The 2022 NFL Draft is less than 100 hours away. Here’s what you should be watching for when Roger Goodell steps to the stage in Vegas.
We’ve almost made it. Four more days, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock.
While we wait, there are certain truths we know. This draft’s first 10 picks will be heavy on players who dominate the line of scrimmage, along with corner Sauce Gardner and perhaps a quarterback. The final 22 selections on Thursday night will be a slew of receivers and edge rushers with a sprinkling of other positions mixed in.
Additionally, the 2022 Draft is taking place in Las Vegas, which means glitz and glamour. The NFL will put on a show, one which Kansas City will be asked to match somehow in 2023.
But when you’re sitting down on the couch with buddies or asking for another round at the bar wearing your favorite player’s jersey and wanting to impress the group, keep the following in mind:
– 8 teams have multiple first-round picks
A quarter of the NFL’s teams have two selections in the first round, including the New York Jets, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers.
With such ammunition comes the ability to maneuver around the board, and make for a wild opening night. Look for those well-stocked franchises to be moving up for high-profile talent and down for more lottery tickets.
– Quarterbacks won’t rule this draft
Unlike so many years, this draft won’t be about the signal-callers. The guess here is three will go in the first 32 picks, including Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett and then either Desmond Ritter or Matt Corral.
While those selections will get pub, nobody in league circles who I’ve spoken with expects any quarterback from this class to immediately star this season. The prevailing thought is each needs time to ripen, much like Trey Lance in 2021.
– The receivers will be the stars on Thursday and in the future
Look at the talent coming in at receiver, and you understand why more than a quarter of the first-round picks could go to perimeter weaponry.
It’s a guarantee we’ll see Chris Olave ad Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Jameson Williams (Alabama), Treylon Burks (Arkansas) and Drake London (USC) go early. Then there’s George Pickens (Georgia), Jahar Dotson (Penn State) and Christian Watson (North Dakota State) who could join them.
Now factor in how much star receivers cost with the rising prices — which we get into in Quotable, deeper in this column. General managers are going to start taking receivers more often in the first round to have cheap fifth-year options, keeping them further into their primes.
– Running backs and tight ends will be value bets
There’s a very, very good chance we don’t see a single tight end or running back get selected on Thursday night. The last time those positions were excluded in the first round? Never. It’s never happened.
But while the top-tier talent lacks this year, there’s plenty in the mid and latter rounds. At tight end, there are a slew of intriguing potential stars including Trey McBride (Colorado State), Jelani Woods (Virginia) and Greg Dulcich (UCLA) among others. In the backfield, Breece Hall (Iowa State), Dameon Pierce (Florida), Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State) and Tyler Badie (Missouri) are all quality options.
Don’t be surprised if these positions produce a few of the biggest steals when we look back.
– Who is going to be the wild pick?
There’s always one. Every year, a team makes a choice that stuns everyone in the NFL world. It’s usually around the mid-point of the first round when boards start to diverge and there comes a marriage of team, need, player and outlier.
In recent years, the Las Vegas Raiders have provided a few. We saw edge rusher Clelin Ferrell go No. 4 overall in 2019, and then corner Damon Arnette graced the top-20 the following year. Of course, the Raiders are only an example, and certainly, another will be provided on Thursday.
– Does Baker Mayfield get dealt during the draft?
This will be fun to watch. The smart money says Mayfield isn’t going anywhere until sometime in the summer considering both Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry’s comments, and the return value at this juncture. Mayfield will be worth far more to a team with an injury than a franchise trying to find a one-year rental to compete with another healthy player.
Of course, should a quarterback-needy team miss on its targets, Berry could get a call. The Browns must understand every day Mayfield remains on the roster creates potential tension come training camp. Plus, he’s a cap hit and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have to pay him.
While trades for veteran players typically don’t happen during the draft, Mayfield could be an exception.
Top 10 biggest non-QB draft busts since 2000
1. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
2. Robert Gallery, G, Oakland Raiders
3. Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle Seahawks
4. Luke Joeckel, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Jason Smith, OT, St. Louis Rams
6. Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
7. Courtney Brown, DE, Cleveland Browns
8. Charles Rogers, WR, Detroit Lions
9. Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns
10. Greg Robinson, OT, St. Louis Rams
"“I do not foresee that happening.”"
– Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson on trading receiver A.J. Brown
That’s a far cry from “no.” The Titans are facing the same problem seen with the Seattle Seahawks and D.K. Metcalf, the Washington Commanders and Terry McLaurin, and of course, the San Francisco 49ers and Deebo Samuel. Star receivers in an exploding market on the last year of their rookie deals.
Brown, 24, is a bonafide star. He has two 1,000-yard campaigns in three seasons with the Titans, notching a Pro Bowl berth along the way. Brown also has 24 receiving touchdowns despite missing six games in his career, including four last year.
