2022 NFL Mock Draft: Eagles select QB Malik Willis, fix up defense

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Eagles take shot at QB, address D originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

We've hit the part of the 2021 NFL regular season where the bad teams are starting to separate from the pretenders, and a number of fanbases across the country are shifting attention from Sundays to Saturdays.

That's right: it's not even Nov. 1, but it's already Mock Draft SZN.

The Eagles are way at the top of that list considering they sit at 2-5, will likely have three first-round picks in next April's draft, and will generally control the NFL offseason and draft cycle with that kind of loaded-up arsenal. They can make basically any trade they want with that kind of draft capital, or they can sit back and load up on blue-chip first-round talent.

Let's roll once through a first-round mock, with the draft order set by the standings following Week 7.

1. Detroit Lions: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

There's no definitive superhero player in this year's draft, no generational talent who we've been watching for years with baited breath, but Thibodeaux seems to be the best prospect set to be available in April. A pass-rush monster, he's been banged up as of late, but when he's been healthy he's been a terror - he has 4.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 7.5 tackles for loss in four games this season. The Lions need talent at every position; they can't afford to pass on a potential All-Pro.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA): DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

The Eagles love building through the lines, and while they'd certainly love a shot at Thibodeaux themselves, they can still add a legitimate difference-maker on the defensive line in Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson.

If it weren't for Hutchinson's season-ending injury in 2020, he might be ahead of Thibodeaux in the hype train, but he lost some steam last season in his absence.

At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds the dude is an absolute athletic freak on the edge, the kind of player you watch rush the passes and wonder who in their right mind wants to get in his way. He's got 5.0 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 27 tackles in seven games for the Wolverines this season. 

With Derek Barnett likely gone after another underwhelming season, and Brandon Graham not getting any younger and trying to get back to Pro Bowl form after an Achilles tear, the Birds could stand to restock their edge rushers for the next generation. Hutchinson would be a tremendous place to start.

3. Houston Texans: CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

The Texans need a quarterback, but this pick is too high up in a draft without surefire QB prospects. They can't afford to pass on Top 3 talent, but they also can't afford to reach for a QB and miss out on having a Pro Bowl-level CB for a decade. At 6-foot-1 Stingley has the size you like to see in a CB1, he has the ballhawk skills you need from a playmaking corner (6 INTs in his freshman year), and is fast enough to keep up with the twitchy offenses we watch every Sunday. This should be a no-brainer.

4. New York Jets: OL Evan Neal, Alabama

Zach Wilson might not be the answer in New York, but the Jets need to give him a fair shot at proving himself instead of whatever they've been doing this season. Wilson was the NFL's most-sacked quarterback heading into Week 7, where he suffered a PCL injury while trying to avoid oncoming rushers. The Jets need to invest in protecting the face of their franchise, and Neal is as good as it gets on the O-line with experience at both tackle positions and ridiculous size: he's 6-7, 360.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: OL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

Brandon Linder was supposed to be the Jaguars' center of forever, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy during his pricey five-year deal, and it's time to look elsewhere. Linderbaum - strangely close name! - could be the balm for Jacksonville's iOL problem, providing a long-term pairing with Trevor Lawrence to build the offense, and offensive line, around.

6. Philadelphia Eagles: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

With Rodney McLeod likely moving on after this season and Marcus Epps not exactly an exciting starting safety option, the Eagles would be wise to find a long-term answer at the position. Harken back to the days of Brian Dawkins roaming a football field in South Philly; that kind of back-end authority would be a welcome wake-up call for a defense that has looked pathetically aimless this season. 

At 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, Hamilton seems like the big-bodied, ballhawk-y type of playmaker you can build a secondary around, that electric guy who combines size and athleticism to torture opposing quarterbacks. Through 31 games with the Fighting Irish he has eight interceptions, 16 passes defended, 7.5 tackles for loss, and has generally been a super solid tackler all over the field. He's a guy you can line up in the box for an added physical presence, or sit deep against those big, speedy wideouts and not worry about getting beat.

It might feel weird to invest the No. 6 overall pick in a safety, but the Eagles' defense needs improvement everywhere, and with the way modern offenses are trending Hamilton can be the type of guy to match up with opposing tight end mismatches - the Darren Waller, George Kittle, Travis Kelce-type players - and not be a liability.

Adding monsters at No. 2 and No. 6 feels like a huge step towards a return to the defensive promised land for the Birds.

