32 final thoughts on the NFL Draft
Another draft is in the books. Let’s whip around the league to see how all 32 teams fared. Different teams sure have different plans at the quarterback position.
The draft is officially closed. Rather than share arbitrary grades or mock til we drop on the 2023 class, how about a quick tour around the league? Please share your takeaways from the draft in the comments below and, ICYMI, we posted had a podcast recap this morn.
Bills: They thought outside the box in Round 2, shimmying down to take James Cook. Characterized as a receiver as much as a running back by GM Brandon Beane, Dalvin Cook’s little brother will be used in a variety of ways. In theory, this is the sort of addition that makes a dynamic offense even more dangerous. The Bills are really projecting here, given Cook was a part-time player at Georgia. I’m sure there will be quite a few Bills fans keeping a wary eye on Breece Hall, too. Buffalo had a shot at the best back in the draft and took a cornerback instead the round prior. If nothing else, Beane has earned the right to take an unorthodox swing of the bat. The team was not deterred by Cook’s Wonderlic score of six, either. (Read the scouts’ full analysis here, icymi.)
Patriots: Was there a selection mocked more than Cole Strange? New England took the UT-Chattanooga left guard No. 29 overall after trading out of the No. 21 slot. Rams coach Sean McVay found the pick hilarious, and he was probably howling for a lot of armchair experts. Bill Belichick’s drafts have been far from perfect but if there’s one thing these Patriots nail, it’s the offensive line. The guess here is that Strange starts for a long time. If nothing else, the scouts loved his temperament. “Lots of fights he’s had on the field,” one said. “His team and the other team. He’s a tough SOB. Won’t take any shit.” The Patriots were embarrassed by the Bills twice after winning that historically windy game on MNF. I agree, they’ve got to generate more of a passing game in 2022 with Mac Jones. But sometimes the boring pick is the correct one.
Dolphins: Tyreek Hill was worth sitting out Day 1 of the draft. In a draft full of B to B+ wide receivers, Miami went all-in on an A+ talent peace-signing his way to an end zone near you. Whereas the New York Jets have been rebuilding primarily through the draft, the Dolphins emptied their pocketbooks in free agency. This approach could work, too. We’ll see how he does as the head man, but Mike McDaniel is a brilliant play designer who’ll maximize everything at his disposal.
Jets: We wrote on the Jets over the weekend. Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson are two playmakers capable of going the distance any play — and that’s exactly what an anemic offense needed. Hall, the cousin of former 49ers great Roger Craig, could have a Jonathan Taylor-like impact on the offense. Few players dominated a game in college football quite like him. Can see the Jets running their offense through Hall in 2022.
Bengals: When was the last time Cincinnati didn’t need to do a thing on offense in an offseason? Safety Daxton Hill at No. 31 is a strong value, especially with so many premier passers now occupying the AFC. Said one scout: “My favorite player, collectively through the whole process, was Daxton Hill.”
Steelers: It’s always blown my mind how the Pittsburgh Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers practice right next to each other every day. The two teams have separate locker rooms, weight rooms and offices but players from both enter front doors that are 12 feet apart. Mike Tomlin and the Steelers coaches certainly have a unique perspective on quarterback Kenny Pickett. Usually there are surprises with a rookie QB and a period of time where both parties involved need to feel each other out — that’s not the case here. There’s also no need to start Pickett immediately with Mitchell Trubisky signed, but the 20th overall pick isn’t the project Malik Willis would’ve been. Pittsburgh will likely ask Pickett to go toe-to-toe with Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Joe Burrow before we know it. Tomlin has built a sustained winner. Getting last year’s team to the playoffs was right up there with his finest coaching jobs ever (somehow winning with Duck Hodges is No. 1 in my book.) Still, this team has also only won three playoff games since 2010. Developing Pickett to the point where he can take down these elite QBs in the division is one of Tomlin’s greatest tests to date.
Ravens: Two-plus decades in, it’s as true as it’s always been: the Ravens let other teams screw up and reap the rewards. Ozzie Newsome built a front office from scratch back when Art Modell reached inside the chests of Browns fans and ripped their hearts out. His calm approach almost always yielded excellent drafts with a handful of winning lottery tickets. Eric DeCosta, his right-hand man, is now doing the same as GM. It’s not overly complicated, either. They tend to trust the film more than workouts and educated guesses. The Ravens simply stay patient and pounce when other teams reach on upside. Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton was regarded by some people as the best talent in the draft. Baltimore got him at No. 14 and can now pair Hamilton with big-splash free agent acquisition Marcus Williams. Factor in corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and this is the best secondary in the NFL. Later, at No. 25, the Ravens stole center Tyler Linderbaum. All he is, is the best center PFF has ever evaluated. Both players were dominant in college and nobody should be surprised if they become dominant starters in the pros, either.
