This was my 39th year doing the NFL draft for ESPN, and I can’t remember a trading frenzy quite like the one we saw in the middle of Round 1 on Thursday. There were picks and players flying off the board faster than I could wrap my head around which team was on the clock. Now that we’ve been through all 262 picks, though, it’s time for one of my favorite exercises every year. This is the piece everyone complains about up until the next draft.
I love doing NFL draft grades, and it helps me put all 32 teams’ classes into perspective. That was tough in 2022, especially with nine teams having multiple first-round picks and 10 teams not having any first-round pick, both of which were the most in the common draft era (since 1967). The defense dominated the top of the draft, and of the 16 offensive players taken in Round 1, a whopping 15 were either offensive linemen (nine) or wide receivers (six).
Let’s get into my team-by-team grades. Same rules apply, as always: I grade all 32 classes using my Big Board and position rankings as the prism to gauge how effectively each team addressed key personnel holes as well as how efficient each was in maneuvering the board and adding extra picks or future assets. I wrapped up Round 1 on Thursday night and Day 2 on Friday night, but in the grades file is where I dump out my notebook.
We’ll start with the best grades and go to the worst, with teams that have identical grades listed in alphabetical order. Here we go:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
Top needs: CB, DE, C
Here’s whom the Ravens selected with their first five picks:
Talk about a class of value. This is an outstanding haul, even if we don’t consider that Baltimore used all six of its Round 4 picks. Of those fourth-rounders, tackle Daniel Faalele (110) and tight end Isaiah Likely (139) were my favorites. Likely could be a red zone weapon for Lamar Jackson. I also see sixth-rounder Tyler Badie (196) making the team because of his special teams ability. This team did a great job filling needs.
The only thing keeping this class from an A+ is this: Who’s going to catch deep balls from Jackson? The Ravens traded away Marquise Brown to get that extra first-rounder, and so there’s a lot riding on a second-year surge from wideout Rashod Bateman.
Top needs: DB, OL, WR
Entering this draft, the Jets had an extra first-round pick (from the Jamal Adams trade) and an extra second-round pick (from the Sam Darnold trade), giving them two in the top 10 and four in the top 38. And after another last-place finish in the AFC East — their fifth in six seasons — I thought they’d choose two prospects from three positions — offensive live, wide receiver and cornerback — with their top two picks. And that’s exactly what they did.
The Jets selected my top-ranked corner in Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (4) and my top-ranked wideout in Garrett Wilson (10), each of whom has All-Pro skill sets. Then they moved back into Round 1 to take Jermaine Johnson II (26), who had fallen down the board. He is a really solid, all-around defensive end who had 12 sacks last season and was the best prospect at the Senior Bowl in January. I had Johnson No. 11 on my Big Board. Those are three rookie starters from general manager Joe Douglas, for a team that needed a talent infusion at all three positions.
And still, Douglas & Co. had an early-second round pick to get a good player, and they landed my top-ranked running back, Breece Hall (36), a touchdown maker with some tools to be a weapon in the passing game. That’s three of my top prospects at their respective positions drafted by the Jets — and an awesome class from Douglas.
The only slight knock here is waiting until Round 4 for an offensive tackle, which means they must be OK with George Fant and Mekhi Becton in 2022. Max Mitchell (111) is more of a developmental prospect who can be the swing tackle early in his career. I do think Jeremy Ruckert (101) could be a useful tight end in backing up C.J. Uzomah. Overall, this is one of the best groups of 2022.
Top needs: QB, DE, WR
With Calvin Ridley suspended for the season, have you taken a look at the Falcons’ wide receiver depth chart? It’s not good, probably the worst in the league. And oh yeah, they traded away the best quarterback in their franchise’s history, with Matt Ryan headed to Indianapolis for a third-round pick. I don’t know if this is a full rebuild for coach Arthur Smith & Co., but it’s at least a reset on offense, and it’s not like this defense is littered with stars, either.
That reset on offense starts with a new No. 1 receiver in Drake London (8), a 6-foot-4 weapon who will make life easier for his quarterback. I’m a big fan of London, who will be great in the red zone and is a sweet fit in the same offense as dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts. How are teams going to cover both in the red zone?
I thought the Falcons had one of the best Day 2s in the league. Quarterback Desmond Ridder (74) looked at times in college like a future All-Pro and at other times an undrafted free agent. He is my fourth-ranked signal-caller, but I thought he’d go in Round 2. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started a handful of games as a rookie and wrestled the job away from Marcus Mariota. Arnold Ebiketie (38) is an underrated edge rusher. Troy Andersen (58) is a fit I projected to Atlanta in my two-round mock draft a few weeks ago. DeAngelo Malone (82) can get early third-down snaps as a situational edge rusher. On Day 3, running back Tyler Allgeier (151) doesn’t have a ton of straight-line speed, but I expect him to make the team because of his toughness.
What drops this class slightly is that I would have taken Malik Willis over Ridder, but this is still a really good group.
Top needs: DE, WR, QB
The Lions were feisty in Year 1 under coach Dan Campbell, but they still won just three games. This is one of the league’s worst rosters from top to bottom. That’s why I was surprised to see them trade up 20 spots in Round 1 instead of keeping pick Nos. 32 and 34. The draft is such a crapshoot that it’s almost always better to take two chances at a top-ranked prospect than one.
