The 2022 NFL draft, ie the league’s 87th annual “Player Selection Meeting,” and its myriad mysteries are finally here.
Perhaps appropriate that an event that leads so many teams to hit blackjack and comes up snake eyes for quite a few others is being staged for the first time in Las Vegas, which was originally supposed to host the draft in 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped those plans. However the Sin City backdrop should make the visuals uniquely spectacular this year.
The intrigue should also be rampant given the number of trades that have already impacted the draft with more sure to come. Make sure to follow the instant analysis here starting at 8 pm ET Thursday, when the players start coming off the board.
Now, to the picks:
2022 NFL draft tracker: First-round picks
What a year it’s already for the 6-5, 272-pounder. After winning a national title with the Bulldogs, he took the NFL scouting combine by storm, laying down a 4.51 40 time and posting a 35½-inch vertical leap. Those physical traits and a sublime ability to move in space for such a big man have vaulted Walker from little-known lineman all the way to the top of this draft. Walker’s three-year production in college (9½ sacks, 13 tackles for losses) was a red flag to some, however being part of such a deep rotation while often being asked to work inside or even drop into coverage certainly depressed his numbers to some degree . But the Jags are clearly banking on future potential over past production with this selection. And Walker plans to deliver the goods, telling me last week: “Whoever passes up on me – to each his own. But you’re definitely making a mistake if you don’t draft me.” This is the first draft since 2017 where a non-quarterback has been chosen No. 1.
2. Detroit Lions – DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
He’s the No. 1 overall player on many draft boards even if he might not have the ceiling of Walker. But Hutchinson is closer to a finished product, the All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist setting a Wolverines single-season record with 14 sacks in 2021 while also posting 51 hurries. Hutchinson, who has a non-stop motor, was also a two-time team captain in Ann Arbor – and should help establish the kind of culture coach Dan Campbell and the Lions are seeking. A 6-7, 260-pounder with 4.7 speed and an engaging personality, the Plymouth, Michigan, native could instantly become the face of a franchise that needs one. A 29th-ranked defense that had the league’s third-fewest sacks in 2021 (30) and recently let go of oft-injured DE Trey Flowers should reap the benefits. The last time defensive players went 1-2 in a draft was 2000.
3. Houston Texans – CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Three years ago, he was perceived as a top-five talent following a stellar freshman season. Now that’s come to pass after a circuitous journey. His talents as a cover man are undeniable and were apparent for the 2019 national champions, for whom he had six interceptions, earning All-American honors for his efforts. But Lisfranc surgery limited him to three games in 2021 – a year after he was slowed by ankle issues. But a promising showing at LSU’s pro day – Stingley unofficially ran a 4.37 40 earlier this month – apparently allayed concerns about his health and readiness to play. GM Nick Caserio and new Texans coach Lovie Smith interestingly begin rebuilding their defense with a lockdown corner instead of a pass rusher.
4. New York Jets – CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Cincinnati
A franchise that’s been looking for Darrelle Revis’ successor for the past half-decade should benefit greatly from the 6-3, 190-pounder Gardner, who never surrendered a TD pass for the Bearcats. In fact, his interception-to-TDs allowed ratio in college was nine to 0. The 2021 AAC Defensive Player of the Year, who has 4.4 speed to go with his great length, didn’t allow 60 catches in three seasons for the Bearcats . The consensus All-American allowed only 20 receptions in 2021, picked off three passes and – evidence of his all-around game – posted 40 tackles and three sacks. He’s not going to sustain that kind of shutdown rep in a division now featuring WRs Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs, but he’d upgrade the league’s worst defense certainly, both in terms of points and yards allowed in 2021. 1-4 in a draft was 1991.
5. New York Giants – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Given his off-field aspirations, including a post-football career in broadcasting among other ventures (including crypto), the former Ducks star probably couldn’t hope to land in a better market … assuming, of course, he brings all of his prodigious talent to bear in The Big Apple. Perhaps the prize of the 2019 high school recruiting class, Thibodeaux might have more potential than any other player in this draft but will have to dispel questions about his dedication to the game and what appears a lack of hustle at times. In 30 games at Oregon, the 6-4, 254-pounder had 19 sacks and 35½ TFLs, thanks in part to the 2021 All-American’s tremendous first step. Big Blue had 34 sacks and 53 TFLs in 2021, so a difference maker of Thibodeaux’s stature will certainly be welcome. He and Azeez Ojulari (8 sacks as a rookie in 2021) should form a nice, young edge combo.
6. Carolina Panthers – OT Ikem ‘Ickey’ Ekwonu, North Carolina State
Generally viewed as this draft’s top tackle prospect, good luck finding anyone who thinks there’s a better run blocker coming out than Ekwonu. The All-American coming down Tobacco Road has some refinement to do in pass protection, but this 6-4 310-pounder has the sweet feet and athleticism (4.9 40 time) to fulfill his vast expectations. He addresses a huge need for Carolina, which isn’t scheduled to select again until late in Round 4, and might give QB Sam Darnold a fighting chance to succeed if the offense’s other weapons – namely RB Christian McCaffrey – are ready to go in 2022 .