If Robinson wants to keep Brown, it’ll likely cost upwards of $25 million annually and $60 million in guarantees after the deals given to Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill by the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins respectively.
If that’s too rich for Tennessee? Start fielding calls.
Until Lamar Jackson showed up, Michael Vick was the only quarterback in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard rushing season, doing so in 2006 with the Atlanta Falcons. Jackson, however, has turned the trick twice, in both 2019 and 2020 while starring for the Baltimore Ravens.
Info learned this week
1. Deebo Samuel latest star to reportedly be on the block
The San Francisco 49ers are dealing with an unhappy superstar.
Last week, receiver Deebo Samuel told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington he wanted out of San Francisco with one year remaining on his rookie deal. Samuel, 26, is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, where he also made First-Team All-Pro with 1,405 receiving yards on a league-best 18.2 yards per reception. Furthermore, Samuel racked up 365 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns, on his way to becoming the Niners’ lead back in the postseason.
While the reasons Samuel wants out have been documented, the question is where it all goes.
From San Francisco’s, the return for Samuel likely needs to either rival or be larger than what Tyreek Hill cost, which was five picks including first- and second-round choices. Hill is two years older and was due for almost $21 million this year before signing his extension, compared to Samuel’s $4.89 million cap hit.
However, Samuel isn’t nearly as accomplished — Hill is a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro. This could make suitors balk at the price, which puts the South Carolina native in a tough position. If San Francisco isn’t getting the right offer, he’s stuck, and the Niners could tag him in 2023 before either striking a deal or trading him, a la Davante Adams.
With the draft approaching, San Francisco will certainly get calls from teams such as the Lions, Jets and Packers. It wouldn’t be surprising if others jump in as well.
But will the 49ers actually move their biggest offensive threat while trying to get a first-year starting quarterback in Trey Lance acclimated? It would take one hell of an offer.
2. The noise around Kyler Murray is exactly that
Let’s be to the point: Murray isn’t getting traded without a generational haul.
Murray and his agent, Erik Burkhardt, have been attempting to exert pressure on the Arizona Cardinals since Super Bowl week in hopes of landing a major contract extension. The Cardinals responded by extending head coach Kliff Kingsbury during the Scouting Combine — another Burkhardt client — but not the quarterback. Shots fired.
Now, there’s more reporting about Murray’s simmering discontent and the need for new money by the draft.
But in reality? Good luck. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s nearly impossible for players to sit out. So Murray would have to attend training camp and force his way out from the inside. Is it possible? Yeah, but it would be incredibly unseemly, especially for a player trying to get traded and then get a huge extension.
The most likely scenarios are the following: Murray plays 2022 on his current deal and the Cardinals reevaluate after the season, or he signs his second contract sometime this summer but takes a bit less than the top-earners because Arizona controls his rights for the next two years contractually, and then an additional two seasons with franchise tags.
You may hear more noise about Murray, but it’s without bite.
3. NFL schedule has its release date
Call me a nerd, but this is easily one of the best days on the NFL calendar.
On May 12, we’ll get the entire 272-game slate revealed on NFL Network. Yes, we already know the opponents and the venues for each tilt. Yet when the schedule actually emerges, the road trips, primetime contests and late-season matchups can start being planned around.
There are going to be plenty of juicy games and storylines to watch. Russell Wilson returns to face the Seahawks. Every AFC West game. The Bills visit Arrowhead to avenge 13 Seconds. Deshaun Watson back in Houston. Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. And, Brady in Germany.
Also, a fun new twist this year. The NFL will announce some games before the May 12 reveal, including Amazon’s first Thursday night broadcast, which will be unveiled on Thursday. On May 4, the international slate is laid out, and then from May 9-12, other marquee matchups will be teased to the masses.
Finally, the league’s first Christmas tripleheader. The NBA must be thrilled.
4. Jets believe in Zach Wilson, now they must support him
Nobody was set up for failure more last season than Zach Wilson … other than everyone associated with Urban Meyer.
Upon drafting the rookie quarterback out of BYU, the Jets had a first-year head coach, a first-time offensive coordinator and backup quarterbacks who had never thrown a single NFL pass.
Shockingly, Wilson struggled horribly to start the season, to the point Mike White was getting real love from fans and even some media to potentially unseat Wilson.
Yet Wilson finished his rookie year strong with zero interceptions over his final five starts, prompting general manager Joe Douglas to profess his faith in Wilson’s talents last week during a press conference.
But although Douglas might love Wilson, he’s done little to help him this offseason. The Jets have been proactive in trying to find a star receiver such as Tyreek Hill, but they’ve failed to do it. In the draft, armed with a pair of top-10 picks, Douglas needs to find at least one playmaker for Wilson.
If New York is going to compete and play important games beyond September, the offense can’t be Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios.
