On its own, the NFL draft doesn’t win Super Bowls. But the 2022 draft sure went a long way in potentially transforming a couple of teams that were 9-8 last season into legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
The AFC has a new and surprising contender in the Indianapolis Colts. The NFC suddenly has the same thing after a very active three days by the Philadelphia Eagles.
On the flip side, two teams (the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots) that previously were viewed as potential playoff contenders did not get any better. In fact, some teams that already were facing bleak futures missed out on golden draft opportunities and could end up being worse than they were before.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers in the 2022 NFL Draft …
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: We won’t declare a solo winner in this draft. Instead, that honor is split evenly between the Eagles and Colts, who both used bold and calculated moves to make their rosters much better.
Philadelphia’s Howie Roseman had perhaps the best three days of his tenure as the general manager. The Eagles made the playoffs last season and promptly were bounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Roseman’s moves have set the Eagles up for a much longer run this season.
Let’s start with the most significant move Roseman made over the last three days. The Eagles desperately needed a No. 1 wide receiver and he went out and got one. He traded with Tennessee for A.J. Brown, who is a proven commodity. Brown had over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. He would have made it three straight if he didn’t miss four games to injury last year.
The Eagles quickly signed Brown to a $100 million contract extension.
Roseman then got down to draft business and, at least on paper, all of his picks were home runs.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, 31, is getting older and the Eagles needed a younger alternative. They got one with Jordan Davis, who they traded up to grab in the first round. At 341 pounds, Davis can clog the middle. But, in his days at Georgia, Davis did not get many chances to show he also can rush the passer. The Eagles believe he can and expect to reap the benefits.
Roseman then focused on Philadelphia’s most pressing needs.
In the second round, he got Nebraska center Cam Jurgens, who at best will be an immediate replacement for former Pro Bowler Brandon Brooks, who retired during the offseason. At worst he will be center Jason Kelce’s apprentice-in-waiting. In the third round, the Eagles got a steal on Nakobe Dean. Concerns about injuries and size were the only things that kept the Georgia linebacker out of the first two rounds.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: The Atlanta Falcons obviously thought Matt Ryan was done when they traded their former franchise quarterback to the Colts in the offseason. The Colts don’t share that view. It’s not going to take long to show the Falcons were wrong and the Colts were right.
Just adding Ryan, who still has plenty left in the tank, instantly made the Colts better than the team they were with Carson Wentz last year. Ryan has the leadership skills Wentz lacked and commands respect. The last few years in Atlanta were tough because Ryan didn’t have much around him.
That’s why Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard struck with surgical precision. Ballard’s first three picks were used on guys that will make Ryan’s life easier. Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce and Virginia tight end Jelani Woods were brought in during the second and third rounds, respectively, to give Ryan more targets.
Central Michigan tackle Bernhard Raimann (third round, No. 77 overall) also was brought in to help protect Ryan, who never has been known for his mobility.
TENNESSEE TITANS: You can go ahead and throw the Titans in a category just after the Eagles and Colts. They already were starting on firm ground because they went 12-5 and won the AFC South last season.
Yes, the Titans traded away Brown, who had been one of their best players in recent years. But it was going to take up a lot of salary cap room to get him signed to a contract extension. It’s better to get something for a player before he walks away as a free agent. So, the Titans unloaded Brown and used a first-round pick on a guy (Arkansas’ Treylon Burks) who could end up being even better.
The Titans filled needs by getting cornerback Roger McCreary in the second round and offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere in the third. But the second of their two third-round picks (quarterback Malik Willis) and fourth-round choice (running back Hassan Haskins) could have the most long-term upside.
Willis slid a lot further than some people expected (No. 86 overall), but let’s be honest. He played against mediocre competition at Liberty and is nowhere near ready to step in as an NFL starter. The Titans have a steady veteran starter in Ryan Tannehill. But Tannehill will turn 34 before the start of the season and it’s time to start grooming an eventual replacement.
Derrick Henry is arguably the best running back in the league, but injuries limited him to eight games last season. Henry is 28, which is kind of old for a running back, and has carried the ball 1,401 times in his career.
The Titans were wise in letting Haskins fall to them and not reaching for a running back. History has shown you can get a good one in the middle rounds. Even if Henry is healthy in 2022, it might be smart to lighten his load a bit.
NEW YORK GIANTS: The Giants sent three clear messages with their draft. First, they took a more conventional approach to building a foundation by using their two first-round picks on Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal. They both play positions that often form the cornerstones of good teams.
Second, even though the Giants declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Daniel Jones’ contract, they’re still holding out hope he can be their quarterback for the long term. Neal and North Carolina guard Josh Ezeudu (third round, No. 67 overall) were drafted to give Jones better protection and Kentucky receiver Wan’Dale Robinson was added in the second round to give Jones a target.
Finally, the Giants sent a pretty clear message to receiver Kadarius Toney, who was a first-round pick last year, by taking Robinson. Toney wasn’t very productive last season. New general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll didn’t draft Toney and don’t have any allegiance to him. With Robinson on board, they won’t hesitate to unload the second-year player.
Oh, also, a lot of people are saying the Jets had the better draft of the two New York teams. I don’t see it that way. Sure, the Jets had three first-round picks and that makes it easy to overrate a draft. But the Jets used their two top-10 picks on cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson. They don’t play the positions that you build a franchise around.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: The Cardinals didn’t have a first-round pick, but they came out of the draft substantially better than they were before it. They wanted to get more weapons for quarterback Kyler Murray and they did.