Browns: This is a franchise that’s unafraid to gamble on character risks, as we know. That trend continued with the selection of Oklahoma defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey 108th overall. Talent-wise, he is quite a value. Winfrey finished with 17 tackles for loss with the Sooners. As the scouts told Bob McGinn, though, there are red flags. “He has talent but he’s an absolute disaster off the field,” one said. “I don’t know if I trust him to really draft him.” I get the need to gamble on such prospects. You don’t win a Super Bowl with an ensemble of choir boys. Organizationally, it’s pretty clear that Cleveland is prepared to take these risks. Play with fire and you may win a Super Bowl or, like Jerry Jones has the last 26 years, you may only get burnt.
Titans: How you view Tennessee’s 2022 draft depends on how you believe a team in contention should operate. The Titans’ brass could’ve agreed that this a team that needs to GO FOR IT, and handed A.J. Brown a blank check in an act of pure urgency. That’s what so many clubs in the AFC are doing. Instead, Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel dealt Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 18th overall pick and let Howie Roseman ink him at four years, $100 million. The Titans then went younger and cheaper with a Brown Lite in Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks at No. 18. (Don’t forget that they also acquired Robert Woods.) Brown told ESPN that Tennessee’s best offer was $16 million per year with incentives topping out at $20 million. He claimed he would’ve stayed if the Titans offered him $22 million. In theory, the Titans could’ve made this work by restructuring Ryan Tannehill’s contract. The team’s starting quarterback has a whopping cap hit of $38.6 million, so Tennessee could’ve moved money into future years, thus locking Tannehill in beyond 2023. Robinson and Vrabel wisely did not do this. As it stands, Tannehill’s contract expires in 2023. The Titans will still compete for a Super Bowl this season — Vrabel is the reigning coach of the year and Derrick Henry remains an indomitable force when healthy — and I love the franchise refusing to give into the moment. Tannehill turned his career around in Nashville, yet we all saw him hold the No. 1-seeded Titans back against Cincinnati. Now, the Titans can develop Malik Willis for a year or two to see if he’s a long-term option. If he flops, it’s not that big of a deal since they took him in the third. Burks is no slouch, either. He averaged 8.6 yards after the catch and broke 24 tackles on 115 catches the last two years. The Titans took a PR hit in dealing a tremendous talent but, in the long haul, they’ll come out of this looking good.
Colts: They didn’t have a first-round pick as part of the Carson Wentz trade a year ago. Wentz is longer a Colt, either. What a sour bullet to bite. Maybe I’ve just got tight ends on the brain after writing “Blood and Guts” but, gosh, there’s a lot to like in Indy’s third-round pick, TE Jelani Woods out of Virginia. He’s 6 foot 7, 252 pounds and caught 44 balls for 598 yards with eight touchdowns his lone season with Virginia. You don’t see tight ends like this in today’s game — Woods is both a throwback in-line blocker (which makes him Jonathan Taylor’s new best pal) and a guy who could do some damage down the field. Woods’ vertical of 37 1/2 inches and bench of 24 reps led all tight ends.
Texans: With four picks in the first 44, Houston had a golden opportunity to reload a roster in dire need of young talent. They seem A-OK dwelling in the AFC dungeon in 2022 and beyond. It’s hard to imagine Davis Mills and the gang winning more than four games this season. But if Alabama’s Bryce Young takes an even bigger leap in his growth and Houston gets the No. 1 pick in 2023, maybe they’ll look like geniuses. It’s quite telling that the Texans passed on two opportunities to draft Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, then everyone else at the position with both of their second-round picks.
Jaguars: Trent Baalke survived as GM in Jacksonville and the choice of Travon Walker at No. 1 overall had Baalke written all over it. They chose upside over production in passing on Aidan Hutchinson. Walker finished with 9.5 sacks in three seasons at Georgia, though did lead the team with 34 pressures. It’s also worth wondering how good Walker was himself with NFL talent all around him on a historically dominant unit. We’re about to find out. If Baalke’s right — if Walker is a man built for the pro game — the Jags’ defense has something every team dreams of: two cornerstone pass rushers, in Josh Allen and Walker. He could also be Courtney Brown, a big name from a big school nobody was talking much about up his No. 1 selection.
