For 20 years, it’s been accurate to say NFL draft grades don’t matter until we see how these guys pan out three years later. Au contraire.
Drafts are about trying to address needs. You can be like the New England Patriots, who slip fifth-round picks into their starting lineup almost every year, or you can draft receivers year after year like the Detroit Lions have been known to do. It’s about having a plan, and some teams are better at it than others.
Our look at the 2022 draft is about which teams addressed their needs and showed that they have a plan. Will it pan out? Call us in three years.
WHILE WE’RE AT IT, EXPLORE SOME OF THE MOST EXCITING STORYLINES THAT HAVE COME UP OVER THE OFFSEASON.
Best of the best: Tennessee Titans
You won’t normally read a draft recap for a team that starts with the team’s third-round pick. But first-round talent doesn’t normally drop that far. It was Malik Willis’ slide that prompted the Titans to move up and select the Liberty quarterback with the 22nd pick in the third round. Some analysts thought Willis might go as high as No. 6 in the first round. All Tennessee had to do was give up a sixth-round pick to swap positions with the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s worth a shot, the Titans figured, since Willis graded out as the No. 2 quarterback in the draft, and he’s expected to be a pretty good starter within two years. And starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a year left on his contract, so Tennessee will either need to pay him or have somebody ready to take over. And if Willis doesn’t work out? It only cost a sixth-round pick.
Oh yeah, there were other picks. The Titans took receiver Treylon Burks with the No. 18 pick in the first round. Graded as boom-or-bust material, Burks has similar skills to A.J. Brown, the All-Pro receiver Tennessee traded away to Philadelphia before the draft. Second-round pick Roger McCreary could be a starter at cornerback in his first year, and Nicholas Petit-Frere should shore up the offensive line. No 2021 playoff team had a better draft than the Titans.
Best of the rest: New York Jets
There’s nowhere to go but up for the Jets, who finished 4-13 in 2021 under first-year coach Robert Saleh.
It’s a lot easier to have a successful draft when you have five picks in the first three rounds. For a change, the Jets did not make an obvious gaffe in the draft. Moreover, they loaded up the defense for Saleh, a former defensive coordinator, by taking excellently named cornerback Sauce Gardner with the No. 4 overall pick. Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II, selected 26th, should add teeth to the pass rush.
The Jets also restocked the offense. Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson will add punch; he had 19 touchdowns in 2021 despite missing time with an injury. Running back Breece Hall, taken 36th, may be the best back in the draft. And Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert, taken at the end of the third round, will only give the Jets more offensive options, something they’ve sorely lacked.
Best need-filling: Pittsburgh Steelers
Maybe you heard: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retired last season. While their defense is solid, that left a gaping hole to fill. The Steelers didn’t mess around finding a replacement and then some. The Steelers took University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first round, then added Georgia receiver George Pickens in the second round to add an exciting 1-2 pop at the skill positions. Pickett completed 67.2% of his passes in 2021 and broke Dan Marino’s career record at Pitt with 81 touchdown throws. In the third round, the Steelers added defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, who was a first-team All-American in 2021. Leal is versatile and should only add to a team that has always prized its defense.
Best patience: Detroit Lions
Nobody expects much from the Lions, who are seemingly in a seven-decade rebuilding plan. Finally, the Lions showed something of a plan in this draft: rebuild the defense this year, refresh the offense next year.
Detroit took three defenders with its four picks in the first three rounds. But the biggest splash was the choice of Alabama receiver Jameson Williams with the 12th pick in the first round. Williams tore his ACL in the NCAA title game, so he won’t be playing next year. That’s no problem for the Lions, who went 3-13-1 last season.
The Lions did add a bunch of guys who should start next season on defense, including local product Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan. The edge rusher was selected No. 2 overall. Kentucky defensive tackle Josh Paschal (No. 46 overall) and safety Kerby Joseph (No. 97).
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Best volume play: Baltimore Ravens
We don’t have enough time or space to document all the picks Baltimore made in the fourth round alone. The Ravens made six choices in the fourth (big right tackle Daniel Faalele might be the headliner of the group). Baltimore also took Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum in the first round, so expect the offensive line to get a new look as the Ravens look for more ways to grind opponents into submission. There’s more, including Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton going with the No. 14 overall choice and Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo in the second round. We’d tell you more about those guys but we still have to get to …
Best Super Bowl bet: Kansas City Chiefs
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes makes it easy to pick the Chiefs to go to the Super Bowl. But Mahomes has a bunch of incoming help, thanks to Kansas City’s 10 selections in the draft. Most of those picks went to defensive guys, like first-round picks Trent Duffie (Washington, cornerback) and George Karlaftis (Purdue, edge). But the offense got help, too. Look for third-round pick Skyy Moore to light it up. The Western Michigan receiver had 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021.
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