The 2021 NFL regular season is wrapping up, which means the top half of next year’s draft order is about to be set for the time being.
While 14 fortunate teams move on to the postseason, the rest of the league will begin offseason preparations, hoping to turn things around and make a playoff run of their own next year.
As the calendar turns to a new year, let’s take an updated look at how the first three rounds of the 2022 NFL draft could shake out, using the latest updated order following Week 17 results:
One game should never define any prospect, so if Hutchinson was worthy of this spot before a fairly a quiet performance against Georgia, he should still be here right now. It’ll be a tough call between him and Kayvon Thibodeaux, and it won’t be surprising if the Jags go either way.
Start getting comfortable with the idea of Pickett going higher than you might expect. He’s got many of the same traits that sent Joe Burrow flying up the board not too long ago, and a strong predraft process could easily convince a QB-needy team like the Lions that he can have the same kind of impact Burrow is having right now in Cincinnati.
If Pickett’s still on the board, he probably goes here. If not, the Texans will get to steal whichever edge defender doesn’t go No. 1, either Hutchinson or Thibodeaux. Either would be a huge win for Houston, and in this scenario, they land a high-upside player who was the consensus top pick for most of the last two seasons.
The Jets will have a pair of top-10 picks to play with, and they need impact players on both sides of the ball. Their best bet with the first of those selections is to get a shutdown corner in Stingley, who is worthy of a top-five pick despite missing most of this season due to injury.
Another team with multiple top-10 picks, the Giants have plenty of needs to fill, but they have to start up front on offense. Andrew Thomas has been better this year than he was as a rookie, but that improvement shouldn’t stop New York from spending this pick on an elite prospect in Neal, should he fall to this spot.
Taking nothing away from Jaycee Horn, the Panthers missed a golden opportunity in the 2021 draft when Justin Fields fell to them at No. 8 overall. Now, they’re left still searching for a franchise quarterback after trading this year’s second-round pick for a Sam Darnold experiment that has already failed. Corral will need some development, but he’s got all the tools to be a difference-maker at the game’s most important position.
After getting a stud corner with their first pick, the Jets have to address their needs along the offensive line in order to protect their investment in Zach Wilson, last year’s No. 2 overall pick. Ekwonu is a massive, athletic blocker who earned all-conference honors at both guard and tackle, giving the Jets much needed quality and versatility up front.
There may be bigger needs elsewhere, but corner might be a more significant one than many realize for the Giants. After landing a cornerstone offensive lineman earlier, New York opts for one of the nation’s most dominant corners in Gardner, who has a rare blend of physical and mental traits, and didn’t allow a single touchdown catch in his entire college career.
Quarterback is obviously the biggest need here, but there’s just not a prospect on the board worthy of passing up one of the top overall talents in this year’s class. Despite missing much of this season due to injury, Hamilton’s well-rounded skill set and limitless potential make him the rare safety worth taking in the top 10.
This team needs help all over the place, but they have to start in the trenches on either side of the ball. In this scenario, the best value comes on defense, where they land one of this year’s most complete edge players in Karlaftis. He’s a powerful, technically sound defender who can set the edge against the run and collapse the pocket as a pass rusher.
The Broncos have multiple needs along the front seven, so this pick will about finding the best overall talent in that department. This scenario gives them plenty of strong options, but Lloyd should stand out among them. His rare combination of size, athleticism and instincts have made him one of the nation’s most impactful defenders.
Despite investing plenty of resources recently in the position, the Vikings still have a need at corner. Mike Zimmer loves the kind of size, length and athleticism combo that Booth would bring to the table, making him a perfect fit here.
Cleveland’s quarterback situation will obviously be the team’s biggest offseason storyline, but whoever ends up throwing passes for them next year, that guy will need a big-play pass-catcher like Williams. He quickly established himself as one of the most explosive threats in the nation this season, and should be the first receiver off the board.
The first of three first-rounders for the Eagles this year, Linderbaum is the perfect blend of need and value. Jason Kelce’s career is coming to a close, and what better way to transition from one stud to another, grabbing this year’s best interior blocker who could easily fetch a top-10 selection.