Chiefs: Agreed, the Bills and Chiefs staged an all-time classic of a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. We all couldn’t take our eyes off the action and wish it never ended. Let’s be real, though. There was hardly any defense being played at Arrowhead Stadium — especially in that bonkers fourth quarter. The Bills took action by signing Von Miller and the Chiefs made their move on draft day. Corner Trent McDuffie and edge rusher George Karlaftis should be instant starters. Karlaftis is a clone of the two pass rushers who ended Kansas City’s season one week later, Cincinnati’s Trent Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Both GM Brett Veach and head coach Andy Reid used the word relentless to describe Karlaftis. One scout even compared him to Hendrickson. In a division that welcomes Russell Wilson and Davante Adams, the Chiefs had to zap life into a pass rush that produced only 31 sacks in 2021, fourth-worst in the NFL.
Raiders: Quick rant. The NFL Draft was borderline unwatchable this year. I get the league is trying to attract viewers of all shapes and sizes and God knows how many brainstorming sessions were held to piece this “event” together. At some point, the diehards seeking actual substance are going to turn this Bravo reality show of a draft off and just read the drafted names online. We all entered the realm of the bizarre when ex-player Ed Marinaro rambled on forever before announcing a Vikings pick and Wayne Newton — (I suppose that’s Wayne, right? He hardly resembles the guy trying to seduce Ellen Griswold over some pasta) — shouted “Dylan Parham! From Mississippi!” … when Parham actually played at Memphis. The NFL has never passed up an opportunity to hang as many bells and whistles imaginable around its events but this draft was particularly agonizing. Give me Paul Tagliabue announcing the picks and Mel Kiper Jr. breaking ‘em down at noon on a Saturday. End rant.
Chargers: Brandon Staley was a polarizing coach in 2021. Loved the go-for-broke game management here, though certainly get why it drew criticism. Based on how the scouts viewed running back Isaiah Spiller as the No. 3 overall RB — “a little bit of LeSean McCoy to his style,” one said — the Chargers might’ve added their own twist to an offense that’s already loaded. Their big changes this offseason came on defense, of course, with the additions of Khalil Mack and JC Jackson. But the 123rd overall pick Spiller should complement Austin Ekeler right away, too. He ran in the 4.6’s but, as we’ve learned, that’s hardly a red flag if you can run that 4.6 for four quarters. Expect the ball to be put in Spiller’s hands on some of Staley’s controversial fourth-down calls.
Broncos: Another team that gladly kicked its feet up during Round 1. Russell Wilson was worth the trade haul. They needed to draft a tight end after losing Noah Fant in that deal with Seattle and Greg Dulcich, out of UCLA, was handpicked as the replacement 80th overall. While Wilson has never been a quarterback who exploits the middle of the field that much, Dulcich should strike a little fear between the hashes. He averaged 17.3 and 19.9 yards per reception the last two seasons. Denver never needed to gut its receiving corps to land a franchise quarterback. A huge win in retrospect. Who knows what Aaron Rodgers’ services would’ve required — if the Packers were ever open to a trade — but Wilson will enter 2022 with a supporting cast that can win: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler and, now, Dulcich.
Cowboys: Is anybody surprised that Jerry Jones, an owner/president/GM who has spent three decades gambling on character concerns, was the man who took a chance on Ole Miss’ Sam Williams? In his piece on the edge rushers, Bob McGinn noted Williams as the position’s “nightmare” prospect for a litany of reasons. The Cowboys insist they did their due diligence on Williams, a big-time talent to be sure. But we’ve seen this sort of decision blow up in the Cowboys’ faces many times. The organization does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Eagles: This might’ve been the weekend that helped Philadelphia leapfrog Dallas in the NFC East. Brown didn’t come cheap (see above) but after some brutal whiffs at wide receiver in drafts past (J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf, Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson), credit to the Eagles for aggressively pursuing a true No. 1. Brown’s presence should take a huge load off DeVonta Smith’s plate and, in 2022, GM Howie Roseman will know for certain whether or not Jalen Hurts is his long-term answer at quarterback.
Commanders: No player slid on draft weekend quite like North Carolina’s Sam Howell, who we profiled at Go Long. But Howell couldn’t have asked for many better landing spots than this. Carson Wentz will obviously enter the 2022 season as the starter (and it’s easy to forget the guy did throw for 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions last season), but health has been an issue for Wentz and Washington has a potential out in Wentz’s contract after this season. If Howell, the 144th overall pick, blows the coaches away behind the scenes, and Wentz is shaky, he could at least force the Commanders to reexamine the position next spring. North Carolina took a step back last fall — Howell wasn’t the same passer after losing his top two runners and receivers. But he did introduce a new element to his game in rushing for 1,072 yards and breaking 63 tackles (per PFF).
