Final thoughts from the 2022 NFL Draft
This year's draft put Zach Wilson in a position to succeed, did the opposite for Justin Fields, and had some people (not me!) grumpy about guest announcers.
When is the right time to judge a draft? While it’s happening? As soon as it’s over? A year from now? Years from now?
The correct answer: All of the above.
Our judgments might (probably will) change over time, which is why we shouldn’t pretend that any gut reactions are infallible or set in stone. But we still have to weigh in on the immediate aftermath of the latest draft, because that’s part of the fun of this entire process: figuring out which players are the next NFL stars, who landed in the best/worst situations, and scratching our heads at a few teams’ decision-making. Besides, it’s May. What else are we going to talk about right now?
On that note, I’m going to take both a look back at the 2022 NFL Draft and a look forward about what it could mean for the future. Emphasis on could — last time I checked, I still do not have psychic abilities. Yet.
The Ravens are still good at drafting … but now the Jets are too?
On paper, the Jets ended up with the best draft class this year, followed closely by the Ravens. The latter is not a surprise. Baltimore has a proven track record — across many years, not even skipping a beat when Eric DeCosta took over as GM from Ozzie Newsome — of cleaning up in the draft. But the Jets are the Jets. They aren’t supposed to make sound choices!
And yet, they did. The Jets were both patient and aggressive in their approach. In the first round alone, they came away with arguably the top cornerback (Sauce Gardner) and wide receiver (Garrett Wilson) this year, and then traded up for an impact pass rusher (Jermaine Johnson II). Those are three of Daniel Jeremiah’s top nine prospects in this draft.
On Day 2, GM Joe Douglas wasn’t done. He then added the highest-rated running back, Breece Hall, and well-rounded tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who has the potential to be productive in the NFL.
(Ruckert didn’t catch a ton of passes in college, but a tight end becoming a primary target at Ohio State is like the idea of the Packers drafting a WR in the first round — every year we say, “maybe this is the year!” and it never is.)
The only possible complaint Zach Wilson could have about his new teammates is that the Jets didn’t get him an offensive tackle until their second-to-last pick, Max Mitchell in the fourth round. Otherwise, the front office did more than right by their young quarterback, giving him plenty of help so he can hopefully make a leap in year two. Not every QB is so lucky, but more on that in a bit.
The Ravens, per usual, put together a haul that showed that not only do they watch prospects’ film (like all teams), but they seem to actually watch college football games, too.
They drafted two immediate starters in the first round: safety Kyle Hamilton and center Tyler Linderbaum, both considered the best prospects at their respective positions. On Day 2, the rest of the league let pass rusher David Ojabo — a first-round talent who dropped due to a torn Achilles — fall to them. On Day 3, they used six fourth-round picks and not even one of them appears to be a stinker. In fact, OT Daniel Faalele could start right away and Isaiah Likely, who looks more like a wide receiver than TE, could be an early contributor:
Which is good for Lamar Jackson, who might still be smarting from the Ravens trading away Hollywood Brown.
Did the Patriots have a crummy draft, or is Bill Belichick just outsmarting us?
A lot of teams had forgettable drafts — if you forced me, without being able to Google, to name a Rams or Chargers pick, I couldn’t do it — but not many had a downright bad draft. One that did consistently get the worst grades, however, was the Patriots.
They set a strange tone early when, after a trade down (a very Pats move), they selected offensive guard Cole Strange late in the first round. It’s not that Strange is a risky player. In fact, he should be ready to go from day one. The problem is that New England could have waited until the following day to take him. Heck, Sean McVay had scouted him as a possible pick at No. 104.
It’s tempting to just wave off the move and think Bill Belichick is one step ahead of us. That there has to be a method to the madness if Belichick made it. That doesn’t change the reality that Strange was probably going to be available the next time the Patriots were on the board.
The same could be said for WR Tyquan Thornton, their second-round pick, and quarterback Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round pick. And even though Pierre Strong Jr. is an intriguing prospect, how many running backs does this team need?!
As uninspiring as the Patriots’ draft class was, they’ll probably be fine. Belichick has a starter in Strange and will get production from some of those late-round players, per usual. Right now, though, the coach/de facto GM is not above criticism.
Shockingly, no teams really reached for a quarterback (and each one landed in a pretty good spot!)
Days before the draft, I saw speculation that only one quarterback would be taken in the first round. I knew it was possible because this class was weak, but considering how premium the position is in today’s NFL, I had to see it to believe it. I did, and now I do.
I’m proud of teams for not trying to force things just to draft a quarterback. None of the passers in this class are sure things. Kenny Pickett, the only one selected in the first round, is the closest to being ready to start. And he very well could, at some point his rookie year, in Pittsburgh.
