It is NFL Draft week. Time once again for us all to go nuts about the great picks some teams make and the awful picks other teams make even though the reality is we really don't know for sure if they're good or bad until about three years later.
This year's Draft could be just like the NFL's off-season: utterly wild. There's no consensus on who the top player at any position is and with several teams holding multiple 1st round picks we might be in for a trade-a-palooza as clubs move up and down trying to get their guys.
One thing that's a constant every year, and should hold true again in 2022, is NFL teams will reach for quarterbacks. When that happens it almost NEVER works out. Just ask the Browns about Baker Mayfield. Or Johnny Manziel. Or Brady Quinn. Or Tim Couch.
This year there are some pretty good QBs but no great QBs. There's no Joe Burrow or Peyton Manning sitting there, a "straight from central casting" Pro Bowl passer, and that's created quite a conundrum for QB-needy teams. While you can't win in the NFL today with a very good quarterback, if you put too much into the wrong guy under center it can set your franchise back a few years.
So, with that in mind, here's a take on what NFL teams should be doing on Thursday night in Las Vegas. Some will be building for a future run. Others will be adding those last final few pieces for a title shot this season. Still others will be trying to stay on top of the mountain.
With the 1st pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select:
- Jacksonville - Evan Neal, OL, Alabama
Trevor Lawrence had a nightmare rookie season. 98% of that is Urban Meyer's fault. Another 1% is a lack of weapons and the last 1% is a terrible offensive line. Last year's #1 overall pick still has the ability to be a franchise quarterback and perennial Pro Bowler. Getting injured running back Travis Etienne back (another top missed last year with an injury) will help on the weapons front. Neal is a freak of nature who started at three different spots on the line in college. Add him and hit on a couple more picks and the Jags could be a sneaky good team this year.
2. Detroit - Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Sometimes a pick just fits. Hutchinson is a Michigan guy with your classic high motor, exactly the kind of mentality head coach Dan Campbell loves. The Lions need help pretty much everywhere so taking the best player available is the smart move and the Wolverines quarterback hunter is probably the best player available. Plus, he can energize that fan base that's been waiting for something to be happy about for far too long.
3. Houston - Ikem Ekwonu, OL, North Carolina State
The Texans also need players basically everywhere. They'll toy with the thought of Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux here but the chance to add a guy who will anchor your offensive line for Davis Mills this year then Bryce Young for the next five years is just too much to pass up.
The Jets are on the board next. They have several needs but also the 10th overall pick, so they make a blockbuster deal with the Seahawks, who are in full-blown rebuild mode and Pete Carroll sees a guy he drools over. New York sends three picks (4th overall and 35th overall this year plus a 4th rounder in 2023) to Seattle for wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Jets quarterback Zack Wilson gets an elite target to throw to and the Seahawks get:
4. Seattle - Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Carroll's defense has been going steadily downhill for years now. He doesn't have Russell Wilson to bail it out anymore so the Seahawks should go all-in on building the Legion of Boom 2.0 This guy has gotten comparisons to Jevon Kearse and darnit if I don't see the exact same potential as a pass rusher. Plus, Carroll still has ties to Southern California and Thibodeaux is an L.A. kid. The fact he went to Oregon and stays in the Northwest is just icing on the cake.
5. New York Giants - Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Yes, they need offensive line help. But, they also have to make a decision on Daniel Jones. Next week is the deadline to either pick up his 5th year option or let him hit free agency after 2022. My gut tells me they'll take the gamble that he'll improve under new head coach Brian Daboll, who helped develop Josh Allen in Buffalo, and lock Jones in for 2023. There's a lot of chatter about them loving MSU lineman Charles Cross but I have an idea for them to address the line later so Gardner, the most consistent corner in the class, is the pick. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale loves versatile, smart defensive backs and the Giants are severely lacking in that area so Gardner would make a lot of sense.
6. Carolina - Charles Cross, OL, Mississippi State
The Panthers offense is a mess and Matt Rhule is probably trying to save his job so the temptation to take a passer here will be significant. They'll probably either go ahead and grab a QB or trade down looking for one but what they should do is beef up a terrible offensive line. Christian McCaffrey is expected to be healthy again in 2022 and keeping him that way should be priority #1 until they sort out the QB position. Cross is a really good player at a position of need.
7. New York Giants - Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
I know, I know. It's blasphemy to take a center in the top 10. It's also stupid to think that way. Linderbaum is the highest-graded center Pro Football Focus has ever seen. People say you shouldn't take guards in the top 10 either but Quenton Nelson is working out pretty darn well for the Colts and he's the same kind of interior line prospect that Linderbaum is. Right now the Giants have free agent Jon Feliciano penciled in as their center but he's spent most of his career at guard. Moving him one spot over and getting an immediate starting snapper improves two parts of the line, adds depth, and makes the financial commitment to Jones easier to stomach.