Giants: The mass cleanup of a massive failure appeared to take another big step. Joe Schoen’s first draft as GM began with two potential home-run picks: edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and tackle Evan Neal. At various points, both were billed as worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. Things got interesting for Schoen into the second round when he traded down from 36 to 43 and drafted receiver Wan’Dale Robinson out of Kentucky. The Giants could’ve played it safe in Round 2 at wide receiver with more conventional pass catchers like Skyy Moore or John Metchie III, but took the 5-foot-8, 179-pounder with jarring size/strength/speed dimensions. Robinson bench-pressed 225 pounds an incredible 19 times and also ran the 40 in 4.44 seconds. Head coach Brian Daboll clearly has a plan for Robinson, who caught 104 balls for 1,334 yards his lone year at Kentucky after transferring from Nebraska. Judging by Daboll’s instincts as the man pushing the buttons in Buffalo, I’d bet the Giants know what they’re doing here.
Packers: It’s as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Another draft has passed and we hear the talking heads claiming GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t… do… enough… for Rodgers. All that’s missing is a “Jordan or LeBron?” follow-up segment. Are the Packers a better team without Davante Adams? Obviously not. He’s a top 3 wide receiver at worst. But Adams made it pretty clear he wanted to play in Las Vegas with Derek Carr, not in Green Bay. At a pretty penny, too. Here’s thinking the Packers recovered from this loss about as well they could have. In Georgia’s Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt, the Packers added two ass-kickers to the middle of their defense. And they did so while still adding three wide receivers to a room that had already gained Sammy Watkins. Sign a four-time MVP to a three-year, $150,815,000 contract and the expectation is that the four-time MVP will turn a player like Christian Watson into a star and Romeo Doubs into a starter.
Vikings: It’ll take a good two or three years to adequately “grade” any team’s draft, but say this about new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah: he’s got a pair. You almost never see a GM trade within the division. Mainly because the optics can prove disastrous. And here was the Vikings’ head man dealing his first-rounder to the Detroit Lions. He bypassed the likes of safety Kyle Hamilton and wideout Jameson Williams to move down 20 slots and select Georgia safety Lewis Cine. Adofo-Mensah surely knew the ramifications of such a trade. Every single time Williams does anything against the Vikings, he’s going to hear from this passionate fan base. On Day 2, he did it again in trading the 34th overall pick to the Packers which was then used on Christian Watson. And at No. 42 overall (Clemson CB Andrew Booth) and No. 59 (LSU G Ed Ingram), the GM took two more glue guys that wouldn’t necessarily get the confetti dropping at bars in Minneapolis. Ownership did the right thing in finally moving on from Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman — that was the hard part. Adofo-Mensah deserves credit for thinking outside the box.
Bears: Speaking of helping your quarterback, are the Bears doing enough? Justin Fields, unlike Rodgers, is not a four-time MVP. Improved coaching should help. But is there enough talent outside for the Bears’ offense to take a substantial step forward? Maybe Velus Jones (No. 71) pans out, but he didn’t crack the scouts’ top 14 wide receivers. In fact, as one of the oldest players in the draft, Jones didn’t do much of anything on offense until Year 6 of 6. Chicago had two opportunities in the second round (No. 39 and No. 48) to either draft receivers or move up for one. Like Adofo-Mensah in Minnesota, new GM Ryan Poles deserves time. Nobody knows what sort of evaluator he is yet. But the Bears haven’t done much personnel-wise to help Fields this offseason.
Lions: Eventually, the Lions will get around to identifying their quarterback of the future. With Jared Goff still on the books this 2022 season (his cap hit is $31M), GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell felt they had no choice but to kick their career-defining decision down the road one more year. Not exactly a bad thing with this QB class. In Aidan Hutchinson, the Lions might’ve drafted a perennial All-Pro of a pass rusher. In adding Jameson Williams, their depth chart at wide receiver is a heck of a lot healthier than what you’ll see in Chicago. The Alabama deep threat joins Amon-Ra St. Brown (90-912-12 as a rookie in 2020), D.J. Chark (73-1,008-8 in 2019), Kalif Raymond and one of the sport’s best tight ends in T.J. Hockensen. A team can do a lot worse than Goff as a stopgap quarterback. In 2022, the Lions have a chance to make this offense look damn appealing to quarterbacks next offseason via trade, the draft, however they plan to attack.
Buccaneers: Leonard Fournette returned at the rate of three years for up to $21 million. Money well spent on a player who has enjoyed a nice renaissance with the Bucs. He can catch the ball, too. Last season, Fournette had 69 receptions. But after the catch, he wasn’t too much of a threat with only 6.6 yards per recepton. In Arizona State’s Rachaad White, taken 91st overall, the Bucs hope they found Tom Brady a true dual-threat of a running back. White led the Sun Devils in both rushing and receiving yards. He’s still rough around the edges as a runner and actually could line up more in slot than he does the backfield. But like Beane in Buffalo, the Bucs could afford to experiment.
