Updated: Sep 6, 2022
Written by: David Hartman
March has turned to April, and with the NFL’s free agency and big trading period mostly behind us, all eyes now turn to the NFL’s annual “Player Selection Meeting,” as it’s known, which is less than 3 weeks away. But after one of the craziest off-seasons in recent memory, I can’t help but think that the 2022 Draft is going to be anti-climactic. This is especially true because the talent pool is shallow waters compared to other years.
Of course, the NFL doesn’t want you to think that, and the league and its media partners will be promoting and hyping up the Draft and the 2022 Draft class like there’s no tomorrow, not that they’ll need much help given the massive internet-social media-podcasting complex that surrounds NFL football. And if you live in the greater NY City area like I do, you’re seeing a lot of excitement building as the Draft approaches. The Jets and Giants, who have mostly stunk for what seems like an eternity, both own 2 picks in the top 10. I get the enthusiasm of those fan bases, and like most of you, I love the NFL Draft. And I think it’s one of the great triumphs of sports marketing that the NFL Draft has morphed from an out-of-the-mainstream obsession for wonky fans to a prime-time spectacle that’s fun for the whole family. But bear with me as I throw a gallon or two of cold water on the 2022 NFL Draft. Here are a few big reasons why I think this Draft - or at least, the first round of this Draft - is going to be considerably less interesting, compelling, and consequential than what we’ve gotten used to.
1. The 2022 Draft Class is Weak
Every draft class brings plenty of new talent to the league, but it stands to reason that not all draft classes are above average. Draft analysts are pretty unified in the assessment that overall, this is a mediocre (at best) class that’s especially lacking in top-end talent. At this point, Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson is emerging as the consensus top pick. Nice player, and he projects as a solid NFL starter with enough upside to maybe even be a star. But it’s a bit of a stretch to call him an elite prospect, and in a typical year, he probably wouldn’t be a top 5 pick and in some years his name might not even get called in the top 10. His draft grade (there are lots of entities out there that grade prospects - I'll use the NFL's own Scouting Profile) is 6.80. That’s very good, but it’s lower (in some cases, by a lot) than almost all of the other players at his position that have gone in the top 5 in the last handful of years. Chase Young, Myles Garrett, Nick and Joey Bosa, Josh Allen (who went #7), and Bradley Chubb all graded 7.00 or higher, and of that group, only Garrett went #1 overall. A lot of people were stunned a few years ago when the Raiders took Clelin Ferrell at #4 (except that it was the Raiders, so maybe nobody should've batted an eye), and his draft grade was almost the same as Hutchinson’s. No player in this entire class grades out at a 7.00 or better, which is unusual. In fact, the highest NFL Scouting Profile grade is 6.81 (ND safety Kyle Hamilton). Compare that to last year, when 5 prospects (Trevor Lawrence, Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, and Patrick Surtain, Jr.) had a grade higher than 7.00. It’s just not a class with a lot of elite talent, and that’s true across multiple positions.
2. The 2022 Draft Class is Weak Where it Matters Most: QB
This Draft is not only short on elite prospects. It’s also weak at the most important position in the 4 major sports. The lack of top talent at QB in this class stops a recent trend that’s made the last handful of drafts very compelling. Nothing makes a draft more exciting than a few young QBs that have a good chance at becoming the face of - and potentially transforming - an NFL franchise. And nothing is more important for an NFL franchise than finding a franchise QB. As the Browns and Broncos just showed us, teams are willing to pay whatever it costs and do whatever it takes to get one. If an NFL team is lucky enough to hit on a QB in the first round, it really is like hitting the jackpot. The 5th year option that’s still on a rookie pay scale is huge, plus you’ve got an excellent likelihood of inking that player to a long-term deal after the rookie deal expires - making your franchise stable, and in all likelihood, competitive for a long stretch. Having what’s perceived as elite QB talent in a draft not only creates all sorts of pre-draft excitement and intrigue but also leads to some huge trade-ups, as we’ve seen many times including last year. QB prospects have dominated the top of the last 4 drafts:
2018: 4 QBs taken in the top 10
2019: 3 QBs taken in the top 15
2020: 3 QBs taken in the top 6
2021: 5 QBs taken in the top 15
That kind of result isn't in play this year - or at least, it shouldn't be. While this draft class has a handful of intriguing QB prospects (some might say, projects) who for the most part probably profile best as Day 2 picks, you have to go all the way back to 2014 (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Jimmy G) or more likely 2013 to find a draft class with less high-end QB talent. In 2013, only one QB went in each of the first 2 rounds (E.J. Manuel in round 1, Geno Smith in round 2), and that draft didn’t produce a single long-term NFL starter at the position. As we just saw, 3 of the last 4 drafts have been pretty loaded with what was seen as elite QB talent - 2018, 2020, and 2021, and the 2019 draft had Kyler Murray at the top. The top QBs in this class all come with pretty big question marks, and while some teams will talk themselves into taking one of the 2022 QBs a little or even a lot earlier than they should, there’s a risk in doing that. QBs get over-drafted every year, for all of the reasons discussed above. A good example of that not working out well is 2011. Cam Newton went first overall as expected and as deserved, but the next 3 QBs off the Board - Jake Locker at 8, Blaine Gabbert at 10, and Christian Ponder at 12 - were all busts.
