5 storylines to get you ready for the 2022 NFL Draft
There seems to be less buzz surrounding the draft this year. But that could mean we're in for more surprises.
Every year, I look forward to the NFL Draft, the annual blend of my love for both college and pro football. This year is no different, but I have a confession to make: This is the least amount of attention I’ve paid to the pre-draft process in a long time.
One reason is that it’s no longer my job to follow every storyline and eye-raising rumor. Another reason is because those storylines and rumors are basically the same every. dang. year. The highly rated prospect who has “character concerns,” despite never getting into any trouble. A different highly rated prospect who receives hyperbolic comparisons that don’t seem based in reality. The quarterback who has baby-sized hands and all the, no pun intended, hand-wringing about it. The Black quarterback who gets derisively brushed off as a “running back.” It’s all very tiring!
Lastly, this year’s draft simply lacks the drama that the NFL offseason has brought on a near-daily basis. It’s hard to care about 40-yard dash times while the league is awash in blockbuster trades and reports of a certain unretired quarterback almost teaming up with a now-retired coach in Miami, before it was derailed by a racial discrimination lawsuit. Allegedly. Who even knows what the truth is there, but it certainly gives us, and all the 50 million NFL podcasts out there, a juicy anecdote to discuss months before the season begins.
Now, somehow, this year’s draft is just days away, so it’s time to hit the books before the first round gets underway. If you need a quick cram session too, then join me as I preview the developments I’ve decided to become invested in this draft weekend.
Will Travon Walker be the No. 1 overall pick?
Sometime in late-January, early-February, Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson started to have serious competition to be the first player taken in the 2022 draft. Prior to free agency, the consensus among mock drafts shifted toward the Jaguars selecting an offensive tackle at No. 1 to help protect last year’s No. 1 pick, Trevor Lawrence. However, there was no consensus on who that OT would be. Todd McShay thought it’d be Alabama’s Evan Neal. Mel Kiper projected it’d be NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu. Seth Galina suggested Mississippi State’s Charles Cross.
But there was agreement on the No. 2 pick: Hutchinson to the Lions.
Then free agency began and the Jags made a couple of moves at OL. They put the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson and shored up their right guard spot with veteran Brandon Scherff. And just like that, an impact pass rusher became a bigger priority in Jacksonville than offensive tackle. Hutchinson was once again the favorite to hear his name called first in this year’s draft.
Slowly and steadily, though, Georgia product Travon Walker has been creeping up the draft boards. First, he put together an impressive performance in the national championship game:
Then, he showed off his freak athleticism at the combine:
Hutchinson remained the Vegas favorite to go first overall until just this week, when Walker, who had already narrowed the gap considerably, overtook him.
Walker’s numbers in college don’t compare to Hutchinson’s, but the former’s upside is much higher. To me, Hutchinson is similar to Mac Jones: a rookie who can start right away and play competently, yet probably won’t get a ton better as a pro. Walker is Trey Lance: the potential is there to be great, if he can put it all together.
I’m not sure which edge defender the Jaguars will decide on, and that should bring some much-needed suspense to the first night of the draft. For the first time in at least a few years, we don’t know which player will be the top pick … at least until someone like Adam Schefter tweets out “the anticipation is that the Jaguars will take XX” earlier on Thursday.
Which current NFL players will get traded before, or during, the draft?
It happens almost every year. Last year, Teddy Bridgewater was traded to the Broncos on the eve of the 2021 NFL Draft. Two years ago, Trent Williams was mercifully dealt from Washington on Day 3 of the draft. In 2019, Frank Clark went from the Seahawks to the Chiefs a few days before the draft, and poor Josh Rosen was shipped off to Miami a day after the Cardinals selected Kyler Murray with the top pick.
So who’s it going to be this time around? Maybe Deebo Samuel will get his wish, if the 49ers make the dumb choice to trade him. Or maybe Baker Mayfield — or is that Robert Patrick? — and the Browns can end their awkward “still living with an ex, who is now shacked up with their new partner” arrangement and find a team that actually wants him. Kadarius Toney, just one year after the Giants took him in the first round, is being shopped around too.