8. Atlanta - Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
Yes, the Falcons cut ties with Matt Ryan. No, they aren't replacing him with this pick. Atlanta needs pass rush help and Johnson was one of the most disruptive forces in the nation in 2021. He followed that up with a fantastic showing during Senior Bowl week to put himself in the top 10 conversation. The Dirty Birds make the smart choice and bulk up the front 7 instead of reaching for a QB here.
9. Seattle - Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The defensive rebirth continues in the Northwest! The Seahawks let Bobby Wagner walk and sign with the Rams. He was the most productive middle linebacker in franchise history. His replacement is Lloyd, an Otay Ranch HS alum and the best middle linebacker in the class. For most folks this will seem too early to take Lloyd but Seattle is not shy about grabbing players they like sooner than the consensus suggests (see Penny, Rashaad).
10. New York Jets - Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Head coach Robert Saleh was quoted saying he would take a safety early in the Draft if that player was a "unicorn." Kyle Hamilton is a unicorn. He's 6'4" and 220 pounds, a massive human for a safety, and he can run like a deer. Hamilton is this year's Derwin James, and might end up being even better, and that is a BOLD statement to make. The offensive line is an issue but there's nobody available at that position who's as good as Hamilton is at this position so the Jets should go with the mythical creature.
11. Washington - Drake London, WR, USC
Carson Wentz is the new QB in Washington. That means they're gonna need some wideouts with a massive catch radius because Wentz will put the ball all over the place. London is 6'5" and wins contested passes with regularity. Putting him on the other side from Terry McLaurin, one of the most underrated receivers in the game, should help jump-start what's been a very bad Washington passing attack for a while now.
12. Minnesota - Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
The Vikings hired former Aztec Kevin O'Connell, and offensive-minded coach, to take over for Mike Zimmer so going with someone on that side of the ball is certainly possible. But, their defense was atrocious last year. Stingley's upside is tremendous and he'd be back with Daronte Jones, the Vikings defensive backs coach who had that same position with LSU last year. After this pick we should start to see a run on receivers, and that means one team makes a big move.
Houston is on the clock again and, as mentioned earlier, the Texans have more holes to fill than picks. So, they swing a deal to add more selections with a team that needs a pass catcher to appease their prickly superstar quarterback. The Packers send the 22nd and 59th overall picks this year, plus a 3rd rounder in 2023, to Houston in exchange for the 13th overall pick and use it on:
13. Green Bay - Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Mission Hills HS alum is the most NFL-ready receiver in this year's class. He's a precise route runner and has a ridiculous football IQ, which is absolutely vital to anyone trying to earn the trust of Aaron Rodgers. I also like the slight irony that the 22nd overall pick the Pack is parting with is the one they got from the Raiders for Davante Adams.
14. Baltimore - Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
Last year the Ravens were hit so hard by injuries to the secondary that John Harbaugh was going for 2-point conversions to avoid OT because he didn't have anyone left to play corner. McDuffie can play all over the field and instantly improves a massive area of need.
15. Philadelphia - Travon Walker, DL, Georgia
The Eagles get a gift when a guy who has been whispered as a possible #1 overall selection slides to them at 15. Walker was a beast on the best defense in college football (maybe EVER in college football). He's a freakish athlete and plays with a high motor but for a guy with his skill set only had six sacks last year and that lack of production will let him drop to Philly, who snatches him up to pair with Fletcher Cox.
16. New Orleans - Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Michael Thomas is expected to return and be at full health. If that happens, pairing him with Williams and Jameis Winston at quarterback makes the Saints dangerous again. Williams is coming off a knee injury but is expected to not have any lingering issues. He's a big play receiver who can stretch the field and open things up again for Alvin Kamara, who's been running against 9-man boxes since Drew Brees retired.
17. Chargers - Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
They need to completely rebuild the right side of their offensive line, which has been a problem since Rich Ohrnberger retired, and Central Michigan's Bernhard Raimann would be a really good pick here. However, this franchise has struggled to stop the run since Jamal Williams left. This Davis dude is a monster at 6'6" and 340 pounds. He clogs the entire middle of the field by himself. Inserting him in between Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa the Chargers would have one of the top 5 defensive lines in the game. Davis is really the only non-offensive lineman pick I would condone here because he's just that big a presence.
18. Philadelphia - Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Iggles need someone for Jalen Hurts to throw the ball to and Wilson is pretty darn good. He's fantastic at creating separation, something a QB loves in a receiver, and was productive from the outside or the slot in his collegiate career. Not much more needs to be said here. Great pick for Philly.