At the same time, I love the player they got in Jameson Williams (12), an electric wide receiver who could immediately be Jared Goff’s No. 1 target. He’s coming off a torn left ACL but should be ready to go by training camp. The trade felt like general manager Brad Holmes forced his way into a big move to fill a need, but Williams is going to be great when he’s on the field.
You should know by now my thoughts on edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson (2). The Lions getting my clear top-ranked prospect is a huge win, because he not only fills a void — they finished 29th in pressure percentage and 30th in sacks last season — but he’s a local kid who wants to play in Detroit. As I wrote Thursday night, he’s going to challenge to be Defensive Rookie of the Year. On Day 2, with the pick they got back from the Vikings when they traded up for Williams, the Lions went back to defensive end, taking Josh Paschal (46), who has some intriguing physical tools with which to work. Credit Holmes for trying to turn edge rusher from a weakness to a strength.
Tight end James Mitchell (177) is another prospect coming off a torn ACL — he missed the final 11 games of the season — but could be a solid find when he’s healthy. Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (188) is undersized but could be a special-teams standout.
Getting Hutchinson and Williams — two potential All-Pros — pushes this class close to an A.
Top needs: WR, DB, LB
At the beginning of April, the Eagles owned pick Nos. 15, 16 and 19 as a result of trades with Miami and Indianapolis. They were set up to be the key team in the middle of Round 1. Then they made a deal with the Saints, who wanted to add another first-round pick in this class. To do so, New Orleans gave up a ton of future capital, sending Philadelphia a 2023 first-round selection and 2024 second-rounder, while the Eagles still had two premium picks at Nos. 15 and 18 in this draft.
So how did Philly fare on Day 1? Well, it packaged the first pick to move up a couple of spots for massive defensive tackle Jordan Davis (13), who plugs a hole in the middle of the D. Then it traded the No. 18 pick and a late third-rounder to Tennessee for 24-year-old wide receiver A.J. Brown, who had 24 touchdown catches in three seasons for the Titans. That’s a solid Day 1, as Brown — who is younger than a few prospects in this class — makes a lot of sense on the other side of DeVonta Smith and gives Jalen Hurts a proven playmaker.
I also liked the Eagles’ picks on Day 2, in particular middle linebacker Naboke Dean (83), who is the steal of the draft based on my board. He went a full two rounds after I would have taken him, because teams flagged his medical reports. Philadelphia believes he’ll be ready for training camp, though, and so I’m excited to see him quickly become a leader of the defense (and play with his former Georgia teammate Davis). Cam Jurgens (51) is my second-ranked center, and he will likely replace Jason Kelce when Kelce calls it quits.
Philadelphia had just two picks on Day 3, but the Dean pick, the addition of Brown and the extra premium capital in 2023 and 2024 means general manager Howie Roseman put together one of the best drafts of the year.
Top needs: QB, OT, DE
Seattle had three picks in the entire 2021 draft. This year? It entered Round 1 with three in the top 41, thanks to the trade of Russell Wilson. I always struggle with what the Seahawks are thinking; they stick to their board and don’t worry about a leaguewide consensus. That’s why it was good to see coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider also saw their hole at left tackle and went that way at No. 9.
Charles Cross is the best pass-protecting tackle in this class, an easy mover with great fit and long arms. (And this is a rare Seattle mock draft pick that I nailed, even if it was from March.) He’ll replace Duane Brown immediately. Say what you want about moving on from Wilson, but at least the Seahawks got a lot of capital in the deal, and they now have a left tackle who can be there for 10-plus years.
On Day 2, I thought there was a prime opportunity for the Seahawks to take quarterback Malik Willis and develop him into a future star. They ended up passing three times on Willis, which I suppose means they’re OK with Drew Lock and Geno Smith being just average in 2022. Carroll and Schneider must think the roster is farther along than I do.
As for whom they got on Day 2, I like the players, even if it’s not what I would do. Kenneth Walker II (41) is a bowling ball of a running back, and he is going to play in an offense that values those kinds of players. Boye Mafe (40) has some raw pass-rush traits off the edge. Abraham Lucas (72) might be a rookie starter at right tackle, which is rare for a third-round pick.
On Day 3, the Seahawks doubled up with cornerbacks Coby Bryant (109) and Tariq Woolen (153), who in particular fits what Carroll likes in his defensive backs. Woolen is 6-foot-4 with a huge wingspan, and he ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the combine. The former college receiver is just very raw. Wide receiver Bo Melton (229) has some speed that makes him a potential seventh-round find.
There are several good prospects in this class, but it’s not quite an A because the quarterback issue could linger into 2023.
Top needs: DE, CB, WR
It was a mostly quiet draft for the Cardinals, who dealt their first-round pick (No. 23) for wideout Marquise Brown and No. 100. If they can keep Brown on the field and let his college teammate Kyler Murray float up a few 50-yard bombs, Brown will score 10-plus touchdowns a season. It was a lot to give up, though, especially if they have to hand Brown a long-term extension.
On Day 2, Arizona added more help for Murray with Trey McBride (55), which gives the offense two good tight ends in McBride and Zach Ertz. McBride is the best pass-catching tight end in this class, and he’ll fight as a blocker too. This makes me think that Kliff Kingsbury is going to diversify his offense a little bit more in 2022. Cameron Thomas (87) and Myjai Sanders (100) are two solid defensive ends with different skill sets. Thomas could play some tackle, while Sanders — who has a slim frame — is more of a stand-up edge rusher. They won’t be instant replacements for Chandler Jones, but I like the value.