7. New York Giants: DL DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M

The Giants could use some playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and nothing turns a defense into an elite unit like a deadly pass rush. Enter Leal, a particularly versatile defender who has seen time all over the D-line with the Aggies. He has 10.0 career sacks and 21.0 tackles for loss in 41 games at College Station, and his combination of power and technique should lead him to regular success at the pro level.

8. Washington Football Team: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss

As much fun as the Green Lizard is having right now, Taylor Heinicke is not The Guy. Washington needs a franchise QB, and while Corral might not be that guy, I can totally understand why the Football Team would take a shot on him. He's got the athleticism and big-play ability you need in today's NFL, he comes to play on the big stage each week in the SEC, and his aversion to interceptions this year - 15 TDs to just one INT - while completing 67% of his passes is pretty enticing. Feels like a very boom-or-bust prospect.

9. New York Jets (via SEA): WR Chris Olave, Ohio State

Step one for the Jets is keeping Zach Wilson upright. Step two is making sure he has talent around him to get the offense rolling. Olave should check that second box: a scary deep-ball threat with 30 TDs in 33 games as a Buckeye, I really like Olave's ceiling. He's not the biggest wideout in the world, standing 6-1 and weighing 195 pounds, but he's got the burners and route-running ability to become a real weapon for the Jets.

10. Miami Dolphins (via SF): OL Kenyon Greene, Texas A&M

It seems like Austin Jackson was a total in the 2020 NFL Draft, and whether Tua Tagovailoa or Deshaun Watson is under center next season, the Dolphins need to make sure they're protecting the guy they've invested in. Greene is an absolute unit at 6-4, 324 pounds, and brings some valuable versatility along the line that should make him an easy pick for the Dolphins as they look to fix their anemic offense at all positions.

11. New England Patriots: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida

The Patriots moved on from Stephon Gilmore in-season, and they currently have Jalen Mills starting at outside cornerback. Given how much Bill Belichick likes winning with defense, you can bet he's looking to improve the secondary this offseason. Enter Elam, who stands 6-foot-2, weighs nearly 200 pounds, has five career interceptions with the Gators, and feels every bit the prototypical corner for today's NFL. His combo of size and talent makes him pretty close to a sure thing.

12. Green Bay Packers (via DEN): OL Jaxson Kirkland, Washington

I have the Broncos pushing for Aaron Rodgers this offseason and landing him, sending this pick to the Pack in a big ol' blockbuster deal. It's Jordan Love time in Green Bay, and it's time to protect the kid. Billy Turner isn't objectively bad but Kirkland is a monster and could turn into a perennial Pro Bowl LT. Shore up the line and let Love go to work.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND): QB Malik Willis, Liberty

QUARTERBACK ALERT. 

Jalen Hurts has shown that he simply isn't a starter-level quarterback in the NFL. The same concerns scouts had about him coming out of college - arm strength, arm mechanics, and limited range - are still problems in his second year in the NFL. He's not able to make all the throws, he's not a sharp in-game decision maker, and he misses easy throws that college guys should be able to make in their sleep.

Hurts could have a solid career as a backup, or maybe even a low-ceiling starter journeyman, but the Eagles need to be shooting for franchise QB play and right now they don't have a franchise guy on the team.

Enter Willis, a raw prospect with ridiculous tools who just might be The Guy. 

He's a dynamo athlete who makes big plays every single week, he has a cannon for an arm, and he's a ridiculous playmaker with his feet. Willis is exactly the kind of quarterback you want in 2022, and I think the Eagles would be wise to take a shot at a guy who could be the next MVP-level dual-threat QB if he reaches his potential.

I also think the Eagles are best-served continuing to take swings on young quarterback prospects rather than investing any kind of money into veteran QB re-treads. They could try to package draft capital and leap for a guy like Russell Wilson, but he's not solving this team's defense and he's not getting any younger.

I'm looking to hit on a young, cost-controlled player while you build around him. There's a chance, in this scenario, that Willis doesn't play in 2022. Maybe Hurts does; maybe Gardner Minshew does; maybe another, currently unknown quarterback does. The Eagles aren't competing next season, so give the guy some time, let him develop, and see if Willis can be the big hit this team desperately needs at QB.

14. Carolina Panthers: OT Abraham Lucas, Washington State

The Panthers have allowed 24 sacks through seven weeks. Sam Darnold isn't helping matters, because he's bad, but Carolina still needs desperately to get some bodies on the O-line that will protect whoever is under center next season. Darnold? Deshaun Watson? A rookie? A veteran journeyman? It's impossible to tell right now. What is clear is that Joe Brady's offense needs to be much improved in the trenches.