The first part of that equation came when the Cardinals traded with Baltimore for receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, who had 91 catches for 1,008 yards last season. The move reunites Murray with a receiver he played with in college at Oklahoma.
The second part of the plan came when the Cardinals used their first pick (No. 55 overall) on Colorado State tight end Trey McBride. Sure, they have Zach Ertz, but you never can have enough good tight ends.
The Cardinals then took care of a big need in the pass rush by adding San Diego State defensive end Cameron Thomas and Cincinnati pass rusher Myaji Sanders, both in the third round.
NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL: He clearly was out of his element and trying way too hard to be cool when he was on stage. Instead of looking like his bland predecessor (Paul Tagliabue) Goodell tried to play the combined role of master of ceremonies, cheerleader and hugger-in-chief.
It didn’t work. Not at all. The draft featured plenty of guests who filled those roles naturally when stepping in to announce picks. Goodell should stick to being a commissioner. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to not try to pretend to be someone you’re not. Smart people can see right through that.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: They were 7-10 last year and that’s not a great starting point. But the Seahawks took a huge step back earlier in the offseason.
They sent franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver and did nothing to replace him. The Seahawks had a chance at getting Kenny Pickett in the first round — or Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder or Willis later on.
A class that includes offensive tackle Charles Cross, edge rusher Boye Mafe, running back Kenneth Walker III and offensive tackle Abraham Lucas isn’t bad. But the Seahawks are in a tough spot.
The other three teams in the NFC West had double-digit wins last season. Seattle didn’t pull off any miracles in the draft.
The Seahawks are looking at a very real worst-case scenario of going to training camp with Drew Lock, Geno Smith and Jacob Eason as the only quarterbacks on the roster.
ATLANTA FALCONS: I understand why the Falcons had to let Ryan go. First, it was time because this team is several years away from winning. Second, and more importantly, they couldn’t keep Ryan and remain under the salary cap.
But the Falcons have taken a huge step backward and they’re starting almost from scratch. Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, a second-round pick, brings back memories of former Atlanta pass rusher John Abraham and could be a nice building block.
First-round pick Drake London is an enormous talent and could bring the same type of receiver production the Falcons once had from Julio Jones. But who’s going to throw the ball to London?
In the short term, it’s going to be veteran Marcus Mariota. That’s not very comforting because Mariota is a more than a couple of notches down from Ryan. In the long term, the Falcons will turn to Ridder, who they drafted in the third round.
The good thing about getting Ridder at No. 74 overall is that he won’t face the early pressure and expectations that Ryan and Michael Vick did at the start of their careers. The bad news is things in Atlanta are going to get a lot worse than last year’s 7-10 season before they start to get better.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: You can’t blame Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah for the most embarrassing moment for the Vikings in this draft.
That came when Ed Marinaro, a mediocre former Vikings running back and a solid actor on “Hill Street Blues,” took the stage to announce one of Minnesota’s two second-round picks.
Marinaro showed more changes of direction than he ever did on the field as he rambled on for several minutes. You could almost hear Minnesota fans saying, “read the damn pick.” Finally and mercifully, an NFL official who was waiting on the edge of the stage, stepped up and ordered Marinaro to do just that.
The Vikings’ new regime made some pretty bland picks, led by safety Lewis Cline, cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., guard Ed Ingram and linebacker Brian Asamoah.
But Minnesota’s biggest blunder of the draft came in the second round. That’s when the front office made a move that could haunt the team for much longer than the Marinaro fiasco.
There is an unwritten rule in the NFL that you don’t make trades within your division. There is an even stronger rule that says you don’t help your biggest rival improve.
The Vikings badly broke both of those rules. In the second round, the Vikings made a trade with Green Bay to allow the Packers to move up to get a much-needed wide receiver in North Dakota State’s Christian Watson.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: For years, coach Bill Belichick’s success in the draft was unquestioned because of the results. The term “genius” was thrown around a lot. But it’s looking more and more like Belichick is past his prime.
Belichick drafted guard Cole Strange in the first round and wide receiver Tyquan Thornton in the second. In each case, the players almost certainly would have been available a round or two later.
The Patriots also made a questionable move in the fourth round when they took Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe. They already have Mac Jones, whom they drafted in the first round last year. You don’t normally find starting quarterbacks in the fourth round, especially when you don’t need one. You find guys that have a chance to contribute at other positions or play on special teams.
The only thing that prevented New England’s draft from being a total disaster came when the Patriots got good value and filled a need by taking cornerback Marcus Jones in the third round.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Speaking of disasters, there was no team worse off than the Texans before the draft. After it, nothing has changed.
If you thought things couldn’t get any worse after last year’s 4-13 record that was overshadowed by the Deshaun Watson saga, you’re wrong. For better or worse (almost certainly worse), the Texans made it clear they are going with Davis Mills as their quarterback.
In fairness to the Texans, there were no true franchise quarterbacks in this draft. But Houston could have taken a chance on a quarterback in the middle rounds. That at least would have given them an alternative to Mills, but they elected not to.
New coach Lovie Smith has a defensive background and the Texans added cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. in the first round, defensive back Jalen Pitre in the second round and linebacker Christian Harris in the third round.
In a best-case scenario (and that may be a stretch), those defensive picks will all work out. But the downside of that is the Texans will be what the Bears, Buccaneers and the University of Illinois were when Smith coached them — a team with a good defense and a very bad offense.
That’s not a winning formula.
— Pat Yasinskas, Field Level Media