5. Giants reportedly making Kadarius Toney available via trade
New regimes mean change. Kadarius Toney might be finding out the hard way.
Toney is entering his second year with the New York Giants after being the No. 20 overall pick in 2021. Yet after a rookie season that saw 39 receptions and 420 yards followed by his skipping voluntary OTAs, Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reports Toney could be moved for the right price.
There should be no shortage of teams interested in Toney, who showed promise in his first year despite being kept from the end zone. He also has four years remaining on his rookie deal, giving an acquiring team cheap control of an intriguing talent.
If the Giants get a Day 2 pick offered and want out from Toney, first-time general manager Joe Schoen could begin shaking up the roster.
If the Tennessee Titans like a quarterback at No. 25, they should take him.
Tennessee is a very good team. It’s won the AFC South two of the last three years. In 2019, the Titans reached the AFC title game. Last season, they were the AFC’s top seed. Yet in the postseason, Tennessee has been undone by a lack of passing acumen from Ryan Tannehill.
In the Titans’ five postseason games with Tannehill, here are his stat lines:
- 2019 at New England (W, 20-13): 8-of-15, 72 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 2019 at Baltimore (W, 28-12): 7-of-14, 88 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
- 2019 at Kansas City (L, 35-24): 21-of-31, 209 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
- 2020 vs. Baltimore (L, 20-13): 18-of-26, 165 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 2021 vs. Cincinnati (L, 19-16): 15-of-24, 220 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT
- Average: 14-of-22, 151 yards, 1.4 TD, 1 INT
Tennessee is never winning a Super Bowl with those performances. It’s a miracle the Titans won two of those games, saved by the defense and Derrick Henry.
If general manager Jon Robinson sees legitimate upside in Cincinnati’s Desmond Ritter, North Carolina’s Sam Howell or Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, he should take a chance.
We saw a similar situation years ago with Kansas City, which was good but always limited with Alex Smith. The Chiefs finally traded up, selected Patrick Mahomes, and became a superpower.
Robinson should be bold if afforded the moment.
Inside the league
No draft choice is more intriguing than the Carolina Panthers at No. 6 overall.
Many around the NFL believe the Panthers are a candidate for showing desperation. In head coach Matt Rhule’s first two seasons, Carolina is 10-23, not having played a meaningful game post-Thanksgiving. Last year, the Panthers began 3-0 but finished 2-12 with P.J. Walker, Cam Newton and Sam Darnold taking turns reminding fans how badly the Panthers need a franchise quarterback.
While most believe this draft doesn’t have a ready-made franchise signal-caller, does Carolina reach in hopes of finding an answer?
Although Rhule has a six-year deal, this could be the end for him in Charlotte with new owner David Tepper wanting results. The Panthers are in a bad division, the weaker conference and have playmakers. Rhule was hailed as an offensive genius coming from Baylor, but the offense has lacked a quarterback and therefore, any real punch.
With so much uncertainty surrounding this draft in terms of consensus on players, will the Panthers try to trade back, reclaim some mid-round picks (they’re without second- and third-round choices) and land Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral or Malik Willis? Or, has Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer identified his target at No. 6?
Additionally, if Carolina has a player it loves, does it sweat out the first five picks? The Saints traded with the Eagles last month to acquire a second first-rounder, holding Nos. 16 and 19. Those choices packaged would be enticing to the New York Giants, who have the fifth- and seventh-overall selections. Could New Orleans swoop in and steal one of those quarterbacks a spot ahead of the Panthers, who lack picks to make a move?
The NFC South could provide plenty of drama.
In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys sent star running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for first, second and sixth-round picks in 1990. Minnesota also included five players, which if Dallas released them, had draft choices attached to them.
Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson released them all, netting first and second-round selections in 1991 and ’92, along with a third-round pick in ’93. Incredibly, Dallas traded each of the picks it received from Minnesota, never drafting in the original slot. Dallas ended up with a treasure trove of talent from said ammunition, including Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and star safety Darren Woodson. The trade began a run of three titles in four years for Big D.
A little-known detail? The deal was actually three ways, with the San Diego Chargers getting running back Darrin Nelson in exchange for a ’90 fifth-rounder.
After two weeks away, I’m glad to be returning.
This is one of the best weeks of football all year. At least for yours truly, it signals the beginning of a new year. Free agency certainly does the same to an extent, but now we’re getting an influx of new talent and really seeing how these rosters will shape up.
We also get to wonder about who will be the big steals and, unfortunately, who will be the big busts. Nobody thought much when the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round back in 2000, but here we are. While Brady is a generational example, you understand the point.
The draft and the quieter months following are a time for hope for each fanbase, hoping the newest class will either provide a playoff push or perhaps a championship. And, most importantly, it’s a time for the rookies themselves to wonder what lay ahead as they work towards a successful career.
On Thursday, hundreds of lives begin to change forever. Let the fun begin.