Updated: Sep 6
Written By: David Hartman
The 2022 NFL Draft is right around the corner, and if you read my last piece, you know I’m not particularly excited for this year’s version of the NFL’s annual Player Selection Meeting. I gave 4 reasons for that, the biggest of which is a lack of top-end talent in this year's class. This isn't exactly a hot take: There isn't a player in this Draft that would've gone in the top 5 last year, and I'm not even sure if any would've cracked the top 10. Here’s the article: https://www.sportstimehq.com/post/nfl-draft-22-is-there-any-buzz-left
With that said, this is still the NFL Draft, and that means there are plenty of compelling storylines worth exploring as the Draft approaches. Each NFL team is about to have a chance to get better with an infusion of young talent. That's especially true for the NFL-record 8 teams that have multiple picks in round 1. And it’s important to remember that while the NFL analyst community and the Twitterverse are busy dissecting the Draft class and “Mock Drafting” and “Big Boarding” it to death, for a few hundred young men, hearing their name get called during those 3 days will be the culmination of a long and hard journey, and the realization of a lifelong dream. Let’s look at some of the biggest questions that will get answered on Draft weekend.
1. Will anyone trade up into the Top 10 to get their guy?
The NFL Draft is pretty short on action. Here’s what goes down in round 1: Guy #1 walks to podium, to a chorus of boos. Guy #1 reads from card and tells us 5 things: Pick number, NFL team making pick, name of player picked, and player’s position and college team. Guy #2 walks on stage, perhaps wearing an outfit that defies description, including a jacket so big my whole family could fit inside. Guy #1 greets Guy #2. Guy #2 puts on official NFL team logo hat, holds up team jersey with his name on it, and poses for pictures. And…. that’s it. That’s the entirety of the action. A bunch of talking heads take over after each selection and tell us what they think and what we should think. And this cycle repeats 32 times. After the first round, even less happens after each pick. But when the Commissioner gets to the podium and announces a trade instead of just calling out a pick? Well, now we’re talking. Now we get some excitement, some gasps, and some great crowd shots of fans showing all sorts of expressions. Some look like they just went outside and discovered their car was gone and some look like they just reached under their seat and found a fat wad of cash - and this is especially true when it’s a pick near the top of the Draft. Give me some trades inside the top 10 picks!
Last year, we almost made it out of the top 10 without a trade-up on Draft night, but then the NFC East gave us the drama we were craving. The Eagles (pick 12) traded with the Cowboys (pick 10), to leapfrog the Giants (pick 11) and nab the Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama WR Devonta Smith. The Giants then traded out of their spot (pick 11), with the Bears coming all the way up from pick 20 to take Ohio State QB Justin Fields, who was surprisingly still on the board. The Cowboys (now at pick 12) then took Penn State LB Micah Parsons, and all he did last year was record 13 sacks, win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and get named first team All-Pro. As far as NFL Drafts go, it was an exciting sequence and one that will have ramifications in the NFC East and North for years to come, and especially since the Giants have 2 picks in the top 10 this year as a result of their trade-down. And let’s not forget how the Eagles ended up with pick 12 on Draft night - there were 2 significant trades involving top 10 picks well before the 2021 Draft even started. San Francisco (the original owner of pick 12) traded up with Miami (pick 3) to take a QB (would it be Justin Fields? Mac Jones? Nope, it’s…Trey Lance!), and then Miami and Philadelphia swapped first round picks, with Miami moving up from pick 12 to pick 6, which ended up being used to select WR Jaylen Waddle. You got all of that? Pick 12 traded hands 3 times - from the 49ers to the Dolphins to the Eagles to the Cowboys, and the Cowboys hit a home run with that pick, while the 49ers got their QB of the future (they hope), and Philadelphia and Miami each got an exciting young playmaker from Alabama at WR. Wow. It’s that kind of wheeling and dealing that can make the first round compelling and exciting.
So will we see anything similar this year? We’ll have to wait to find out, and if anything else is going to happen before the Draft (the Eagles and Saints already completed a trade that gave the Saints an extra first round pick in the latter half of the round), it needs to happen soon. The most common target of a trade-up at the top of the draft is a QB, but teams have been known to trade up into the top 10 for players at other positions (a few examples - WR Julio Jones, DE Dion Jordan, and as noted above, WR Devonta Smith). This Draft is short on elite talent and that’s especially true at QB, so that suggests it’s unlikely to happen. But on the other side of the ledger, with 8 teams holding multiple first round picks, there’s an unusual amount of ammunition out there for teams to use to move up. A narrative that’s been circulating is that someone will jump ahead of Carolina (pick 6) to take Liberty QB Malik Willis. I’m not buying it, and since I’m sure a lot of teams in the top 5 would be happy to trade down given the lack of top–end talent, I have a sneaking suspicion about where those rumors are coming from. I’ll talk more about Carolina, and the QBs, in a bit.
2. What will the Packers and Chiefs do with their Multiple First Round Picks?
The Packers and Chiefs have a lot in common. They’re the only teams in the league who’ve been division champs each of the last 3 years. The Packers (39-10) have the NFL’s best record over that span, while the Chiefs (38-11) are just a game behind them. Both teams have an elite, Super Bowl-winning QB that’s a former league MVP (Rodgers has won the award several times over, including each of the last 2 seasons, and Mahomes has won it once - so far). Both teams have excellent rosters top to bottom and are perennial Super Bowl contenders at this point. And each of them traded away a superstar WR in March and as a result, has 2 first round picks. It’s unusual for powerhouse teams to have 2 first rounders. I’m curious to see what Green Bay and Kansas City do with those picks. One area where this Draft is decently strong is at WR (more on that in a minute), and using a pick at that position would be a logical option for both teams to explore in the first round. Since both teams are in win-now mode (Green Bay especially, as Rodgers will turn 39 in December), I look for both of them to try to take players who can help them right away in 2022 - and as noted above, a trade-up by teams with multiple first-round picks is not out of the question.