Running back Keaontay Ingram (201) and guard Marquis Hayes (257) are two prospects I liked late on Day 3. This is a sound, if unspectacular class.
Top needs: CB, LB, RB
I thought the Bills might be the team to take a first-round running back; I agonized in my final mock draft, toggling between Breece Hall and cornerback Kaiir Elam. I settled on Elam but didn’t feel great about it. And then Buffalo traded up for Elam (23) when the real thing started, so I feel much better now.
Elam had been rising recently, and he is a great press-man corner with speed and physical tools. He fills a huge hole on the other side of Tre’Davious White. The Bills went running back with their next pick, and I think James Cook (63) is a nice accent player with Devin Singletary. Cook has stellar hands and will open up some checkdown options for Josh Allen. As I mentioned Friday night, the pick of undersized linebacker Terrel Bernard (89) was a reach on my board, even if it was a need. I like Brian Asamoah and Leo Chenal, who were both available, more than Bernard, who does have some read-and-react ability.
On Day 3, wideout Khalil Shakir (148) is super interesting, because of his work out of the slot. I know the Bills added Jamison Crowder, but Shakir could fill that role in 2023 while playing mostly special teams this season. Christian Benford (185) is another late riser at corner, while Matt Araiza (180) is my third-ranked punter, and he went right around where I expected. Araiza is going to boom some punts in Buffalo and flip the field position.
All in all, the Bills filled their biggest needs with their top two picks, and if Shakir or Benford break out, this class could be one of the best when we regrade it in five years.
Top needs: QB, OL, CB
The Panthers entered this draft in a tough position. They had clear needs at quarterback and offensive tackle but didn’t have any picks on Day 2 because of two different trades (including one for Sam Darnold last season). Should they reach for a quarterback at No. 6? Take one of the great offensive tackles available? Or trade down to try to add some capital?
Ultimately, they went with the top tackle in the class in Ikem Ekwonu — and were still able to get a quarterback at a nice value later in the draft. Let’s start with Ekwonu. He’s just a baller. He bullies defenders in the run game, and he toys with them as a pass-protector because of his ability to move his feet. He is the left tackle this team needs.
And for the quarterback? The Panthers sent pick No. 137 and a 2023 third-rounder next year to move up to snag a sliding Matt Corral (94), whom I rated as the No. 32 prospect on my Big Board. Corral has his detractors — his offense relied on a lot of RPOs, and he needs to process reads faster — but he has a lightning-quick release and can make plays with his feet. I definitely think he could challenge Darnold this season, and I don’t see a need for Carolina to trade for Baker Mayfield now (though I do think Mayfield can help a team this season). I do wonder if this relieves some of the pressure on coach Matt Rhule, as he won’t have to start Corral immediately. Still, the Panthers need to compete in the NFC South if he wants to keep his job for 2023 and beyond.
If you were watching the ESPN broadcast, you probably saw Amare Barno (189) as my longtime best available prospect. His 4.36-second 40 at the combine turned heads, because he did it at 246 pounds. If he can match his ability with his technique, he could be a steal as an edge rusher. Brandon Smith (120) has the physical talent to be a good run-and-hit linebacker.
Carolina made its six picks count here, but it’s tough to grade it too highly because of the amount of picks and because it’s still chasing a quarterback after that Darnold trade.
Top needs: OL, DT, CB
The Super Bowl runners-up didn’t have many picks, but they made their first two count on my board. Daxton Hill has excellent upside as a defensive back who can play as a slot corner and a deep safety and can even get some snaps outside. I thought he’d go about 10 picks higher than he did, so I love this one, especially with the Bengals having some turnover at corner. Hill also could be a potential replacement for Jessie Bates III, if the team and player can’t come to an agreement on a new contract.
Speaking of that turnover at corner, Cincy went right back to the position, taking Cam Taylor-Britt (60), who made a leap last season and broke up 11 passes. He ran a 4.38-second 40 at the combine, vaulting his stock. The Bengals could have two new starters in the secondary.
If there’s a minor quibble with the early picks, it’s with defensive tackle Zachary Carter. Yes, he fills a need with Larry Ogunjobi unsigned, but I didn’t see an NFL starter when I watched his tape. That was a reach. And you could make the case the Bengals should have taken Travis Jones over Taylor-Britt at No. 60 and found a better immediate defensive tackle replacement there.
Like Carolina’s class, the Bengals had just six picks, so I can’t give them more than a decent grade here.
Top needs: WR, DT, DE
Most of Cleveland’s early draft capital (now and for the next couple of years) is tied up in the Deshaun Watson trade, but it did have three third-round picks to try to plug holes. Even with the addition of Amari Cooper, I thought the Browns would attempt to add a wideout with one of those picks, and that’s exactly where they went.
David Bell (99) dropped because of his speed — he ran a 4.65-second 40 at the combine — but he put up huge numbers at Purdue. He could be a nice target on curls and crossers because of his sure hands. I expect Cleveland to be in the market for veteran receiving help after the draft, but Bell could fill a role as a rookie.
Martin Emerson (68) is an outside press corner, defensive end Alex Wright (78) has long arms for his 6-foot-5 frame and has some upside as a pass-rusher, and Cade York (124) is my top-ranked kicker. Perrion Winfrey (108) is a nice value pick; I thought he could go 50 picks earlier. As a 3-technique tackle, he can wreak havoc against centers and guards. I bet his Oklahoma teammate Isaiah Thomas (223) will make the team as a rotational edge rusher too.