Even if Michael Thomas returns to the player he once was, the Saints will still need a big-play receiver to pair with him who can stretch the field. Burks is a big, athletic pass-catcher who plays with a punishing style, both at the line of scrimmage and after the catch, drawing worthy comparisons to A.J. Brown.
After trading away Orlando Brown Jr. and dealing with another season-ending injury to Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens would be wise to invest their top pick in an offensive tackle. Cross has been battle-tested against some of the nation’s top competition in the SEC, and could quickly develop into a dominant blocker at the next level.
The biggest need here is obviously at quarterback, but there’s nobody on the board worth this pick. Instead, the Steelers should bolster their offensive line with a versatile blocker in Green, who could play either guard or tackle at a high level.
The Raiders could go in any number of directions here, so it’s all about maximizing value and finding a prospect who can make a big, immediate impact. That leads them to Davis, the anchor of the nation’s most dominant defense, who would immediately transform the interior of this front.
The Eagles move to the defense for this pick after addressing the offensive line earlier, taking a page out of the Raiders’ book and adding a dynamic playmaker from the Bulldogs’ elite unit. Dean is a fiery, three-down defender who can take over games with his combination of athleticism and physicality.
The Chargers could go offensive line or even wide receiver here, but the value in this scenario points to the other side of the ball. Grabbing an explosive edge rusher to pair with Joey Bosa should be a high priority, and that’s exactly what they get here with Ojabo, one of the fastest-rising prospects in this class.
The Eagles finish off their trio of first-round picks by adding a long, athletic corner to pair with Darius Slay. Elam lined up against some of the nation’s top talent in the SEC, and was a shutdown artist, especially in press-man coverage. Getting him outside of the top 20 would be a bargain.
Despite investing premium resources over the past few years, the Dolphins are still struggling along the offensive line. They need to keep trying to find the right guys, though, which means spending this pick on a fast-rising tackle prospect in Petit-Frere, who had a stellar 2021 campaign for the Buckeyes.
Another team that could go in one of many different directions with their first-round pick, the Pats should prioritize surrounding their young quarterback with as many weapons as possible. This year’s receiver class is loaded, which could give them a steal like Wilson this late in the first round.
Chandler Jones is still one of the NFL’s premier edge rushers, but the Cards could use a long-term upgrade on the other side. Thomas is one of the more underrated prospects in this class at the moment, and his well-rounded skill set should make him an instant-impact player at the next level.
This offensive line needs help in a big way, and this situation lands them a massive blocker who can fill multiple spots. Kinnard was one of the nation’s most consistent and effective performers this season, while lining up against some of the nation’s best defenders.
The offensive line still needs help, but the biggest need for Cincy is at corner, where they desperately miss William Jackson III. McCreary was dominant for the Tigers this season, shutting down some of the nation’s most talented pass-catchers all year long.
There are bigger needs on defense, but replacing Michael Gallup (assuming he leaves for more money and opportunities in free agency) should be a high priority. Olave is one of the most polished, pro-ready receivers in this year’s deep class, and would be a perfect fit.
The Bucs are one of the league’s most complete teams, but there are depth needs lurking under the surface on both sides of the ball. The defensive line isn’t getting any younger around star nose tackle Vita Vea, which could lead them to target a versatile defender like Leal, who would fit perfectly in Todd Bowles’ scheme.
Patrick Mahomes already has a terrifying tandem in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but adding another playmaker to the offense shouldn’t be out of the question. London’s combination of size, length and athleticism would make him the perfect addition to an already dangerous aerial attack.
After landing their quarterback of the future, the Lions need to upgrade the weapons around him. Free agency decimated this unit last offseason, and while the emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a pleasant surprise, the Lions would do well to pair him with a big, athletic target like Bell.
Harold Landry is a stud, but the Titans need a long-term plan on the other edge outside of Bud Dupree. Sanders proved in the Alabama game that he can have a huge impact even when faced with top competition, and his athletic traits are off the charts.
If the Packers are forced to move on from either of their top edge rushers this offseason due to salary cap issues, they will need to target a replacement here. Walker hasn’t gotten enough buzz as a potential first-rounder, despite being an impact player for the nation’s most dominant defense.