19. New Orleans - Bernhard Raimann, OL, Central Michigan
The Saints address another major area of need with a guy who was a tight end two years ago. Raimann bulked up and anchored the left side of the Chippewas line, allowing just 10 pressures last season. He's extremely talented and really still learning his position so his upside is enough to make NOLA bring him to the Big Easy.
20. Pittsburgh - George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Pittsburgh (the college) QB Kenny Pickett is an intriguing option here. He's obviously had success in that weather and that stadium and what a cool story it would be for him to go from the Panthers to the Steelers? But, my gut tells me they lean into their strength and that's on defense. Karlaftis had a fantastic pass rush grade from PFF. There are certainly worse ideas than putting him on the other side of T.J. Watt. Pittsburgh needs wide receivers in a bad way but they always seem to find them in later rounds (Diontae Johnson in the 3rd, Juju Smith-Schuster in the 2nd, Antonio Brown in the 6th).
21. New England - Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
The 3rd amigo on the Bulldogs defensive line, Wyatt is extremely disruptive and had a head-turning Combine workout. The Pats definitely need wide receiver help but the Bill Belichick has absolutely no concept of how to evaluate or draft offensive skill position players so he sticks to his strength and goes defense. Plus, getting as many guys to go after Josh Allen as you can is smart.
22. Houston - David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
He tore his Achilles tendon at Pro Day and likely won't be able to play until 2023 but the Texans aren't going to be competitive this year so they can take Ojabo, who was a pass rushing demon opposite Hutchinson at Michigan. If healthy he would be in the conversation for a top 10 pick so Houston gets a Pro Bowl talent in the 20's.
23. Arizona - Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College
The sexy pick would be another weapon for Kyler Murray. The smart pick is giving Murray time to hit the ones he already has. Arizona's QB fell apart under pressure by the Rams in the playoffs, a lot of it coming right up the middle, so addressing the interior offensive line is the right way to go here.
24. Dallas - Trevor Penning, OL, Northern Iowa
The annual debate of will Jerry Jones do what he should do or what he wants to do shouldn't be all that hard to win this year. The Cowboys need to bulk up their offensive line, period. Penning is one of the best run blockers in this year's class. He's played both tackle and guard effectively, making him a solid choice this late in the first round.
25. Buffalo - Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The Bills are in the enviable position of being able to take the best player available because they don't have any glaring holes to fill. So, might as well grab a tackling savant who captained the national champs? Dean isn't the biggest guy in the world but he's smart, solid, and reliable, so the Bills Mafia is gonna love him.
26. Tennessee - Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
THE 1ST QUARTERBACK IS OFF THE BOARD! Visions of Ryan Tannehill throwing three interceptions to lose a playoff game to the Bengals are still running through the minds of Titans fans. Tennessee has to keep him one more year because his dead cap hit is nearly $58 million but next year they actually save about $18 million by getting rid of him. The Titans grab Willis, the most talented but inexperienced passer in the class, and have him learn for a year before taking over in 2023.
27. Tampa Bay - Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
Tom Brady is back for one more year (at least) so although the Bucs have bigger needs, many of them on defense and the offensive line, they don't know yet if Rob Gronkowski is coming back or not. That means they need to get Brady another security blanket and McBride catches pretty much everything in a 5-mile radius. If Gronk does return, having him and McBride on the field together is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
28. Green Bay - Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
The Pack got Rodgers a target, now they help keep him upright. Green has started at every position on the offensive line except center and with the injury issues the Packers have suffered the last two years having a guy who can move around to plug holes would be a very smart decision.
29. Kansas City - Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Simply put, the Chiefs need to replace Tyreek Hill to keep their dynamic offense rolling. Burks doesn't have the same speed (let's be honest, nobody does) but he's a big, strong, and plenty fast enough vertical threat who can stretch the field and let Travis Kelce work underneath.
30. Kansas City - Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
For some reason the Chiefs haven't re-signed Tyrann Mathieu so they need a playmaking safety. Cine is a vicious hitter who's also good in the passing game and in a division with six games against Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr K.C. had better have a stud on the back end of the defense.
31. Cincinnati - Tyler Smith, OL, Tulsa
Yes, the Bengals signed three offensive linemen in free agency. No, it's still not enough. They need as much depth in that group as possible, as evidenced by Joe Burrow being sacked 70 times last year. Plus, Smith is much more polished as a run blocker than a pass blocker so they can coach him up in pass pro and not have to rely on him immediately.
32. Detroit - Matt Araiza, P, San Diego State
This might be entirely fueled by my desire to see a punter taken in the 1st round. OK, it is. But, it also makes sense. The Lions offense is terrible and their defense isn't much better. They're going to be punting from deep in their own territory A LOT this season. So, why not get the guy who flips fields better than anyone the college game has ever seen? The Punt God would be worth at least a pair of wins in Detroit by himself. If you can find me anyone else at this point in the Draft who can claim the same thing I'm all ears.