It’s tough to get starters without picks until Round 3, but I thought Cleveland did a good job with what it had.
Top needs: WR, DE, OL
I called out Green Bay on Thursday night for passing up wide receiver Christian Watson with their two first-round picks … and they traded up to get Watson the next night. Yes, the price was steep — the Packers sent Minnesota pick Nos. 53 and 59 for No. 34 — but Watson is exactly what they needed to replace Davante Adams. The 6-foot-4 Watson starred at the Senior Bowl, and he then ran a 4.36-second 40 and tested extremely well at the combine. He is a big play waiting to happen; he has the skill set develop into a No. 1 receiver. Aaron Rodgers will love him.
Quay Walker (22) went a little higher than I have him ranked, but I know NFL scouts loved his physical tools, even if he didn’t always stand out when watching the loaded Georgia defense. Devonte Wyatt (28) will likely play as a 3-technique tackle in Green Bay, and he has some interior pass-rush upside. He is my second-ranked defensive tackle. Sean Rhyan (92) played left tackle at UCLA, but I see him as a guard for the Packers, who have a hole there.
Green Bay added two more wideouts on Day 3, with Romeo Doubs (132) having the best chance to make the roster. He had 20 touchdown catches over the past two seasons. Kingsley Enagbare (179) has some juice as an edge rusher, though he is a little one-dimensional.
The Watson pick saves Green Bay from a C draft, and if Wyatt becomes an eight-sack-a-season guy, this group could be much better. I just don’t love Walker as much as the team’s scouts do.
Top needs: CB, RB, DE
If anyone told you they knew what the Texans were going to do in this draft, they weren’t telling the truth. The organization was extremely tight-lipped throughout the process, with two first-round picks — Nos. 3 and 13 — that could create some chaos on the board. They could have gone after several different positions with those picks, but I said all along they should take the best prospect on the board, regardless of position.
We do have to take into account Houston getting three first-round picks (2022, 2023 and 2024) and future third- and fourth-rounders in the trade of Deshaun Watson. The quarterback didn’t want to be there, and so the Texans did the best they could in a bad situation.
So how did they fare? Let’s run through their class, starting with cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (3). He is a great talent, but that’s a little high on my board. I do think he can get back to his 2019 form, though. After that, the Texans traded down to spots, picking up an extra fourth-round pick and two more fifth-rounders. They took Kenyon Green (15), my second-ranked guard. He’ll start from Day 1, even if this isn’t the most alluring pick for fans.
Safety Jalen Pitre (37), wide receiver John Metchie III (44) and linebacker Christian Harris (75) were all good value picks, and Metchie, in particular, could be a steal as a slot target for quarterback Davis Mills. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Dameon Pierce (107) became Houston’s lead running back by 2023.
This team has a long ways to go to compete for the AFC South title again, but there are some foundational prospects in this class.
Top needs: WR, OL, DB
The Colts lost their first-round pick in a trade for Carson Wentz that didn’t work out, but give credit to general manager Chris Ballard for crushing Day 2. I liked all four of their picks on Friday. Alec Pierce (53) has an exciting size-speed combo that could pair well with Michael Pittman Jr. Bernhard Raimann (77), who went a round later than I thought, has a chance to be a rookie starter at left tackle. Jelani Woods (73) is a 6-foot-7 tight end who couldn’t stop catching touchdown passes last season. And Nick Cross (96) has blazing speed and could play as the third safety early in his career.
Ballard & Co. made the most of what they had. The downside on Friday was sending a 2023 third-rounder — a valuable pick — to move up to get Cross. Another lingering question: How long will 38-year-old Matt Ryan be the quarterback in Indy? There were some really good players on the board. Maybe the organization just didn’t like any of them in this class and prefers to wait for 2023, but it was still a little peculiar.
Of the Colts’ Day 3 picks, Eric Johnson (159) is notable. He was a five-year starter at Missouri State — yes, five years — and he could make the team as a rotational defensive tackle.
The Wentz trade set back the franchise in the short term — which is tough for a team with big contract decisions looming — but the second- and third-rounders in this class should all be early contributors.
Top needs: CB, WR, DE
The Chiefs came into this draft with a few more specific holes than the other Super Bowl contenders. They traded away star wide receiver Tyreek Hill (and added first- and second-round picks), which meant they had to add some speed. I thought they might need to take two wideouts in their first four picks. They also let underrated cornerback Charvarius Ward walk in free agency, and they had to get younger on the edge on defense.
They ended up hitting each of those needs with their first three picks. Trent McDuffie (21) isn’t a ball hawk, but he was tremendous over the past two seasons at Washington. He also could play in the slot. George Karlaftis (30) is my sixth-ranked defensive end, and he fits Kansas City’s 4-3 scheme perfectly. Expect him to produce a little more than he did in college. Skyy Moore (54) has a little bit of Hill in him — as Moore is 5-foot-10 with huge hands, and he can fly. I called him the most underrated player in this draft, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he snuck into Round 1. This was a nice job of filling needs, though trading up eight spots for McDuffie cost the Chiefs a third- and fourth-round pick.
Leo Chenal (103) could challenge to start at middle linebacker. He’ll thump ball carriers. Cornerback Joshua Williams (135) is raw, but at 6-foot-3, he’s the type of Day 3 pick I don’t mind. Darian Kinnard (145) played tackle in college, but I think he could move inside for the Chiefs.
So why the B grade here? I would have liked to have seen Kansas City take one more wideout, because Moore isn’t going to replace Hill’s production by himself. I think this offense needs to get another veteran.