Saints: New Orleans wanted a left tackle of the future and they got one. Trevor Penning is one of my favorite prospects in this entire draft. He’s raw. He played at Northern Iowa, too. But this sounds like the last human you’d want to cross on a sidewalk, let alone a football field and he possesses special size (6-7, 325) and footwork to take on the modern edge rusher. Expect a learning curve with Terron Armstead now in Miami. But, hey, Doug Marrone is back to doing what he does best: coaching the offensive line. He’ll find a way to get the best out of a player he would’ve loved to coach back at Syracuse.
Falcons: In back-to-back drafts, GM Terry Fontenot landed two huge receiving targets that’ll be a problem in the NFC South: Florida’s Kyle Pitts and USC’s Drake London. Both will give whoever’s playing quarterback a massive catch radius — London had his share of acrobatic receptions in college. Fontenot did a smart job of straddling the fence at QB. He didn’t force the issue in going non-QB with his 8th, 38th and 58th overall picks — taking linebacker Troy Andersen, too — but when Desmond Ridder was still available at No. 74, it was time. Ridder can compete with Marcus Mariota and neither player will prevent Atlanta from potentially going QB again in 2023.
Panthers: Tackle Ickey Ekwonu gets to play in his hometown of Charlotte and is a perfectly fine pick but is Carolina prepared to start Sam Darnold Week 1? They passed on a Baker Mayfield trade (for now) and, like others, probably want to check out Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulder before entertaining a trade with San Francisco. Matt Corral was described as a party animal in the Johnny Football vein by scouts. Is he really the answer? Schematically, he stuck to RPOs and simple reads at Ole Miss, too. It’s a gamble. The Panthers have some fun pieces on offense but this seems like a team stuck in neutral right now.
Rams: The Super Bowl champs don’t care that much about the draft. Perhaps you’ve heard. They didn’t even pick until Round 3, but that’s not a big deal obviously. There aren’t many holes on this roster anywhere. Should be interesting to see how much linebacker Bobby Wagner has left in him. He has played 167 games total over a 10-year career. Not only that. He has amassed 1,536 tackles over that span. Gosh, that’s a ton of collisions. His five-year, $50M deal could actually end up being a three-year, $28.5M pact — reasonable, for sure — but the Rams are still counting on the soon-to-be 32-year-old to lead their defense.
Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins has been suspended six games for a PED violation which means Arizona dealing the 23rd overall pick to Baltimore for Marquise Brown and a third makes a lot more sense. It’s a devastating blow. Arizona was a completely different offense and Kyler Murray a completely different quarterback with Hopkins on the field. He’s not getting any younger, either. This will be Hopkins’ 10th pro season. It’s on Murray to adjust his game and disperse the ball to a wider array of weapons, including second-round tight end Trey McBride, for the Cardinals to bounce back from another disappointing finish. Quarterbacks past have improved when they weren’t locking into a No. 1 — even Deshaun Watson was statistically better without Hopkins the last time we saw him. But it takes discipline and hard work and the Cardinals have made it pretty clear they want to see Murray improve in this department.
49ers: Will Deebo Samuel have a change of heart? San Francisco did not budge on draft weekend, wisely valuing the hybrid threat who had 1,770 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns last season. Samuel’s not happy being a 49er and his camp has made it clear he is not budging, even if nobody’s saying exactly why he’s so unhappy. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported after the draft that Samuel still wants out and is “dug in.” But didn’t we hear this before? With a certain MVP quarterback? A lot can change between April and August. The 49ers will try to mend this relationship, as they should. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Lions offered a one and a three for Samuel. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch didn’t budge.
Seahawks: No team has been ridiculed more for failing to build an offensive line than Seattle. It’s one reason Russell Wilson wanted out. With Wilson off to Denver, the Seahawks just may have found their left tackle (Charles Cross, No. 9 overall) and right tackle (Abraham Lucas, No. 72) for years to come. Go figure. This offense is going to have Pete Carroll written all over it, too. They drafted Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III at No. 41 and re-signed Rashaad Penny, a former first-rounder who went over 100 yards in four of his final five games. Chris Carson had cervical surgery on his neck, so it’s unknown if he’ll be able to keep playing football. Either way, Seattle is going to party like it’s 1999 and bide their time at quarterback. NFL teams have been dead-wrong before in judging the quarterback position. Prospects are always taken way too long or way too low. But the consensus was loud and clear in 2022: teams do not believe in this group of QBs.