15. New York Giants (via CHI): OL Charles Cross, Mississippi State

The Giants are actually near the top end of the NFL in terms of sacks allowed through seven weeks, but keeping Daniel Jones clean has been a problem in the past and they need to do a better job of giving Saquon Barkley easy holes to run through - when he's not hurt. Cross is enormous, young, and if he declares for the Draft he could be a steal given there's less tape on him than other players coming out.

16. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Jordan Davis, Georgia

Boy, does the Kansas City defense stink. The Chiefs are allowing 29 points per game after seven weeks, fifth-worst in the NFL, and are doing precious little to disturb opposing offenses. They simply can't move quarterbacks off their spots or stop drives with any regularity. Looking at Georgia's record-setting defense for answers is probably a good idea, and Davis, a mountain of a human being, is as good place as any to start building out a defense of the future.

17. Atlanta Falcons: QB Carson Strong, Nevada

The Falcons passed on this year's class of rookies and took a tight end. Matt Ryan isn't getting younger and Atlanta needs a QB of the future, so they don't worry about Strong's injuries and take a fascinating prospect.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Sam Howell, UNC

The Steelers didn't plan for the post-Ben Roethlisberger era at all, and with Strong off the board one pick before them they reeeeach for their next QB in the inconsistent Howell.

19. Minnesota Vikings: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson

With Patrick Peterson on a one-year deal and Jeff Gladney gone Minnesota needs to shore up its cornerback corps in a big way this offseason, and Booth presents a high-ceiling option.

20. Cleveland Browns: LB Drake Jackson, USC

The Browns don't really have any glaring needs, so they take an exciting pass-rushing linebacker/defensive end hybrid with 11.5 career sacks as a member of the Trojans to keep the pressure up on opposing offenses.

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

The Saints could use an infusion of young pass-catching talent to try and help Jameis Winston figure it out, and Wilson - an explosive athlete who can become a consistent target at the next level.

22. Buffalo Bills: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati

With Levi Wallace ticketed for free agency, the Bills would be wise to shore up the CB2 spot next offseason. The AFC has some high-powered passing attacks and Buffalo should be ready for postseason shootouts in the years to come.

23. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Keenan Allen turns 30 around the time the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, and the Chargers need to make sure Justin Herbert has weapons aplenty for his entire career. Burks is a big, fast, athletic player who will catch jump balls and dominate fantasy leagues for years.

24. Dallas Cowboys: OL Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas

The center position is still a bit of a question mark for the Cowboys after Travis Frederick's retirement, and adding Stromberg, a 6-4, 310-pound beast, would be a wise move to protect Dak Prescott and keep this prolific offense rolling.

25. Tennessee Titans: CB Trent McDuffie, Washington

The Titans' pass defense has essentially been middle of the road through seven weeks this season, and you can bet Mike Vrabel would like it to be an elite unit. McDuffie is slightly small at 5-11, but makes up for the size with crazy athleticism.

26. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State

The Bengals skipped on Penei Sewell for Ja'Marr Chase - a decision that paid off - which means it's now time to get a bona fide first-round tackle to protect Joe Burrow. The Bengals have arrived; Ekwonu can make sure that doesn't change.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

The Bucs, like Cleveland, don't have any obvious places of need right now. So they decide to take a bit of a project, which is fine for their current development schedule and championship window.

28. Detroit Lions (via LAR): QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Is there anything more Detroit than latching on to one year of great production while overlooking a bunch of possible red flags about Pickett's pro prospects? But Goff is not the long-term guy there, so they'd might as well gamble.

29. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Darian Kinnard, Kentucky

Vegas's line has been banged up for the last year-plus, and with a weapon like Henry Ruggs looking to get open downfield constantly, Derek Carr needs time for those throws to reach 50 yards downfield.

30. Green Bay Packers: DE Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

The Packers could find themselves perilously short on pass rushers at the start of 2022, and certainly by the end of next season. Sanders' 11.0 career sacks should help set the tone for the future.

31. Baltimore Ravens: WR Drake London, USC

Lamar Jackson is basically the Ravens' entire offense right now, which makes sense because of his considerable talent - but it's not a recipe for longevity. Getting Jackson more guys to throw to is imperative.

32. Arizona Cardinals: LB/DE Adam Anderson, Georgia

Neither Chandler Jones nor JJ Watt is under contract next year for the Cardinals, and as they look to sustain success around Kyler Murray, keeping costs down on the defensive end without sacrificing talent is key.

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