The 2022 NFL Draft is officially less than 36 hours away. Thursday's first round promises to deliver excitement and unpredictability in abundance. The lack of a clear-cut high-end talent at the top of the draft has led to ongoing question marks surrounding who the Jacksonville Jaguars will draft with the No. 1 overall selection, and things only get further complicated from there. A muddied quarterback class has particularly made this year's NFL mock drafts an increasingly difficult exercise.
Although several common names are currently dominating that landscape, every NFL draft delivers anywhere from three to five surprises during the first round. The 2022 NFL Draft carries an increased amount of potential to deliver jaw-dropping surprises in that regard largely due to a lack of groupthink. NFL franchises will have varying evaluations on several players. With team needs differing across the board, the potential for surprise first-round selections has only escalated.
We've identified three potential first-round picks that haven't gained enough traction throughout this process. These selections are realistic, so it's possible you've seen their name in a first-round mock, but all three players have a better chance of getting drafted in the first round than the general public currently believes.
ARNOLD EBIKETIE, EDGE, PENN STATE
Some combination of Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Jermaine Johnson will almost certainly be the first four EDGE rushers to hear their names called on Thursday, but things become more incalculable from there. Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie hasn't received as much first-round traction as he deserves. Ebiketie was a big winner at the NFL Scouting Combine for several reasons. Ebiketie first impressed onlookers by measuring in with arms longer than 34 inches despite being just 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. NFL defensive coordinators dream of employing edge rushers with the length Ebiketie possesses.
Ebiketie continued to improve his draft stock by leaping a 38-inch vertical and 128-inch broad jump. Ebiketie later ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.66 at Penn State's pro day. Ebiketie recorded 9.5 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss as a senior in 2021 in his lone campaign as a Nittany Lion, following a more modest three-year showing at Temple. Ebiketie's first-step explosiveness and quick-twitch movements helped him threaten the outside shoulder of opposing offensive tackles on what felt like a snap-by-snap basis in 2021. Overall, Ebiketie is still a work in progress, but his make-up as a pure pass rusher is plenty enticing.
Best first-round fit: Kansas City Chiefs
LEWIS CINE, S, GEORGIA
We did not have a safety drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but I believe we'll get at least one on Thursday. The Miami Dolphins made Jevon Holland the first safety off the board last year at 36th overall, and the former Oregon standout made a profound impact on Miami's much-improved defensive unit. Safety has been a devalued position as of late, but Holland's ability to be a true swiss-army-knife difference-maker shined a positive light on the impact a game-changing safety can still have on a defense. Georgia's Lewis Cine carries a similar amount of potential.
Cine managed to routinely stand out despite playing on an absolutely loaded Bulldogs defense that was littered with five-star recruits and future NFL defenders. Georgia's historically performing defense utilized Cine in a plethora of ways. Cine was often used in single-high looks as a centerfield defender that could roam the entire field thanks to sideline-to-sideline ability and high-level instincts. Cine showcased his versatility by also playing in split-safety looks. Cine is ultimately a talented back-end defender that could thrive in a multitude of roles while transcending whichever NFL scheme he ultimately lands in. Cine is extremely physical, violent and tough. He's a tone-setter that has an excellent chance to get drafted in the first round.
Best first-round fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
LOGAN HALL, DT, HOUSTON
Many mock drafts (including my latest) have the Cincinnati Bengals drafting an offensive linemen with the No. 31 overall selection, but the likelihood of the Bengals spending that selection on a cornerback or defensive linemen has increased in recent weeks. Houston's Logan Hall is an excellent candidate. It's worth noting the Bengals hosted Hall on a private Top 30 visit earlier this month. The Bengals prefer to roster defensive linemen with the type of true inside-outside versatility that Hall possesses. While some teams may view Hall as a tweener without a true position going forward, it represents a situation that may actually benefit him in the eyes of Cincinnati's evaluators.
Hall is an ascending and talented defensive linemen that has developed his skill set at a program that has churned out several first-round talents as of late (Payton Turner and Ed Oliver). The Belton, Texas native enjoyed a fruitful 2021 campaign by recording a career-high 6.0 sacks. When lined up outside, Hall has the time necessary to fully unlock his quickness and length. The ability to kick inside on third-down while utilizing sheer power makes Hall a versatile and desired player. His floor is extremely high and that makes Hall a potential first-rounder.
Best first-round fit: Cincinnati Bengals