Top needs: OT, DT, DB
The new front office in Las Vegas has made a bunch of changes, most notably trading for star wideout Davante Adams, which depleted its draft class. Without a first- or second-round pick, this is tough to grade. Even so, Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler must be an ESPN.com reader, because he used two of his first four picks on my favorite prospects in this class.
I said on the broadcast that guard/center Dylan Parham could be a Pro Bowler. He started 51 games at Memphis, playing right tackle and guard. He’ll be even better inside, and the Raiders got him about 30 picks later than I projected him to go. I had a Round 4 grade on Matthew Butler (175), who will have a long NFL career, even if it’s just as a rotational defensive tackle. They added Neil Farrell Jr. (126) at D-tackle too, but at 330 pounds, he is more of a traditional nose. Thayer Munford (238) started 45 games on the O-line at Ohio State and could be a solid backup.
Adams obviously is a proven star, and Parham and Butler are my guys, so this is a solid B class, even without volume of picks.
Top needs: DE/OLB, OL, TE
Former general manager Dave Gettleman is gone, but the pick he traded for last year — when the Bears moved up for Justin Fields and sent their 2022 first-rounder to New York — ended up at No. 7 overall. That gave new GM Joe Schoen two picks in the top seven with which to either take two starters or trade down to add even more capital. This Giants team has some talent, but it also badly needed a right tackle, and its front seven is not good enough to compete in the NFC East.
Giants fans should be thrilled with edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) and offensive tackle Evan Neal (7), who fill those needs and represent rare talents. Thibodeaux was a little inconsistent last season, but when he’s on his game, he has the potential to tally 15 sacks per season. Neal is strong and agile, and he spent a season at right tackle, so he has some familiarity.
On Day 2, Schoen reached for wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson (43) and guard Joshua Ezeudu (67), about a round early based on my board. I’m curious to see how the 5-foot-8 Robinson fits in an offense with a decent slot option in Sterling Shepard. As for Ezeudu, I know guard was another need, but I would have taken Dylan Parham or Logan Bruss instead.
Cornerback Cordale Flott (81) has a slender frame, but his traits make him a potential starter. Safety Dane Belton (114) might max out as a special teams standout, while linebacker Darrian Beavers (182) is good against the run but struggles in coverage.
I don’t love the Giants’ class after their first two picks, but Thibodeaux and Neal are good enough to keep this grade on stable ground.
Top needs: QB, OL, WR
Quarterback or no quarterback? That was the crucial question for the Steelers in this draft. Ben Roethlisberger had held down the position in Pittsburgh since 2004, so coach Mike Tomlin hadn’t worried about it since he took over the job in 2007. In the end — after Tomlin had a busy spring tour of seeing many of the signal-callers’ pro days — the board fell perfectly for the Steelers to get their guy and not have to trade up.
Note the italics above. I liked Malik Willis a little bit more than Kenny Pickett, but I can’t fault the Steelers for going with the local quarterback. My comp for Pickett? Some Derek Carr, some Andy Dalton. Teams can win with that. I don’t know that he’ll definitely beat out Mitch Trubisky in Year 1, and he doesn’t have the ceiling of Willis. But the important part is that the front office didn’t have to move up to get him, so this is solid value in a strange draft when Pickett was the only signal-caller selected in the first two rounds.
Wide receivers George Pickens (52) and Calvin Austin III (138) are nice replacements for JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington. Pickens is more of the Washington role — he’ll catch some fades down the sideline — while the diminutive dynamo Austin will line up mostly out of the slot and rack up yards after the catch. Defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal (84) looked like a future first-rounder at times in 2020, but he struggled for consistency last season. He has some versatility along the Pittsburgh front. Connor Heyward (208) is my top-ranked fullback in the class, and he’ll join his brother, Cam, in the yellow and black.
This was the final draft for general manager Kevin Colbert, and he did a nice job plugging holes. If Pickett becomes a star, Colbert might have set up the Steelers for the next 15 years with this group.
Top needs: G, DT, RB
It’s possible Tampa Bay was always going to take Logan Hall in Round 1, which means trading back six spots into the top of Round 2, getting him at No. 33 and adding a fourth- and sixth-round pick is stellar work by general manager Jason Licht. Hall played both as a 3-technique tackle and a defensive end at Houston, and at 6-foot-6 and 283 pounds, that positional flex is intriguing, especially next to Vita Vea. I could see Hall move outside for a few pass-rush snaps per game. He is No. 56 on my Big Board, so this is a little bit of a reach, but I understand why the Bucs did it.
Licht reached again for Luke Goedeke (84), a college tackle who projects to play guard because of his shorter arms. He could fill the Bucs’ hole at left guard. Running back Rachaad White (91) had 15 scores and broke a ton of tackles last season. Tight end Cade Otton (106) isn’t much of a blocker yet, but he’ll help in the passing game (and could be insurance in case Rob Gronkowski retires). Zyon McCollum (157) is a fast corner in a 6-foot-2 frame who picked off 13 passes in his career.
Hall and Goedeke fill holes up front for Tampa Bay, even though they were slight reaches on my board.
Top needs: OL, WR, CB
This could be a franchise-upending draft for the Titans, who traded away wide receiver A.J. Brown for a first-round pick and then landed my top-ranked quarterback Malik Willis late in Round 3. Let’s start with Brown, because the wideout the Titans took at No. 18 actually reminds scouts a lot of him. Treylon Burks is a big, physical and versatile target who did a lot of damage out of the slot at Arkansas. Yes, he is two years younger than Brown, but I’d still prefer the veteran over the rookie. I’m not as high on Burks as a few front-office executives I trust. It’s no guarantee that Burks will be a star, while Brown already is one.