7. Giants (from Chicago Bears) – OT Evan Neal, Alabama
Yet another All-American – one who won a ring with the Tide in 2020 – the 6-8, 337-pounder might be the most user friendly of the incoming blockers. Taken with the pick acquired in last year’s Justin Fields trade with the Bears, Neal has extensive experience at left tackle, right tackle and guard and is effective both in the run game and pass protection. He’ll likely plug into the right side given 2020 first-rounder Andrew Thomas seems settled as the Giants’ left tackle. This new-look like line should give embattled QB Daniel Jones – his fifth-year option was declined Thursday – RB Saquon Barkley and a fleet of receivers a lot better to succeed in 2022.
8. Atlanta Falcons – WR Drake London, USC
The 2021 trade of Julio Jones, 2022 suspension of Calvin Ridley and free agent departure of Russell Gage evidently moved wideout right to the top of GM Terry Fontenot’s wish list. A 6-4, 219-pounder, London reminds many of Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, partially due to their basketball backgrounds. London and 2021 first-round TE Kyle Pitts should provide new QB Marcus Mariota quite a pair of capable rebounders – “twin towers” as London said Thursday. He had 88 catches for 1,084 yards and seven scores in eight games for the Trojans in 2021 before a broken ankle cut his season short.
9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider hope the trade of QB Russell Wilson starts paying off here. It sure seems like Carroll wants to get back to running the ball and playing suffocating defense, things the Seahawks often struggled to do in the latter part of Wilson’s reign. However in Cross, a first-team all SEC selection in 2021, they get a 6-5, 307-pounder who excels in pass protection. That’s usually what he did in Starkville for Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. (Per PFF, Cross was in pass pro 719 times last season.) Should be good news for Drew Lock, or whomever is Seattle’s QB in 2022, and Cross takes over the post vacated by unsigned free agent Duane Brown. But remains to be seen if he can help take this offense back to what it was a decade ago.
10. Jets (from Seahawks) – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
GM Joe Douglas is banking a (Zach) Wilson-to-Wilson connection gets this sputtering offense back on track in 2022. Garrett Wilson is widely considered as the top receiver in this draft, featuring 4.38 speed. A 6-foot, 183-pounder, he’s effective both outside and from the slot and is especially dangerous after the catch, scoring 13 TDs last season (one as a rusher). He, second-year man Elijah Moore and veteran Corey Davis could make this air attack interesting.
11. New Orleans Saints (from Washington Commanders) – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The Saints make their second move up the board this month following an earlier deal with the Eagles. Thursday night, they sent the Commanders the No. 16 pick plus a third- and fourth-rounder in order to select Olave. This seems to feed the notion New Orleans is collecting players to compete in the NFC now rather than finding a long-term successor for retired QB Drew Brees. Olave’s speed and smooth route running could eventually make him a clear-cut No. 1 target, not to mention his ability to find the end zone – that occurred 32 times in his last 33 games for Ohio State. But in the near term, he’d be a dangerous complement to fellow former Buckeyes WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara.
12. Lions (from Minnesota Vikings) – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
Detroit moves up by flipping the 32nd pick to the division rival Vikes – they also swapped second-rounders and Minnesota adds one in Round 3 – in order to upgrade their receiving corps with Williams, who might well have been this draft’s No. 1 wideout had he not torn an ACL in the Tide’s national championship game loss to Georgia. While healthy, Williams was remarkably productive in 2021, averaging 100 receiving yards and a TD catch per game. Hisness has drawn comparisons to explosive Hill, and his recovery from that knee surgery seems to be ahead of the schedule. Williams and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, who caught 90 passes as a rookie in 2021, suddenly gave QB Jared Goff a nifty tandem of targets to mix in with Pro Bowl TE TJ Hockenson.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (from Cleveland Browns via Texans) – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
Philly offloads some mid-round picks to Houston to come up two spots for Davis, perhaps the best-known player from the Bulldogs’ epic 2021 defense. A 6-6, 341-pound All-American who somehow ran a 4.78 40 at the combine, Davis can crush a pocket and is an elite run stuffer. Philadelphia will need such an anchor with DTs Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave headed for free agency next year. However Davis will likely need to keep the weight down to blossom into a star who doesn’t have to regularly come off the field, particularly on passing downs.
14. Baltimore Ravens – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
He’s 6-4 and 220 pounds with sub-4.6 speed and can shore up deficiencies at the second and/or third levels. Hamilton can provide coverage, a box presence, blitzing ability and an intimidation factor – and easily toggles between every level of the field based on the versatility he displayed for the Irish. He and newly signed Marcus Williams give Baltimore a sweet new safety combo in a division that will mean constant matchups with Cincy QB Joe Burrow and Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson. Many draft observers rated Hamilton as a top-five talent who was undercut by the general positional value of safeties.
While the Ravens were at it, they traded WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to the Cardinals as part of a deal for the 23rd pick.
15. Texans (from Miami Dolphins via Eagles) –
16. Commanders (from Indianapolis Colts via Eagles and Saints) –
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29. Kansas City Chiefs (from San Francisco 49ers via Dolphins) –
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32. Vikings (from Los Angeles Rams via Lions) –
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Draft 2022: Live news, analysis on picks throughout first round