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James Kenney/Associated Press
The final 10 days before the NFL draft are overflowing with misdirection, misinformation, smokescreens and any other word that describes a whole bunch of falsehoods.
It’s lying season, folks.
Parsing the latest trends on mock drafts can be challenging because even the best reporters are occasionally lied to. Amid the untruths, however, you’ll find legitimate indicators of what to expect in the opening round as expert mocks steadily begin to change.
We’re giving it our best shot to separate fact from fiction as the countdown to the 2022 NFL draft drops below 10 days.
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Steve Luciano/Associated Press
Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, it’d be fair to suggest Boye Mafe wasn’t on the first-round radar. While a respected prospect, the Minnesota edge-rusher largely held late-Day 2 projections.
And then, his athleticism shone.
Mafe dazzled in Indianapolis, posting a 4.53-second 40-yard dash with an impressive 1.56-second 10-yard split in front of NFL personnel. Shortly thereafter at Minnesota’s pro day, he notched a 41.5″ vertical leap and 4.20-second short shuttle.
Suddenly, he’s risen to the latter end of the opening round in mocks. Recent forecasts, among many others, include CBS Sports, The Draft Network, NFL.com and Pro Football Focus.
Mafe managed 11.5 sacks in his last 18 games, so his production was decent. But for NFL teams—which, for better or worse, quickly fall in love with elite athletic traits—Mafe’s upside is tantalizing.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Early in the offseason, Tyler Linderbaum had a regular presence in the initial half of first-round mock drafts. He commonly went to any of the New York Jets (10th), Minnesota Vikings (12th), Baltimore Ravens (14th) and Philadelphia Eagles (15th).
The most common spot for Iowa’s center now, though, is the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 31 overall pick.
Honestly, not much. Perhaps there is a better accounting for history, given that no center has been selected higher than 18th in the past decade. Linderbaum also isn’t a physically imposing player, so his perceived versatility may be limited, too.
Plummeting to 31, though? For a player who’s consistently held the label of best interior lineman in the class? Not buying this considerable drop for Linderbaum.
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Jeff Dean/Associated Press
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder might be a first-round pick. According to the latest mocks, apparently, he’ll either be playing for the Detroit Lions or Pittsburgh Steelers.
And basically nobody else.
While an occasional draft connects him to another team, a heavy majority send Ridder to one of those two franchises in the Rust Belt. It’s not uncommon to see the Steelers trading up from their current No. 20 position to land him, too.
Could it really be Este simple? Is he soundly behind Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett in the draft hierarchy to the point that the Carolina Panthers (sixth), Atlanta Falcons (eighth), Seattle Seahawks (ninth) and New Orleans Saints (16th, 19th) aren’t a realistic spot ? They’re not all going to select a quarterback, of course.
Narrowing his list of suitors to just two is brazen, but it’s starting to feel like the Tennessee Titans (26th) are the lone franchise that would keep Ridder from Detroit or Pittsburgh.
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Chris Carlson/Associated Press
Ridder’s projections have focused on two teams. Kenny Pickett, meanwhile, cannot escape Carolina recently.
Perhaps it’s fitting, considering he played for the Pitt Panthers in college. The NFL’s version of the Panthers desperately needs a long-term answer at quarterback, and Fantasy Pros, PFF, Pro Football Network and the Washington Post are simply four outlets that have contributed to the Pickett-to-Carolina surge.
According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, 44 percent of mocks in the last week have connected him to the Panthers.
However, this feels like a classic misdirection right before the draft. Length linked to Liberty’s Malik Willis, the Panthers have reason to reduce the strength of that connection in this final stretch.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
When the NFL season ended, Georgia edge-rusher Travon Walker typically showed up in the 20s of mock drafts. He’d periodically show up with the Falcons (eighth), Jets (10th) or Eagles (15th), but he generally stayed in the latter half of the opening round.
Similar to Mafe, Walker had a nice college career that simultaneously didn’t demand high-level attention. However, the buzz changed after—again, like Mafe—a spectacular NFL combine.
Walker recorded a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, 4.32-second short shuttle and 35.5″ vertical as a 6’5″, 272-pounder.
In the aftermath of that performance, Walker is only sporadically outside of a top-five slot. That absolutely feels bold for a player who totaled 9.5 sacks in college.
Walker’s athleticism, though, is a huge appeal to NFL scouts and execs.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
For practically the entire offseason, the prevailing thought has been Detroit will use the No. 2 pick on either an offensive or defensive lineman. Those are the consensus top prospects, and the Lions—while not committed to Jared Goff—aren’t in a position where they need to gamble on a QB.
Will they do it anyway?
In the past couple of weeks, a string of mocks—from Fantasy Pros to The Draft Network and Pro Football Network to NFL.com—have sent Malik Willis to the Lions. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Detroit “did a lot of homework,” and MLive’s subsequent confirmation of a predraft visit may only further fan this fire.
Detroit, though, is more likely driving up the price of the No. 2 pick in trade discussions. Although the Lions should be content to add future draft capital if Carolina wants to move up, the best targets are still an elite lineman on either side of the ball.