As for Willis (86), I would bet on his talent. He isn’t going to start over Ryan Tannehill in 2022, but it shouldn’t be out of the question that he develops fast enough to take over in 2023. Willis is extremely talented and has all the tools to be a great NFL starting quarterback. He landed in an ideal spot with little immediate pressure.
Nicholas Petit-Frere (69), who had some up-and-down games at Ohio State, will compete with 2021 second-rounder Dillon Radunz at right tackle. Roger McCreary (35) went a little earlier than I thought, but he could be a starting slot corner. On the other side of the ball, Kyle Philips (153) is a nice playmaker out of the slot, Hassan Haskins (131) could be the No. 2 running back behind Derrick Henry, and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo (143) has a little bit of Jonnu Smith in his game.
General manager Jon Robinson did a good job trading back a couple of times and acquiring more picks. Overall, this draft is going to be remembered in Tennessee for years to come; and if Willis becomes the quarterback of the future, Titans fans could look at the 2022 class like Seahawks fans do with 2012. I’m just not as high on Burks as I am Brown, which means it sticks at a B — for now.
Top needs: OL, WR, CB
The Bears’ first-round pick this year went to the Giants in the trade for Justin Fields, and the general manager who made the deal — Ryan Pace — was fired after the season. I wrote on Friday night about new GM Ryan Poles’ Day 2 moves, and I just didn’t love passing up all of the available wideouts and offensive tackles to take defensive backs in the second round.
Kyler Gordon (39) should be a rookie starter at corner, while Jaquan Brisker (48) could be the starting strong safety. But why not add some help for Fields? The second-year quarterback is your guy for the long term, right? He doesn’t have enough weapons to be even above-average. He has Darnell Mooney and what at wide receiver? Maybe Poles & Co. are going to add a veteran in the street free-agent market, but I don’t get it as of now. And the wideout they did add later on Day 2 — Velus Jones Jr. (71) — is fast but a little limited. He is one of the oldest prospects in this class; he will turn 25 early in his rookie season.
There’s a hole at right tackle too, and Chicago took two fifth-round fliers on Braxton Jones (168) and Zachary Thomas (186). Is Poles counting on them to compete to start? That’s a lot to ask. I do like lineman Ja’Tyre Carter (226) as a potential starter down the road after some development time.
Again, I just don’t see this class helping Fields enough.
Top needs: TE, OT, CB
The Broncos sent their first- and second-round pick in this draft to Seattle to acquire Russell Wilson — I think they’re OK with the outcome of the deal — and they had already added a second-rounder from the Von Miller trade to the Rams. I liked their top pick enough, because Nik Bonitto (64) is a fit for their 3-4 defense. He already is advanced as a pass-rusher and is fast off the snap. He led the FBS in pressure percentage last season at 18.3%. He needs to get much better against the run, though, because he is going to struggle to play on early downs.
Greg Dulcich (80) is my second-ranked tight end, and he should take a bunch of the vacant snaps left by Noah Fant going to Seattle. This was a big hole for Denver. Cornerback Damarri Mathis (115) ran a 4.39-second 40 at the combine, while Eyioma Uwazurike (116) was a four-year starter at Iowa State, and he could play defensive end in the Broncos’ scheme.
One other thing to mention is that Denver added a 2023 third-round pick when the Colts traded up to No. 96, so that’s a nice get. While obviously the Wilson trade is great for Denver, there isn’t a whole lot in this class past Bonitto and Dulcich.
Top needs: OL, DL, DB
There’s a reason Jacksonville picked No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts and now has another new head coach. This franchise has struggled for years. In fact, this was the Jaguars’ 14th top-10 pick in the past 15 drafts, by far the most in the NFL. Can Doug Pederson get them on track? They spent a ton of money in free agency, including adding wideout Christian Kirk and guard Brandon Scherff, and their roster is certainly improved. And when they franchise-tagged left tackle Cam Robinson and then gave him an extension, they seemed to be locked on an edge rusher at the top of the board.
Which one was it going to be? That was the surprising part. I wrote quite a bit Thursday night about Jacksonville taking Travon Walker over Aidan Hutchinson, and it comes down to the front office trying to project what Walker could be versus what Hutchinson already is. I think Hutchinson will be a star, and Walker just didn’t have many star-making plays on tape. Walker didn’t dominate. He looks like he should dominate, but he didn’t. So the Jaguars taking my No. 9 overall prospect when they could have had anyone in this draft means I have to downgrade the class.
Elsewhere, Jacksonville traded back into Round 1 and picked up my top-ranked inside linebacker, Devin Lloyd (27), which made its third-round selection of Chad Muma (70) a little curious. Both are run-and-hit off-ball linebackers, so how are they going to fit next to free-agent signing Foyesade Oluokun? Lloyd did everything at Utah and should be a rookie starter. Luke Fortner (65) is likely the new favorite to start at center, but I had a Day 3 grade on him, and the Jags took him with the top pick of the third round. The Jags had just three picks on Day 3, and they likely will be heavy into the undrafted free agent market.
We’re going to be hearing Walker vs. Hutchinson comparisons and arguments for years to come. The Jaguars’ front office obviously hopes that it got it right, but where it stands now, I think Hutchinson is going to be the better player.