The buzz for this year’s crop of "top" QBs (namely, Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral, and Sam Howell) is going to build as the Draft approaches, because it always does and because teams that want to trade down will help to build that buzz. I think Willis might sneak into the top 10 and that as many as 3 of the others will likely follow at some point in round 1 - time will tell if those selections were worthwhile. If QB-needy teams like Carolina, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Seattle, or others trade up to take a QB, then that’s likely to be the most interesting aspect of round 1.
3. For 8 Teams, the First Round is Already Over
Two AFC West rivals have already made their first round pick
A whopping 8 teams don’t have a first round pick this year. The math isn’t hard on this one - that’s a quarter of the NFL. That’s really unusual. As far as I can tell, it’s never happened since the NFL expanded to 32 teams. Of course, one or more of these 8 teams could trade up into round 1, but that’s pretty unlikely given that it would cost them even more draft capital to do so. A typical year sees anywhere from 3-5 teams heading into the draft without a first-round pick. Again, let’s look at the last 4 drafts:
2021: 4 teams
2020: 5 teams
2019: 5 teams
2018: 3 teams
For a bunch of the league’s fanbases, there won’t be much to watch for during round 1 other than counting how many times the broadcasters say things like “burst” and “motor” and seeing how much Roger Goodell gets booed. But more than that, those 8 teams have basically already made a first-round pick, and not from this tepid draft pool. Davante Adams is Las Vegas’s first round pick, Tyreek Hill is Miami’s, Russell Wilson is Denver’s, Trey Lance is San Francisco’s, Justin Fields is Chicago’s, and so on. Yes, we’ll still have 32 players selected on that Thursday night, but the 8 college players who’ll be taken in replacement of those established stars and high-end QB prospects can’t compare -not even a little - in terms of the buzz generated by those acquisitions, much less the likely impact they’ll have on the 2022 season.
4. The 2022 Off-Season Has Been Bonkers
And point 3 leads right into point 4. Trades of star players aren’t all that uncommon in the NFL, but it’s not every day that a franchise QB or an elite WR gets traded in his prime. When it happens 4 times in the space of a few weeks, it’s pretty much unheard of. And that’s just what happened when Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Davante Adams, and Tyreek Hill were all moved for enormous hauls of draft picks (and a few players too) in fairly rapid succession. On top of that, an aging franchise QB (and former league MVP) was also moved to a new team where he’ll be the starter (that would be Matt Ryan), as was Carson Wentz. Throw in Tom Brady’s retirement and unretirement 40 days later, Mitch Trubisky, Marcus Mariota, and possibly Drew Lock all getting another opportunity to start with a new team (and maybe Baker Mayfield too - we’ll see), and Jameis Winston resigning and getting another shot with the Saints, and the 2022 QB carousel has been a thrill ride. I won’t talk about all the other trades and free agent signings of note, because it would take up too much space. The point is that there is no way that the upcoming Draft can hope to compete with the import and seismic impact of everything that went down in March, which was, for lack of a better descriptor, just absolutely nuts.
So, am I excited for the 2022 NFL Draft? Sure I am. Will I get swept up in the pre-Draft hype? Yeah. But will it be anti-climactic? Yup, I'm afraid it will be.
To read more NFL and fantasy football content from David Hartman, visit his blog: www.thepigskinpapers.com