We don’t know who, and we don’t know when, but we do know at least one established player will be on the move this week. And if it happens before Thursday night, then it could alter the draft strategy for the teams involved in the trade.
How will recent injuries impact first-round caliber players like Jameson Williams and David Ojabo?
In January, Jameson Williams was in the conversation to be the first receiver off the board in a draft loaded at the position. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL during Alabama’s loss to Georgia, arguably the turning point of the game. Williams is still projected to be a first-round pick, but he’ll have to wait a little longer than he would have before the injury.
Williams says his recovery is ahead of schedule, as if he would say otherwise before the draft. But he is only 21 and could presumably be on the field early in the season for whichever team takes him.
With his explosive speed and deep-threat ability, Williams could be the perfect weapon for a contender like the Chiefs and Packers. He might not be available when they’re on the clock late in the first round, however. So could one of them trade up to grab Williams, or will he end up with a team like the Eagles or Saints that will pick in the late-teens?
David Ojabo, like Travon Walker, was a fast-rising edge prospect … until he tore his Achilles at Michigan’s pro day. And unlike Williams, Ojabo is not guaranteed to be taken off the board in Round 1 anymore. ESPN’s draft predictor tool has Ojabo going anywhere from No. 26 all the way down to No. 60 in the second round.
Ojabo has the athleticism and potential to be better in the pros than a certain UM teammate of his:
On the other hand, he lacks the experience (he played just one full year in college), is still pretty raw technique-wise, and will miss at least the first part of the season. Maybe a team that can afford to be patient will take a chance on Ojabo late in the first round, but it’s quite possible he’ll last until Day 2.
How many receivers will be drafted in the first round?
Just two receivers went in the first round of the 2018 draft and the 2019 draft. In 2020, that number rose to six. Last year, it was five.
That trend of deep receiver classes will only continue — this year especially. Five receivers are mortal locks to be first-rounders: Garrett Wilson, Drake London, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, and Treylon Burks. A few others, like Jahan Dotson and Christian Watson, could join them if the receiver-needy teams at the end of the first round miss out on the top group.
I’m also curious to see where each WR lands and how they fit with their new team. Wilson and London are likely top-10 selections, but which one will the Jets take? And with which top-10 pick? (Wilson, a highlight reel whenever he touches the ball, was so much fun to watch in college and it pains me greatly to think of him playing for the Falcons or Jets.)
Olave, Williams, and Burks could go to any team from No. 11 to, say, No. 30. Their draft projections all basically look like this:
The uncertainty about where they’ll go, and the possibilities therein, adds another dash of excitement to the first round — and for the strongest position in this year’s draft.
Who is QB1?
Part of the reason there is less buzz about the 2022 draft is because the quarterback class is a big old shrug emoji.
There is no can’t-miss prospect. There might not even be a starting-caliber quarterback in this bunch. Nevertheless, two passers, and probably 1-3 more, will become first-round picks.
The race to be the first quarterback taken will likely come down to Liberty’s Malik Willis, who has the higher ceiling, vs. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who uh, well I can’t put it any better than this anonymous exec:
The Panthers and Falcons are two teams in the top 10 that could take a quarterback that early (the Lions also need a quarterback but no one in this class is worth the No. 2 pick). Maybe the Seahawks too, but that seems less likely. Will one (or both) of the Panthers and Falcons draft a quarterback? Or will Willis or Pickett end up with the Commanders, Saints, or Steelers later in the first round?
Fun fact if the Panthers opt for Pickett:
If I had to take a guess, I’d say Willis, Pickett, and Desmond Ridder will be this year’s first-round picks, and then Matt Corral and Sam Howell will go on Day 2. Teams are desperate for cheap quarterbacks with even the possibility of talent, yet this year’s class isn’t very promising, so three first-round QBs, or about the average per year from the past decade, sounds right. But not much would surprise me either way. Well, except if Maurice Jones-Drew’s bonkers mock draft — with four quarterbacks in the top 10! — comes true.