Top needs: OT, LB, G
I thought the Chargers would pounce on Trevor Penning at No. 17 and move him to the massive hole at right tackle. Instead, they filled the void next to the tackle and took Zion Johnson, my top-ranked guard in this class. Johnson is a plug-and-play lineman who dominated at left guard for Boston College last season, not allowing a single pressure in pass protection. He is an upgrade for a team that has to keep Justin Herbert on his feet.
After that, though, there aren’t many instant contributors in this class. JT Woods (79) is more of a toolsy safety than surefire producer. He’ll need some time for his talent to catch up to his traits. Running back Isaiah Spiller (123) had a poor pre-draft process, but if he gets back to his 2020 self, he could be a nice complementary back. Jamaree Salyer (195) played tackle at Georgia, but he likely will have to move to guard in the NFL.
I’m a fan of Johnson, which saves this from a C grade.
Top needs: OL, DB, OLB
Because of trades for Matthew Stafford and Von Miller, the Rams didn’t pick until No. 104, becoming the first team since the 2008 Browns to not make any picks in the top 100 in a single draft. In fact, the Rams haven’t made a first-round pick in six years, and they don’t own their 2023 first-rounder choice, either. So how exactly do I grade this one? It’s tough to fill needs when the prospects you’re picking are likely to be backups.
Logan Bruss (104) has a chance to be more than a backup. My seventh-ranked guard, Bruss allowed just two sacks over the past three seasons. Decobie Durant (142) is only 5-foot-10, but he is a fast corner. Derion Kendrick (212) is an interesting sixth-round pick, because some of his film from 2020 at Clemson looked like he might be a first-round corner. He transferred to Georgia and was just OK last season.
There’s really not a lot here, which means I can’t go too high. If Bruss does end up winning a starting job, the Rams would probably consider this draft a win.
Top needs: OL, CB, LB
Most of the Dolphins’ early draft capital in this class went to Kansas City in the trade for Tyreek Hill; general manager Chris Grier said his staff will “just watch Tyreek highlights” on Day 1 of the draft. So what did Miami get with the four picks it did have?
Linebacker Channing Tindall (102) could be a steal. I projected him to go early in Round 2, and the Dolphins landed him late in Round 3. He played in 50 games at Georgia but was behind Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker on the depth chart, which meant he never actually started a game. But when you put on the tape, he was flying around and making plays. He also tested off the charts at the combine for his size. Tindall found a great fit in Miami.
Wideout Erik Ezukanma (125) is 6-foot-2, but he dropped way too many passes when I watched his film. Linebacker Cameron Goode (224) could make the team as a situational edge rusher. Skylar Thompson (247) is a fun, late-round quarterback to try out, but he probably is a long shot to make the roster.
Dolphins fans are surely excited about adding Hill, but there’s not a lot to get rave about with this class, outside of Tindall.
Top needs: DL, CB, TE
Minnesota had been a stable organization before the past few months, when it fired coach Mike Zimmer, who had led it to three playoff appearances in eight seasons, and general manager Rick Spielman, who had been with the team for 16 years.
Enter a new coach in Kevin O’Connell and a new GM in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who inherit a roster in solid (albeit aging) shape. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson is a legitimate star, and I really liked the free-agent additions of edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and linebacker Jordan Hicks. And, of course, quarterback Kirk Cousins has shown that he can win games when he has a good roster around him.
Adofo-Mensah’s first draft in Minnesota featured some wheeling and dealing, as he made trades with the rival Lions (which I liked) and Packers (which I didn’t love). The result was two potential starters in the secondary in Lewis Cine (32), a versatile and thumping safety, and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (42), who was a little inconsistent last season. The Vikings reached to try to fill a starting guard spot with Ed Ingram (59); I thought his strength and mobility was worth an early Day 3 pick. Brian Asamoah (66) is a fun but undersized inside linebacker who will fit their scheme.
I didn’t see a lot to write home about with their Day 3 picks, though running back Ty Chandler (169) has some upside as a pass-catcher. The trades helped Adofo-Mensah avoid a C here, and if Booth becomes an above-average rookie starter, it should move even higher.
Top needs: OT, WR, DE
The Saints do things a little bit differently than the other 31 teams, particularly around the salary cap. They always find a way to get under the cap — eventually. And it’s interesting to see that the organization seems to think it is a real contender this season, as it went all in to add another first-round pick in this draft. New Orleans gave up its first-round pick in 2023 and a second-rounder in 2024 (among other things) in a trade with the Eagles that saw them gain the No. 19 pick. That gave it some ammo in Round 1 to move up if it wanted to.
Turns out, it did, as general manager Mickey Loomis sent the No. 16 pick and the team’s third-round choice to get wide receiver Chris Olave (11), one of the best deep threats in this class. Michael Thomas should be back in 2022, but the Saints’ passing game was abysmal without him last season; so getting Olave — right in the middle of the Round 1 run on wideouts — was necessary if Jameis Winston is to have a chance to succeed. With their other pick, they snagged a Day 1 starter at left tackle in Trevor Penning (19), a mauler who will replace Terron Armstead.
The only issue with the Saints’ Day 1 is all the capital it took to add these two prospects; even if they’re starters, they better play like above-average rookies early and often. The Saints also must feel like Winston can carry them this season, because I would have at least considered a quarterback on Day 2. I’m not as sold on Winston, but at least they set him up for success in the first round.