3. How many WRs will go in Round 1, and in what order?
Will we ever again have a Draft that’s weak at WR? Maybe not, given how the college game has changed, and how many elite athletes are getting funneled into the position at all levels. It feels like every one of the last few Drafts has been unusually strong and deep at the position. And while I don’t think this class has a prospect of the caliber of Ja’Marr Chase (or Jaylen Waddle or Devonta Smith, for that matter), it does have some very intriguing receivers, and once again it’s a class that offers both quality and depth. The last time 6 receivers went in round 1 was just 2 years ago in 2020, and last year 5 WRs went in the first round (plus TE Kyle Pitts, who was seen as an elite receiving threat). I think it’s a safe bet that at least 6 WRs will go in the first round this year, and 7 or even 8 is possible. But there isn’t a clear-cut top dog in this class and there’s a wide range of opinions on the order that these receivers will go, and at what draft spots. I think Alabama WR Jameson Williams would’ve been pretty close to a consensus #1 at the position if he hadn’t torn his ACL in the National Championship game. He could still be the first WR off the board, but so could Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson, or USC WR Drake London. And there are some who like Arkansas WR Treylon Burks best, while Wilson's Ohio State teammate Chris Olave might be the most pro-ready of any of the WRs. And behind those 5 prospects are 2 or 3 more who could hear their name called in round 1 and a bunch more who are likely to come off the board on day 2 (rounds 2 and 3) - an area of the Draft that’s traditionally produced some highly productive WRs.
4. How many Georgia defenders will get drafted?
This one’s just fun. Georgia won the National Championship with an elite, suffocating defense that featured NFL-caliber talent at every level, and especially in its dominant front 7. What does that mean for this Draft? I’m glad you asked. Bulldog defenders are going to be flying off the board early and often. Five of them (DLs Travon Walker, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, LB Nakobe Dean, and S Lewis Cine) could go in round 1, and as many as 3 more Georgia defenders could get picked later in the Draft - which means most of their 2021 defense is going to get drafted. Walker figures to be the first Bulldog taken, and he has top 3 buzz right now. There are rumblings that he might even go #1 to Jacksonville.
5. When will the First QB come off the Board?
Maybe this should be question #1, since QBs get so much attention and are so important. But honestly, I'm sick of reading, hearing and writing about the QB class of '22. I wrote a lot about this position group in my last piece, and at this point the QBs have been dissected plenty. You don’t need me doing it again. I’ll just say this: (1) I do think Malik Willis will be the first QB taken in this Draft. In a class without elite QB talent, his skillset offers the most upside and the best risk-reward profile; and (2) I don’t think there's a QB in this class that’s worthy of a top 10 pick, even if you apply the positional premium that inflates the value of QBs and causes them to be overdrafted, year after year. But that doesn’t mean at least one QB won’t get taken in the top 10, or that a QB taken in this Draft won’t eventually prove to have been worthy of a very high selection.
The first team on the board that’s truly QB-needy is Carolina at pick 6, and they might be the team with the biggest need at the position. The Sam Darnold experiment was a disaster (and especially since it cost them their second and fourth round picks this year), and Cam Newton didn’t fare much better when he joined the team mid-season. Second year GM Scott Fitterer might not be on the hot seat but HC Matt Rhule certainly is, and this franchise is a bit of a mess right now, in large part due to the QB situation. So taking a swing at QB at pick 6 is certainly a possibility. However, the Panthers don't pick again until round 4, which complicates things (and they could really use a tackle). Other QB-needy teams like Atlanta (8), Seattle (9), and Pittsburgh (20) could be in play for a QB, but it’s also possible that those teams, which all have a stop-gap player in place for 2022, are thinking of waiting a year to address the position, when the QB class is expected to be stronger. People keep connecting the Steelers to Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, who’s been playing in their backyard, but I wonder if the Steelers will wait to see if they can course-correct Mitch Trubisky before burning a first round pick on a signal caller.
On top of all of that, it’s always possible - or maybe even likely - that someone will trade up into the bottom of round 1 to snatch up a QB, at which point some of these QBs would be less of a reach, and which would also allow the team to take advantage of the 5th year contract option that attaches to players taken in round 1. How the QBs fall in this Draft is definitely going to be one of the more compelling narratives that unfolds - it's almost always one of the top stories at the NFL Draft.
A few more burning questions stand out for me, beyond those 5. What will new Giants’ GM Joe Schoen do with those two top 10 picks in round 1? The other team that shares MetLife Stadium has done a masterful job of amassing picks and also has 2 picks in the top 10 (and 4 in the top 38) - what will the other New York Joe (Douglas) and his Jets do in rounds 1 and 2? The Saints traded with Philly for an additional first round pick - what were they targeting and what’s their plan? Will any RBs get taken in round 1? Is Kayvon Thibodeaux - who at one point was the consensus top player in this draft - really going to fall out of the top 5? Could a generational talent at punter (San Diego State's Matt Araiza) get taken on Day 2? Is Iowa Center Tyler Linderbaum - who is probably among the safest picks in this draft - going to fall to round 2? And speaking of offensive linemen, which offensive tackle goes first - Neal, Okwanu or Cross? Yup, I’m getting sucked in, again. Happens every year…
For more NFL and fantasy football content from David Hartman, see his blog, The Pigskin Papers, at www.thepigskinpapers.com