the Steelers should have the pieces in place (improved offensive line, a more cohesive defense) to help Willis succeed.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Cincinnati • Jr • 6'2" / 188 lbs
Gardner is an aggressive, confident cornerback who will endear himself to Bill and Steve Belichick early on. Gardner would play a particularly important role if the Patriots decide to move on from 2021 Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson, who will expect to be paid like one of the NFL's best this offseason.
From San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 - Pick 22
Drake London WR
USC • Jr • 6'5" / 210 lbs
Offensive line makes the most sense here, but general manager Chris Grier has a poor track record with that position early in the draft. In the past three years, the Dolphins have selected four offensive linemen on either Day 1 or Day 2, and while all four were starters in 2021, only Robert Hunt had a PFF grade of 61 or better. So, let's assume Miami addresses that persistent need in free agency and decides to invest in a first-round receiver for the second straight year. Jaylen Waddle has been a huge success, setting the NFL's single-season receptions record for a rookie. Now he'll have the luxury of working alongside London, a 6-foot-5 contested-catch machine who will add another element to the Dolphins' lackluster attack.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Jahan Dotson WR
Penn State • Sr • 5'11" / 184 lbs
The Raiders offense has everything it needs skill player-wise -- except a burner who can take the top off defenses. 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs filled that role for a year and a half before a fatal DUI crash resulted in his release, and 35-year-old DeSean Jackson is nowhere near the long-term answer. So how about Dotson? He made lots of explosive plays at Penn State in 2021, and he ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash time last offseason. He would provide Derek Carr with a sure-handed deep threat.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Kaiir Elam CB
Florida • Jr • 6'2" / 196 lbs
Arizona dipped into the Florida cornerback well last year with the selection of Marco Wilson in the fourth round, and while he's struggled at times, he's started 14 games this season. Elam is the much-better prospect, with the physicality to play press man and the vision to excel in zone.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Kenyon Green OL
Texas A&M • Jr • 6'4" / 325 lbs
Spurning their biggest need (offensive line) to take a game-breaking receiver with the No. 5 pick last year proved to be a home run for the Bengals, as the combination of Joe Burrow and Chase figures to be one of the best QB-WR duos in the NFL for years to come. That said, protecting Burrow still needs to be a huge priority. He was sacked an NFL-high 51 times during the regular season, this after being taken down 32 times in just 10 games as a rookie. Green is the ideal prospect to bring in because he can play anywhere on the offensive line, which would allow Cincinnati to mix and match until it finds the best combination.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Zion Johnson OL
Boston College • Sr • 6'3" / 316 lbs
The Bills don't have a lot of needs, but it's always good to have as many quality offensive linemen as possible to protect Josh Allen. The guard position has been in flux at times this season for Buffalo, and Johnson, after starting his college career at FCS Davidson, firmly entrenched himself as a high-end prospect the past three seasons at Boston College.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 27
Cincinnati • Sr • 6'4" / 215 lbs
Even if the Lions believe Jared Goff is their quarterback of the future after his late-season surge, that's a lot of money to be paying a below-average starter on a rebuilding franchise. So they go with Ridder, an experienced dual-threat quarterback with above-average traits. Then they let him learn behind Goff until either he's ready or Goff shows he's not worth that massive contract.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Daxton Hill DB
Michigan • Jr • 6'0" / 192 lbs
The Cowboys' first defensive pick of the 2020 draft leads the NFL in interceptions, while their first selection this past year is the runaway Defensive Rookie of the Year and should get Defensive Player of the Year votes. But even with Trevon Diggs ruining quarterbacks' days and Micah Parsons causing havoc all over the field, Dallas could use another stud defender. This time around, they focus on safety since three of their top four are slated to become free agents. Hill would thrive at free safety while having the versatility to play nickel for a unit that could improve its pass defense.
Round 1 - Pick 29
South Carolina • Sr • 6'4" / 260 lbs
The midseason acquisition of veteran Melvin Ingram has keyed the Chiefs' defensive turnaround because it allowed perennial Pro Bowler Chris Jones to move back inside. Ingram, who turns 33 in April, will be a free agent this offseason, so Kansas City selects the explosive defensive end from South Carolina, and its defense hardly misses a beat.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Washington • Soph • 5'11" / 195 lbs
McDuffie falls to the Buccaneers and further enhances the back end of that defense. This is a group that has been solid when healthy, but that has not been the case for much of 2021. McDuffie's versatility will help alleviate some stress if these players continue to miss time moving forward.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Northern Iowa • Jr • 6'7" / 321 lbs
The Titans could lose three starters from an offensive line that allowed Ryan Tannehill to be sacked 47 times during the regular season, the second-highest mark in the league. If that doesn't say, "Take an offensive lineman in Round 1," then I don't know what does. In this exercise, Tennessee opts for Penning out of Northern Iowa. He should showcase himself well to NFL scouts in the coming months, starting with the Senior Bowl.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Arkansas • Jr • 6'3" / 225 lbs
What Aaron Rodgers wants, Aaron Rodgers gets. (If the Packers don't understand that by now, they deserve to watch him play at an MVP level elsewhere.) For now, the organization meets its quarterback's wishes and gets him another playmaker in the form of the 6-foot-3 Burks, who not only will haul in 50-50 balls but is also difficult to bring down after the catch.