New Orleans reached for my 11th-ranked safety Alontae Taylor (49) on Day 2, and it had just two picks in Rounds 4 to 7. Mortgaging the future of the franchise for Olave strikes me as risky, and the Saints still aren’t set up long term at quarterback.
Top needs: DB, OL, WR
The 49ers’ first-round pick was dealt away in their trade up for quarterback Trey Lance last year, so they began their class on Day 2 with edge rusher Drake Jackson (61), who could be an early contributor. I thought he might have a breakout 2021 season, but he had just five sacks. If he can put it all together, this could be a pick we talk about as a steal a few years down the road.
Tyrion Davis-Price (93) went a couple rounds earlier than I thought; he’s my 13th-ranked running back, and there were several better backs available before the Day 3 run on them got underway. Wide receiver Danny Gray (105) is lightning after the catch, while Kalia Davis (220) is a physical interior defensive lineman against the run. He’s recovering from an injury, or else he probably would have gone at least a round higher.
Jackson has a high ceiling, but San Francisco reached a little too much for my liking with their picks.
Top needs: WR, DB, OL
It seemed for a while that Washington was targeting a wide receiver in Round 1. The offense got little production from any target other than Terry McLaurin last season, and new quarterback Carson Wentz will need some improved targets. So credit the Commanders for moving down five spots in Round 1, adding a third- and fourth-round pick from the Saints and still getting my fifth-ranked receiver. It’s clear they preferred Jahan Dotson (16) over Chris Olave, whom the Saints took at 11, and that recouped draft capital helps offset the cost for trading for Wentz.
Dotson is a smooth and explosive target who should get both slot and outside snaps in Washington. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner loves to use 11 personnel, so Dotson’s positional flex will help confuse defenses. The Commanders also stopped the free fall of quarterback Sam Howell (144). I never bought that Howell was a potential first-rounder, but the deep-ball accuracy and touch makes him an interesting backup behind Wentz. Is Wentz going to be OK with this pick?
Phidarian Mathis (47) joins a defensive line already loaded with former Crimson Tide players. He won’t get many sacks, but he can eat up blockers. When I look at the Commanders’ depth chart, though, I’m struggling to find how he gets enough snaps to warrant a second-round pick. Chris Paul (230) is a seventh-round value; he has the size and agility that could turn into upside. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. (98) went about 50 picks higher than I would have taken him.
Dotson is a nice selection, but what else does Washington have here? It needs to have a plan for Howell, unless it just plans to sit him on the bench for a couple of years.
Top needs: WR, OL, DL
The Cowboys have picked three offensive linemen in the first round in the past 40 drafts, and all three made at least one first-team All-Pro. They built some really good offenses around Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013) and Zack Martin (2014), and Smith and Martin are still there, playing at a high level (when healthy). This line is getting old, though, and with La’el Collins released in the offseason, it needed a talent infusion.
Enter Tyler Smith, a raw but nasty left tackle with intriguing traits and a 6-foot-5, 324-pound frame. Smith needs a lot of work on his technique, but you can see on tape why he went in Round 1. Could he start at left guard in Year 1 and move to either tackle spots in future years? That might be the best bet to get him on the field. Plus, with the way the wide receiver board fell — six went before Dallas’ pick at No. 24 — the front office likely didn’t have any Round 1 wideout grades left.
After that, though, the Sam Williams (56) pick left me scratching my head. All he does is rush the passer. He’s not good against the run. I would have taken him on Day 3. Jalen Tolbert (89) fills a need at wide receiver, but the more I think about it, the more I see some redundancy in what Michael Gallup already brings this offense. Jake Ferguson (129) is just a backup tight end based on what I saw on tape. He went too high. Linebacker Damone Clark (176) might turn into a good player, but he recently had spinal fusion surgery, so it’s really tough to use a fifth-round pick on an unknown injury.
I think that’s it — this class just has too many unknowns. We don’t know if Smith can definitely be a good guard, or that Williams can definitely be an every-down player. Tolbert has good hands but is still raw. This is a risky group.
Top needs: CB, WR, LB
Are we allowed to question a draft from Bill Belichick? The Patriots haven’t exactly lit it up over the past few Aprils, though the Mac Jones pick from 2021 appears to be a hit. I just don’t think they got value with their first two picks. Cole Strange (29) is a nice guard, but I didn’t see a first-round pick on tape. He likely would have been on the board when the Pats picked in the middle of Round 2. I know a hole opened up at guard when Shaq Mason was traded to the Bucs, but value matters in the draft, and Strange needs to play at a Pro Bowl level for years to come to justify this selection.
In Round 2, there were several better receivers available when New England took Tyquan Thornton (50), who didn’t even make my list of the top 25 wideouts in this class. Yes, he has blazing speed — he ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the combine — but he needs a lot of work on his all-around game. Alec Pierce, George Pickens, Skyy Moore and Jalen Tolbert all would have been better picks. It’s another selection without value.
I do like Marcus Jones (85), who could be the Pats’ new starting slot corner and is an electric return man, and Pierre Strong Jr. (127) is my favorite running back in this class. He ran a 4.37 40 at the combine and has some juice once he hits a hole. I don’t really understand why New England took quarterback Bailey Zappe (137) to back up Jones in Round 4, and I thought Jack Jones (121) went about 70 picks too high.
The plus of this Pats draft is that they added a 2023 third-round selection when Carolina traded up for Matt Corral, but that isn’t enough to save it from being my lowest-rated class.