No one really thought Desmond Ridder and Malik Willis would fall to the third round, but both ended up in favorable situations. Ridder shares a lot of similarities with Marcus Mariota, the guy he’ll be backing up in Atlanta and perhaps even replacing if Mariota suffers an injury (likely) or plays poorly (also possible). Willis has the highest ceiling, but he’s raw and needs to sit back and learn before seeing the field. He’ll get that with the Titans, who have Ryan Tannehill under contract through 2023 — and also could move on from him next year, if he stinks it up like he did in the playoffs or if Willis develops quickly.
The Panthers and Commanders both needed to add to their QB rooms and then went with relatively low-risk options: Matt Corral in the third round for Carolina, and Sam Howell in the fifth round for Washington.
While the Patriots sorta reached for Bailey Zappe in the fourth round, he’s more insurance at a position New England wants to keep well stocked. Last year, Zappe broke the FBS single-season record for TD passes with 62, and though there’s no guarantee that his game will translate to the NFL, I’m going to laugh for weeks, possibly months, if he steals Mac Jones’ job in a year or so.
If any of these quarterbacks work out, great! If not, no teams invested too much in them. Besides, there’s always next year, when the QB class — C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Spencer Rattler maybe (?) — will be a strength again.
What does Justin Fields need to do to get some help around here?
Poor Justin Fields. As a rookie, he had one of the lowest-rated receiving corps and offensive lines in the NFL. Earlier this offseason, both units somehow got worse with a few departures and not much in the way of reinforcements.
But there was always the draft, right? The Bears didn’t have a first-round pick this year thanks to their trade up last year to grab Fields. However, they did have two selections early in the second round and a few major needs to address.
Even with a run on receivers in the first round, there was still good talent available when the Bears were on the clock at pick No. 39. So did they go with Skyy Moore, Alec Pierce, George Pickens, or David Bell? They did not.
OK, what about an offensive lineman then? Abraham Lucas, Luke Goedeke, Bernhard Raimann, or reunite Fields with Nicholas Petit-Frere? Nope, they didn’t do that either.
Instead, Chicago focused on a different need and opted for cornerback Kyler Gordon. By itself that’s not a bad decision, especially when the Bears were up again nine picks later. Except, when that time came, they went back to the secondary well and took a safety rather than a receiver or OL (all the names I listed above? Still available at this point).
It wasn’t until Round 3 when the Bears finally decided to add a receiver: Velus Jones Jr., who is two years older than Fields and who has draft experts split on whether he’s a promising prospect or not. (Admittedly, I said, “who is that?” when the pick was announced, but then again, I haven’t felt the need to pay any attention to Vols football in two decades.)
At long last, Chicago remembered to draft some offensive linemen on Day 3, but who knows if any of them will be starting-caliber players this year or ever.
Basically, the Bears did the opposite of what the Jets did for their second-year quarterback. Fields, who flashed at times last year but still struggled mightily under pressure, has little in the way of weapons and protection and faces a tough road ahead in 2022. Maybe that will set the Bears up for drafting Fields’ former teammate Jaxon Smith-Njigba in 2023 … though who are we kidding, they’d just bypass him for, like, a defensive tackle.
Keep bringing in special guests (humans or animals) to announce draft picks
The draft didn’t used to be the must-watch affair that it is today. Eventually, the NFL turned a glorified conference call into an all-out event, because the league knows how to make anything a spectacle. I say that with love because I very much enjoy tuning in every year.
But it’s still loooooong: three days, seven rounds, 262 picks. Even booing Roger Goodell gets a little old by the end. So how do you mix things up, while keeping the spirit of the festivities alive?
Well, the NFL brings in special guests to help announce picks. Sometimes they’re former players, current players, Make-A-Wish kids, celebrity fans, or even animals (sadly not this year, however).
Unfortunately, not everyone is on board, including Matt “failed upwards to ESPN” Miller:
I understand that some of the announcements are big whiffs, like the TikTok comedy duo that fell on stage before revealing a Colts pick. And others can make an already-long process drag on, like Ed Marinaro having to be told to wrap it up:
The man played for the Vikings and then was on Hill Street Blues and later played Joey Buttafuoco in one of the three Amy Fisher TV movies that once aired the same week (he didn’t play opposite Drew Barrymore or Alyssa Milano, but Noelle Parker, one-time stepdaughter of her peer Patrick Dempsey.) IMO, let him ramble! It keeps things interesting.
Anyway, even if you’re annoyed by a 72-year-old recounting memories from his playing days,, there were other guests to enjoy, such as the kid announcing the Giants’ first pick having the time of his life:
And the guy from Psych having the good fortune to get pick No. 69:
Yes, the draft is a serious occasion for the players involved because it changes their lives. For us fans, though, it’s entertainment more than anything. Relax and embrace the fun!